Freelance Designers: Is Name Recognition Important for Success?

Freelancing by nature tends to be a career that isn’t going to put you in the spotlight. The vast majority of freelancers earn a living in relative obscurity. Of course there are exceptions, but most potential clients aren’t going to know about a freelancer unless they’re referred from a friend or another client.

How much does name recognition factor in to the level of success for a freelance designer? Is it possible to have a highly successful career without developing strong name recognition? And does name recognition always lead to success?

7 Ways Name Recognition Can Help:

1. Higher Rates

Those who are well-know and in demand can typically charge higher prices for their work. It comes down to simple economics, supply and demand. Not all well-known freelancers will charge more than those who haven’t yet established their name, but in general there is a better opportunity for higher rates if you are well-known and respected.

2. More Demand Equals More Choices

We all know that not all clients are a joy to work with, and not all projects are something that we’re dying to work on. Increased demand comes along with name recognition, and increased demand means that you’ll have some options of which jobs you want to accept. Newer freelancers tend to feel like they have to accept every opportunity that comes their way, and in some cases they do. But being well-known has its benefits in this way.

3. Perceived Value

Potential clients aren’t really going to select a designer based on what they can do for the client. Rather, they’re going to choose based on what they perceive the designer to be able to accomplish. It’s a fine line, but a definite difference. A well-known designer may be no more talented than another designer who is less established, but the potential client may make a decision based on name recognition, thinking that the more well-known designer is naturally the more talented.

4. Increased Referrals

The more people know about you, the better chances you have of getting referrals. Naturally, if no one knows who you are or what services you offer, they can’t tell others about you. Since referral business is a cornerstone for some freelancers, this can be a strong argument for the importance of name recognition.

5. Other Opportunities Open Up

As you become more well-known in your industry you may be surprised to find that other opportunities unexpectedly find you. In the design industry as a whole I’m completely unknown. However, in the design blogging niche I’ve made some progress in the past year and on several occasions I’ve been approached with new opportunities that I had never considered or pursued.

6. Increased Trust in Your Judgment

You may find that as you become more established and as you build your name recognition, clients will give your opinions more weight than they would give to an unknown designer. As the expert, your thoughts and your input on the projects will be respected more and more.

7. People Like to Work with Others that They Know

It’s human nature to want to do business with or work side-by-side with someone that we know and respect. Unknown designers may be very talented, but they won’t have the same appeal to many clients simply because they don’t know who the designer is.

5 Reasons Name Recognition is Insignificant:

1. Many Clients will not be Familiar with the Design Industry.

Outside of the web design industry and fellow freelancers, any designer is unlikely to be well-known. Most of your friends outside of the industry probably have no recognition for any of the top designers that you admire. For that reason, even the most respected designers may not get all of the benefits of name recognition with potential clients.

2. Quality of Work and Service are Ultimately More Important

In the end most clients aren’t paying for a name, they’re paying for quality of work. Sure, some clients may be happy just to work with a well-known designer, but the majority are going to be unhappy if the work doesn’t live up to their expectations. If you can provide a high quality of service and produce excellent websites, that will keep your clients happy much more than anything else.

3. Those Who Are Well-Known Aren’t Always the Best or Most Skilled

Name recognition is nice, but it doesn’t really guarantee that the freelancer is the best person for the job or that others aren’t more talented. Name recognition is of course influenced by the skill level of the designer, but that’s not the only factor.

4. Each Client is Different

Because each client and each project has their own unique set of needs, no designer is going to be the right fit for every job. The best person for the job will very closely match up with the needs of the client, regardless of name recognition.

5. Skilled Freelancers Can Stay Busy and Productive without Name Recognition

Because there are loads of freelance designers out there earning a living with very little name recognition, that’s proof that it’s not necessary. If being well-know was critical, all of these other freelancers wouldn’t be able to excel.


My opinion is just that, an opinion. I feel that name recognition is important for freelance designers, but far from critical. Name recognition can bring powerful results and a lot of benefits, but it’s also possible to have a very successful career as a freelancer without developing strong name recognition in the industry.

The web design industry is not controlled by a small number of big players, rather by a huge number of small players. Even when dealing with design firms, very few, if any, would be considered well known outside of the design industry.

What Are Your Thoughts?

How does name recognition affect your career, and how important is it to you?

Stephen Snell is the owner and editor of Vandelay Design, a popular design blog.
  1. August 6, 2008

    I think ultimately having a recognisable name is going to be most effective when you’re working for other designers or developers. They are the people in the know who are more likely to go for a name they know.

    I think people who are not into design will probably never have heard of you regardless of how many subscribers you may have, so for these people it’s quite insignificant, unless of course they choose to Google your name, or visit your blog and can see what kind of following you have, which for a few people will make you a more appealing candidate for the work.

    Interesting topic, nice one. Would love to hear more opinions.

  2. Steven Snell
    August 6, 2008

    Sounds like you and I are on the same page on this topic. Good point about clients Googling a designer. A well-known designer could get an advantage there.

  3. August 7, 2008

    well put, if your clients are businesses out of design industry, then name recognition does not affects you like when your clients are design firms and advertising companies.

  4. J
    August 7, 2008

    when you work for a creative company, job title is of huge importance internally. The marketer is demanded to meet projected sales based on their products success at the retailer. Therefore, guess who they shove those demands on to? You guessed it, the creative services department. Having a high ranking title sits well with the marketer. They trust that top quality graphic results will be executed by someone with experience & knowledge.

    Learn, Learn, Learn

    love to chat more on this or other topics anytime!

  5. August 16, 2008

    I agree with Liam, I think for the most part…it’s irrelevant. With so many millions of blogs out there–check that, so many millions of web design blogs, having a large fan base doesn’t translate immediately into success. It does however lend to your credibility and if the potential client cares, you could use that to your advantage.


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  7. October 11, 2008

    Very Interesting! I have alwyas wondered how a good brand name can affect sales. This article has answered some of my questions!

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  11. April 5, 2011

    People are flooded with names on a daily basis so having a name for your company that sticks with them I feel is critical. You could do the best work they’ve ever seen, but if they can’t remember what your name was, it did you little good. I’m a firm believer that a unique name sticks with someone far longer than John Jones (sorry if your name is John Jones, I mean no disrespect, ha!) That’s why I’ve stuck with the name of my company even after people has advised me against it. I’m know as the trailer guy, the trashy trailer guy, trailer trash, the list goes on and on and that’s what I wanted. It may not be correct all the time, but they remember it none the less. The growing list of ongoing projects is proof. Be unique!

  12. August 3, 2011

    It really all depends on who your clients are and how they source their design requirements. It does tend to help balance you, as a freelancer, against studios or agencies when a client is trying to make a decision. There seems to be a fear (unfounded) that a lone freelancer is going to be unreliable or unable to cope with a project, whereas an agency would be fine – that the bigger the team, the better the result. Having some name recognition in this situation helps to alleviate that fear. It doesn’t even have to be major recognition. I’ve been using ‘Steve the Designer’ for three years now and that simplicity and association has worked wonders for me locally.

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