On Wednesday, September 28, 2011 I was asked by the New Hamburg Board of Trade to give a short presentation about my business, alongside a couple of other members. I'm not much of a public speaker - a skill I definitely need to work on - and, consequently, I was a bit mealy-mouthed, ignoring my notes and missing some points. Therefore, here's what I meant to say.
Tell us about your business
My name is Nigel Gordijk and I run a one-man graphic design firm called Common Sense Design.
My client list includes many fellow board of trade members, including the Board of Trade - I designed its logo and two websites - ABsolute Fitness, Upper Case Books, Massel's Marine, Harry Potter Festival, Nith Valley Construction, DundeeWealth, HD Patterns, Colour Paradise, The Township of Wilmot, and Harold Albrecht MP.
You've probably seen some of my work around town, as I also design posters for our Canada Day duck race, the Sidewalk Sale, the Santa Claus Parade, and New Hamburg Live festival of the arts.
As you can probably tell, I'm not originally from around these parts; I was born in London, England. In 1988 I graduated with a degree in print design and spent my early career working for several large print design firms. I taught myself how to produce websites, including both design and programming.
I set up on my own in 2003 because I wanted to have more control over the type of projects I worked on - more Web, less print. I also wanted to choose the hours I worked.
I enjoy working from my home-based office because of the solitude, although that doesn't mean I'm unsociable. Friends in England who are also solo independents went stir-crazy working on their own, so they rented an office together. That isn't for me.
What are the key challenges you face?
It sounds obvious, but I constantly need to generate new clients and projects.
Increasingly, I also need to convince potential clients that using design and marketing as part of their business plan is an investment. During tight financial times you need to be able to differentiate yourself from the competition. Good design can help demonstrate that.
I'm competing against other designers - particularly web designers - around the world who are very cheap. Just because they're inexpensive doesn't meant they're good. I've had clients come to me whose previous fly-by-night suppliers have disappeared halfway through a project.
Cheap site templates can be bought online for as little as $35.00, but they're templates that many other people are using, too. I offer a bespoke, personalised service and I need to show clients that the difference in cost is worth it.
Some potential clients say: "I just want something simple". They think a simple design means less design.
I need to show potential clients that a very small design firm can do the work they need. At a large agency the client might speak to an account manager, who speaks to a creative director, who briefs the designer. The message can get diluted. When a client speaks to me, they're talking to the person who will actually be doing the work.
What do you see as the future for your business?
This is going to sound like a weak answer, but that's difficult to predict. I never expected to switch from print design to website design. I know I'll have to adapt to new technology and communication media, just as I switched from print to web design.
Ideally, I'd like to form strategic alliances with larger firms, perhaps handling overflow work or projects that don't interest them. Often, that can mean repeat business.
One thing I do know - I can't see myself ever being an employee again. I enjoy the freedom of being my own boss.