Back in 2005 in Ottawa when I launched my graphic design career, I started the usual way: building a portfolio piece by piece by getting work from friends or close colleagues. This makes perfect sense for a novice starting out: you don’t yet have a strong portfolio or network, and therefore you need to build some credibility. This was also before the age of social media, and so my reach was very much local. As I completed more and more projects successfully, word got around and my “word-of-mouth” referrals grew.
Eventually I started getting calls from colleagues or friends of friends, and the project would typically begin with a telephone call. In fact, I realized more often than not, I wasn’t even meeting the client I would work with! The nature of a creative business that mainly relies on software and the internet to accomplish tasks means you can really take your work literally anywhere. So, I stretched myself out and started looking online for contracts, eventually landing repeating work like annual reports for university departments based in Calgary, and campaign projects for the city of Winnipeg. Using early online freelance websites like Guru (contemporary sites are now “Upwork” and “Fiverr”) allowed me to stretch beyond the borders of my hometown with ease.
This is the new reality for many small businesses. You no longer have to rely on a personal sales call or project meeting to get the job done. With the help of Skype, Facetime, Google Hangouts, or the like, you can virtually be in a room with anyone, anywhere. Thanks to screen sharing apps like ScreenLeap or Join.Me, I can train clients on how to use their newly built website, collaborate on a moodboard, or review a document. Document sharing platforms like Dropbox or Google Drive make sharing large files easy, a must for the type of files I use daily. For my own business development, I rarely find myself in a brick-and-mortar classroom and instead will use Lynda.com or Udemy to delve into skills that are often so cutting-edge the local colleges don’t yet even offer courses on the topic.
When we moved to St. Thomas in 2009, I took all my Ottawa clients with me. They were all happy to continue working the same way we had before; only now, we could compare the weather between Southwestern and Eastern Ontario. Even today, I still work with some of these Ottawa clients. Another portion of my business comes from anywhere from the Toronto area (where I can compete favourably as my overhead is much lower than creative agencies operating there) to even far-flung American cities. And of course, a significant chunk of work still comes from old-fashioned face-to-face networking in London and St. Thomas. You can’t underestimate the power of the human connection, but it’s no longer the only way to play the game. Whether you sell insurance, vintage doilies or reclaimed wood furniture: the job can be done from anywhere. You just need a website and a solid social media presence. The online world awaits!