In episode 49 of the Resourceful Designer podcast, I talked about offering print brokering as a means to supplement your design business. If you do print design and do not offer print brokering, you’re losing out on a lot of potential income. I made over $1,000 from three different print jobs this past week alone. And that’s not counting how much I charged for creating the designs themselves.
One of those three jobs was reprinting an existing flyer for a client. It took me less than 3 minutes to find the print file, send it to the printer along with specifications for the order, including instructions to deliver the finished job to my client. Then I sent an invoice to my client. That 3 minutes of work earned me over $300 in print brokering commission.
If you are unfamiliar with print brokering, it’s when you act as the middleman between your client and the printer. In some cases, you mark up the printing price to invoice your client, and in other cases, you get a discount from the printer and charge your client the non-discounted cost, keeping the difference for yourself.
Clients like it when you offer this service because they don’t have to deal with the printer directly. Printers like this setup because they get to deal with someone who understands how things work. Listen to episode 49 of the podcast to learn more about print brokering.
Today I’m sharing ways to augment the money you make by print brokering. And not simply by increasing your markup. However, that is a way to do it. No, I’m talking about ways to improve your revenue, and at the same time, your client feels like they’re getting a better deal.
Let’s start with upselling and cross-selling. What are they, and what’s the difference between the two?
Upselling is when you offer more of the same thing. Think of McDonald’s when they offer to upgrade your medium drink to a large for only $0.25 more. That’s an upsell. You get a larger drink, and they get more money.
Cross-selling is when you offer an additional thing. When you order a burger and drink, McDonald’s will always ask you if you want to make a combo? That’s a cross-sell. In this case, you get something else, fires, and they collect more money.
How do you use these two concepts in print brokering?
You can upsell a print job in many different ways. But the easiest is through the paper stock and printing options. Printing on a specialty paper stock will improve the look and appeal of a printed job, which may interest your client. It will also increase the cost, which in turn increases your profit.
Printing using spot colours is a great way to improve the look of some printed pieces.
I have a client who is a lawyer. She insists on using spot colours for her business card. We could accomplish a similar result using CMYK, but she likes the flat look of the spot colours and is willing to accept the higher printing costs to get the look she wants. And in turn, I make more money on every print run.
Novelty stocks are a great upsell. Do you have a client who’s a window washer? Suggest clear business cards. How about a client in the construction or industrial industry? Suggest laser engraved metal cards. A client in the outdoor space may be willing to spend more on wooden business cards.
These are all printing options you can upsell to your clients.
Another way to upsell is to suggest larger quantities. Most of the operating costs in a print run occur in the setup stage–pre-press, printing plates, press set up, ink, etc. After that, all that’s left is paper and time. That’s why in most cases, the more you order, the less per unit the printing costs. Five hundred business cards may cost $50. Doubling the order to 1000 cards may only be $65. That’s an easy thing to sell a client on. They get more for their money spent. And you get more as your commission.
Like the McDonald’s combo, cross-selling a print order involves additional items.
When a client comes to you for business cards, you may want to suggest additional items such as thank you cards. If you’re asked to design invitations for an event, you could offer table cards or place cards. If it’s for a wedding, you could also suggest thank you cards and perhaps gift tags the couple can attach to whatever gifts they’re handing out to their guests.
Many designers offer stationery packs or bundles that include business cards, letterheads and envelopes. The bundle is less expensive than ordering each individually, which is great for your client. But it’s also usually more than what they initially thought to order. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve convinced a client to order envelopes to go with letterhead or maybe an invoice or other form. And it all means more revenue for me.
Another way to cross-sell is to suggest multiple print runs for various languages. I did this just recently. A client hired me to design coasters for a local campaign. When they gave the information for the coasters, I noticed it was all in English. Our local area is bilingual in English and French, so I asked if they would like me to design a French coaster simultaneously, which they agreed to. This doubled the print run and doubled my profit.
So far, I’ve been talking about increasing your revenue by printing more at a time–either larger quantities or more items. But another way to earn more money from print brokering is by designing something that has an “expiry date” which will require them to be printed more often.
I have a client that attends trade shows throughout the year. He includes his prices on his flyers. Every year as he increases his pricing, he asks me to update his flyer and have more printed.
Some products change appearance over time. If you include a photo of the product on the printed piece your client may be more inclined to update the photos as newer models come out, requiring new printed pieces.
I talked earlier about how larger print runs can save a client money in the long run. But sometimes they just don’t have the budget for a larger run. Smaller print runs will allow them to get by until they can afford to have more printed. And you make money each time.
Include dates on recurring events. A yearly festival could get away with using the same flyer and poster year after year. But if you include the date or any information specific to this particular year, they are forced to print new ones each time.
Another great way to increase your print brokering income is by keeping track of your client’s anniversaries. Designing an anniversary logo for a client is always a fun project. Suggesting they include the anniversary logo on all their print material is even better.
One of my clients is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2022. We’re in the process of adding the anniversary logo to the many print pieces they have. That means a huge printing order. All to showcase their special occasion. The following year they can continue using their current stock of printed material that doesn’t include the anniversary logo.
If you know when an anniversary is coming up, you can make the suggestion ahead of time and get the ball rolling. Your client will appreciate your thoughtfulness, and your business will appreciate the added income.
I want to share two more “tricks” with you that have helped me earn more money with print brokering.
I always tell every client who orders business cards through me, to never hand out just one card. Business cards are a networking tool. When you hand them out you should always give two or three at a time. You tell the recipient to keep one and hand the others out to anyone they know who could use your service. Clients love this idea. But it also means they run out of cards faster and need to reorder.
And finally, whenever possible, convince your client to include their photo on their business card. Again, it makes a great networking tool. A card with a photo makes it much easier to remember the person. It also creates a subconscious connection. When you see a photo of someone, seeds of trust start to germinate immediately. Knowing what a person looks like makes it easier to connect with them. Why do you think so many real estate agents put their photos on their For Sale signs? Because if you know who the person is, you’ll trust them more, regardless if you’ve met them or not.
But how does a photo on a business card help you as a print broker?
People change. Maybe it’s their hairstyle. Maybe they shaved their facial hair or grew some. Maybe they never liked their old photo. Whatever the reason, they may want to update their photo. And they won’t care if they have half a box of cards left. They’ll gladly discard them for new ones.
A couple of weeks ago one of my clients contacted me for business cards for a new employee. I replied back asking if any of their current employees wanted to update their cards with a new photo. That one order turned into four orders, which in turn, means more money for me.
If you’re smart about it. There are always ways to increase your print brokering sales. And not in a slimy salesperson way.
Make sure you follow up with your client after the fact. Following up lets you know if your client liked their print purchase. Hearing their comments is a great opportunity to learn what worked and what didn’t. And you can use those lessons when dealing with other clients.
How do you increase your profits from a print brokering job? Leave a comment below.
I’d like you to imagine this scenario.
There’s a neighbourhood in your city that you love. It has beautiful homes with big yards and lots of green space around. It’s close to amenities like schools and shopping. And the internet infrastructure is state of the art, which we know is a must for what we do as designers.
It’s the type of neighbourhood that you occasionally drive through and think to yourself; I would love to live here.
The problem is, home prices in this neighbourhood are way out of your budget. You figure you can afford maybe $350k. Perhaps you can push it to $400k. But unfortunately, homes in this neighbourhood typically sell for over $700k. But you can dream, can’t you?
Then one day, while driving through the neighbourhood, you see a FOR SALE sign in front of what could be your dream home.
You’ve admired the homes in this neighbourhood for a long time, but always from the outside. But here’s your chance to get a peek on the inside because there are sure to be photos on the realtor’s website.
When you get home, you fire up your browser to take a peek. As you’re navigating to the page, you play the guessing game in your head. You guess its listing price at $795K. But when the page loads, that beautiful house, the one you’ve been admiring for years, is listed at $295k.
What do you think your first thought would be in this situation? Or maybe second thought after you realize you can afford it. You would probably start wondering, what’s wrong with it? Why is it listed so low? What mess would you be getting yourself into if you were to make an offer?
I’m sure you’ve experienced this feeling before. Maybe not with a house. But perhaps with a car, or something else. Especially when the item in question is something previously owned, what’s wrong with it that’s making the seller offer it for such a low price?
Something similar happened to a designer friend of mine just a couple of weeks ago.
He was at a business conference, and on one of the days, they divided people up into small groups—kind of a Mastermind format where each person in the group had time to present their business.
Being prepared as only designers can be, my designer friend had a presentation ready and walked everyone through his business. He showed them what he does, how he does it, his processes, and his annual billing and 3-year financial snapshot. It was a business conference, and he was very transparent in everything he shared.
After his presentation, One of the attendees, a woman he had met earlier at the conference, approached him to talk. She told him that after the 5-minute conversation they had when they first met, she thought, “this guy knows what he’s doing, but there’s no way I can afford him.” But after seeing his numbers on paper, she told him she could easily afford him. And that’s not good a good thing because his prices conflict with the brand image he’s putting out.
You’re a designer, you’re proud of what you can do, and I’m sure you like to showcase the best of it in how you present yourself. After all, you know that if you only put in a half-baked effort, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
But what happens if the brand image you present to the world conflicts with the prices you charge for your services?
Just like the house in my opening story, people may wonder, what’s wrong with you. They may be hesitant to hire you because the prices you charge seem too good to be true compared to the skills you showcase. And you know that when something looks too good to be true, it usually is.
Could this be happening to you? Could it be that you’re not getting enough work because you’re not charging enough for the talents you possess?
About a year or two after I started working from home, I was working for a department of the Canadian government located in town. They were pleased with my work, so they passed my name up the chain. It wasn’t long before I had the chance to bid on a big federal government project.
I received the RFP (Request For Proposal) and read it over several times to ensure I understood what was involved. I then calculated every aspect of the job. I figured out how long it should take me, what assets I may need to purchase, and what contractors I may need to hire. I then added in time for revisions, and, like all good designers, I added in some padding for anything unexpected that may come up.
The price I came up with was $8,000. It was going to be my biggest project to date. Satisfied with my quote, I submitted the proposal, already designing the project in my head. But a week later, I found out I didn’t win the project.
Reaching out to my contact at the local government office, I asked if she knew how much I was outbid by. But to my surprise, she found out that I hadn’t been outbid. I was, in fact, the lowest quote. The issue was my price was too low.
The government agency had received four bids in total for the project. The other three ranged in price between $12,000 and $14,000. When they saw my $8,000 proposal, they thought it was way too low, which meant I must have misunderstood what was involved with the project. Not willing to take a chance, they discarded my proposal and chose the lowest of the remaining three.
Was my bid too low? Had I misunderstood the RFP? No, my price was accurate. Accurate for me, that is. You see, the other three bids came from design agencies in Toronto. And Toronto is a much more expensive city than where I live. Where my hourly rate at the time was $50, theirs were closer to $200/hr. They also carried way more overhead than me, a solo designer who works from home, and they needed to compensate for it in their bids.
But none of this was transparent to the person or people who reviewed the four submitted bids. All they had to go by was the price. And my much lower price did not give them confidence in my ability to complete the project.
Since a young age, the world has conditioned us to associate excellent quality with a higher price. It’s the “you get what you pay for” way of thinking. The more you spend, the better the quality. The less you spend, and you’re taking chances.
I know someone who has several eBooks for sale on Amazon. She originally listed her books for $1.99 each. And every month, she sold roughly half a dozen books.
Then she read a report saying that $9.99 eBooks consistently outsell $1.99 ebooks on Amazon. The study determined that pricing it at $1.99 diminished the book’s perceived value no matter how good the content was. People didn’t believe that a $1.99 eBook could help them or was worth their time.
So she decided to raise the price of her books to $9.99. And you know what? Sales immediately went up. Instead of selling only a handful of books per month, he started selling several copies of each book per week.
Let’s look at it another way.
You have many options if you are hungry for a hamburger. You can get one at McDonald’s for $2, or you can choose to go to a fancy restaurant and order an $18 hamburger. I guarantee the $18 hamburger will taste better and be more satisfying. Because if that $18 burger tastes like a Mcdonald’s hamburger, you’re going to be mighty upset with your purchase.
That’s what clients think about you if you’re presenting yourself as the “Fancy Restaurant” of the design world.
When they hear you talk or visit your website or see your other marketing material, they will imagine a price range based on the quality of what you present them. That “$18 Hamberger,” if you will.
But if you then present your prices and they’re more in the “$2 hamburger” range, something will not feel right to them, and clients will second guess their decision to work with you. You’re lower prices may be impeding your business.
If you’ve been following Resourceful Designer for a while, you know that I started a side business designing for the podcast niche a couple of years ago.
There are many options available for people looking for podcast cover artwork. My site podcastbranding.co is one of the more expensive ones. And yet, I receive new orders every week. And when I ask why they chose me over any other option, they tell me it’s because of the professional look I put forward and how they thought it was worth the higher price.
Does that mean that everybody wants to work with me? Of course not. I know that many people see my prices and immediately leave my site. But it’s not because my prices are too high.
A business coach once told me there’s no such thing as being too expensive. Just that you may be unaffordable to some people. And that’s OK. But to those who can afford you, your prices will be just right.
Don’t fall into that rut where the brand image you’re putting out there says one thing about your business, but your prices say another. All you’ll be doing is confusing your potential clients. And when you confuse, you lose.
Take this time, and review your rates. Are they in line with your brand image? If not, then you should consider raising them. And you know what? I’m releasing this at the end of November, which means that the new year is just around the corner. And the new year gives you the perfect opportunity to introduce your new pricing.
Make sure your rates don’t conflict with your brand.
