Pet Peeves: Vultures With Business Cards

As a Graphic Designer, author, and all-around artist; I know that my kind and I have some eccentricities that might seem odd to the outside world. Some of these behaviors I won’t tolerate from myself nor other graphic designers like the opportunists who prey on others via the good fortune of others and other people’s inability to say “no” and stand their ground.

My good friend Doug and I went to the Small Business Expo in New York City last week to get some ideas and a list of potential vendors for the next phase of my business venture. I wanted to gather up all the information I could about printers and their availability. I want to know specifically what can they do and what can’t they do so when a client asks “can you do this”

I was talking to this one vendor with some exciting ideas on what he could do with any logo and what he could print them on; he can “print” my own vector file onto objects like footballs, bags, shirts, mouse pads, computer mice, metal…

… And this character who’s been standing on the side of the table like he was another potential customer doing the same thing I’m tries to put a business card into my hand. “Here, in case you need a graphic designer.”

Looking this slob that I’ve never met before I say; “I am the graphic designer.”

“Take it anyway, maybe we can partner up.” He said begrudgingly as if this was a thoughtful gift that I didn’t want even thought I needed.

“I’m a one man show” I replied sternly but trying to make this scene any more embarrassing.

“You’ll never know when you’ll get behind and need someone to bail you out.”

Incredulously I looked at him trying not to show my embarrassment for him; “What are you saying, I’m incompetent? I can’t do my job?”

“No…”

“Then what exactly are you saying?” I asked while staring him down while secretly praying he wasn’t going to open his mouth again. After a few moments of awkward silence I went back to talking to the representative of the company I was speaking to who gave me no indication that this was their graphic designer; he was a stranger to them as he was to me.

Before anyone here says; “Woah, Fisk… weren’t you a little rude?” Let’s examine some factors I might have glossed over.

First, this was what I call a “vulture.” This character didn’t even work for the vendor I was talking to; he was hovering and taking advantage of these guys who paid for their booth. By his behavior I suspect he wasn’t affiliated with the gentlemen who were representing the company who rented this space or booth. Not only was he violating my space, he was violating theirs.

Second, I’ve never met this man-child before. I’ve never seen his work and he’s never seen mine; so how could he assume that if I ever needed “help” I would call him. There are about a half-dozen other graphic designers in my area that I would call upon before ever reaching for his number. Also, I hail from Southern New Hampshire while he’s from the New York City region. He’s at best only two states away… counting Massachusetts and Connecticut via the most direct route.

Third, there were plenty of other graphic designers who offered their own services in their own booths that they also paid for. If he was there to solicit new business then why didn’t he get his own booth, too?

Four, this character was a slob. There’s no easier or nicer way to put this; there was explicit instructions on all the pre-event literature that the dress code is “Business Attire” or “Business Casual.” If he missed that instruction, then what else might he miss in the future? It seems petty to some but to me it’s a major sticking point since through-out my education I’ve been told that details matter.

If this guy didn’t care about his personal appearance then what does that say about his work?

The most important aspect of this is the concept of networking; there’s a right way and a wrong way of doing it. There’s a way to get your name out there to let the world know that you’re available to work while not annoying the people you’re trying to reach at the same time. This is a perfect example of “less is more.” Somehow you need to show more of your work and less about yourself especially if you have an annoying personality.

There’s also the aspect of targeting the right people. If you’re a graphic designer you don’t want to market yourself to other graphic designers for the simple fact that you’ll simply insult those people. If I ever get “in a jam” I have a group of people whom I’ll approach long before I would ever call an annoying stranger from other state.

It’s not unlike one person waiting in-line at the unemployment office asking another; “Hey, do you know anyone who’s hireling?” Worst yet; tell the groom that if he’s interested you’re up for a threesome the night of his wedding… you simply don’t include yourself into other people’s “space” with-out an invitation or opening.

It’s not always easy; but the goal of marketing yourself and your services needs to be focused to the people who need your help the most. Every graphic designer needs to hustle and become a master of self-promotion. It’s a combination of art and science; personal artistic talent meets sociology. To tell everyone that you’re a graphic designer and that you’re available to help everyone while trying to shove your business cards in their hands is akin to desperation and reeks of anxiety – you need to work for the money instead of wanting to work because that’s your passion and you desire new challenges.

Nobody wants to hire that kind of a designer.

To quote “Glengarry Glen Ross;” – you never open your mouth until you know what the shot is. Before you introduce yourself as a designer and solicit your skills you need to know who you’re talking to and what that person does and eventually if they’re actually in need of your help. Do they actually need a graphic designer, or are they just chatting with you to be polite.

I can’t reiterate this enough; self-promotion is important so long as you understand the right time and the right place. Not knowing when to put yourself out there and just blasting random people with your material is like carpet-bombing the city with your business cards. Not only is it a waste of time and resources it can actually be counter-productive and might actually tell clients not to work for you.

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What can Graphic Designers learn from Kitchen Nightmares and “Amy’s Baking Company?”

There’s a huge reason why I want everyone to watch the episode of “Kitchen Nightmares” that featured “Amy’s Baking Company.” Everything you need to know what NOT to do in business can be seen in this specific episode.

As a graphic designer I’ve worked with a few of bat-shit crazy people who want what they want regardless of how ineffective their product will look like after I’m done. These are the same people who are condescending and say things like “I should work for you because my taste is so much better and I would keep you from making mistakes” and “I’m a real natural at this, I didn’t need any formal training like you did” while at the same time they are unable to produce a single piece of work worthy of print.

These are also the same people who believe in the craziest bat-shit things like they have “visions” and “speak in tongues,” or can communicate with animals or other people telepathically. They subscribe to every conspiracy theory, bits of internet gossip, and rumors about people they know and work with. They’re also the first people to blame you when something goes wrong especially when you do exactly what they asked you to do.

Amy from “Amy’s Baking Company” is the perfect example of a client from hell.

Based on what I saw on “Kitchen Nightmares” AND read on-line it’s clear that Amy and Samy’s behavior isn’t just a trick of clever editing or an exaggeration. What you see is what locals get or got… depending on whether or not they’ll ever re-open. If this serves any purpose to the rest of the world, may it be a lesson. There are some things you need to keep to yourself such as out-of-touch beliefs and ideas. This should also be a lesson to managers and supervisors; there’s a way to treat people who work with you. Employees aren’t your property, they aren’t disposable assists that you use once and throw away.

I’m a strong advocate of people with mental health problems getting the right help and the right medications. I hope Amy and Company get the help they so urgently need.