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Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business

Offering resources to help streamline your home based graphic design and web design business so you can get back to what you do best… Designing!
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Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business
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Now displaying: February, 2019
Feb 18, 2019

Do you have a business plan for your design business?

Did you make a business plan when you started your design business? If you did, then you are in the minority. Most designers who freelance or run their own design business don’t bother creating a business plan unless they are required to do so by a bank or such.

I’m lucky; my bank asked for one when I first approached them for a business account. At the time I thought it was a nuisance, but in hindsight, I’m glad they made me do it. It gave me direction and made me think about what I wanted to accomplish with my design business.

So if you don’t already have a business plan, even if you’ve been in business for a while, you may want to take some time to come up with one.

Here are seven common business plan mistakes to avoid.

1) Putting off writing a business plan.

Most designers don’t bother with a business plan unless they’re asked to create one. Once their business is up and running most think they don’t need one, or that they are too busy running their business to make a plan for how to run it. That’s a big mistake. The busier you are, the more you need a plan.

Have you heard the term “work on your business, not in your business”? A business plan will help you accomplish that by helping you focus on the things you need to do to work on your business.

2) Fearing the business plan.

The thought of writing a business plan is much scarier than actually creating one. A business plan is not a thesis paper or a novel. It’s a simple guide for you to follow that will help your business to succeed.

There are plenty of great resources online and in your local municipality, such as small business development centres, libraries, banks etc. that can help you with your business plan.

3) Ignoring cash flow.

Most designers think in terms of profits and not cash. Profits are your sales minus your costs and expenses. Unfortunately, you don’t spend profits; you spend cash. And that’s where a business plan can help you.

When you are running a home-based design business, there are plenty of things that require payments that go beyond the business — things like utilities, property taxes, home maintenance, and so much more.

An essential part of a business plan involves creating a cash flow table showing you exactly how much of your profits get converted into spendable cash.

4) Establishing vague goals.

A business plan is not about the dreams you have. You don’t write “I want to be the best designer in my area” in your plan. That stuff is all hype. The objective of a business plan is to generate results for your business. And for results, you need to be able to track and follow up.

S.M.A.R.T. goals are a great way to look at a business plan. Your plan should contain specific dates, the responsibilities you need to take on, and the budget you are allotting to those responsibilities. Then set milestones so you can follow up and check your progress against your business plan.

No matter how well written your business plan is, it’s meaningless if it doesn’t produce results.

5) Copying someone else's plan.

There is no one size fits all when it comes to business plans. The resources I mentioned above can help direct you in writing your plan, but it has to be tailored to your specific business and needs. Remember, a business plan is a sales plan, a detailed action plan, a financial plan, a marketing plan and even a professional growth plan.

A business plan is essential for starting a new design business, but it’s also useful for running and growing your business.

You can bet that big design agencies such as Pentagram or Landor not only have a business plan but regularly review and revise it as their business grows.

6) Diluted priorities.

A business plan is meant to be a focused strategy for your design business. Therefore you need to focus on the priorities in your plan. A plan with 20+ items to keep track of is not very focused and will be much harder to adhere to. Each section of your business plan should have only three or four essential items you are working towards.

Remember, the more items you are focusing on, the less importance and less attention you can devote to each one. A short, precise business plan has a much higher chance of success than a long diluted one.

7) Not reviewing your plan.

Hopefully, you're convinced of the importance of having a business plan, no matter how small or large your design business. But having a business plan isn’t very helpful if you don’t review it on a regular basis.

Set annual reminders to review your plan and make amendments to it to help your design business grow. Doing so will help keep you focused and show you the direction to take to achieve to achieve success.

Do you have a business plan for your design business?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Questions of the Week

Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.

This week’s question comes from Rosey

How do you balance multiple priorities? It causes me a great deal of anxiety to leave things unfinished. In a perfect world, for me, I would only have one thing to do at a time and could just work from beginning to end, but that never happens. If you're working on 4 things at the same time, and none of them are finished (that's me right now). How do you know when is the right time to stop working on one thing, and pick up working on another?

