Last week I shared the first nine psychology of pricing tactics from Nick Kolenda's article. This week I continue the series with more great pricing tactics.
According to a 2002 study, when designing a layout, you should position prices on the left if you want them to appear smaller. Here’s the reasoning.
Research shows that people associate directional cues with certain concepts. Up is usually associated with good, whereas down is usually associated with bad. You give a thumbs up to things you like and a thumbs down to things you don’t. In the Christian faith, good people go up to heaven, and bad people go down to hell.
This notion of up being good and down being bad triggers a spatial association. A 2004 study found that people recognized positive words faster when those words are positioned at the top of a layout. They recognize negative words faster when positioned near the bottom of a layout.
This same principle applies to numbers, including prices.
When people conceptualize numbers, they imagine a horizontal like with numbers going up from left to right. The smaller numbers on the left, the larger numbers on the right.
Since people associate smaller numbers as belonging on the left, positioning prices on the left side of a layout can trigger someone to associate it with a smaller value. The opposite works with larger numbers. If you want a number to appear large, position it on the right of a layout.
For example: for a message saying, “Receive a $20 credit for every person you refer.” you’ll want to place the $20 towards the right of the layout so that those seeing it will associate it with a large number making the offer more appealing.
The whole point of this tactic is to change the perception of a fixed price. If you want $20 to seem like a great low price, position it accordingly. Whereas if you want $20 to seem like a nice high reward, position it accordingly.
Because of these directional cues associated with spatial concepts, the optimal position for your prices is the bottom left of a layout if you want it to appear as a low price. And the upper right of a layout if you want the price to appear higher.
My first time reading this tactic, I thought, “c’mon, this can’t be true.” but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.
A 2011 study showed that customers exposed to two multiples of a price reacted more favourably to the price. Let me explain this.
Nick’s article shows four ads from Pizza Hut, a popular pizza chain you may be familiar with.
All four ads offered a deal costing $24.
The study conducted showed that customers were more favourable to ads 3 and 4. The two ads that limited the toppings. Then they were to the first two ads that offered unlimited toppings even though the first two ads were an economically better deal.
Why is that? It’s because ads 3 and 4 incorporated multiples of the price.
I know it sounds crazy, but psychology can explain it.
As children, we were drilled with simple math problems where an association develops between operands. For example, if I say 2 x 6, you immediately think 12. You don’t actually have to do any math. It’s been ingrained into your brain. You just instinctively know that 2 x 6 is 12.
Because of associations like these, your brain processes them more fluently than if we actually had to figure out the sum or product.
Back to the Pizza Hut ads,
Because ads 3 and 4 contained multiples of the $24 (4 x 6 and 3 x 8, respectively), customers could process the $24 more easily. The price feels right to them.
This tactic can be used with small and large prices.
Instead of using a non-rounded price, such as $97.76, use the rounded price of $98.
A study done in 2015 found that round prices are processed fluently, whereas non-rounded prices are processed disfluently.
This tactic seems to contradict tactic 9 that I shared with you last week. Tactic 9 said to use precise numbers instead of rounded numbers because people assume rounded prices are artificially higher as if you plucked them from thin air. However, there is a time when round numbers are preferred. And that’s when emotion plays a part.
It turns out that rounded prices because they are fluently processed, work better for emotional purchases. The opposite is true for non-rounded prices, causing people to use more mental resources to process the numbers. These are good for rational purchases.
So if you’re trying to appeal to someone’s emotions, such as donating to a charity or supporting a fundraiser, remove the cents and round to the nearest dollar. However, if you want someone to make a rational decision, such as buying life insurance, include the cents in the price.
This tactic is a bit weird, but there is a lot of scientific research to support it. However, I’m not quite sure how you would put it to use.
A 2014 study found that customers prefer prices that contain the same letters in their name or birthday. For example, someone named Frank is more agreeable to a product priced at fifty-five dollars because fifty and five both start with F, the same first letter as his name.
This principle is called implicit egotism. It causes us to subconsciously gravitate towards things that resemble ourselves, including our names and the numbers on our birthdays.
I can’t argue with the birthday thing. My birthday is on the 26th, and I know that I notice the number 26 whenever I see it.
So maybe the next time you submit a quote to a client, adjust the price to suit their name? $55 for someone named Frank, $66 for someone named Sam.
Unlike the previous tactic, this one makes a lot of sense. It asks what you should display first, your product or your price?
A 2015 study found that the order in which a product and price are displayed influences the buyer's criteria when making their decision.
When a product is displayed first and the price next, buyers base their purchase decision on the quality of the product.
When the price is displayed before the product, buyers base their purchase decision on the product's value.
Put the Product before the price, and people ask themselves, “Do I like this product?”
But put the price before the product, and these same people ask themselves, “Is this product worth it?”
So how do you put this into practice? The same study determined that if you consider what you sell as a luxury product or service, you want people to base their decision on the product or service quality. Therefore you show the product before the price. A good example of this is a jewellery store. A jewellery store wants customers to focus on the product before they see the price. Hopefully swaying their purchase decision.
The opposite is true for utilitarian or economic products, such as flash drives or batteries. You want to display the price first so that customers see the economic value of the purchase.
This is another tactic I’m not 100% sure of. Probably because it makes men, of which I’m one, seem simple-minded. (Ladies, stop nodding your heads)
A 2013 study found that men are more likely to buy something when the price is displayed in red. This study noticed that men process ads less in-depth and use price colour as a visual heuristic to judge the perceived savings offered.
Meaning, men are less likely to compare the product's other attributes when presented with a red price. They diminish the importance of the photos and listed features and focus on the red price.
Studies have proven that the colour red increases arousal, so maybe that explains it.
In my opinion, this tactic applies more to products than it does to services, but I suppose you could get it to work. The trick is to use a higher anchor price to drive up the selling price.
You’ll see this tactic often used with higher-priced items such as cars and furniture. It’s often referred to as the MSRP or Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price.
When you buy a new car, the sticker on the vehicle will often display two prices: the price the manufacturer suggests and the price the dealer is selling the car for. I can guarantee you that the dealer price is always lower than the MSRP. That MSRP creates an anchor or established value, making the dealer price seem like a great deal.
I suppose you can use this if you offer packages to your clients. For example, you may offer a package of services for $800, but next to it, mention that it’s a ($1000) value if they were to buy each service individually.
A 2004 study of eBay sales showed that auctions with a higher reserve price – the price that needs to be met for the item to sell. Higher reserve prices create an anchor towards the higher end of the price spectrum, resulting in more people bidding and the seller making more money.
Another study done in 2008 found that using a precise value as the anchor price also produced better results.
When people were asked to estimate the actual price of a plasma TV based on the suggested retail prices of $4,998, $5,000, or $5,012, the researchers found that the average estimated price was much higher for the two prices that were not rounded.
I just talked about anchor prices and how setting a high anchor price can make the actual price seem like a good deal. That tactic works great with higher-priced items. But what if you’re using lower prices?
A 2004 study showed that items could sell at a higher price when placed next to higher-priced items.
For example, a clothing store sells belts for $15 each. When the belt rack is placed near a rack of $25 pants, the store sells very few belts. However, when they move the belt rack next to a rack of $80, pants belt sales increase.
If you’re offering a service, it might be a good idea to mention some other higher-priced services you have to make the current selection seem like a great deal.
Continuing on the topic of anchor prices. This same tactic can be used with not only prices but with any number.
A 2003 study did a test with rare wines. They asked participants whether they would purchase a bottle of wine for the dollar amount equal to the last two digits in their social security number.
After receiving a YES or No answer, the researchers asked the participants to state the exact dollar amount they would be willing to pay. Remarkably, they found a direct correlation between the purchaser’s social security number and the price they would pay for the wine.
Obviously, you’re not going to ask your customers for their social security numbers to come up with a price. But you can expose them to a high anchor number just the same.
For example, on my podcast branding website where I sell podcast artwork for $295. I could list below the price that I’ve designed artwork for over 400 podcasts. Even though 400 isn’t a price. It still acts as an anchor, which psychologically affects their perception of the $295, making it seem lower.
Check back next week for even more ways to use psychology when displaying prices.
Tip of the week How not to miss anything when updating a project.
Whenever I have to update or make changes to a previous client project, the first thing I do is colour every element of the project MAGENTA. I colour the text, the lines, and for photos, images and graphics I colour or add a magenta frame to them.
Then, as I make the necessary changes or determine that a section doesn't require any changes, I recolour it back to what it should be.
Once I’m done, I can quickly look over the project to see if there are any magenta sections I've missed.
I recently read a very in-depth article by Nick Kolenda on the psychology of pricing. I was so fascinated by what he revealed that I immediately changed some of the ways I display prices for myself and the things I design for my clients.
I thought I would save you time by summarizing the 42 research-proven psychological tactics in Nick's article in a podcast series. I’m sure you’ll find it very useful in your design business. All studies I reference are linked to in Nick's article, in case you're interested.
As Nick puts it, At the end of the day, price is merely a perception. Nothing more. Nothing less. In fact, you can change that perception of how people interpret a price simply by changing the visual traits of the numeral.
It’s a given. The number 5 is greater than 4. And 6 is greater than 5. But using these psychological pricing techniques, you can actually make prices seem lower - without reducing the actual price.
According to a 2002 study, most people don’t remember exact prices. Rather, they remember general prices.
Have you ever looked at a price, and later when asked about it, only have a general idea of how much it was?
When I get home from the grocery store and my wife asked me how much it cost. I don’t always remember the exact price. Was it $131 and change, or was it $138 and change? So I might tell her it cost "$130 something dollars."
Because humans have such a hazy memory regarding prices, we can use certain psychological tactics to influence people into seeing smaller prices than they realize. Let me get right down to the actual tactics.
You’re probably already familiar with this tactic. Reducing the left digit by one creates a perception of a lower price. $199 is viewed as a much better deal than paying $200.
Gumroad's conversion rates study shows that pricing things at $0.99 instead of $1 or $2.99 instead of $3, or $5.99 instead of $6 conversion rates increase by 2-3%.
According to a 2005 study. Our brains encode numbers so quickly that we register the size of the number before we finish reading the entire number. When reading $1.99, our brain registers it as a dollar something which is lower than $2 something making it more desirable.
Nick offered a bonus tip to this tactic. Superscripting or minimizing the digits after the decimal places more emphasis on the number before the decimal. So $1 with a small 99 next to it appears smaller than $1.99 all the same size.
I'm a bit skeptical about this tactic. But according to a 2012 study, the more syllables there are, the more mental resources we need to process the information.
The same principle applies to numbers. If we spend more mental energy reading a number or price, we falsely perceive that price as larger. The fewer syllables involved, and we perceive that price as smaller. It doesn’t matter that you are not saying the number out loud. Your brain does it for you.
This same study found that a slightly higher price with fewer syllables was more favourable to people than a lower price with more syllables.
For example. $27.82 has 7 syllables. $28.16 has only 5 syllables. There’s only $0.34 between the two prices. But people were more inclined to spend the higher amount.
As I said, I’m skeptical about this one, but the studies do show it to be true.
This one applies to what we do as designers.
According to a 2005 study. Human brains conceptualize size with value. If you display the price in a smaller font size, people will perceive the price to be smaller.
Another trick is to position larger elements around the price to create a visual hierarchy. The larger elements will make the price visually smaller, which in turn makes the perceived price smaller.
The revers works for discounts. Display discounts larger to emphasize their large value.
I really like this tactic.
According to a 2012 study, removing the comma from a price makes it seem lower.
This one ties into tactic 2 of having fewer syllables. A price displayed as $1,499 reads as one-thousand four hundred and ninety-nine–10 syllables. Whereas a price displayed as $1499, without the comma, reads as fourteen ninety-nine–5 syllables.
I may be skeptical about the syllables thing. But I cannot argue that $1499 sounds like a better deal than $1,499.
According to a 2005 study, the words associated with a price influence people’s perceptions of that price.
For example. Two identical pairs of inline skates are selling for the same price. Both packages list the same features and benefits. However, one pair emphasized “High Performance” while the other pair emphasized “Low Friction.” The pair that emphasized “Low Friction” outsold the other pair.
The wording associated with the price caused the perception of the price to change.
How can you incorporate this into your design business?
Maybe you can promote low-maintenance websites as opposed to high converting websites? I don’t know. But it might be worth doing some A/B testing.
According to a 1998 study, people are more likely to use the base price when making comparisons.
By partitioning your price, meaning separate the price into multiple components instead of offering a total price, you lower the base price, which creates a perception of the offer being more affordable.
A 2006 test run on eBay showed auctions with an opening bid of $0.01 and a shipping cost of $3.99. Outperformed auctions for the same item with an opening bid of $4 with free shipping.
The total prices were identical. And yet, the first one received a lot more traction.
By offering people an option to pay in smaller increments rather than one lump sum, you anchor their perception on the smaller price.
Let’s say you are pitching a new website design to a client. Instead of quoting them $6000, quote them three installments of $2000 each.
Don’t get me wrong. Client’s are not stupid. They know that three installments of $2000 are $6000. But by offering installments, you taint their comparison process.
Even though the client knows your total price is $6000, if they compare it to another web designer who quotes a total of $6000, you’re lower installments will feel much more appealing to them and have a good chance of influencing their decision towards you.
Tactic 8: Mention the Daily Equivalence.
You see this tactic often used by charities and non-profits. Instead of mentioning the monthly or yearly cost, they share the low daily price.
A 1998 study proved that using a daily price creates a perception of an overall lower price.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t mention the regular price. In fact, it should still be the primary focus. However, mentioning the daily equivalence anchors people towards the lower end of the price spectrum.
For example. Being a member of the Resourceful Designer Community is $14.95/month. That works out to $0.49 per day. Is having a group of fellow design peers who are able and eager to help you grow your business not worth $0.49 per day to you? If so, join today.
A bonus tip: if you can’t reframe your price into a daily cost, a 1999 study shows that the same thing can be done using petty cash expenses, such as the cost of a cup of coffee.
This is one of my favourites out of all of these tactics. It’s also the first one I started implementing.
When dealing with large prices, people are willing to pay more money when a price is precise instead of rounded.
For example, A website project costing $6834 as opposed to a website project costing $6000.
Why is that?
A rounded price is more suspicious. A client may question how you came up with a nice round price of $6000. Did you pick it out of thin air? Did you calculate the actual cost at $5700 and decided to round it up to $6000?
However, a precise number, such as $6834, leaves little room for suspicion. If you are quoting a precise number, clients will readily believe it's the actual price of the project. This thought pattern makes people much more agreeable to the price.
A 2007 study analyzing 27,000 real estate transactions showed that home buyers were willing to pay more, often thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars more, for a home listed at a specific price compared to a home listed at a rounded price.
These same people were also less likely to negotiate, or if they did, they would negotiate in much smaller increments than those bidding on a home with a rounded asking price.
By providing a specific price, such as $6834 for a website instead of $6000, the client is much more likely to trust what you are selling them and be agreeable to the price.
As I said, after reading this one, I immediately stopped quoting rounded prices to my clients. It’s still too early to tell how it’s going, but so far, so good.
Tune in to next week's episode
Resource of the week Chrome Application Shortcuts
A convenient way to turn a website into a desktop application is by using Chrome Applications Shortcuts. This is especially useful for browser-based tools such as invoicing/bookkeeping and Customer and Project Management Software. Instead of searching through dozens of open browser tabs for the right one, create an application shortcut and treat the webpage as a desktop application.
To create a Chrome Application Shortcut, open the website, you would like to turn into an application in a browser tab. On the far right of the address bar, click the three vertical dots. Select “More Tools” > “Create Shortcut”
Name the application in the pop-up window and be sure to check “Open as Window.” then press Create.
A new Application icon will appear in the Chrome Apps folder within your Applications folder. You can now use it just like you would any other application. You can add it to your Dock. You can create Aliases from it. And you can easily switch between it and your other applications via the Control Centre.
Give it a try and let me know what you think.
Let’s face it; it’s impossible to be completely happy and satisfied with whatever career choice you choose. I mean, even being a professional chocolate taster has its drawbacks.
But out of all the gazillion different things you can do with your life. Being a graphic or web designer, at least in my opinion, is one of the more satisfying options out there. Then again, I may be a bit biased.
But just like every other career choice out there, being a designer has its ups and downs. You get to make money using your creativity. You get to design things that change peoples’ lives. Your creations are displayed for everyone to see and admire.
But there’s the flipside. Clients don’t always have the same vision as you. Some people are demanding to work with. And don’t get me started on taxes and all the administrative work involved with being a designer.
As I said, ups and downs. Luckily, and I’m sure you’ll agree, the life of a designer is filled with more ups than there are downs. That’s what keeps us going.
But what if I told you that you could increase the number of ups you experience? What if I told you there’s a very simple secret that will allow you to have a happier and more satisfying design career? That secret boils down to four words.
But hold on, before I tell you those four words, I want to share a scenario with you. Something you’ve probably experienced yourself at some point in your design career. And if you haven’t, give it time. I’m sure you will.
Let me know if this sounds familiar.
You’re hired to design a logo for a client. Being the good designer, you are you hunker down and get to work sketching out dozens, if not hundreds, of different ideas for the logo.
Most of these will be dismissed almost as soon as you make them. Some of them you know even before you make them that you won’t use them, but you have to get the idea out of your head. Or am I the only one who does that?
After a while, you are drawn back to a handful of your ideas that show merit. Some of them you play and tweak, trying this and that until you realize they won't work and discard them. But there are a few that are promising. So you concentrate all your talent and design skills on making them just right.
In the end, you are left with two or three logos ideas. You then create a nice presentation, including various mockups to showing how each one would look in real-world situations. Then it's off to present to the client.
Even though all three ideas are good, you secretly have your favourite from the bunch. You know, The one you’re already picturing in your portfolio. The one you can’t wait to show off and let everyone know, “Hey, I designed this logo.” Yes, you always have your favourite.
Then, of course, there’s your second favourite. You don’t like it as much as the first one, but still, it’s a damn nice logo. Not that there’s anything wrong with the third logo. After all, you wouldn't present a logo to a client that you didn’t think was good enough, would you? I didn’t think so. But logo number three, even though good, doesn’t compare to logo one or even logo two.
You present your three designs to the client. You may even try to upsell your favourite logo a bit more than the other two. There’s no harm in doing that. And then you sit back and wait for the client’s decision.
You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?
Regardless of your effort and your desires, the client chooses the third logo.
You put on your happy face as you pretend to share in the client’s enthusiasm, but in your gut, you feel let down.
How could they choose logo number three? Can’t they see how great the first logo is? Or even logo number two would have been fine. But no, they chose logo number three.
I’m sure this exact scenario is why some designers practice the one-concept approach. They don’t offer their client’s any options. Instead, they offer them one concept-take it or leave it. If that’s how you work, then more power to you. But that’s not the way I do things myself.
Why did I share this scenario with you? It’s because I was hoping you could think about how you would feel in that situation. You were so sure the client was going to fall in love with the same logo you loved. And they didn’t.
You feel confused.
You feel torn.
You feel let down.
You feel dejected.
Remember I told you that the secret to a happy and satisfying design career came down to four words? Well, here they are.
It’s not. It has never been, and it never will be. A happy and satisfied designer knows that everything they do is about the client. When you embrace this concept, your design career becomes so much easier.
You may have liked logo number one better, and that’s fine. But that wasn’t the client’s choice. To them, logo number three is the best one. And you know what? They’re right. At least for them. It’s not about what you think. It’s about what they think. The client is more than happy with their decision to chose the third logo. And so should you be. After all, they hired you to create something for them, not something for you.
Sure, you wish they had chosen the first logo so you can showcase it on your social media and in your portfolio. But it’s not your logo; it's theirs. Once you move on to the next design project, you’ll give their logo very little thought. On the other hand, the client is going to embrace and live with your creation for hopefully a very long time.
So regardless of your preferences, it was never about you. It was always about the client. Remember that.
But “It’s not about you” doesn’t only apply to client preferences in logos. It applies to many aspects of your business.
The RFP (Request For Proposal) you submitted gets turned down. The person reviewing it had their reasons for saying no. Maybe you didn’t match their criteria. Maybe someone else submitted a better proposal. Maybe the person judging the RFP already had a preference in mind, and the process was just a formality. Regardless, It’s not about you.
A client turns down your website proposal stating the price is too high. Did you overprice the project? No. You priced it where you thought it should be. The fact that the client thinks it’s too expensive is not about you. It’s about them. It’s about their expectations.
