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Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business

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Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business
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Now displaying: August, 2020
Aug 31, 2020

Contrary to popular belief, print is not dead.

There was a time, not long ago, when graphic designers designed almost entirely for print. Sure there were trade show booths and vehicle graphics, but in their way, those are print as well.

As the internet became more and more popular, graphic designers started to encroach on a turf that was mostly populated by computer programmers. And before you knew it, a whole new industry was born–Web design.

Offering website design allowed graphic designers to help clients on two fronts—both digital design and print design.

But as time moved along and the world moved closer to being a "paperless society" (it still hasn't reached what people predicted), more and more designers shifted away from print design to concentrate more on the digital side of the design industry.

Nowadays, it's common to find designers who only design websites. And there's nothing wrong with that. But contrary to popular belief, print is not dead. There is still a vast market out there for printed design. In fact, it's become even more critical in today's world.

With the popularity of websites, landing pages, social media, online advertising and everything else digital, printed material is still a very viable form of marketing. You can almost say that printed marketing can help a business stand out from its digital competition.

Not to mention, print can be a very lucrative part of your design business. Not only are you paid for your design work. But you can also earn a commission on the cost of the print run if you offer print brokering as a service. Sometimes, those print commissions can make you more than what you charge for the design itself.

You might charge a client $1,000 to design a brochure and then earn an additional $2,000 commission if the client opts for a large print run.

Print can play a good part in rounding out your design business.

Here are five reasons why you should offer print design.

1) Print is effective.

People are bombarded every day with digital advertising to the point where they become blind to it.

If you checked your social media accounts today, you were probably exposed to a minimum of a dozen ads. Can you name a single one of them?

Digital ads, although effective, are also considered digital noise by most people and can easily be lost among the other pixels on the screen. Printed material, however, stands out.

People trust print. The low cost of digital advertising allows anyone to start with minimal risk. Print, on the other hand, requires more significant thought and more investment. So when someone sees a printed marketing piece, they tend to trust it more than a digital equivalent. Tests run by MarketingSherpa show 82% of people trust print ads over digital ads when it comes to making a purchasing decision.

In addition to the trust factor, print regularly outperforms digital when marketing to a local audience. Posters, yard signs, banners, vehicle graphics are great ways to present your message out to a local audience. This is evident during election campaigns. But even outside of elections, print is an excellent way to reach your target audience. A printed brochure captures a person's attention in a way that a website can't.

Studies have also proven that it's easier to recall information seen in print form than when viewed digitally.

So if you're designing for local clients, why not include print design as part of your services. Your clients will see you as someone who does it all, print and digital. Plus, you could use print to promote your design business and stand out from your competition.

2) Print brings in big profits.

As mentioned above, you can make extra money by offering print brokering as a service. But even if you don't, designing for print provides excellent income opportunities for designers.

There's a particular belief among the public that most graphic designers offer both print and web services, but web designers don't do print. Don't limit yourself.

By offering both print design and website design, you expand your potential client pool and creates an additional revenue stream. Many smaller local businesses continue to use print design as their primary means of marketing.

3) Print allows you to upsell and cross-sell.

Offering both web and print allows you to upsell and cross-sell your services to your clients. This is especially useful when combined with the three-tier pricing strategy. This strategy involves presenting three prices to your clients. Each pricing tier is offering a higher degree of service.

Offering print design is a great way to supplement your tiers. A client looking for a website may choose a higher-priced package that includes a flyer and business card design. Or a client looking for a brochure may be willing to pay extra if you package the brochure with a landing page.

Upselling and cross-selling offer more options to your clients and extra income for you.

4) Designing for print is tangible.

Graphic design is known as a visual medium. As designers, we create things that are aesthetically pleasing as well as functional. But design is so much more where print is concerned.

Different paper stocks or printing methods can convey a meaning on their own. Some papers look and feel cheap, while others give a sense of quality and prestige.

