Thursday, 18 March 2010

I'm a garden designer - now what??

There is a 'Renew, Refresh and Reinvent your Garden Design Business' SGD event this weekend in Edinburgh, and we are all looking forward to hearing Andrew Fisher Tomlin talk about business plans, improving profitability and finding new marketing opportunities. With the latter subject in mind, the Edinburgh cluster group got together for a Social Networking introductory night looking at everything from Facebook, Twitter and writing blogs. It all got me thinking about how we get work as designers, and how it has changed even in the short time I've been practising as a designer. We leave college with a few designs in our portfolio, but what next?
1) Company identity - once you've thought of a name for your business (now always easy in itself), you need to sort out a logo which represents your business and targets your desired client base.  I spent hours agonising which fonts to use, what colour any text or graphics should be. As this will probably be used for any business stationary, websites, flyers, van graphics, banners and  marketing boards it's worth the extra effort and time to get it right at this stage. From this basic logo:

We were able to produce this as a flyer (A5 sized, nice silk finish postcard):
2) Make people aware that you're open for business. As well as creating a website, I targeted certain streets, popping these flyers through doors. This can be hit & miss, lots of walking with no end result. I was lucky in that I got a big enough planting job from my efforts to cover the cost of getting them printed. Most people of course now know the benefits of using a website, and that should be high on the list of anyone who's starting up as a designer. This is the basic template for my home & portfolio pages.

It can be tricky as being a new designer we won't have many images to use for a portfolio page, but even getting a basic website with your contact details, a little about yourself  and some examples of college or any practical projects you've been involved with will help. Getting your website optimised is as important as a good design - my website went live in the December and I got my first commission directly from it around 6 weeks later, and another a week or two later. From then I've never really looked back - a majority of work now comes through my website and now that I've got a few projects under my belt, via word of mouth too.
3) Other advertising. I have used both Yell.com and Yellow Pages, neither of which worked terribly well for me. I have leased a van, got livery on it and have a couple of jobs as a result of it being parked outside clients houses (one even from being at Ikea!)


I also have a good quality metal board outside any gardens (ask your clients if this is okay first!) and from the one below I got another job nearby just the other day. 
4) Social networking - so most of the above are probably fairly obvious, tried & tested techniques. But as well as having websites, many of us are now discovering the joys of social media & networking and how they too might help improve our businesses. Facebook is no longer just seen as a way for teenagers to keep in touch with their friends (I sound old!) - there is now 'Pages for Business' which we can use as almost a mini blog. I've seen designers post up regular photos of current projects, instructional videos, links back to their main website on these. Magazines, landscape & furniture suppliers are just some of the others I've found. Twitter has lots of designers 'tweeting' every day - I've found lots of links, photos and other useful information on there. Instead of the information overload that many people think it is, I only follow people who post information that's interesting & useful to me, and treat it like reading a very bespoke newspaper or magazine!
Writing a blog has been popular for a while now, I've just started blogging this year, not only writing about projects I'm working on, but also about other experiences I've had since I started working as a designer. I have also found an amazing amount of great designers & gardeners who write blogs. Many designers have a link to their blog from their main websites. This is a good way of potential clients seeing what we're up to in between updates to our website that we realistically only get a chance to do once or twice a year. Being involved with a Chelsea show garden this year I'm enjoying reading about Tom Stuart Smith's & Robert Myers preparation for their gardens there.
Duncan Heather posts lots of useful advice, and many of his students also have great blogs, talking about projects they've been set and experiences they've had. Check: http://thestudentgardendesigner.blogspot.com/ and http://jtgardendesign.blogspot.com/ . One of the best blogs I've ever seen though is at: http://greayer.com/studiog/
So as well as getting a lot of useful information can all of these help us get additional work as designers? Getting more traffic to your website will help improve your Google rankings, which is no bad thing. For many companies one popular use for this new technology is social networking between businesses and their clients. Companies have found that social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are great ways to build their brand image. They help to create brand awareness, for recruiting, and even help us to learn about new technologies and competitors.

This technology is still very much in it's infancy and it still really remains to be seen how successful it is in getting us any additional work, but it'll certainly be interesting to see how it can be combined with some of the other more traditional methods getting work in the future.

5 comments:

jane said...

Great idea re leasing a van and having it liveried. Had thought about buying, but leasing is a much better idea.

Tracy McQue said...

Yup, keeps it relatively cheap and can hand it back in 3 years. Citroen even helped me find a company to do livery and part paid for it!

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city said...

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