Now you do have some control over client expectations. The way you present your proposals, the way you explain the value you bring, the way you show how much of a benefit working with you can be. All these things can help sway a client’s expectations. But ultimately, it’s not about you. It’s about them. They make the decision they think is right for them. And even if you feel it’s the wrong decision. It’s still not about you. It’s all about them.
If you remember that it’s not about you. It will make every hurdle in your design career much more palatable as long as you do the best that you can. As long as you present the best options. As long as you’re sincere and honest in your dealings. Then the results will never be about you. You can be satisfied that you’ve done everything possible. The final decision is in their hands, and therefore, it’s all about them.
Hopefully, you'll learn something from the process, take note of it for next time, and then put the whole thing behind you and move on.
“It’s not about you” applies to smaller things as well.
The client doesn’t like a suggestion you make. It's not about you.
The client doesn’t like the colours you chose. It's not about you.
The client doesn’t like the font you used. It's not about you.
The client doesn’t like the web feature you added. It's not about you.
None of these are about you. And therefore, there’s no reason to get upset about them.
And even if the client does agree to your price and hires you. Even if they love your choices and ideas, even if the client praises your designs, it’s still not about you. You may feel good about it, and you should. But It’s still all about them and how they feel.
When you learn to embrace an “it’s not about you” attitude and learn to let go of all the little things that may upset you about this career. You will notice that your life as a designer will be much happier and much more satisfying.
Always remember, your goal as a designer is to make the client happy. You’re there to serve them to the best of your ability. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you think, because it’s not about you.
And when your clients are happy with what you do for them. When they come back to you over and over again with more design projects. When they tell everyone about the great services you offer. When they treat you as a trusted partner, well, at that point, maybe it is a little bit about you.
Resource of the week Backblaze
There are not many tools on my must-have list. Even Divi, my ultimate choice for building WordPress websites, isn’t a must-have.
But one thing everyone with a computer should have is a backup strategy—a way to safeguard all those precious files you have. And an extra hard drive is not enough.
And that’s why I believe that no backup strategy is complete without BackBlaze.
Backblaze is a cloud backup solution that gives you peace of mind, knowing all of your precious files are safe and secure, regardless of what happens to your computer.
You may be thinking, I don’t need Backblaze. I have DropBox or Google, or One Drive. Let me tell you that those platforms were never meant to be a backup solution. They’re great for storage and file sharing but not for backup.
For a true cloud backup solution, you need something that was build just for that purpose. And that’s Backblaze.
I’ve had Backblaze installed on every computer I’ve owned for the past decade. And it’s well worth the low yearly cost of the service.
Give it a try. You won’t be sorry.
Ok, I have a confession to make. Obviously, bad clients are a thing. I chose this title to get your attention. And it worked. You’re here, aren’t you? The title I should have chosen is If you do your job right, you should never have to deal with bad clients. But it just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
I bet if I asked you to recount an experience with a bad client, it wouldn’t take you long to think of one. Heck, there are entire websites dedicated to stories of bad clients designers have had to endure. Be warned. Once you start reading the stories, it’s hard to stop.
Every designer has their own definition of what makes a bad client.
To some, it’s their personality. They’re demanding or obnoxious. “This is how I want you to do it” or “That’s not what I asked for. What’s wrong with you?” Or they’re too timid and uncommitting, never able to give a firm opinion. “I can’t decide. What do you think?”
Maybe it’s their inability to visualize. For example, “I have no idea what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.” or “can you try it like this, and like this, and like this and perhaps like this so I can see what each way looks like?”
Bad clients also come in the form of people who reluctantly or flat out don’t pay. They don’t realize, or they don’t care, that as a freelancer or small business, you rely on every bit of income to make a living, and their refusal or tardiness in paying can drastically affect your way of life.
Then some clients want something for nothing. They assure you that the exposure you’ll get from working on their project will be more valuable than any sum of money you would charge them.
The list of bad clients continues with clients who change scope midway through a project. Some do it innocently, asking you to add on small extras, not thinking anything of it. “Can we add an extra page to the website that talks about all the philanthropic work we do?” And some do it not so innocently, trying to squeeze in extras without paying for them. "While you’re making the header for our website, can you also supply us copies to fit our Facebook Page, LinkedIn Profile, Twitter and YouTube headers? It’s a simple matter of resizing what you already have. It shouldn’t take you any time at all."
Don’t forget the clients who make strange demands. You know the “can you make the logo bigger?” type clients. Or those who expect too much “I searched for ‘car dealership’ and our brand new website isn’t showing up on the first page of Google, what are you going to do about it?”
Some clients think they know more about design than you do. Some clients wait until the last possible minute to supply the content you've been waiting months for and still expect the project to be delivered on time. And some clients are so disorganized that you don’t know how they’re still in business.
I could go on and on. There are no shortages of “bad clients.” However, there are ways you can minimize, if not eliminate, your interaction with this less than desirable clientele. It all comes down to experience.
When you first start in the design field, you will encounter bad clients. It’s inevitable. Call it an initiation or rite of passage.
Treat these bad clients as a learning experience. You have to experience bad clients to be able to spot bad clients.
Whenever you work with a bad client, make a mental note of what was undesirable about working with them. Then use that knowledge to help your future self. This could simply be adding a new clause to your contract or starting to use a contract if you’re very new. Or you could use that knowledge to spot the red flags and weed out potential bad clients before you start working with them.
If you find yourself working with the same type of bad clients over and over again, you’re doing something wrong. And that something wrong is not learning from your mistakes.
With enough experience and by putting that knowledge to use, you should be able to spot a bad client a mile away and steer clear of them.
Don’t get me wrong, not all clients who appear bad are actually bad. Some, and I would even hazard a guess that most are uneducated clients. That is, uneducated in the ways of working with a professional designer.
Many clients don’t understand what creative professionals do, and they don’t realize why their requests are so crazy. In these cases, instructing the client on how you operate can turn a potentially bad client into someone who is a pleasure to work with.
If you haven’t already, I suggest you listen to my seven-part Client Onboarding series. In my Client Onboarding series, I explain the entire process of acquiring a new client, explaining how you operate and laying the foundation for a strong and ongoing relationship with them. Following the steps I outlined in that series can help steer a client from the dark side and turn them into a great client.
When a client hires a designer, they have a goal in mind. But they don’t necessarily know how to reach that goal and sometimes not even what that goal is. That’s where you come in. Through proper communication and an understanding of their problems, the two of you together can set out on a plan to reach a solution.
Show the client you understand what they want, and let them know what you need to make it happen. Some clients will get it right away, and others will require a bit of handholding before they understand. Either way, you need to draw clear lines so that both parties know what they’re getting into.
Remember, most clients don’t think like a designer. They don’t have the same creative process you have. That puts you in the unique position to lead and educate them on a process that works and results in success for both of you.
In the end. Any client who lets you do your work, no matter how demanding, impolite or fussy they are, and who pays you fairly for the work you provide, is a good client.
Not every project can be creatively satisfying. Sometimes even the best clients give you boring and mundane projects, and there’s not much you can do about it. Unfortunately, that’s par for the course.
What you can do, however, is chose who you want to work with. Through acquired experience and knowledge gained over time, the day will come when you’ll be able to weed out and pass on the less desirable clients who approach you and identify those who need to be educated on how the process works. That should make what you do all the more satisfying.
Remember, the only truly “bad clients” are the ones you take on despite your better judgement. Trust your gut. It won't let you down.
Resource of the week Nested Pages.
Nested Pages is a simple and yet useful WordPress plugin that provides a simple and intuitive drag and drop interface for managing your page structure and post orders. It allows you to add multiple pages and posts to a site quickly. And, if you want, it can automatically generate a native WordPress menu that matches your page structure.
This Bootstrap Advertising series is to help give you ideas to use to gain exposure for your design business. Because after all, people won’t hire you if they don’t know about you.
So far in this series, I’ve covered Bartering Your Services For Exposure, Promoting Yourself On Client Projects and Getting Free Media Exposure With Press Releases. But in my opinion, one method trumps all of those, and that's making presentations.
Making presentations is one of the best ways to get exposure and actually land new design work. Almost every time I make a presentation, I end up with at least one new client.
I’m not talking about design pitches or presenting to your clients. I’m talking about getting up in front of a group of people and presenting on a topic that is beneficial to them, AND paints you as an expert when it comes to that area.
Did I lose you? I know that many designers are introverts, and the thought of getting up in front of a group of people sounds terrifying. However, if you can find it within yourself to conquer that fear, I can almost guarantee it will be worth it.
Save your trepidations for now and hear me out. Who knows, I may convert you.
Presentations are a great way to educate people on the part of the business industry that you are familiar with—design. It may be branding, marketing, advertising, online presence through websites or social media, or any other design aspect that the average business owner might find useful.
Regardless of what aspect of design you decide to present, just the fact that you are presenting it gives you credibility in the eyes of those watching. The fact that you are presenting to them, that you are educating them, that you are bestowing valuable knowledge that will help improve their businesses elevates the way they see you.
They may have known you before as just another graphic designer, but you graduate to becoming an expert once you present. And as an expert, you become someone they admire and look up to. And when it comes to hiring a designer, who do you think they’ll consider? One of the many designers from your area? Or, the expert designer they admire because you gave them valuable advice during a presentation?
It sounds strange, but it’s true.
In March of 2020, I was at a podcast conference in Orlando, Florida. A few of us designers met up for an impromptu get-together in the hallway outside the conference rooms. We had a very in-depth conversation on the impact good design has on the success of a podcast.
As with any conference, several other attendees, non-designers migrated their way to our conversation. They were curious as to how design could help their shows.
My fellow designers were very knowledgeable, and we had a great discussion. It was obvious to anyone listening that each one of us knew what we were talking about.
During our conversation, I mentioned I was presenting the following day on the importance of good podcast cover artwork to help grow a show. When we were done, and we parted ways, several podcasters stopped me to ask questions. The other designers walked away unaccosted while I had a small gathering around me. These people chose me because I was a presenter at the conference. I hadn’t even presented yet, but the fact that I was, was enough to elevate my status above the other designers as far as these podcasters were concerned. The conference had chosen me to present; therefore, I must be someone worth listening to.
That’s the power of presenting. It elevates you in the eyes of those you talk to.
And you know what? A couple of those people hired me to help brand their podcast. And I gained several more new clients after my presentation. It works.
You may be thinking, "That’s easy for you Mark, you started a podcast branding business, so it makes sense for you to present at a podcast conference. But I don’t have a niche like you. So where am I supposed to present?"
I’m glad you asked.
You don’t have to travel to big conferences with thousands of people in attendance to present. There are many opportunities for you around where you live. In fact, presenting close to home is even more beneficial because you have the bonus of word of mouth afterwards.
“You’re looking for a designer? I heard so-and-so present recently, and they really knew what they were talking about. So you should give them a call.”
If you look around, I’m sure you can find places or venues around your area that would love to host your presentation.
And don’t just look for existing opportunities. Make them. Approach your Chamber, library, Business enterprise center, etc. and ask them if you can put on a presentation. Many of them would be happy to accommodate you.
The idea behind any good presentation is to keep it simple and keep it focused. How much you present is determined by the time allotted to you and to whom you’re presenting.
In most cases, pick one topic to talk about. The broader your presentation, the more confusing it will be. The more focused it is, the more memorable it will be.
The best presentations provide 2 to 3 pieces of actionable advice at the most. But, of course, one piece of actionable advice is even better.
Instead of giving a presentation on branding a business, which entails a lot. Give a presentation on choosing a colour palette. The idea is to narrow down the topic so as not to confuse people.
Possible presentation topics include:
Who you’re presenting to will help you decide on what topic to chose. For example, if you’re talking to a group of retailers, you may want to talk about increasing sales by marketing with floor decals. Or how different colours on a website can increase conversions.
If you’re talking to a group of new entrepreneurs, you may want to talk about using visual assets to help build a brand. Or the importance of creating visual assets that appeal to their target market, not just the business owner.
If you’re talking to a mixed group of businesspeople, you may want to talk about the importance of branding in social media. Or how to identify your competition. That’s actually a good one. Unfortunately, many new business people don’t know how to identify their competition.
The skies the limit to the number of topics available to present.
And if you find yourself unable to narrow down your topic, maybe consider doing a series of presentations instead of just one. Whatever works.
In my opinion, presenting is one of the best ways to garner exposure for your business without spending anything. Not only that, but there’s an excellent chance that you pick up some work from it. It's worked for me time after time. Over the years, I’ve made presentations at:
And almost every time I gave a presentation, I gained new clients from those who attended.
So try to get over your fear if presenting is not something you’re used to doing. It helps to start small and work your way up. Like anything else, the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll become.
As you get better at presenting, you'll discover people will invite you to speak at their events. Who knows, maybe someday you’ll actually get paid to present. Now wouldn’t that be nice?
Until then, try to settle with the new clients that come your way from those you help.
Presenting, it’s worth looking into if you’re not already doing it.
Remember, the idea behind this Bootstrap Advertising series is to get your name out there. To get as much exposure for your business without having to spend anything doing it. I believe in you. So go out and do it.
Resource of the week Swatchos.com
Swatchos is a deck of 130 cards to help you choose colours for your design projects.
Each card has one clour on the front and six on the back. The front is the primary colour, and the back shows darker and lighter versions of the colour on the front. That’s 903 colours in total with millions of possible combinations.
Each colour shows the CMYK value and the Hex Code.
And because they’re cards and not in a book, like the Pantone swatch books, they’re really easy to mix and match to find that perfect colour combination.
And once you do find that perfect combo. Use the downloadable swatch files for Adobe CC and pick the colours within your favourite applications.
I bought my deck through a Kickstarter campaign.
But you can get yours by visiting swatchos.com. There’s a link at the top of the page to where you can purchase your deck.
In parts one and two of this bootstrap advertising series, I talked about bartering your design services for exposure and promoting yourself on your client projects. Two great ways to get your name out there. After all, the more people there are who know about you and the services you offer, the more successful you will be.
Both bartering for exposure and putting your name on client projects are great methods of spreading your name. But that’s all they do. They don’t offer any form of credibility or positioning. Sure, people can’t hire you if they don’t know about you. But just knowing about you doesn’t guarantee they’ll contact you when they need a designer. Especially if all they know about you is your name.
Media coverage, on the other hand, gives you credibility. It means you’re “important” enough to merit mentioning. And that publicity can mean the difference between someone just knowing about you and someone hiring you.
When combined, these different forms of exposure leave a powerful impression that can lead to more business.
But how do you get media exposure?
The easiest way to get media coverage is by submitting a press release for each of your accomplishments.
A press release is sometimes called a "press statement," a “news release," or a "media release,” which is an official way to inform the media about something you deem important.
Media could be newspapers, radio or tv stations. It might be blogs, magazines, podcasts, social media channels, YouTube channels or industry journals. Any platform people visit for current information is considered media. And most media outlets are constantly looking for new stories to cover, especially on slower news days.
Press releases are a great way for media outlets to add “filler content” to their platform. Then, if they deem the press release to be newsworthy, they’ll write or report on it. It’s that simple.
Don’t forget other places that may be interested in your special announcements. If you’re a member of your Chamber of Commerce or similar associations, send them your press release. They may publish it in their newsletter. If you attended design school, send your press release to the school. Most schools love hearing and sharing the good news about their alumni.
Lastly, reach out to any industry-specific platforms related to the announcement you are making. For example, if you designed new signage for a local law office, send your press release to any law-related publications or outlets that may cover your story.
The purpose of a press release isn’t just for recognition and publicity; although it is the principal reason, most media outlets that run your story will also include a link to your website. And every backlink to your website, especially from recognized news outlets or schools, helps to boost your position in the search rankings.
Any time you do something somewhat “newsworthy,” you should send out a press release. This includes any time you...
Any exciting news you would share with family, friends and peers might be worthy of a press release.
When Resourceful Designer was a finalist for a People’s Choice Podcast Awards, I sent a press release to my local media. It must have been a very slow news day because my story appeared on the front page of my local newspaper. All because I sent a press release.
When my local Chamber of Commerce told me the cover I designed for their printed club directory won an award at a national Chamber of Commerce event, I sent a press release. The story was covered by two local newspapers and one of our radio stations.
When I was awarded the contract to design the event program to unveil a new Canadian National Heritage site, I sent a press release, and several media outlets shared the story.
When I launched my secondary design business, Podcast Branding, I sent a press release to everyone who covers news in the podcast space. Many of them mentioned my new business.
Sending out a press release is an amazing way to get media exposure for your design business.
A press release is usually one page, two at the most, with succinct information on what you want the media to know.
The idea is to give the reader the details so they can, in turn, write or compose their own story. Rarely will the media publish your press release word for word. Instead, in some cases, they’ll compose something based on what you submit, and in other cases, they’ll contact you for an interview or perhaps invite you to appear on their program.
The generally accepted format for a press release is as follows.
Your press release title is important. The more irresistible you make it, the better your chances of it being picked up. If required, you can use an italicized subheading to summarize the news you’re sharing.
Make your titles stand out. For example, instead of “Designer builds a website for local business,” which is pretty boring. Write something like “Business hires local designer and sees online revenue soar.” That’s something people want to hear about.
The body of your press release has to grab whoever is reading it. Chances are the person reading your release gets dozens, if not hundreds of them each day. So the quicker you grab their attention, the better your chances of them using your story.
It’s customary for your first paragraph to start with the city you are in so they know where the story relates to. In my case, I would start the first paragraph of my press release with – Cornwall, Ontario: and then introduce my story.
Your first paragraph needs to cover not only who you are but the what, why, where, and how of whatever it is you’re telling them. Please keep it to the facts without any fluff. They should know everything they need to know about your story after reading that first paragraph.
Once you’ve set the scene with your first paragraph, the rest of the paragraphs in your release help fill in the details and give them any other pertinent information with greater detail that will help them paint a picture of what they can write.
If applicable, provide a direct quote they can use in the story they write about you. For example, when I submitted the press release about the Canadian heritage site, I included a quote something like this.
“it’s an honour to be chosen for this project out of the many talented graphic designers from across Canada.”
The writer assigned to my story used my quote in his article.
You should also provide any background information on the press release subject, such as why you undertook the project or what you won the award for. The reader already has most of the vital information they need. Don’t provide superfluous facts or such about you, your company or the announcement.
Remember, a press release needs to be concise. But do offer any details that strengthen your narratives, such as any creative ways you accomplished your announcement or any struggles you had to overcome.
If you can, comment on the future implications of your announcements. For example, in the case of a new client website, you may want to say the company expects to double their income with their new online sales. Just make sure the information is factual.
The last paragraph of your press release should summarize who you are and what you do. In plain English, list your company name, your name and title, the full URL to your website, and your email address and phone number should they need to contact you.
Follow that information with pertinent details such as how long you’ve been in business, What you offer, for example, “Graphic and web design services,” and any awards or recognition you’ve received.
It’s a good idea to include a headshot of yourself and a photo that relates to the announcement.
When my Resourceful Designer story was published on the front page of our newspaper, I included a photo of me sitting in front of my microphone with the press release.
Attach any photos to your press release if you're submitting them by email. It’s also a good idea to upload them online and include a URL link where the reporter can download them. Just in case something happens to the attachments you send.
The very last thing on your press release should be three octothorps. Or as you may know them by Hashtags or Number signs.
This is the traditional way to mark the end of a press release and is still appreciated by the media. It informs the reader that there is no more information to read.
That’s how you submit a press release.
Just because you submit a press release doesn’t mean they will use your story. If you’re lucky and it’s a slow news day, there’s a better chance they’ll use your press release. But it is hit and miss. However, when they are used, the media exposure you get from it is a great form of publicity.
As I said initially, when someone sees, hears or reads about you in the media, it increases your clout. It strengthens the mantle of the professional that you are. And it gives you credibility in the eyes of those who see or hear it. And all of that is great exposure. And it doesn’t cost you a cent.
For more information about press releases, read this great article by Hubspot. It includes a free press release template kit for you to download.
Resource of the week Designers Available
Simply put, Designers Available connect social justice organizations with pro bono designers.
Let me stress, this is not a platform for getting paying clients. This is an opportunity for you to put your design skills to work for causes you can get behind.
As stated on the website, Designers Available is an opportunity for designers to use their skills and abilities to support the work of community organizations, non-profits, social causes and movements.
Upon submitting your name, you will be included in a member network that receives regular calls for designers to be matched with organizations.
If this sounds like something you would be interested in please visit designersavailable.com
In part one of this Bootstrap Advertising series, I discussed bartering your services to get exposure. This week I’m sharing more ways to get exposure by promoting yourself on client projects.
Exposure means making people aware of your design business. After all, People cannot hire you if they don’t know you exist. So the goal here is to get your name, business name, and logo in front of as many people as possible.
