If you’re a graphic designer, marketer or small business owner, your survival depends in part on your ability to overcome challenges, anticipate market trends, and strategically plan for the future. The worlds of designers, marketers and small businesses are intertwined, and it seems any person who serves in one role has also served in the other two. That’s why it’s important to not only recognize the evolution of your own environment, but also the environments of those you heavily depend on. As such, I’ve listed here 30 hot issues graphic designers, marketers and small businesses will face in 2014. Will you be prepared?
Graphic Designer Issues in 2014
1. Go firm or go solo?
Graphic designers who work for design firms are guaranteed income and generally have benefits and paid time off, but the trade off is set hours and an income ceiling. Freelance graphic designers have more freedom but not guarantees. As more design firms take the agency approach, graphic designers will have to consider whether they’re better off working for an in-house firm or taking to the freelance market.
Specialization will continue to become more critical to your success. When you specialize, it’s easier and less expensive to market your services, far easier to become known for your work, and easier to charge more for it from the best customers. In 2014, consider: Are you a web designer or a landing page specialist? Do you craft great typography or are you a brand image designer?
The formal education system churns out thousands of great designers every year, but some of the most talented designers have no formal education whatsoever. Whether you have a design degree or not isn’t so important as continuing to educate yourself in the field of design. From the principles of design, to how design plays into marketing and brand image, to contemporary trends and simply improving your skill set, you’re responsible for educating yourself and it can mean the difference in the amount of value you offer employers or clients.
4. Foreign competition
It’s commonly known that foreign designers don’t possess the skills of domestic designers, right? Well, that’s the perception – but it’s not a fact. There are talented designers in every country, many of which live in economies that allow them to charge far less than you can for quality design work. Competing against that means you have to not only sell your design work, but the value in your understanding of the marketplace you’re designing for.
If you’re a freelance designer, 2014 is the year to seriously considering outsourcing some of your work in order to achieve greater profits. The talent pool finally contains a lot of quality designers you can tap to grow your business. Finding the right freelancers and services to outsource to will be critical.
You should also consider partnerships as long-term business relationships. Web designers, printing companies, blogs, online magazines, and marketers all have needs for graphic designers – what can you trade; or, can you share referrals and commissions? What about white label add-on services? Again, you need to find the right partners in order for such an arrangement to work.
7. Additional income opportunities
Whether you work for a design firm or are a freelance graphic designer, you should consider opportunities for additional, passive income. Sell you designs on stickers, shirts, coffee mugs, posters and more via online channels to bolster your income.
8. Fee management
Your cost of living isn’t getting any cheaper, yet you need to remain competitive in the marketplace. In 2014, set a policy to give yourself an annual raise and charge your clients accordingly. If you work for a design firm, ask for an annual raise as part of your employment package.
9. Trend follower or breaker
It’s important to study contemporary trends, because your design clients or employer will likely want you to emulate them. At the same time, you need to differentiate yourself in the marketplace. Will you be a trend follower or a trend breaker?
Graphic designers will have to continue to fight the perception of devaluation. When anyone can access Photoshop for cheap, everyone thinks they can design. When they do hire a designer, they think it’s because they don’t want to take the time to learn how to design, but that it’s fast and simple for someone who has. Design is more than learning how to click around in software, and it’s a valuable talent. That perception must be fostered.
Marketer Issues in 2014
1. A return to print
Print marketing, particularly direct mail marketing, continues to outperform digital marketing. It often requires a larger upfront investment, but the return on investment makes that investment well-justified – especially when so many of your clients’ competitors are ignoring this powerful marketing medium.
2. Where to invest marketing funds
Marketing budgets are limited, so developing a comprehensive marketing strategy that achieves great results is more difficult than ever. Direct marketing, print marketing, print advertising, outdoor advertising, web, TV and radio advertising, mobile marketing, social media, email marketing, and so many other channels are vying for your budget. Repetition is important; how will you manage marketing budgets to maximize return?
