This is not a good time for us to be emerging into the real world. In response to the country's economic situation - aren't you so sick of hearing that phrase? - companies are downsizing, employees have increasingly more responsibilities, and being a good candidate for a job often means having a wide skill set. It's a competitive market.
Lucky for us, graphic design is a fairly new field that is constantly changing with technology and innovation. Part of staying competitive as a designer is having a good relationship with your client and understanding their needs. Although the client sets the parameters of a project, designers have the opportunity to suggest alternative approaches to the problem in terms of production and even distribution. Thinking innovatively about the design problem and considering the financial aspect can help your client save money. They will love you for it, which will help you stay competitive against other designers they may consider hiring.
Having a good relationship with a client and being involved in the entire process and understanding the company's financial limits can really help a designer succeed in coming up with an innovative idea. It doesn't always happen that a designer works directly with the client (communication may be done through an art director or account executive), but regardless, it is important for expectations on production and distribution to be clear.
Not everything can be cheaply produced, but it's not all about finding the cheapest solution (which could backfire and make the finished product look cheap and uninspired). In my opinion, it's about where and how you spend your money within your budget. Here is an example of some interesting and creative solutions for business cards. I have learned that the little touches to someone's identity can really go a long way and make a lasting impression. Instead of the same old 3.5" x 2" business cards for a client, perhaps you could suggest an alternative size, a unique paper type or even adding a 3D aspect to the card. Although production may cost more for something fancy, that business card will not be thrown out if it's that cool. It's a small but effective way to be remembered, and a worthwhile investment.
One good thing about entering the professional design world right now is that we are exposed to and understand technological tools that we can use in an innovative way. The Internet is a financially viable outlet where company's can advertise and market toward a target audience. Here is a list of cheap ways to market online, most of which we as designers are familiar with. We should take the opportunity to pass our knowledge along to our clients! They don't mention the most obvious example, a website. It's often the first place people look for information about a company and it's a relatively low cost to have one. But the author does talk about Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media sites are another way to advertise... for free.
Designers have the capability to help companies build their brand by suggesting these alternative marketing options and, because of designers' skills, can personalize them to fit the company's needs. Although we may not always have a say in what happens, finding a way to make suggestions and insert our opinions will not only help our clients but will help us stay competitive.