Embossing, die-cutting, stamping, special coatings are all part of the print design process, which can increase the perceived value of a marketing piece.

The University of Oxford did a study that shows that consumers generally value physical goods more than digital goods. Meaning they are willing to pay more for something they can touch. Designers can use this to their advantage. Designing something that will be physical increases its perceived value allowing you to charge more for it.

5) It takes a different creative mindset to design for print.

When designing a website, the page automatically becomes longer to accommodate more content. Digital ads don't require much copy because they link to a landing page with more information.

Print, however, requires advanced creative thinking. A piece of paper has fixed dimensions. A designer must be creative in the use of that limited space.

  • What's the best way to include all the necessary information on a poster, a postcard, a billboard?
  • What are the best typefaces to use, and at what size?
  • How will colours interact with each other on paper?
  • How will folding the piece affect the design?

When designing for print, you must stretch your creativity and find the best way to create something that not only looks good but serves its purpose, all while conforming to the restrictions imposed by the medium and printing process.

Conclusion

If you are one of the countless new generations of designers specializing only in digital media, I hope this episode whet your appetite for print design enough to give it a try.

As someone who started in print, then moved to the web and now offers both, I can tell you designing for print is quite fulfilling in a creative way.

So believe me when I say, print is not dead.

Do you offer both print and web design?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Resource of the week Catchafire.org

Catchafire strengthens the social good sector by matching professionals who want to donate their time with nonprofits who need their skills.

If you are a new designer looking for a way to create meaningful work while building your design portfolio, Catchafire may be a great option for you. Check them out and see if there's a design project you would like to volunteer your time on.

Aug 24, 2020

Do you vet potential new design clients?

How do you know that you’re the right designer for a project? Or maybe the question should be, how do you know a potential new design client is right for you?

In the past, I’ve covered what to ask during a discovery session, 50 questions to ask every new design client, and four vital questions to ask your design clients about their projects.

Almost all of the questions covered in those episodes are for building relationships with your clients after you’ve decided to work with them. But I don’t think I’ve ever talked about that first contact with a potential new client before.

First contact.

The first contact refers to those times your phone rings with an unknown number, or emails you receive from unknown people or the conversations that start when someone finds out you’re a designer.

How do you determine during those initial first few minutes of contact if this potential new client is someone worth investing your time and energy? Because as a designer, you will hear from people who you don’t want anything to do with.

So what do you do? You conduct a quick, impromptu interview.

First contact questions.

Here are some questions I like to ask before getting too deep into a conversation. If I’m not satisfied with the answers, I politely end things before I waste too much of my valuable time.

1) What can I help you with?

Cut to the chase. There’s no reason to have a conversation with someone if you cannot help them. The first thing you should do is ask the client what it is they need your help with.

Many people don’t know what graphic or web designers do. In the past, I’ve had people ask me if I could redesign their restaurant’s floor plan, create blueprints of their new building, develop software or apps for them, design 3D prototypes in C.A.D. and many more things I’m not capable of doing. So before wasting your time, find out if this person does indeed require your skillset.

2) How do you expect me to help?

Once you’ve determined the client can benefit from your skillset, the next step is to find out what they expect from working with a designer and if it’s worth your time.

Some clients are not looking for your design or creative skills. They’re looking for a person who can take the idea they already have and recreate it on paper or pixels.

Some designers don’t mind that kind of mindless work, but I don’t. If the conversation starts with “I know exactly what I want, but I need someone to do it for me.” then there’s little chance I’ll end up working with that client. I went into business for myself so that I can work WITH clients, not FOR clients.

Now I understand that you may not be in a position to turn down work. If that’s the case, I suggest trying to turn the conversation towards how you can offer more to the client than being a simple instruction follower.

3) Is there a deadline for your project?

To grow and prosper in this field of design, you must form relationships with your clients, which is difficult if you’re working on a tight deadline.

For existing clients, it’s not as big a deal since you already know them. But the first time you work with a new client, you should take the time to get to know them, their business and how best to assist them.

