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Resplendence, a blog from Radiant Resolution about graphic design

Using Portfolio Work from a Failed Business

It's a fact of a designer's life that a percentage of designs will be created for businesses that will change over in some way. Some businesses change ownership, titles, marketing (possibly by another designer), and some outright fail.

So when is it right to showcase a failed or changed business's work in your portfolio or marketing material? In addition to making sure you have the right to post work (hopefully outlined in a contract with your client), here are a few instances when showcasing work may or may not be appropriate.

Let's start with some statistics. About 20% of businesses with employees will fail within their first year. That's 1 out of every 5 logos and branding you'll do. While you don't want to showcase every single piece of work, that's a large percentage that would be noted unusable. Another third of businesses will then fail after their second year. And after 5 years, only HALF of businesses with employees will still be open. If you have been a graphic artist designing identity branding for more than 10 years, you'll find only 30% still in business. (Statistics from Fundera)

More importantly, the reason businesses fail is typically due to lack of sufficient capital and cash flow problems, NOT because of poor marketing or design. Here is a more detailed list of why businesses fail in their first few years:

• 42% of small businesses fail because there’s no market need for their services or products. • 29% failed because they ran out of cash. • 23% failed because they didn’t have the right team running the business. • 19% were outcompeted. • 18% failed because of pricing and cost issues. • 17% failed because of a poor product offering. • 17% failed because they lacked a business model. • 14% failed because of poor marketing.

Only 14% of these businesses had poor marketing. If you are absolutely confident in your marketing material for a failed business, and again, you have rights to showcase the work, it is OK to use in your portfolio.

So when is it not OK to use the work? In the rare case that a business failed due to poor marketing on your behalf, it would be time to write that project off. All designers make mistakes and continue to grow and learn, but if you want your clients to have confidence in you, it's important to show your successes.

If the business has since re-marketed, and it's easy to find from a quick Google search, you may want to leave that work out. The idea of re-marketing isn't an issue, as many businesses need to go through this process throughout the years due to changes in audience, type of business, products, or even change of style. But it could potentially raise questions if the business has not gone through you for the re-marketing. Though this could be for a variety of valid reasons, it's too difficult to explain to a client in a quick portfolio view. It's best to just leave this work out.

I hope this opens your eyes to the many circumstances of using work from failed businesses, and how this is a more common question than you'd think!



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About Brittany Klein

Brittany Klein is a freelance graphic designer from Maryland. She established her company, Radiant Resolution, in 2008 after receiving her Master of Arts degree in graphic design from Savannah College of Art & Design. She has since written blogs, e-books, and articles centered around graphic design and fine art for many organizations across the country.

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