To find out what I told Rosey you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

Tip of the week resource name

I received a concise email from my copywriter this week. It went like this.

Hi Mark,

Here is the brochure copy. Let me know if there are any changes you would like me to make.

Pam

It’s that second line that gave me pause. “Let me know if there are any changes you would like me to make.

In a way, she was encouraging me to make changes to what she wrote. I opened the attached Word document with the thought in my head to look for things to change. I didn’t find any, the copy was perfect, but the idea was there.

This got me thinking about all the conversations I hear, where designers are complaining about the number of revisions clients ask for. The usual solution I hear is to limit the number of revisions you offer. Or Charge for revisions beyond X number.

Maybe the problem is these designers are inviting their clients to make revisions by asking them if there are any changes they would like the designer to make.

Instead, the designer should be asking their client what they like and don't like about the design. If the client wants something changed they will ask without being prompted, so what’s the point of encouraging them to look for things to change?

If you are guilty of this, maybe you should alter your wording and see if it somehow reduces the number of revisions you’re asked to do.

It’s just a thought.

Listen to the podcast on the go.

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Contact me

I would love to hear from you. You can send me questions and feedback using my feedback form.

Follow me on TwitterFacebook and Instagram

I want to help you.

Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

Feb 11, 2019

Designing for family and friends is the bane of many designers.

Opinions vary amongst designers regarding designing for family and friends. Some are firmly against it and for others, it's no problem. I fall into this latter group.

A couple of weeks ago I released an episode on starting a design business from scratch. My second step in the process involved reaching out to family and friends to help spread the word about your new design business. After all, who better to spread the word then the people who know you best, your family and friends. And chances are one of them will become your first design client.

I go into much more detail and share personal experiences in the podcast episode. Be sure to listen to it for the full story. Here is a rundown of what I covered on the podcast.

Setting ground rules for family and friends.

Because family and friends are familiar with you outside of a work environment, you need to set ground rules before agreeing to work with them. If you state the terms of your business relationship with them up front, your dealings should go much smoother.

Here is the process that has worked for me over the years. Keep in mind that everyone's family and friends are different so what works for me may require some adjustments to work for you.

A family member's or a friend's business is still a business.

A business operated by a family member or a friend is still a business, and you should treat it as such. Your relationship with them should not change the way you operate your design business. You need to treat family and friends like you would any other client. Follow your standard procedure by sending proposals, making them sign a contract and issuing an invoice once the project is finished.

Family and friends should not be exempt from good business practices. The only exception I make is offering them a "Family and Friends Discount" of 30% off my design services. I charge full price for all expenses such as printing or web hosting.

Even if you are doing the work for free, you should still use a contract and issue an invoice with a 100% discount. This will teach your family member or friend to value your time and skills by showing them how much you would typically charge for the services you are providing them.

Dealing with personal projects from family and friends.

Family and friends will sometimes approach you with a personal project that has nothing to do with business. They're hoping that the bond between you is strong enough for you to volunteer your time and skills. How you handle these requests is entirely up to you but keep in mind that it's perfectly ok to say no to them.

One option at your disposal is bartering, getting something in return for your services. Family and friends are a great resource for a "favour for a favour".

The way I handle these situations is to determine if the project in question is personally for my family member or friend. If it's something specifically for them, I'll do it, as a favour to them. However, if they are asking on behalf of someone else or a group they belong to I will treat the project as a business dealing and determine if it merits a discount or not.

Mom's are exempt.

When it comes to your mom, everything I mentioned above goes out the window. The woman put up with all your nonsense growing up the least you can do it offer your skills and time to whatever she asks of you. You probably owe her way more than you'll ever be able to pay back anyway.  

How do you deal with family and friends?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Questions of the Week

Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.

This week’s question comes from Kayla

In a past episode I remember you saying that you upcharge print materials (i.e. you've designed a brochure and the client wants 500 more of the exact same design. You simply send it to print again). How do you suggest upcharging? A flat rate? Or a percentage?