Of course, deadlines are subjective. A two-month period for a small website project allows ample time for relationship building. However, if they say they need their site launched by next Wednesday, I suggest you pass. Regardless of how simple it sounds, if they’re that rushed and under pressure, that stress will be passed on to you.

Determine if the deadline is a constraint you’re comfortable working within.

4) What’s your position regarding this project?

I ask this question because I want to know if the person contacting me is the one I’ll be dealing with for the project.

I’ve agreed to too many projects in the past only to find out later the person I thought I was working with turned out to be a middle person, and once the project started, I was dealing with someone different. I don’t like is to find out after I’m hired that the person that I talked to is now out of the picture, and I’m left dealing with someone else that I haven’t vetted.

If I’m going to be working with the Owner, CEO, Chairman or whoever, I want to know, and I want to meet or talk to them before I agree to anything.

5) What budget did you have in mind?

I know, budget is not a topic you like bringing up. But wouldn’t you rather get it over with now, instead of later during a discovery or pitch meeting after investing your valuable time?

I like to know right from the start if a client can afford me. If their budget is $500 for a website or $150 for a logo design, I can politely end the conversation, wish them all the best and get back to whatever it was I was working on when they called.

Of course, I’m being harsh here. I don’t merely brush a client off because their dollar sign is low. I explain why I charge the prices I do, and on some occasions, the person is convinced and realizes that increasing their investment is beneficial to them. But most times, after explaining why their budget doesn’t fit my prices, we part ways. If they can’t afford me, they can’t afford me. That’s just the way it is.

6) Are they able to pay my deposit?

The last interview question is about payment. Depending on the project, I insist on at least a 50% deposit before starting any work. I’m strict about this. “The check is in the mail.” Or “it’s going through our accounting department” are not good enough excuses. I need the money in hand before I start on anything.

If the client makes excuses or complaints about paying a deposit before we begin, I can only imagine how the rest of the project will go. In these cases, it’s best to turn down the project.

Interview the client before hearing them out.

Of course, there are many other questions you should be asking a new client before agreeing to work with them. The purpose of the interview is to vet the client and quickly determine if it’s worth spending any more time discussing their project.

In some cases, even vetted clients don’t work out. But most occasions, you can save a lot of valuable time, and possibly some big headaches by asking questions and quickly determining if the conversation is worth prolonging.

What questions do you ask to vet potential new design clients?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Thank you to Wireframe for supporting this episode of the podcast.

Check out the new season of Wireframe by Adobe – Wireframe is a podcast all about how UX can help technology fit into our lives.

Aug 17, 2020

How are you going to take your design business to the next level?

“What got you here won’t get you there.” I’ve heard this phrase a few times over the past couple of weeks, and it got me thinking about my life, my design career and my business.

This is not about Marshall Goldsmith’s book of the same title. Although I hear it’s a great book. It’s about the phrase itself and how it applies to you and your design business.

At its core, “What got you here won’t get you there” is such a simple statement, and yet it holds so much truth. You can only get so far in life if you stick with the status quo. To advance and grow further, you need to expand yourself and do things you’ve never done before. Otherwise, you’ll never be more successful than you are right now.

Are you ok with that? To never be more successful than you are right now? I know I’m not.

Thinking back over my career, I can pinpoint specific times when pushing myself, learning new things, or just taking a leap propelled me to bigger and better things.

I started working in the design department of a commercial printer straight out of college. I was one of several designers, all of which had attended the same design program I had, but graduated many years before me. Most had been working at that printer ever since.

Being the new guy, I was at the bottom of the hierarchy. My education had gotten me where I was, but it alone wouldn’t propel me any further. That was up to me.

While the other designers were satisfied grinding away, day after day doing the same work, I wasn’t. I didn’t want to be doing the same thing day in day out. And without even realizing it, I started following the “what got you here won’t get you there” principal.

