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May 15, 2009
Recession Guide for Designers
 
In difficult times people get creative — and creative people must find new ways to use resources wisely. Whether you work as an in-house designer at a large company, own your own design firm, or work as a freelancer, the recession has no doubt affected you or someone you know. Thus, creating a need to think outside the box in order to make, and ultimately save, more money.
 
Here are 5 ideas to help you through this economic downturn.
 
1. Create a magazine club.
Magazines are a great source of information and inspiration, but they cost money. One way that you can maximize a magazine subscription is to create a magazine club. You can start by contacting designers you know and invite them to meet once a month to exchange magazines and discuss articles. You can eventually grow the club to include other designers, making this an opportunity to network as well.
 
2. Add new skills for free.
When you add a new skill to your toolbox you are opening doors to new opportunities. So why not learn it for free? If you search the Internet you can find many Web sites, such as tv.adobe.com, where you can actually stream video and learn techniques directly from the experts! Another thing you can do is subscribe to podcasts like Pixel Perfect. The podcast hosted by digital artist Bert Monroy, offers fifteen minutes of professional and detailed advice on Photoshop and Illustrator tools, and the best part - it’s free.
 
You should also take advantage of free talks offered from design organizations like the American Institute of Graphic Arts and tap your local library to see what classes they offer. They may not offer a class on InDesign, but they may offer classes in Excel or Word, and if you’re not familiar with these programs this is a wonderful opportunity to learn.
 
Another way to learn new techniques is to get a part-time job working for a printer, photographer or another designer whose strength or focus is different than yours. The great thing about going this route is you are learning directly from a professional and getting paid. 
 
3. Teach, tutor, type or talk.
If you can close your eyes and you’re able to recite all the short cuts in Photoshop, odds are you’re an expert. You should take your knowledge and become a, Photoshop “Profit” by teaching or tutoring. Shop your knowledge about particular design programs to local computer training centers, libraries, community colleges and organizations, or create a tutoring program from your own studio. You can also offer to create classes through your company, but check with human resources first. The advantage to tutoring or teaching is you’re helping people attain knowledge and you’re getting paid.
 
If you’ve been in the design business for a few years, you’ve probably experienced some fun and exciting, or aggravating and nerving, clients, employees, printers, illustrators, photographers etc., so why not write about it? The way you handled a particular situation can be an excellent opportunity for another designer to read and learn from your experience. You can write your article and shop it around to design magazines or design blogs, and if the article gets published you’ll get great exposure and possibly a paycheck! 
 
You can also translate your experiences or expertise into a gig as a guest speaker. Create an informative and entertaining presentation and contact conferences, schools or design organizations to see if the content fits their needs. And don’t forget to check out magazines, organizations or conferences outside of the design world, since graphic design is incorporated into all types of business.
 
4. Advertise for $0 - Priceless
MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn are free networking vehicles to increase your visibility. Even though some of these sites cater more towards youthful socializing, you can still create a page with a portfolio and a list of skills and services you provide. Also, take time once a week and invite people to become “friends” and update them on any new projects you may be working on.
 
The hot “new” free tool for networking, marketing or micro-blogging is Twitter. You are able to write current updates on your profile page and have people follow your entries or “tweets”. You can use Twitter to market yourself by writing about current projects, design awards or a new promotion. The marketing opportunities are limitless with Twitter, except you’ll need to get to the point faster Twitter limits the word count to 140 words.
 
You can also create a video of your portfolio and upload it to YouTube or be a little more innovative like Kyle T. Webster who took viral marketing to another level by creating an original video called, “Original Design Gangsta” which is very creative, not to mention very funny. The video ends with his Web site address, which helps drive traffic to his website.
 
Another way to promote yourself or your business for free is sending out a press release. While there are many sites that charge, there are also a number of them that offer the service at no charge. If you recently won a design award or landed a new account you should create a press release, and post it on your Web site. Also, send it to design magazines and send it to free PR sites like pr.com. Even though these sites offer premium services, they still offer free postings that are often picked up by Google News.
 
Additionally, when you do pro-bono work it’s usually a win-win situation for you, as well as the non-profit organization you are serving. Besides being a tax write off, it can also be a great way to advertise your design services to others. You can ask to include your Web site address on the materials you created, and have a link on their Web site.
 
Being published in a design book is another way you can garner recognition and exposure. Publishing houses such as Rockport Publications  or Crescent Hill Books are always looking for material to include in their latest book. The wonderful thing about their “Call for Entries” is they’re usually free. You should check their Web sites regularly and enter your work.
 
5. Sell Yourself.
Springtime has arrived and it’s time to clean. Go through all your design books, equipment and chachkas to pick out things you no longer want or need. If the pile includes working or valuable items, then sell them on eBay. Remember, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
 
If you photograph, illustrate or paint in your free time, then turn your hobby into an additional revenue stream. Sell your work in galleries or on your Web site, and upload your images to stock houses like iStock to reap the financial rewards of a popular image. Another way to profit from your creativity is to upload your images onto Web sites like cafepress.com that sell and print images on t-shirts, mugs, hats etc. 
 
Taking Inventory
If you take the time to evaluate how every aspect of your business is run, you will find there are hundreds, if not thousands of additional ways to save and make money. From lowering the heat and wearing an extra sweater, to using ceramic mugs instead of purchasing disposable cups, all of these little steps can help make a bad situation just a little bit better. If you would like to share your tips on saving or making money during this recession e-mail me.

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Ana Paula Rodrigues is employed at Nielsen Business Media as an Art Director for an award-winning magazine. Additionally, she freelances and also donates her design services to non-profit organizations. She is currently a board member for the Art Directors Club of New Jersey. She has served as a judge for several design awards and has been awarded a number of design awards. Read her blog.
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