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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Dec 21, 2020

A look back at 2020 and a look ahead to 2021.

[sc name="pod_ad"]Thank you for your continued interest in Resourceful Designer. You have no idea how much I appreciate you. There are so many great resources available for learning and growing as a designer, and I'm humbled that you choose to spend a bit of your valuable time with me.

I'm continuing the tradition of making the final podcast episode of the year a form of a retrospective where I look back a the year that's coming to an end and look forward to the year ahead. I bring you A Look back, A Look Ahead 2020 Edition.

A Look Back at my 2020 goals.

At the end of 2018, I set these goals for myself.

ACCOMPLISHED: Talk at more conferences in 2020. Surprisingly, although not as many as I expected, the two conferences I talked at in 2020 were more than I did in 2019, so mission accomplished.

FAIL: Grow the Resourceful Designer audience. The 2020 pandemic took a big toll on podcast listenership, and Resourceful Designer was not immune. With fewer people commuting to work, I saw my download numbers dip during COVID lockdowns. The end of the year saw a rise in downloads but not enough to view it as a growth from the previous year.

ACCOMPLISHED: Grow the Resourceful Designer Community. The Community has quickly become a place where friendships form and help is freely given. It's even more wonderful than I anticipated.

ACCOMPLISHED: Grow Podcast Branding. My niche design business focusing on the podcast industry saw huge growth in 2020. With so many people stuck at home, many decided to start a podcast and needed visuals to go with it.

Some of my numbers from 2020

Resourceful Designer

  • Released 47 podcast episodes
  • Reached over 550k total episode downloads in 2020 (Over 125k of which were in 2020)
  • Resourceful Designer released on Gaana and Amazon Music.

My design business

My design business took a huge hit from COVID-19, with many of my clients being affected by lockdowns.

  • Worked on design projects for 9 different clients (down from 29 in 2019)
  • Two of those clients were first-time clients.
  • I sent out only 14 invoices in 2020 (down from 57 in 2019)
  • Lost 7 long-standing clients due to various reasons.

Podcast Branding

My Podcast Branding business saved me from a horrible year.

A Look Ahead at my 2020 goals.

My 2019 goals carry forward. I want the listenership of Resourceful Designer to continue growing. I want to speak at conferences (I'm already booked to speak at one in March). I want to build the Resourceful Designer Community. It's such a fantastic place right now, but I know it can be even better.

New Goal for 2020.

  • Keep going the podcast listenership.
  • Keep growing Podcast Branding to become THE place for podcast websites and branding.
  • Keep growing the Resourceful Designer Community

What about you?

Did you accomplish your goals for 2019, and What are your goals for the new year?

  • Are you a student getting ready to graduate? What are your goals once you’re done school?
  • Are you still relatively new to the design world? What are your goals to hone your skills?
  • Are you a veteran designer like I am? What are your goals for continued growth?
  • Are you a designer working for someone else? Maybe you enjoy your job; maybe you don’t. Either way, what are your future goals?
  • Or perhaps you’re already a home-based designer, a freelancer if that’s the term you use; what are your goals to grow your business?

Wherever you are in the world, whatever your level of skill, whatever your situation is, I want you to take some time to look back at 2019 and think about your accomplishments AND your shortcomings.

Did you stop after your accomplishments? Or did you plow right through them, happy with yourself but reaching even further? What about your shortcomings? Did they discourage you, or did they create a sense of want even higher than before?

Did you reach the goals you set out for yourself and your design business in 2019? If yes, were you happy with the outcome? If no, think about what prevented you from reaching those goals.

So long 2020

As 2020 comes to an end (good riddance). I encourage you to reflect on this past year. Think about everything you’ve accomplished and those things you fell short on. And come up with a plan to make 2021 your year of success. To help with your planning, perhaps you should listen to episode 55 of the podcast, Setting Goals For Your Design Business.

I’ll be back in 2021 with lots more advice for starting and growing your design business.

I’m Mark Des Cotes wishing you a Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season. And of course, that no matter what goals you set for yourself in the new year, the one thing you have to remember is to Stay Creative.

What are your goals for 2021?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Dec 14, 2020

There are so many things you can do to improve your design business. Here are 5 tips to help you along the way.

Tip # 1) How do you get people to pay attention to you?

How do you get people to pay attention and be interested in what you have to say? Be it at a networking event, during presentations, in the emails you send, on a landing page or other marketing material? Start by identifying the problem you solve.

As a designer, you are a problem solver. That's your superpower. But nobody cares about a solution if the problem hasn’t been identified. Our brains are wired to go from problem to solution, problem to solution. If you only offer the solution, nobody will care what you have to say.

For example; When someone asks what you do for a living, don’t just say, “I design websites for startup companies.” Try it, and you’ll see just how fast someone’s eyes can glaze over.

Instead, start with a problem like this. "Do you know how hard it is for a new startup company to compete online these days? With people’s patience and attention spans getting shorter and shorter, it can seem like an impossible task to get noticed. What I do is create great looking and high-converting websites that help new startups quickly gain traction, catch up to and eventually surpass their competition."

A problem, followed by a solution. Now you have their attention.

Tip # 2) Be confident in your calls-to-action.

Every good website, including your own website for your design business, needs a call-to-action (CTA). Without one, what’s the point of the site?

Sure, you want people to know more about you.

Sure, you want people to know what services you offer.

Sure, you want people to see your work portfolio.

But ultimately, what you want is for people to hire you. The best way to do that is with an assertive CTA.

A passive CTA such as “Learn More” or “Get Started” just don’t cut it. What they actually do is instill doubt in the client. It’s as if you’re not sure about your business and are afraid to ask the client to commit. So instead of asking them to hire you, you’re asking them to learn more about you in the hopes you can convince them. Or to get started, and if they don’t like what they see, we can stop.

No. What you want to do is be bold and show confidence that you can help the client and show it in your CTA. Be direct and use CTAs like “Hire me,” “Schedule a Call,” or “Order Now.” The more direct you are with assertive CTAs, the better the chance someone will hire you.

3) Get paid faster by sharing the value you provided on your invoices.

Wouldn’t it be nice if clients paid your invoices as soon as they receive them, and you didn’t have to sit there wondering when or if the money would ever come in?

What if you could make one small change that would actually encourage your clients to pay your invoices faster? You can. By sharing the value, you provided directly on the invoice.

If your invoice looks something like this...

Item 1) Designed website = $xxx
Item 2) Designed Logo = $xxx
Item 3) Designed brochure = $xxx
Total = $xxx

Then you’re missing out.

Use a description field or add a footnote reminding your clients of their purchase value, not just the cost... the value.

Item 1) Designed website with clear and concise messaging, which will produce a good conversion rate, translating to increased sales.
Item 2) Designed Logo that shows the brand's quality and longevity and stands out amongst the competition.
Item 3) Designed brochure to showcase the client's premium services and instill an air of confidence in people hiring you.

Show the client that you provided more than just a website, logo or brochure. You provided something that will help their business grow and succeed. When they see and are reminded of that, they will be much more willing to pay your invoice quicker.

Tip # 4) Go from being a good salesperson to a great salesperson.

We don't’ like thinking about it, but a major part of running a design business is being a salesperson. Otherwise, we wouldn’t ever get new clients.

The number of clients who hire you is directly related to how good a salesperson you are. If you want to go from being a good salesperson to being a great salesperson, you need to remember two things: empathy and authority.


Empathy is showing that you understand the problem the client is coming to you with. “I understand how you feel.” “I get where you’re coming from.” “I know exactly what you’re talking about.”

When a client feels you have an empathetic connection with them, they are much more likely to hire you.


Authority is showing you’re not only confident you can help them, but that you have the experience to back up that confidence. “I’ve helped other clients with similar problems.” “That’s a common issue that I know we can solve.” “Here’s what we can do to solve that.”

Think of the power when you combine Empathy and Authority. “I understand how you feel. Rest assured, I’ve helped other clients with similar problems before.” “I get where you’re coming from. That’s actually a common issue that I know we can solve.” “I know exactly what you’re talking about. Here’s what we can do to solve that.”

Tip # 5) Avoid being cute or trying to be clever in your marketing.

When done right, cute and clever can be a huge success. Unfortunately, the majority of the time they are not done right. And there’s no way for the person who’s developing the campaign to know if it’s done right or not because they’re too close to it.

The problem with trying to be cute or clever is a lot of people won’t get it. They’re not in your head. They’re not part of the discussion that comes up with the campaign idea. And therefore, they won’t understand the message. That idea that you think is so cute or clever is completely lost to them. And if a potential client feels confused about your message. You’ve lost them as a client.

For any marketing campaign to be successful, the message needs to be clear. Clear what the message is and clear what you want them to do. "Do you need a professional graphic designer to develop your new company’s brand? Book a call to discuss your project."

Concise and Clear will win out over cute and clever every time.


Resource of the week Evernote

Evernote is, in my opinion, one of the best organization and note-taking applications there is. I use it on a daily basis to keep track of everything from podcast and blog topics, to business contacts, websites I need to revisit, and so much more. Evernote's ability to sync across all my devices means I can access it no matter where I am. It's become one of the most invaluable tools in my arsenal. If you are interested in giving it a try visit

Dec 7, 2020

Do you understand what perceived value is?

Many graphic and web designers have difficulty understanding perceived value when it comes to how their clients view them. You can offer the same service to multiple people, and each one will perceive the value of what you’re offering them differently. I thought I would do something different by telling you a story to get the point across. Here goes.

A lesson in understanding perceived value.

Once upon a time (I know, it’s a cliché way to start a story, but I’m going with it.) Once upon a time, there was a young graphic designer by the name of Tom.

Several months ago, the large corporation Tom worked at was acquired. As part of the merger process, the new company dissolved the design department where Tom worked, and he lost his job.

Tom was upset, of course, but he decided to see this as an opportunity. With the help of his severance money, he decided to do something he had been dreaming of doing for quite a while, open his own home-based design business.

One day, on his way back from a client meeting, Tom decided to stop in and see his father.

“Hey, Dad! Where are you?”

“I’m in the attic.”

Tom made his way up to the attic, a place he seldom saw, even when he lived in this house with his parents.

“What are you doing up here?” he asked.

His father was sitting amid several open boxes, “I was taking out the holiday decorations when nostalgia got the best of me, and I decided to go through some of these old storage bins. Some of these haven’t been opened in decades. What are you doing here?”

“I had a meeting this morning with a new client not far from here, and I thought I’d drop by before heading home.”

“How’d the meeting go?” Asked his father.

Tom sighed, “I got the job.”

“You don’t sound that happy about it,” replied the older man.

“Dad, sometimes I think I made a mistake starting my own design business. It’s not as easy as I thought it would be. Take this new client, for example. He’s a handyman who does odd jobs for people. He’s looking for a logo he can put on the side of his truck and business cards.”

“What’s wrong with that?” Asked his father.

“Price,” replied Tom. “He only has a budget of $150. That’s not a lot of money for a logo.”

“You know,” continued Tom, “I read articles, I watch videos, I listen to podcasts, and they all say how graphic and web designers should be charging more money for their services. But I don’t see how. I mean, I’m lucky this guy is willing to pay me $150. Do you know there are services online where you can get a logo designed for under $10? How are designers these days supposed to compete with that?”

The father looked at his son, thoughtfully. Then he nodded inwardly to himself and said, “Thomas, that’s a tough situation you’re in, but I’m sure you’ll work it out.”

