If there’s one positive takeaway from the 2020 Pandemic, it’s that a lot of people got to experience what it’s like to work from home. Some realized right away that it’s not for them. They need people around them and an office environment to be productive. In contrast, others got a taste of what being a home-based business owner is like. And they like it. But to run a design business from home, full-time, permanently, you need to know what you’re getting into.
Some designers think that working from home is an easy life and that once you set up your design business, new clients and projects will just flow in. But it doesn’t work that way. This is not Field Of Dreams. Just building it does not guarantee they will come. Running a successful design business takes more than design skills.
For your design business to succeed, you need solid skills in business development, lead generation, marketing, communication, leadership to work with your team, and of course, sales. Being a designer and owning a design business are two completely different things.
So how do you make the most of it? How do you set yourself up for success? How do you ensure that you can sustain this lifestyle long term? The answer–you need to plan.
How does that saying go? “By failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.” So prepare yourself. Because chances are, it’s going to be a rocky start.
The first step in feeling like you’re running a home-based business is to treat your working space as your business office.
Having a place in your dwelling where you can transition from home life to business life is key. If you have a separate room that you can designate as your office, all the better. But if that’s not the case, pick a corner and set it up to be your working environment.
Get yourself a good office chair and set up your computer so that it’s ergonomically comfortable to work at. Then fill the space with everything you need to work productively. The more your environment feels like your “working space,” the more productive you’ll be.
Everyone dreams of making big bucks and living the dream. But that’s not the way you should be thinking. Remember, it’s not how much money you make that’s important, but how much of the money you keep and what you do with that money, especially at the start.
Even though a good office chair is important, don’t spend $1000 on one if you don’t have the money to invest yet. Keeping your overhead low is important. You want to keep your expenses to a minimum to benefit more from the money you make designing.
A wise man once said you could save 100% of your money by choosing not to buy something. So even though I’m a proponent for things such as lifetime deals. It’s only a deal if you can afford it and if you’re going to get enough use from it to cover the cost of the deal. Especially when you’re just starting, be careful what you spend.
One of the biggest mistakes freelance designers make is focusing all their time and energy on the projects they do for their clients. Yes, you want to give 100% to your clients. But that 100% doesn’t have to mean all of your time.
There’s a big difference between working in your business and working on your business. You must make time to work on aspects of your business as well. Like finances, to make sure you’re keeping your overhead low and doing the most with the money you’re earning. Then there are marketing plans to figure out how you’re going to reach out to new clients. There are also processes and systems you need to develop for your business to succeed, like how you will communicate with your clients and your team? How are you going to organize all the assets you acquire?
Don’t forget your goals. Goals are your destination. Where you want to be a year, two years, 5 years from now. Without goals, you have no way to measure your success.
Just because you’re an office of one, making money from the few clients you have, don’t think you can avoid treating what you do as a business. And for any business to succeed, it needs to evolve with the times. So make time to work on your business, and not just in your business.
Never shy away from the fact that you are working from home. There was a time when working from home was looked down upon. But not anymore. It’s the end of 2020, and if there’s anything this year has taught us, is that working from home is a viable option. It no longer has the negative stigma it once had. In fact, many people will be envious when you say you’re working from home.
Take the attitude that you are working from home, not working at home. There’s a difference. You are running a business, just like every brick and mortar business out there. It just so happens that your business is situated in the same location you call home.
Just because you’re working from home is not an excuse to be unprofessional. How you present yourself and your business is vitally important to your success.
I’m a T-Shirt and jeans kind of guy, but any time I meet with a client, either in person or virtually, I make sure to dress up, shave and look presentable. If you present yourself as a starving artist, your clients won’t take you seriously.
If you need an actual business environment to meet with clients, look into daily office or conference room rentals at local co-working spaces.
Looking professional also applies to your visual brand. Your logo, your website, your social media, etc. You’re a designer; I shouldn’t have to tell you the importance a good brand can have on a business. The same applies to you.