3. Massive data
Big data is a big buzzword today, and having access to incredible demographics is the future of targeted marketing. But simply accessing data isn’t enough to make your marketing more efficient; you have to be able to properly analyze that data. New tools promise to conduct the analysis for you, but are they accurate or should you do it yourself?
4. Self-service marketing solutions
Hundreds, if not thousands, of self-service marketing solutions exist. Marketers have to make the case for their purpose, lest business owners go the DIY route. Take advantage of the self-service tools and bill yourself as a marketing manager?
5. Measuring return on investment
Measuring postcard return on investment is easy: include a coupon or coupon code, then count the number of people who redeem it. It can be a bit more difficult online, especially when it comes to measuring the return on investment of social media efforts. How will you measure social media marketing success in 2014?
6. Proven strategies vs. innovation
When it comes to marketing, there’s something to be said for sticking to the tried and true. However, getting in an emerging marketing opportunity at the outset can yield huge dividends down the road. How will you identify evolving opportunities and take advantage of them without jeopardizing the budget for your proven marketing strategies?
7. Keeping up with social media
More and more social media sites and opportunities launch every day; most will ultimately fail, certainly, but a few will survive and become online marketing powerhouses. How will you keep up with the growth of social media marketing without spreading yourself too thin?
8. Marketing coordination
With so many marketing channels available, you’ll need to become an expert at marketing coordination in order to track all your efforts, campaigns, and returns. Track every minute detail and then analyze the data to see the big picture.
Keeping up with social media and taking advantage of new opportunities will require you to seriously consider outsourcing.
On the same token, if you want to expand your marketing opportunities you’ll need to considering partnering with other companies to act as your marketing departments: social media, search ads, print marketing, etc.
Small Business Issues in 2014
1. Health care
No one knows for sure what’s going to happen with the Affordable Care Act in 2014, but if you’re a small business owner I can guarantee whatever happens is going to cost you time, money, or both.
2. Employee demands
Though unemployment is a socioeconomic issue today, top talent doesn’t have too look far for good jobs. That makes your best employees in high demand, which means you must offer attractive employment packages or risk losing your top performers to the competition – or the freelance market, which is better than ever.
3. Time to go mobile
If your company doesn’t have a website that works well on all platforms, doesn’t market via mobile advertising, and doesn’t have an app, you’re going to have to consider investing in these areas to remain relevant.
4. Tech expenses
Website redesign, digital marketing, and mobile development all cost money. So does hosting, networking, and other technical resources. It’s necessary to continue to invest your company in technology without overspending your budget.
Recent events have proven anyone can be hacked, and it’s not all that difficult for dedicated groups of people to do it. Viruses and the like can shut down your entire company in no time. Security will be paramount and potentially expensive.
The cost of operating a small business continues to rise, and if your revenue doesn’t rise along with it you can be forced to cut funds dedicated to innovative new products, services, and marketing campaigns.
Working your niche market has never been more important, as it’s easier than ever for competitors to spring up and threaten any hold you have on a general audience. Determine what you do best and push it to the fullest extent to reduce your overhead and maximize your profits.
8. Bogus competitors
Being the best in your field doesn’t mean you’ll be so recognized; what’s more, a lot of inferior competitors are out there to challenge your marketshare. Don’t rest on your laurels. Instead, figure out how to make your customers feel good about doing business with you. Otherwise, risk losing business to the better marketers, not necessarily the better companies.
Operating a small business consumes more time than ever. You’re expected to wear all hats at many times; otherwise, you have to delegate or outsource tasks (and pay someone else to do them). Getting behind can prove a major setback and deal a blow to your business that’s impossible to recover from. Make sure you have a plan to increase productivity in a way that also fosters increased revenue.
Time for business management, time for strategic planning, time for family, time for you. Without an intelligent plan, you’ll struggle to find all of these in 2014.