For today's design professionals - whether newbies just starting out in the field or seasoned pros just looking to fill out their portfolio and pick up extra work - entering contests on any one of the popular crowdsourced marketplaces for logos and other graphic design services can be a valuable route to fun and rewarding projects.
It can also be an effective means of expanding a designer's network and building his or her freelancing career, if they follow these best practices to increase their odds at success.
1. Don't pick the best contests
Designers need to pay particular attention to choosing the right contests for their specific style, skills and personal interest in the company. It's more important to find a strong fit than to chase the most financially lucrative contest, especially when just starting out. Once a designer has excelled at matching themselves with the right clients, he or she can rise to the challenge by entering contests outside of their comfort zone.
2. Read the brief... really, read the brief
Designers should not begin the brainstorming phase until they have thoroughly read and absorbed the contest brief. This means reading the client's public comments, design examples and updates. Because it might be a client's first time writing a brief, designers need to be sure to ask questions about areas that seem unclear. Once they understand what is wanted, designers should start researching the industry and competition to determine where a client has come from, who they are and what will ultimately make them stand out.
3. Be the client's first...
Being first to the table in a contest creates an undeniable advantage, so designers should go ahead and enter their first round of strong concepts as soon as possible. They should put themselves out there by saying, "Hi, my name is... and I'm here to help you build your brand. I'd like to explain my first few concepts and see if we're headed in the right direction." This will build trust with prospective clients and ultimately their trust in the work. Designers don't need to polish their concepts at this stage - just get approval so they can move onto perfecting.
4. Be ready to really sell the work
Designers should take the approved-concepts and use his or her designer tools to "fancy them up." They need to be ready to answer "Why that color? Why that font? Why is there white space here but not there?" Designers at this stage should have thought through all of these questions, solved most of the dilemmas and only then upload the refined work.
5. Win or lose, keep the client-connection open
If you win a contest, know that the true value of contests doesn't end there - it's hopefully just the beginning of a new client-designer relationship. Whether he or she has won the prize or lost the prize, a designer still has an opportunity to expand their network with a global client. If they have won the prize, he or she can ask the client if they have more design needs and use the platform to seamlessly continue the relationship. If he or she lost the prize, a designer can politely let the prospective client know what else they specialize in and to refer any friends that may need design solutions in his or her design style.
It takes hard work to build a design career but contests are a great tool in helping designers along the way - creating new knowledge, new connections and a broader, more well-rounded portfolio.
Allison Stuart is the Head of Community Marketing for 99designs where she manages the community for the world's largest graphic design marketplace. In the last five years, she has connected with passionate designers all over the globe. She now runs a team that focuses on educating and motivating designers to reach their fullest potential.