Courtney Allen figured out early on that there's money to be made in PowerPoints. The 33-year-old studied graphic design at Boise State University, and after deciding to focus on presentation design, filled her senior portfolio with them. She "made it kind of my mission to figure out how to carve a path as a presentation designer," she says.
After graduating in 2012, she traveled and did some freelance work as a presentation designer for Cisco Systems. In 2015, she decided to buckle down on building her client portfolio on Upwork, the work marketplace, and ended up landing projects for major brands like Adobe. By 2017, with her client list growing, she founded her own presentation design company, 16X9. They create executive presentations, investor decks and so on.
Altogether, Allen's solo projects, along with her company's, have brought in more than $2 million on Upwork.
For any new grads keen to pave their own unique work path, here's Allen's advice.
Allen always enjoyed making PowerPoints, but during college, she realized she was in the minority. When she and her fellow graphic design students would get assigned to do them, "people always were like, 'ugh, PowerPoint. Ugh, I don't want to do this,'" she says.
When she started doing some research and learned how popular they were — 30 million PowerPoints are made every day, according to the BBC — she realized there was also "an endless pool of work to be had," she says.
If you're looking for a unique niche to start offering services in, full- or part-time, "focus on unsexy problems," she says. In graphic design, "there's a lot of flashier things like advertising and branding," she says, but it was this day-to-day task that executives across the board were looking to outsource.
Allen remembers one client that asked her to work outside of normal business hours. They reached out "around 6 p.m. or so," she says, and "wanted a project due by the end of the night." She was on the fence about it. Allen wasn't sure she wanted to give up her evening to work. Her husband suggested she consider how much her night was really worth and pitch them a rate based on that.
At the time, Allen was charging about $60 to $75 per hour. "I believe I told them $200 an hour," she says, figuring her night was worth about $500. And the client agreed. They even came back to her later with other assignments.
When you're going in for a job, make sure to be "a strong advocate and negotiator for yourself," she says.
Finally, says Allen, never underestimate the power of time off.
After she graduated from Boise State, agencies began reaching out to Allen about potential work. But "I was really burnt out," she says. She ended up taking a gap year and traveling in Thailand.
"I really appreciated having that year of traveling and resetting and getting passionate about my work again," she says, adding that, "I felt a lot more motivated after doing so."
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