All of this may be well and good, but you have to be honest with yourself before you get too far down this path. Not everyone is suited to working from home.
Nobody knows you better than yourself. Do you have the work habits required to do this all alone? Do you have the discipline to work unsupervised and not be distracted by the things around you? Can you remain happy and motivated after doing this for a long time? Are you capable of dealing with the isolation of being alone every day?
This last one is important. Isolation can lead to depression, which can lead to poor working habits and bad business decisions. Which, if left unchecked, can result in a failed business. Find something to help with isolation. Join groups and communities to help combat isolation. The Resourceful Designer Community is a great place for this. Or find local groups where you can interact in person.
Not only will these activities aid your social mindset, but they can also enhance your business and quality of life significantly.
So there you have it, six steps to running a business from home.
If you’ve already taken the plunge and are currently running a home-based design business, make sure you have everything in place to ensure your success.
Remember, A goal without a plan is just a wish. And the last time I checked, wishes don’t put food on the table.
Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.
Tip 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.
You know how important it is to backup your computer. Should the unforeseen happen, your backup is all that stands between you getting back to work after a short delay or having to explain to your clients how you’ve lost everything you’ve designed for them and have to start over.
In the old days of computing, a backup consisted of storing files on floppy disks. Then we graduated to things like Zip drives or Jaz drives. Then CDs and DVDs became the preferred method for backing up files. Depending on your organization's size, and of course, your budget, you could also back up to digital tape.
These were the easily transportable backup methods—the ones you could take with you or store safely off-site.
You also needed to back up to external hard drives. Expensive, bulky things that were great for backing up your entire computer, but you needed a couple of them for a true backup solution. Constantly swapping them with one backing up in-house while the other was safely stored off-site.
Things have come a long way since those days. The price of hard drives has come way down, making backup much more affordable. And you can now store hundreds of thousands of files on a drive smaller in size than a stick of gum. So there’s no excuse for not having a backup solution in place.
Out of these methods, the one flaw in most backup strategies has always been the off-site backup. Most people start with the best intentions. Moving a fresh backup off-site every day. Then, as time went by and nothing catastrophic happened, those daily off-site backups became weekly backups, and then monthly backups, until you had to check a calendar to figure out when the last backup was made.
Whether your backup was daily, weekly, monthly or more didn’t make much difference... until your main system failed you. Boy, oh, boy, did it make a difference then. It’s bad enough if you lost a day's worth of work, but to lose a whole week or more? That’s catastrophic.
For anyone around computers in the 90s and early 2000s, you’ve heard the horror stories of crashed computers without backups. Hopefully, those stories were not about you.
And then The Cloud was born. The mysterious digital cloud. A place... somewhere, where you can store your files safely, offsite, without having to take a hard drive or disks anywhere.
Ok, that’s enough of a history lesson. It’s 2020 as I'm typing this, and I’m hoping you've heard of the cloud and how to use it to back up your files. But just in case, the cloud is simply a group of computers somewhere in the world, managed by some company. These groups of computers are also known as data centres. When you sign up for a cloud syncing or cloud backup service, you are in effect renting storage space in one of these data centres.
Sorry if I ruined your idea of The Cloud being a magical storage space floating around in the sky.
Even though cloud sync and cloud backup use similar data centers, they are different in how they function. There’s a common misconception that they’re the same thing, but they’re not. In fact, if you want to go by today’s standard backup practices, you should be using both sync and backup. If you’re not, you may be compromising your backup strategy.
In essence, Cloud Sync are services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive and many others who work by designating specific areas of your hard drives such as a single folder or a group of folders and “synchronizing” the contents of those folders to their data center. This syncing service allows you to access your files from different locations and using different devices.
Let's say you save a design file to your sync folder on your iMac. That file becomes available to you on your laptop's sync folder, making it easy to show clients while visiting their office. While with the client, you can make changes to the file, knowing those changes will sync and be available on your iMac once you return.
If you need to get a 3rd party contractor involved, such as a copywriter, share the synced file with them, and any changes they make will be reflected on your file as well. As long as the file is in the sync folder, it can be opened, worked on and saved from anywhere.