I first talked about checklists way back in episode 89 of Resourceful Designer. In it, I shared various types of checklists you can use for your business. I even shared my now outdated checklist for starting a new WordPress website.
Today, I’m not going to share checklist ideas with you. Instead, I want to talk about the importance of using checklists. To emphasize their importance, I want to start by telling you a story.
I heard this story while listening to an audiobook called My Best Mistake, Epic Fails and Silver Linings written by Terry O’Reilly. It’s a great book of stories about failures that led to amazing things. Check it out if you have the chance. One of the stories O’Reilly tells in the book inspired is what inspired what you’re reading here.
It’s estimated that the average American undergoes seven surgeries in a lifetime, and surgeons perform over 50 million surgeries annually. That’s a lot of operations.
In 2009, roughly 150,000 patients died immediately after surgery—3 times the number of fatalities from road accidents. What’s scary about that number is that half of those deaths were completely avoidable. That number caught the attention of Doctor Atul Gawande, a Boston surgeon and professor at Harvard Medical School.
It’s the 21st century. How can all these complications happen despite the accumulated knowledge of professionals? Gawande wondered if there was a way to reduce the number of operating room errors that resulted in these deaths. To find an answer, Gawande looked at other fields for ideas.
Back in 1935, The U.S. Army was looking for the next generation of long-range bombers. They held a competition between top airplane manufacturers to come up with a new design. Although the issued tender was fair for all involved. It was a known fact that Boeing’s technology was miles ahead of their rivals Martin and Douglas.
Boeing’s new Model 299 could fly faster than any previous bomber, travel twice as far, and carry five times as many bombs as the Army requested. The Army was prepared to order sixty-five of the aircraft before the competition was even over.
The big brass of the Army Air Corps gathered for the first test flight of the Model 299. The impressive machine took to the sky with its 103-foot wingspan and four gleaming engines (instead of the usual two found on most planes.) It was quite a sight to see.
As the plane took flight, it climbed to three hundred feet, stalled, and crashed in a fiery ball of flames. Two of the crew died that day, including the pilot who was the Army Air Corps’ chief of flight testing.
The Army decided to award the contract to Douglas instead. And Boeing almost went bankrupt.
However, The follow-up investigation revealed that there was nothing mechanically wrong with the plane. And it was determined that the crash was due to pilot error. But how could that be? How could the chief of flight testing, one of their most experienced pilots, make a mistake that would lead to the crash of such a sophisticated plane?
As the investigation showed, the Model 299 required the pilot to monitor the four engines. Each one requiring its own oil-fuel mixture. He also had to attend to the landing gear and wing flaps, adjust the electric trim to maintain stability at different airspeeds and regulate the constant-speed propellers with hydraulic controls. And that was only a few of the things on which the pilot needed to concentrate.
It turns out that while attending to all of these things, the pilot forgot to release a new locking mechanism on the elevator and rudder controls. It was a simple oversight that led to the crash.
Boeing was ready to scrap the plane, but a group of pilots believed the Model 299 was flyable. So they got together to find a solution. When they later approached Boeing, they didn’t request any mechanical changes to the plane. Nor did they think pilots needed to undergo extended training on how to fly it. Instead, they came up with a simple and ingenious solution. They created a pilot’s checklist.
They made a list that was short enough to fit on an index card. It covered all the mundane step-by-step tasks required for takeoff, flight, landing and taxiing. In other words, the checklist covered all the dumb stuff.
With the new checklist, pilots flew the Model 299 over 1.8 million miles without one single accident.
To distance themselves from the previous failure during the test flight, Boeing changed the name of their new plane to the B-17. The Army ordered 13,000 of them, which gave the Air Corps a decisive advantage in WWII. All because of a checklist.
Since the 1960s, nurses have relied on charts, a form of a checklist, to know when to dispense medicine, dress wounds, check pulse, blood pressure, respiration, pain level, etc. And although doctors would look at these charts when visiting a patient, they viewed these checklists as “nurse stuff.”
In the late 90s, a study determined the average hospital patient required 178 individual actions by medical staff per day. Any one of which could pose a risk. The researchers noted that doctors and nurses made errors in only 1% of these actions. But that still adds up to almost two errors per day, per patient.
When you multiply that by every hospital worldwide, it means millions of people around the globe are potentially harmed by the very medical staff assigned to help them.
In 2001, a doctor at Johns Hopkins designed a doctor’s checklist for putting in a central line; a tube inserted in a large vein used to administer medication. It’s a standard procedure that just about every doctor is familiar with. It was also a widespread cause of infection in patients.
So this doctor devised a simple checklist listing the five steps involved in carrying out the procedure. He then asked the nurses to observe the doctors for one month and record how often they carried out each step. They found that in over 1/3 of all patients, doctors omitted at least one of the five steps.
The following month, hospital administration instructed the nurses to insist doctors follow each of the steps. The doctors didn’t like being told what to do by the nurses, but the nurses had the backing of hospital administration, so they grudgingly complied. When the new data was later tabulated, they thought maybe a mistake had been made. The infection rate for central lines dropped from 11 percent to zero.
They continued the study for longer, to be sure, but the results were the same. It was estimated that a simple checklist had prevented 43 severe infections and possibly eight deaths in that one hospital, saving $2 million in costs.
And yet, even with this evidence, many doctors refused to grasp the importance of this precaution. They were offended by the very suggestion that they needed a checklist. They already had so much to do that they didn’t want one more sheet of paper to worry about.
To prove his point, the doctor who wrote the checklist introduced it to other hospitals in Michigan. There was pushback, but in just three months, the rate of bloodstream infections dropped by 66 percent. Many of the test hospitals cut their quarterly infection rate to zero. A cost savings of nearly $200 million. All because of a simple little checklist.
All checklists have an essential function. They act as a “mental net” to catch stupid mistakes.
In 2005, the director of surgical administrator in a Columbus, Ohio hospital created a checklist for operating rooms. It contained simple things such as verifying they had the correct patient on the table and the right body area prepared for the surgery. This little addition improved surgical success rates by 89%.
There’s a lot more to this story. In his book, O’Reilly shares stories of how more and more hospitals started implementing checklists for various things, but I’m not going to bore you with them.
Back to the original story. In 2008, after conducting his research, Atul Gawande devised a checklist to be tested by a group of pilot hospitals worldwide. Some operating rooms embraced it, while others protested it as a waste of time.
During a knee replacement surgery to be performed by one of the checklist’s most vocal critics, it was discovered while checking the boxes that the prosthesis on hand was the wrong size. If they had started the surgery, the patient might have lost his leg. That surgeon became an instant checklist evangelist.
In all the hospitals using the checklists, surgical teams began working better together, and the surgical success rates soared. Complications fell by 36 percent, deaths by 47 percent and infections by 50 percent. And patients needing return visits to the operating room fell by 25 percent.
What’s amazing about using checklists is that they dramatically improved an outcome without increasing skill or expenditure. Instead of adding rigidity to their lives, checklists free people by getting the dumb stuff out of the way.
Today, 90 percent of hospitals in North America and 70 percent worldwide use a checklist.
And you want to hear something funny. When Gawande’s original pilot project was completed, doctors were asked to fill out an anonymous survey. Seventy-eight percent said the checklist had prevented errors. But there was still 20 percent who didn’t like the checklist saying it took too long to implement and didn’t think it was worth it. However, when those 20 percents were asked if they had to undergo surgery, would they want the checklist to be used? Ninety-three percent of those who opposed the checklist said yes.
I hope you found these facts as interesting as I did.
Now you may be saying, sure, a checklist in a plane or an operating room makes sense. It can save lives, after all. But I run a graphic design business, so I’m good. I don’t need checklists.
I used to think that way as well. But remember, checklists are freeing because they help get the dumb stuff out of the way, which frees you up for the more important things you do.
I remember a couple of years ago. I was doing routine maintenance on one of my websites I had launched a couple of years prior. While verifying and updating things, I noticed something that almost made my heart stop. The little checkbox next to “Discourage search engines from indexing this site.” was still checked. Meaning, for close to two years, my website was telling search engines, “I’m good. Don’t pay any attention to me. Go look somewhere else.” That’s a stupid mistake that I could have avoided with the use of a pre-launch checklist.
Today, I have several checklists I use regularly. I now have a website pre-launch checklist. A WordPress install checklist. A first client contact checklist. A podcast client checklist. A Resourceful Designer podcast checklist. And many more.
As I said earlier, these checklists help ensure the dumb stuff gets done so that you can concentrate on the more important things without worrying.
If you are not already using checklists in your business, I suggest you start now. And if you think that your checklists are in your head, remember the story about doctors putting in a central line. There are only five steps involved, steps that every doctor knows. And yet, when observed, nurses noted that over 1/3 of all patients, doctors missed at least one of the five steps.
Your memory is failable. A checklist is not.
Let me tell you a story. It is a story that has nothing to do with graphic or web design, but it is relevant to running a business, and I'll tie that into running a design business if you stick around to the end.
We built our house in 2005. Or, more accurately, we had someone build our home in 2005.
If you've ever built your own home or know of someone who has, you know that it's a long and gruelling process. When you buy a pre-built house, you get what's there. Sure, you can renovate it. But until then, what you buy is what you get.
But when you build a home, you're starting with a blank slate. Think of it as opening a new document in Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign, or starting with a fresh installation of WordPress. What you do with it is entirely up to you. Building a home is like that.
When you build a home, you get to choose how many rooms it has and the size of each room. You get to select floorings such as tile, wood, or carpet. You get to choose the light fixtures, the plumbing fixtures, the windows, the door, etc. You decide everything that goes into your house.
My wife and I did that when we started the process for ours. One of the aspects we had to choose was the shingles for the roof. It sounds simple, but there are thousands of varieties and colours of shingles to select from.
My wife and I took many drives around different neighbourhoods, looking at roofs then trying to match those we liked with samples our contractor supplied us. In the end, we chose a nice brown multi-hued asphalt shingle that gave our home character. We loved it.
A couple of years ago, we started to notice these little grain-like substances appearing on our back deck. At first, we thought it was dirt. But we soon realized that it was debris falling from our shingles. There wasn't a lot of it, so we shrugged it off as peculiar.
Then last summer, the debris pieces started getting bigger and fell more often. And when we looked at our roof, we noticed the shingles were starting to turn up at the corners. We weren't happy about this but didn't know what we could do about it. So we let it go as a nuisance.
Well, this spring, when the snow melted, we were shocked to see a layer of dark brown debris on our deck, and our shingles curved and cracked much more than last summer. So I finally decided to take action.
I started by calling the contractor who built our house. When I explained the situation, he immediately knew what I meant. He had dealt with several other people facing the same problem. It turns out the singles on our roof had a defect. A big enough one that there was a class-action lawsuit filed and won against the manufacturer.
Our shingles have a 25-year warranty. According to the settlement, we're entitled to compensation for the unused portion of that warranty. The only specification is we have to replace them with a newer shingle by the same manufacturer.
I'm upset that I hadn't looked into the issue when we first discovered it. I could have received a more considerable compensation. But I'm glad there's something we can do.
Not knowing how to proceed, I asked my contractor for advice. He retired several years ago, but he gave me a name of a contractor he recommended who is familiar with the process. He suggested I contact him for a quote on redoing my roof, which I need for the claim process.
He also recommended I talk to his old foreman, who oversaw most of the homes he built, including mine. I called the foreman for advice. It turns out he's also retired, although more recently. He told me he had handled many of these shingle claims on behalf of other clients. And although he no longer does that, he would help me however he could.
He told me the first step was to get a quote from a qualified professional roofer. And the person he recommended was the same one my contractor had given me. The foreman had worked with him several times and was currently engaging him to build his new house.
Having received the same name from two trusted sources, I called this new contractor and left a message for him to call me back.
While waiting to hear back from him, I looked him up online. I read the Google and other reviews had nothing but good things to say about him, which boosted my confidence. I was eager to get the process started.
But several days passed, and the new contractor didn't return my call. So I called and left another message, and then a few days later another.
Finally, a week later, he called and apologized. He said the pandemic had taken a toll on his business. He lost several employees leaving him to juggle more than he usually did. This is understandable. The news is full of companies suffering due to staff shortages these days.
I explained my situation and what I required, and he agreed to stop by the next day to look at my roof. But he never showed up. Two days later, I called him, and once again, he apologized, saying he would be here the next day.
To his credit, he showed up. He spent almost an hour on my roof measuring and taking photos of all the problem areas for me to submit with the claim. Once done, he said he would send me the images and have a quote ready by the end of the week.
My wife and I are also thinking about adding a screened-off area to our back deck next summer, so while he was there, I asked him for a quote on that as well. He said I would have both quotes by Friday. But the end of the week came, and I didn't hear from him.
I waited until Wednesday the following week before calling. Once again, he apologized for the delay and said, once again, I would have the quotes by Friday.
Do you see a pattern here?
Friday came and went. On Monday, I called him, asking where my quotes were. He told me he couldn't send them because he didn't have my email address, which I had already provided him. I gave it to him again, and the following day I received the photos and the quote for my roof. The second quote for the screened-in porch was nowhere to be seen.
With the roof quote and photos of the damaged areas in hand, I filled out all the information required to submit my claim, including the material list the contractor supplied me.
Upon submission, I learned it could take up to 120 days before I get a response. In the meantime, no work was to be performed on my roof, in case they needed to send someone to inspect it.
I called the contractor, and I told him we couldn't move forward for possibly up to 120 days. But I would still like to book him for the job when the time comes. He told me it was not a problem. He could pencil me onto his schedule for the fall. All I had to do was let him know when we could proceed.
I also reminded him that he owed me another quote, to which he replied I would see it soon.
