How to stand out in a crowded market

Google tells me there are 254 million search results for “graphic designer.” What was once a few hundred profiles in a creative entrepreneur Facebook group, has quickly grown over 10,000 in a year. There are 23,108 blog posts about design that pop up on Pinterest. Okay, I made that last one up. But, it can’t be too far off, yes?

You might be thinking “Well, how do you even get noticed online with so many designers?”

Well dang. If that’s not a negative way to start a blog post, I don’t know what is!

Listen up, I’ve got a little something to share about how to set yourself apart. It’s a strategy Spruce Rd. has had since the get-go, and it’s booked us the best clients.

So what did I do that allowed me to book clients like Melyssa Griffin, ByRegina and Little Poppy Co.?

Narrowing my services.

Okay okay, you caught me! It’s actually much more than that, but I do know my clients have booked Spruce Rd. based on our branding specialty. When booking our services, clients like Regina specifically mentioned our narrowed services are exactly why they booked us.

You see, there’s a trend with freelance designers I’ve seen crop up — a tendency to offer a wide range of services, even though you are running a solo business. I’ve seen it pop up on websites over and over again. Something along these lines:

Services we offer:

  • Brand strategy

  • Brand naming

  • Logo design

  • Packaging

  • Stationery

  • Web design (Squarespace, Shopify, Wordpress)

Sure, as designers we are capable of handling each of these services — and can even do it well! However, there is a downfall to this “generalist” approach (aside from burnout).

For reference, here’s what Spruce Rd. services look like:

  • Brand identity design

Much simpler, eh? Sure, we include collateral such as stationery, packaging and InDesign templates within the branding package, but overall it is ONE service package we offer.

Generalist, or specialist?

Yes, you have to choose. In business you can either choose to be a “generalist” in your field or a “specialist.” I remember hearing this in my final semester in design school, and really questioning the professor. My pride got to me, and in my head I muttered “but… I’m actually good at all design, not just one thing.” Ugh, that makes me cringe looking back!

A handyman

Generalists certainly have their place, don’t get me wrong. You can have a very profitable business as a generalist freelance designer. But it does come at a cost, so I want you to be aware of that.

Let’s look into a handyman — aka our generalist.

If you need a few things fixed up in your house, you will most likely call a handyman. He can fix the holes in your wall, your broken dishwasher and even mess with the heating. He has his place, and you definitely value his services.

But what if you want custom cabinets, or new wood flooring? Would you go to your handyman?

The specialist

Chances are, if you want it done right you are going to hire a cabinet or flooring expert. It’s a big job, and you want a pro to handle it. Someone you can trust to meet the quality you’re looking for.

I think you see where I’m headed here.

Let me spell it out. If you want to work with premium clients, you’ll need to specialize your services. If you offer brand naming, logo design, packaging and every website platform available, you are turning away premium clients.

Just a note — I’m speaking to solo or very small businesses! Obviously if you own a 10-employee studio, you have the capability to expand services.

When I look back on my business purchases over the past few years, I see a trend — specialization. Whether it was copywriting, photography, legal services or business coaching, each investment was very specialized to what I needed. As a bonus, they also listed their prices publicly which further encouraged me to book.

Why I don’t offer web design

Simply put, Spruce Rd. works with premium clients. We offer quality design services, and didn’t want to dilute our brand through multiple offerings. Sure, the handyman has its place in freelancing (and my respect!), but that’s just not our vision.

I took a risk not offering web design. So many freelancers offer branding + web as a package, and it could come across that we’re “lacking” when compared to our competitors. But, I’ve found it to be quite the opposite! Our clients appreciate the specificity, and lean into it more.

Our passion and skillset belongs to branding. We know the strategy, technicality, precision and process in and out for logo design. It’s our heart, it’s what we love, and I think that comes through with each client branding project.

I’m okay not being a handyman.

What about you? Generalist or specialist? Take some time to let it simmer, and do some digging for your own offerings. Narrow down who you want to work with, and pinpoint if they need a handyman or a specialist.