I led an hour-long morning roundtable at the recent Creative Freelancers Conference in Boston (part of HOW Design Live) called Out in the Sticks: the Joys & Challenges of Running a Design Biz in a Small Community.
Designers from PA, MI, TX, Cape Cod, NY, CAN, and even AK discussed our location-based issues while acknowledging that living in the sticks can lead to a higher quality of life (low cost of living! access to nature! it’s quiet & peaceful, there’s no traffic, pollution levels are low!) helping balance work life with personal life. Here’s some highlights from our conversation:
- We’re always encouraged to narrow our market and focus our services. But can we still do this when we have a limited pool of prospects to choose from? If we did that, we might never have any local clients – there aren’t enough appropriate prospects in any one market. Is a design business only appropriate in more urban areas?
- The readily available industry may have no money to spend on marketing services (ex: mushers in Alaska, or wineries in the Finger Lakes region of Central NY, where I live)
- Prospects do not understand the value of design. Is it our job to educate them? A useful tip that came out of the conversation in response to this challenge is try networking with a young professionals group (in my area, this group is called IGNITE, where they are more likely to “get” what designers do, value our services, and make qualified referrals.
- Participant Amy Caracappa-Qubeck‘s unique challenge with her locale on Cape Cod, MA is that it is a vacation destination – so the population, at least during the summer, isn’t interested in business relationships.
- How do we network with others in our industry and nurture our design community?
- Perception obstacles abound: clients may think you don’t have the same design chops as those in a metropolitan area (Laurel Black describes this phenomenon in her blog article, “Urban Refugee Syndrome” ); while prospects from your small community – if you’re from “away” like I am, having started my business in New York City – may assume you’ll be too expensive.
If you were you there, what else did we talk about? What did you take away from our talk?
Finally – designer or no, do you live or work in the sticks? What are your unique joys & challenges?