Changing the subject, the father asked, “Hey, look in that bin over there. Do you see that wooden box? Take it out.”

Tom looked in the bin and pulled out a small ornately carved wooden box. With a nod from his father, he opened it. The box was lined with old black felt. Resting on the felt was a very old watch. The gold on it was tarnished. The glass was cracked and fogged a bit, and the well-worn leather band looked dry and cracked.

“What’s this?” asked Tom.

“That my son is a family heirloom. Your, let’s see now, a family gave your great-great-grandfather that watch when he helped them during the Civil War. He called it his good luck charm. He passed it on to his son when he enlisted in World War I. Who then passed it on to your grandfather, who wore it during World War II.

When grandpa passed away, the watch was passed to me. And one day, it will be yours. It doesn’t work anymore, but it’s part of our history.”

“That’s pretty cool,” replied Tom. “Why have I never seen this before?”

“To be honest,” said the father, “I had all but forgotten it until today when I found the box. Hey, do me a favour, on your way home, can you stop by the pawnshop downtown? I don’t want to sell it. But I’d be curious to know what they’d pay for it.”

“Sure, Dad, why not.” Replied the son.

A little while later, Tom called his father. “Dad, I just came out of the pawnshop. They offered $20 for the watch. They said it looked old so that somebody may be interested in it, but since it’s not functioning, that’s the best they could do.”

“That’s disappointing,” replied the father. “Humm. There’s an antique store two blocks from where you are. Do you have time to ask them what they think?”

“Yes, I could do that,” replied Tom.

Later, Tom called his father again. “Guess what? The lady at the shop was intrigued by the watch. She said a watch that old is a rare find and offered $300 for it.”

“That’s a lot better.” Said the father. “Do you have time for one more stop? Take it down to the museum on the edge of town and show it to the curator.”

Tom hesitated a bit but then agreed.

Later that afternoon, Tom burst into his father’s home. “Dad, Dad, you won’t believe it,” he said excitedly, “The museum curator was so impressed when I showed him the watch. He said a piece like that would be a wonderful addition to their collection. He offered to buy it for $50,000.”

Tom’s father looked at his son for a moment, then asked, “So what does that tell you about the watch?”

“It tells me that the guy at the pawnshop and the lady at the antique store had no idea of the true value of the watch.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, my son.” replied the father. “All three places you visited were correct in their valuing of the watch.

For the guy at the pawnshop, it’s just another watch. Sure it may be old, but that doesn’t matter to him. He sees watches come and go all the time. If you had accepted his $20 offer, he’d add it to the other watches for sale without a second thought and forget about it until someone showed interest in it. And since you didn’t accept his offer, it’s not a big deal to him. There will always be someone else with another old watch to sell him. So there was no real value in it for him.

The woman at the antique store saw a bit more value in the watch because she’s used to dealing with old things. She could appreciate it as rare antiquity and valued it as such. But to her, it’s still just an old watch to display amongst all the other old things in her shop. So even though she valued it more than the pawnshop owner did, it was still only worth $300 to her”

“Now, the museum curator, on the other hand, that guy saw more than just a watch. Sure, it would be just another museum piece for people to admire as part of their collection. But it goes beyond that. What he saw was not the value of the watch itself, but the value the watch could bring by improving the museum’s display.

Adding that watch to their collection would enhance the experience of the people who visited the museum. It would give them another story to tell. It would give them something new to expand upon. To the museum curator, that enhanced experience visitors would receive because of the watch is a lot more valuable than the watch itself. That’s why he was willing to offer so much more for it. Not for the watch, but for the experience the watch brings.

All three people you showed it to saw the exact same watch. But each one had a different perceived value based on their circumstances. And none of them were wrong.

Tom, son, the same principle applies to your design business. That handyman you told me about this morning, he doesn’t really care what his logo looks like. He knows he needs one. As long as people can read it and recognize it, he’ll be happy. That’s why he only wanted to spend what he did. He has a low perceived value of what you can do for him.

Let me ask you, does your knowledge as a graphic designer or are the skills you use to design logos any different weather a client pays you $150 or $1500?”

“No,” replied Tom.

“Do you think that the designers who charge thousands of dollars for logos are that much better at what they do than you?” asked his father.

Tom replied again. “No”

“No,” Agreed his father. “The difference between you and designers charging a lot more is they’re positioning themselves to go after clients who see the value in what they do. Clients that understand a logo as more than just a pretty graphic picture. They understand the value a well-designed logo can bring to their company.

Just like with the watch. There are clients out there who want the cheapest design option available to them. Some clients understand that good design matters and therefore costs money. However, to them, it’s still an expense they can afford only to a certain extent.

And then some clients know that design goes beyond the designed piece itself. When implemented right, good design can drastically affect their bottom line positively. To them, the design is an investment with a projected ROI. And that’s why they assign so much more value to it.

So, Tom, you’ve told me that what you do is no different than what those other high-end designers do. Is that correct?

“I did,” Tom replied.

“Then, son, be confident in what you do because you are an amazing designer. You need to decide what type of clients you want to spend your time working with—the ones who don’t appreciate your value or the ones who do.

And Tom?”

“Yes, Dad?”

His father smiled at him. “Don’t get any fancy ideas about that watch. I’m holding on to it. You can do with it what you will once I’m gone.”

The End.

So there you have it—understanding perceived value. I know telling a story like this was a very different approach. Still, I hope it showed you how different people could assign a different value to the same thing.

Just like the watch in my story, what you offer as a designer will be perceived by different people as worth different amounts. It’s up to you to figure out who the right people are and find a way to offer your services to them.

I read a quote recently that is the perfect way to end this post.

There are people out there who are less qualified than you doing EXACTLY what you have always wished to do. The only difference is that they chose to believe in themselves.

Words every graphic and web designer should live by.

What do you think of my story?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Tip of the week Google Alerts

If you are running a design business, you should set up Google Alerts to notify you any time your business name is found by Google.

Google Alerts is a great way to be alerted whenever someone online mentions your business. It allows you to thank them for their positive comments or get on top of things should their comments be less positive.

To set up your own Google Alerts visit

Nov 30, 2020

Do you have what it takes to run a design business from home?

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.

Step 1: Create an environment you’re comfortable in.

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.

Step 2: Keep your overhead to a minimum.

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.

Step 3: Work on your business, not in your business.

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.

Step 4: Be proud of your home-based 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.

Step 5: Look the part.

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.

Step 6: Be honest with yourself.

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.

Think about it before you try it.

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.

How much thought have you given to working from home?

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.

Nov 23, 2020

Do you know when to use Cloud Backup vs Cloud Sync?

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.

Introducing The Cloud

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.

The difference between Cloud Sync and Cloud Backup.

Cloud Sync.

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.

Cloud Backup.

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.

Best-case scenario

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.

Recovering your data from Cloud Sync or Cloud Backup.

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.

Which Cloud service is right for you?

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.

What cloud-based solution do you use?

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.

Nov 16, 2020

Learn the power of psychological reactance.

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.

Putting Psychological Reactance into practice.

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.

Dear Jill,

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.

Do you use this method in your business?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Resource of the week

Ever want to know what fonts are being used on a website? to the rescue. Just enter the URL of the website in question, and 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.

Nov 9, 2020

Are you ready to take your side gig full-time?

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.

1) Are you willing to be persistent at it?

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.

2) Are people willing to pay for your work?

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.

3) Do you understand what’s involved in running a business?

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

4) Are you willing to make sacrifices for your business?

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.

Evaluate your opportunities

If you can acknowledge and say for certain, you’re comfortable with each of the four signs.

  1. You are willing to be persistent at it.
  2. People are willing to pay for your work.
  3. You understand what’s involved in running a business.
  4. You’re willing to make sacrifices for your business.

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 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.

Nov 2, 2020

Are you a print designer who wishes you knew how to design websites?

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.

It's just like learning to drive a second vehicle

Think back to when you first learned to drive a car. There was an awful lot of information you needed to learn.

  • The rules of the road
  • Street sign meanings
  • When you're allowed to change or not change lanes.
  • How much distance to keep between you and the vehicle ahead of you.
  • Which vehicle has the right of way when multiple vehicles arrive at a four-way stop simultaneously.

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.

  • The amount of pressure on the accelerator required to get the car moving.
  • The force required on the brake pedal in order to stop the car where you want it to stop.
  • How much you have to turn the steering wheel in order to direct the car around a curve or corner.
  • When during a turn do you start straightening the wheel in order to proceed in the desired direction.
  • Using your turn signals.
  • Looking in your mirrors.
  • Checking your blind spots.

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.

  • You want to create a visual hierarchy,
  • You want to create a flow for the eye to follow.
  • You want to pair fonts that work well together.
  • You want to use colours, photos and other design elements that complement each other to create a visually pleasing layout.
  • etc. etc.

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.

Themes or page builders like Elementor or my preference Divi are very intuitive and easy to learn and allow you to build amazing looking and functional websites without having to code.

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.

Oct 19, 2020

How are you standing out from your competition

What do you think of when you hear the word “pencil”?

I bet that one of the images that flashed through your head is of a yellow-painted piece of wood with a graphite center. The quintessential yellow pencil found the world over.

A Medium article by Melissa Gouty titled “Why Pencils Are Painted Yellow" got me thinking about the parallels between a yellow pencil and your design business.

I'm going to paraphrase Melissa's article for the sake of my comparison.

The common yellow pencil that we take for granted helped spark the renaissance. Before the invention of the pencil, quill and ink were the only means of writing, and they were reserved for the elite. The invention of the pencil allowed common people to record knowledge and write whenever and wherever they wanted.

The discovery of graphite was so valuable that the English government guarded it and controlled its distribution. People took to smuggling graphite around the known world, and innovative individuals devised ways to use it for writing.

In 1565, A Swiss man named Conrad Gessner came up with the idea of encasing graphite in wood and the pencil industry was born. This common instrument familiar to every schoolchild, which you probably have strewn around your home, was a valuable commodity back then. To own a pencil made you special.

But like most things, time and wider availability diminished the pencil’s appeal. Over the next 300 years, the thrill of owning a pencil fizzled out. This marvellous invention was no more than a boring piece of brown wood with graphite in the middle, until 1889, that is.

In 1889 the World Fail was held in Paris, France. It attracted more than thirty-two million visitors and showcased exhibitors from around the world.

One exhibitor was an Austrian-Hungarian company by the name of Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth. They had been in business for over 100 years and were knows for producing high-quality art and drafting supplies, including pencils. But really, how is one pencil better than another?

Koh-I-Noor came up with an idea. You might even say it was one of the first things to go viral.

At that time, the largest diamond known to exist, coincidentally named The Koh-I-Noor Diamond, was about to be inset to the crown of the Queen of England, Elizabeth II.

So the drafting supply company did something nobody had ever done before. Since the name Koh-I-Nor was getting so much publicity, they gave their pencil the same name. They called it the Koor-I-Noor Series 1500.

But naming their pencil wasn’t enough. They had to somehow make their pencil different. That’s when they came up with the idea of painting their pencils yellow. They put a lot of thought and energy into selecting the perfect colour. Settling on their particular shade of yellow for three reasons.

  1. The best graphite, the same they used in their pencils, came from China, and in China, yellow represents prestige and royalty.
  2. The Koh-I-Noor Diamond has yellow flecks in it.
  3. The crowns on the Austria-Hungary flag depicted yellow crowns.