What’s important to note is that only files stored in the synced folder are accessible from everywhere. If it’s an Adobe InDesign file, InDesign needs to be installed on your iMac, your laptop and on any third party’s computer who needs to access the file. However, things like fonts and any digital assets used by the file stored in the synced folder are not available from everywhere. If you forget to put it in your sync folder, it won’t get synced.
Most syncing services charge you based on the amount of data you store with them. If you need more room, they always offer a bigger and more expensive tier you could purchase.
One of the downsides of cloud sync services is that should something happen to the file on one device, it happens everywhere. For example, say the copywriter accidentally deletes the file. It’s deleted on your computer as well.
Depending on what level you are paying for, some syncing services offer a version history feature, so you can go back and recover a file that was accidentally deleted up to a certain point.
One more thing to note. Should your computer be compromised with a virus or get hacked and the synced folder on your computer be affected, having your files synced to the cloud won't help because they will also be affected.
A Cloud Backup service, such as Backblaze or Carbonite, works in the background. In most cases, once you set it up, you don’t even realize it’s there. It monitors everything on your computer and backs up any new or changed data it finds to the cloud.
Usually, you pay one fee for unlimited cloud backup storage space. There’s no tiered pricing.
Most cloud backup solutions offer version history, so if a file on your computer gets corrupted, or if after working on it for a while, you decide you liked the previous version instead, you can access an earlier version from the backup. It’s very similar to Apple’s Time Machine or other similar services, but it’s in the cloud.
Because Cloud Backup is automated, there’s no need to put your files into a dedicated syncing folder. Your entire computer is backed up, so you know that everything is protected, your files, applications, fonts, everything.
Unlike Cloud Sync, you are not working directly on the files in the cloud. Any changes you make to a local file are not automatically reflected on your other devices unless you are also storing them in a Cloud Sync folder. You can still share cloud backup files with someone else, but once downloaded, any changes they make to the file will not show up on your end.
Cloud backup is there to protect you should something happen to your computer, and not just should something happen to certain dedicated files and folders.
The best-case scenario is you use both a Cloud Sync and a Cloud Backup solution. That’s what I do. I use both Dropbox to house files I need to access from multiple devices or share with others. And I use Backblaze to make sure everything on my computer is safely backed up to the cloud.
Should you need to recover your cloud data, there are some differences to note between the two services. Retrieving all your files from Cloud Sync can be cumbersome and take a long time, especially if you pay and use one of the higher tiers. It could take several days to download everything, and you better have unlimited internet, or else you’ll be paying an arm and a leg for overage fees.
A Cloud Backup service such as Backblaze also allows you to download your files over the internet, but Backblaze has a service where for a fee, they’ll overnight ship you a physical USB hard drive of all your backed up files. This allows you to quickly copy all your files to your computer without worrying about download issues. You can then return the HD to Backblaze for a refund.
Now that you know what each service does Let me tell you that you should be using both Cloud Sync and Cloud Backup. And that’s on top of a physical in-house backup to an external hard drive. It’s a 1-2-3 approach that gives you at least three copies of your data. The more places your data lives, the less chance you have of losing it.
Don’t think of Cloud Sync and Cloud Backup as using one or the other. Allow both services to work in conjunction with you. It’s the only way you’ll know your data is truly safe.
Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.
Resource of the week Divi Marketplace
Divi is amazing on its own, but it's also backed by a growing community of developers and designers! The Divi Marketplace is the place to find tons of free and premium extensions, layouts and other products that complement Divi and will help you build unique websites.
Have you ever heard of the term Psychological Reactance?
According to Wikipedia, Psychological Reactance is unpleasant motivational arousal (reaction) to offers, persons, rules, or regulations that threaten or eliminate specific behavioural freedoms. Reactance occurs when a person feels that someone is taking away their choices or limiting the range of alternatives.
