Starting A Career in Branding, Design or Marketing

Posted on May 15, 2014
Starting A Career in Branding, Design or Marketing

What’s it like doing what you do? How can I do it too? These question come up quite a bit from students, recent grads, and from people looking for a career shift or to go out on their own. One student emailed me 10 questions which I’ve answered below. I’ve also included insight from others that I’ve found useful about starting a career in branding, design or marketing.

I’ll start with what other people have to say:

Recommended Reading Online

6 Startup Lessons From Designers At Pinterest, Fuseproject, And Behance

Better, Smarter, Richer – Free eBook

Career Advice from Bill Waterson, Creator of Calvin & Hobbes Cartoon

Ten Things I Have Learned: Milton Glaser (Part of AIGA Talk in London)


Recommended Reading in Book Form

The Tipping Point, by Malcom Gladwell

The Brand Gap, by Marty Neumeier

Resonate, by Nancy Duarte

Made You Look, by Stefan Sagmeister

Ogilvy on Advertising, by David Ogilvy

My So-Called Freelance Life, by Michelle Goodman

What Color is Your Parachute?, by Richard N. Bolles


And these are my answers to 10 questions a student posed to me:

1) What are the duties and responsibilities of your job?

I own my own company. So any task related to running a design firm would be mine. New business, finance, marketing our services, speaking engagements, networking. In addition to: design, brand strategy, project management, production management, illustration, photography, copywriting, social media, client relations, basic web development, etc. I hire people to help with a lot of this stuff, but in a pinch I also have to be able to do it myself too.

2) How did you acquire the necessary education/training/experience to get where you are today? 

You can browse my personal work history at:

I would say that interning as much as possible while in school was invaluable. It seemed like 1/2 my education was from my internship experiences.

3) How did you get your present position? 

I decided to go into business for myself, so I created my own position.

4) What are some of the likes/dislikes, rewards/frustrations about your job? 

Likes / rewards: Freedom to choose my own clients and schedule. I have a deal with myself that I’m allowed to have my own business as long as I travel internationally once a year – otherwise I’m not taking advantage of the freedom so I might as well work for the man. Ability to work directly with the owners of businesses who are my clients (not the case in larger design firms or ad agencies). I love to design. I love marketing. I love branding. I’m very satisfied in my career.

Dislikes/frustrations: If I don’t find new clients, I don’t get paid, and I don’t pay rent or eat. So there’s some stress around that. Some months I make a ton of money, some I make very little – so understanding my company’s financials is vital. I wish I had gotten a minor in business in college.

5) If you could cut your job in half, what would you keep and what would you give away?

Give away: sales, project management, finance. Everything else is pretty great.

6) What qualities should a person possess to be successful at this career?

Self-motivatation. You must have a good business sense in addition to being creative – it is your job to bridge the gap between colors and ideas, and ROI and bottom line for your clients.

7) What are the resources I may use to find out more about your industry?

Portland Creative List

AIGA – American Institute of Graphic Arts

PRSA – PR professional organization

AMA – America Marketing Assoc.

8) Who are some of the people you think would be good for me to speak with? 

I would go to the websites of each of those organizations listed above and look at their calendars, then attend some events. AIGA’s dMob monthly networking events are a bunch of particularly friendly folks and it’s free.

9) What are some related occupations I might research to get a start in my career?

Animation, illustration, photography, marketing, PR. Working for a magazine, newspaper, radio station, video production company, printer, clothing designer, book publisher.

10) What do you look for in a portfolio?

1) There must be work in there that the designer has done solo. I don’t trust collaborative projects – how do I know that it wasn’t the other people who did most of the work? Some collaborative projects are OK, but there should be both.

2) What is the message trying to be communicated by the piece? If I feel the piece doesn’t have a point to make, then it’s just art and not design. I consider this to be a minus. If you’re going to do design in the real world for paying clients, they’re going to want to communicate something specific and if it doesn’t come across, that is a failure in the piece.

3) Do visual elements line up?

4) In writing: are the grammar and spelling correct; can you express yourself clearly and compellingly in the cover letter and descriptions of pieces.

Photograph credit: Creative Commons License, by Garrett Gill on Flickr