So at the 1889 World Fair in Paris, France, the Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth art and drafting supply company introduced their new Luxury pencil, the Koh-I-Noor Series 1500.

This "Luxury" version of the common pencil quickly became associated with wealth, power and prestige. Soon, nobody wanted to be seen with a plain brown pencil, and Koh-I-Noor cornered the pencil market, selling a more expensive "Luxury" version of the same product everyone else was offering.

Back then, there was nothing stopping others from following their lead, and soon, pencel manufacturers around the world were painting their pencils yellow as well. But for a short time, one company figured a way to corner the pencil market by making their product more desirable than what their completion was offering.

The Yellow Pencil and Your Design Business

So what does the story of the yellow pencil have to do with running a design business? Think of all the services and products you offer and how similar are they to your competition?

  • You design logos. They design logos
  • You design business cards. They design business cards.
  • You create websites. They create websites.

We are all designers, and to an extent, we all pretty much offer the same thing.

Take a cue from what one company did 140 years ago, and do something different that makes what you offer unique compared to everyone else.

What are you doing to stand out from your competition? How are you offering the same services they do in a manner that will entice clients to chose you over them? I can’t give you the solution, but I can encourage you to pursue your own answer.

Figure out what may work for you. Become the “luxury” option that clients will covet.

How do you stand out from your competition?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Oct 12, 2020

Being diligent today will make you more productive tomorrow.

Last week I talked about dividing your to-do list into three sections, non-negotiables, procratinatables and optionables, and how doing so will help you organize your day. I also discussed listening to your body's clock to determine the best time of day to tackle certain projects and tasks.

Today's post is all about setting up for a more productive tomorrow. And to do that, you need to start today.

For as long as I can remember, my nightly routine before bed has included looking and preparing for the next morning. Call it my shutdown ritual if you will. I like to know before my head hits the pillow what’s on my schedule for the following day.

Getting things ready the night before allows me to hit the ground running and start my next day with a purpose. There's no wasted time in the morning figuring out what projects or tasks I need to do. It eliminates me from looking through emails, creating a to-do list, and getting myself organized because it’s already all done for me. When I sit down at my computer at 9 am, I can immediately get to work on whatever task or project takes priority on my to-do list.

If you don’t have a proper plan of attack, you could find yourself wasting the better part of an hour accomplishing nothing as you try to figure out what you need to do. Do that every morning, and it can add up to several days worth of time by the end of the year.

But what's the difference between organizing yourself in the morning, compared to doing it the night before? The difference is, the night before, or at the end of your workday, you’re pretty well spent already. The time you take preparing for the following day is time you probably wouldn’t have gotten much accomplished in anyways. However, in the morning, you’re much more energized. Even if you’re still groggy from sleep, you still have more “gung-ho” than you do at the end of a long workday. So why waste that energy on prep work?

If you know ahead of time how you're going to spend your day, you’ll be much more productive and much more efficient in doing so.

I usually do my prep work before going to bed. It’s one of the last things I think of at night and allows me to mentally work out my next day’s plan of attack as I nod off to sleep. But maybe you don’t want to do this right before going to bed. Maybe you fear it will get your mind racing on work-related issues, and you won't be able to fall asleep. If that’s you, then I suggest you set aside a few minutes at the end of your workday. 5 to 10 minutes is all you need as you wrap things up to plan for the following workday.

3 steps to a more productive tomorrow.

Step 1

If you combine last week’s topic with this one, you should be working on your non-negotiable tasks every day. If you have the time, you also tackled some procrastinatables and maybe even some optionable tasks. Take the time at the end of your workday to review and reflect on what you managed to accomplish that day. Take satisfaction in the projects and tasks you completed, no matter how small. They’ll help motivate you for the following day.

Research has proven that keeping track and acknowledging your progress actually helps boost your working morale and creates a better outlook in your overall life.

Step 2

Start a new to-do list. Do not use the same list as the day before. You may think that seeing previously scratched tasks off will motivate you, but they won’t. In fact, studies have shown that our brain has a hard time differentiating checked or scratched off items on a list from the unchecked ones. All that registers is a long list of items that could be discouraging. That’s why most digital to-do lists automatically hide completed tasks. It’s not to subconsciously discourage you.

So start with a fresh list. Take note of those projects and tasks you didn’t complete that day and add them to your new list for tomorrow. Organize them using last week's method. Remember that what might have been a procrastinatable task today might need to be a non-negotiable task tomorrow.

Once you have tomorrow's list, determine the two or three most important tasks and mark them as the top priorities. These will be the ones you’ll tackle first thing in the morning. Then look at the other items on the list and mentally rank them in order of importance.

Try to imagine how your day will unfold. What will you do first thing? What will you get done before lunch? What will you do after lunch? How do you plan on finishing off your day? Having a good mental picture of what you need to do will go a long way towards allowing you to accomplish it.

Step 3

Prep your space. Declutter your workspace and get it ready for the morning. Put away papers and files. Organizing your tools and take out anything you may need for tomorrow’s tasks.

This also means getting your computer ready for the next morning. Quit any open applications that won’t be needed the next day.

I like to quit my Mail app and Slack every night, so I'm not tempted to check them as I sit down at my computer. I also close any browser tab with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any other social media that could be a distraction to me in the morning.

There will be plenty of time to check email to see what’s happening on social media later in the day once I’ve accomplished something from my to-do list. The last thing I want is to waste time at the start of my day by sifting through junk mail or scrolling through meaningless social media posts. All of that can wait until later. If there’s a real emergency, my clients know my phone number, and they can always call me.

That’s the 3 step process.

That’s pretty much my process. It’s how I end every day and how I’m ready to hit the ground running every morning. It’s also how I can juggle so many things every day. I set priorities, figure out which ones to do, and get to them. It’s that simple.

If you want to give it a try and see if you can be more productive, why don’t you take 5 to 10 minutes at the end of the day today and follow my three steps?

  • Step 1: Reflect and feel satisfied with what you’ve accomplished today.
  • Step 2: Start a brand new to-do list, including new tasks and projects, as well as anything you didn’t finish today. And prioritize them.
  • Step 3: Prepare your working environment, both your physical space and computer, so you’re ready to hit the ground running tomorrow.

I bet, if you do this, you’ll soon discover how much more productive and efficient your time will be.

Are you going to give it a try?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Oct 5, 2020

The Perfect To-Do List + Time Management = Success.

If you search through the Apple or Google app directories, you will find dozens, if not hundreds, of options for creating so-called perfect to-do lists.

I like Anylist for grocery lists and shopping lists or keep track of the unending chores and tasks I need to do around the house. For work-related lists, my go-to is Evernote (get a free month with this link). I have Evernote fine-tuned with different notebooks for every part of my work life.

But it doesn’t matter if you use a digital tool or pencil and paper if you don’t understand the fundamentals of the perfect to-do list. For a to-do list to function at its best, you need proper time management along with your to-do list. When the two work hand in hand, your to-do list becomes much more achievable.

Writing the perfect to-do list.

To write the perfect to-do list, you must determine what to put on it and in what order. You must also decide what not to include on your list. If you put too many things on your to-do list, it becomes unmanageable and discouraging. A good to-do list has three sections.

1) Nonnegotiables

Nonnegotiables are things that absolutely have to get done on time. These are priority items such as scheduled appointments or tasks with a fixed deadline. If you don’t get them done promptly, it will be too late.

2) Procrastinatables

Procrastinatables are things that absolutely need to get done, but are not as time-sensitive as nonnegotiables. It would be nice to get them done soon, but if you don’t manage to get to them today, tomorrow or the following day will do fine.

Be careful putting them off; procrastinatables will eventually become nonnegotiables if you don't get to them. So try not to ignore them for long.

3) Optionables

Optionables are all the projects and tasks that you would like to do, but have no priority as to when, or sometimes if you should do them at all.

Optionables are tricky. You need to figure out how each one aligns with your goals. For example, if there’s a recording of a webinar you missed, but it's only available for a few days, you need to figure out if watching the recording will help you achieve your goals. If yes, then make the time on your to-do list to watch it. If you determine the webinar doesn't align with your goals, let it go and forget about it.

Once you have your list of optionables, rank them in descending order of priority and tackle them in that order.

How to tackle your to-do list.

Once you have a to-do list with the three sections mentioned above, it’s time to get to work.

Mark Twain is credited with saying, “if you’re tasked with eating two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest frog first." In other words, look at your to-do list and figure out the biggest and possibly the task you're dreading the most and get it done first. Not only will you feel good crossing off the biggest and most dreaded task, but it will also make the rest of the list easier to get through.

HINT: Whenever possible, try to complete as many items from your to-do list before checking your email or social media. Email and social media have an uncanny way of disrupting your day and often add to your to-do lists. Avoid to-do list overload by completing a few things before you end up having to add to your list.

Listen to your body clock.

The perfect to-do list composed of nonnegotiables, procrastinatables and optionables is your guide to get through your day. However, the order your list is written in isn’t necessarily the order you need to complete it in.

Tackle your list according to your body clock. If there are certain times when you feel the most creative, use that time to work on the creative projects on your to-do list. When you feel less energetic, such as first thing in the morning or late in the day, tackle the to-do list items that don't require much brainpower.

To-Do lists and time management

To make the most of your perfect to-do list, you should have a rough idea of how long each item on your list will take and plan your routine accordingly. If it takes you an hour or so each morning fully wake up, choose tasks that fit that time. Don't start a mundane task that requires three or four hours if it's going to eat into the more focused time of your day.

Try not to block to-do list items into 15 minutes, 30 minutes or 1-hour time blocks as most calendars do. Most tasks are not structured that way. What you think will be a 30-minute phone meeting with a client may only take 8 minutes or could end up being over an hour long. If it finishes early, you have extra time to take on something else from your list. However, if it goes long, you won't feel stressed for the call eating into the time block of the next task.

Of course, time management and to-do lists are not as cut and dry as this. Brain fog and high creative periods can't be scheduled, so your days need to be fluid and flexible. Plus, there's always the unexpected you can’t plan for. The school calling saying your child is sick. Or a client in a panic because their website suddenly went down.

Life can’t be perfect. It would be nice if it were, but that’s unrealistic. But hopefully, by writing the perfect to-do list and taking control of your nonnegotiables, procrastinatables and optionables, you’ll add a bit of peace and order to your daily life.

Resource of the week Logo Package Express 2.0

Logo Package Express automatically generates and exports logo packages from Adobe Illustrator with blazing speed. Packaging logos is boring and complex. First, you have to know what formats to provide your clients, then you have to make them. Manually. One at a time. It takes hours and is a real pain. Logo Package Express turns that dreaded task into a breeze by pumping out 200+ logo files in under 5 minutes. It's truly one of the greatest additions to the design market in a while.

Save $20 off the purchase of Logo Package Express 2.0 with this link.

Already own Logo Package Express version 1? Click this link, log in and purchase the updated version 2.0 for only $20.

Sep 28, 2020

Are you producing any of your design projects in-house?

I got the idea for this episode of the podcast when a member of the Resourceful Designer Community shared her new toy with us in our Slack group. Laura bought a Roland VersaSTUDIO Desktop Sign Maker BN-20. It’s an eco-solvent printer she plans on using to produce stickers, vehicle graphics and apparel graphics, among other things.

