Up until recently, I hadn’t given much attention to working with local clients. With a population of around 1.8m, Northern Ireland isn’t a particularly large country from a global standpoint, so my initial business strategies thought it a good idea to spread the client search to a worldwide audience.
There was no real ‘focus’ for gaining clients; starting out with limited experience and a small portfolio of work meant I couldn’t be fussy with which projects I took on. I think within my first year of working as Inkbot Design, I had worked on one local project from a Belfast web developer who needed logo design, that had come through word of mouth.
Belfast, Northern Ireland’s capital city has around 250,000 people in and around it, and compared to places like New York is around a sixth of the population of Manhattan. Yes, just Manhatten, not even the entire city (in which case it would have been a 33rd) So naively starting out, it didn’t seem prudent to focus attention on a small place, surely more clients could be gained from throwing the net further afield? With customers mostly from the US, a few from the UK and seemingly random new projects from places like Jamaica, Australia and India, this lack of nearby work started to become a concern.
There are a lot of top Graphic Designers in Belfast, with decades of experience and established relationships with businesses in Northern Ireland – taking them on wasn’t going to be easy, especially when a couple have turned you down for jobs in the past!
It’s only within the last couple of months I have put focus on the local market, trying to take on the other Belfast Graphic Designers directly – but also pushing the UK logo design ‘niche’ whilst I’m at it. Now obviously the further the area you push to compete in, the harder it will be – you are most likely the best designer in your street, maybe the town, but not the country.
I think the advantages of working with local customers makes the efforts worthwhile, the pros far outweigh the cons so to speak.
The advantages of working with local clients.
1: Additional communication methods are available
It’s not realistic to always be able to meet a client in person for a face to face conversation, especially if they are further than the standard commute away. Even ‘regional’ projects can be a couple of hundred miles away depending on where you’re from, so phone calls, email and Skype may be the better options, at least starting out.
Having clients from your city means that if needs be, you can meet up, either in your studio, their office or a neutral coffee shop. This allows for an improved relationship and they are more likely to hire you if they’ve met you in person to build a rapport.
2: Payment will be in your currency.
Paypal has been an essential method of getting paid for many designers, especially when international transactions are required. There are always those who complain of the fees being too high, but for me, it was better to get 95% of my payment rather than none of it. International bank transfers are possible, but I never even tried it since Paypal saved the (potential) headaches and banking issues.
Local clients are much more likely to pay via bank transfer, which is instant, safer, and most importantly, you don’t pay any fees for the transaction.
3: You will understand the market better (generally).
If they are aiming for the local market that you are part of, it is more likely that you’ll understand the people in that area. Let’s say, for example, an international client needs a logo design and their target market is the over 65’s from the rural or desert areas of Western Africa. Now, to me anyways, that’s a target market I can’t really admit to having much knowledge of. This will really lengthen the R&D period of the project as I try to learn about these people, what they like, what they dislike etc.
If you are part of the target market, it will be much easier to comprehend the cultural and social expectations of a project. Your job is to communicate. If you don’t speak the language (figuratively) you will most likely not succeed.
4: You can offer additional services to local customers.
I don’t treat local clients any differently than I do international or online clients as far as customer service or price is concerned. Aspects such as printing are usually left to them, but I will offer assistance or speak to the printer directly if a specific direction is required.
The reason I leave printing to the client is to allow them the flexibility of choosing their own printer, which saves a lot on shipping and packaging. However, in dealing with clients from your area, it is possible to include things like business cards, where you deal with all the details and hand the final product over to the client, finished and ready to go. Not only will you add a new service to your business skill set, but you will be able to build an ongoing relationship with external trades, such as printers, sign writers and product manufacturers.
5: You will be used to the design ‘standards’
Standard paper and stationery dimensions in the UK are different to the US, and other countries have their own standard sizes which need to be researched. Knowing which standard to work to and the legalities that are to be covered is essential. if the client receives their business cards in the wrong layout sizes, not only will they be disappointed and everyone’s time will have been wasted, you may be seen as unprofessional.
Working with a local client means you know exactly what dimensions they will need for the physical media. I actually have a few templates saved in Illustrator named USA_Stationery_Template, UK_BusinessCards_Template, etc. so I don’t need to constantly look up the sizes.
There are more, but these are the advantages that have stood out for me when dealing with businesses in Northern Ireland and the UK over the last year or so. Needless to say, I’ll be looking to expand upon my logo design portfolio with some exciting Branding projects within Northern Ireland, so if you are looking for any freelance graphic designers feel free to request a quote.
If you’re wondering why this seems a little one sided, it’s because the disadvantages of working with local customers aren’t what I would call an issue. Some designers may be concerned that the client would just turn up out of the blue asking for fixes or help – I’ve never had that happen and they have all been courteous and respectful, emailing up front, even if it’s just to arrange a phone conversation. Another disadvantage could be seen as narrowing your working market area – basically giving you a smaller pool of potential clients. From what I’ve seen, at least in Belfast, is that businesses are growing out of the poor economy. New companies are starting out on a near daily basis, all requiring logo design, hopefully business savvy enough to hire a professional designer (ahem.)
Working with local businesses can be very a very enjoyable and provide a long-lasting relationship of future work. My suggestion is, if you’re starting out, try to get some local work early on – the ‘word of mouth’ factor is a strong one and you’d be surprised how often I get an email saying, “I saw the logo you designed for ‘x’, any chance you’re free for a project?”
But what do you think? Do you rely on working with local clients for the bulk of you income, or does the internet make your client-base an international one? What has been your experience with local businesses – do you prefer the international work?