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Soliciting Design Clients with Ideas - Good or Bad Idea?

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  • Soliciting Design Clients with Ideas - Good or Bad Idea?

    A new restaurant recently opened in my local shopping mall's food court. As opposed to all the fast food chain restaurants that surround it, this is privately owned Cuban cafe operated by a very sweet couple who make great food. I told one of the owners how much I enjoy their food and try to stop by weekly, and she happily gave me a few business cards to help get the word out. The business card is... rather poor; it's essentially a watercolor beach painting with text oddly placed on it. They also have no website, just a Facebook page. Since they're so friendly and eager to get the word out, and because I love their food, I've considered talking to them about possibly having me design a logo and possibly a website for them in order to create a visual brand identity and strengthen their marketing. The husband even has a unique look with his bright green apron and thick salt-and-pepper hair and mustache, which could potentially work into the logo (think KFC's Colonel Sanders).

    Is this an unusual approach to getting graphic design jobs? Are there any guidelines I should follow?

    Thank you in advance.


  • #2
    Way back when, a long time ago between jobs when I was freelancing full-time, I did a lot of the kind of thing that you're suggesting. I'd identify small businesses that really could benefit from my help, then approach them with a sales pitch. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. Surprisingly, though, it actually did work quite often.

    Even so, what I learned is that these kinds of small businesses really don't have much money to spend. And if they do have the money, they'd often rather spend it on other things. There's usually a reason why they have poor graphic identity and less-than-good marketing -- sometimes it's a lack of money, sometimes it's just not a priority for them, sometimes they're do-it-yourselfers who think they can do it all themselves, and sometimes they're just totally clueless about the whole subject and think their awful stuff is already sufficient.

    Every now and again, though, I'd run across the owner of one of these businesses who'd get really excited about things and start spilling out all kinds of ideas about doing this or doing that but who didn't know how to go about it him or herself. In those situations, it became a lot of fun helping them out and it often lead to longer-term relationships.

    All that said, you can't really make decent money doing custom, one-off jobs for small businesses -- it's just too time-consuming for the amount of money to be made. Of course, if you just want to help out these restaurant owners for reasons that go beyond making money, that's great. They might be open to it or they might not be. Maybe they'd even be willing to exchange free meals for the work. I'd be willing to bet, though, that they don't have much money to spend, and that Facebook might be working for them just fine and that, when it comes right down to it, they'd rather spend what money they do have fixing the noisy motor on their refrigerator, repairing the worn tables out front and figuring out how to pay the lease for the next six months.

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    • #3
      I pretty much agree with B. If you decide to approach them, be prepared to do the job for virtually nothing. They may surprise you but don't count on a nice paycheck out of this.

      That said, I think you're already two steps too far ahead. You're not going to do them any favors if you push your ideas on them (you mentioned their green apron and appearance as a concept). Put the breaks on that and clear your mind of any preconceptions you have about how they should brand themselves. Your job is to listen to how THEY perceive their business, how they want to position themselves in their market, and what will be attractive to their customers. (Of course, since you're already one of them, you have an edge, but be sure you're paying attention to the bigger picture here too).

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      • #4
        Well, this is a tricky topic, especially because you don't really know if they want any marketing or visual identity redesign. Like B said, often these type of potential clients are completely clueless about this type of marketing and they're more in the traditional way of representing themselves. If you can explain all the pros and benefits they might get from this, I say go for it. On the other hand, clients that aren't really tech savvies themselves may have a hard time understanding your design concept for example, so things end up looking much worse than in the beginning (I know from personal experience).

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        • #5
          I would do it for in-kind. Get free food for life, or something close to it. Set a dollar amount and then they can just keep a running tab till it's used up.

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          • #6
            Thanks for all the advice, everyone. Things got busy and I ended up calling the restaurant owner a few months ago only to find that he's not reopening, so no design opportunity there. I appreciate all the good insight posted on here though. Thanks again.

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