This new piece of equipment will allow her to produce materials for her clients in-house. She also plans on using it to make pieces to sell through her Etsy shop. This got me thinking about different ways designers can produce things in-house.

Now for the record, I don’t produce anything in-house myself. I had the opportunity years ago, which I’ll share with you a bit later, but I chose to focus my time solely on the design part and not production. But if you’re into it, producing in-house can be a very lucrative income stream for your design business.

Years ago, a designer I knew lost her job and opened up her own home-based design business. When I later ran into her, she told me getting laid off was one of the best things to happen to her. She had purchased special equipment and was now serving clients she loved and happily producing printed materials for them in-house. Items like posters, business cards, postcards and wedding and party invitations,

That was my first exposure to the idea that a home-based graphic designer could also produce material in-house.

When I started my home-based design studio, an office supply representative offered me a high-end office copier for zero dollars. All I had to do was agree to purchase copier toner through him and to pay a small fee of $0.12 per sheet printed on the machine.

The offer was very tempting. But then I started thinking of the time involved running the copier, cutting, folding, and everything else involved with producing in-house, and I decided it wasn’t for me. I prefer to do the design part and let others handle the production part even if it costs me more to farm out these projects.

But many designers love producing their materials. And not just sheets of paper.

Home-based designers can produce things such as:

  • Stickers/decals
  • Heat transfers for garments and apparel
  • Posters
  • Banners
  • Vehicle graphics
  • Foil stamping
  • Laminating
  • Embroidering
  • Die-cutting using circuit makers
  • Screen printers
  • Block print
  • Letterpress
  • 3D printing

There are so many options you can choose from. It might be hard to decide what sort of products you want to produce in-house.

What if you can’t afford the equipment?

What if you can’t afford the equipment required for producing in-house? It might be easier than you think to acquire them.

New equipment is a tax expense.

Keep in mind that any equipment you purchase for your business claimable on your taxes as a business expense. Check with your accountant to find out how to claim the equipment.

Purchase second hand or refurbished.

Second hand or refurbished equipment can often be just as good as purchasing new, except you pay much less. There’s always someone out there selling old equipment. It’s just a matter of looking.

Purchase floor models or demo units.

As new models of equipment are released, stores and distributors must sell their current inventory to make room. These units are often available at great sale prices. But for a more significant discount, ask if they have a floor model or demo unit for sale. These units have minor usage and often come with the original warranty.

Look for grants or low-interest loans to fund your purchase.

Ask your local economic development group or business centre if they know of any grants or low-interest business loans available for small businesses wanting to expand or purchase equipment. You may be surprised at the amount of money available for anyone who knows where to ask.

Grants are great because you don’t have to pay them back. But they often require a lot of paperwork and jumping through hoops to get. But free money may be worth the hassle.

And some “expansion” loans for small businesses are available at 0 or very low-interest rates, which allows you to purchase equipment and pay it back over time.

Open a line of credit.

If you qualify, a line of credit is a good option for purchasing new equipment.

Lines of credit often have much lower interest than loans or credit cards. Most, however, do require collateral to secure them. They’re easier to get if you’re a homeowner and not a renter.

Incentive from seller

Lastly, contact the seller or distributor of the equipment you want and see what sort of deals they can give you. As I said earlier, I could have had a high-end office copier for zero money. All I had to agree to was purchasing the toner through the supplier and a fixed fee per copy.

If you can convince a supplier you’ll be purchasing enough supplies through them; they may offer you a great deal on the equipment.

Producing in-house: Pros and Cons.

Pros of producing in-house

  1. You can make better profits compared to farming out projects.
  2. You can compete better by charging lower prices than your competition.
  3. You control the entire process from design to production.
  4. You can produce projects much faster than farming them out.
  5. Make extra money by producing for other designers.

Cons of producing in-house

  1. The equipment takes up space in your house.
  2. You need room to store supplies.
  3. You must make sure you have supplies on hand to produce projects.
  4. Equipment can be noisy and interfere with your family’s life.
  5. You are responsible for repairs should the equipment break down.
  6. Producing in-house is time-consuming.


I made the decision years ago that producing in-house was not something I wanted to do. But I’m not you. Maybe this is just the thing you need to expand your design business and take it to the next level. This might be the niche that will set you apart from your competition.

If you think producing in-house is something you would like to do, then look into it.

Sep 21, 2020

Do you farm out design projects?

Finding yourself overwhelmed with too many design projects is a sure sign that you are not charging enough for your design services. Don’t turn clients away. Instead, raise your prices and start farming out design work.

The following is a post from the Resourceful Designer Facebook Group.

Hi guys

So I'm turning away a lot of work at the moment, as I have my day job, and seem to have very little energy in the evenings and weekends to take on many freelance jobs. Seriously, I'm feeling so burned out, have been for a while now.

I do the odd freelance jobs here and there for previous clients that I'm friendly with, but I still get a lot of requests, despite not advertising or putting any vibes out there that I'm available.

I usually just recommend one or two other designers, and they really appreciate the work coming their way, but I also sometimes wonder if I'm being too kind? Would this be reciprocated? Could I charge a % from the jobs I recommend? Would outsourcing them take too much energy if I still need to be the person in-between the client and the designer?

Has anyone else been in a similar situation?

I’m sure the original poster is not the only designer facing this problem. At some point in your design career, you will find yourself burdened with more work than you can handle (trust me, it will happen).

When faced with this situation, the first thing you should do is review your design rates, because chances are you are not charging enough for your services. The same applies to all service-based industries. Too much work coming in is a sure sign that prices are too low.

Raising your rates will reduce the number of inquiries you receive, and those inquiries that come in will come from higher-quality clients. It’s a fact experienced by designers the world over. The more you charge, the better calibre of clients you receive.

Raising your design rates can be scary.

Raising design prices scares many designers. What will your current clients think? Will they leave you for a less expensive designer? Will clients stop referring you if you charge more? Will the influx of new design work dry up?

In my experience, and from others I’ve talked to, nothing drastic will happen when you charge more, other than you making more money.

Yes, there is a possibility of losing some clients. But the increased income from remaining clients will make up for the losses. Plus, with fewer clients, you’ll have more time to devote to projects, which means you’ll probably do a better job, one worthy of the higher prices.

Raising rates usually rectifies work overload. However, what if there are still too many projects for you to handle?

In the original poster’s situation, quitting their day job to run their design business full time is an option. But what if that’s not feasible? The solution is farming out design work.

Referring clients to other designers doesn’t help you. And asking for referral fees or commissions from other designers becomes complicated and seldom works.

Instead, you should retain the clients and farm out any design projects you cannot handle. Hire other designers to work for you and earn a percentage of the project cost.

Be an “art director” and farm out design projects.

When you start farming out design work, you act as an “art director.” Your job is to talk to the client, figure out what they need, possibly sketch out some rough design ideas and pass all this information to another designer to complete the work. This lets you satisfy the client without devoting all your time to the project. It’s a win-win for everyone.

How to farm out design work.

To farm out design work, you first need to find capable designers. Inquire within your network of design acquaintances if anyone is available to freelance for you.

If you don’t know any capable designers, you are sure to find some on platforms such as:

Once you find a freelance designer, you act as the go-between. You talk to the client, figure out what they need. Maybe come up with some rough ideas and then get these other designers to complete the work for you.

In some cases, you may give these designers creative freedom to develop their own ideas based on the information you provide them. In other cases, you may dictate exactly what they should design. It will depend on the project and the capabilities of the designer.

Once the freelance designer completes the work, you present it to the client.

Saving you time.

Farming out design work allows you to take on more projects with minimal time commitment on your part. A 10-hour design project may require only one or two hours of your time. Do this several times a week, and you can bill your clients for a full week’s worth of work, even though you’ve put in less than a day’s work yourself.

Once a design project is complete, you pay the designer from the money you charged the client. The difference becomes your income.

Many designers farm out more work than they take on themselves. They meet with the client, go through the whole discovery process, brainstorm ideas, and then farm the actual work out to willing designers who charge them less than they charge their clients.

Farming out design work allows you to keep clients.

Farming out design projects allows you to make money from projects you couldn’t otherwise handle yourself. The clients remain yours and will return to you the next time they require design services. In the future, should you have more time available, you can do the work yourself.

So the next time you feel overwhelmed by the amount of design work you have, consider raising your rates and farming out any design work, you can’t or don’t want to handle yourself.

Do you farm out design work?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Sep 7, 2020

If you want to succeed as a designer, you must invest in yourself.

Have you heard the quote, “it takes money to make money?” The same concept applies to growing your design business as well as improving yourself as a designer. If you don’t invest in yourself, you’ll become stagnant, outdated, and eventually overlooked.

Clients hire graphic and web designers because they want fresh ideas and skillsets to implement them. These clients will quickly tire of someone if all they ever produce are the same old things.

No business or person, for that matter, can do the same thing over and over and expect to succeed. Sure they may thrive in the short term. But if I were to hazard a guess, I would say you have long term goals for yourself and your business. The only way for you to achieve those goals is to invest in yourself.

To prosper and be successful as a designer, as well as live a content life. You must make sure you are always moving forward. Think of yourself as a shark. Certain species of sharks must keep moving if they want to breathe. If they stop moving for any length of time, they’ll die.

Try to have a similar mentality as a shark. To flourish in this business of design, you can’t sit still. Keep learning, improving, acquiring, and more.

I graduated from college in 1992 from a three-year graphic design program. It was only during the second half of our third year that we were introduced to computers. That means most of my design education was done using archaic methods compared to today’s standards. I learned how to use:

  • Proportion wheels
  • French curves
  • blue non-repro pencils
  • Rubylith or Amberlith
  • Letraset rub-on type
  • PMT cameras
  • Waxers
  • Xacto blades
  • and the list goes on

There’s no way I could have built a successful design business and gotten to where I am today without investing in myself. The skills I learned in school just wouldn’t cut it in today’s world of design.

Here are seven ways you can invest in yourself.

1) Invest in equipment

I always say that creativity comes from the designer, not the tools he or she uses. Just like a skilled carpenter can still make beautiful furniture with old tools. But let’s face it. The creativity may come from the designer, but having newer devices sure helps a lot. That’s why it’s worth investing in the equipment you use as much as possible.

I hate spending money on new equipment, but when I do, I make sure I get the best bang for my buck. If that means paying more money upfront for a better option that will last longer, so be it.

I’m a Mac guy. One of the most heard complaints about Macs is their price. But to me, it’s worth the investment for the peace of mind of knowing my computer will run flawlessly for years to come. I used my previous 2010 iMac from the time I bought it new to 2017 when I upgraded it for a new model. That was a good investment.

Of course, there’s other equipment you need besides your computer. Purchase each one with the knowledge that it’s an investment. And the idea behind investing is to get the best return for your dollar.

2) Invest in software and online resources

The software you use to run your design business, as well as the online resources that support your business is all investments. Without them, you couldn’t run your business or earn a living.

Invest in things such as web hosting, plugins, fonts, graphic resources from sources like Design Cuts or Creative Market. Tools like Logo Package Express or Services for creating mockups are all essential for your success.

Don’t forget project/client management software, bookkeeping and invoicing software, and so much more.

There are plenty of free options for you to run your design business. Gimp, for example, is a free design software alternative. But most designers choose to invest in tools such as Adobe CC because it makes their lives easier.

