There are good reasons to specialize as a freelance creative: Clients trust experts, word of mouth works better, and your marketing becomes much more straightforward. To inspire you to specialize, and to give you a little push, I interview designers who already have picked their niche.
Today: Scarlett Rugers, an Australian freelance graphic designer who specializes in book cover design:
Hi Scarlett, what's your niche?
Firstly I specialise in working with self-published authors. I do work with traditional publishing companies and small publishing firms, but I focus on authors who are looking to publish on their own.
Secondly my best skills are suited to: Women’s Literature and Chick Lit, Heavy photo-manipulation work, and completely creative and new concepts that break away from the genres.
Why, and when, did you choose book cover design as your niche?
I actually wanted to design books since 2005.
I’ve been a writer my whole life, and started in design in 2005, but I never knew how to crack the book design industry code.
How did you originally break into this niche?
Book cover design chose me! In 2011, an author friend approached me to design her cover, and after she shared the final result with others on a popular self-publishing forum at the Kindleboards I was suddenly inundated with work.
Haven’t looked back!
What allowed you to grow your business?
The most important thing that let me grow my business was without a doubt word of mouth.
This one hub of self-published authors on the internet all spread the word, and before I knew it I put up my website and the orders rolled in. The word of mouth wasn’t intentional, but I definitely gave a lot of value for the price which had a lot to do with it.
Nowadays, how do you get your most of your clients?
It is still word of mouth. When I do a good job, and exceed the client’s expectations, they rave about me.
All of my marketing strategies are based on inbound campaigns, and bringing as much greatness to the table for the author to take away with them so they feel 7 feet tall and super successful when they leave.
Top three things authors are looking for in a freelance book cover designer?
1. Communication. Design – no matter what field – needs communication. When that breaks down, everything else gets lost.
2. Proven skills. A good, plump portfolio.
3. Someone who generally knows what they’re doing, and about the industry. Self-publishing is a really scary thing and when you’re new to it, intensely overwhelming. Having a designer there to give you a general outline as to what to expect makes the entire process much easier.
What’s your personal USP in this niche? Why do clients choose you over other designers working in the same niche?
I want the authors I work with to feel like traditionally published by the time I finish working with them.
I want the process to be easy and smooth, to give them confidence in their choices, and I encourage them to see all of the things they’re achieving.
For me, it’s all about the experience. While the author thinks they’re coming to me just for a book design, they leave with a feeling of strength, determination, and excitement. They leave knowing that they’re achieving something great.
Are there any significant disadvantages working in your niche?
Not that I consider a disadvantage.
I know a lot of book designers who have decided to branch out into other areas of self-publishing, like marketing, promotion, general sales techniques for authors. But by focusing on my niche of book design, it allows me to really hone in on those skills.
That way I’m not stretched too far, and I can take my talents to the next level and offer really amazing book design.
How important has picking a niche been for your business? Where would your business be today if you hadn't specialized?
Picking a niche was so vital to what I do today. Not only just book design, but because I moved to women’s literature and chick lit on a broader scale I was head hunted by Montlake Publishing (a part of Amazon) and asked to work for them.
By working within a niche my opportunities expanded.
Before you also run a website even more specialized: “Chick Lit Book Covers.” How did that niche work out for you?
Chick Lit Book Covers was a trial run as I was getting so much work through my agency for the women’s literature, chick lit, romance work.
While the business itself was successful, I didn’t have the energy that I really wanted to dedicate to it to make it 100%, so I integrated it back into my business.
Again by focusing on the one project, I’m not pulled at all sides and I can give my customers the true experience that I want them to.
In which other ways has choosing a niche affected you as a professional?
As a professional it’s really helped me gain momentum with what makes a successful business.
I’m constantly trying new things to push my business, to make it more, to make it better. By focusing on a niche I instantly saw results, so I now use that to my advantage in day-to-day work by focusing on one thing until it’s completed.
While a niche helps my business grow with clients, it also helps me function on a generally higher level.
You have streamlined your business to a few package offers… Why?
I’ve done this at the advantage of my clients.
I know how frustrating it can be to visit a website, interested in something, and the prices are nowhere to be found. By outlining the services and products very clearly it allows the audience to feel a sense of relief, to know there aren’t going to be any nasty surprises around the corner, that we’re very upfront about what we offer.
What advice would you give a fellow freelance graphic designer about to choose a niche?
Stick with it. It will pay off. You don’t think so at first, and for me there was a lot of fear involved in choosing a niche, but it will be better off for both you and your clients.
Finally, if you had to pick another niche than book cover design today? Which one would it be? Why?
It would have to be something in coaching.
I’ve always longed to teach and coach, to help people transform their lives, which is what I hope I’m doing through book design. So if it wasn’t design, I’d like to help women overcome obstacles within their lives to help them be all that they can be.
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Not sure what to specialise in yet? Read Finding Your Niche: When Graphic Design Really Pays Off, or check out more examples of graphic design niches!