I read books, subscribed to magazines, attended conferences and training seminars—all to better myself. Soon, the “new guy” was teaching all the veteran designers new ways to do things.

As the years went by, I kept expanding my skills and my knowledge until I was the go-to person in the design department. But was I satisfied? No, I wanted more.

In the early 90s, I heard about this new thing called the World Wide Web. It was amazing. It had these pages built by programmers that you could visit with a computer to get all kinds of information.

An article I read in one of my design magazines said the World Wide Web was a new frontier for graphic designers, and I was keen to conquer it. My graphic design skills had gotten me to where I was, but they wouldn’t be enough for me to tackle this new avenue of design. I needed to learn how to design websites.

At the start, computer programers ruled the WWW, but they made very clunky, and frankly ugly websites. Without realizing it, they were leaving the door wide open for graphic designers to build aesthetically pleasing websites that people preferred. Sites that not only easy to use but pleasant to look at and easy to use.

I wanted to do that, but learning how to program would be a long and tedious road. Luckily there was this new software by Adobe called PageMill that allowed people like me to design websites without coding using a WYSIWYG interface. They later released Adobe SiteMill, then Adobe GoLive. I used these tools to build good looking websites.

Before I knew it, I started a side gig designing websites from home while still working at the print shop. It was the best of both worlds. I got to design print stuff during the day and web stuff in the evenings. However, my web clients weren’t as happy. They didn’t relish the idea of dealing with me at the print shop for their printed material and then waiting until evening to discuss their website.

If I wanted to rectify this problem, I needed to make some changes. What got you here won’t get you there.

I didn’t know how to be an entrepreneur. But I knew it’s what I needed to do if I wanted to take my career to the next level. So I left the print shop and started offering both print and web design under my own business.

Now I’m not going to continue through my entire history. But suffice it to say, there are many times since starting my business that I needed to leap to “get me there.”

At some point, I stopped creating “pretty websites” and started offering “strategic websites.”

I stopped trying to do everything myself and began hiring freelancers and contractors to help with projects. This opened up a whole new world for me and allowed me to grow my business. I no longer had to turn down work I wasn’t capable of or comfortable doing. Instead, I could continue to offer excellent services to my clients by farming out those parts I couldn’t handle myself.

I grew my team to include programmers, illustrators, photographers, designers, copywriters, translators, etc.

Then at some point, I realized that charging an hourly rate for my services was not a sustainable model for growth. The only way to make more money that way was to either work longer hours, which didn’t sound great. Or substantially raise my hourly rate, which wouldn’t go over very well in my small town.

What got you here won’t get you there.

So I changed my pricing strategy and started billing by the project and then later using value-based pricing.

Over the years, I implemented discovery meetings, brand strategy sessions, a client onboarding process and started using contracts. All of these things helped me grow my design business.

At each stage, everything I had done up to that point was not enough to get me to the next point. I had to take a leap and move beyond what I was currently doing.

Are you happy with your career right now, today? Can you imagine continuing as you are right now, for the rest of your working life until retirement? If you’re like me, the answer is no. You probably want bigger and better things in your future as well. What got you here won’t get you there.

Where do you imagine yourself in one year, two years, five years, ten years from now?  What steps do you need to take today, tomorrow, next week, next month, to propel your design business to that next level?

A good business person, heck, a good person in general, should never be satisfied with there current situation. They should always be striving for more. To better themselves, to grow their business, to accomplish bigger and better things.

So what’s stopping you from reaching that next level? Remember, what got you here won’t get you there.

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 Ryan

How do you handle written content on your client projects. I was wondering if you hire that out to another company, if you write it, or do you require the client to write their own content?

I'm having a hard time with content for my clients websites and thought your perspective would be helpful in my decision.

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

Thank you to Wireframe for supporting this episode of the podcast.

Check out the new season of Wireframe by Adobe – Wireframe is a podcast all about how UX can help technology fit into our lives.

Aug 10, 2020

Are you creating systems to help your design business?