Now you may be thinking. This guy doesn't seem too reliable. Why not get someone else? Well, during the process, I did get two other quotes from other roofers. One I found online, and the other I remembered seeing when a neighbour had his roof done. Both were more expensive, and their online reviews were not as good as the contractor I was already dealing with. My neighbour even told me he wouldn't hire the same guy again. Plus, given the time frame of a 120-day wait, neither of them would guarantee they could repair my roof before winter.
Now true to form, it took exactly 120 days before I heard back that my claim was approved and I could move forward with the roof repair. I immediately called the contractor and left him a message saying we were good to go. And then I waited. Three days later, I called and left another message and waited some more.
Now I'm starting to get worried. Winter is fast approaching Eastern Ontario, and no roofing will be done once the snow starts falling. And my roof has deteriorated significantly over the summer to the point where I don't think we could last the winter without possible water damage.
Finally, a few days later, I heard from the contractor. He told me not to worry, he still has me on his schedule, and my roof will get done before winter. The next step is to choose what new shingles we want. He said he would drop off samples that afternoon. He never showed up. That was Tuesday.
On Wednesday, I called him. He apologized and said he would drop them off on Thursday morning before heading to his current project. He never showed up.
Today is Friday. I still don't have the shingle samples. And I no idea if or when he'll do my roof, even though he says not to worry, it'll be done before winter.
At this point, there's nobody else I can call. I have no choice but to rely on this person that I've lost all faith in. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that my roof gets repaired before snowfall.
So why did I share this with you? A story about my roof that has nothing to do with graphic or web design. It's because I wanted to share with you how NOT to run a business.
I had two people I trust recommend this guy. And his online reviews were great. So I had no reason to suspect the frustrations I would experience dealing with him.
But at this point, he could do the most fantastic job on my roof, and even if he offered me a discount because of the troubles, I would still never recommend him to anyone. His reputation is tarnished beyond repair.
That's the message I want you to take away from this story. It doesn't matter what sort of work you do for your clients. What matters is how you treat them. You may be a great designer, an amazing designer, in fact. But never forget that you're not the only designer around.
When a client calls or emails you, make sure you reply promptly. Even if it's only to say "thank you for the message." so they know you received it. That simple acknowledgement can go a long way in building trust.
If a client asks you to do something or send them something, make sure you follow through. If you're afraid you might forget, set a reminder on your phone or add it to your calendar. You can even stick a Post-It note to your monitor.
You want to build lasting relationships with your clients so they come back to you over and over again in the future. You'll never be able to do that if your reputation is tarnished. Because once you lose their trust. It's almost impossible to gain it back.
You won't believe this. As I was wrapping this up, the contractor showed up at my door with the shingle samples. He didn't even apologize for being late this time. He did, however, assure me that he would do my roof in three weeks. It's on his schedule, and I shouldn't worry. But you know I'll worry anyway, at least until the work is complete.
As for the quote for the screened porch for the deck? I still haven't seen it. But at this point, I don't care anymore. Once he's finished my roof, I never plan on hiring this guy again.
I hope none of your clients ever feel that way about you.
One of my professors made us critique our classmates’ projects at the end of every college assignment. Once we completed a design project, he would place everyone’s design at the front of the class, and one by one, he would select students and ask them to critique one of the projects.
The reason he did this was twofold. He wanted us to develop an eye towards examining other designs to both learn from them, which makes us better designers and seek aspects of the designs we would have done differently.
The other reason he held these critiques was to thicken our skin. As designers, we have to learn to take criticism of the works we create. If you are easily offended or don’t take well to people critically evaluating your creations this way, then maybe being a designer is not for you. Besides, what better way to learn than by hearing our fellow students dissect our works.
I can tell you that I learned a lot from hearing my classmates tear apart my work. But this exercise we conducted at the end of each project had another effect. You see, the professor wasn’t only evaluating our design work. He was also evaluating our critiques. He would point out when our comments were not helpful or ask us to expand on our observations to convey better what we were saying.
Even though every student dreaded these critiquing sessions, looking back, I’m grateful for them. It made me look at design through a different lens. It taught me the difference between giving a critique and offering constructive criticism. And that’s what I want to discuss with you today.
As you may be aware, there’s a Resourceful Designer Facebook group. In this group, or any other design group for that matter, including the Resourceful Designer Community. Designers often post their designs “for review.” Sometimes they are looking for advice. Sometimes it’s for validation. And sometimes, they’re looking for nothing more than an ego grab.
Regardless of their reasoning for posting their work, I can’t help but shake my head at some of the comments they receive. Comments which supposedly come from experienced designers, and yet, they’re of no value to the person posting their design.
So I want to talk to you about my method of critiquing. Is my method the proper right way of offering critiques? Of course not. I’m not saying what you’re doing is wrong, and you should do it my way. I’m hoping that after hearing what I have to say, you may take an extra moment to contemplate your response the next time someone asks you to critique their work.
Let’s start with when you should be asking for critiques. In my opinion, there are four stages of a design project when you should ask for critiques.
Let’s break those down.
The beginning of a design project is when the work is most fluid. It’s the point when the design could take off in any direction. If you are working on a logo project, you may sketch out dozens or hundreds of concepts before narrowing it down to the ones you want to develop further.
During this stage, it’s not uncommon to show your favourite concepts to someone to get another opinion. You’re not asking for critiques of the actual designs, but more of the overall direction you are taking. It’s a great way to validate that you are starting on the right path before getting too far down the road.
Another set of eyes can help spot the stronger designs and weed out the weaker ones. It is beneficial for someone who has been staring at them for a long time which diminishes your objectivity.
So asking for critiques during the initial concept stage can quickly help you determine what direction the rest of the design project will take.
We’ve all been there, you’re designing away on something you initially thought was great, but all of a sudden, you doubt yourself. Something about the design isn’t sitting right with you, but you can’t figure out what. This is the perfect opportunity to get another set of eyes on it.
Sometimes, another uninvested designer can look at a design and spot the flaws that you’ve become blind to. So any time you hit a roadblock or start to doubt something about your work, ask someone to critique it.
You’ve completed your design. You’ve polished it up and are ready to present it to your client. Now is the perfect time to show it to others first, just in case there’s something you’re not seeing.
It’s not a good feeling to tell a client after presenting something to them that you need to make a change. It tarnishes the mantle of “expert” they’ve placed over you. It’s even worst if the client points out any flaws to you.
To prevent this, it’s a good idea to ask for critiques before presenting your work to the client.
There is potentially a lot of money involved in a print run. You do not want to find out after the fact that there was an issue with your design.
If you’re a solo designer, I highly suggest you find someone or a group of people like in the Resourceful Designer Community that can review your work before you hand it off to the printer.
Digital work isn’t as critical since it can always be corrected after the fact. But it still reflects poorly on you if you published something with errors or flaws. To prevent this from happening, ask for critiques before sending a project to print or launch.
Those are the four times when you should be asking for critiques of your work. That doesn’t mean you should limit it to those times. At any point during a project, you can ask someone to look over what you’ve done. But even if you’re confident in what you are doing, these four critique points should not be ignored.
Let’s look at how to ask for critiques. Posting a design and asking “What do you think?” is not the right way. Without any context, you’re just opening yourself up to a bevy of unhelpful answers.
Not useful answers.
What you want to do is make it easy for the person to critique your work. After all, you are asking them to devote a bit of their precious time to help you. The least you can do is make it easier for them to offer their assistance by giving you the advice you can use. A tiny bit of effort on your part will benefit both you and the person critiquing your work.
The proper way to ask for critiques involves three key elements.
Let’s look at each of those.
If you are asking me to critique a logo, it would be nice to know, at minimum, in what industry the client works. Is “Bluebird” the name of a restaurant? Is it a bus line? A band? A children’s clothing line? Without this context, how am I supposed to give you a proper critique of your design?
You don’t have to provide an in-depth project brief. But a short description of who the client is, their location, what services or products they are offering and who their target market is will help me greatly when offering my opinion on your design.
Was there anything that limited what you can or cannot do with the design you’re creating? Did the client insist you use a sans serif font? Were you limited to specific corporate colours? Was there a particular element you needed to incorporate into the design?
Knowing these things will help people form their critique. If I know you were limited to sans serif fonts, I won’t recommend a serif font. I won’t comment on the colours if I know you had no choice but to use the ones you did. And if I know the client wants a nautical theme; I won’t recommend you use a train in your design.
Knowing what parameters you face will help people give you a better critique.
Finally, if you want an overall opinion of the design, great, say so. But if you want to know about a particular aspect of it, let people know.
If all you’re interested in is whether or not the size of the icon is appropriate to the size of the logotype, then say that’s what you are looking for. There’s no sense in someone dissecting the rest of the design if that’s all you want to know.
Suppose you are designing a poster and want to know if the visual hierarchy is working. Ask people to list in order what they think are the most critical areas of the sign.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting a critique of an overall design. But if all you need is for someone to verify one aspect of your project, then save both of us some time by saying so up front.
And now the good part, giving critiques.
Critiques are a learning experience for both you and the person you are critiquing. It helps hone your design skills by spotting ways you think a design can be improved. It may also show you things you may not have considered before. And it helps the person receiving the critique by offering them a different approach to their design.
Design is subjective. No two designers think the same way. Just because it’s not how you would design it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong or doesn’t work. It just means that you would have done it differently.
As the title of this episode states. A good critique should offer constructive criticism: meaning, the suggestions you make. And keep in mind, a critique is just that, suggestions. The suggestions you offer should have a reason behind them.
That’s it. If you can offer these four things when giving a critique, you provide helpful advice to the person asking. Let’s look at each one.
It’s tough to offer a good critique of an overall design. Most likely, whatever you have to say pertains to a particular part of the design. Therefore, the first thing you should do is identify what part of the design you refer to.
Say you think the website header, or logo icon, or newsletter masthead needs something. Pinpointing areas of a design allows you to break up your critique into actionable sections.
Critique individual elements, not the design as a whole.
It’s much easier to convince someone to change something if you can explain what you believe is wrong with the way it is now.
For example: Explaining how the connecting letters in a script font are hard to make out and could be interpreted in the wrong way will go a long way in helping you convince them to change the font in their design.
Or pointing out that the colours of the font and the background it’s on are too similar in hue and may cause legibility issues for visually impaired people. It helps strengthen your argument towards changing the colours in the design.
So whenever possible, please explain why you believe the current way is lacking before you offer suggestions on how to change it.
Remember how I said that no two designers are the same? That means that what you think is the right way may not be what the next designer thinks is right.
Sure there are some things on which most of us agree. But innovative designers have successfully challenged tried and true design principles. It’s how design evolves.
Do you know the saying “Blue and green should never be seen except for inside a washing machine”? There was a time when no designer would use blue and green together. And yet, nowadays, it’s a common combination.
So just because you think something doesn’t look right doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong. I’m personally not a fan of the street art grunge style of design. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a viable design choice. Just not something I would choose.
Keeping that in mind, form your opinions as suggestions when critiquing someone’s work. Let them know how you would do it differently. Then let them decide if it’s something they want to pursue.
And don’t be offended if they choose not to listen to you. After all, no two designers...
Finally, state why you believe making your suggested changes will improve the design.
The best way to win an argument is by offering your opinion and explaining why it’s so. No designer should change their design without a good reason. And “I think it would look better in red” is not a good reason.
Explaining that red is a more passionate colour that encourages people to make spur-of-the-moment decisions is a convincing argument for why they should change the colour.
You don’t have to get philosophical with your answers. Sometimes the “Why” behind your suggestion is simple. Increasing the space between the text and the underline will make it easier to read when reduced. Simple.
So whenever possible, state why you believe making your suggested changes will improve the design.
Critiques are hard. Both receiving them and giving them. But critiques are also how we improve. If nobody ever critiqued your work, you would never get better at what you do. And if you never take the time to critique another design, you’ll never learn new things.
In fact, I bet you critique other designs all the time. I know I critique every billboard, website, bumper sticker, t-shirt, etc. that I see. I’m always thinking of how I would have done it differently or mentally filing away a good design idea so that I can steal it for a future project. I can’t help it. I’m a designer. You probably do the same.
Critiques. They’re the bane of our existence and the fuel that propels us. We wouldn’t be designers without critiques. But always remember, Critiques are just suggestions.
As I mentioned several times already, no two designers think the same way. So, just because someone says a design element should be changed doesn’t necessarily mean you should change it. You need to weigh what you know about the project, about yourself as a designer, about the client, and what you know about the person whose recommendations you are thinking of following.
The best and most valuable critiques come from people you know and trust. If a stranger says something should be green, however, your trusted design colleague thinks it should be blue. Chances are you’re going to lean towards making it blue. That’s why being a part of a design group like a Facebook group, or even better, the Resourceful Designer Community, can be such a benefit. Listen to and learn from the people you know.
In episode 105 of the podcast Coping With Isolation When Working From Home, I discussed how isolation is a significant concern for anyone running a home-based design business. Spending day after day with minimal contact with other people can take its toll on someone. In that episode, I gave recommendations for overcoming that feeling of isolation. One of those recommendations was having a pet.
Having a pet in the house can be very therapeutic. Petting a dog or is proven to reduce stress and anxiety. Dogs are great listeners. When you talk to them, they give you their undivided attention. And best of all, it’s without judgement.
For the past 17 years, we’ve had at least one dog in the house. For several years we had three, and then two, and for the past three years, just one, Whisper, our Shetland Sheepdog. This past Saturday, we had to put Whisper down. So for the first time in 17 years, we don’t have a dog in the house.
I’m not telling you this to gain your sympathy. However, your thoughts and well wishes are appreciated. I’m telling you this because it’s essential to what I want to talk about today. I’ve been running my design business full-time from home for over 15 years. Meaning this is the first time I’m working without a canine companion by my side.