To find out what I told Kayla you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

Resource of the week Facebook Groups

Facebook groups are a great way to stay connected with our industry and a great source of information when you need help. There are various Facebook Groups for just about any topic. Here are a few I belong to that may interest you.

Resourceful Designer Group

Logo Geek | Logo Design Community

This Design Life

Divi Theme Users

Divi Web Designers

 

Listen to the podcast on the go.

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Listen on Spotify
Listen on Android
Listen on Stitcher
Listen on iHeartRadio

Contact me

I would love to hear from you. You can send me questions and feedback using my feedback form.

Follow me on TwitterFacebookand Instagram

I want to help you.

Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

Feb 4, 2019

Don't ruin your design business, avoid the following.

[sc name="pod_ad"]Think of your design business like climbing a mountain. To climb a mountain, you require willpower, perseverance, skill, knowledge, stamina, patience and concentration. All these traits come together to allow a mountain climber to make their way up a mountain. You need these same traits to run a design business. Sure, you use them differently, but they’re the same traits nonetheless. And similar to maintain climbing, one slip can mean disaster.

Luckily, slipping up on your design business won’t result in death like falling off a mountain will. But it could ruin your reputation, which in turn will ruin your design business. That’s why it’s good to stay on your guard and avoid these 12 ways to ruin your design business.

Doing these could ruin your design business

1) Failing to communicate - taking too long to reply to emails.  

You are not expected to drop everything you're doing to reply to each new email. It's standard business practice to respond within an acceptable window of time. However, that window shouldn't stretch several days long. It can become increasingly frustrating for the person waiting for your reply. Do this often enough, and clients will lose confidence in you and take their business elsewhere.

If Gmail is your email platform check out Boomerang that allows you to set follow up reminders, so you never miss replying to an email. If you don't use Gmail, setting reminders is easy using Siri on your Apple device, your Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. Simply set a time for your device to remind you to reply to the email. 

2) Missing deadlines.

Missing deadlines is a sure fire way to ruin your design business. Miss more than one and there's a good chance your clients won't bring you any more design projects. Missing deadlines is usually a case of bad time management and biting off more than you can chew (see number 4). Whenever possible try to pad your deadlines, meaning once you figure out how long a project will take, add on a few days or weeks to act as a buffer, just in case. If you go over your estimated time that buffer will keep you within the deadline. And if you manage to finish on time, your clients will be that much more impressed with you. 

3) Showing a lack of confidence in your skills.

Nothing turns off a client more than showing a lack of confidence in your abilities. If you show any doubt in what you present to your clients, they will start having doubts about hiring you. Even if you are unsure, you need to present with confidence. Your client will let you know if your designs are not right for them.

Never ask a client what they think about the designs you present them. You can ask them what they like or don't like, but not what they think. Asking them what they think is a way of saying you are unsure of what you are presenting and you are seeking their affirmation.  

4) Biting off more than you can chew.

Don't be afraid to turn down work or to delay working with a client because of your heavy workload. Being in a situation where you cannot take on any more work is a great position to be in. If a client wants to work with you, they will wait their turn. The worse thing you can do in this situation is accepting the work anyways. It's a sure fire way to missing deadlines (see number 2).

The same goes for projects with scopes larger than you can handle. You should have a team you can call uponin certain situations, but some projects are just too big for solo designers, no matter how much you'd like to take them on. Don't be afraid to pass on them. 

5) Overreacting to criticism.

If you can't take criticism, you shouldn't be a designer. It's the nature of our industry that not everyone will like what you do. You need to learn and grow from the criticism you receive, regardless if you agree or disagree with it. Responding to criticism with a strong emotional reaction is an excellent way to alienate your clients. Keep your hurt feelings to yourself.

 

6) Over-promising and under-delivering.

Over-promising and under-delivering is another way to ruin your design business. Examples are missing deadlines (see number 2) or biting off more than you can chew (see number 4). However, sometimes you might be tempted to over-promise your skills and abilities. Telling a client, you can do something, when in fact you are not sure how to do it can lead to disaster. Never promise a client you will/can do something unless you know you can follow through. 