This form of promotion is called a shotgun approach. There’s nothing scientific or targeted about it. Instead, you hit the masses and hope that someone who sees it needs or knows someone in need of your services. This “spray and pray” approach doesn't cost you anything and is a great method of bootstrap advertising.
If you’re not familiar with the term bootstrap or bootstrapping, it means promoting or developing by initiative and effort with little or no assistance. In other words, bootstrap advertising is getting your name out there with minimal effort and practically zero expense on your part.
Let me share two methods you can promote yourself on client projects.
My stance is if I design something, my name deserves to be on it, from websites to posters, brochures, car wraps, wedding invitations and more. If I can get away with it, I put my name on it.
I’ve learned over the years that, as the adage goes, “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission?” If you ask a client if it’s ok to put your name on their project, there’s a 50/50 chance they’ll say no; they’d prefer you don’t. And many times, they’ll ask if they get a discount if your name appears on their project.
However, if you include your name on the initial project proof without asking, only one in twenty clients will ask you to remove it. That’s why I never ask a client if I can put my name on their project. Instead, I present the work with my name and sometimes logo already there. Should the client ask me to remove it, I’ll take it off without a fuss. But in my experience, there have been very few clients who have asked me to take it off.
My name or logo appears in small inconspicuous corners of the project for printed work—kind of like an artist's signature.
On a poster, I include it in the bottom corner. I try to include it on the back cover of a brochure, sometimes running vertically along the spine. If it’s a book or booklet, and I can’t put it on the back cover, I’ll try to include it on the inside front cover somewhere.
Over the years, I’ve included my name on
I’ve even included my name and logo on trade show booths. I’ve designed several pop-up or roll-up banners as well as many backdrop walls for trade shows, and I’ve included my name and logo on the bottom right corner of all of them.
For websites, the obvious place is the footer, or sometimes on a separate bar below the footer. Divi makes this really easy.
Sometimes, when I do T-Shirts, I’ll have my screen printer add my logo to the sleeve with my client's permission. My screen printer is a great guy, and depending on the size of the order, he'll add my logo to the sleeve at no extra cost. Think about it. Everyone walking around wearing one of these shirts has my name displayed on their sleeve.
So whenever possible, I try to include my name on every printed piece I design.
I’m a bit surprised how well the following method works.
Have you ever designed something for a client that includes boxes for ads?
I've designed event programs, maps, placemats, pocket folders, magazine layouts, and more for clients. What all of these had in common were advertising spots the client could sell.
Take a program for a local theatre company, for example. The program contains information about the theatre company, the play their performing, the cast, perhaps upcoming plays, etc. The theatre company then sells the extra space in the program as ad spots to cover the printing costs.
The way these sort of projects work is the client has the program designed, and once all the pertinent information is in place, they are supplied with a PDF to see how much available space is left for ads.
When I present the client with this initial proof, I include an ad for my business in one of the spots. I tell them it's so they can show potential advertisers what an ad may look like. And you know what? 75% of the time, the client leaves my ad in the program. Of course, I’ll gladly remove my ad if they ask me to, but they rarely do. And not once have they ever asked me to pay for my ad spot.
Over the years, I’ve had ads show up for free in programs for theatre productions, sporting events, entertaining events, fairs and festivals and other things. In addition, I’ve had my ad appear on local maps, paper diner placemats, on the back of pocket folders that real estate agents and mortgage brokers hand out to their clients, and even in a couple of local business magazines. All because the initial project proof included my ad, and the client never asked me to remove it.
Funny story, one client actually apologized, saying they had oversold the allotted ad spots and asked if I would be willing to give up my spot to accommodate it. Of course, I said yes.
These were all free advertising opportunities gaining good exposure for my design business. All because I took the time to include an ad in the initial proof.
I designed a website for a local association that includes three ad spots on the home page. They planned to sell these ad spots to association members to promote their businesses.
When I designed the website, instead of leaving the three spots blank, I included my ad in one of them. That was in 2017, and even though I’m not a member of the association, my ad is still there. The other two ads have changed over the years, but they’ve never removed mine.
When given the opportunity, present the proof to your client with a “temporary” ad, and cross your fingers that they don’t remove it.
These are two great ways to get free advertising for your design business without spending anything.
The idea behind this is to get your name out there. If people don’t know about you, there’s zero chance they’ll hire you. By putting your name on as many things as you can, those who see it will take notice.
Imagine a new entrepreneur looking for a designer to help brand their new business. They remember seeing your name on a store poster, in an event program, on their kid’s dance recital t-shirt and in a local magazine. They’re going to think, wow, this person must be good since I see their name everywhere. A lot of people must trust him/her. That confidence, along with repeated recognition, is good enough for them to reach out and hire you for their project.
All because you included your name on everything you could.
I’ve been doing this ever since I started my design business, and I can tell you, it works. The more people who know about you, the more successful you will be. Isn’t that what you’re going for?
A side benefit of putting your name on everything is that the contact people you deal with at your clients may change.
Sally may retire, and Jason takes her place. Maybe Sally forgot to inform Jason who their designer is. Luckily for you, you’ve included your name on everything you’ve designed for that client, making it very easy for Jason to know who to contact.
That’s yet another reason to put your name on everything.
Resource of the week pixsy.com
This week’s resource of the week is a great tool for photographers and illustrators to keep track, or should I say, stay on top of who is using their images.
If you sell your images through any stock image platform, you’re often left wondering what people are doing with the images they purchase.
Pixsy.com allows you to discover where and how your images are being used online.
It’s also a great resource for battling image theft. Find out who is using your copyrighted material and use Pixsy’s tools to help you resolve the issues.
Best of all, you can start with their free plan and only upgrade if you need to take advantage of one of their premium features, such as issuing a takedown notice.
As I said, if you are a photographer or illustrator, you’ll want to bookmark Pixsy.com and take a stand in the battle over Copywrite theft.
Working for exposure. That thought is the bane of most designers. A client asks you to use your valuable time and skills to benefit them. And in exchange, they’ll tell everyone they know about the great services you offer. It’s a win-win for both of you. They promise you fame and fortune if only you do this project for them... for free, or at a vast discount.
It’s a crock full of s**t if you ask me or any other designer who’s ever been presented with a similar offer. Those clients don’t care about you. And they will never be advocates for your services. If they do tell someone about you, it will be in the context of “offer them exposure, and they’ll give you a great deal.” Is that really the reputation you want as a designer? of course it isn’t.
You should never agree to a request to exchange your services for exposure. But that’s not the same thing as you bartering for exposure.
Let me ask you a question. You’ve probably spent some if not a great deal of time stuck at home during the 2020 pandemic. During that time, did you ever order out for a meal?
How many times did you order from a restaurant you had never heard of before? I don’t mean a place you recently found out about through family, friends or colleagues. How many times did you order from a restaurant you’ve never heard of?
Of course, that’s a trick question. If you’ve never heard of a place, how are you supposed to order from them? The same applies to your design business. Nobody is going to hire you if they don’t know you exist.
Sure they can google designers in your area and stumble across your website. That might be all they need to reach out. But there has to be some intent for that to happen. The person needs to be seeking a designer.
But how can you let that person know about you and your services if they are not currently seeking a designer? The only way is through exposure.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of exposure is:
the fact or condition of being exposed: such as the condition of being presented to view or made known.
In other words, getting exposure means making people aware of your design business. And once people are aware of you and what you can offer them. They are much more likely to think of you the next time they need a designer.
Think about it. If you wanted to order a pizza and, for some reason, your regular place is closed. Wouldn't you order from the next place you’re most aware of?
Would you order from a pizza joint you had never heard about and just found through a google search? Or would you choose the pizza place whose ads you’ve seen over and over, who’s commercials you’ve seen or heard, who’s delivery vehicles you’ve spotted around town?
Chances are you would choose the one you are most familiar with, even though that familiarity is only perceptual since you’ve never eaten one of their pizzas before. You would choose them because you’ve been exposed to them.
There’s a whole industry based upon this principle of exposure. It’s called advertising.
Needless to say, the more you get your name out there, so people become familiar with you and what you do, the more successful your design business will become.
But how do you get your name in front of people without spending a truckload of money on advertising? You barter for exposure.
I talked about bartering in episode 47 of the podcast. In that episode, I talked mostly about bartering for goods. For example, I acquired my custom-built desk through bartering. I designed a website for a woodworking client in exchange for him building my desk. As a result, I only had to pay for the wood. That’s bartering. Exchanging one good or service for another without the exchange of money.
Bartering for exposure works on the same principle, except instead of getting a physical product or service back, you are compensated for your time and effort through exposure. That exposure can come in many forms, but they all come down to a form of advertising.
Every year I design a T-Shirt, free of charge, for a local children’s dance studio. I make money by brokering the printed shirts, but I have never charged her for the design on the shirt. In exchange, I get a full-page ad in their yearly dance recital program. This gives me exposure to hundreds of people every year.
We’ve had this arrangement ever since I started my design business. Without fail, in the weeks following the dance recital, I’m almost guaranteed to get at least one and oftentimes several inquiries from parents of the dancers saying they saw my ad in the program.
Our city used to host one of the largest hot air balloon festivals in North America until it folded a few years ago. The festival was one of my biggest clients. I did all sorts of design work for them, and it paid very well.
One of the arrangements I made with them early on was that I would offer them a discount for being listed as one of the event sponsors.
As a sponsor of the event, my logo was prominent in all their marketing. It also appeared on the fence surrounding the festival grounds, and it appeared on the baskets of one of the hot air balloons. Every time that ballon went up, you could see my logo on the basket. It was giving me exposure.
Every year our local fire hall hosts a firefighter challenge. Firefighters from all over the region come to compete.
When they hired me to be their designer, I suggested a deal. I would max their bill at five hours of work, regardless of how much time I actually spent on their job. In exchange, I would be listed as a Bronze sponsor of the event, which meant my logo showed up on all their promotional material, giving me more exposure.
A few years ago, I was asked to design something for a charity Christmas fundraiser. They had a dozen or so fully decorated Christmas trees they were auctioning off.
They didn’t have a lot of money and were asking for a discount. However, it was a good cause, so I suggested that they place a sign in front of one of the trees listing me as the sponsor for that tree in exchange for my services.
They thought it was such a good idea that they found sponsors for all the trees. I have no idea how much they charged for the spots, but mine didn’t cost me anything but my time. And it gave me great exposure.
The last story I want to share with you is about a local theatre company. I built their website and designed the posters, ads, tickets and other marketing material for every play they put on.
I was brokering all the print material. When I noticed the theatre company's tickets were only printed on one side, I made them an offer. I asked them to allow me to put an ad for my design business on the back of the tickets In exchange for free website hosting. I agreed to pay the difference in print costs which worked out to nothing since I made money on the print brokering.
For every play they put on, every ticket holder saw my ad. Over the years, I gain many new clients through that exposure.
I think you get the point.
In each of these cases, I took advantage of a way to get my name in front of more people. The more people who saw it, the better the chance they would call me the next time they needed a designer or the better the chance they would pass my name along the next time they heard of someone needing a designer.
Just like for a restaurant to succeed, people have to know about it. So likewise, your design business cannot succeed if people aren’t aware of you. And one of the easiest ways to gain exposure is to take advantage of your current clients and barter a way to get your name out there.
Even if each method only brings in one or two clients, they are clients you wouldn’t have had otherwise. And the more you do it, the more it adds up. So whenever you have the opportunity, I suggest you barter for exposure.
Resource of the week MailChimp
A great way to gain exposure is through a newsletter.
Exposure isn’t just for people who don’t know about you. Exposure helps those familiar with you keep you top of mind for the next time they require your services.
My favourite tool for creating a newsletter is MailChimp. I won’t lie. I like them because their free plan lets you have up to 2000 contacts, which means you can go a long way into building your mailing list before it starts costing you anything.
Although many options are not available on MailChimp’s free plan, I think it’s a great way to start.
When you eventually outgrow the free plan, you can then decide if you want to upgrade to one of MailChimp’s paid plans. Or if you want to export your list and move to a different email marketing platform.
Please think of this as a PSA, a public service announcement from me to you. Remember what you’ve done.
This week’s topic came about after three separate incidents this past week. I don’t know if it was a coincidence, but after the third time, I just knew I had to talk about it.
The first incident happened this past weekend. My son asked me if I had a certain Tom Clancy book. Rainbow Six, to be exact. He’s looking for something to read and wanted to give it a try. So I told him I’d have a look.
I keep most of my books in rubber storage bins in my basement. I have a tough time parting with books I've enjoyed and have several large bins full of them.
So one night this week, I went digging through our storage area in hunt of this novel. We don’t just have books stored downstairs. There are all sorts of things down there in bins. As I was sifting through them, I came across a plastic bag. Inside was a baseball cap with an embroidered logo I had designed for a client. It was a logo for an over 50 beer league hockey team. The team was called the Old Timers.
The logo I designed was an old-style alarm clock. You know, the kind with the two bells on the top. The clock face was one of an old man. And the clock had legs and arms and was using a banged-up hockey stick as a walking cane.
Seeing that logo brought back so many memories. I designed it 15 or 20 years ago. And I had completely forgotten about it. So much so that if you had asked me before that if I had ever designed a logo for a hockey team, I would have only thought of one. The one I created for our local minor hockey league. I would never have remembered that old-time hockey logo.
Remember what you've done.
The second incident happened a couple of days ago. I was on my way back home from Walmart when I saw flashing lights ahead of me. It looked like a big accident, and I could see cars making U-turns and coming back my way.
Instead of driving up only to be forced to turn around, I decided to turn off and use side streets to go around the accident. This took me through a part of town I hadn’t been in for several years.
As I pulled up to a stop sign, I noticed a business on the opposite corner. A storage facility where you can rent units to store your things. It had a double horseshoe logo that caught my eye. There was something familiar about it. Then I realized it was familiar because I designed it almost 25 years ago when I worked at the print shop. Trust me. It's not a logo to be proud of. In fact, I might have based the two horseshoes off a stock image I had found.
Here again, within just a couple of days was another design I had completely forgotten about.
Remember what you've done.
The third incident happened yesterday. I have a filing cabinet in the corner of my office. I use it to file away receipts, insurance papers and whatever else you store in file cabinets.
Yesterday I was filing away some investment reports when one of the sheets slipped back and fell behind the bottom drawer.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to remove a drawer from a filing cabinet, but it’s not that easy to do. Especially when it’s full. But after tugging and grunting, I finally managed to get it free. As I retrieved the sheet of paper, I saw something else on the bottom of the cabinet—a book.
As I picked up the book, a flood of memories came back to me. The book is titled Of Curds And Whey. And it’s a history of cheese factories from our area. Not real a page-turner, I know. But as I flipped through the first couple of pages and there it was.
Cover and interior design by Mark Des Cotes.
I spent the next 20 minutes or so flipping through that book, remembering the time I designed it.
Once again, within the span of a few days, there was something from my past that I had completely forgotten I had done.
These three incidents got me thinking. What else have I forgotten over the years? This leads me to dig out an old hard drive containing client files from 2010 and older. I spent time going down memory lane. I found logos, and websites and print jobs that I hadn’t thought about in years. Many for people or businesses who are no longer around. It actually made me a bit sad, wondering what else don’t I remember doing?
I spent 15 years designing stuff at the print shop. And I don’t have a written record of what I did back then. How many great projects have I designed that are lost to memory? Thinking back, I wish I had kept a record of them.
I know for websites, I used to keep a bookmark folder of all my client sites. Even if the site was gone, I kept the bookmark as a reminder. But for some reason, I haven’t added any bookmarks to it in a long time. I think I’m going to start again.
But what about other work? How do I keep track, so I don’t forget all the amazing projects I work on? I really don’t have an answer.
We used to print out and frame every logo we designed and hang them on the wall for everyone to see at the print shop. But once we ran out of room, we stopped adding new ones. I’m not going to do that here. But I would like to find a way to keep track so that 20 years from now, I can look back and see everything I’ve created.
If you know of a good way to keep track of your work, I would love to know. Or better yet, leave a comment below for everyone to see.
Take this as a warning. You are creating amazing things. Things that deserve to be remembered. What are you going to do so that 5, 10, 20 years from now, they don’t fade from your memory and are forgotten? Do something today so that you can remember what you’ve done.
The life of a home-based designer, a freelancer, is a precarious one. You spent a lot of time learning your craft. Whether you went to school or learned on your own, you invested a lot in yourself to get you to where you are today.
Now clients hire you to design wonderful and functional things for them. You spend hours, if not days working on and perfecting each project until you and the client are satisfied.
After doing all of that, you expect to be compensated accordingly. So you send your invoice to the client feeling good about your accomplishment. And then you wait and wait, and wait some more, but no payment is forthcoming.
Has the client stiffed you? Have they simply forgotten to send your payment? Are they purposely delaying things? Did they even get your invoice, to begin with? These are all things that go through your mind when a client fails to pay your invoice within the allotted time.
Luckily this is the exception to the norm. 99.99% of clients will pay you for your work. But it’s almost inevitable that at some point in your design career, you’ll have to deal with a delinquent client.
In the 16 years I’ve been running my design business, there have only been three invoices I was unable to collect.
The first was a local embroidery shop. It was in my first or second year of business, and the owner of the shop hired me to vectorize images for his embroidery machine.
We had an agreement where he would send me images throughout the month, and I would keep a tally and invoice him at the end of each month. It was an easy and well-paying gig.
Then one day, the owner called and asked me to hold off depositing his $300 cheque. He told me there was a mixup at the bank and needed to wait until the following week to deposit the cheque. He was a good client, so I thought nothing of it.
The following week I called to see if It was OK for me to bring his cheque to the bank, and he informed me that he had declared bankruptcy. The cheque I had was no longer any good, and he would not be paying my last invoice.
What could I do? He had declared bankruptcy, and I was out $300.
The second time I was unable to collect on an invoice is a bit of a mystery. The client was a chef who owned a local restaurant. His 10-year-old son had died a few years prior, and he asked if I could photoshop his son’s head onto an image of a young boy in a chef outfit. He wanted to frame and display the photo in his restaurant.
We agreed to a price of $100, and once done, I emailed him the digital file and an invoice. A few days later, he called to say I could drop by the restaurant any time, and he would write me a cheque. However, when I stopped by a couple of days later, the restaurant was closed. I tried several more times over the next couple of weeks, but it was never open.
One day as I was driving by, I noticed someone inside, so I stopped and knocked on the door. The woman who answered told me the chef was her brother and he had disappeared a few weeks earlier and nobody has seen him since. They found his wallet and keys in his apartment, and the police were investigating.
I saw the framed photo of the chef’s son on the wall, but there was no way I was going to ask his sister to pay the past due invoice. I never found out what happened to him.
The third delinquent client was the owner of a paintball field my son frequented.
While talking to the owner, I mentioned in passing that I was a graphic and web designer. He asked me if I would offer suggestions for his old, outdated website. I took a look and offered to build him a new one for $600. This was back around 2007-08 when I was charging low prices for websites.
He agreed to the price, and I got to work. I transferred his domain to my registrar and moved his old website to my hosting server. A couple of weeks later, I presented him with a brand new website. He loved it, and everything seemed fine. But when it came time to pay, he kept delaying things and giving me excuses as to why he hadn’t sent the money yet.
This went on for a few months to the point where I took down the website and told him I would put it back up once I received payment. I even threatened legal action if he didn’t pay my invoice. He called my bluff and told me to go ahead and take him to court. I mentioned this to my accountant, and he told me $600 wasn’t worth the time and effort to go after, and I was better to write it off. It was this third instance that convinced me to start using contracts for design projects.
The point of telling you these three stories is to say some clients won't pay their bills for some reason or another.
I was lucky that I only lost $1,000 between these three clients. And all three of them occurred within the first three years of my business. They taught me a lesson, and I’m happy to say that I’ve never failed to collect an invoice since then. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t spent time chasing down payments over the years.
I hope you’re never in that situation. But in case you ever are, I want to share ways to get delinquent clients to pay.
First, let me emphasize that different clients, especially larger ones, have their own internal payment policies. This doesn’t mean they are not paying, just that they have a longer than normal payment window they work in.
When I did work for our local shopping mall, I learned to expect a 90 day wait until I received payment. My local municipal government has a 60-day payment policy. Some companies send out payments at the end of the month. So if you invoice them on the 25th, you’ll get your payment in five or six days. But if you invoice them on the 1st, you can expect to wait the full month for your money.
These are not delinquent clients, just clients with longer than normal payment policies that you’ll have to learn to live with.
But what if payment policies are not the issue?