TIP: If you think you are going to use a software or online service enough, and the option is available, I suggest you purchase a lifetime deal. It costs more upfront, but it pays off big time in the long run.

3) Invest in learning

Remember what I said about my college days? The only way I got from then to now was by taking courses, watching tutorials, attending webinars and conferences, reading books, and any other way I could learn.

Times are different now than they were even a few years ago. If you want to learn something new, you can usually find someone on YouTube teaching it. However, YouTube and other free online resources are no substitute for taking a course.

I learned HTML and CSS by taking courses on the old (now LinkedIn Learning). I also tried to learn PHP that way, but my brain didn’t grasp that one.

Over the years, I’ve bought courses on Udemy, Skillshare, and many courses offered by private individuals or companies.

The difference between a paid course and something you can find for free online is enormous. Both the quality and the content is so much better in most cases. Not to mention, the people behind paid courses want you to like their product so you’ll share it with others and possibly purchase more from them in the future. Therefore, they make sure you get the best information possible for your money.

When it comes to learning something new, you can start with YouTube. But if you’re serious, find a paid course and invest in yourself.

4) Invest in networking/conferences

Ever since I got into this profession, I made a point of going to conferences and networking events.

It’s not just about what you learn at these events. It’s about the people you meet. Have you heard the saying, “It’s not who you know, but who knows you?” This statement should be the foundation of your business. If you want to build a name for yourself, you need to get out there and meet people. Conferences and networking events offer perfect opportunities to do just that. Plus, you have the bonus of leaning things at the same time.

If you work in a design niche, consider attending conferences for that niche. I attend podcast conferences every year, which has allowed me to grow my Podcast Branding business quickly.

There are many design-related conferences you could attend. Here are just a few.

Attending conferences may be costly, but you should make an effort to attend as often as you can, even if it’s only every few years.

If attending conferences is out of your budget for now, why not consider joining online communities. The Resourceful Designer Community is a perfect place for you to meet fellow like-minded designers on a similar path as you. And it’s much less expensive than attending an in-person conference.

There are other paid communities you can join as well. I belong to several paid podcaster communities. I also belong to a paid entrepreneur community. And there are others I’m looking into because I know that each one is an investment in myself.

5) Invest in a team

I made a massive mistake in the first few years I ran my design business. I tried to do everything myself. And I know I’m not alone in this. I believe that many new entrepreneurs make this same mistake. It’s your business, after all; therefore, you want to do everything.

Only after I let the notion that I had to do it all go, and starting hiring outside help for various tasks, that I truly learned what it is to run a business.

A team is not the same as having employees. A team is a group of specialized individuals you can call upon should you need their skillet.

My team is made up of:

  • My accountant
  • My layer
  • My business advisor
  • My virtual assistant
  • Photographers
  • Illustrators
  • Programmers
  • Copywriters
  • Translators
  • and probably more that I’m forgetting.

You use these people to help grow and operate your design business.

In point #3 above, I talked about investing in learning. But one thing all great entrepreneurs need to know is when to learn and when to delegate. Plus, having a team means you have more time on your hands to do the things you are good at doing.

So investing in a team is investing in yourself.

6) Invest in your environment

Whether you rent office space, or you work from home as I do. You want the room you spend your days to not only be practical but also to reflect who you are.

Take the time and invest in turning your working space into a place you enjoy hanging out. It will make those long workdays that much more enjoyable.

As I look around my office, I see some of the swords from my collection on the walls. I see various dragon figurines on my shelf. As Well as lots of geeky bobbles and nick-knacks I collect. All of these reflect who I am. If you know me and came into my home, there’s no mistaking that this office is mine and mine alone.

So invest in yourself by investing in your environment.

If you are someone who likes listening to music while working, then invest in a good set of speakers. Invest in good lighting, so you don’t strain your eyes. And invest in a good chair. Please, do not skimp when it comes to the seat you’re going to park your butt on for hours upon hours for the foreseeable future.

Make your workspace your own. Invest in it.

7) Invest in your health

As a designer, you spend a lot of time sitting down in front of a computer, to the point of neglecting yourself. Don’t let your love of design impede your health.

Remember to takes breaks, get exercise, eat healthily even though that pantry full of junk food is so easily accessible. See your doctor and dentist regularly. Get your eyes checked.

Every point I made before this one is no good if you don’t take care of your health. So if you’re going to invest in yourself, I suggest you start here, with point #7.

How do you invest in yourself?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

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.


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 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.

Jul 13, 2020

My strategy for securing WordPress websites.

The internet is filled with unscrupulous people. Are you doing everything you can to ensure your clients’ portion of it is safe by securing their WordPress websites?

I recently published a podcast episode and article on earning extra income by offering website maintenance plans. Part of that strategy is making sure the websites you manage are secure. I received many questions afterwards asking how I secure my clients’ WordPress websites.

There are many ways and many tools available for securing a WordPress website. Here is the method that works for me.

WordPress Security.

Those two words, “WordPress Security” may sound intimidating to the uninitiated. Let me assure you they’re not. If I can learn how to do this, so can you. I’m not a programmer. I’m not even a developer. I’m just a WordPress user who figured out a security strategy that works for me.

What is WordPress Security?

WordPress security involves putting measures in place to decrease the chance of someone compromising a website.

If you sell WordPress Security as part of your website maintenance plan, be sure to tell your clients there are no guarantees. If a skilled hacker is determined to gain access to a website, they will, and there’s not much you can do to prevent it.

The purpose of Website security is to make it as difficult as possible for them, so they leave your site alone and go in search of an easier target.

Most hacking attempts are easily preventable with a few simple measures. Here’s what I do.

Securing Account Login.

By default, every WordPress installation provides easy access for administrators to gain entry to a site through the URL This default makes the WordPress login page the most attacked part of any website.

So how do you secure the account login?

Hide the backend

I use iThemes Security Pro to hide the backend of every website and replace the login page with something else. If anyone tries entering the site via the /wp-login.php page, they’ll be taken to a 404 page not found page instead.

This is more of security by obscurity, and is not a very strong strategy, but if it helps prevent automated bots and such, then why not do it?

iThemes Security Pro > Security > Settings > Advanced > Hide Backend

Force the use of a strong password.

The stronger the password, the harder it is to crack. Forcing a strong password makes it more difficult to gain access to a site.

iThemes Security Pro allows me to force the use of strong passwords. New site users must enter a strong password to create their account, and existing site users are forced to update their weak password when they next log in.

iThemes Security Pro > Security > Settings > Password Requirements

Prevent the use of compromised passwords.

One of the main vulnerabilities of passwords is their reuse. Many people think up a good password, but then they use it everywhere. All it takes is for one database breach containing their user name and password, and a hacker can gain access to wherever the two are used in combination.

iThemes Security Pro connects to the haveibeenpwned API and refuses any compromised passwords.

As part of this prevention method, I recommend all my clients use a Password Manager such as 1Password to create strong, unique passwords for every site they visit.

iThemes Security Pro > Security > Settings > Password Requirements

Limit Login Attempts.

Even a strong password may be guessed if given enough time. So as an extra measure, I turn on Brute Force Protection in iThemes Security Pro to prevent the number of failed login attempts.

I have it set so that three failed login attempts will lock a user out of the site for 15 minutes. After their third lockout, it bans the IP address from even viewing the website.

iThemes Security Pro > Security > Settings > Local Brute Force Protection

Two-Factor Authentication.

Two-Factor Authentication, sometimes called 2FA, adds an extra step to the login process. The way it works is after entering a username and password; users must enter a temporary six-digit code to gain access to the site.

This code can be obtained from a predetermined list, one that’s emailed to the user, or, my preferred method, using an App on a smartphone such as Google Authenticator.

Google Authenticator generates a new unique code every 30 seconds. When logging into a website with Two-Factor Authentication, you must enter the code from the app and press the login button before the code expires.

The only way to gain access to a website protected by 2FA is to have the user name and password, plus have access to the smartphone tied to the account.

iThemes Security Pro > Security > Settings > Two-Factor Authentication (This is a PRO feature)

Passwordless Login

I want to mention Passwordless Login as a security option, but note that I don’t use this method myself. I explain why, later.

Passwordless login is a way to gain access to a website without entering a password or a 2FA code.

To use Passwordless Login, you enter your email address on the login page then check your email for a “magic link” that grants you access to the website. No password or Two-Factor Authentication code required.

Passwordless login is secure because it requires access to the email account associated with the site.

Although Passwordless Login is very secure and works great for clients, I don’t use this method. I sometimes need to access to a client’s website through their account instead of my admin account. I wouldn’t be able to access a site with Passwordless Login since I don’t have access to my client’s email account.

iThemes Security Pro > Security > Settings > Passwordless Login (This is a PRO feature)

WordPress Site Monitoring

Now that the account login is secure, the next thing I turn to is site monitoring. I want to know when something happens to one of my client’s website.

Security Logs

WordPress security logs are an excellent resource for seeing what is happening with a site. If a website gets hacked, the security logs will have the best information to help you recover.

To be honest, I don’t understand most of what the security logs contain. But I know where they are, and how to download and share them if I need to get an expert involved in fixing a compromised site.

iThemes Security Pro > Security > Logs

Monitor File changes

iThemes Security Pro allows me to monitor when files on a website change. This is a great way to know when someone had gained access to a site.

Be warned; this feature will also notify you of every change and update you make to the site.

iThemes Security Pro > Security > Settings > File Change Detection

Scanning for Malware

iThemes Security Pro regularity scans and notifies me if it detects malware on a website. This has saved me in the past when a client’s site became compromised. I was able to fix the issue before it escalated.

iThemes Security Pro > Security > Settings > Site Scan Scheduling (This is a PRO feature)

Themes and Plugin Management

Delete unrequired and inactive themes and plugins.

It’s much easier to hack into a website if it has outdated themes and plugins installed.

The first step in theme and plugin management is to deactivate and delete any unrequited or unused plugins. You can always reinstall a plugin should it be needed.

Also, make sure you acquire your plugins from reputable sources. I’ve seen some questionable WordPress Plugin bundles recently offering thousands of dollars worth of premium plugins for next to nothing. These plugins may work, but they may also be compromised. It’s not worth risking your business or reputation over.

Keep active plugins and themes updated.

As far as security is concerned, when it comes to the WordPress Core, Themes and Plugins, the best rule of thumb is to keep everything updated.

Many updates are to patch security vulnerabilities.

iThemes Security Pro has a nice feature called Version Management that allows a site to automatically update itself as new versions of the WordPress core, themes and plugins are released. Although handy, I leave almost all of this feature off. I prefer updating plugins myself. Should something on the site break during an update, I want to know right away.

The only option I turn on is the “Auto Update if Fixes Vulnerability” option. This allows updates only if it fixes a security issue.

iThemes Security Pro > Security > Settings > Version Management (This is a PRO feature)

Manually updating the WordPress Core, Themes and Plugins.

For updating my client website, I use iThemes Sync, a WordPress manager. iThemes Sync allows me to monitor and update all my clients’ websites from one dashboard.

iThemes Sync sends me daily emails telling me what plugins and themes have updates available. I can log into iThems Sync and perform all the updates from the one dashboard without having to log into each website individually, saving me time.

The basic version of iThemes Sync is free for up to 10 websites.

Domain security.

Whenever registering a domain, I highly suggest you include domain privacy. Some hosts include domain privacy while others charge an extra fee.