7) Don't take time to learn and experiment.

This relates to you as a designer. Our industry is continuously changing with new tools, new platforms and new trends. If you fail to keep up your business is doomed. Clients hire designers to help them compete in their market. For that to happen, you need to know how to design things that can compete. Nobody wants a designer who is behind on the times.

8) Don't take time to be inspired. 

You are a creative person; it's why you became a designer. Feed your creativity by seeking out things that inspire you. Visit museums, read art magazines, watch documentaries or study the world around you. Inspiration can be found in everyday things if only you take the time to look. Not finding ways to fuel your creativity is another way to ruin your design business.

9) Commenting negatively on a client's previous designs.

No matter what you think of a client's previous designs, you should never tell them they are bad (unless you are the one that designed them. In that case you are ok). You don’t know the history behind the piece. The client may have created it themselves or had a friend or relative design it for them. The client may be very proud of the work. If you tell a client their previous designs are bad, you may be insulting the client and ruining your chance to work with them.

Instead, tell the client how you will do things differently. How you will modernise the look. How you will use innovative new approaches to produce great work for them. Just don't tell them how bad their old stuff is. 

10) Talking carelessly about clients.

Once you've been at this for a few years, you'll build up a library of weird, funny, strange, and possibly horrible stories about clients. There's a whole website dedicated to lousy design clients. Even though they make great conversation topics, you should be very careful about what you say and to whom you say it when talking about your clients. You never know if someone listening may know and report back to the client. Talking about a client behind their backs will not only ruin your design business but ruin your reputation as a designer.

11) Lying to a client

I shouldn't have to explain this one to you. Lying to clients is not good. Never tell a client you are "almost done" a project you have not started yet. Never tell a client you "didn't receive their email" (they may have Read Receipt turned on). Never tell a client... you get the idea. Don't lie to clients. Getting found out is a definite way to ruin your design business. 

12) Passing off other’s work as your own

Another one I shouldn’t have to explain. However, I'm not talking about stealing another designer's work. There's already enough of that happening on crowdsourced design sites. I'm talking about taking credit for stock images you use in your designs or taking credit for something you contracted out. Clients understand that you cannot do everything yourself. Let them know when you've gotten help.

It's your reputation on the line.

Your business and design reputation plays a very important role in people deciding to hire you and whether or not they keep working with you. Building a relationship with your client is the best way to ensure a long term commitment from them. By avoiding these twelve things, you are taking the proper steps to ensure you don't inadvertently ruin your design business.

What did you think of this week's topic?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Questions of the Week

Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.

This week’s question comes from Kevin

I have a question about closing deals. At times potential clients reach out to me with an interest of having a website designed for them. They will usually reach out to me by email telling me the basic details for the website, such as page structure, features colors, etc. I realized that when replying to their first email, most of them never reply back.

So how would you go about responding to a clients email? Do you tell them your pricing straight up? Do you ask them to tell you their budget for the project?

To find out what I told Kevin you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

Resource of the week 4-Week Marketing Boost

The Four Week Marketing Boost! is a free guide I created that will help you strengthen your marketing position, boost your brand’s awareness & social presence and ultimately ensure you are in tip-top shape to offer a best first impression to potential new clients.

This guide is divided into 20 short actions that comfortably fit into your regular day and are designed to take as little time away from your client work as possible. Although you can complete these exercises quickly, it is recommended you tackle only one per day, spending no more than 30 minutes per task. After completing this four-week plan you will be in a better position to present yourself to, and win over new clients.

You can download the Four Week Marketing Boost for free by visiting marketingboost.net. Or, if you are in the U.S.A., you can text the word MARKETINGBOOST to 44222.

Improve your business' image and create the best first impression possible to attract more clients.

Listen to the podcast on the go.

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Listen on Spotify
Listen on Android
Listen on Stitcher
Listen on iHeartRadio

Contact me

I would love to hear from you. You can send me questions and feedback using my feedback form.

Follow me on TwitterFacebook and Instagram

I want to help you.

Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

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