The best way to deal with delinquent clients is not to have delinquent clients to begin with. Lay out some groundwork to protect yourself from situations like these.
When payment doesn’t arrive as expected, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the client is delaying payment for some reason. But until you know the situation, don’t assume anything. Just because you sent an invoice doesn’t mean your client received it. Even billing software that tracks when a client opens an invoice sometimes registers a false positive.
It's also possible the client did receive your invoice but didn’t see it. Have you ever clicked on an email, realized it’s not the one you were looking for and clicked on another without giving it a second thought. That first email is now marked as "Read," even though you never looked at it. Maybe that's what happened with your client.
Before jumping to conclusions, send a reminder message saying you just wanted to make sure they received your invoice.
If you’ve emailed the client and haven’t heard back, try picking up the phone and calling them. Don’t feel bad about checking up on a past due invoice. You never know. Maybe the person you emailed it to is on vacation or maternity leave and didn’t set up an out-of-office response. Or maybe your contact is no longer at the company, and nobody is checking their email.
Any time you call a company about a past due invoice, always ask for accounts payable. This gets puts you in contact with the person in charge of sending out payments. Be understanding but firm when you explain the situation, and hopefully, it can all be handled right there.
At some point in this process, you need to ask yourself if going after the money is worth the hassle.
Yes, what you do is valuable, and you deserve to be compensated for your work. However, sometimes you could end up spending more time chasing the money than it’s worth. Figure out if the amount owed to you is worth pursuing.
If, for some reason, your client is hesitant or straight out tells you they are unable to pay. Before getting angry or threatening them, perhaps you can offer a payment plan. A client who wants to maintain a good relationship with you might agree to an option of paying by installment.
This is a great way to build client loyalty. They’ll remember your understanding once they’re back on their feet.
Depending on the situation, you may want to offer a discount. If it sounds like the client is hesitating, you may want to offer them a deal if they pay their invoice immediately or within the next couple of days.
A limited-time discount may entice a strapped-for-cash client to pay the bill now to save some money. It’s better to lose a little of what’s owed than risk losing all of it should the client not pay at all.
Before starting legal action, send a letter warning of legal action. This will inform the client you plan on seeking legal action without actually starting anything. Give them a deadline to submit payment and if it isn’t met, Follow through.
Do not threaten legal action if you don’t plan on going through with it. Oftentimes the mere mention of legal action is enough for clients to find enough money to pay your invoice.
When all else fails, your last resort is to seek a legal solution. Let me emphasize. Seeking a legal solution should only be used when nothing else has worked. Even offering a discount is preferable to taking a client to court.
If nothing else worked and the amount owed isn’t too big, you can take the client to small-claims court. This will require you to take time away from your business, so weigh the option against the amount owed and decide if it’s worth it.
If you are going after a larger sum, a letter from an attorney may be all you need. The thought of litigation is not something to take lightly, and most clients will want to avoid it when at all possible.
Be careful of going after larger clients in this way. If they have an attorney on staff or retainer, they may be willing to battle your complaint.
If you’re lucky, your situation won’t escalate to the point where lawyers get involved. Your best option is to communicate clearly with the client and work out a satisfactory solution for both of you.
If, for one reason or another, you never receive the payment owed to you. Try not to stress too much over it. Your time is better spent working with your paying clients and trying to land new ones than it is fretting over your loss. No matter what the sum is, it’s only money. You’ll make more of it. And one day, you’ll look back and realize it wasn’t as big a deal as you made it out to be.
If you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation, don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Many people have been in similar situations before you, and they’ll be more than willing to offer their advice.
Remember, clients, are rarely being underhanded or petty. Most of the time, they don’t pay your invoice because they simply forgot or hadn’t gotten around to it yet or perhaps they needed to delay payment for a very valid reason.
It’s extremely rare to have to go to extremes to collect what’s owed you. But it’s nice to know the options are there should the need arise.
In the Resourceful Designer Community Slack group, we have a channel called #Bragging-Rights. It’s a place where community members share their most recent wins. Things like Katie telling us her client approved the logo she asked us to critique a few weeks ago. Or Brian sharing the completion of a huge website project with an extremely tight deadline. Or Mike sharing yet another signed design proposal.
Whether it’s landing a new client or having their design business showcased in a magazine, everyone in the Community is genuinely happy for the person sharing the good news. That’s what being part of a community is.
But nothing seems to garner more congratulations than when someone says they’ve landed a new retainer client. We don’t even have to know the details. The fact that it’s a retainer client is huge and worth celebrating on its own.
You see, having a client on retainer is considered the pinnacle of client acquisition.
So what does having a client on retainer mean?
A retainer means your client pays you in advance, regularly, in exchange for whatever work you outlined in the retainer agreement.
You see. One of the drawbacks of being a freelance designer is the unpredictability of income. You don’t work a 9-5 at a set hourly rate. Nor are you working in a salaried position with a guaranteed income. There’s no predictable paycheck arriving on a fixed schedule. That’s one of the sacrifices we home-based designers make for the freedom of working for ourselves.
But a retainer brings us closer to that predictable, guaranteed income. It creates a steady cash flow you can count on. This is great since you know how much money you are guaranteed every month, which helps with monthly expenses.
Not only that. But a retainer helps provide both stability and consistency in your work instead of learning how to deal with new clients every project. It reduces the need to pitch and win new design projects constantly.
On top of all that, Retainer agreements attract better clients and allow you to build a deeper relationship with them. Plus, clients treat designers they have on retainer with more respect and as an expert and professional.
These clients understand the long-term benefit of working with you. They are not looking for the least expensive designer. No, they’re looking for someone who can consistently contribute to their business. They want an expert and are willing to invest in one.
Another benefit of retainers is your schedule. In most cases, you know in advance how much work you will have from your retainer clients every month. This makes it much easier to plan your schedule. If you’re contracted to create a weekly blog post image and want to take a two-week vacation. You know in advance that you need to create three images the week before you leave.
Knowing your schedule in advance allows you to manipulate it when needed.
A retainer is a contract between you and a client that states the service or deliverable you will provide them regularly in exchange for how much.
Most retainer agreements work monthly. A client pays you a fixed fee every month in exchange for what you provide to them.
You can also have a yearly retainer payment where the client agrees to pay for the full year in advance. Or a lump-sum payment where the client pays you a certain amount, and you work it off or supply deliverables until the money runs out, at which time the agreement is ended or starts over.
Why are retainer agreements appealing to clients? Oftentimes, retainers have built-in discounts that make them more appealing for the client.
For example: If your rate is $100/hour, you might offer a retainer of $900 for 10 hours of work each month. Your client saves $100 each month, and you sacrifice $10/hour in exchange for the guarantee of payment.
If you don’t charge by the hour, you can set up retainers for deliverables.
For example, you agree to create four blog post images and 16 social media images every month for a fixed rate of, let’s say, $500 per month. The client can then budget $500 every month knowing you will deliver the images. It gives them peace of mind knowing it’s taken care of.
The idea of pitching a retainer to a client can seem scary if you’re not used to it, especially if the client came to you with only one project in mind.
The trick is to determine what value you can provide to the client beyond the project they brought to you. What service or deliverables can you provide them regularly that benefit their business?
Some things to consider could include.
Website maintenance plans are a form of retainer. You agree to update, backup, protect and upkeep the client's website for a fixed monthly fee. Web maintenance plans are a great form of a retainer and guaranteed income.
For any retainer to work. The client needs to understand the value and be able to explain it to others within their organization.
Before you pitch a retainer to a client, you need to get to know them and their business and figure out how you can use your skills to advance their interests.
Luckily, getting to know the client is part of any good project brief and discovery meeting. While you are prepping your project proposal, you should also be looking for ways to help the client beyond the project.
Do they have a monthly newsletter? If so, is there any way you can help them with it? And if not, could they benefit from one?
Are they active on social media? If so, who handles it for them? If it’s an employee, could you take that off their hands and allow the employee to be better spent their time on other aspects of the business?
The more you understand about the client and their business, the easier it will be to figure out how a retainer agreement will benefit them and convincing them you’re the person to have it with.
Once you’ve figured out how you can help the client on an ongoing basis, it’s time to pitch your retainer idea.
Some designers like to pitch the retainer idea as part of the project proposal. In comparison, some like to bring up the idea after pitching the project. There is no right or wrong way to do it.
I prefer to do it at the beginning myself. I personally think it helps build some credibility by showing the client you’re not just in this for the one project, but you are willing to build a long-term relationship with them.
This works especially well with website projects. You can show that you will understand the client and their needs by the end of the web project, allowing you to better support the website you build for them and provide some ongoing support to help them grow after the launch.
Bringing up the retainer agreement at the end of the project also works since the client has had a chance to get to know you and see how you work and can see the value you can bring to their business.
So there’s no right or wrong way as long as you do it.
The two most popular forms of retainer agreements are for deliverables or hours.
A retainer agreement for deliverables means the client pays you a certain amount in exchange for a fixed number of deliverables, such as social media images. This allows you to bill for the value of the actual work you create, not your time.
When using this method, it’s important to clarify a fee should the client require more than the allotted number of deliverables or what happens should the client not require the full amount that month.
The second option is a retainer agreement for a fixed number of hours per month. When choosing this method, it’s important to determine what happens should you need to go over the allotted hours or what happens should you not use up the allotted hours. Are extra hours billed at a discounted rate or your standard rate? Are unused hours lost or rolled over to the next month?
There is a third form of retainer that is not as popular. That’s for a client to pay a monthly fee for priority access to you. This puts you at their beck and call. Meaning they pay you to drop whatever you are doing and work on their project any time they need you.
I don’t recommend this third option as it could jeopardize your relationships with other clients, especially if you end up missing a deadline because your retainer client needed you.
A retainer agreement with a client is a contract of its own and should be signed separately from any project contract you enter into with the client.
A retainer agreement contract needs to clearly define the work expected of you to prevent scope creep. It also needs to outline exactly what happens should extra work be needed or not enough work in a given month.
The agreement also needs to outline what is not covered under the contract. If your retainer agreement states you provide social media images and the client asks you to design a brochure, for example. Is there a condition for additional work? Or does your agreement stipulate that additions work requires a new contract?
The agreement should also stipulate timelines. If you agree to provide 16 social media posts per month, is that 4 per week or can you provide all 16 by the end of the month?
An essential part of your retainer contract is establishing a time period for the agreement. This can be anything you and your client agree upon 1-month, 6-months, 1 year, or more.
Whatever timeframe you chose. Your contract should indicate when you can renegotiate or terminate the agreement. Perhaps you raise your rates every year. Or you realize the work is more involved than you expected and want more compensation. Or, you decide after a time that you no longer want to be doing this kind of work. Make sure you have it in your contract when you can renegotiate or get out of the agreement.
The whole point of a retainer agreement is a guaranteed steady income. To accomplish this, you need to state a payment schedule. Will the client pay a lump sum upfront, monthly, quarterly?
Or perhaps they pay a fixed price per delivery. For example, the client agrees to pay you a certain amount for every 10 blog images you create for them regardless of the time frame.
That’s retainer agreements. As I said at the start, they’re the pinnacle of client acquisition. Having several retainer clients can give you peace of mind, knowing you don’t have to spend as much time trying to acquire new clients. Instead, you work with a small handful of clients regularly as you build long-term relationships with them. It’s a win-win for both sides.
One last thing to remember, Any time you enter into a retainer agreement with a client, there are three parties to consider.
Before you enter a long-term agreement with someone, make sure the work and time commitment won’t interfere with your existing clients and commitments.
The next time a client approaches you with a new design project. Take some extra time to figure out how you can help them long term and pitch them on the idea of hiring you on retainer. You never know what will happen.
Resource of the week Lambdatest
Lambdatests offers Cross-browser compatibility testing tools. Perform live interactive cross-browser compatibility testing of websites and web apps on the latest mobile and desktop browsers, different operating systems and even differing resolutions. You can also test geolocation from over 27 different countries.
These are not screenshots. Lambdatest lets you take control of whatever browser you want on whatever system you want.
Their free plan offers 60 minutes of real-time browser testing per month. For unlimited testing, they offer a $15/month billed annually plan.
No more guessing or calling your friend that has that specific Android phone and asking them to check a website for you. You can do it all from the comfort of your own chair with Lambdatest.
I don’t know if it’s the pandemic, the stress of everything we’ve had to endure over the past year. But lately, I’ve seen more and more designers struggling with Imposter Syndrome. I’ve seen it in the Resourceful Designer Community. In Facebook groups. And just talking with people, I know in the design space.
I don’t know what’s causing so many people in our profession to doubt themselves and their abilities. But if you’re one of them, let me tell you a little secret that may make you feel better. Although everyone feels Imposter Syndrome at one time or another. It’s most often felt by high achievers who have trouble celebrating their success, no matter how large or small. So if you suffer from Imposter Syndrome, there’s a good chance you’re a high achiever. That’s a good thing and something that should make you feel a bit better.
In case you are unfamiliar with the term Imposter Syndrome, it refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. In other words, you don’t think you’re as good as other people think you are.
An internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be
I suffer from Imposter Syndrome when it comes to illustrations. If you’re a long-time follower of Resourceful Designer, you’ve heard me on several occasions say that I am not an illustrator. And yet, the truth is, I can draw. I’ve been drawing my whole life. Maybe not regularly; I haven’t honed my skills, but it’s not like I’ve never doodled before with some degree of success. And I’ve had many people over the years tell me I’m good at it. But in my mind, I’m not.
I look at what others like Andrew or Kat, or Krista from the Resourceful Designer Community can do, and my skills pale compared to theirs. In my mind, the only reason people tell me I’m good at illustrating is that they don’t want to make me feel bad by telling me the truth. That’s Imposter Syndrome.
And you know what? In this case, it’s ok. It’s ok because I’ve never wanted to be an illustrator. So if I don’t think I’m good enough, so be it. I’m ok with that. But that’s not the issue I’ve seen lately among fellow designers.
Imposter Syndrome becomes serious when it involves what you are trying to do to earn a living. What I’m seeing is a lot are people with the skills, talent and knowledge to do something well but who feel they are not good enough to be compensated for what they’re offering. People who are competent web designers but don’t think they’re good enough to charge $5,000 or $10,000 or even $50,000 for a website. Or people who are talented logo designers who have never charged more than a couple of hundred dollars for a logo project. That’s Imposter Syndrome.
These people have this idea in their head that if they charge that much, others will think they’re a fraud, and they’ll be exposed. These people are afraid to approach clients they really want to work with because they don’t think they’re good enough to work with them.
Is that how you feel? Are you unable to internalize your success because you’re afraid of being outed as an unqualified fraud?
Let me tell you something. You are not alone. In fact, everyone battles imposter syndrome at one point or another—even those who seem to have it all.
Actors Tena Fey, Emma Watson and Tom Hanks have all said in interviews that no matter how well they do, they always feel inadequate and that at any moment, someone’s going to find out they are not good actors and don’t deserve the success they’ve achieved.
Best-selling author John Green, who’s won several literary awards and whose books have been turned into major motion pictures, says he feels like a fraud all the time. He’s said that he doesn’t feel like he knows how to write a novel and doesn’t think he ever will. He finds pleasure in the process of writing, but he thinks everything he writes sucks.
If talented, successful people such as this suffer from imposter syndrome, what chance do you have? The truth is, you have as much chance as them and as everyone else.
To overcome that feeling, you have to realize that everything you’ve done in your life so far, every achievement you’ve achieved, no matter how small, was something you were not qualified to do before you actually did it. You weren’t able to walk - until you did. You weren’t able to ride a bike - until you did. You weren’t able to use the software you use daily - until you did. You weren’t able to complete a design job for a client - until you did.
You are the person you are today because you’ve successfully achieved thousands, if not millions, of things you were previously not able to do. That’s life. It’s how we grow. It’s how we mature. And that means that everything that you don’t think you’re qualified for right now is just something you haven’t achieved yet.
I want to share something with you, and I wish I could remember where I first heard it to give credit where credit is due. But I heard this many years ago, and it changed the way I look at life.
Think about that.
Regardless of your abilities, there are designers out there who are not as good as you, who are succeeding at the thing you want to be doing. When I first heard that statement, it changed the way I look at life. It helped me breakthrough my inhibitions and become the person I am today. I no longer look at obstacles as something I’m not good enough for. I look at them simply as things I have not achieved yet. That mentality has helped me grow and achieve things I once thought impossible.
I faced Imposter Syndrome before starting the Resourceful Designer podcast. I thought, “who am I to be talking to you about running a design business? Many other designers are much more successful than I am.” But I pushed through anyway and launched this show. And even though I know I’m not the most qualified person to instruct you; I still have something to share. And the thousands of people who listen to each podcast episode must think so as well, or they wouldn’t keep listening. And neither would you.
You don’t have to be the best at something to overcome Imposter Syndrome. It just means you have to be willing to try. There is no such thing as perfections. What there is, is good enough. Nobody can ask any more of you than that.
If you can design a $200 logo, there’s no reason why you can’t design a $2,000 logo. If you can design a $1,000 website, there’s no reason why you can’t design a $10,000 website. It’s not because you are not qualified. It’s simply that you haven’t done it yet.
Work, just like life, should be a challenge. You need to reach if you want to get anywhere. Because you too can succeed. And you know that’s true, because of all the less qualified people than you who are doing just that. Succeeding. Don’t let them show you up.
And you know what? If you try something, and you fail. Chalk it up to a learning experience and then try again. You’re only human, after all. Remember, feeling incompetent isn’t the same thing as being incompetent, and I know you’re not the latter because if you were, you wouldn’t be reading this right now.
If you’re feeling Imposter Syndrome. Find someone to talk it out with. Sometimes, all it takes to overcome Imposter Syndrome is to talk it through with others. Especially people who understand you. That’s where places like the Resourceful Designer Community are great. We’ve all been there and know how it feels, and we’re more than happy to guide you through it.
In case you are suffering from Imposter Syndrome right now and what I’ve said so far hasn’t helped you, I want to share something from Valerie Young, an internationally recognized expert on imposter syndrome.
As Valerie puts it in her TED Talk. The only difference between people who feel Imposter Syndrome and those who don’t is that the same situations that trigger imposter feelings in some trigger different thoughts in others. That’s it. That’s the only difference.
So The only way to stop feeling like an imposter is to stop thinking like an imposter.
For example, someone who suffers from Imposter Syndrome might think they are not as good as the others in their group and be afraid they’ll be discovered as a fraud. Whereas those who don’t suffer from imposter Syndrome know that even if they are not as good as the others in their group. That’s OK. They can’t be the best at everything, after all. Valerie has literally written the book on Imposter Syndrome. I highly encourage you to watch Valerie’s TED Talk. It’s only 6 minutes long and well worth the time. And here's a link to Valerie's 10 steps to overcome Imposter Syndrome, which you might find interesting to read.
But if you take one thing from this today, I hope it’s what I shared with you before. The statement that made such an impact on my own life.
So get out there, and do it.
Have you ever heard the term “The Curse Of Knowledge?” According to Wikipedia, The Curse Of Knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand.
Curse Of Knowledge: A cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand.
You see this a lot with instructors. The instructor is so familiar with a subject that they forget the person or people they are instructing don’t have the same background and therefore might not understand their teaching them.
Like a web designer giving a presentation to a group of fellow web designers and falsely assuming they all know CSS. Where in fact, some of the web designers may use Wix, Squarespace, GoDaddy Web Builder or Webflow. Platforms where knowledge of CSS is not necessary.
Why am I talking about the Curse of Knowledge? It’s because, as graphic and web designers, we sometimes take for granted that our clients know what we know. Especially when it comes to identifying the competition. But let me tell you. Many, if not the majority of clients, don’t have the background and knowledge that we do and therefore fail in their competition identification.
Case in point. I'm a member of a grant approval panel for my local Business Enterprise Centre. Every year, our BEC receives government funding and hands out grants to help new businesses start and get off the ground. The grant process requires each applicant to have a business plan, a three-year financial forecast, and a presentation to the grant approval panel saying why they believe they should receive a grant.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen dozens of these presentations. For my part, I read every applicant's business plan and follow up their presentation with questions to ascertain their merit regarding the grant. Part of their business plan requires a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Under the Threats part of the SWOT analysis, each applicant identifies their competition.
After sitting through dozens of these grant presentations, I've learned that most startups don’t know who their competition is. Some do a good job, but on average, the bulk of them don't realize who they are competing with. Most of them don’t realize that every business has two types of competition.
Direct Competition. Meaning those who sell or provide the same or very similar product or service that they do. And Indirect Competition. Those who might not sell or provide a similar product or service but are still competing for the same target market. It’s this second one where almost all of them fall short.