Domain Privacy hides the domain owner’s contact information from the public. Without domain privacy, a domain owner’s email address, mailing address and phone number are available for anyone to see.

Since it’s common to use the same email address to register a domain and access the associated website, without domain privacy, you’re handing hackers half of the login information they need.

That’s my WordPress Security plan.

That’s it. That’s what I do to secure my clients’ WordPress websites.

This is not meant to be an add for iThemes. There are many tools you can use to do the same things I do. Some of them possibly better and maybe less expensive than what I use. But I’ve been using the iThemes programs for several years, and I know, and I trust them. And so far, knock on wood, they’ve worked for me.

What's your strategy for securing WordPress websites?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Jul 6, 2020

If only I knew these things before starting my design business.

You know that saying, hindsight is 20/20? It means that it’s always easier to see things when you’re looking back than when you’re looking forward.

Before I decided to leave the print shop where I worked as a graphic designer to start my graphic and web design business in 2006, I had a preconceived notion of what to expect. Some of what I imagined turned out to be accurate and some of what I believed was way off.

For example, I imagined how much I would love running my own business, spending my days designing beautiful things for great clients. It turns out I love it even more than I anticipated. However, I do spend a lot less time designing than I thought I would.

I didn’t know many designers in 2006 who were running their own business. There were a few who used the print shop I worked at for their client’s print work. But they were more of what I call freelance designers. Meaning, they had other sources of income and did design as a side-gig. So there was nobody for me to emulate.

I did have one friend, Jason, with a successful design business in Toronto. I talked to him quite a bit before deciding to go it on my own. But even with those conversations, there was still a lot I didn’t know or wasn’t expecting when I did eventually jump ship.

So here are ten things I wish someone had told me before I started my design business.

1) You don’t need a lot of clients to run a successful design business.

Before starting my design business, I thought I would need 50 to 100 clients for my new business to be sustainable. Boy, was I wrong. I quickly learned that a solo designer could make a good living with only a handful of clients. In fact, during the first two years of my business, I only had 11 or 12 clients. Clients come and go, but on any given basis, a dozen clients is a good number to aim for. More than that and you risk overloading yourself with work.

2) You’ll spend a lot of time on things other than design.

Running your own business is a lot of work. And a lot of it is considered non-billable time. Things like invoicing and bookkeeping, keeping track of expenses and taxes, writing pitches, contracts and proposals. And so much more.

I thought I would be spending my days in creative bliss, designing beautiful things for grateful clients. But there have been days when I’m too busy running my business to design anything.

3) You need to become a time management expert.

When you work for someone else, they tell you when to take breaks, go for lunch, and call it quits at the end of the day. When you’re running your own design business, there’s nobody prodding you along but yourself.

Learn to take breaks and find time to eat—set boundaries between your work and non-work life. Otherwise, you’ll burn yourself out by working days, evenings and weekends, and you’ll start to resent what you do.

Running your own business means a flexible schedule, but you need to learn how to manage your time effectively. When you make your own schedule, you have the freedom to go to the grocery store on a Wednesday morning or to cut your day off early so you can bring your kids to their karate class or their soccer game. That’s the benefit of working for yourself. But you also need to be able to juggle multiple design projects with overlapping deadlines and clients who are not always on time delivering the content they promised you.

Conquering time management is the only way to stay sane in this business.

4) The rejections and criticisms will never stop.

Just because your the boss doesn’t mean clients won’t find fault with your work. But don’t worry, that’s a good thing. It doesn’t matter how long you do this work or how good you become. There will always be room for improvement. Clients will reject your proofs or decide not to work with you at all.

I’ve been a designer for over 30 years, running my own business for half that time, and I still have clients turn me down or tell me they don’t like certain things I design.

Learn to embrace failure, because there’s a lot of it when you’re on your own. The trick is to learn from them and grow as a designer and as a business person.

When the rejections stop is when you need to worry, because that means you’re either the best designer in the world and you’re way undercharging for your services. Or you’ve stopped putting yourself out there, and there are no more clients to complain.

5) Fake it until you make it.

You can’t succeed in this design business if you’re timid or hesitant or if you come off as self-conscious about the way you handle yourself.

You need to present yourself as a solution to the client’s problem. Their best option at success, even if you’re not sure of yourself.

Confidence comes with experience, but it also comes in the form of self-motivation. If you tell yourself you can do the job, then nobody else will doubt you.

The way to make it in this business is to continually go after more prominent clients. Ask for more money than your previous design jobs, pursue larger projects than you’re used to. If you keep aiming high enough, soon you’ll believe it’s where you ought to be.

6) Find a mentor.

If you try to run your design business all by yourself without any help, chances are you’ll fail. Not because you’re a bad designer, nor because you’re a bad business person. But because you don’t have the support you need to succeed.

You’re lucky that it’s 2020. You have a cornucopia of resources at your disposal to help you start and run your design business. Take the Resourceful Designer Community, for example. The community is home to a great group of designers who love helping fellow community members. In a way, we’re all mentors to each other.

When I started my design business in 2005, there were no Facebook groups or online communities. What got me through the beginning of my solopreneurial journey were the mentors I followed. People like Jason, who I mentioned earlier. Or Shari, a fellow local designer who helped me get my first clients.

Without people to model myself upon or to ask questions of when I needed help, I don’t know how my journey would have turned out. Find yourself a group of peers that can help and guide you. It will make your journey so much easier.

7) The respect given to you is a reflection of how much you charge.

Clients will never stop trying to take advantage of you. But the level of pushback you receive is closely associated with how much you charge. The higher your rates, the more you’ll be viewed as an expert. The more clients see you as an expert, the more they’ll appreciate your opinion and the less pushback you’ll hear.

When I used to charge $100 or $200 for a logo design, clients would try dictating what they wanted me to do. “Move that there,” “make that bigger,” “use a different colour,” “try another font.”

But as I raised my prices, the less “dictation” I received, and the more freedom I had to design the way I saw fit. Trust me, when you’re charging thousands of dollars for a brand identity, clients are much less likely to micromanage you.

The more you charge, the more your clients will respect you.

8) Don’t put all your design eggs in one basket.

You should never rely on one or two clients to sustain your design business. If there’s anything I learned over the years, it’s that clients can vanish in a heartbeat.

Just like investments, you need to diversify where your design work comes from. It’s great to have big clients with big budgets, but make sure you have enough smaller clients to diversify your income.

I’ve had several big clients over the years, from huge festivals to big shopping malls, to government agencies that have all gone away. The festival shut down. An investment firm with an internal design team bought the shopping mall. And the government agency amalgamated with another division who did work with another designer.

I survived the loss of these clients because I had other smaller clients to sustain me following their departure.

9) You can make a lot more money doing a lot less work.

Before leaving the print shop, I was working 40 hours per week at $21 per hour. That works out to $840 gross per week and roughly $550 net once the government took their deductions.

When I started my design business, I chose $50 as my hourly design rate. I no longer charge by the hour, but that’s another story.

Since there are no deductions for the self-employed, for me to make the same weekly income from my old salary, I needed to work 11 billable hours every week. That was it.

I mentioned earlier how one of the things I didn’t expect when starting my business was how much time I would spend not designing. There are plenty of non-billable hours in the workweek, but it’s ok because designers can make an excellent income designing just a few hours each week even while billing by the hour.

10) The riches are in the niches.

When I started my design business, I didn’t know what a design niche was. It wasn’t until a few years later, when I met a designer specializing in the dental industry that I leaned about niching. And to be honest, I didn’t give it much thought because she told me how much he hated it.

This designer was making good money in her niche, but she had no passion for the dental industry. It was merely a lucrative niche she had stumbled upon. In fact, when I met her, she was planning on getting out of it to do what she called “normal design work” that had nothing to do with dentists.

It wasn’t until much later that I started hearing about niching again and started to appreciate this specialized approach to design.

I recently branched out my design business to focus on the podcast niche. And let me tell you, it’s pretty good. The trick is finding a niche your passionate about. That was the problem with that designer I mentioned. She had no passion for the dental industry and grew bored with the work she was doing.

So there you have it. Ten things I wish someone had told me before I started my design business. I hope you find these things helpful–especially if you’re at the start of your business journey. And if you already have an established design business, maybe I’ve shared something that will inspire you to look at what you do differently.

What do you wish you had known before starting your design business?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Tip of the week Strong Passwords

Have you ever heard of Password Entropy? It’s the measurement of unpredictability in a password.

A password like LMNOPQR is much more predictable and easier to crack than something like L8?X49[. That’s why randomized passwords are considered the strongest. Passwords should be composed of upper case letters, lower case letters, numbers and common ASCII characters. When combined, each digit in a password has 92 possible options.

Here are the estimated times it takes to crack a password using a four-core i5 processor computer. You can see that the number of characters in your password matters!

7 characters will take .29 milliseconds to crack.
8 characters will take 5 hours to crack.
9 characters will take 4 months to crack.
10 characters will take one decade to crack
12 characters will take two centuries to crack.

How secure are your passwords?

Jun 29, 2020

Find local design clients to grow your business.

If you want to grow your design business, your best chance is to find local design clients to work with. After all, it’s much easier to find a client among the people who know you.

Of course, as your design business grows, you’ll want to expand your reach and acquire clients farther and farther away until you have a global range, that’s the dream. But never forget where you started, because, in a pinch, your local client market is where you’ll find the most help and the most work.

When I first started my design business, all of my clients were within 20 kilometres from me. As my business grew, so did the radius of my client base. 20 kb became 100 km, then 200 km and soon it was all of Canada. Then I started acquiring clients across the USA. Now, I work with people around the globe.

But even with that wide-spanning net of clients, my closest connections and best relationships are with my local design clients in my area. And I’m not alone. Ask any successful designer, and they’ll tell you there’s something special about working with local clients.

For one thing, it’s easier. When working with distant clients, there’s so much you need to learn about them and their environment.

  • Where are they located?
  • Where are their target market located?
  • What’s their local environment like?
  • What’s their local competition like?
  • And so forth.

But with local design clients, you have the inside scoop. There’s a good chance you’re already familiar with where the client is located. If not, it’s easy for you to become familiar. You know the local environment. You know or can quickly determine their competition.

All of this “inside knowledge” of your local area gives you an advantage over designers from outside your local area.

Plus, you can sit down and talk face-to-face with local design clients, which can only deepen that oh-so-important designer-client relationship.

From a local client’s perspective, I’m sure they would prefer to work with a local designer rather than someone they can only interact with over the phone or the internet. Not to mention, most people feel good when they support local businesses.

Focusing locally is more important now than ever.

It’s now more important than ever to embrace a Shop Local mentality. COVID-19 has taken its toll on businesses everywhere. I’m sure your local economy took a hit. Nobody knows how long this will go on, but as companies start opening up again, it’s essential to support them however you can.

Those business clients think the same way. If they need the help of a graphic or web designer, their first thought will be to focus locally for someone before looking elsewhere. That designer should be you.

Make it easier for local design clients to find you.

Here are some tips to help you get noticed in your local area.

1) Your marketing should have a local presence.

Make sure your website prominently displays your address. Clients searching locally for a designer will look for your address to confirm you’re local. Clients who are not searching locally won’t care what your address is and won’t bother looking at it.

Carry business cards with you everywhere you go and leave one or two behind at opportune moments.

2) Join local organizations.

