As much as I don’t like to harp on the poor global economy, and as much as I would like to think that it doesn’t apply to me, I can’t be oblivious to it. And as bleak as we’re led to believe that our situation is, I can’t be completely negative about it, either. Even in the most difficult of times, there is always a way to make yourself stand out- you just need to find it. A lot of the most talented and experienced professionals are now finding themselves without employment. There are now roughly five applicants per full-time position in most fields. Sounds tragic, so I wonder, what these applicants are doing to set themselves apart?
When I moved to Washington, DC, I was a freelance graphic designer with little to separate me from all the other Craigslist postings. My design skills weren’t enough to set me apart. I had no clients, no money, and no idea of how I was going to get either before I had to resort to eating my pillows to stay alive. I had plenty of lemons, but no recipe for lemonade.
Then one afternoon, I was driving to the local Chamber of Commerce to try and drum up the least bit of interest and it hit me. I can’t just be in the business of selling design. I have to be in the business of selling me. It sounds simple enough, but I wasn’t really doing it. I had to figure out what traits of mine that people could identify with since it’s a lot easier to relate to a person than a portfolio. My conversation in the Chamber of Commerce that day wasn’t centered around the graphic designer. It introduced Patrick, the guy that loves to get involved in the community; the guy with a ton of funny stories, a business with decent work, a penchant for collecting Hanukkah paraphernalia, and a guy that had seemingly infinite free time. I ended up doing a lot more work with that organization than if I had bored them to sleep that day with a bunch of design talk.
I carried that to all of my other appointments over the next five years, and aside from being far more effective, it was a lot more fun as the brand of ImagineDesign and my personality became one and the same. I learned a number of ways to use personal branding to build a business, and that it’s not just for celebrities and politicians.
I can also happily report that my pillows weren’t devoured in the process.