That’s why I brought up the curse of knowledge earlier. I’ve been in the design field long enough, and I’ve dealt with enough clients over the years that it’s become second nature for me to not just think of direct competitors but the indirect ones as well.
Let me give you an example.
One of the presentations I sat through was for a couple who were in the process of opening up an escape room business.
If you don’t know what an escape room is, it’s an entertainment venue where you and a group of friends are locked in a room or group of rooms and have a deadline to figure out puzzles to get out. So you’re up against the clock as you all work together to decipher the clues you find in your surroundings. If you’ve never tried an escape room before, you should really give it a shot. They’re a lot of fun.
Anyway. This couple was in the process of starting an escape room business. They leased a building, and construction had begun. They applied for the grant to help offset the cost of building supplies.
I noticed something while reading their business plan and hopped they would clarify it during their presentation. But instead, they excitedly said they were sure they were going to succeed because escape rooms are becoming more and more popular AND they have no local competition. The closest escape room is over 100 km away. They stressed this point.
After their presentation, I called them out. I pointed out their direct competition being over 100 km away. But then I asked about their indirect competition. The response I got was, “what do you mean?” I asked if they had conducted any analysis on their local indirect competition, such as the local movie cinemas or the theatres where they put on plays. I asked about the dance clubs, the bars with live entertainment, the local miniature golf course, etc. They looked at me confused and said, “We’re not competing with them.”
I asked the applicants how they can think they are not competing with them? They're starting an entertainment business. It offers a fun outing for groups of people that lasts 1-2 hours. So does every other venue I mentioned. When a group of friends figure out what to do on Friday night, they better believe they're competing with all of those other places and many more for that group's attention.
One person in the group might want to see a movie. Another might want to spend time outside at the mini-golf. Another might suggest they go to a club that offers a live band.
The couple opening the escape room business didn't realize they were competing with every option that might prevent someone from choosing their escape room for their fun.
And that was just one of the grant applicants.
A massage therapist failed to see she was competing against not only fellow massage therapists but also chiropractors, acupuncturists, and physiotherapists. Not to mention electric neck or back massagers you can buy at various stores.
The one that really got me was the craft brewer who thought his only competition was other craft brewers. He completely failed to realize that he’s making beer, and therefore he’s competing with all the big beer labels as well.
As a designer, a problem solver as we like to call ourselves, our job is to not only design amazing things for our clients. But to also help them identify their shortcomings. And that means making sure your client understands not only who their direct competition is, but even more importantly, who their indirect competition is.
You’re not just designing marketing material in the hopes that someone will pick your client’s escape room over another escape room. You’re designing marketing material trying to persuade people to chose your client’s escape room over any and every other entertainment they could choose.
The same principle applies to identifying target markets. There are direct target markets, and there are indirect target markets. Some clients don’t know who they are targetting.
Several years ago, I designed a logo for a client starting a science kit subscription box for kids ages 5-12. Each monthly box would contain fun science facts and a couple of experiments the kids could do around the house.
When I received the written copy for their brochure and website, I immediately questioned the material. When I asked the client who they were trying to target, they told me their target market is young boys and girls ages 5-12 who enjoy doing things like learning about bugs or digging through dirt.
The client completely missed the point. I explained that their box might be geared to 5-12 year-olds, but their actual target market was the parents who would subscribe for their kids, not the kids themselves. The wording they had provided me was written for the kids and not the parents.
There was also a secondary target market they could target in grandparents and aunts and uncles who may want to send a monthly subscription box as a gift to the young ones in their lives. This client had failed to identify their actual target market through all their research, just like my previous examples had failed to identify their competition.
What I’m trying to say is don’t become a victim of the curse of knowledge. Don’t assume your clients have done their homework and identified their competition. Or their proper target market, for that matter.
A few years ago, I thought only a small percentage of new businesses got it wrong. But my time sitting through dozens of grant presentations has taught me that what I take for granted is not something most people think about. I’d estimate less than 40% of the businesses I saw truly understood who they were competing with.
Take it upon yourself to educate your clients. It will show them your value, and they’ll appreciate you all the more for it. Help them in identifying the competition.
Resource of the week Gravity Forms
I’ve been using Gravity Forms for several years, and I love it. It’s the easiest, most trusted tool for creating advanced forms on your WordPress website. Packed full of time-saving tools and features, Gravity Forms is more than just a form creation tool; it’s a form management platform.
Build and publish simple or complex WordPress forms in minutes. No coding or guesswork required. Simply choose your desired fields, configure your options and embed the form on your website. It’s that easy. And with so many built-in integrations with some of the most popular partners on the internet, Gravity Forms makes it extremely easy to connect your website to platforms such as PayPal, MailChimp, Dropbox, Freshbooks and so many more.
I install Gravity Forms on every single website I build. What else can I say?
Wednesday this past week started like any other day. I got up around 7:45 to see my wife off to work, then went to the kitchen to feed our cat and dog before going to the living room and turning on the TV.
I fast-forwarded through SportsCentre, which I record every day at 4 am. I watch the hockey and soccer highlights and then usually skip through most of the other sports.
Once done with SportsCentre, I switched on a Canadian morning news show called Your Morning. As a designer, the show's logo drives me crazy, but I like the hosts, and they usually cover some interesting topics. It’s been part of my morning routine for years.
This takes me to 9 am when I normally start my day. But on Wednesday, when Your Morning wrapped up, instead of turning off the TV, I sat there as Live with Kelly and Ryan started. I don't usually watch this show, but I decided to sit through their opening dialogue. After 20 minutes of this, I realized why I rarely watch the show and turned it off.
I made my way to my office, which is only 10 steps away from where I was and sat down to begin my day.
I had an issue with a website the day before and had sent an email to the support team at SiteGround to see if they had any ideas.
I normally don’t look at my email first thing in the morning, preferring to wait until noon to read through them. But I checked it on Wednesday morning and found the anticipated reply email from Siteground waiting for me with the info I had been hoping for.
I made the necessary adjustments to the website and then sent an email to my client saying the problem was fixed.
With that out of the way, it was time to look at my To-Do list. I had seven things on my list,
None of them had a pressing deadline, and none seemed very appealing at the time. I couldn’t decide which one to tackle first. Instead, I decided to have a shower.
45 minutes later (I lost track of time standing under the showerhead,) I was back at my computer.
I saw my email program was still open and decided what the heck, and went through my inbox, which killed about 30 minutes and brought me to 11:30 am.
Looking again at my to-do list, there was nothing there that would only take the 30 minutes I had until lunch.
Let me interject here. I’ve been doing IF, Intermittent Fasting for the past couple of years. It’s a way of managing my weight without actually dieting.
The way I do it is to only eat between the hours of 12 noon and 6 pm. I can eat anything I want, within reason, of course, as long as it falls within that window of time. From 6 pm until noon the next day, all I have is water.
That means that by noon each day, I’m hungry. And the idea of starting a new project 30 minutes before my eating window opened was not very appealing to me. So instead, I decided to go for a walk.
We’ve had an unusually mild week this past week, and I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and get some exercise.
I walked around the block, a 2.5 KM loop or 1.55 miles for you Americans, before arriving back home in time for lunch.
During lunch, I turned on the TV again and switched to Netflix. I’ve been watching Suits lately and am really enjoying it. I was halfway through season 2, so I put on an episode while I ate.
This episode had a guest character that I recognized but couldn’t remember where I had seen before. You know how it is. You know the person but can't place them. It keeps nagging at you.
So when the episode was over, and I went back to my office, I opened up the trusty IMDB and looked up that episode instead of getting to work. The actor was Scott Grimes, and the show I recognized him from was The Orville, where he plays ship pilot Gordon.
That was one nagging thing satisfied. But now I was wondering when The Orville would return. So I searched for that. I couldn’t find any definitive answer as to when The Orville will return, but in my search, a couple of the websites I visited had sidebar mentions of the new Disney plus show WandaVision, which I had watched the first 4 episodes on the weekend.
The links were talking about all the Marvel Easter eggs in the series. Curiosity peaked, I clicked through to a YouTube video that went over episode one.
Now I’m not going to go over all the videos I ended up watching, but needless to say, YouTube is a rabbit trail, and I was there for much longer than I planned on.
Luckily, I had set myself a 10-minute reminder for a video chat I had scheduled at 2 pm with a new podcast artwork client.
After refilling my water bottle, I set up my equipment and launched Zoom. The guy showed up right on time, which was nice. Plenty of them schedule a meeting and then show up several minutes late.
Anyway. These meetings normally last between 15-20 minutes, where we discuss things about the podcast they’re starting. Things such as what their topic will be? What makes them qualified to talk on this topic? What is the purpose of starting a podcast? Who is it for? What format are they going to do (Solo, interview, mixed)? And so on.
As I said, these meetings normally last between 15-20 minutes, but this guy seemed very eager but also very naive to all things podcasting. So I started asking him questions that had nothing to do with the artwork he was hiring me to design. We ended up talking for 45 minutes before ending the call.
It was now 2:45 pm, and I decided it was time for a snack. I stuck my AirPods in my ears, started up a podcast and when to the kitchen to find something to stuff my face with.
I chose a 30-minute podcast and decided to finish it before getting back to work. When I finally did, the first thing I did was open up Facebook and check in on the Resourceful Designer group.
I read through the various posts, leaving comments whenever I deemed them. Then I checked a few other groups I belong to before saying enough is enough and shut it down.
Then it was back to checking my email and replying to a few. Then checking in on the Resourceful Designer Community on Slack.
Right around this time, Andrew, one of the members, asked an innocent question. "How many browser tabs do you have open right now?" Of course, I had to check. The answer was 51.
I then decided to go through them all and see what I could do to lower that number. I read several articles I had been saving so I could close the tabs. I made bookmarks for a few of them and saved a few to Evernote for later review.
I managed to get it down to 37 open tabs before I heard the garage door open, indicating my wife was home and it was time for me to end my workday.
My to-do list still had seven unscratched items on it.
Why did I tell you all of this?
I shared this story to tell you that it’s ok. It’s your business, your entitled to do what you want with your time.
I didn’t realize it at the time. But when I left the TV on that morning, instead of turning it off at 9 am like I normally do. It was an indication that I was not in a creative mood.
The projects on my to-do list, projects I’m very enthusiastic about, I might add, didn’t appeal to me that day. I didn’t feel like working, and that’s OK.
Creativity is not something you can turn on or off at set times. If I was under a deadline, could I have created something for my clients in the state I was in? Absolutely. I’ve been under that crunch before and have always come through.
But knowing that none of the items on that list were pressing gave me the freedom to say, nope, not today. I’m just not feeling it. And that’s OK.
Looking back at that day, I managed to solve a client's web issue first thing in the morning. I build a great foundation for a client relationship by turning a 15-minute artwork meeting into a 45-minute strategy session. And I managed to catch up and read several articles I had wanted to get to. So the day was not a total loss.
Did I do any of the to-do items I had planned for the day? No. But once again, that’s ok. It’s your business. You’re entitled.
Don’t feel guilty when you have one of those days. We all do from time to time. Just don’t make a habit of it.
If you start feeling this way more often than naught, it might be a good idea to seek help. It may be a sign of mental health issues. And that’s not something you want to brush under the rug.
The stigma of mental health has come a long way in the past decade. There’s no shame in asking for help.
But if it’s something that happens once in a blue moon, don’t worry about it. As I said, it’s your business. You’re entitled.
Take a day to sack off, and then double down and get back to work the next day. You deserve it.
In case you’re wondering, today is Friday. Two days after this happened. And I’m happy to say all seven items on that list have been scratched off. I obviously haven’t finished the new website in two days, but my list only said to start it, which I now have.
Even the most disciplined of us are entitled to a personal slack off day from time to time, including you.
In the Resourceful Designer Community, we recently discussed the question, "what would you do if you had extra money to invest in yourself and your business?" There were many great ideas on how to use the extra money and, just as importantly, how not to use it. It was such a great conversation that I thought I would share my thoughts here on Resourceful Designer.
Before I go any further, I must state that I am not a financial planner or financial advisor, nor do I play one on TV. In fact, I have absolutely no expertise when it comes to this stuff. As far as I know, experts who see this may tell you what I'm saying is completely the wrong approach. These are my thoughts on what I would do if I had extra money to invest in myself or my business. So here goes.
Imagine you had extra money sitting around. Anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. I know, it’s a nice thought. But you never know. Maybe you had a favourable tax return. Or you inherit a sum of money. Maybe you won a cash prize in some lottery or draw. Perhaps you had an outstanding quarter and have money left over once all your monthly bills and expenses are paid off.
Whatever the reason, you have extra money and try to figure something practical to do with it other than blowing it on a vacation or other luxury. No, you want to use that money as an investment of some sort. But what?
This is the order of preference for how I would invest the money.
I believe the most important thing any business owner can do is invest in their future. That future could mean next year, or it could mean retirement in many years. The idea is to use the money to help you down the road.
As a solopreneur, your income relies on your ability to work. In most cases, if you are unable to work, you don’t make any money. That’s why I believe padding your future is one of the most important investments you can make.
This may mean putting money into a savings account to act as a three to six-month buffer in case things get tough and business slows down. Work in our field is never guaranteed, and even the best of us experiences lulls from time to time. This buffer can help tide you over and help cover your expenses until work picks up again.
Or maybe an accident or illness will force you to take a medical leave. Having a buffer to get you through that period may mean the difference between staying afloat and being forced to close your business.
And then there’s retirement to think of. Saving for retirement is something you should start doing as soon as possible, especially if you want to continue living the good life in your later years. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to save up.
I don’t know about you, but as a creative person, it’s hard to think I’ll ever retire. I believe I will be creating and designing things until the day I die.
But the fact is, one day I may not want to spend 8-10 hours a day in front of my computer anymore. And that means less money will be coming in.
Not to mention that even though designers are like a good wine, we get better with age; some people may not want to hire a 65-year-old to design the brand for their hip new startup.
These two reasons alone. For short absences such as dips in work or medical leave and retirement are why I believe investing in your future is the first thing you should do with your money. I know it’s hard when you have bills and debts to pay. But even a few dollars here and there will add up over time.
If you do come into some extra money, this is where I suggest you invest it. In your future.
Next on my list is investing in your present. Investing in your present means putting money to use towards immediate self-improvement.
Invest in is things such as tutorials, courses and programs to learn new skills or improve your existing skills. These may be design-related, or they may be business-related.
There are many great places to learn new skills, such as
Let's say you design Wix websites and have had to turn down several clients because they wanted a WordPress site. You may put your extra money to good use by learning WordPress and expanding your service offerings.
Or you may want to take a course or webinar on growing your business through social media. Or learn more about SEO or Google Analytics. The possibilities are endless when it comes to learning new things.
Not only can you learn something to grow your business, but you may learn a skill you can offer to your clients to make more money.
Invest in business and self-improvement books that will help you grow.
But if you don’t have time to sit and read a book. Audiobooks are a great way to still learn from the experts while out and about.
If you’ve never tried an audiobook, you can get one free book of your choice when you sign up for a trial Audible account. If you decide it’s not for you, cancel without paying anything, and they let you keep the free book you downloaded.
Join networking groups or communities such as the Resourceful Designer Community to grow as a designer and business person. Or join a group such as Toastmasters who can help you fine-tune your presentation style when pitching to clients.
If you have extra money, after you’ve invested in your future, that is, I suggest using it to improve your current situation. The little bit you spend now can bring exponential growth for you and your business. Your future self will thank you for it.
Side note: I know I just said you should invest extra money in tutorials and courses and such. But don’t go looking for things to learn just because you have money to spend. It’s never a good idea to spend money on courses and such just for the sake of learning something. Only invest in things you want or need to know. Otherwise, invest the money in your future instead, as I mentioned earlier.
If you’re unsure if it’s important enough to learn now, go back and listen to episode 8 and episode 94 of the podcast. In both of those episodes, I talked about Just In Time Learning which plays right into what I’m talking about today.
The final category on my list is investing in your business. This means putting your extra money to use by improving the infrastructure that helps you perform your job.
However, just like with investing in your present, there’s no point in spending money on a new computer or equipment unless you actually need it. You are better off saving the money for when you do.
There are more ways you can invest in your business. Use the extra money to hire outside help, such as photographers, copywriters, developers, etc., to help with your own promotional materials.
Hire a virtual assistant to help you with certain tasks and activities. I speak from experience that hiring my VA is one of the best investments I’ve made for my business.
If you haven’t done so already, use the extra money to register a trademark for your business name and visual assets. It’s always good to protect yourself.
And finally, Spend the money on growing your business through marketing, advertising, sponsorships and networking. Remember, the more people who know about your business, the faster you will grow.
When in-person conferences were cancelled in 2020 due to COVID, many of them went the virtual route. I took the money I would have spent on travel, hotel and expenses to attend PodFest Multimedia Expo and instead invested that money to become a sponsor for their online event.
That opportunity put my brand, Podcast Branding, in front of thousands of people in my niche and helped boost my business in ways that attending the conference in person could have never done.
So after you’ve invested in your future and your present, it’s a good idea to invest in your business.
Here’s a bonus afterthought. If you’re satisfied that you’ve covered the three categories above, you can always use the extra money to thank your clients.
Sending a gift basket or special gift to a client, or even sending a client something as simple as a coupon for a free pizza, can go a long way to strengthen your relationship.
Imagine creating a new logo for a client and then sending them a glass mug with their new logo etched on the side? That sort of thing can go a long way.
You can never go wrong when you invest in your client relationships.
As I said at the start, I'm not a financial expert. However, I believe you can't go wrong if you use any extra money you have to invest in your future, your present and your business. It's how you grow.
Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.
Tip of the week Refine search results by excluding unwanted domains
If you're searching for something on Google or other search engines and are tire of unwanted results such as Pinterest pins or YouTube videos showing up, you can refine your search by adding "-Pinterest" or "-YouTube" to the end of it. Doing so tells the search engine to not display any search results pertaining to those platforms. Give it a try.
Not long after I went full-time with my design business, I met with a fellow local designer for lunch. I was somewhere between six months to a year into my entrepreneurial journey, and my business was growing fast. My clientele was increasing, and most people who contacted me ended up hiring me as their designer. Fifteen years later and I still win more clients than I lose.
The guy I had lunch with was a very talented designer. I knew him through the print shop where I worked before going out on my own. He would bring in projects to be printed for his clients, and his work was always beautiful.
He started his design business several years before I began mine. And when I was at the print shop, I thought he was living the dream. He doesn't know this, but he was an inspiration in helping me make the leap to solopreneurship.
During our lunch, he mentioned how much he was struggling. He was finding it harder and harder to win over new clients. He said that no matter how hard he tried to convince clients to work with him. Only a small percentage ever did. In fact, I learned during that conversation that several of my clients had contacted him before eventually hiring me. I didn't tell him that.
What I also learned, which is the focus of this post, is that he and I had two completely different approaches to acquiring new clients. Where he was trying very hard to win each new client. I, on the other hand, was trying not to lose them. When you consider those two concepts, you'll realize that my way is much easier.
Let me ask you this. Which is easier. Acquiring $100 or holding onto the $100 you already have? I think you'll agree that it's much easier to hold onto $100 than it is to acquire $100. That's the mentality I take when dealing with new clients. And that's what made me different from that other designer. Where he was doing his best to win each new client. I was doing my best not to lose them. Because in my mind, I had already won them the moment they contacted me.
Let me tell you a secret. Are you ready? Clients don't enjoy looking for a designer. In fact, they would much rather be doing countless other things instead. So when a client emails, calls or meets you in person, they are hoping you are the right person for the job. They want you to be the solution to their problem.
Think about that. No client will ever contact you, hoping you're not a good fit for them. None of them are saying, "I'm going to contact so and so designer about this project. I really hope they're the wrong person and waste my time." No, every client who contacts you wants you to be the last designer they contact.
When you take that concept into consideration, it means you are starting off every new contact with a client in the position that the job is already yours. Your position from that point forward is not to convince them to hire you. But to convince them, there's no need to look for anyone else. And that completely changes the way you communicate with the client.
Does that make sense? Let me repeat it.
You are not trying to convince the client to hire you. You are trying to convince the client they've made the right choice in contacting you.
This is how I've started every new client relationship since I started my business. As soon as the client and I introduce ourselves, we are working together until one says otherwise. If you approach each new contact with that in mind, you'll find yourself winning more clients than you lose.
It's simple. You have to have the mindset that every time you speak with a potential client, you are working with them. From the moment the conversation starts, you are working together until you or they decide otherwise.