This last part is what comes into play in today’s topic. When a person feels that someone is taking away their choices or limiting the range of alternatives, in other words, say they can’t have it, and they’ll want it even more.
Just look throughout history. People are constantly doing things they’re told they can’t or shouldn’t do. Books that are banned by school systems quickly become some of the most sought after books around. When a song is banned from television or the radio, it soon tops the charts. When the USA introduced prohibition in the 1920s banning the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages, what happened? More alcohol was produced and distributed than ever before.
When you tell someone they can’t have something; they want it even more. That’s Psychological Reactance.
So how does this apply to running a design business? Simple, tell a client they can’t have something or something isn’t for them, and they’ll want it even more.
What do I mean by this?
Let’s say a client is looking for a logo design, and they only have $500 to spend. Using the three-tier pricing method, a pricing strategy where you offer three different options to a client, each one consisting of a slightly better “package” at a slightly higher price, you may present something like this.
Option # 1: Design a logo for $500
Option # 2: Design a complete branding package including a logo, stationery and social media branding for $1000
Option # 3: Same as option #2 plus additional assets and a brand style guide for $1500
This pricing strategy gives the client options to choose from. It reduces the chance of them shopping around for other design prices. And it shows them the value of the different product tiers.
This pricing strategy is great for upselling to your clients, but it works even better when combined with psychological reactance.
Even though the client told you they have a $500 limit, you present options outside their budget. Show them what's available if only they had more to spend, for example.
Here’s a proposal I prepared for you showing various options I can provide.
Please look at options two and three. I know you can’t afford them according to the budget for this project, but at least they'll give you ideas for when you can afford it.
When you present your three pricing tiers, you can do so in a way that the client feels their choices are being taken away.
By telling a client they can’t afford something, you make those options more desirable. They'll feel like their choices are being taken away, and they'll look at those two options even closer.
I can’t tell you how many times clients told their maximum budget was X only to end up agreeing to one of the more expensive and more valuable options I presented them. Sometimes they chose options that are double or triple their original max budget. Somehow, the money is there.
This is not swindling or conning the client. You are simply presenting in a way that makes them feel like their choices are limited, which makes them want it more. People want the freedom to choose for themselves what they can and cannot do or have. A good salesperson knows how to take advantage of that.
The way it works is to use phrases such as.
“You probably can’t afford this...”
“You’ll probably refuse this idea...”
“This may not be for you...”
“You probably won’t agree to this...”
“You may not be the best person for this...”
Anything that tells the client they’re not a good fit for whatever you are offering.
Another great way to present something is to say. “Do you know someone who may be interested in... or, who may be suitable for...”
This last example subtly tells the client they are not suitable or not a good fit. You're not actually saying it, but it’s implied, and they may look more closely at what you are offering.
The best way to get new work from old clients is not to ask them if they have any work for you, but to ask them if they know anyone who may need your services.
I hope you're satisfied with the website I built for you. I know you don’t need anything else from me right now, but I would be grateful if you would give them my name and contact information if you know anyone who does.
By telling the client they don't need anything from you, you're subconsciously making them feel left out. And since nobody likes to feel left out, they may think of something else you can do for them.
This method not only makes clients more receptive to what you are offering, but it actually gives them an out by giving them the freedom to choose for themselves. If they truly cannot afford it or are not a good fit, no harm was done. The client can move along without feeling affronted.
However, if that’s not the case, if their budget is more flexible than they told you or they are more open than they led to believe, they may decide to hear you out. And in most cases, that seals the deal allowing you to make a bigger sale. Congratulations.
Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.
Resource of the week FontOfWeb.com
Ever want to know what fonts are being used on a website? Fontofweb.com to the rescue. Just enter the URL of the website in question, and Fonttoweb.com will present you with a nice list of all the web page's fonts and how they are being used. Everything from which ones are bolded or used in spans to what weight, line height and point size each header tag is using.
Many home-based designers started off freelancing as a hobby or as a side gig before ever going full-time. It’s the way I did it. I worked at both the print shop and evenings and weekends at home for about a year before I made the leap to solopreneurship. And even though I knew I wanted to do it from the start, I remember the uncertainty of it all was scary.
