The maelstrom of 2020, from a graphic designer’s new business perspective

Blog by Dawn Button - Button Graphic Design

Wow, this year has been a whirlwind, both professionally and personally. The past five months have been the most challenging, but most rewarding yet, full of new adventures, adaptability, growth and change. Why, you might ask? 

 2020. We’ve witnessed the horrors of bushfires, floods, human brutality, inept politicians and media manipulation. COVID-19 became our reality; our entire way of life modified to accommodate it, all the time constantly under siege by social media opinion. We witnessed the very best in people, and the very worst. 

When I moved from Oxford in the UK to Australia in 2002, I left behind a prestigious career in a very high-profile studio, and in emigrating, completely underestimated how my role there defined who I thought I was. It took a lot of self-realisation and personal evolution to become the resilient chick I am today – an annoyingly pedantic, glass-half-full-kind of gal.

I’ve been a senior graphic designer for just over two decades and for nine of these years I was working with an amazing marketing team in an elite private school. In May this year, our entire team and other admin were unexpectedly made redundant, right at the onset of a national state of emergency and global crisis. I fell into freefall mode and an emotional rollercoaster became my reality. I had taken pride in my job and had  been well-paid for it, and beyond a doubt, without that income my family would suffer. But … what an opportunity!

What should I do next, unshackled to my corporate desk, as I now was? I needed an income, pronto. Everything would be OK, I reasoned, because everything always works out for the best. The universe will provide, after all, it reflects only what you put out, right? 

I determined to remain positive, decided my redundancy was a blessing and resolutely opted to return to being a freelance graphic designer, which I had abandoned in 2011 to take the incredibly busy, full-time role of graphic designer at the school. I already knew how to set up an Aussie business, market it and run it successfully, after all, I did it in 2002. Things surely can’t have changed that much, hey? 

How unbelievably naive!

I bought a fast computer, a great printer, new office furniture and a wizard monitor. I discovered Adobe Creative sells as a monthly subscription now, you can’t buy their software and activate it using an electronic key any more, then use that same software for eons.  I bought URLs, registered my business, obtained insurance. I designed my business identity and website in my new office as COVID-19 rampaged through Asia, Europe and the Americas, and Australia entered, vacated and re-entered various stages of lockdown. 

I tried to maintain focus on what I wanted to achieve with a small voice parked in the corner of my mind whispering, “You’re going to make it work.” I will. I have to. 

That oft said phrase, ‘back in the day,’ really resonates. When I started my business originally, it required stationery, flyers, a couple of well-placed adverts and a website. Then, I designed my website myself using Dreamweaver, learned html to reduce the heavy coding, added carefully chosen titles for the pages, a favicon to look cool, metatags and keywords and bang! there was my easily-findable online presence. SEO - search engine optimisation - involved submitting the site to Google and a couple of other choice search engines or if you left it, their bots would obligingly trawl organically over a few weeks and do the work for you. So easy. 

Imagine my delight to discover Dreamweaver was almost unrecognisable after so many years! After a few failed attempts, I abandoned it, adapted and instead used a CMS to design my website (and I’m pretty happy with the result). But then I discovered that my familiar SEO ‘back in the day’ was a diminutive waif compared to the unwieldy, behemoth industry it has now become. For your website to rank and be seen is imperative in the online jungle, and believe me, it is a jungle, complete with lurking predators waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting. 

With fascination, I embarked on a tsunami of digital discovery. I learned SEO now requires constant feeding on multiple channels. Back-linking is an absolute must and you have to write a diary of events and/or air your professional opinion – a blog, if you will - to an unsuspecting public frequently, to become something more than a mere designer, as to be read online is to rank and be seen. You must be seen! 

A plethora of companies vie for your SEO business and promise the world, while not really having the depth of knowledge even you do about it. They thrive purely because it’s such a misunderstood, misinterpreted field of expertise. Random fact, only one in five SEO optimisation companies will actually deliver a significant improvement to your website presence. You therefore have a 20% chance of choosing unwisely and being one of the dreaded four, unless you do your homework. 

Phew. There’s barely time to work with all this pressure to maintain your business presence. 

But I’m loving this journey, despite its pitfalls and perils. The learning curve has been immense and rewarding, and I am hugely optimistic that the future will hold a successful freelance business and with it, much job satisfaction. If I can just crack that SEO ….