Organizations such as your local Chamber of Commerce and other business groups are great ways to spread the word about your design services.

You can also get involved with local charities. Join their board of directors to committees. Your child school might have a parent committee you can join as well.

Business networking groups are another excellent opportunity to get your name out there.

Remember, It’s not who you know, but who knows you.

3) Submit your business to local directories.

A great way to be discovered is to be listed in as many local directors as possible. Local municipalities, chamber of commerce, business groups, newspapers, etc. often host directories of local businesses. Find out how your business can be included.

Make sure you are listed in Google My Business so you can be found in local online searches.

4) Do local SEO

You know the importance of SEO. However, not everyone knows the importance of local SEO. Local SEO requires a different strategy to ensure you’re not only found by local searchers but that you show up as close to the top as possible.

5) Pay for locally targetted ads.

Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google all offer a way to target ads to your local area. Take advantage of this feature and promote your business to those around you who can benefit from your services.

Local design clients are there if you look.

There are many local design clients and local businesses in your area that can use someone like you. And even though it’s great to work with clients around the globe, you shouldn’t neglect the ones in your own backyard. When it comes down to it, they’re the ones that are more likely to remain loyal when times get tough. They’re more likely to refer you to others. And they’re most likely to support a fellow local business.

Make sure you’re doing everything you can to get yourself and your services in front of local design clients and businesses.

How much effort do you put into finding local design clients?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Resource of the week LBGT+ Chamber of Commerce

LBGT+ entrepreneurs and business owners have a great resource in the LBGT+ Chamber of Commerce. Similar to all Chamber of Commerces, these ones aim to help businesses run by LBGT+ community members.

There are many LBGT+ Chamber of Commerces around the world. Check your local area to see if there's one nearby. Here are links to the Canadian and American national branches.

Canada's LBGT+ Chamber of Commerce

National LGBT Chamber of Commerce

Jun 22, 2020

Uninterrupted time can help you become more productive.

If you want a more productive design business, arrange your schedule to have periods of uninterrupted time. Time that is free of notifications and distractions, allowing you to focus all your energy on the task at hand.

If you’re anything like me, you have a million things on your mind, and a good number of them are on your to-do list. But no matter how efficient you think you are, there are only so many hours in a day, and never enough time to get things done.

But what if I told you there is a way to get more hours out of your day?

Ok, not really. Nobody has come up with a way to slow down or stop time yet. Or at least not that I know of. But there is a way for you to FEEL like you have more time and for you to be more productive. The trick is uninterrupted time. That means no distractions, a span where you focus 100% of your mental and creative energy on the task at hand.

Have you ever had one of those days where you feel like you accomplished so much? Chances are, you felt that way because you were less distracted that day. One hour of uninterrupted time is equal to three hours of a regular workday, so it’s no wonder you felt like you accomplished so much.

How can one hour of uninterrupted time equal three hours of regular time? Let me explain.

The University of Illinois and Microsoft did a joint study on the impact of disruptions on the workforce and recovery time after those disruptions. They tested a pool of workers, monitoring their work habits and how they were affected by typical, everyday distractions such as email notifications, text messages, social media DMs and phone calls.

They deduced that the average worker takes nine munites to return to a task after an interruption. NINE MINUTES.

They’re not saying that it takes nine minutes to reply to an email or a DM. But that most people, when distracted, will take a bit of extra time before getting back to the task they were distracted from. Replying to a Facebook Message may only take a few seconds. But while distracted from their primary task, they might as well check to see if anyone liked or commented on their most recent post. Or after replying to a text message, they may as well see if any new emails came arrived. Or they may decide to take the time to refill their coffee before getting back on track.

So, on average, simple distractions like a social media DM can take you away from your primary task for up to nine minutes. And that’s just time away from the task. There was a study a while back that said it takes roughly 10-20 minutes of working on something to become entirely focused on the job.

You may be thinking, “I don’t take nine minutes to get back to a task after a distraction.” The test subjects in the Microsoft and University of Illinois study thought the same thing. However, when interviewed after the study, almost every one of them was surprised by how long their distractions lasted.

Most of them thought they were away from their primary task for only a minute or two, when in fact, they were away from it for three to five times longer than they thought.

Even if you ignore your notifications, leaving them for later, they’re still a distraction. If you don’t click, the distraction still breaks your focus and interrupts your work. Which means it will take longer to complete that task.

A study on people’s work habits conducted by RescueTime said the average person couldn’t go six minutes without checking some sort of communication platform.

Once you add in other forms of distractions and 40% of people, never get more than 30 minutes of uninterrupted work time per day.

How does this apply to your design business?

We live in a world of communication overload. I’m sure that like me, you’re bombarded with messages and notifications every day. But what you need to remember is that You Are In Control. You have the power to turn your distracting notifications off.

You’ve probably heard about successful business people getting up at five or six in the morning to get an early start on their day. They often say it’s the most productive time for them. The reason is there are no distractions during that time since most people are still asleep.

If you’re a morning person, you may want to try starting work early. Work from 6 am to 9 am and then take a break for a couple of hours to take care of all the emails, text messages and check in on your social accounts.

Or perhaps you’re a night owl. Try finding some uninterrupted time by working late at night after your family is in bed.

But even if early mornings or late at night are not your thing and you work traditional business hours from 9 to 5, there’s still hope. You’re in control. You can choose to eliminate distractions from your workspace.

  • Quit your email program.
  • Turn off notifications.
  • Set your computer to Do Not Disturb.
  • Put your phone in airplane mode.

If you eliminate all distractions and work for a few hours uninterrupted, you’ll be amazed at how much you can get done. Your concentration will improve. You’ll be more focused on the task at hand. Your creativity will increase. And problem-solving will be easier. Without distractions, you’ll feel like a better designer.

Aim for three hours of uninterrupted time.

Another study said the optimal amount of uninterrupted time is three hours. Three hours is enough for you to get involved with the task you’ve started and then slowly build your focus and creativity until you’re in a zone where the outside world almost disappears. All your concentration is on your task.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this “Focused Zone” before. Being so focused on what you’re doing that, you lose track of time and forget things like lunch.

The study claimed that focused times lasting longer than three hours might lead to fatigue, causing you to lose focus. The more engaged your brain is, the more calories you burn. And just like a physical workout, the longer you concentrate on a single task, the more drained you’ll feel afterwards.

So uninterrupted time is excellent for productivity, but too much of it and you may feel drained for the rest of the day, which becomes counterproductive to the whole process of trying to get more work done.

Another study took place with young children at a Montessori school. They observed that when left alone with a task of their choosing, the children would focus for the first hour to an hour and a half.

A 15-20 minute period would follow where the children would seem a bit restless as if they were losing focus on their work. The researchers thought the kids were becoming disorderly, losing interest in what they were doing. But it turned out to be what they dubbed “False Fatigue.” After this short period of restlessness, the kids became even more focused for another hour as they continued to work on their projects.

The kids were so focused that a lot of them became oblivious to their surroundings and ignored distractions introduced by the researchers.

After roughly three hours, the kids lost interest and stopped. But they looked delighted with their accomplishments.

The same principles apply to adults, including designers like you.

Times may vary for you, but three hours of uninterrupted time to set as your goal.

Finding uninterrupted time with kids in the house.

Perhaps three hours of uninterrupted time while your children busy themselves unsupervised is unrealistic. But what about one hour? Is that not feasible?

Mommy Blog Practical, By Default, shares a hack for getting uninterrupted work time without feeling “Mom Guilt” (the same solution works for dads as well.)

The hack involves using a timer to teach young kids that while the timer is counting down, it’s not ok to interrupt Mom or Dad. Even young kids can learn to watch a timer.

When the timer rings, you give your kids your undivided attention. It doesn’t matter what you’re in the middle of doing. There’s no “just a couple of more minutes.” You need to follow your end of the deal if you expect your kids to leave you alone during your uninterrupted time.

Be sure to read the blog for full details.

It’s up to you.

If you want to feel and be more productive, the easiest thing to do is turn off the communication overload. Limit distractions and get some uninterrupted time to focus 100% on your work. You’ll be amazed at how much you can get done in such a short period of time.

Do you add uninterrupted time to your schedule?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Resource of the week

TinEye is an image search and recognition company. They are experts in computer vision, pattern recognition, neural networks and machine learning. Their mission is to make your images searchable.

TinEye delivers image search and recognition solutions to the industries where searching images is mission-critical. TinEye's image recognition is used by millions of people and powers billions of searches across a wide range of industries.

Jun 15, 2020

What are you doing to stand out?

I was listening to a podcast recently, and the guest on the show said something about how businesses need to stand out from its competition. To which the host replied, “That’s for sure, you don’t want to be a penguin.”

Sometimes, the most mundane things that I see, hear or read spark an idea for a podcast topic. Well, that phrase did it for me – Don’t be a penguin.

What do I mean by – Don’t be a penguin?

First, let me ask you, have you ever seen a large group of penguins? Maybe at a zoo, in the wild or even on TV? How do you differentiate one individual bird from the rest? I have no idea. And I suspect, unless you have an affinity for penguins, neither do you.

Unless one of the penguins has some form of distinguishing feature, they all look pretty well the same. So if I asked you to pick out one penguin from the bunch, you might have a hard time deciding since they all look the same. You would probably look harder for that distinguishing feature to make your selection easier. It’s much simpler to choose something that stands out from the rest, than something that blends in.

Think of your design business.

I want you to think of your design business in terms of those penguins. Or more on point, I want you to think about a client looking for a designer.

To a client, unfamiliar with the design space, we’re all penguins. As far as they’re concerned, we’re all the same. So how do you expect them to choose you out of all the other design businesses out there? You need to be different.

Your design business needs that distinguishing feature that will help clients chose you.

I recently had Col Gray on the podcast. Col’s business, Pixels Inc, is growing because he stands out. I’m not talking about Col’s Scottish accent. Sure, that’s a distinguishing feature in most parts of the world. But it doesn’t help him in his home country of Scotland. I’m pretty sure most of the other native designers he’s competing with locally have a similar accent.

No, Col stands out because of the personal brand he’s developed, Including his look. If you don’t know Col, he has a very distinct look. He’s almost always wearing black. He has a very long beard that grows down below his chest level that he often ties it with hair elastics.

On top of that, you never see Col without a ball cap. And not just any ball cap. It’s either black or red.

So visually, Col stands out. If a company asked multiple designers to pitch them, they’d remember Col. In fact, I’m sure they’d remember him months or even years later. Col is not a penguin.


Do you remember Craig Burton, who was on the show a while back? Craig’s design business is called School Branding Matters. One look at his website or even just hearing his business name and you know right away how Craig’s design business is different.

Imagine a school principal or school director looking to rebrand their institution. If presented with three or four different designers to choose from, which one do you think will stand out as the best choice? The three designers who have practically the same message on their website just worded in different ways? Or the one designer whose website says he helps schools craft compelling visual brands?

Do you get my point? The penguin that stands out is the one that gets picked.

Even niches have penguins.

Even within a niche, you don’t want to be a penguin.

Take my Podcast Branding business. I know several other people in this niche that offer podcast cover artwork as a service. I also know I’m one of the more expensive options. Some of them charge a fraction of what I do. And yet, I get new orders every week. Why is that? Because I stand out.