Always speak to the client as if you are already working together. "I understand your situation. Here's how we'll tackle it." "We'll look at what your competition is doing and figure out a way for you to stand out." "The new brand we'll create will be a strong foundation for you in your market."
Do you see the way I've structured those sentences? I'm not saying, "if you hire me, we'll look at your competition." or "I would love to create a new brand for you." No. I talk to the client as if they've already made the decision to hire me. "This is what we'll do." "I'm going to do this for you."
After all, as I said earlier, the client is hoping you're a good fit for them before they even contact you. So show them they were right.
When it comes to conversing with the client, you must take the initiative by leading the conversation. This proves to them that you know what you are doing.
Clients want a designer who shows initiative. Someone who can take the lead. Someone who can work independently and get the job done.
Clients have enough on their plates. They don't want to dictate or micromanage what you do. That's why they're looking for an expert to handle their project.
Now we all know those people who do try to micromanage or dictate things. My experience shows that once you take the initiative and prove you know what you're doing, most of them will be happy to hand you the reins and back off. Anyone who doesn't isn't worth working with.
When talking to the client:
If you can do all of this, there's little chance the client will look elsewhere.
Whenever possible, create a sense of urgency for the project. The more urgent the project is, the less time the client wants to spend finding a designer and the higher the chance they hire you. Plus, if you can show them you're on top of things, they'll trust you even more.
Ask the client if they have a deadline. Then backtrack from their deadline to now.
If a client needs a package design for their new product that launches in 60 days, work backwards.
That's seven weeks total. Since the deadline is 60 days (eight weeks), you must start the project within the next seven days to meet the deadline.
Showing this sort of initiative and expertise proves to the client they made the right choice.
Of course, you can't do this with every project. But the more you exhibit a confident "take charge" attitude. The more the client will appreciate you.
Another way to ensure the client they're making the right choice in hiring you is by setting expectations from the start.
Let the client know how often you will be updating them on your progress. How will you be communicating with them? Will it be via weekly phone calls, emailed progress reports, a client portal using a CMS, or what?
Clients don't like to be kept in the dark. So if you show them from the start how interacting with you will be, they'll have more confidence in you.
Explain what the whole process looks like. Explain each stage from research, concept and designing, right through to final approval and production if needed.
Remember, a client contacts you because they are hoping you are the right person for the job. Don't give them a reason to think otherwise, and 9 times out of 10, the project is yours.
All of this to say, your attitude plays a massive role in whether or not a client decides to hire you. The client wants you to be the right person for the job. They don't want to be forced to contact someone else. They want their project off their plate and in the hands of an expert, like you, who will see it through.
Keep all of this in mind and stop trying to convince the client you're the person they should hire. Instead, start showing the client they made the right choice by contacting you, and there's no reason for them to look elsewhere.
Stop trying to convince them to hire you. That's how you win more clients.
This is a simple little trick that has helped me out of a jam many times over the years. If you find yourself in need of a certain company's logo and don't want to jump through hoops trying to get it. Use this trick. In the Google Search Bar type “site:companywebsite.com” followed by “filetype:pdf”. What this does is return search results displaying all PDF files at that particular domain. Open the PDFs one at a time until you find one with a good-looking logo (you can usually tell by zooming in). Download the PDF and open it in a program such as Adobe Illustrator. If you're lucky you will have a perfect vector logo you can use.
You can also accomplish this by visiting Google's Advance Search page, but I find simply typing the parameters into the regular search bar is much faster.
It sounds so easy. You’re good at designing, so why not start freelancing or start your own design business?
For the record, my definition of a freelancer is someone who does design work on the side while working another job in or possibly not in the design space. If you design things for clients on your own, and it’s your only source of income, meaning you don’t have an employer elsewhere, you are not freelancing; you are running a design business.
But regardless of whether you call yourself a freelancer or a design business owner. Working for yourself requires a different skill set than simply being a good designer.
You could have the most amazing portfolio of design work. You could be a wiz in Photoshop or Illustrator or InDesign, or maybe WordPress, Webflow or whatever tool you use. It doesn’t matter what skills you have as a designer. If you want your business to succeed, you have to run it like a business. And to do that, you need business skills.
There are numerous business skills that will help you get ahead. Most of them, such as file management, you can learn along the way.
However, there are five essential skills you need to succeed. Skills that the most successful designers use, be it freelancer or owner of a design business. They know the importance of these skills, and they know the success or failure of their business depends on their ability to master them. If you don’t possess these skills, you need to develop them ASAP if you want to ensure your endeavour's success.
So what are these all-important skills I’m talking about?
Without good communications skills, your business is doomed to failure. The ability to communicate properly is one of the most important skills you can have as a business owner.
Every client you talk to, every design proposal you write, every pitch or presentation you make will succeed or fail based on your communication skills.
Not only are good communication skills required to articulate and understand ideas. But clear communication can also save you and the client time and money.
Plus, good communication skills can help you when dealing with different personalities or when discussing difficult topics.
Many designers are introverts. Myself included. But being an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t have good communication skills. You might have to work harder at it than an extravert does, but that’s easily accomplished.
Improving your communications skills will help you stand out from other designers who lack this skill. Not only will you be seen by your clients as a good designer, but also as a strategic partner and problem solver.
Improving your communications skills will go a long way to ensuring your business’s success.
Have you heard the saying, it’s not what you know, but who you know?
Relationships are one of the key elements to any business’s success, even more so for service-based businesses like yours. The most successful designers out there know the importance of building relationships. Not just with clients but with everyone they meet, including fellow designers.
Every person you meet is an opportunity to start a relationship. Why is this important? Because every connection you make can lead to referrals, new clients, new projects, friendships, maybe partnerships and who knows what else.
If you’re a people-person, this should be fairly easy for you. But even if talking to people comes naturally to you, you have to learn to do it with purpose. Stay professional while you build your rapport. Building relationships takes time. But the payoff is enormous.
My Podcast Branding business grew to what it is today because of the relationships I’ve made in the podcasting space. You never know when one of the many relationships you’ve nurtured will lead to a new client or project. So keep building them.
Even when a relationship isn’t working out, it should still be nurtured as you back away. That means being cordial and considerate, even while turning down a client. You don’t want to burn any bridges because if you think good word of mouth spreads, let me tell you, bad word of mouth spreads so much faster.
It may sound scary, but building relationships is a skill every good business owner needs to master.
Being able to think strategically can transform an average freelancer into an extremely successful business owner.
Thinking strategically is the ability to envision the future and plan accordingly.
Thinking strategically will help you with your business and the work you do for your clients.
Strategic thinking is what differentiates a designer who designs logos from a designer who creates brands. Any brand strategy requires strategic thinking.
Thinking strategically will help you develop goals for yourself and your business by envisioning your future. Where do you want to be 6 months, a year, five years from now? Strategic thinking is going to help make the decisions, make adjustments, and tell you what you need to do and what not to do to reach your goals.
Regularly take time to envision your future and figure out if you’re on the right path. Make time to work on your business strategy. Instead of waiting for the next new client to show up, figure out how you’re going to get your next 10 clients.
Read books and listen to podcasts that talk about building a business. Oh wait, you’re already listening to Resourceful Designer, aren't you? If so, you’re off to a good start.
As a business owner, you have nobody to answer to but yourself. Nobody is breathing down your neck, telling you to get back to work or making sure you’re getting the job done. All of that falls on you, and if you want to succeed, you need to master time management skills.
Your Time management skills or lack thereof will make or break you.
When you’re fortunate enough to have several clients with multiple projects on the go, all with varying deadlines, your success in dealing with all of it will depend on your skill at managing your time.
And Time management isn’t just about managing client projects. You also have to worry about running your business and making sure you have time for yourself. Otherwise, your stress level will increase, and burnout becomes a possibility.
Time management comes down to four things.
If your health falters, there’s nobody to help you out. So take care of yourself.
The final important skill I want to talk about is money management.
Unlike employed designers who receive a weekly paycheque. Freelance and design business owners are at the whims of their clients when it comes to income.
Mastering skills 1 through 4 above should help you build your clientele to the point where you always have projects on the go. However, unless you’ve set up your business so you collect a salary, money management may not be top of mind for you.
When it comes to money skills, many freelancers are of the mindset that the money comes in, and the money goes out. They don’t give much thought to managing that flow of income.
How you budget your business earnings affects every aspect of your business. Good money management skills will help you set your rates and prices, so you remain profitable. Money management skills will help you determine which projects to take on and which are not worth it.
Money management skills will help you maintain your business by making sure the funds are there should there be a dip in your workload or should you have to purchase a new computer.
A business can generate a lot of money, but if that money isn’t managed well, it can still fail. And you don’t want your otherwise successful design business to fail because you lack the skill to manage your money.
Good money management skills will ensure you are rewarded for all the hard work you do.
These are the five skills that will help you succeed as a freelancer or design business owner. As I said at the beginning, there are many more skills required to run a business. But these five are essential if you’re in this for the long term.
Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.
Resource of the week Grammarly
I first purchased Grammarly on a whim a few years ago during some ridiculous sale they were having. It was probably one of the best purchases I've made in recent years. Not a day goes by that Grammarly doesn't help me out.
What is Grammarly? Simply put, it’s a spelling and grammar checker for your computer and web browser. But it’s so much more than that. As they say on their website, Grammarly leaves outdated spelling and grammar checkers in the dust.
Grammarly helps me whenever I fill out online forms, when I'm designing in WordPress and when I'm posting on social media. Anywhere I write, Grammarly is there to make sure I write well.
Grammarly doesn’t only correct, it teaches. It tells you if you are using repetitive words, warns of things like weak adjectives, and so much more. According to their website 85% of people using Grammarly become stronger writers. I've seen it in my writing.
It can be set for American or British spelling and is available for both Mac and Windows.
Follow the 10-20-30 Rule for great presentations.
Have you ever heard of the 10-20-30 Rule? It’s more often called the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint, but the principle applies elsewhere as well.
This Rule was coined several years ago by Guy Kawasaki, a venture capitalist who sat through dozens of presentation pitches regularly. It was his job to listen to people pitch their business ideas, and after years of this, he noted that the best presentations, the ones that are more likely to close the deal, all followed a similar format, which he coined the 10-20-30 Rule.
And this Rule is simple.
That’s it. According to Kawasaki, this setup gives you the best chance to impact the person or people you’re presenting positively.
Kawasaki was talking about people pitching business ideas to venture capitalists. But the same principle applies to you, a designer pitching your ideas to clients.
Let’s break it down the 10-20-30 Rule.
Rule #1: 10 Slides.
Kawasaki pointed out that it’s tough for someone to comprehend more than ten concepts in a meeting. If you try, you’re more than most likely to confuse them.
Follow the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid.) Limiting your presentation to only 10 slides or 10 sheets or pages does just that.
Break your presentation down into 10 points, one per slide. Maybe something like this.
This example uses a maximum of 10 slides, but you can do it in less, then all the better.
Rule #2: 20 Minutes.
It doesn’t matter if you are allotted 30 minutes or an hour. Your actual presentation should take no more than 20 minutes. If you can’t present your idea within that time frame, you’re doing something wrong.
Have you heard of TED Talks? Did you know that TED Talks have a maximum length of 18 minutes?
TED organizers chose this time length based on neuroscience research that says 18 minutes is long enough for a speaker to flesh out their idea and short enough for a listener to take it in, digest what they are hearing, and understand all of the vital information.
Not only that, but they know that shorter presentations require you to edit things down to the most important and relevant material.
If you have more time allotted to you, use it for introductions and setting up your equipment. You should also leave time for Q&A after your presentation. Plus, you never know when an emergency might arise and cut the meeting short.
20 minutes is the ideal time to keep someone’s interest in what you are showing them. Longer than 20 minutes, and you risk their mind wandering to other things and possibly missing critical points you’re trying to make.
Rule #3: 30-Pt Font.
As a designer, I trust you know that slides or presentation papers are most effective when they contain very little wording. I’m hoping I don’t have to explain that to you.
This 10-20-30 Rule was written for people pitching a product or business idea, not for experienced designers. But just the same, it’s something to remember when you create your presentation slides or handouts.
Using a larger point size forces you to cut back on unnecessary verbiage. The only reason to have a smaller type on a slide is to cram on more text. But by doing so, your client may think you’re not familiar with your material and that you need your slides to act as a teleprompter. And that, in turn, may make them feel like you are not invested in them.
Not to mention, the more type you have on a slide, the more the client will focus on reading it and not listening to what you’re saying. You know what I mean, we’ve all done it before—reading ahead while ignoring the presenter. Avoid this by using 30 point or larger fonts.
Forget the bullet list and instead, tell your clients the key points. It will mean much more coming out of your mouth than words on a screen or sheet of paper.
As a comparison, Steve Jobs, a great presenter in his time, insisted on a 96-point type on all his presentation slides. If it’s good enough for a multi-billion company, it should be good enough for you.
As a bonus to his 10-20-30 Rule, Guy Kawasaki also said that the most persuasive presentations he’s sat through, typically used white type on a black or dark coloured background.
The way he puts it is, anyone can put black type on a white background. It’s the default in all programs. However, white type on a dark background is something you have to conscientiously, and shows that you’ve put effort into your presentation.
Not to mention that white type on a dark background looks classier and is easier to read.
Don’t believe me? Think of movie credits. How often do you see black credits on a white background? Hardly ever. You can learn from that.
Do you follow the 10-20-30 Rule?
Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.
Tip of the week Capture Full-Screen websites on your iPhone.
If you are an iPhone user there's a nifty feature you may not know about. The ability to take full-page screenshots of webpages.
In Safari, take a screenshot of any webpage. Edit the screenshot. At the top of the page, you can toggle between "Screen" and "Full Page". Selecting "Full Page" allows you to save the entire webpage as a PDF to your Files folder.
This is a quick and easy way to capture the mobile view of any webpage.
Running your own design business or freelancing as a graphic or web designer seems like such an easy gig. A client asks you to create something for them, and they pay you for what you design. Simple right?
For thousands of graphic and web designers around the world, that’s exactly how they do it. A Client brings them a project. The designer designs the project. The Client pays for said project. And the cycle repeats.
What if I told you many of these designers are leaving money on the table? How they could and should be charging much more to their clients than they currently are.
I’m not talking about design rates. I’m not saying these designers are worth more than the rate they are charging. Although they probably are.
No. What I’m getting at is there are many aspects of what you do as a designer that you could be charging your clients for. And yet, many designers don’t. And as such, those designers are missing out on money they could be earning. Are you one of them?
Imagine a client hires you for a new project. To design a poster for an upcoming local festival.
Many designers will figure out how much to quote for a poster design. They may base it on an hourly rate. Maybe offer a flat fee. Or perhaps base their price on the value they’re providing, regardless of what pricing strategy they use. The price they quote is based on designing the poster alone. And that’s wrong.
You’ll notice most successful designers refer to what they work on as projects. They’re not working on a poster for a local festival. They’re working on a project for the local festival that involves designing a poster. You see, a design project consists of multiple tasks. And not all of those tasks involve actual designing.
A client calls you on the phone to see if you’re interested in designing a poster for their festival. You say yes and set up a time to meet their organizing committee to go over what is required of you.
You meet with them to discuss the festival, who it’s for, where it’s happening, when it’s taking place and how long it’s lasting. You go over what the festival's brand and message entail, and of course, what sort of information they want on the poster.
Once you’re satisfied, you go back home or to your office and prepare a quote. Maybe they have some follow-up questions that go back and forth before they agree on your price and you finally get to work on their project.
Your design process may include researching similar festivals from other areas to see what sort of posters they did. It may include browsing stock image sites to find the perfect images to compliment the festival's theme as well as your design. It may include contacting a local printer to ask about different paper stocks or finishing options. It may include coordinating with the festival’s web designer, if that’s not you, to make sure the poster and website follow a consistent brand.
Then, once you’ve designed the poster, you need to present it to the client. Perhaps you place your poster design on situation mockups to help the client visualize it in place. Then you email them a PDF, or maybe you present it to them in person.
Once the client approves your poster design, you prepare the final print files and hand them over to your client to bring to the printer. Unless you are also brokering the printing for them, but for this example, let’s say you aren’t.
Then you prepare the invoice, send it to the client, and take care of the payment and bookkeeping once it's received. Only then is the project over.
Out of all of that, for how much of it did you charge the client?
Did you charge them for any of that? Or did you only charge them for designing the poster?
Most inexperienced or struggling designers probably did the latter. Charge for only the poster. But that's wrong. The poster design is only one small part of the overall project you were hired to do. A project that started when the client called you and finished the moment you received the final payment. Everything in between is billable. Your time is valuable. You shouldn’t be giving it away for free.
Have you ever received an invoice from a lawyer? Make fun of lawyers as you will, but designers can learn a thing or two from how a lawyer runs their business.
Lawyers keep track of every phone call. Every sheet of paper they print out. Every email they send. And every minute a client spends with them. And they bill the client for all of it. Why? Because lawyers know every little bit of it has a cost or value associated with it. And since it was all done on behalf of a client, that client should be paying for that cost or value.
I’m not telling you to charge for every piece of paper or every paperclip you use. But, you would be in your right if you wanted to.
Let me explain how I charge my clients.
In my case, the initial email or phone call from a client is free. Providing that call doesn’t last more than 15-20 minutes. 15-20 minutes should be enough time to propose their project and for me to ask some initial questions. If it goes on longer than 15-20 minutes, I’ll make a note of it and incorporate the extra time into my project cost. But normally, if it looks like the conversation will go long, I’ll ask them to schedule a time with me to discuss their project in greater detail.
I charge my clients for any travel time as well as the time I spend with them. That time could be for presenting a proposal, conducting a discovery meeting, making a presentation, or whatever reason I'm with the client.
Once I’m back in my office working, I keep track of the time I spend doing research for their project. That may include learning about the client and their industry or browsing stock image sites.
I use a tool called Clockify to keep track of the time I spend on a project. Clockify makes it very easy to turn timers on and off, assign them to a project and keep track of how much time I spend working on it. So before I start any research or anything to do with the project, I turn on the timer.
Just a side note here. Most of my projects these days are quoted using either project-based or value-based pricing. So I’m not billing by the hour. But I still like to keep track of how much time I spend on every project for my own benefit. That way, I get to learn how much time it takes me to do certain tasks.
If a client calls me while I’m working on a different project, I’ll switch the timer to their project for the call duration. Again for my benefit.
And I also know from experience how long it takes me to prepare and send out an invoice.
All of this is taken into consideration when quoting on a project. Of course, most of this is speculation and guesswork. But it’s accounted for.
All of this is worked into the quote. Because my time is valuable, and if it’s spent on behalf of the client. Then the client should be paying for it. If I only charged for the actual designs I create, my business would not be as successful.
There are plenty of other aspects of what you do you could be charging for.
I receive lots of inquiries from people wanting to “pick my brain” about design or branding.
"Mark, I have an idea for a new mail campaign for my business. I want to get your opinion on it." Or "Mark, my wife is opening a new business, and I was wondering if you had any ideas of what she needs branding wise to get started?"
You know the types of questions I’m talking about. Sure they may turn into paid work, but most of the time, they’re innocently looking for free advice.
Once in a while is not a big deal. But when this starts happening regularly, it eats into your valuable time. The time you could be spending working on projects you are being paid for.
It got so bad at one point that I implemented a consulting fee. Now, whenever someone calls or emails to ask for my advice. I tell them I would love to help, but I can’t right now. And then provide a link to a webpage where they can schedule a time with me.
The page I direct them to is titled One-On-One Consultation, and it allows them to book a 1-hour time slot at the cost of $100. And you know what? 9 out of 10 times, they follow through and book a time with me.
I used to get asked these questions and ended up spending my valuable time offering advice free of charge. Now I’m being paid for my knowledge. I’m an expert. That’s why they’re reaching out to me. So why shouldn’t I be paid for that expertise? And so should you.
I use a service called Book-Like-A-Boss for booking. But there are many other options you could use to set up your own consulting schedule.
Another thing you should charge for is add-ons. Add-ons include WordPress plugins or perhaps stock images—basically, anything you need to purchase to complete the client's project.
Every web designer that works with WordPress uses themes and plugins to enhance the sites they build. Many of these themes and plugins are free. But oftentimes, a premium plugin is required to get the job done. Premium plugins come at a cost. And in some cases, those costs should be passed on to the client.
For example, I love Gravity Forms for creating custom forms on websites. But not every website needs a custom form. In most cases, the default form that comes with Divi, the page builder I use, is good enough.
However, I have several clients who need something more than basic, and that’s where Gravity Forms comes in.
