Quick, it’s the designphone!

There are as many methods of finding new work as there are clients out there. But the best advice is just to be prepared

And … send. There we go, that’s another job well done, another smile on another client’s face. I’ll just sit back and wait for that invoice to be paid – shouldn’t take more than a few minutes, there’s no good reason why it should. In the meantime, maybe I’ll enjoy a Tunnocky treat or two, have a think about the inevitable acclaim on the horizon. Perhaps a contemplative moustache twirl and a stare out the window are in order. Ah, the universe is a handsome mistress. Before long, the big red designphone will beep and glow from beneath its protective glass cloche, and then it’s off to work again. Another brief, another client. A quick push of the button concealed in that innocuous Leonardo Fibonacci bust, and the secret entrance to the studio reveals itself from behind an award-laden bookshelf. Off to work again! I’ve got grids to save! Work, payment, work, payment, it’s all so wonderfully predictable and structured.

And then I wake up.

In the reality of awakenessland, finding new work as a freelancer is a haphazard affair at best, and involves significantly fewer cloches and busts. No matter how intently I stare at it, that phone never lights up when I want it to. It’s a lot more complicated and messy than that (and, now I think of it, rarely involves a telephone at all). Maybe one day I’ll figure out the best method for reeling in work but, so far, it seems that there exist as many different methods as there are clients.

In my experience, the most fruitful methods are usually the most unexpected. Approaches that have worked recently: having a wife; inane online chit-chat; going out for a swift half; publicly appreciating concrete; schmoozing over vol-au-vents whilst needing a wee. These aren’t really things you can plan too much.

Now I know what you’re thinking: lucky git, in the right place at the right time. But – and I’ll skip over the excruciating pop-philosophical treatise for now – I don’t really believe luck just happens all by itself. It’s a result of a bunch of other smaller factors coming together in a chaotic, incomprehensible mess. Luck is a little explosion of circumstances, but that explosion needs fuel. When it comes to landing new work, the best fuel by far is good old-fashioned word of mouth.

It may seem simplistic, but the mantra “be pleasant to work with and do good work” (pinched from the magnificently bearded US designer Mike Monteiro) is a handy nugget of wisdom to keep filed at the back of your mind at all times (just next to the title of Monteiro’s rallying battle cry of a talk, ‘Fuck You, Pay Me’ – but that’s for later in the process).

Your carefully cultivated reputation of utter and indisputable splendidness takes on a life of its own, and can take a while to work its way back to you in the shape of new work. The trick is to always be poised for when that word of mouth comes back around and you find yourself discussing branding opportunities over a mini-quiche and before you know it – ‘Oh you’re that guy? You did that thing? Oh let’s talk. Wait … do you need a wee?’.

Getting the work in is one thing, scheduling it into a humane timetable for myself is another matter entirely. Multiple clients mean working to multiple schedules. Frustratingly, new clients don’t instantly appear to slip seamlessly into the work-vacuum, one at a time, no pushing. Despite what science tells us, finishing a project on Friday afternoon doesn’t necessarily mean a new one will promptly appear on Monday morning.

And then sometimes the universe decides that all the jobs will arrive all at once, coalescing into a big lumpy storm of deadlines that has no interest whatsoever in my plans for a long weekend of frolicking in the sunshine. Of course, I’m grateful for the gainful employment and everything, especially as it’s come in thanks to an approach that amounts to little more than “do stuff and stuff might happen”, but it’d be nice if the universe doled out a little bit of predictable order every now and then. Bloody universe.

Worky deluge or drought, I’ve learnt that the best approach is simply to be ready for whatever happens, whenever it wants to happen. Just be prepared, my little design cubs, be prepared. Sometimes it’s difficult to identify precisely what contribution you made to the process – when you do things right, you won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.

Daniel Benneworth-Gray is a designer based in York. He maintains a blog at his website, danielgray.com, and also tweets regularly at @gray.

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