In hindsight, I can tell you it was one of, if not the best business decision I ever made. I only wish I had done it sooner. Ask most full-time home-based designers, and they’ll tell you the same thing.
But thinking about making the leap and actually doing it are two different things. Maybe you have a cushy design job working for someone else. Or perhaps your full-time job isn’t even design related, and designing is something you do in your spare time.
How do you know you’re ready to do this, on your own, full-time?
I’m not going to talk about the physical aspect of it. Whether you have the right environment or the right equipment. Or even if you have the financial means to do so. But I hope I can help you with the mental side by sharing 4 signs that indicate you’re ready to take your side gig full-time and embrace the life of a design business owner.
Designing on the side can be fun. And earning a bit of extra spending money is always a good thing. But turning your “hobby” into a full-fledged business is a completely different matter. It requires a daily commitment and a persistent effort to sustain it and work at growing it.
As a business owner, you'll be faced with deadlines, acquiring and dealing with clients, working on projects and tasks you may not be that interested in, and just overall dealing with a whole new form of stress you may not be used to. Not to mention it could take a while before you start earning a profit.
Success is not guaranteed. Especially instant success.
Take a reality check and know before you start whether or not you are willing to stick it out for the long haul as you strive to turn your “hobby” into something successful and profitable. If you’re willing to do just that, you’ve passed indicator number 1.
A key indication that you can turn your design skills into an actual business is knowing you can earn a living at it.
It’s one thing to create an invitation for your grandmas 80th birthday. It’s a completely different thing to create an invitation for your city’s business awards gala.
Are your design skills good enough that people are willing to pay you to do it? A good indication is when people start asking you to design things without you offering first. If people you know are approaching you for design work, there is an excellent chance other people, people you may not know, are willing to pay for your services. If that’s the case, it’s a clear indication that there’s potential to expand beyond your “hobby” into a full-fledged design business, and you’ve passed indicator number 2.
Turning your design side gig into a design business doesn’t simply mean you’re designing all day, every day. If you start a full-time design business, you will be expected to do what it takes to run a business beyond just designing.
This includes marketing your business, acquiring clients, answering emails and phone calls from potential clients. You'll be Invoicing clients, chasing payments, keeping your books up to date, filing your taxes.
Understanding how to run a business is just as important as your skills as a designer.
Most home-based design businesses that fail do so not because they are bad designers but because they’re bad business people. Your design talent will only get you so far. If you don’t take time to learn the basics of running and scaling your business, you won’t succeed.
Regardless of how much you think you know about running a business, you’ll want to put in some extra time to understand better all it entails—everything from the principles of managing your finances, to time management, to client relationship building.
Once you grasp what it takes to start and run a design business, you’ve passed indicator #3
Starting a home-based design business will often require some sacrifices, especially financially. Until your business is up and running and you have clients bringing you design projects, there will be no money coming in. Are you willing and able to put in the effort every day knowing there’s no money coming in yet? It can become very stressful.
Starting a home-based business is also a major lifestyle change. Can you cope with the isolation of working all by yourself every day? Do you have the discipline to sit at your workstation and actually work without being distracted by anything? Are you able to separate your work life from your family life when needed?
All “hobbies” that are turned into businesses require sacrifices of time, money and work-life balance. Possibly even sleep. You have to be sure that whatever sacrifices you make for your business to succeed won’t compromise other essential aspects of your life.
Suppose you are someone with a career in a different field and designs on the side. You have to realize that this “fun hobby” you enjoy so much may start to feel less enjoyable and more like work as you spend your time growing your business.
If you believe you can proceed without any of these things affecting you, then you’ve passed indicator #4.
If you can acknowledge and say for certain, you’re comfortable with each of the four signs.
Then you are in the right mindset to turn your “hobby” into a legitimate full-time design business. Take the time to fully evaluate the opportunities presented to you and create a plan for you to follow. You can turn your hobby or side gig into one of the most enjoyable things you will ever do to earn a living.