I’m recording this on Friday. It’s been six days without a dog; five of them have been workdays. And already, I notice how it’s affecting me.
I’m not talking about feeling sad that Whisper is gone. I mean, yes, I’m sad. But that’s not the effect to which I’m referring. I’m talking about my work habits and how things have changed in just a few short days.
For those of you who are not pet owners, let me paint a picture for you of a day in the life of a dog dad. Or at least the way it was for me.
Every morning after my wife left for work; I would feed the Whisper. She would get all excited as I prepared her dish and then gobble up all the kibble once I put it down. Then I would go about my morning routine to get ready for my day. Once done, and enough time had passed, I put the dog out. Sometimes I would go outside with her, and sometimes not.
I would use this time with our previous dogs to take them for a walk around the block. But Whisper had medical issues that prevented her from walking for long distances. She was content to mosey around the backyard at her own pace. When she was ready to come in, she would bark. At that point, it was time for me to get to work.
Sometimes, later in the morning, she would bark to go outside again. I’d get up from my computer, walk to the back door and put her out before returning to work, keeping an ear out for when she barks to come back in.
At lunchtime, after eating my meal, I would often go outside with her to walk around. Shetland Sheepdogs are herding dogs, so I would walk around the backyard or sometimes around the house in random patterns, and Whisper would slowly follow me. I would do this for half an hour or so before coming back inside to work.
Then, sometime around 3 pm, which was doggie snack time, Whisper would let me know she wanted a treat. I’d get up from my computer, go to the kitchen and select one of the many varieties of goodies we had for her. I’d make her do some small trick to earn the reward, give her the treat, and then put her out again. Once she was back inside, I was pretty good for the rest of the day until my wife got home.
That was pretty well my daily routine.
But this past week, without Whisper to take care of, things changed a lot. After my wife left in the morning, I got ready and immediately got to work. I sat at my computer until 12 to 12:30, when I finally got up to eat. I spent maybe 15-20 minutes preparing and consuming my lunch before going straight back to work until my wife came home. This was my new routine every day this week. In fact, except for a quick appointment on Tuesday, where I was back home within the hour. I have not stepped foot outside my house this week.
I know that many designers are introverts, myself included. And you may think the idea of not going out sounds great. But it’s not sustainable. At least not if you want to remain healthy.
On Wednesday, when my wife got home, she commented on what a beautiful day it was. I hadn’t realized it. I don’t even know if I looked out the window throughout the day.
Now I don’t know if this is because of the extra workload I currently have. I’ve taken on several new projects this month, and it’s caused me to fall a bit behind on my design work. And this past week has been exceedingly hectic. I’m hoping that’s all it is because I’m already seeing the effects after just one week.
I’ve been trying to lose weight. My blood pressure is a bit elevated, and I’m hoping that losing some weight will help get it back under control. And yet, when I weighed myself this morning, I was 3.25 KG or just over 7 lbs heavier than I was at this time last week. So not only did I gain weight this week. But I gained more this past week than I have any other week over the past year.
I know my eating habits haven’t changed. If anything, I ate less this past week because I wasn’t grabbing snacks throughout the day whenever I got up from my computer. But my activity level sure has gone down. It wasn’t like I was doing heavy cardio before. But no longer getting up from my computer a few times a day or spending 30 minutes walking around the yard with Whisper shows its effect. And I need to change things and change them fast.
Yes, we will eventually get a new dog. But until then, I’m going to have to consciously make an effort to get up and move throughout the day.
Maybe it’s paying closer attention to my Apple Watch will help. It reminds me every so often to stand up. But I long ago conditioned myself to ignore that prompt. I know I can turn it off in the settings if I don’t want to see it, but that defeats the good intentions even if I don’t follow through.
But I have to do something. If I don’t, I’m afraid the time and effort I’ve put into losing the weight I have so far will have been for naught. This adds one more reason for me to look forward to our next dog.
But this isn’t just about me. You may be in a similar situation.
If you’re lucky, you have a dog to remind you to get up and move from time to time. But if not. What are you doing to motivate yourself to do so?
There are many ways isolation can take a toll on you both physically and mentally. I talked about them back in episode 105. But until this past week, I had never experienced this sedentary lifestyle. At least not to this extent. And there’s a danger in that.
As home-based designers, we need to take responsibility for our health and well-being. And that includes a certain amount of activity during your day.
Seeing that jump on the scale this morning emphasized this problem for me. It’s only been a week. What if I had waited a month before weighing myself? How bad would the damage have been then?
Is it possible that the scale would have gone up even if I was still following my routine of taking care of Whisper? Sure, it’s possible. But I’m not too fond of the coincidence.
You need to sacrifice a lot of yourself if you want to run a successful design business. There’s your time, of course. There are also your relationships with family and friends that may suffer to an extent. Your sanity may take a toll, depending on the clients you work with, and so on. But that investment in your business shouldn’t come at the cost of your health.
I didn’t realize how the little bit of activity I did each day could add up. Or the effects of eliminating that activity would have on me. And I’m glad it only took me a week to realize it. Now that I know. I can remedy it. As soon as I finish this, I plan on going for a walk around the block. It looks like a nice day outside, so I might as well take advantage of it.
But what are you doing to help yourself? How many hours do you spend at your computer or workstation without getting up? What can you do to increase your daily activity level?
It doesn’t take much, you know. So make an effort. Whatever you’re doing now, try to do more tomorrow, the next day and so on. Because the healthier you are, the longer you’ll be around to run your design business. So it will pay off in more ways than one.
I don’t have the one true answer to this question. I wish I did. Every person, including you, has to find their solution to this problem. But it should be searching for something.
And if you do have a solution that works for you, please share it with me. Let me know how do you remind yourself to stay active, especially during the workday. Please send me a message.
Let me ask you a question. Does being a designer, either graphic, web, UX, UI or whatever, qualify you to run your own design business? Some people may say yes. After all, are there any differences between designing something for an employer or an employer's clients and designing something for your own clients? Not really. I'll concede that the design skills you use are the same in both instances.
However, just because the design skills are the same doesn't qualify a designer to run their own design business.
Does education play into it? Is someone who attended design school somehow more qualified to run their own design business than someone who learned their skills on their own? The school-taught designer may have some business credits under their belt. But arguably, educational background or lack thereof doesn't qualify or disqualify a designer from running their own business.
No, in my opinion, and I do understand that my opinion may be wrong, but it's still my opinion. Is that what differentiates a designer who is qualified to run their own design business and one who isn't is their personality. Or, more accurately, personalities.
Last week, I told you there were two roles to running a design business: a designer and a business owner. That's a very simplified approach, and it worked for last week's episode. But the truth of the matter is, there are way more than just two roles to running a successful design business. To do it right, you need to have many personalities. And I'm not just talking about the obvious ones.
and so on and so on.
Being a designer means you should be somewhat proficient or have a working knowledge of some if not all of these skills.
I'm not an illustrator. But that doesn't mean I can't draw. I can; I'm just not that good at it. My drawing skills are marginal at best. But they've gotten me out of several pinches over the years. Skills like these are something every designer needs to be acquainted with, regardless of whether they are working for someone else or self-employed.
When I say that a design business owner has to have many personalities, I'm thinking much deeper. In most situations, a self-employed or freelance designer will develop a much deeper relationship with their clients than someone employed as a designer. That relationship is deeper because it's their client.
When I used to work at the print shop, I worked with many regular clients. Most of them I got along with exceptionally well. But regardless of how well we worked together, they weren't my clients. They were the print shop's clients. When I left the print shop to start my own full-time design business, almost all of the clients I worked with remained there and were assigned a new designer to work with them. Only a handful of clients followed me to my new business. And you know what? The relationship we had formed at the print shop grew exponentially once they were MY CLIENTS.
Why did our relationship grow? It's because I was invested in those clients in a way that I never was at the print shop.
For one thing, when I was at the print shop, if something went wrong with a client's project, I might get some of the blame. But it's the print shop's reputation that took the major hit. And if something went right, for example, if a design won an award which happened on several occasions. The designer would get a mention, but the print shop got most of the recognition and glory.
Once I was on my own, and they became my clients, I was much more invested in them because anything that went wrong reflected directly on me, which could affect my business. And anything that went right meant more recognition for me.
But I'm starting to drift back towards the design part of the job. And once again, that part can be done by any designer. The business side, however, that side requires something special. It requires the designer to put their many personalities to use, building and strengthening the relationships with their clients.
You're probably wondering what the heck I'm talking about. So let me describe some of the many personalities a design business owner must-have.
Just like how a practicing psychologist is trained to assess and diagnose problems in thinking, feeling and behaviour to help people overcome or manage their problems. A freelance designer must do the same with their clients. It's your job to assess and diagnose and find a way to overcome the problems your clients are facing.
In many cases, the problems your clients think they are facing may not be the actual problem. You must use your psychology skills to weed through and decipher everything the client tells you to figure out the root of the real problem. Only then can you offer them the proper solution.
Many designers will give a client what they want. It would be best if you strived to do better by giving the client not what they want but what they need. Your psychologist personality can help you with that.
A mediator's job is to facilitate a conversation between two or more people to help them resolve a dispute. A mediator is trained to establish and maintain a safe, confidential, communicative process and help participants reach an agreement independently.
If you've ever had to present a proposal to a committee, I can almost guarantee that your mediator personality was front and centre.
As a mediator, your job is to ensure that all involved parties agree on how a project proceeds. This may involve getting clients to compromises on specific aspects of a project and convincing them to let go of particular ideas. Without this agreement between all parties, any design project will struggle.
It's your job as the designer to ensure that everyone is satisfied. Your mediator personality can help you with that.
As the mediator, a negotiator's job is to communicate with clients to negotiate and establish sales. All while building positive relationships in the process.
Your negotiator skills will come in especially handy when pitching larger projects. A client may love your ideas, but not so much the price tag associated with those ideas.
As a negotiator, it's your job to show the client why your proposal is worth the investment on their part. And should the price of a project remain a deciding factor, your negotiating skills will allow you to cut back on details of your proposal in a way that still satisfies the client's needs and, more importantly, meet the client's budget.
Your negotiator personality can help you with that.
A salesperson's job is to find prospective clients, identify their challenges and needs, and ultimately find them a solution. Any time you correspond with a potential new client, it's your salesperson personality that's talking. This personality's job is to build trust and ultimately convince a potential client of the benefits of working with you.
This personality is the one that should be front and center any time you are out networking or any time someone asks what you do for a living or inquires about your business and services. The more adept you are with your salesperson personality, the more successful your design business will be.
You usually think of a babysitter as someone in charge of taking care of someone else's child or children. Their responsibilities include making sure the children are safe, getting the care and attention they deserve, and adhering to their parent's standards.
Think of the assets a client bestows you as their children. Because in a way, they are. Their logo, their images, their brand assets and styling, are all entrusted to you. You are responsible for ensuring they are taken care of, kept safe, get the attention they deserver, and adhere to the client's standards.
In some cases, you are the one who developed those standards. But often enough, you will be entrusted with your client's "children" and expected to take care of them. Your babysitter personality better be up to the task.
A researcher's job is to collect, organize, analyze, and interpret data and opinions, explore issues, solve problems and predict trends. Sound familiar?
If you've ever held a discovery meeting with a client or have investigated a client's target market and competition, you were using your researcher personality.
Nurturing this personality is crucial to your growth as a designer and as a business owner. The more you can learn about your clients, their strengths and weaknesses, the markets they're in, the hurdles and challenges they face, the competition they're up against, the benefits they offer and how they can differentiate themselves, the better equipped you will be to do your job.
Not to mention the higher prices you'll be able to charge.
It was Abraham Lincoln who said, "If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe." Think of research as that first 45 minutes. The better you do it, the easier the rest of your tasks will be. That's where your researcher's personality comes in.
A teacher is someone who instructs. Their job is to ensure someone knows the outcome of whatever it is they are teaching. An educator, on the other hand, is someone who gives intellectual, moral and social instructions.
In other words, an educator not only wants you to know the outcome, but they also want you to understand the reasons for the outcome. It's the difference between telling a client their idea won't work and explaining why a different approach might be a better option.
The more you can educate a client in how design works, the better they will become as clients. Not only that, but the more you educate your clients, the higher they'll regard and trust your opinions.
Don't teach them; educate them if you want to build a deep and lasting relationship with your clients. They'll thank you, or should I say your educator personality, for the knowledge.
I could go on and on. There are so many personalities involved with running a design business. Some days you may have to be a coach and some days a councillor. You regularly need to be a tactician to keep on track of your ever-evolving schedule. And at times, you become an advisor or consultant to your clients. And if you're lucky, a confidant.
Now, of course, you don't actually switch between one personality and another. they should all be present in some capacity in every client dealing you have. They're what make you who you are.
Your goal should be to nurture each one of these personalities to become the best, most rounded design business owner you can be.
With all of these personalities behind you, you become a force to be reckoned with. And clients will be begging to work with you.
I started by saying that what qualifies a designer to run their own business are these many personalities. And I hinted that designers who work for someone else might lack these personalities and therefore not make good design business owners. But that's not true. I believe everyone has these and many more personalities within them. It's only a matter of accessing and nurturing them.
Just like a muscle, if you don't use it, it will atrophy. So will these personalities.
If you work at an agency and someone else deals with the clients while you do the design work, you'll have little chance to practice your selling skills. You'll probably never get an opportunity to negotiate with a client or mediate a committee. I want you to be aware that these are skills you will need should you ever want to become a freelancer. And if you are not used to using these skills, you may have a difficult time at the start.