Gravity Forms is a premium plugin. It costs $59/year for one site. So there’s nothing wrong with me charging my clients $59/year for the use of that plugin. I’d just be passing on the cost to them. The same cost they would pay if they were designing their site themselves and purchased the plugin.
However, I pay for an Elite license, which allows me to install Gravity Forms on unlimited websites.
But why should I incur that expense for something that benefits my clients? If it were a single client, I would pass the cost on to them. So why not do the same thing with multiple clients? Every client that uses Gravity Forms pays $59/year for the use of the plugin.
For the record, my website maintenance plan includes premium plugins. So if a client signs up for my maintenance plan, the cost of all premium plugins is included, which is another great selling feature for the maintenance plan.
I mentioned Stock images above. There’s nothing wrong with charging your clients a small fee for any stock image you use on their project. Include them in your quote or itemize them as extra items on your invoice.
Think of stock image sites as image wholesalers. Meaning it’s OK to mark up the costs of the images you use.
However, if the client bought the images themselves, without the benefit of AppSumo credits or a DepositPhotos subscription, they would pay between $5-$10 per image.
So five stock images are used while designing a poster, why not charge the client $25-$50 for them?
The whole point I'm trying to get across is to help you realize there are things you do for your clients that you could be charging for.
It’s nice to think these things are just the cost of doing business. And in most cases, they are. But why should that cost come out of your pocket when your client is the one benefiting from them? It’s OK to charge your client for all the extra things you do beyond the actual design you create for them.
Don’t believe me? Try to think of the last down on his luck starving lawyer you’ve seen.
Designing might be your passion. It is for me. But passion doesn’t pay the bills. If you want to run a successful design business, you need to treat it as a business. And that means charging your clients.
Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.
Resource of the week Logo Package Express 2.0
Logo Package Express automatically generates and exports logo packages from Adobe Illustrator with blazing speed. Packaging logos is boring and complex. First, you have to know what formats to provide your clients, then you have to make them. Manually. One at a time. It takes hours and is a real pain. Logo Package Express turns that dreaded task into a breeze by pumping out 200+ logo files in under 5 minutes. It's truly one of the greatest additions to the design market in a while.
Save $20 off the purchase of Logo Package Express 2.0 with this link.
Already own Logo Package Express version 1? Click this link, log in and purchase the updated version 2.0 for only $20.
Several months ago, I quoted on a branding and web design project for a client. This was an existing client who was starting something new and wanted my help. I gave her a price, she agreed. I sent her a contract, which she promptly signed and returned along with her deposit.
Because of the nature of the project, which I’m not going to get into, we had to wait a few months before starting. But a couple of months ago, the client contacted me to cancel the project.
The nature of her business involves large gatherings of people, and with the pandemic affecting things, she informed me that she was putting the project on indefinite hold.
According to my contract, deposits are non-refundable. However, I did tell her that should she revive the project within six months. I would honour the original quote and the deposit she had given me. And that was that. Or so I had thought.
Earlier this week, the clients contacted me. As it turns out, the project wasn’t put on indefinite hold. What happened was another designer who happens to specialize in this client’s niche contacted her and offered to do the project for almost half of what I had quoted.
I’ve talked about niching before on the podcast. How niching gives you an advantage because you are perceived as an expert in that niche. Which is true. It works. And it worked in this instance. The client couldn’t pass up this opportunity to work with a designer specializing in her industry and at a lower price than I quoted. So she cancelled with me and hired this other person. I don’t blame her. It sounded like a great deal.
Now back to the phone call I received this week.
The client contacted me and told me why she cancelled our agreement. Then she proceeded to tell me how much of a nightmare this other designer was to work with. The project was completed, but not to her liking, and she wanted to know if I would be willing to take over the project from now on.
Here’s what happened.
The client told me the designer seemed like a perfect fit for her project. So was impressed when they talked and she liked his price. She paid him half up front, with the second half coming due upon completion of the project. She gave the designer her credit card number, which you should never do, but she did. And the designer started the project.
A few weeks later, the client received her credit card statement and noticed that the designer's payment was converted from US funds. Both the client and the designer live in Canada, so naturally, the client thought the quote was in Canadian dollars. Nowhere on the invoice says US funds, and she doesn’t remember the designer ever saying anything about charging in US Dollars.
When she questioned the designer, he told her that all web designers charge in US Dollars (which is not true), and that’s just the way it is. She should have done her homework before hiring him. The US/CAN exchange rate means the client pays roughly 30-35% more than she expected for the project.
But at this point, the designer had already designed a logo, which the client liked and had started on the website. So taking the loss, things with the project proceeded, and everything continued to go well with the project.
It wasn’t until the client started asking for changes that the designer's true demeanour came out. The client asked the designer to move a few things around on the website, but the designer refused to make any of the changes she requested. He told her that she’s not a designer and therefore doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She should leave designing to the expert.
When the client expressed a dislike for the colour palette, the designer chose for the website. He told her he wasn't going to change it. He had a vision for the brand, and he was going to stick with it. He told the client the colours would grow on her and not worry about it. They never did.
When the client saw a proof of the website, including copy the designer had written himself, she decided to log into WordPress and edit some of the wording. The designer had a fit, accusing the client of trying to sabotage his vision. The designer sent her a message saying, “Will you please stop making changes to the website. If you start messing around, you’re liable to muck things up, which is just more grief for me. You’re not a web designer, so why don’t you stick to things you know and let me handle the website.” He then revoked the client’s access to the site until he was finished with it, saying any changes she wanted had to be done by him. But as stated earlier, the designer refused to make any changes that went against his vision.
And to make it worse, when the client complained that he wasn't listening to her, he replied, “I received your input, but I’m the designer. I’ve been doing this for a long time and know a lot more about designing websites than you do. Please keep your opinions to yourself unless I ask for them.”
This brings us to now. The client is not happy with the completed website and doesn’t want anything to do with the designer anymore. That’s why she’s reaching out to me, someone she’s worked with before and someone who has always treated her well.
The saving grace is the designer didn’t use a contract. So she’s not on the hook to stay with him once she pays her final fee. Things still need to be finalized, but it looks like I’ll be taking over this project very soon.
I wanted to share this experience with you to illustrate how not to treat a client. Yes, as designers, we are experts. Especially if you focus on a niche. However, being an expert doesn’t mean you’re better or above your client or that a client’s opinion isn’t valid. A designer/client relationship is a partnership. One where you work together to complete the project. A designer may know more about designing than the client, but they will never know more about the client's business than they do. Abusing this is a great way to lose clients.
Maybe this designer doesn’t care. Maybe he’s laughing and thinking how smart he is. He got paid for the project, and now he never has to hear from the client again.
But you know what? This client is an influencer in her space. The same space this designer specializes in. What do you think will happen when she starts telling other people in her industry about her experiences? Was it really worth it for that designer to get his way? In the long run, I don’t think so.
I wish him luck because if that’s how he treats his clients, he’s going to need it. No matter how good you are, your business will not succeed if you drive your clients away.
I've said it before. Clients prefer to work with a good designer they like than an amazing designer they don’t like.
That’s how NOT to treat your clients. I know you know better than acting like this. But it’s always good to hear these kinds of stories to make you appreciate the relationships you have with your clients. Treat them well, and they’ll treat you well. What more can you ask for?
Resource of the week ScreenFlow
This week’s resource is something I've shared before, ScreenFlow screen recording software. It has helped me streamline my graphic design business so much that I have to share it again. Using ScreenFlow has saved me so much time and headaches. Instead of teaching clients how to use their new websites and then helping them again a month or so later when they’ve forgotten, now I just record a short instructions video showing them what to do. If they need a refresher or need to train someone new, they have access to the video and they don’t have to interrupt me for help. For that reason alone I highly recommend ScreenFlow.
For your graphic or web design business to succeed, you need to find clients willing to work with you. Without clients, it’s a given that your business will fail. But with so many designers to choose from. How do you get clients to pick you over the competition?
If you’re a long time listener of the podcast, you’ve heard me say before, “Clients prefer work with a good designer they like than an amazing designer they don’t like.” That’s what it comes down to. If a client likes you, they’ll be more inclined to hire you.
But how do you get someone to like you? Especially if you only have a few short minutes to make an impression?
My father was an amazing salesperson. He worked for several companies in the electrical supply industry before retiring, and he made a great impression on every one of them. In fact, he won numerous salesman of the year awards and then several managers of the year awards when he was promoted to sales manager.
Every company my father worked for credited him for their increased sales and growth. He had a natural gift for landing new clients. Even the competition had high praise for my father. They may not have liked him because he kept landing clients they wanted, but they respected him and, as far as I know, never talked ill of him. And that’s because everyone liked and trusted my dad.
I didn’t understand that while growing up. Or more like I didn’t pay much attention to it. My dad had an uncanny ability to run into people he knew. It seemed that everywhere we went, someone would recognize him, and he obviously made enough of an impression for them to go out of their way to come say hi. And it didn’t matter if we were in a restaurant or mall downtown or halfway across the country. There was bound to be someone there my dad knew.
I remember taking a summer road trip with my parents when I was young. We were driving through the State of Maine in the USA when my dad pulled into a gas station. While filling up, another car pulled in. And when the driver got out, he turned to my father with a big smile and greeted him by name. It turned out to be someone my dad had met at an electrical convention several years prior. They had only talked for a few minutes, but my dad had made enough of an impression on the man that he never forgot him.
The first time my family and I visited Vancouver, British Columbia, which for those who don’t know, is on the other side of Canada, some 4700 KM away from where I live. My dad ran into not one, not two, but three different people he knew while we were there.
My mom and I would just shake our head dumbfounded. Not only at how many people my dad knew, but how happy they always seemed to see him. This seemingly magical skill my father possessed always amazed me. It wasn’t until I was older and starting my career at the print shop that my dad let me in on his “little secret.”
One day, shortly after graduation from college, I was sitting down with my father, and he told me the following.
He said "Mark if you want to do well in business, you have to work hard. Never complain unless it’s absolutely necessary. And most importantly, you need people to like you. You see, the more people who like you, the easier it will be for you to succeed in whatever venture you set out to do."
And then he told me his trick. And although my father didn’t break them down into steps, for the benefit of the podcast, I will.
A smile is a natural diffuser.
When you smile as you greet someone, it shows that you accept them and are genuinely interested in talking with them. It makes them feel welcome. A smile creates positive energy and sets people at ease. Making it easier for them to open up to you.
It’s a lot easier to trust someone who smiles than someone who doesn’t
A handshake tells a lot about a person. A week handshake gives the impression of doubt and lack of confidence. A strong, bone-crushing handshake gives the impression of overconfident and trying to assert authority or dominance.
You want to be in the middle, offering a firm handshake that instills a sense of confidence, as well as respect for the person you’re shaking hands with.
On a side note. I know with the World Wide pandemic still going on. A handshake is frowned upon right now. I’m confident that once all of this is behind us, the handshake will make its return. And you should be ready to start offering them again.
A handshake is something my father was never stingy in offering. In fact, I remember my friends in high school telling me how much they liked my dad. Every time they came over, he would get up, smile and shake their hands and ask them how they were doing. Unlike the other kid’s fathers, who never paid much attention to us, mine always made my friends feel welcome.
I also remember my father getting down on one knee to shake young children’s hands whenever someone he knew introduced their kids. It made a big impression on the kids as well as their parents.
My dad never missed the opportunity to shake someone’s hand. And I’m proud to say it’s a trait I picked up from him. And I look forward to the day when I can start doing it again.
From birth, we’re conditioned to the sound of our own name. We react to it in a way we don’t react to anything else. Our name is one of the most precious sounds in the world to us.
I know personally, I pay special attention whenever a character in a book, tv show or movie is named Mark. I remember feeling extra special as a kid when I found out the actor that played Luke Skywalker had the same first name as me.
Whenever you use someone’s name in conversation, you’re telling them you care about them. That you find them important and that you respect them enough to use their name.
Now, this can be tricky. Especially if you’re not good with names. I know I’m not nearly as good as my dad. But I try my best. And something to remember, you should never be ashamed to tell someone you forgot their name. In fact, by saying you don’t remember and asking them to repeat it, you’re telling the person you care enough about them to want to know their name. Just don’t make a habit of forgetting their name, or it will backfire on you.
I know that any time I answer the phone, the first thing I do is write down the name of the person calling. That way, I can refer back to it while talking to them. And if they don’t offer their name, it’s one of the first questions I ask before continuing the conversation. And then I make sure to use it.
After all, what do you think sounds more personable.
“I’d love to work with you on this project. I’ll send you a quote by the end of the day.”
“I’d love to work with you on this, Sarah. I’ll send you a quote by the end of the day.”
Most good salespeople use this tactic because it works. And so can you when talking to clients.
Ask any dating expert, and they’ll tell you that one of the most attractive features in a date is someone who shows more interest in you than in sharing about themselves.
Now chances are you’re not seeking any romantic relations with your clients. But the principles are the same. The more you talk about and express interest in the client, the more inclined they’ll be to like, trust and want to work with you.
The easiest way to accomplish this is by asking questions.
Most conversations involve two or more people, each sharing their own views. This is why questions are great attention-grabbers. Questions disrupt the normal flow of a conversation by focusing what you say on the other party.
According to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the best type of question to ask is a follow-up question. Not only does a follow-up question refocus the conversation on the client. But it shows them that you were paying attention and that you were interested enough to want to know more about what they were saying.
And questions don’t have to be specific about the topic of the conversation. In fact, the best questions are unexpected ones. If the client says, they got an idea while out camping. Ask them about the camping trip. It’s basic human nature. We like to feel important, to feel special. And by asking questions, especially follow-up questions, you make the client feel special. And when you make someone feel special, they’ll be much more inclined to like, trust and want to work with you.
Now, of course, I expanded on what my father originally told me. But these four steps are the cornerstones of sales success.
When put together, they create a powerful impression on the person or people you’re dealing with.
Imagine you walk into a car dealership, and the salesperson sees you and calls out from across the showroom floor.
"Hi, Can I help you with anything?"
"Yes, I’d like to see the newest model SUVs you have."
"Sounds good. Follow me over here, and I’ll show them to you."
Compared that to a salesperson who responds this way.
You walk into the car dealership, and the salesperson gets up from behind their desk and approaches you with their hand held out.
"Hi, I’m Chris." And he shakes your hand as he waits for you to reply.
"Hi Chris, I’m Mark."
"Nice to meet you, Mark. What can I help you with today?"
"I’d like to see the newest model SUVs you have."
"Sound good. Tell me, Mark, have you ever owned an SUV before?" he asks as he leads me to where the SUVs are.
I don’t know about you. But even though It’s such a small difference, that second guy leaves a much better first impression. And if I had to go on just that initial greeting. I’d chose him to deal with over the first guy.
The same things apply to clients. Remember, they would prefer to work with a good designer they like than with an amazing designer they don’t like. But their ideal choice is working with an amazing designer they also happen to like. And that’s where you come in.
The more you can get people to like, trust and want to work with you. The faster your design business will grow and succeed.
So smile, shake hands (once we can again, of course), look people in the eye. Use their name and ask questions, especially follow-up questions. If you do this, you’ll be on the road to landing more clients.
Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.
Resource of the week Art Text
Create artistic text effects with Art Text 4. A Mac-based application for creating stunning headlines, logos and more.
Art Text lets you turn any text into a work of art. Create realistic looking metallic, wooden, gel, paint, even chocolate looking text. All of it is fully editable with unrestricted preset. The only limit is your creativity.
You can adjust the textures, surface maps, light spots and shadows, and other settings to come up with your own unique materials. And that’s not to mention the 3D modelling engine that helps convert any text, symbol or pictogram into 3D. There’s just too much to talk about in this little program.
I’ve been using Art Text since version 1. I thought it was great back then. Well, version 4 is so much better. It’s my secret weapon when it comes to creating amazing stylized text.
Imagine doing a poster for a coffee shop and writing the headline in coffee beans. Or a bakery with a headline that looks like a frosted donut. Or an autobody shop with text that looks like rusted metal. You get the idea.
At only $29.99 US Art Text pays for itself the first time you use it.
People often ask me how I can manage so many things at once, so many spinning plates, if you will, while only working 9 AM to 5 PM?
Ask most designers, and they’ll tell you of the many late nights or weekends they work to get the jobs done.
I, on the other hand, rarely work late and hardly ever on weekends. So how do I do it? How do I manage this podcast, my other television show podcast, two design businesses, the Resourceful Designer Community, and a few personal “work-related” projects I have on the go? All within a 40-hour workweek?
I don’t always. In fact, I’m recording this podcast episode on Saturday because I ran out of time during the week. But this is a rarity for me. Normally, I get all my work done between 9 AM and 5 PM, Monday to Friday.
So how do I do it?
I learned many years ago that my time is valuable. I only have so much of it, and I have to figure out the best use of that time for me. I constantly ask myself how can I get the best ROI for my time. And the biggest help was learning to cull my indulgences.
What do I mean by this?
First, let me tell you a story.
As you may or may not know. My wife and I have two kids, both of which are now in their 20s and no longer live with us. Since the kids moved out, Kim and I have had to adjust to the lives of being empty nesters. One of those adjustments is finding television shows we can watch together. Kim loves comedies, dramas and romantic shows. In comparison, I prefer science fiction, fantasy and action-adventure programs.
It wasn’t a problem when our daughter was still here. She and Kim enjoyed the same things, so they would put on one of their shows, and I would slip down to the basement to watch one of mine. But with the kids gone, Kim and I try to find shows to watch together.
A couple of months ago, we started watching a show on Netflix called The Order. It’s a young adult-oriented semi-romantic drama that includes witches, warlocks and werewolves. So it checked off both our interests.
Over the course of two weeks, we would watch an episode here and an episode there until we finished season 1. It wasn’t the best show we’d seen, but it was entertaining and enjoyable.
A few weeks later, season 2 came out, and we decided to start it. That first episode was kind of meh, so it was a few days before we decided to watch another one which didn’t turn out to be much better. When watching episodes 3 and 4, we were questioning if there was something else we wanted to watch instead.
After the fourth episode, we both decided the season wasn’t worth finishing. Our time was too valuable to waste on a program we were no longer enjoying.
Now, this may not be the best example, since the time we saved by not watching The Order, we still ended up spending on the couch watching something else. But the point I’m trying to convey is, your time has value. And it shouldn’t be wasted on things that don’t contribute to that value.
Let’s get back to how I manage my days and get everything done.
As I said earlier, I learned a while back that to be the most productive person I could be; I needed to cull my indulgences. What does that mean?
It means that whenever something catches my eye, whenever I come across something that might be a distraction, I ask myself this. “Would I be any worse off if I don’t indulge in this?”
Don’t ask yourself if you would be better off if you indulge because the answer will often be a misleading yes. Misleading because knowledge, in general, makes you better, regardless of what that knowledge is. Listening to a podcast, watching a YouTube video, and reading an article will benefit you somehow, even if it’s minute.
But asking if you would be worse off by not indulging gives you a completely different perspective to judge by.
For example, if I come across an article reviewing new features in Adobe Illustrator. I ask myself, “would I be any worse off if I don’t indulge in reading this?” The answer is yes. I use Illustrator regularly. If there are new features that can speed up my workflow and make what I do easier, and I don’t lean them. I’ll be worse off.
However, if I come across an article titled “The top 10 design trends to avoid in 2021.” The answer would be no. I might gain some knowledge and benefit from reading the article. But I’m not going to be any worse off if I don’t read it. I tend to do my own thing and not follow trends anyway. So why waste my valuable time reading that article. No matter how curious I am.
Now in some cases, putting off instead of dismissing is an option.
And article titled "The 10 most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe." Oh, this one hits me at my geeky core. As a huge Marvel fan, I want to know if this list coincides with the one I have in my head. But would I be any worse off if I read it and found out? Surprisingly, the answer is yes. I would be. Not because of the knowledge I would gain. But because reading the article would take up valuable time when I should be working. So the smart thing to do is not indulge.
However, the geek in me really wants to know. I mean, who do they have at number 1. Is it the Hulk? Thor? Captain Marvel? Someone, I’m not thinking of? I think it’s Captain Marvel. It has to be Captain Marvel, right? In this case, instead of dismissing the article altogether. I put it aside to look at when I’m not working.
You see, Outside of the hours of 9 to 5, the value I associate with my time diminishes drastically. When I’m not in my office, I allow myself to indulge in these things. I mean, you have to enjoy life, right?
But during working hours. I try to use my time most productively.
In some cases, I encounter an indulgence that I would be worse off if I didn’t read or watch it. However, I wouldn’t be worse off right now.
For example. I like the Divi Blog Extra module by Divi Extended. But I only need it for a couple of websites. In most cases, the default Blog module that comes with Divi is good for the sites I build.
