Blow Your Own Trumpet

Even if your own trumpet’s tiny and fell out of a Christmas cracker, blowing it isn’t something that everyone’s good at. Some people find selling themselves and what they do difficult. But, you know what? Boo hoo hoo. If you want people to buy something, the reality is you’d better get good at selling, especially if that something is you.

For web professionals, the best place to tell potential business customers or possible employers about what you do is on your own website. You can write what you want and how you want, but that doesn’t make knowing what to write any easier. As a matter of fact, writing for yourself often proves harder than writing for someone else.

I spent this autumn thinking about what I wanted to say about Stuff & Nonsense on the website we relaunched recently. While I did that, I spoke to other designers about how they struggled to write about their businesses.

If you struggle to write well, don’t worry. You’re not on your own. Here are five ways to hit the right notes when writing about yourself and your work.

Be genuine about who you are

I’ve known plenty of talented people who run a successful business pretty much single-handed. Somehow they still feel awkward presenting themselves as individuals. They wonder whether describing themselves as a company will give them extra credibility. They especially agonise over using “we” rather than “I” when describing what they do. These choices get harder when you’re a one-man band trading as a limited company or LLC business entity.

If you mainly work alone, don’t describe yourself as anything other than “I”. You might think that saying “we” makes you appear larger and will give you a better chance of landing bigger and better work, but the moment a prospective client asks, “How many people are you?” you’ll have some uncomfortable explaining to do. This will distract them from talking about your work and derail your sales process. There’s no need to be anything other than genuine about how you describe yourself. You should be proud to say “I” because working alone isn’t something that many people have the ability, business acumen or talent to do.

Explain what you actually do

How many people do precisely the same job as you? Hundreds? Thousands? The same goes for companies. If yours is a design studio, development team or UX consultancy, there are countless others saying exactly what you’re saying about what you do. Simply stating that you code, design or – God help me – “handcraft digital experiences” isn’t enough to make your business sound different from everyone else. Anyone can and usually does say that, but people buy more than deliverables. They buy something that’s unique about you and your business.

Potentially thousands of companies deliver code and designs the same way as Stuff & Nonsense, but our clients don’t just buy page designs, prototypes and websites from us. They buy our taste for typography, colour and layout, summed up by our “It’s the taste” tagline and bowler hat tip to the PG Tips chimps. We hope that potential clients will understand what’s unique about us. Think beyond your deliverables to what people actually buy, and sell the uniqueness of that.

Describe work in progress

It’s sad that current design trends have made it almost impossible to tell one website from another. So many designers now demonstrate finished responsive website designs by pasting them onto iMac, MacBook, iPad and iPhone screens that their portfolios don’t fare much better. Every designer brings their own experience, perspective and process to a project. In my experience, it’s understanding those differences which forms a big part of how a prospective client makes a decision about who to work with. Don’t simply show a prospective client the end result of a previous project; explain your process, the development of your thinking and even the wrong turns you took.

Traditional case studies, like the one I’ve just written about Stuff & Nonsense’s work for WWF UK, can take a lot of time. That’s probably why many portfolios get out of date very quickly. Designers make new work all the time, so there must be a better way to show more of it more often, to give prospective clients a clearer understanding of what we do. At Stuff & Nonsense our solution was to create a feed where we could post fragments of design work throughout a project. This also meant rewriting our Contract Killer to give us permission to publish work before someone signs it off.

Outline a client’s experience

Recently a client took me to one side and offered some valuable advice. She told me that our website hadn’t described anything about the experience she’d had while working with us. She said that knowing more about how we work would’ve helped her make her buying decision.

When a client chooses your business, they’re hoping for more than a successful outcome. They want their project to run smoothly. They want to feel that they made a correct decision when they chose you. If they work for an organisation, they’ll want their good judgement to be recognised too. Our client didn’t recognise her experience because we hadn’t made our own website part of it. Remember, the challenge of creating a memorable user experience starts with selling to the people paying you for it.

Address your ideal client

It’s important to understand that a portfolio’s job isn’t to document your work, it’s to attract new work from clients you want. Make sure that work you show reflects the work you want, because what you include in your portfolio often leads to more of the same.

When you’re writing for your portfolio and elsewhere on your website, imagine that you’re addressing your ideal client. Picture them sitting opposite and answer the questions they’d ask as you would in conversation. Be direct, funny if that’s appropriate and serious when it’s not. If it helps, ask a friend to read the questions aloud and record what you say in response. This will help make what you write sound natural. I’ve found this technique helps clients write copy too.

Toot your own horn

Some people confuse expressing confidence in yourself and your work as boastfulness, but in a competitive world the reality is that if you are to succeed, you need to show confidence so that others can show their confidence in you. If you want people to hear you, pick up your trumpet and blow it.

About the author

Andy Clarke is an art director and web designer at the UK website design studio ‘Stuff & Nonsense.’ There he designs websites and applications for clients from around the world. Based in North Wales, Andy’s also the author of two web design books, ‘Transcending CSS’ and the new ‘Hardboiled Web Design Fifth Anniversary Edition’ and is well known for his many conference presentations and over ten years of contributions to the web design industry. Jeffrey Zeldman once called him a “triple talented bastard.” If you know of Jeffrey, you’ll know how happy that made him.

More articles by Andy

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