But just like a muscle, the more you work it, the stronger it becomes. And it's the same for running a design business. The more you work at it, the better you'll become.
After all, you have to start somewhere. And that's where your optimist personality comes in.
As a freelance designer, you will face peaks and valleys while running your business.
I've said it before, and I'll repeat it. There's nothing better than working for yourself. From deciding who you want to work with to how much you want to charge for your work. Being your own boss is, well, liberating.
As your own boss, you get to set your own hours. Want to waste time during the day and work at night? That's your prerogative. Feel like getting away for a few days? Go ahead. You don't need permission to take time off.
When you're working for yourself, you get to chose where and how you want to work. If you feel like spending the day at a coffee shop working away on your laptop, you can. If you feel like hunkering down at home to avoid all distractions, go for it. As a self-employed designer, a freelancer if you will, you have the freedom to make your destiny. I don't think there's any better career than that.
However, I will give kudos to one aspect of working as a design employee for someone else—a steady paycheque.
With all the restrictions, limitations and handholding that may come with being an employee, the one bright light is the knowledge that every week or two, on schedule, a predetermined amount of money gets deposited into your bank account. This money shows up regardless of how busy or not busy you were. This steady paycheque may be the only way that being a designer trumps being a freelancer.
It's true. As a self-employed designer, a freelancer, you never know when or where you'll get your next payment. Nor how much it will be. And that can cause a lot of stress in your life, especially if you are the primary breadwinner in your household. Because even though your income may be unpredictable, your monthly expenses are not. They show up right on schedule regardless of the balance in your bank account.
I wish I could tell you there's a simple solution to this dilemma, but there isn't. Ask any self-employed designer, and they'll let you know of their experiences navigating these peaks and valleys. Peaks when work, and of course income is in abundance. And valleys when they become scarce. There is no solution if you want to remain a freelancer.
However, there are ways to mitigate the problem so peaks and valleys even out over time. Here's what's worked for me and some other methods I've heard work for other designers.
Recurring revenue is as it sounds. It's revenue (or income) that recurs regularly.
The best way to acquire recurring revenue is by offering a retainer to your clients. I talked about retainer agreements in episode 32 of the podcast and again in episode 255. The gist of a retainer agreement is offering an ongoing service to your clients that they pay for regularly.
In some cases, you may have to sacrifice some income for the guarantee of this recurring revenue. For example, If your hourly rate is $100, you may want to offer a retainer where, if a client guarantees to pre-purchase 10 hours of your time per month, you'll only charge them $90/hr for them.
Or if a client asks you to design social media posts regularly. You could offer a retainer agreement where they guarantee to pay a fixed fee for a certain number of graphics every month.
Since retainer agreements are guaranteed recurring revenue, they act as a regular paycheck similar to what you'd get as a design employee. Some designers work exclusively on retainer agreements, allowing them to predict how much money they earn each month.
There's a lot more to retainer agreements than just this. I suggest you listen to episodes 32 and 255 of the podcast if you want to learn more about them. But suffice it to say, retainer agreements are a great way to even out the peaks and valleys.
Website maintenance agreements.
Another form of recurring revenue if you're a web designer is to offer a website maintenance agreement. A website maintenance agreement states that you will secure, update and take care of a client's website for a fixed monthly fee. It's kind of an insurance polity for their website.
Website maintenance agreements require very little time and effort on your part and offer peace of mind to your clients.
Selling digital products.
Another form of recurring revenue, although not as steady or predictable as retainer agreements or maintenance agreements, is selling digital goods and products.
You are a designer, a creative visionary. Why not use the design skills you offer your clients and put them to use for yourself? There are many platforms such as Creative Market or Design Cuts where you sell your creative wares. These offerings are available for purchase by other creatives and people who need certain assets but may not have the skills to create them themselves.
I've created dozens of designs that I sell on various print-on-demand platforms. I get paid any time someone buys a t-shirt, coffee mug, phone case or sticker with one of my designs on it. This is another form of a digital product.
For me, it's not enough to make a living. At least not with my few dozen designs I sell. But every month, I receive anywhere between $70 - $120 for my designs. Some of them I created years ago, and I'm still collecting money from them. And I'm sure if I dedicated the time to make more of these designs regularly, I could generate a more considerable recurring income.
To learn more about selling digital products, listen to episode 155 of the podcast, where I talked about this exact topic with Tom Ross, the founder of Design Cuts.
So, all in all, recurring revenue is a great way to even out the peaks and valleys you'll encounter as a freelance designer.
Promote when you're busy.
There are other things you can do to help ease the peaks and valleys situation. One of the best pieces of advice I've ever heard is "Promote your business when you're busy." It's a case of don't wait until you're thirsty to dig a well.
It sounds crazy. When you're pulling your hair out because you have too many projects on the go and deadlines quickly approaching, the last thing on your mind is drumming up more work. But believe it or not, that's precisely the time you should be promoting your business. Why? Because marketing takes time to germinate.
The more you promote your business while you're busy and experiencing one of those peaks in workload, the less deep the valleys will be that you'll have to navigate once the work rush dies down. If you do this right, you may be able to raise those lulls to the point where instead of peaks and valleys, you'll be cruising across an even plain.
I know what you're thinking. If I'm that busy, how will I find the time to promote my design business? To that, let me say: Promoting your design business doesn't require a massive advertising campaign. All it takes is sending off a few emails to idle clients to ask how they're doing and if there's anything you can do for them. It doesn't take much. And if you do it right, your peaks and valleys won't be that severe.
Draw a salary from your business.
There's another way for you to lessen the impact of peaks and valleys. Remember when I said the one benefit of being a design employee is the regular paycheque? Want to know a little secret? You can make yourself a design employee of your own freelance design business and have the best of both worlds.
What? No way! Yes, way. I know many designers who do just this. They treat themselves as an employee and draw a regular paycheck from their own business. Here is how it works.
All revenue earned from design work, recurring revenue, and selling digital products belongs to your design business. It all goes into a business bank account and gets treated the same way any other company treats its capital assets. From that pool of money, you, the designer, draw a salary.
Running your company this way puts the burden of dealing with the peaks and valleys on your business and not on you, the designer. As far as you're concerned, those peaks and valleys even out because you draw the same salary every week regardless of the business' income. This method spreads out your income evenly over time. Let me give you an example.
Let's use some round numbers here and say you make your salary $500/week. One week you take on a $1200 web project. That $1200 is deposited into your business's bank account, and from it, you withdraw your weekly $500 salary, leaving $700 in the bank.
The following week things are slow, and the only work you get is a $300 poster design. That $300 is deposited into the bank, bringing the balance up to $1000. At the end of the week, you withdraw your $500 salary, which leaves $500 in the business bank account. Enough for your next week's salary should no work come in.
Here's the fun part. At any point, as the funds in the business' bank increase, you can always pay yourself a bonus. The other benefit is since the business has this money, it's available for business purchases such as new equipment or subscriptions and doesn't have to come out of your pocket, which lessens the hurt of spending it.
I know many designers who use this model. In most cases, those designers run their businesses as LLCs or some other form of corporation. I have my business set up as a sole proprietorship, so it's not easy to separate the business from myself.
I even know some designers who use a third-party employee payment service to prevent them from dipping into the business' bank account.
The best thing you can do is check with your accountant to see if this is a good model for you. It may offer tax benefits for you as well, especially if your business is incorporated.
Raise your rates.
The last idea I want to share with you has to do with the rates you charge. Many designers who switch from full-time employment to freelancing use their full-time salary to base their freelance rates. Don't. As a freelancer, you are expected to charge more.
If you were making $25/hr working for someone else, you should be charging your clients double or triple or even more for your services.
As a self-employed designer, you have to pay for your own benefits. Three are no sick days or vacation pay, or parental leave. You have to make sure you are compensated for the risk of lost income due to anything from medical emergencies to vacations in the tropics.
Call the higher rates you charge a form of self-insurance. You should make sure the money you earn today when things are going well will get you through the times when work dries up. You do this by charging enough to make sure your future is covered.
Not sure how to raise your rates? Luckily for you, I wrote a blog post on this exact topic.
It's up to you to deal with the peaks and valleys of freelancing.
These are some ideas for dealing with the peaks and valleys of a freelance income. It may sound daunting and stressful. And knowing about these peaks and valleys may have you thinking that working for someone else is looking more appealing. But if you can learn how to manage the fluctuating income of running your own design business. Chances are you'll not only outearn your employed counterpart. But you'll enjoy greater job security, autonomy and flexibility.
A 2018 study by Upwork shows that nearly three-quarters of full-time freelancers report earning more than when they had a full-time job. And 87% are optimistic about their future careers. In fact, more than half of respondents say no amount of money would get them to switch back to being full-time employees working for someone else. I know that's how I feel.
Remember, running your own design business is two jobs–a designer and a business owner. When you're pursuing your passion, it's easy to get caught up in the former and forget about the latter. If all of your focus is on your design work, you're only doing half your job. It's that business owner side that needs to do whatever you can to ensure those inevitable valleys you'll face are not as deep as they could be. You do that by following the advice I just shared with you.
One last thing.
I've been talking about these valleys as if they are a terrible thing. Something you should try to eliminate if at all possible. But when they do happen, and they will, try to enjoy those slower times. Use them to your advantage. Get out there and network. Contact old clients you haven't heard from in a while. Work on personal projects you've been neglecting. And make sure you use those slow times to work on your business. You know, all the things you told yourself you'd get to one day.
Heck, You can even use some of that slow time to relax and enjoy life. After all, when you're in a valley, it just means there is another peak on the horizon.
Earlier this week, a member of the Resourceful Designer Community was seeking advice. A potential client contacted her asking if she designs book covers, which she does. Before replying to this unknown person, she decided to investigate who they were. She discovered that this potential client is an author. And the subject they write about is something the design is strongly against.
The Community member wanted our advice on how to proceed. Should she turn down the client, or should she wait to hear more about the project before deciding?
As always, when someone asks a question in the Community, she received lots of great advice. The consensus was she should hear them out before deciding what to do. After all, their new book might not have anything to do with the subject of their previous books.
But this posed a bigger question. What reasons are there to turn down a lucrative design project?
In episode 133 of Resourceful Designer, I shared 12 Red Flags For Spotting Bad Design Clients. Most of those Red Flags only become visible after you’ve started working with a client. Stuff such as the client being rude to you or inconsistent communication.
In the episode after that one, episode 134, I shared ways to turn away clients politely. It included sample scripts you can copy and paste for yourself. You may want to refer to that episode after you’ve finished listening to this one. Some of those scripts apply to today’s topic.
It’s one thing to spot the red flags once you’ve started working with a client. But how can you avoid ever working with them in the first place? And why would you want to turn them down? After all, we’re in this business to make money. And when you’re first starting, it may seem like a foreign concept to turn down a paying gig.
What I can tell you is that after 30+ years of working with design clients, knowing when a client isn’t a good fit and how to turn them down becomes a top priority whenever you meet a potential new client. You’re better off putting your time and energy into finding better clients to work with.
If you’re a long-time follower of Resourceful Designer, you’ve heard me many times before say that you don’t work for your clients. You work with them. You need to consider every client relationship as a partnership. At least for the duration of the project. That may be only a couple of days or weeks. But it could also turn into something much longer. So you need to ask yourself every time you meet a potential new client. Is this someone I would like to partner with, yes or no?
There are many reasons why you shouldn't work with a client. Some of them are nefarious reasons.
There could also be legitimate reasons for not working with a client. These reasons have nothing to do with the client persé and more with you.
All good reasons to turn down a client. But, ultimately, the biggest contributing factor to whether or not you should work with a client is your gut. Trust your gut. It’s seldom wrong.
Mike, a founding member of the Resourceful Designer Community, gave the best answer to the original question. Whenever Mike finds himself in a situation where he’s uncertain about a potential client, he asks himself three questions.
Think about that. Any time you say yes to something, it means you’re inadvertently saying no to something else. There’s always something that has to give, even if it’s your personal or family life.
If taking on this new project means neglecting another client’s project, it may not be a good idea, especially if the existing client’s project is more profitable.
Likewise, if taking on this project means you’re going to lose out on time with your spouse or kids, it may not be a good idea. The extra money may be nice, but is it worth it if all your child remembers is mommy or daddy missed their game, their performance, their school outing?
Only you can weigh the options.
You may recall a story I’ve shared on the podcast before. I had a huge client I had worked with for years. They owned many different companies ranging from restaurants to car washes to a telecommunication company.
During my time working with them, they ended up acquiring a tobacco company.
According to a study by an anti-smoking organization, the biggest demographic increase in smokers was among girls between 12 to 18. My client wanted to use that information to their advantage and asked me to design a poster depicting their cigarettes that would appeal to girls in that age range.
I refused. There was no way I was going to be complicit in enticing young girls to start smoking. The client threatened to pull all their work from me and find another designer if I didn’t comply. So I fired them.
If a design project will be harmful to others. Turn down the job.
Think about that. Are you willing to put an existing client relationship at risk to earn some money from a new client? I hope not.
Of course, this one is a bit tricky. There’s a fine line between what could jeopardize a relationship and what wouldn’t. To some, having two clients who are competitors might not be a good idea. To others, it's not an issue.
In my opinion, the best way to interpret this third point is on moral grounds. For example, a designer with ties to the health industry may not want to take on a design project that discourages people from getting vaccinated. It’s not worth jeopardizing that relationship.
I encourage you to copy down and remember Mike’s three rules.
If a project fails any of these three criteria, it’s not worth taking on.
Brian, another member of the Resourceful Designer Community, also had a good suggestion. If a project is something you would be ashamed to have on your monitor if a child walked by, then it’s not worth taking.