Mike, a member of the Resourceful Designer Community, posted in the Community Slack group his frustrations with one of his clients. Mike built, manages and updates an eCommerce website for a client of his. His frustration is that every time his client wants a new product added to the site, he fails to provide Mike with all the necessary information, requiring Mike to contact the client, sometimes more than once, for the rest of the info.

Mike’s situation reminded me of a similar one I had with a client several years ago. And how my frustrations forced me into creating systems to address the issue.

Around 2010 a new client hired me to build an eCommerce website. This site would sell a wide and often unrelated assortment of products – everything from baseball bats, sunglasses, headphones, plastic shelf brackets, night lights and car seat warmers. And it was up to me to add every item to the site.

After I launched the website, I quickly realized the process my client wanted was not going to work. He started calling me at all hours of the day and on weekends with new products to add even though I explicitly told him I work Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm.

And similar to Mike’s situation that I mentioned above, any time my client had a new product for me to list, I would have to fight with him until I had all the content I needed to add it to the site.

I know this sounds like a toxic relationship. The only caveat was that even though I was charging my client by the hour, and you can imagine how the hours would add up, he never questioned my prices, and he paid his invoices on time. I was making good money, but this client was quickly becoming a pain to deal with.

A few weeks after the site launched, I finally put my foot down, and I created some systems to save my sanity.

The first thing I did was alter the way I charged him. Instead of billing for my time, I started charging him $50 for the first product and $30 for each subsequent product he sent me on a given day. This change immediately stopped the random emails and phone calls. To save money, my client started saving up products and submitting them to me in bulk.

The second thing I did was to create an online submission form that contained fields for all the information I needed to add a product to the website. Things like product name, description, selling price, shipping costs, size, colours, attributes, variations, etc.

I made most of the form fields mandatory, so my client couldn’t submit it until he had filled it out.

In some cases, I included YES/NO radio buttons asking questions like, “Does this product come in different colours?” If my client chose YES, he would then have to fill out another field listing the colours.

Finally, there was a way for him to attach product photos to the form.

Putting these two systems in place is what turned a nightmare of a client into someone I enjoyed working with. Plus, once I implemented these systems, my client started taking me more seriously.

Unfortunately, my client was not a very good business person, and his business failed, and we shut down the site after two years. But that project taught me the value of creating systems.

Of course, there are other types of systems. I use all kinds these days.

  • Questionnaires
  • Marketing and sales funnels
  • Social media strategy and calendars
  • Even my daily work process and routine

All of these can be called systems. Not only do they make my job easier, but they drastically speed up my tasks, AND they make it very easy for me to delegate work to others.

Creating systems for delegation.

Systems are a great way to teach others how to do things the way you need them done. I have a system for preparing a new WordPress website before I start designing it. It’s my step-by-step process for configuring the WordPress settings and installing and configuring the theme and plugins. I follow the same procedure on every website design I start.

I also have a system for launching a site to make sure nothing is forgotten. Before a website goes live, I make sure to check off every item on my list.

These two systems are the way I want things done. And because I have them set up as systems, I can easily pass off these duties to a virtual assistant and know that everything will be as I expect.

I have a system for my podcast artwork clients. It’s a questionnaire, but it’s still a system I use to gather the information I require to work on their project. Every time I meet with a new client, I pull out my list of questions and make sure to address each one during our conversation. It makes my job easier, and I never have to contact a client afterwards, saying I forgot to ask them something.

If I ever hire a project manager for my Podcast Branding business, they could use my questionnaire and get the same information I’m currently collecting. Because of the system I have, I know they won’t miss anything.

Creating systems makes you more efficient.

The systems I’ve created make me a more efficient designer and business person. They help streamline what I do and free up my time for other things. And creating systems can do the same thing for you.

I bet if you think hard, you already have systems in place. You’ve probably just never thought of them as systems. But now that you have, maybe you’ll start creating more systems that could help you become a more efficient person.

What systems do you use?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

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