So if an update for Divi Blog Extra is released with new features, not only would I benefit from knowing about them, but I might also be worse off by not knowing about them. However, as I said, I only use Divi Blog Extra on a couple of websites, and they’re working fine as is. Whatever new features the module has is of no consequence to me in regards to those sites. And If I’m not currently working on any new sites that require the module, there’s no reason for me to learn about the new features now.
This goes back to one of the first episodes of the podcast titled Just In Time Learning.
Just In Time Learning is a mindset that makes you more productive. The theory behind Just In Time Learning is there’s no point learning something now if you are not going to use it now. Because chances are, by the time you do need to use it, you’ll have forgotten most of it and have to refresh yourself anyway, doubling the time you spent learning it.
Instead, you put it aside, make a note, and go back to it when you need to learn it.
Just In Time Learning became a huge time saver for me. I have tons of tutorials and articles put aside. I use Evernote to keep track of all of them. They're all there, easily searchable for the day I might need to review them. They’re all cases of things that I may need to know. But I’m not worse off by not knowing them now.
So in Divi Blog Extra's case, until I need to use it on another website, there’s no use learning about the new features. My time can be used for better things right now.
Earlier I mentioned coming across an article listing new features in Adobe Illustrator and how, because of my use of Illustrator, I would be worse off if I didn’t read it. However, I can apply this same principle within an article. As I skim the article, I ask myself, “Would I be any worse off if I don’t know about this particular feature?” If it has to do with things such as the Pathfinder tools or the Appearance panel, then yes, because those are things I use all the time. But I can pass on the part about embedding cloud documents from Photoshop because I have no use for that feature. So I wouldn’t be any worse off if I don’t read that part.
Am I getting my point across?
You’d be amazed at how much time you spend throughout your day or week, indulging in things that are not pertinent to your business, or at least not now when your time could be spent on things pertinent to your business.
So ask yourself, “Would I be any worse off if I don’t indulge in this?” and see how much time you get back. And use it on everything: articles, tutorials, YouTube Videos, even podcasts.
I may be shooting myself in the foot by saying this. But if I put out a podcast episode and you would be no worse off by not listening to it, then don’t. If it doesn’t apply or is of no use to you. Don’t bother.
I’m subscribed to over 60 different podcasts. Do you think I listen to every episode? Of course not. I judge each episode and decide if it’s something I need to listen to. If it isn’t, I delete it. Now I’m hoping you don’t do that with Resourceful Designer. But I’m also hoping I’m not causing you to waste time you could be spending growing your design business.
Now I’m not saying this idea is foolproof. I still get sucked down the rabbit hole now and again. That’s just life. Sometimes, curiosity or that shiny object gets the better of us. But the more disciplined you are, and the more time you can free up from these indulgences, the more time you’ll have to invest in running and growing your design business.
That’s how I can do two podcasts, run two design businesses, partake in the Resourceful Designer Community, and manage all my personal “work-related” projects and more. All while sticking to a 9-5 schedule.
And you can too.
Just ask yourself, “Would I be any worse off if I don’t indulge in this?”
Resource of the week Dynalist.io
Dynalist.io is a great organizational tool for mind mapping that you can access from any platform. Think of it as an organization or a bullet list on steroids and so much more.
For example. If you’re laying out the structure for a new website project. You can create a list with all your main menus, then their sub-pages, then categories, then perhaps tags. And so forth. It sounds pretty basic. It’s one of those things you have to try in order to truly appreciate what it can do.
Working on a social media campaign? Dynalist will help make sure nothing gets overlooked.
I love its easy move feature. No cumbersome copy, find the right place and paste. Moving an item is as simple as selecting the item and then telling it where to move to.
As I said, you have to see it to appreciate it.
Dynalist does have a $7.99 monthly plan. But I don’t think you’ll need that. I use their free plan and it does everything I need it to do.
So if you’re looking for a great free resource to help keep you organized. Check out Dynalist.io.
Let me start with a story.
A young boy is visiting his grandparents' house with his mom and dad.
As young boys will do when in an environment not meant for young boys, they explore and sometimes get into trouble.
Well, this young boy just so happened to be walking around with an antique vase, a precious family heirloom. When his mother spotted him, she immediately told him to put the vase down before breaking it. But the boy replied that he couldn’t, his hand was stuck inside.
A little frustrated, the mother takes the vase and tells the boy, “If you were able to get your hand in the vase, you could surely get it out.” But as she pulls on it, there’s no give.
Hearing the commotion, the father comes in to help. He, too, tugs on the vase, but the boy's hand is firmly stuck. He tugs and tugs until the boy says it’s hurting him.
The grandmother, in her wise old ways, suggests using butter to help the hand slide out. But alas, it has no effect.
Completely perplexed, with the mother still tugging on the vase, the father throws his hands up in the air, stating, “I’d give 50 dollars just to get your hand out of that vase right now.”
The young boy's eyes opened wide with excitement. “Really?” he exclaims. Suddenly, they hear a clinking sound, and the boy’s hand slides out of the vase. In disbelief, the mother looks into the vase then upturns it, and a quarter falls into her hand.
The young boy explains that it’s the quarter grandpa gave him when they arrived. He had put it in the vase, but when he reached in to grab it, his hand got stuck.
But when his dad said he’d give him $50 if he got his hand out of the vase, he let go of the quarter.
Now I’m sure you’ve heard this or a variation of this story before. So you probably knew the outcome before I ever reached it. But I wanted to tell it anyway as a kind of analogy to your design business.
Many designers who run their own business tend to hold on to that metaphorical quarter when they should be letting go of it for bigger and better things.
This is the first episode of 2021. And I don’t have to tell you what kind of year 2020 was. You were there. But with all of that fiasco behind us and light of better things to come finally peeking through at the end of the tunnel. Now is the perfect time to take stock of your business and figure out what you need to do to help it grow and succeed. What are you going to do more of? And what, if anything, can you let go?
No business, design or otherwise can grow without making changes. Restaurants change their menus. Telecommunication companies change their phone plans. Governments elect new officials. Changes are a natural precursor to growth. And every successful business does it.
By grow, I don’t necessarily mean taking on more design work or more clients, although that may be the case, and it still counts as growth. What I mean by grow, is making progress, expanding while focusing on your goals. You do have goals, don’t you? Without them, how will you know if you’re making progress?
If we take 2020 out of the equation and compare this upcoming year, 2021, to your previous years, you should be striving to not only make more money but also to be more satisfied with yourself and your business than you’ve been in previous years. At the very least, you should aim to stay on par as in previous years.
What you don’t want is to step backward. If you make less money or aren’t as happy, you’re doing something wrong. And chances are, it’s because you’re holding on to that metaphorical quarter and not letting go.
Growing your business and making more money doesn’t necessarily mean doing more work, which, in turn, could increase your stress level. In fact, you can grow your design business and make more money by doing less but smarter work.
The easiest way to do this is to raise your rates. But to raise your rates, you have to let go of the notion that you’re not worth higher rates. Or that your clients won’t pay higher rates.
Thousands of designers have already debunked that theory when they started charging more money for their services, and their business didn’t fail. Myself included. I make more money today, putting in 10 hours of work than I did five years ago doing 30 or 40 hours of work. How? It’s because I let go of the notion that an hour of my time is worth X amount of dollars.
When I started charging clients based on what I thought their project was worth and not how much time it would take me to complete it, I started making a lot more money. And you know what? The only clients that objected to my price increase were the clients I didn’t really want to work with, to begin with.
Those clients who didn’t object were the clients who truly valued what I do for them. And you know what? When I raised my rates, they started bringing me bigger and better projects. They stopped sending me simple things to design and started sending me entire campaigns to work on.
It’s that perceived value I talked about a few weeks ago in episode 240 of the podcast. The same service I provided was perceived as much more valuable to these clients because I was charging more for it, and they are willing to pay me much more for those services and trust me with bigger jobs.
Want another way to look at it? Consider a Rolex watch and a Timex watch. Both timepieces fit nicely on your wrist. Both tell time. And both can make you look pretty darn good fashion-wise. And yet, the Rolex is worth so much more than the Timex.
Why is that? Is what they’re made of? There may be a price difference in the actual materials each watch is made of, but I doubt it’s enough of a difference to justify the huge difference in each timepiece's cost.
Is it craftsmanship? Both are precision instruments. They both need to be finely crafted to function.
Is it the mechanics? I don’t think so. As far as I know, watch mechanics haven't changed much since they were first invented.
So what is it? What’s the real difference between a Rolex and a Timex?
The true difference is not the watches themselves. It’s the companies behind the watches. They’re the ones who create the value. Rolex markets itself to the elite, the A-listers, and therefore has an elite price tag to match. Whereas Timex markets itself to the general populace, the everyday person, therefore, has a price to match.
Their value is exactly where they’ve set it for themselves. Both companies are very successful. However, and I’m just speculating here, but I bet Timex has to sell a whole lot more watches than Rolex does to stay in business.
You have a say in how your design business is perceived. Which, in turn, dictates how much clients are willing to pay for your services. Do you want to take on dozens and dozens of small paying projects? Or would you prefer to work on a few high paying projects? Are you a Timex, or are you a Rolex?
In my Podcast Branding business, for example. Time and time again, clients tell me they chose my business, one of the more expensive options in the podcast space, because I looked the most professional, and I instilled a sense of confidence in them that I know what I’m doing and they would get quality work from me. Because of that, they are willing to pay more for my services than for any of the less expensive options.
So let go of the notion that you’re not good enough or not worth enough because it’s not true. Even the most inexperienced designer, a student fresh out of school, is worth more than they know.
I’ve been talking a lot about prices, but there are other ways you can let go to grow your design business. Look at the services you offer. Are there any that you’re just not that keen on doing? If so, why do you offer them?
Even a general, all-purpose graphic designer can set limits on what they do.
When I started my Podcast Branding business, I offered social media graphics but quickly realized I didn’t like doing them. So I eliminated the service. I still offer to create the branding for my client's social media platforms, but I no longer create graphics for their individual social media posts.
Just because every designer around you seems to be offering website design doesn’t mean you have to as well. If you don’t like designing websites, even if you know how, you don’t have to. Let it go and concentrate on the things you do, like designing. Not every designer enjoys designing logos. And not every designer is good at it either. If you don’t like it, stop offering logo design as a service. It’s OK to let these things go and concentrate on the things you are good at and enjoy doing.
In a way, it’s kind of like niching down. I’ve talked about the benefits of niching before on several episodes of the podcast. Culling your design services is a form of niching. In fact, it could set you apart from other designers and make you more desirable to clients.
Look at Ian Paget from Logo Geek. His entire business is focused on designing logos. The first thing you see when you visit his website is the phrase “I Design Logos.” If you know Ian, you’ll know that his background is in designing websites and yet nowhere on his current site does he mention that. Why? Because it’s not what he wants to do. Ian is passionate about logos, so that’s what he offers. He let go of everything else he knows how to design to focus on one thing. And now he’s killing it in the logo design space.
I’m not saying you have to go to that extreme, but it’s a great example of how letting go can help propel you forward.
One thing to note. Removing a service doesn’t have to mean never doing it. Ian, for example, still offers other design services to his clients besides logo design. He doesn’t advertise it because it’s not his passion.
In my case, If one of my clients asked me to create a social media post for them, I can say yes if I feel like it and do it for them. Nothing is stopping me from doing it. I don’t advertise it as a service anymore.
It’s OK to let things go in the name of progress. In fact, it’s somewhat necessary if you truly want to succeed. Ask any successful designer running their own business if they’re doing the same thing today as they were five years ago, and the majority, if not all of them, would answer no. You have to evolve if you want to survive in this industry. If you don’t, then you’ll lose when those around you do.
Don’t get your hand stuck in the vase grasping a quarter when there are much bigger things you could be going after.
That’s my 2 cents.
Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.
Resource of the week Chrome Browser Groups
In episode 239 of the podcast, I shared how to turn Chrome browser tabs into desktop apps. I got so many responses thanking me for that tip that I thought I’d share another Chrome tip.
If you have a bunch of related browser tabs open, for example, you may have several tabs open for different stock image sites. Or, if you’re a web designer, you may have tabs open for each of your client’s websites. An easy way to organize this tab chaos is with Tab Groups.
In Chrome, right-click on any tab and select “Add to New Group.” If you already have a tab group, the menu changes to “Add to Group” with a pop-out for you to choose an existing group or create a new one.
When creating a new group, you can name it whatever you want, such as Stock Images or Client Websites. You can also assign it a colour, which makes it very easy to navigate.
Once a Tab Group is created, simply right-click on any tab to add it to the group.
A Tab Group appears in your Tab bar like any other tab. The difference is you can open and collapse a tab group.
So if you have 10 client sites in a Tab Group, clicking it will expand to show you all 10 tabs, and each one will be underlined with the colour you assigned the group, making it very easy to see which tabs are part of the group.
When you’re done looking at the client sites, simply click on the Group Tab, and all 10 client website tabs collapse into the one Group Tab, freeing up your browser window and making it much easier to navigate.
This is a great solution for anyone who likes to keep dozens, if not more, tabs open at once.
One thing to note if you’re testing this out, you cannot collapse a tab group until you have a tab that is not part of the group.
[sc name="pod_ad"]Thank you for your continued interest in Resourceful Designer. You have no idea how much I appreciate you. There are so many great resources available for learning and growing as a designer, and I'm humbled that you choose to spend a bit of your valuable time with me.
I'm continuing the tradition of making the final podcast episode of the year a form of a retrospective where I look back a the year that's coming to an end and look forward to the year ahead. I bring you A Look back, A Look Ahead 2020 Edition.
At the end of 2018, I set these goals for myself.
ACCOMPLISHED: Talk at more conferences in 2020. Surprisingly, although not as many as I expected, the two conferences I talked at in 2020 were more than I did in 2019, so mission accomplished.
FAIL: Grow the Resourceful Designer audience. The 2020 pandemic took a big toll on podcast listenership, and Resourceful Designer was not immune. With fewer people commuting to work, I saw my download numbers dip during COVID lockdowns. The end of the year saw a rise in downloads but not enough to view it as a growth from the previous year.
ACCOMPLISHED: Grow the Resourceful Designer Community. The Community has quickly become a place where friendships form and help is freely given. It's even more wonderful than I anticipated.
ACCOMPLISHED: Grow Podcast Branding. My niche design business focusing on the podcast industry saw huge growth in 2020. With so many people stuck at home, many decided to start a podcast and needed visuals to go with it.
My design business took a huge hit from COVID-19, with many of my clients being affected by lockdowns.
My Podcast Branding business saved me from a horrible year.
My 2019 goals carry forward. I want the listenership of Resourceful Designer to continue growing. I want to speak at conferences (I'm already booked to speak at one in March). I want to build the Resourceful Designer Community. It's such a fantastic place right now, but I know it can be even better.
Did you accomplish your goals for 2019, and What are your goals for the new year?
Wherever you are in the world, whatever your level of skill, whatever your situation is, I want you to take some time to look back at 2019 and think about your accomplishments AND your shortcomings.
Did you stop after your accomplishments? Or did you plow right through them, happy with yourself but reaching even further? What about your shortcomings? Did they discourage you, or did they create a sense of want even higher than before?
Did you reach the goals you set out for yourself and your design business in 2019? If yes, were you happy with the outcome? If no, think about what prevented you from reaching those goals.
As 2020 comes to an end (good riddance). I encourage you to reflect on this past year. Think about everything you’ve accomplished and those things you fell short on. And come up with a plan to make 2021 your year of success. To help with your planning, perhaps you should listen to episode 55 of the podcast, Setting Goals For Your Design Business.
I’ll be back in 2021 with lots more advice for starting and growing your design business.
I’m Mark Des Cotes wishing you a Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season. And of course, that no matter what goals you set for yourself in the new year, the one thing you have to remember is to Stay Creative.
Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.
There are so many things you can do to improve your design business. Here are 5 tips to help you along the way.
How do you get people to pay attention and be interested in what you have to say? Be it at a networking event, during presentations, in the emails you send, on a landing page or other marketing material? Start by identifying the problem you solve.
As a designer, you are a problem solver. That's your superpower. But nobody cares about a solution if the problem hasn’t been identified. Our brains are wired to go from problem to solution, problem to solution. If you only offer the solution, nobody will care what you have to say.
For example; When someone asks what you do for a living, don’t just say, “I design websites for startup companies.” Try it, and you’ll see just how fast someone’s eyes can glaze over.
Instead, start with a problem like this. "Do you know how hard it is for a new startup company to compete online these days? With people’s patience and attention spans getting shorter and shorter, it can seem like an impossible task to get noticed. What I do is create great looking and high-converting websites that help new startups quickly gain traction, catch up to and eventually surpass their competition."
A problem, followed by a solution. Now you have their attention.
Every good website, including your own website for your design business, needs a call-to-action (CTA). Without one, what’s the point of the site?
Sure, you want people to know more about you.
Sure, you want people to know what services you offer.
Sure, you want people to see your work portfolio.
But ultimately, what you want is for people to hire you. The best way to do that is with an assertive CTA.
A passive CTA such as “Learn More” or “Get Started” just don’t cut it. What they actually do is instill doubt in the client. It’s as if you’re not sure about your business and are afraid to ask the client to commit. So instead of asking them to hire you, you’re asking them to learn more about you in the hopes you can convince them. Or to get started, and if they don’t like what they see, we can stop.
No. What you want to do is be bold and show confidence that you can help the client and show it in your CTA. Be direct and use CTAs like “Hire me,” “Schedule a Call,” or “Order Now.” The more direct you are with assertive CTAs, the better the chance someone will hire you.
Wouldn’t it be nice if clients paid your invoices as soon as they receive them, and you didn’t have to sit there wondering when or if the money would ever come in?
What if you could make one small change that would actually encourage your clients to pay your invoices faster? You can. By sharing the value, you provided directly on the invoice.
If your invoice looks something like this...
Item 1) Designed website = $xxx
Item 2) Designed Logo = $xxx
Item 3) Designed brochure = $xxx
Total = $xxx
Then you’re missing out.
Use a description field or add a footnote reminding your clients of their purchase value, not just the cost... the value.
Item 1) Designed website with clear and concise messaging, which will produce a good conversion rate, translating to increased sales.
Item 2) Designed Logo that shows the brand's quality and longevity and stands out amongst the competition.
Item 3) Designed brochure to showcase the client's premium services and instill an air of confidence in people hiring you.
Show the client that you provided more than just a website, logo or brochure. You provided something that will help their business grow and succeed. When they see and are reminded of that, they will be much more willing to pay your invoice quicker.
We don't’ like thinking about it, but a major part of running a design business is being a salesperson. Otherwise, we wouldn’t ever get new clients.
The number of clients who hire you is directly related to how good a salesperson you are. If you want to go from being a good salesperson to being a great salesperson, you need to remember two things: empathy and authority.
Empathy is showing that you understand the problem the client is coming to you with. “I understand how you feel.” “I get where you’re coming from.” “I know exactly what you’re talking about.”
When a client feels you have an empathetic connection with them, they are much more likely to hire you.
Authority is showing you’re not only confident you can help them, but that you have the experience to back up that confidence. “I’ve helped other clients with similar problems.” “That’s a common issue that I know we can solve.” “Here’s what we can do to solve that.”
Think of the power when you combine Empathy and Authority. “I understand how you feel. Rest assured, I’ve helped other clients with similar problems before.” “I get where you’re coming from. That’s actually a common issue that I know we can solve.” “I know exactly what you’re talking about. Here’s what we can do to solve that.”
When done right, cute and clever can be a huge success. Unfortunately, the majority of the time they are not done right. And there’s no way for the person who’s developing the campaign to know if it’s done right or not because they’re too close to it.
The problem with trying to be cute or clever is a lot of people won’t get it. They’re not in your head. They’re not part of the discussion that comes up with the campaign idea. And therefore, they won’t understand the message. That idea that you think is so cute or clever is completely lost to them. And if a potential client feels confused about your message. You’ve lost them as a client.
For any marketing campaign to be successful, the message needs to be clear. Clear what the message is and clear what you want them to do. "Do you need a professional graphic designer to develop your new company’s brand? Book a call to discuss your project."
Concise and Clear will win out over cute and clever every time.
Resource of the week Evernote
Evernote is, in my opinion, one of the best organization and note-taking applications there is. I use it on a daily basis to keep track of everything from podcast and blog topics, to business contacts, websites I need to revisit, and so much more. Evernote's ability to sync across all my devices means I can access it no matter where I am. It's become one of the most invaluable tools in my arsenal. If you are interested in giving it a try visit evernote.com