I’ll add to Brian's statement by saying if it’s not something you would want to tell your mother you’re working on, then maybe you should take a pass.
Should you ever find yourself having to turn down a client or a project. Remember to look at episode 134 of Resourceful Designer, where I shared different scripts you can use depending on your situation.
We’re lucky that we chose a profession where confidence beats knowledge. Before I dive deeper into that, we first have to look at what confidence is.
According to disctionary.com, Confidence is the belief in oneself and one's powers or abilities.
Without confidence, your goals, your intentions, your ambitions might as well be called dreams. Because that’s all they’ll ever be if you don’t believe in yourself and your abilities.
I fully believe that without confidence, you cannot succeed as a design business owner. I’m not talking about being a designer. Many designers lack confidence in themselves. I know and have worked with designers who fall into that category. I’m talking about running your own design business. Being a freelancer if that’s what you want to call yourself.
But I digress.
Confidence. If you want to succeed in this business, you need confidence.
But what about knowledge? Don’t you need knowledge to succeed? That’s a trick question. The definition of knowledge, according to dictionary.com, is an acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation. Acquaintance. What an interesting word to use. Most of the time, when you think of acquaintances, you think of people you know of but don’t necessarily know.
I consider Betty, the cashier at the grocery store I go to, as an acquaintance. She knows me by name, and we exchange pleasantries whenever I’m in her checkout line. If we run into each other in town, we’ll smile at each other and say hi, but that’s the extent of our interaction. We’re acquaintances.
Merriam-Webster defines knowledge as The fact or condition of being aware of something. Being aware of something? According to this dictionary meaning, that’s all that’s required to have knowledge.
So, according to two reputable sources on the meaning of all things. Knowledge doesn’t mean intimately knowing something. It just means being acquainted or aware of something. When you think of the definition in that way, you realize that you don’t actually need to know something to succeed. What you need is confidence in your ability to seek knowledge. And that's why confidence beats knowledge.
Now don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of times when knowledge trumps confidence. If I’m about to have surgery, yes, I want a confident surgeon, but I hope their knowledge of the procedure they’re about to perform supersedes that confidence.
If I’m about to take a trip, I’m less interested in how confident the pilot is and more concerned that they know how to fly a plane.
But when it comes to design or to run a design business, confidence beats knowledge.
You probably don’t remember, but there was a time in your life when you were very young when you didn’t know how to walk. You crawled around on all fours. Or maybe you were one of those butt dragging babies. Regardless, one day, after spending your entire life so far on the ground, you got up and walked.
At one time, you didn’t know how to ride a bike. Then one day, you did. You didn’t know how to swim. Then one day, you did. This applies to hundreds, or should I say thousands of accomplishments in your life. You didn’t know how to do something until you did.
I remember when my kids were young. Any time they would get frustrated and say, “I can’t do it,” I would calmly correct them by saying, “It’s not that you can’t do it. You just don’t know how to do it yet.” And once they learned, I would remind them how they felt before their accomplishment.
But what does Confidence beets Knowledge mean? It means that you don’t need to know how to do something before taking on the task of doing it. You just need to be confident that you’ll figure it out.
I admit I didn’t always feel this way. Back in 2006, I was approached by our local library to design a new website. They had heard good things about me from several people and had decided I was the one they wanted to work with.
This was going to be a huge project. In fact, I was a bit intimidated when I found out their budget for the website was $50,000. That was more than I made in a year back then.
The library wanted their new website to be connected to their catalogue of books. They wanted visitors to the website to tell what books they carry, if they were available for loan or already checked out. And if the latter, when they would be back. They also wanted members to be able to reserve books for pickup and put holds on books. All the typical things you expect of a library’s website today. But in 2006, not many libraries had integrated catalogues on their website.
I knew enough about websites to know that it was way beyond my capabilities. At that time, I was hand-coding websites in HTML and CSS. However, this website would require a database and therefore PHP and MySQL.
The problem was, I didn’t know PHP or MySQL. And even though I tried to learn it in a hurry, I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept. Where HTML and CSS were so easy for me. PHP left me stumped. No matter how many books I read or courses I took, I just couldn’t grasp it. Maybe it was the pressure I was under to learn it quickly to start on the website. I don’t know. But in the end, I gave up.
Now you may be thinking, you gave it a good shot, Mark, but at least you could hire someone to do the coding for you.
Well… I kick myself to this day for not thinking of that. No, that’s not right. I did think of it. I just didn’t have the confidence back then to follow through. I didn’t know what to do. I realized I didn’t have the skills required for the project, but I didn’t know how to find someone to help me. I knew what I needed to do but not the confidence to follow through.
Upwork’s former halves Elance and oDesk were around back then, but I wasn’t aware of them or any other online platform I could turn to. So, backed into a corner, I did the only thing I thought I could do. I contacted the library and told them I couldn’t take on the project.
I turned down a $50,000 job.
Several months later, their new website was up and running, I talked to my contact at the library, and he told me who they had hired to do the job. I was taken aback. I knew the person they hired. And I also believed their knowledge of web design wasn't much more than mine. So how did they pull it off?
I ran into them shortly after that and asked them. You guessed it, they created the design look for the site but had hired someone to do the actual coding. It cost them $12,000 to hire a developer to complete the site for them.
Presuming they were being paid the same $50,000 I had been offered, that meant they made $38,000 just for designing the look of the website. And I lost out on that money because of my lack of confidence.
That lesson taught me a lot.
1) I was an idiot for not thinking of hiring someone myself.
But most importantly
2) I lacked confidence from the moment I was presented with the website project. I figured I didn’t have the knowledge and, therefore, couldn’t handle the job.
If I wanted to succeed in this business, I would need to rectify that. I would need to be more confident in what I could get done.
Since that fateful day, I have never turned down a job for lack of knowledge. When a client asks me if I can do something that I’m unsure of or flat out don’t know how to do. I answer them with confidence that I can get the job done. And then I figure out either how to do it or who to hire to do it for me.
Confidence beats knowledge.
It’s great to be able to hire a contractor when you need one. We’re lucky that there are so many options with good talented people available to us. But nothing beats learning how to do something yourself.
You know that old saying, give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime. Providing he likes fish, that is. But the same concept applies to us as designers. I love hiring contractors to help me. But given the opportunity, I would much prefer to learn the skill and do the job myself.
There are ways you can do just that while working on client jobs. Not sure how to do something the client is asking for? Chances are there’s a blog article or YouTube video that will walk you through it.
But sometimes, it’s a good idea to be your own guinea pig.
If you’ve been following Resourceful Designer for a while, you know that I design websites in WordPress. Specifically using the Divi Builder from Elegant Themes. However, I just told you how I was hand-coding websites for clients.
I remember in the early 2010s, fellow web designers telling me I should try WordPress. But I had a strong aversion to WordPress. To me, the fact that WordPress used predesigned themes was an afront to designers. There was no way I would build a website for a client using someone else's design.
But in 2013, I was getting into podcasting and was told that I needed a WordPress website to generate the RSS feed for the show. Very reluctantly, I installed WordPress and bought a theme called Evolution from Elegant Themes. This was before they came out with Divi. In fact, the friend who was helping me get started in podcasting had an affiliate link to Elegant Themes. Hence, as a way to repay him for his kindness, I bought a lifetime deal through his link, even though I only needed one theme and had no plans on building any WordPress websites beyond my own.
That decision to buy the lifetime deal may have changed the course of my life—more on that in a moment.
So I built my WordPress website and had to admit that there was a lot more flexibility in it than I originally believed. The theme did restrain me somewhat, but at least I could control how each part of it looked, even if I had no control over the layout itself.
That was in June of 2013. December of that same year, Elegant Themes released Divi. And it changed my view of WordPress.
Since I had a lifetime deal with Elegant Themes, it cost me nothing to test Divi out. I installed it on a dummy site I didn't care about and really liked how it worked. Divi was a game-changer. Here was a theme that gave me full control over how each element of a website looked and how each element was placed out on the screen. I could make a website look like how I wanted it to look. Not like how some theme designer wanted it to look.
The next time I had a client website project to work on, I used my newfound confidence in my ability to make WordPress work for me and switched to WordPress and Divi. And I haven’t looked back.
If I hadn’t used myself as a guinea pig and tested out WordPress on my own website and then Divi on a dummy site, I probably never would have made the switch to what I do today.
Since then, there have been many times when I used myself as a guinea pig to test things and build my confidence. Be it new software or new features in existing software. Offering services I had previously never offered. Taking on projects I had never done before. Working on stuff for myself gave me the confidence to then use those skills on client work.
Even today. I recently started building a website for a personal project I’m doing. And even though I’ve been a devoted Divi fan since day one, I decided to build my new website using Elementor. Why? Because I know the day will come when a client will ask me to take over a website built using Elementor. So why not get my feet wet on a project of my own choosing. So When the time comes, I’ll have a better understanding of what I’m working with.
So all of this to say, without confidence, I don’t believe you can get very far as a design business owner. It’s nice to have the knowledge, but confidence in yourself and what you do with that knowledge will propel you. Look at any successful freelancer you know, and you’ll see that they exude confidence. That’s the secret to their success.
Confidence always beats Knowledge. Or at least, almost always.
Let me ask you a question, is an email a contract?
Last month, a Mississippi court took up an interesting case looking at what it takes to make a contract by email.
Spoiler Alert: Not Much.
As you know, a contract is just another word to describe an agreement. So when you exchange emails with someone and come to terms on a deal you both agree on, you ARE making a contract.
In the Mississippi court case, the two parties had done just that... agreed on terms for the sale of some equipment in a series of emails.
Now here’s the tricky part.
One of the parties, Jordan, had proposed the initial offer from his computer’s email, which included his name and contact details in the signature. The other party, Parish, then countered the offer. But when responding to the counteroffer, Jordan used his iPhone to seal the deal with a “Let’s do it.” reply. The trouble is that the message had no signature from his iPhone other than “Send from iPhone.”
Jordan later sold the goods to another buyer at a higher price. Parish sued for breach of contract, but Jordan claimed that there was no valid signature to his email and, therefore, the exchange was not enforceable as an agreement.
The trial court agreed, and an appeals court affirmed. But the Mississippi Supreme Court found the state’s Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) permitted contracts to be formed by electronic means such as emails. Then, the Court stated that the determination of whether an email was electronically signed according to the UETA was a question of fact that turned on a party’s intent to adopt or accept the writing and is, therefore, a question for the finder of facts. So, because there exists a genuine factual question about Jordan’s intent, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
Anyway. That’s a lot of legal talks. But the takeaway is. Emails can be the basis for an enforceable contract.
So be careful in wording your messages. Even something as simple as “sounds good” could be deemed sufficient to bind you.
If you consider your emails merely preliminary to a formal, written contract on paper, SAY SO. Add something to the signature of your emails, such as “this email message is preliminary and shall not constitute a binding agreement, which may only be made in a formal, written memorandum executed by all parties.”
Adding a simple line like this can save you a lot of trouble should a client ever try to hold you accountable for something mentioned in an email.
It makes you think.
I’m happy to announce that this week is, in fact, the final part of my Psychology of Pricing series, where I share research-proven tactics to make the most out of the prices you display. If you haven’t listened to the previous parts in this series, I suggest you go back and do so before continuing with this one. I'll still be here once you’re done.
These pricing tactics are great to use in your design business. But the real gem here is they can make you look like a pricing guru to your clients. Imagine improving their conversion rate simply by manipulating the way you display their prices. They’ll be throwing money at you.
As in the previous episodes. All of these tactics I’m sharing come from Nick Kolenda. Specifically, an article on his website nickkolenda.com titled appropriately enough The Psychology of Pricing.
In the previous five parts of this series, I shared various ways to manipulate how a price is displayed to improve sale conversions. In this last part of the series, I’m going to share how to use discounts properly.
According to Nick, if not used properly, discounts can actually harm your business. In fact, some people suggest you should never use discounts. That may be a bit extreme. Discounts can prove useful if you know how to use them properly.
But how can offering a discount backfire?
For one, if you offer discounts too frequently, customers will become more price-conscious and wait for the next discount.
Offering discounts can also lower the reference price of a product. I’ve talked about reference prices in previous parts of this series and how they create the bar by which consumers judge other prices. Offering a discount can lower the reference price, causing people to purchase less in the future when the price seems too high.
So reducing the frequency and depth of discounts helps. But there are a few other tactics you can put to use that will help you as well.
In a previous episode, I shared how people can perceive different magnitudes for the same price, depending on the context.
For example, changing the words that appear next to a price from “High Performance” to “Low Maintenance” can reduce the magnitude of the price, making it appear smaller.
Discounts are no different. When offering a discount, you want to maximize the perceived size of the discount so that people feel like they are getting a better deal.
Consider a pair of pants selling for $50. Which discount seems like a better deal: 20% off or $10 off? If you do the math, you’ll see that the discounts are the same. But at first glance, 20% off has the advantage by seemingly being larger than $10 off.
That’s where the “Rule of 100” comes in. If the price you are discounting is under $100, you should always offer the discount as a percentage. Saving 10% off a $20 item sounds much better than saving $2 off a $20 item. Don’t you agree?
However, as soon as the price you are discounting goes above $100, you should switch to an absolute price discount instead of a percentage. So for a $250 item, offering $25 off creates a higher perceived magnitude than offering 10% off.
This tactic also relies on magnitude. When a price is reduced, the emphasis is placed on the decrease—Now, 20% Off.
However, a way to once again increase the perceived magnitude of the discount is by reversing the way you announce it. Instead of saying “Now 20% Off,” try something like “Was 25% higher.” It will make it more persuasive because it shows a higher numeral.
To maximize the effectiveness of a discount, explain why you are offering it.