As most of us who previously followed this path to varying degrees of success will tell you. We can’t imagine doing anything else. Our only regret is we didn’t start sooner.
Resource of the week Squoosh.app
Squoosh.app is a website that allows you to drag and drop images you want to optimize for web use. The image appears in a full browser window with a slider in the middle. Your uploaded image is on the left, and the optimized image on the right. You drag the slider left and right to compare the two images. Options allow you to resize the image as well as reduce the colour pallet. You can also adjust the type of compression and quality of the image until you are satisfied and are ready to download your newly optimized image.
I don’t know how they do it, but I’ve been able to take optimized images out of Photoshop and cut their file size in half without any noticeable degradation of the image. Check it out; I'm sure you'll find the site useful.
There are many graphic designers who don't offer web design services. Some have no desire to do so. While others would love to add web design to their list of skills. However, they feel intimidated by the notion of tackling a new medium. What they fail to realize is that although the usage between print design and website design is different, the design principles required to make both look good are the same.
At their core, the foundation principles that govern what is good design are the same regardless if you are designing for paper or screen.
I got into web design in the mid-90s when having a website was a novelty for most businesses. At that time I was offering something unique. Most websites in the early to mid-90s were built by computer programmers, and at the time, most computer programmers were not very adept at design.
My sales pitch was to ask clients if they wanted an ugly website with beautiful code, code that nobody sees. Or if they wanted a great looking website with not so perfect code but still functioned perfectly. Most clients sided with a good looking website.
As a web designer, I offered the aesthetics of good design. I took the skills I learned as a print designer and applied those skills to web design. And I do the same today.
If you are a print designer who would like to learn web design, the process is not as difficult as you may believe. Because of your design knowledge, you are already halfway there.
Think back to when you first learned to drive a car. There was an awful lot of information you needed to learn.
These are just a handful of the many, many rules you needed to learn.
On top of the rules of the road, you also had to learn how to operate a vehicle.
and so on, and so on. When you think of every small aspect of learning to drive, there was an awful lot you needed to know.
Now, imagine as an experienced car driver, you want to learn how to drive a motorcycle.
You’re going to have a much easier time learning to drive a motorcycle than someone who is learning to drive for the very first time on a motorbike.
Why is that? It's because of the foundation you already know. The fundamentals, the principles of driving are the same whether you are driving a car or a motorcycle. The street signs are the same. The rules of the road are the same. You’re still going to use turn signals. You’re still going to check your blind spots. The accelerator and breaks on a motorbike are different than those on a car but your previous knowledge will help you get accustomed to them much faster.
If you already know how to drive a car, learning to drive a motorcycle is so much easier than if you didn’t know how to drive a car.
The same applies to a print designer learning web design.
The foundation of good design, the principals you follow on every print piece you create apply just the same on a web page.
The principles of design are the same. What’s different are the tools you use and the medium you’re creating on.
Think back to when you first started as a print designer. Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign all seemed very daunting. But slowly, through experimenting and practice, you learned how to use them. It’s the same thing with web design only the tools are things like WordPress, Squarespace or Wix.
And I’m not talking about coding. There was a time when coding and web design went hand in hand, but that’s not the case anymore. There are plenty of web designers, making a good living designing websites for clients, who don’t know anything about code. And if for some reason you do end up needing code to accomplish something on a website, Uncle Google is always there to help you. It’s not that intimidating.
Just like learning to drive a motorcycle is so much easier if you already know how to drive a car because the same driving principles apply to both vehicles. Learning web design is so much easier if you already know the principles behind what makes good design.
Start off small, get a Wix or Squarespace account if WordPress intimidates you too much. Then once you get comfortable designing websites, branch out and give WordPress a try.
You know what they say, anything is easy once you know how to do it. Well as far as web design goes, if you’re already a print designer, you’re more than halfway there. So don’t be afraid, give it a try, and before long, you’ll be adding web design to your list of design services.