A designer’s skill set can very quickly become obsolete in this day and age. Designers need to know more skills than ever before, and client expectations are constantly changing. It can be somewhat more difficult to remain current if you work in-house and are required to stick to a certain style guide or use outdated tools.
However, freelance designers need to closely monitor their skills as well, to avoid getting passed up by the competition. Today, we’re going to go over some ways you can stay in the loop with all the new skills you need to know, while not driving yourself crazy by always playing "catch up".
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Turning it inside out
One of the best ways to maintain an edge when it comes to skills needed to solve your clients’ problems is to examine them from an "inside out" perspective. Rather than seeing freelancing as simply a means to an end, it’s important to always start with your client – or rather, their target user – and place yourself in their shoes.
What are they hoping to experience? Then, it’s simply a matter of deducing which essential skills you need to help that user have the best experience possible.
This is a great tactic to use if you’re confused over which new programming languages you need to learn, or what new software you should seek training for. When the user’s expectations start to change, that’s when you change.
Outsourcing for fun, and profit
Plenty of designers outsource tasks they themselves are less than good at. There’s nothing wrong with doing this, and I’ve recommended it many times in the past to designers who feel overwhelmed by everything they have to do.
However, when consulting with a client, it’s essential that you yourself can actually do the thing(s) your client is coming to you for. If they are in the market for a designer who can code, it will be harder to sell them if you’re hiring outside help.
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Look for assets, not crutches
Simply relying on another contractor for an essential part of your business is usually not a good idea in the long run. If you outsource frequently, stop to consider whether you’d be better off just learning that skill yourself.
Knowing what you are doing gives you a confidence that is palpable to clients, and they will value you a lot more because of it.
As an alternative, you could also choose to partner up with someone permanently – perhaps the contractor you primarily outsource to – and offer a joint service to a much wider pool of clients. Working with others certainly has its challenges, but there’s no doubt that the right business partnership can increase your efficiency, and your income, exponentially.
Follow your heart
Usually, the skills you yourself most enjoy can be integrated into your design process and the services you offer to your clients. Even if you think a skill is "weird" or not relevant, it can still often be incorporated somehow, and set you apart from others competing for similar clients.
For example, my love of food and cooking might not seem to have anything to do with design. But not only is it a point of interest that makes people intrigued about me, I’ve also found that my added experience in the culinary arts puts my niche clients (restaurant owners and chefs) at ease.
They are quite eager to work with someone who has genuine knowledge and enthusiasm about their industry.
Mine your hobbies
Everyone reading this has hobbies – stuff you love to do in your spare time without any expectation of getting paid. Remember, hobbies are skills too, and they can help keep you ultra-relevant and cutting edge to the right clients who will appreciate them.
As with other skills you have that you think might be unrelated to design, your hobbies can often point you in a direction that you really should be focusing on in your career.
We should all be striving to be in the position where we’re only doing what we love. It usually takes some effort to get there, but incorporating your hobbies and passions can make it much easier.
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If you’ve been meaning to pick up a new skill, taking on a freelance project that’s more multifaceted than usual can be a great way to learn or practice it. If you have a client requesting some high-level programming like Ruby on Rails, or a client who wants to branch into video, this would be the perfect opportunity to jump in and start gaining experience.
Again, try to keep as much as possible to a skill set that inspires you – believe me, there are clients who fit every designer’s unique offerings.
How has keeping your skill set up to date helped you advance your career as a designer? Are there any unusual methods you’ve used to sharpen your competitive edge? Do share!