For example, stores may offer a discount because of inventory surplus. Or maybe it’s to clear out outdated stock. Clothing retailers do this all the time. When the new season’s fashions arrive, the previous season’s inventory goes on sale.
Or perhaps you can say you are passing on a discount you received from the supplier. Wal-Mart does this all the time with their Rollback pricing. It conveys the message that the cost savings they are receiving are being passed on to the customer.
If you offer print brokering as one of your design services, you may be able to increase orders by passing on any discount your printer offers you.
By providing a reason for the discount, you reinforce that this is a temporary or provisional thing. This will make it less likely for people to latch onto the discounted price as a reference price. And make it more likely to pounce on the discount before it’s gone.
I don’t even know why this one is on the list. If you recall, specific prices, such as $21.87, seem smaller than rounded prices. Keeping that in mind, you should follow the opposite approach for discounts by using round numbers since they appear larger.
Using round numbers as discounts also makes it easier for customers to calculate the discount.
As I said, I don’t know why this one is on the list. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone offer a non-rounded discount. Have you ever seen a store advertise something like “Save $8.67"? No, it’s either save $8 or $9.
I can say about this tactic that you should try to ensure that discounts are easy to compute. You don’t want to confuse people by offering a 23% discount on a price of $37.89. If they need to take out their calculator to figure out how much they are saving, you are missing the point.
This is useful for those occasions when more than one discount is applied. Say, for example, a store offering 20% off all purchases, including already discounted items.
A 1979 study showed that offering two combined discounts is often preferred to a single lump sum discount. Saving 20% off an already discounted item by 10% seems like a better deal than if the item was marked at 30% off.
Whenever possible, arrange these discounts in ascending order. So 10% off, then 30% off. a 2019 study showed that this creates an ascending momentum, making the total discount seem larger.
Remember that Pain of Paying thing? Well, as your budget gets smaller, paying for things becomes more painful. You’re more likely to buy a product and be more satisfied with your purchase when you have more money in your budget.
Offering discounts towards the end of the month, as monthly budgets are nearing exhaustion, is more effective because people seek ways to save money.
Bonus Tip: If you have clients who offer free trials, you may suggest they do so at the beginning of the month. Because people have a full budget at the beginning of the month, the offer of a free trial will seem more appealing to them.
Of course, this assumes the consumer uses a monthly budget. You should always consider the target customer and plan your promotions accordingly.
Suppose you or your client launch a promotion where customers save $50 when they spend $200. In this scenario, people need to spend $200 – which might be difficult for some people to imagine.
To make this discount more enticing, you need to strengthen the mental imagery of spending $200. How? By offering tiered discounts. Such as...
A customer might struggle to imagine spending the full $200 to get the biggest discount. However, spending $30 to get $5 off is easy to imagine.
And this is the brilliance of this tactic. Once a client can imagine spending $30, it becomes much easier to imagine spending $50. Then it becomes easier to imagine spending $150 and finally $200.
You provide a sequence of images that transform that highest threshold into a feasible reality by offering tiers.
This is the same reason the three-tiered pricing system works so well. When clients compare the first price in your three tiers to the second, they realize how much more value the second tier is, even if it’s higher than they originally wanted to spend. And once they are entertaining that second tier, the third one doesn’t seem like a big stretch, and they may go for it.
This tactic might also be used to sell bigger retainer agreements. For example, if you normally charge $100/hour for your design services, you could sell retainer agreements such as this.
Traditionally, marketers use two types of pricing strategies: Hi-Lo Pricing, such as putting a $99 product on sale for $79 for a week and then putting the price back to $99 once the sale is over. Alternatively, some use EDLP or the Everyday Low Pricing method. They take a $99 product and list it permanently at $89.
A 2010 study found benefits in a new strategy: Steadily decreasing discounts (SDD for short).
Instead of dropping a price and then putting it back. This SDD strategy suggests you drop a price and gradually increase it until you’re back at the original price.
So a $99 product might be discounted to $79 for one week, then $89 for an additional week before returning the price to its original price of $99 on the third week.
The researchers found positive outcomes on multiple metrics. This new SDD strategy led to.
During a 30-week trial, the researchers alternated between the three strategies and found that the SDD method produced the highest overall profit margin.
With the SDD method, consumers learned that they had to get to the store early if they wanted the best deal. However, if they could not make it on time, there was still a chance for them to save money before the price returned to full.
Remember at the beginning of this episode when I said that discounts could be harmful. This is especially true when you discount premium (AKA expensive) products.
It’s harmful because people may choose to hold off on purchasing until there’s a new discount when the discount ends. Or worse, they may choose to shop at a competitor.
When a discount is retracted on a premium product, demand shifts towards lower-priced products, however, when a discount is retracted on lower-priced products, the demand remains the same.
This boils down to that if you are competing on price, it’s ok to give discounts. But if you’re competing on quality, you should avoid discounts that emphasize price and focus on the attributes and quality of the product.
Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.
This is week five of my Psychology of Pricing series. Where I share research-proven strategies to help the prices you display convert into sales. Some of these pricing tactics work great with your design business, and many of them are perfect for helping your clients get more sales.
So if you haven’t read or listened to the previous parts in this series, I suggest you do so before continuing with this one.
The tactics I’m sharing here are taken from a very in-depth article called The Psychology of Pricing by Nick Kolenda. You can find it on his website. Let’s get on with the list.
As a designer, you know how to create flow in a design. For example, If a person is looking to the right, you want to put their photo on the left of a layout. If they’re facing the left, you want them on the right of the layout. This creates flow in the direction you want people to focus on.
There are many ways to create flow in a layout besides which direction a person is facing. One of the ways you can do it is with numbers.
A 2007 study determined that certain digits face particular directions.
Rightward digits 5 & 6 push attention towards the right. When used in a price, they push attention towards the digits that follow them. Since customers tend to round numbers up or down, you’ll want to place a lower number next to a right-facing digit causing customers to round down the price.
Conversely, leftward digits, 2,3,4,7 & 9 push the attention towards the left. This means that customers may ignore a large number placed to the right of them.
Alliteration is the repetition of similar initial sounds within a group of words. Such as Karl craves coconut cookies with a repetitive hard "C" sound.
There’s something about alliteration that feels good. It feels right. And that feeling can be misattributed towards another context. A 2016 study found that customers were more likely to buy products when alliteration was used.
For example, “Two T-Shirts for $20.” The repetitive “T” sounds make the purchase feel right.
Rounded prices, those that don't display cents, should be used for emotional purchases. Non-rounded prices, those that display cents, should be used for rational purchases.
There are three contexts when you should consider using round prices.
Because round prices “feel right,” they are good for emotional purchases over rational purchases.
A 2015 study found that customers prefer buying something such as a bottle of champagne for a rounded price such as $40. Whereas when buying something such as a calculator, they would prefer a non-rounded price of $39.72.
Round prices that “feel right” also trigger an “easy” sensation. Making a transaction seem easy and a good choice.
A 2016 study found that using round prices on point-of-sale items at a checkout counter increased sales.
Customers prefer round prices for social products. Since round numbers are easily divisible, people confuse numerical connectivity for social connectivity. For example, charging $457.99 for a four-day conference may seem expensive to someone because they see it as a high price for one social benefit.
However, charging $400 for a four-day conference makes it easy for people to think of it as $100 per day, which may sound more reasonable to them.
This tactic works great with the three-tiered pricing method when quoting design projects.
In a previous part of this series, I said you should sort prices from high to low. But there are ways around that.
As designers, you know that design can have a hierarchy. A good designer knows how to lead a viewer's eye from one design section to another in a predefined path. So instead of putting the highest price first, you can achieve the same effect by adding visual distinction to the most expensive option.
You see this all the time on websites with pricing pages where one price is highlighted as the “best option.” By making something stand out, you set it up to be viewed first, creating a reference price in the viewer's mind. And if that first price they see is the highest priced option. The lower prices will seem much more appealing to them.
Face it. We like buying emotional products. I mean, nobody needs a cupcake, but that doesn’t stop you from wanting one. The problem with emotional purchases is you often feel guilty after you’ve spent the money.
A 2010 study showed that attributing a discounted price to the emotional product reduces the guilt associated with the purchase.
For example, a restaurant may sell salads and cupcakes individually for $3 each. But they have a special offer where you can get a salad and cupcake together for only $4. Saving $1 off each item is a great deal. However, they can make the deal seem even more appealing if they word it as buy the two together and save $2 off the cupcake price. Associating the discount with the emotional product, in this case, the cupcake reduces the guilty feeling of buying it.
Budgeting is a good thing, right? Well, not always. In fact, budgeting sometimes increases spending. Why is this? Budgeting separates you from your money. It’s put away for a specific purchase, and the farther removed it gets, the less pain you feel spending it.
A 2021 study showed that students spent more money on a class ring when they budgeted early for it.
When a client tells you they don’t have the money right now for a website redesign, you could suggest they start budgeting for it now so they can afford it when the time comes. Who knows, you may end up with a bigger project this way.
A 2005 study showed that adding a visual distinction to a sales price, such as colour, point size and even the font used, increases sales. It’s called contrast fluency. It’s a trick they often use in infomercials. When an infomercial shows a person struggling with their problem, the colours are usually dull and muted. Then things clear and brighten up when they show the person using the product they’re selling.
With contrast fluency, your brain misattributes visual distinctions to abstract distinctions: Hmmm, this sales price feels different. Which must mean it’s a good deal.
A 2009 study showed that placing more space between an original price and the discounted price creates cognitive confusion, causing people to interpret the visual distance for numerical distance.
The further apart numbers are visually, the further apart they appear to be numerically. Add space between the original and sale price so that the numerical gap seems larger.
A 2013 study found that customers perceive a larger discount when the sale price is positioned below the original price. This is because it’s easier to subtract two numbers when the larger number is first and the smaller number second.
If you don't have enough room to put the sales price below the original price, you can place the sales price to the right of the original price for the same effect.
Unlike words, people read numbers in a digit-by-digit manner. A 2008 study showed that reducing every digit in a sales price increases sales. Suppose the original price is $85; you’ll want each digit to be reduced by at least one. So the sales price might be $74.
This tactic works great with larger numbers. A product that sold for $9799 might be reduced to $8650.
When the left digit in both your original and sale price is the same, using a low right digit will make the discount seem larger.
For example, if you take two different sales.
Even though both items are on sale for $1 off, item 2 seems to offer a larger discount. This is based on numerical cognition. We compare numbers in relative terms. $10 off a $50 product is more appealing than $10 off a $500 product, even though the money you save is the same.
This same mental process occurs when you compare small numbers with large numbers. A 2007 study found that because the number 3 is 50% greater than the number 2. It’s perceived as a greater gap than the difference between 7 and 8, which is only a %14 difference. Therefore, dropping a number from 3 to 2 seems like a much better deal than dropping from 8 to 7.
The same 2007 study showed that even when an actual larger discount was applied to prices with large right digits, people perceived the discount to be less than when a smaller discount was applied to prices with small right digits.
It’s amazing how the mind works.
If you find that hard to comprehend, try looking at it this way. And this is me saying this, not Nick. The way I see it. Numbers between 6-9get rounded up, and numbers between 1-4 get rounded down. Therefore using a low number as your right digit will lower the perceived price.
This is week four of my psychology of pricing series. Where I share research-proven strategies to influence people to part with their hard-earned money, some of these pricing tactics work great with your design business, and many of them are perfect for helping your clients get more sales.
As previously mentioned, I took the tactics I’m sharing here from an article by Nick Kolenda on his website nickkolenda.com on the psychology of pricing. Nick has links to many of the studies I mention in these episodes.
Let’s get on with the list.
If you’ll recall the last episode, I talked about the Pain of Paying. That feeling we get when we have to part with our hard-earned money. Tactic 29 offers a great way to reduce that pain by creating a payment medium between the money spent and the purchased product.
What is a payment medium? Casino chips are a great example. When gambling at a casino, it's much easier to place a $10 or $20 chip on the table than it would be if you had to put a ten or twenty dollar bill down. Casino chips act as a buffer between your wallet and the act of betting, which reduces the Pain of Paying.
Another way this works, and possibly a way for you to incorporate this into your design business, is with advanced payments.
If you charge clients by the hour, Instead of offering a monthly retainer agreement, you may instead offer a discount if a client pays for a pool of hours upfront, to be used at a later date.
For example, if your regular rate is $100 per hour, twenty work hours should cost $2000. However, you could offer clients twenty hours of work to be used later for $1900. Your client would get 20 hours of your time banked for future use at a discounted price. The next time they have a design project, it won’t cost them anything because your time is already paid for. This creates a payment medium reducing the pain of paying.
Should the client have a design idea they want to explore, it will be much easier for them to justify spending hours they’ve already paid for than it would be for them to justify spending the money on their idea even though it works out to the same thing in the end.
Another thing to consider is a refundable deposit. Someone starting a venture that requires people to open an account to make purchases may require them to make a $50 refundable deposit when opening their account. This $50 can be used for future purchases or returned should the purchaser decide to close their account.
Since the money required to open the account is refundable, there will be less resistance to depositing it. More importantly, the deposit now acts as a payment medium. People will be more willing to spend it on a purchase since it doesn’t feel like money coming out of their pocket.
This tactic works great when combined with tactic 29 above. Instead of referring to deposited money as money, you may want to refer to it as something else, such as credits.
For example: Instead of clients buying 20 hours of your services. You have them buy 20 design credits, where each credit is worth up to 1 hour of design time. Then, when a client asks for a quote on a new design project, you can say it will cost them X credits.
A 2004 study showed that using credits creates an off-balance conversion between the money and the value. This conversion creates a payment medium that is more effective as it’s more difficult for the customer to convert the values.
