Should freelance designers branch out or niche in?

branching-out as a freelance designer graphic design blender

I am a huge advocate of finding your design niche (or even a super-niche) and sticking to it. For me, finding my niche has been the fastest way to grow my design business.

But have you ever reached a point in your freelance design career where you find yourself asking the following question: “Should I branch out and do more?”

Earlier in the year, when I asked what you’d like to read this year, April wrote the following:

I’d love to read an article about branching out into an aspect of design that you’ve never done before — trials, tribulations, successes, thoughts, building confidence, etc. How do you price out a project you’ve never done before? How can you be sure you can produce results you’ll be proud of?

What a great set of questions! Here’s my best stab at answering them. If you have anything to add, please leave a comment and teach us!

First, should you even think about it?

If you haven’t already faced this sort of question, you will. Companies do it all the time and freelance designers are no exception.

But should you even consider branching out and trying something new?

Here are a few signs you should:

  • You’re bored with the work you’re currently doing.
  • You can’t pay the bills with the clients and projects you currently have.
  • You aren’t working on projects you love.
  • Demand for your particular niche has diminished dramatically.
  • You’re too niche to bring in lots of clients.

On the other hand, here are a couple signs you shouldn’t think about it yet:

  • You’re swamped with the work you already have. (You won’t have time to branch out if you hardly have time to complete your projects on time.
  • You find it hard to be passionate about anything but your current niche.

Ok, you’re gonna do it! But how?

If you decided not to branch out yet, that’s ok. Bookmark this post and revisit in a few months when you find yourself asking the same question.

But if you decided maybe it is time to branch out and widen your freelance design business, here’s how you ought to do it:

1. Find something you excel at.
Don’t waste your time trying to build your business by doing something you’re clearly not good at. If you’re interested in it, make it a hobby first. Then, once you’ve mastered it enough to make it profitable start pitching it to clients.

2. Find something supplementary.
When branching out, try to find a services that’s supplementary to the work you already do. If you design logos, for example, try branching out by designing stationery and business cards–not programming wordpress sites.

Baby steps, my friend.

3. Find something in high demand
The hardest part about branching out will be finding clients who are willing to take a chance on you. Find something you can be passionate about, something supplementary to your current services, and something in high demand.

This ensures you’ll have a fairly steady workflow.

If not branching out, what?

Not sure you want to branch out yet? There are other options that can help you build your design business. Try one of these:

Will you be branching out or not?

What do you think? Will you be branching out to build your design business this year or will you stick to your niche and try to grow in other ways? Leave a comment on this post and let me know!

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee

Comments

  1. Great post. I think a few of the things you mentioned in the “not branching out” section should have been more along the lines of “regardless of whether you’re branching out or not.” Especially the passive income.

    As for business plans this year, I think that I would like to get back into a niche. I had one, then a load of random client requests came in that were outside of my niche, so I adapted as quickly as I could. Then I found a new niche that makes up about half of my workload at any given time, so I think I’ll try to stick with that one for now to see how it goes.

  2. I think focus is main consideration and branching out might dilute that vision. If you are really good at whatever niche you’re working with, then it might be a better idea to charge more and create this as a reputation for yourself. That way, word of mouth will go around as ‘I know this guy and he’s really something. He can definitely pull off whatever you have just told me…’. You would have carved yourself out a neat little corner as a specialist.

  3. Hey Preston,

    Thanks for putting thought into some of my questions!

    I find that sometimes the branching out comes to you, and other times you seek the branching out. I’ve put a lot of thought into learning mobile app programming, but at this point I have so much else to do – work, building my business, etc. – that I can’t put time and effort into that aspect quite yet. It’s an ‘on the horizon’ sort of prospect – maybe later this year or a good project for 2013.

  4. I have branched out i added blog design for blogger and i have sold a few pre made designs. I even went into digital wedding invites and i got a few hits and e-mails no orders. Mostly my sales come from odd little design jobs like designing for etsy shop owners . I have since upped my prices and i feel a little better now about my work but am not getting much work maybe 1 thing a month :(

  5. During nearly 40 years as a designer, the last 12 as a freelancer, I’ve been in many niches, so I absolutely recommend becoming an expert in a few areas in which you can offer superb service. As niche demand ebbs and flows, make sure you have an in-demand niche that offsets one that is weakening, then market your services continuously.

    Passive income is also useful to help fill the gaps. My wife (partner) and I developed a B2B ebook 10 years ago that passively produces income year after year. It took two years to develop, but has been worth the effort in cash flow.

    Just my $.02.

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