I ask every client who hires me why they chose Podcast Branding? Most of them say it’s because the other options all looked the same, and they couldn’t tell which was better. But my business looked different. I presented as the most professional, and even though I cost more, I seemed more trustworthy, and I looked like the one that could help them the most.

I’m also the only podcast cover artwork service, as far as I know, who insists on meeting and talking with each client before I design anything for them.

I’ve had several clients tell me that was the clincher. They felt that personal touch meant I would take better care of them than any of the other services that wanted them to submit their information via a web form.

So you see,

It doesn’t matter who’s the better designer.

It doesn’t matter who’s the fastest designer.

It doesn’t matter who’s the most affordable designer.

What matters is which designer stands out from the others because the one that stands out is the one chosen most often.

How can you stand out?

What can you do to stand out? You could try embracing a uniquely personal look as Col has. But that strategy could take years to develop. Or you could try narrowing down and focusing on a niche like Craig, and I have. Niching automatically sets you apart from all-purpose designers.

But what if you don’t want to go to those lengths? What if you don’t want a unique look or to niche down?

What you need to do is figure out what makes you unique and embrace it. Emphasize it for everyone to see.

Be unique.

I knew a web designer who exuded personality on his website. For example, this is how he described part of his design process.

“Once I know the scope of your project, I’ll present you with a proposal. I can do this over video, but I much prefer to do it in person. We can meet at my office or yours, but whoever’s office we chose is responsible for supplying the cookies.”

His site was full of small nuances such as that. And you know what, he told me that most clients he pitches to have cookies waiting for him.

I also remember this headline on his website.

“I’m a Scottish Web Designer, and I’m very good at it. Web Design, that is, I’m only so so at being Scottish.”

Upon landing on his site and reading that line, you knew he was different. Some people might be turned off by his presentation, but chances are those weren’t clients we would have wanted anyway. Those who did like it saw his uniqueness as different than the other designers and hired him because of it.

Don’t be a penguin.

So ask yourself, what am I doing to make my design business stand out from my competition?

What can I change or do better to improve my chances of being the chosen one?

What can I do differently so that I’m not just another penguin in the rookery?

That’s something for you to ponder.

Resource of the week ShortPixel

ShortPixel improves website performance by reducing image sizes, resulting in smaller images that are no different in quality from the original. The results mean faster loading web pages, which translates into better user experience and better search engine rankings.

ShortPixel can be set up to compress images as they're uploaded to your website or as a way to batch process your existing media library.

ShortPixel offers a one-time purchase or monthly plans depending on how many and how often you need to optimize images. They even have a free plan if you only need to optimize up to 100 images per month.

Jun 8, 2020

If you don’t tell them, they won’t know.

Before I launched the Resourceful Designer podcast on September 30, 2015, I sat down and wrote a list of over 50 topics I could discuss on the show. I wanted to be sure before embarking on this journey that I wouldn’t run out of things to say.

Almost five years later, and 219 episodes in, I still haven’t covered all 50 of those original topics. The ideas behind many of my episodes come from my own experiences in the week or weeks before recording.

Maybe I’ll read something in a book, or an article or on social media that gets me thinking, and those thoughts emerge into an episode topic. Or perhaps something I hear on another podcast or TV sparks an idea. And of course, my interactions with my design clients often turn into teaching moments for the show.

All of this to say, I’m never genuinely lacking for content.

But back before I started Resourceful Designer, I wasn’t so sure I’d have enough discussion material. That’s why I wrote my original list. To prove to myself, I had enough things to discuss.

I remember when I was getting ready to start the podcast, looking at that list and wondering which topics I should cover first. There were a lot of good ones, after all. In the end, I settled on what I thought was one of the most important topics a home-based designer should know and “Do Your Design Clients Know What You Do?” became the first topic I shared with my audience. It’s an episode devoted to telling your clients what it is you do, because, believe it or not, most of them don’t know.

I know it sounds strange, but it’s true. Most of your clients don’t know what services you offer beyond what it is you currently do for them. And almost five years after recording and releasing that episode, the situation hasn’t changed.

Earlier this week, a client I’ve been working with for over 20 years, dating back to my days working at the print shop, asked me to send him a copy of his logo in vector format. Curious because most clients don’t know what a vector is, I emailed him questioning why he needed a vector of his logo.

To my surprise, he told me he hired a designer to create a flyer for his clinic. I immediately called him on the phone and asked if I had done something wrong that made him look elsewhere for a designer instead of asking me?

It was then his turn to be surprised. He told me no, not at all, we have a great relationship, and he loves working with me, but I do websites, and he needed a flyer.

A bit of back story.

Before I continue my story, let me give you a bit of history between myself and this client.

I designed this client’s logo almost 20 years ago. I also designed his business cards and the rest of his stationary. The signage outside and inside his clinic, that was me. I’ve also created rack cards, postcards, posters and probably other printed material I can’t recall. That’s not counting his original website back in 2005 and the two re-designed sites I made for him over the past 15 years.

Back to my story.

When I reminded my client of all the things I designed for him in the past, he tried to dispute it. He told me his logo, business card, etc. etc. were all created by the print shop where I used to work. Which is correct, I designed all of them when I was working at the print shop.

However, even though he remembers me working at the print shop before starting my own business, he doesn’t remember me being the one who designed his stuff. He remembers dealing directly with the shop owner on every project. Not the designer who worked on his projects.

This admission surprised me even more. He has one of the most recognized brands in our community, something I’m incredibly proud of, and yet he doesn’t remember that I designed it for him. Talk about bursting my ego.

He then proceeded to tell me he’s had several print-related projects designed over the years by various designers.

When I questioned him on why he never asked me for any of them – I worked at a print shop after all and know a thing or two about print design – he told me he thought I left the print shop to get into web design. I didn’t realize I still do print design.

I’m not blaming my client for his shortsightedness. This situation falls wholly on my shoulders. In hindsight, it was stupid of me not to realize that in the 15 years I’ve been running my own design business, this client has only ever contacted me for his website. What kind of company goes 15 years without needing print design? So this is on me, not him. He had a preconceived notion of what I do, and I never corrected him.

But you see, that’s the issue. I never thought I had to educate this client because of our history together. In my mind, I had designed all sorts of print material for him. So it only made sense that if he needed anything else, he would come to me. But in his mind, I was his “web guy,” and he never considered me for any of his print projects.

Unfortunately, he signed a contract and gave a deposit to the other designer for the flyers. So I’m out of luck there. But he did assure me the next time he needs something he’ll let me know.

What’s even more frustrating is he’s referred several web clients my way over the years. This makes me realize how much I probably lost because he wasn’t referring me for print design. I can only shake my head at the situation.

Silver Linings.

Fortunately, there is a silver lining to this story. When this happened earlier this week, and I knew I would use the experience to create a podcast episode, I went back and listened to that first episode I released. In it, I shared similar frustrations. But I also shared a strategy I used that helped—something about which I completely forgot.

When I recorded that episode, I was used to sending quarterly emails to all my clients, letting them know what sort of fun projects I had completed recently for other clients. I would make sure to include a variety of web and print jobs, including t-shirts, trade show booths, vehicle wraps, etc. It was a way to showcase my work and inform my clients what I was capable of producing. And it worked. Clients would often contact me after receiving my email asking for information on one of the projects I mentioned. They would inquire if I could do something similar for them.

Their messages would often contain lines saying something like, “I didn’t know you did that.” So I had the solution to this problem. And then I forgot about it. As life would have it, what started as a quarterly email became less frequent until it eventually drifted off my radar altogether. It’s been a few years since I sent one out, but I now plan on reviving the practice ASAP.

In the meantime, after this enlightening conversation with my client, I did send personalized emails to my clients. I personalized each one with details about the client’s business, our relationship and their industry, but before editing each email, I composed a base email to use. Here’s the base email I wrote.

Hi [client’s name]

As we approach the far side of the pandemic lockdown, and life slowly gets back to the “new normal,” more and more businesses are being allowed to reopen.

A lot of people are wondering how their past routines will be different as we emerge from isolation. Now is the perfect time to let your clients know what to expect from you.

If you require new or updated marketing material, please let me know. Here are some ideas for you to consider that may help your marketing effort.

  • Posters
  • postcards
  • flyers
  • T-shirts
  • Signage (interior/exterior)
  • Display stands
  • Vehicle wraps
  • Digital Ads (Google, Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
  • Website updates
  • Trade Show Supplies

If you require any help designing these or any other print or digital material, please let me know. I’d love to help.

I wish you all the best in your return to operation.


Mark Des Cotes

As I said, I added to or altered the content for each client. I didn’t want them to think it was a blanket email I was sending out to the masses. I wanted each client to think I was writing just to them. And you know what? I already got my first hit.

A website client read my email and contacted me to design a postcard for her shop. Not only had she never considered a postcard until she read my email, but she also forgot I did print design since I was her “web guy.”

Let your clients know what you do.

All of this to say, don’t take for granted that your clients know what services you offer because there’s a good chance they don’t.

It doesn’t matter if you list your services on your website, you showcase different projects in your portfolio, or you explain them in your marketing material. Because chances are, your existing clients are not looking at that stuff. After all, they already know you, or so they believe, so they have no reason to look into what you do.

Unless you keep reminding your clients what services your offer, there’s a good chance they’ll only know you for that one project they hired you to do. So take this time to reach out and inform your current and past clients about all the things you can do for them.

Who knows, you may get lucky and pick up some new work from it.

How do you let your clients know what you do?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Resource of the week Gravity Forms

I’ve been using Gravity Forms for several years, and I love it. It’s the easiest, most trusted tool for creating advanced forms on your WordPress website. Packed full of time-saving tools and features, Gravity Forms is more than just a form creation tool; it’s a form management platform.

Build and publish simple or complex WordPress forms in minutes. No coding or guesswork required. Simply choose your desired fields, configure your options and embed the form on your website. It’s that easy. And with so many built-in integrations with some of the most popular partners on the internet, Gravity Forms makes it extremely easy to connect your website to platforms such as PayPal, MailChimp, Dropbox, Freshbooks and so many more.

I install Gravity Forms on every single website I build. What else can I say?

Jun 1, 2020

Have you ever considered YouTube as a way to market your design business?

Ask any marketer, and they'll tell you that if you're not doing video, your missing out on a massive part of the market. In the past couple of years, revenue generated through video marketing has outpaced all other forms of promotion. And of course, YouTube is the number one place to be if you're using video. But how do you use YouTube to promote a graphic or web design business?

I'm no expert when it comes to YouTube. I would consider myself an absolute novice. But as you know, when you want to learn something, your best option is to learn from someone who's doing it successfully.

In today's episode of the Resourceful Designer podcast, I'm talking to designer Col Gray, owner of Pixels Ink, a logo and brand design studio in Dundee Scotland. We discuss how he's making significant strides with his YouTube channel, Pixels Inc, as a means to market his business.

In this episode you'll hear us discuss:

  • How Col got started on YouTube.
  • The strategy he decided to embrace.
  • Why he chose business people instead of other designers as his target audience.
  • How he finds topics for his videos.
  • How YouTube is a long term marketing strategy.
  • His experience in getting his first client through YouTube.
  • What makes a video engaging.
  • What equipment you need if you're just starting.
  • The equipment Col uses to optimize his show.
  • His video process

Equipment and software mentioned in the episode:

What's your experience with video and YouTube?

Do you have a YouTube channel for your design business? Please share it in the comments for this episode.

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