A client with 20 design credits is likely to be more willing to spend 3 credits on a new project than spend $300 on it. Even though the two are essentially the value.
People don't just care about the perceived magnitude of a price, for example, whether it’s high or low. They also care about the perceived fairness of a price.
Even if you price something low, people could still perceive it to be unfair. The opposite is also true. People could perceive a high price to be fair. It all depends on your pricing method. Cost-Based Pricing or Market-Based Pricing.
Cost-Based Pricing: Prices based on cost factors such as the cost of the materials.
Market-Based Pricing: Prices based on supply and demand or the competition.
Most people view cost-based pricing to be fairer than market-based pricing. And you can increase the perceived fairness of a price by emphasizing the inherent cost of the product.
Since consumers don’t know the actual cost and markup of an item, making the relevant cost and quality information transparent helps them make their purchase decision.
It’s quite easy. Emphasize the product's “top-of-the-line” materials or any other cost-based input.
Instead of advertising a new beverage as Delicious, say something like this new beverage uses naturally sourced organic ingredients. Including this information triggers a more empathetic perception of the price, causing people to imagine it's worth more. This will translate into more people willing to buy it.
Whenever you have multiple options for a single product, you create a Paradox of Choice.
When presented with multiple options, people feel less likely to choose an option. That’s because once they choose an option, they lose the benefits offered by the other options. This loss aversion causes them to hesitate or postpone their decision. This feeling increases as more options become available.
In a 2012 study, two groups of participants were asked if they wanted to purchase a pack of gum. Each group had two options.
Group 1: Two different packs of gum priced at $0.63 each.
Group 2: One pack of gum priced at $0.62, and a different pack of gum priced at $0.64.
Surprisingly only 46% of people in group 1 chose to purchase a pack of gum. Compared to 77% from group 2. Why did this happen?
It’s kind of weird. When the two packs of gum shared the same price, people perceived them to be less similar. However, adding the small price difference increased the perceived similarity of the two packs.
This happens because when the two packs of gum are priced the same, people can’t distinguish between the two based on price. As a result, they look for other differentiating characteristics making the two products less similar. But when the prices were slightly different, people felt less need to compare the characteristics between the two packs of gum because they could differentiate them based on price.
Since the people in group two focused less on the differences between the two packs of gum, both packs maintained a higher degree of similarity, making it easier for them to choose a pack to purchase.
This tactic is used a lot on Amazon. Items that are available in different colours are priced differently depending on the colour option chosen.
Out of all the tactics I’ve shared with you, this is the one that I find mostly relates to designers.
The idea behind this tactic is to control price perception when it comes to price increases through what is called JND (Just Noticeable Differences).
Just Noticeable Differences: The minimum amount of change that triggers a detection. In other words, a difference that is just noticeable.
Increasing your hourly rate from $50/hr to $55/hr will be less noticeable than if you increased it from $50/hr to $80/hr.
Obviously, people take more notice of price increases when they are larger.
Unfortunately, most businesses, including designers, are guilty of avoiding price increases until it’s necessary. The problem with this is once you reach the point when it's necessary to increase your prices, chances are a tiny amount won’t help much, and you’ll need to increase it noticeably.
Many designers I know still charge the same rate as they did five or more years ago. As the price of everything increases with inflation, they are still making the same amount of money. When they finally decide to raise their rates, they’ll need to increase them significantly to catch up with inflation.
This tactic states that you should increase your rates or prices more frequently but in smaller amounts.
My suggestion is to increase your rates every January. Your clients might not even notice a small increase. And those who do won’t be too concerned with a small increase as they would if you increased your rates significantly.
The concept of Just Noticeable Difference can be used in other ways as well. It's used all the time in the food industry. Instead of raising the price of something, they reduce the size instead.
For example: Instead of raising the price on a 500g bag of chips, the chip company will instead use the same size bag at the same price but reduce the contents to 450g. This saves them money, and most customers won’t notice they’re getting fewer chips in the bag.
A variation of this tactic can be used when negotiating prices with clients. If a client thinks your price is too high. Offer to reduce it by removing a feature from the project. And make sure the feature you remove is worth more than the amount you reduce the price by.
Next week I’ll conclude this series with the final tactics in the psychology of pricing.
This is week three of my psychology of pricing series. Where I share research-proven strategies to influence people to part with their hard-earned money. Some of these pricing tactics work great with your design business, and many of them are perfect for helping your clients get more sales.
As I mentioned in the previous parts of this series, these tactics were taken from a very in-depth article by Nick Kolenda on the psychology of pricing. Have a look if you want to read through it yourself.
Since you’re here right now, I’ll presume you want me to continue summarizing each pricing tactic. So let’s get on with the list.
This tactic applies whenever you or your client introduces a new, more expensive version of a product. Although under certain circumstances, it may also work with the services you offer.
If you’re introducing a new, more expensive version of a product, what do you do with the old version that’s left? Many people would lower the old one to sell the remaining stock as soon as possible. But a 2010 study suggests raising the price of the old product might be a better idea.
If you lower the old product's price, you’ll be reinforcing the lower reference price, which makes the new product seem more expensive, making people question if it’s really worth it.
Let’s say the old product originally sold for $100, and the new product is priced at $130. If you drop the price of the old product to a clearance price of $80, people are going to wonder if it’s really worth spending $50 more for the new product.
However, if you raise the old product's price, you also raise people’s reference or anchor price, which enhances their perceived value of the new product.
So instead of dropping the original product's price from $100 to $80, you raise it to $110. Now, people who compare the old and new versions will favour the higher-priced new version that is only $20 more than the old one. And those looking for a deal will be happy to save $20 by purchasing the old version.
A study conducted in 2012 showed that, on average, customers chose a more expensive option when products were listed in descending price order from highest to lowest.
This study was conducted in a bar over the course of 8 weeks. The researchers regularly alternated the sequence of the beer prices. Sometimes the beers were listed from the lowest priced beer at $4 down to the highest-priced beer at $10. Other times they reversed the list putting the $10 beer at the top.
The researchers discovered that, on average, the bar generated more money in beer sales when the higher prices were listed first.
Why does this work?
Once again, it comes down to the ever-important anchor price. Whenever someone looks at a list of prices, the first few prices create their anchor price. If the initial prices are low, it creates a low anchor price which creates an aversion to spending money on the higher-priced items lower on the list. If someone wanted to splurge a bit, they might opt for a $5 or $6 beer instead of the base $4 beer, but they probably won't be interested in the highest-priced beers at the bottom of the list.
However, if you reverse the order by placing the highest prices at the top to act as the anchor price, each lower price on the list seems like a better deal. Instead of spending $10 on a beer, someone might decide to save a bit of money and opt for a $7 or $6 beer instead. They feel good about saving money but still spent more than in the previous example.
As a species, we have an aversion to losses. When we see a list of ascending prices, meaning from low to high. We subconsciously see each price as we descend the list as a loss. Our motivation to minimize that loss causes us to chose a lower-priced product from the top of the list.
But when we see a list of descending prices, meaning from high to low, we see each item as we go down the list as a loss in quality. And since we don’t want to lose quality, we are motivated to purchase the higher quality, and hence more expensive product.
So if you're putting together an eCommerce site for a client, you may want to put the higher-priced items first in the hopes of increasing the average revenue from each sale.
This might also work with the Three-Tiered Pricing System I’m so fond of. I show my three price options from lowest to highest. It might be worth reversing it and showing the most expensive option first. You never know.
This tactic applies to products sold in bundles. A study conducted in 2012 shows that listing prices to the right of large quantities convert better.
is better than
However, the study showed that two conditions must be met for this tactic to work.
Condition 1: The unit price calculation must be difficult.
Meaning it shouldn’t be easy to figure out the individual unit price. The tactic works well with "70 items for $29" because it requires a somewhat difficult calculation to determine how much each item costs.
However, "10 items for $10" is too easy to figure out for this tactic to be effective.
Condition 2: The item quantity must be larger than the price.
Following this condition, "70 items for $29" works, but "3 items for $29" doesn't.
This brings us back to anchor prices again. "70 items for $29" works because, as Tactic 18 states, exposing people to any high number creates an anchor that makes the lower price seem more favourable. So $29 seems more favourable when placed to the right of "70 items."
When you compare a price to a higher price, people are less likely to shop around for a comparable price. This is the same trick that works with the three-tiered pricing strategy. By showing three prices, you reduce your client's chances of comparing you to another designer since they already have various prices to compare together.
Tactic 22 takes another step and optimizes that comparison by visually distinguishing one price from a reference price.
As shown in a 2005 study, changing the colour of a sale price triggers a fluency effect. Customers will misattribute any visual distinction to a greater numerical distinction.
By listing the original price in black and the sale price in colour, you create a greater numerical distinction making the sale price seem more favourable.
Combine this with Tactic 3: Display prices in small font sizes for a double whammy. So not only should you change the colour but also make the sale price smaller to bring home the sale value.
We’ve discussed using your own products as reference prices to prevent clients from looking elsewhere for comparison prices. Tactic 23 says you should consider adding a “decoy option.”
Back in 2008, Economist magazine did something that many people thought strange. They offered three subscription options.
What? Print Only for $125 and Web and Print together also for $125? That had to be a mistake. Why would anyone chose "Print Only" when they could get "Web and Print" for the same price?
That was the point.
Further investigation revealed that without the "Print Only" option, people couldn’t accurately compare the other two subscription options. How much should a "Web and Print" subscription be? Who knows? Most people had no idea and therefore chose the "Web Only" option. In fact, 68% of people subscribed to the "Web Only" option.
But when Economist introduced the “Print Only” option, it helped people compare the other options.
Because "Print Only" was the same price but a worse version of the “Web and Print” option, people could now easily recognize the value of the "Web and Print" subscription.
With the "Print Only" option available, subscription purchases suddenly shifted, with 85% of people buying the "Web and Print" option. Economist magazine generated 43% more revenue simply by offering a Decoy Option.
By offering a similar, yet worse, version of a more expensive product, you influence the comparison process making the more expensive product more appealing.
How could you use this tactic for your design business?
When submitting a proposal, you may decide to offer a logo package for one price, a website for another price and a combined logo and web package for a very similar price as the website alone option. It might be worth testing out.
So far, we’ve been talking about ways to make prices more appealing. These next tactics are not about making the price look better but more about giving people a little nudge and motivating them to buy.
The idea here is to reduce the “Pain of Paying.” That feeling you get when you have to part ways with your hard-earned money. This “Pain of Paying” comes in two factors.
One: The pain we feel when our money leaves our hands.
Two: The pain we feel when we pay after we consume.
Uber, the ride-sharing service, does a great job of countering these.
With a normal taxi, you see the price meter go up and up with each kilometre you ride which causes stress. Plus, you’re forced to pay once you reach your destination heightening the Pain of Paying.
Uber, on the other hand, is almost pain-free. You pay for your ride in advance, and their app is connected to your credit card, so you barely notice the money leaving your hands.
Offering credit card payments for your design business and charging upfront are both ways of reducing the Pain of Paying and motivating people to buy from you.
A 2009 study showed that the Pain of Paying could be triggered pretty easily. Just seeing a dollar sign (or Euro or Yen or whatever currency symbol) reminds people of that pain and could cause them to spend less. Removing the currency symbol can help reduce that pain for them.
However, don’t start leaving the currency symbol off without considering the clarity of your price. We often need the currency symbol to show that a number is, in fact, a price.
Only use this tactic where people expect a price to appear. Such as on restaurant menus.
Whenever you can, charge people before they use your service or product. It’s a benefit to everyone involved in the transaction.
By charging first, you know you’ve already been compensated for the work you do, so you won’t be worrying about getting paid. And chances are your client will be happier with your product.
A 1998 study shows that people are happier with a product or service when they prepay for it. This allows them to focus on the benefits they’re receiving, which numbs the Pain of Paying.
If they’ve already experienced the benefits before paying, such as a taxi ride, spending the money becomes much more painful.
This tactic works great for designers who offer retainers. Make sure you charge your retainer clients at the beginning of the month for the services they will receive. Not at the end of the month for services already rendered.
To be honest, I don’t understand this tactic. Plus, I had no idea what the word "Hedonic" meant. So I looked it up.
Hedonic is Something relating to or considered in terms of pleasant (or unpleasant) sensations.
In other words, attribute bundled discounts to pleasant (or perhaps unpleasant) products.
Even knowing the definition, I still don’t fully understand how this tactic works, so I’m not going to try and explain it. If you’re curious, you can read the full description of Tactic 26 in Nick's article.
The tactic is self-explanatory. Avoid bundling expensive and inexpensive products because the inexpensive products reduce the perceived value of the expensive products.
A 2012 study asked people to chose between a home gym and a 1-year gym membership. The results were an even split, with 51% choosing the home gym.
But when the researchers bundled the home gym with a fitness DVD, only 35% of people chose the bundle, the rest opting for the 1-year gym membership. The inexpensive fitness DVD reduced the perceived value of the home gym.
Try to avoid references to money when describing a product. Instead, focus on time: A much greater benefit.
An experiment conducted in 2009 had a lemonade stand where the researchers alternated three different signs advertising the product.
Shoppers were told they could pay whatever they wanted between $1 to $3 for a glass of lemonade.
The results were unanimous. Not only did the “TIME” sign attract twice as many people to the stand, but those people paid more for their glass of lemonade than the other patrons.
Whenever you write sales copy, emphasize the enjoyable time people will have with your product or service over the money they may save.
The added benefit is that not only will focusing on time make your offer more appealing, but it will also lessen the Pain of Paying.
Next week I’ll conclude this series with the final tactics in the psychology of pricing.
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.