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Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business

Offering resources to help streamline your home based graphic design and web design business so you can get back to what you do best… Designing!
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Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business
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Now displaying: February, 2021
Feb 22, 2021

Without these skills, your design business will struggle.

It sounds so easy. You’re good at designing, so why not start freelancing or start your own design business?

For the record, my definition of a freelancer is someone who does design work on the side while working another job in or possibly not in the design space. If you design things for clients on your own, and it’s your only source of income, meaning you don’t have an employer elsewhere, you are not freelancing; you are running a design business.

But regardless of whether you call yourself a freelancer or a design business owner. Working for yourself requires a different skill set than simply being a good designer.

You could have the most amazing portfolio of design work. You could be a wiz in Photoshop or Illustrator or InDesign, or maybe WordPress, Webflow or whatever tool you use. It doesn’t matter what skills you have as a designer. If you want your business to succeed, you have to run it like a business. And to do that, you need business skills.

There are numerous business skills that will help you get ahead. Most of them, such as file management, you can learn along the way.

However, there are five essential skills you need to succeed. Skills that the most successful designers use, be it freelancer or owner of a design business. They know the importance of these skills, and they know the success or failure of their business depends on their ability to master them. If you don’t possess these skills, you need to develop them ASAP if you want to ensure your endeavour's success.

So what are these all-important skills I’m talking about?

  1. Communication skills.
  2. Building Relationships.
  3. Thinking Strategically.
  4. Time Management skills.
  5. Money Management skills.

1 Communication

Without good communications skills, your business is doomed to failure. The ability to communicate properly is one of the most important skills you can have as a business owner.

Every client you talk to, every design proposal you write, every pitch or presentation you make will succeed or fail based on your communication skills.

Not only are good communication skills required to articulate and understand ideas. But clear communication can also save you and the client time and money.

  • The better you are at communicating, the more comfortable clients will be working with you.
  • The better you are at communicating, the more professional you will appear to people.
  • The better you are at communicating, the easier it will be to build and foster relationships with your client.

Plus, good communication skills can help you when dealing with different personalities or when discussing difficult topics.

Many designers are introverts. Myself included. But being an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t have good communication skills. You might have to work harder at it than an extravert does, but that’s easily accomplished.

Improving your communications skills will help you stand out from other designers who lack this skill. Not only will you be seen by your clients as a good designer, but also as a strategic partner and problem solver.

How to Improve your communications skills.

  • Use a tool such as Grammarly to check your written communication.
  • Reading books such as Dale Carnegie's How To Win Friends and Influence People.
  • Join ToastMasters or hire a speech coach.
  • Record your conversations and play them back, listening for areas you can improve on. (you need a client’s permission to record them)

Improving your communications skills will go a long way to ensuring your business’s success.

2 Building Relationships.

Have you heard the saying, it’s not what you know, but who you know?

Relationships are one of the key elements to any business’s success, even more so for service-based businesses like yours. The most successful designers out there know the importance of building relationships. Not just with clients but with everyone they meet, including fellow designers.

Every person you meet is an opportunity to start a relationship. Why is this important? Because every connection you make can lead to referrals, new clients, new projects, friendships, maybe partnerships and who knows what else.

If you’re a people-person, this should be fairly easy for you. But even if talking to people comes naturally to you, you have to learn to do it with purpose. Stay professional while you build your rapport. Building relationships takes time. But the payoff is enormous.

My Podcast Branding business grew to what it is today because of the relationships I’ve made in the podcasting space. You never know when one of the many relationships you’ve nurtured will lead to a new client or project. So keep building them.

Even when a relationship isn’t working out, it should still be nurtured as you back away. That means being cordial and considerate, even while turning down a client. You don’t want to burn any bridges because if you think good word of mouth spreads, let me tell you, bad word of mouth spreads so much faster.

How do you build relationships?

  • Do it slowly by making small connections with people.
  • Try to remember small details about a person and bring them up in conversation.
  • Ask about their kids or their recent holiday.
  • Keep in touch with your clients, even when you have no active projects with them.
  • Attend networking events and meet new people.
  • Read How To Win Friends and Influence People.

It may sound scary, but building relationships is a skill every good business owner needs to master.

3 Thinking Strategically

Being able to think strategically can transform an average freelancer into an extremely successful business owner.

Thinking strategically is the ability to envision the future and plan accordingly.

  • It will help you spot trends.
  • It will help you understand how your client is different from their competition.
  • It will help you contemplate ideas and directions your clients may not consider.

Thinking strategically will help you with your business and the work you do for your clients.

Strategic thinking is what differentiates a designer who designs logos from a designer who creates brands. Any brand strategy requires strategic thinking.

Thinking strategically will help you develop goals for yourself and your business by envisioning your future. Where do you want to be 6 months, a year, five years from now? Strategic thinking is going to help make the decisions, make adjustments, and tell you what you need to do and what not to do to reach your goals.

How do you think strategically?

Regularly take time to envision your future and figure out if you’re on the right path. Make time to work on your business strategy. Instead of waiting for the next new client to show up, figure out how you’re going to get your next 10 clients.

Read books and listen to podcasts that talk about building a business. Oh wait, you’re already listening to Resourceful Designer, aren't you? If so, you’re off to a good start.

4 Time Management

As a business owner, you have nobody to answer to but yourself. Nobody is breathing down your neck, telling you to get back to work or making sure you’re getting the job done. All of that falls on you, and if you want to succeed, you need to master time management skills.

Your Time management skills or lack thereof will make or break you.

When you’re fortunate enough to have several clients with multiple projects on the go, all with varying deadlines, your success in dealing with all of it will depend on your skill at managing your time.

And Time management isn’t just about managing client projects. You also have to worry about running your business and making sure you have time for yourself. Otherwise, your stress level will increase, and burnout becomes a possibility.

Time management comes down to four things.

  • Self-motivation, the ability to get going and keep yourself going
  • Self-discipline, the ability to focus on the work at hand and avoid the many distractions associated with running a business, not to mention the distractions of life in general.
  • Self-management is the ability to govern yourself by setting your own timelines, breaking down tasks, and delegating when needed.
  • Self-care, the ability to take breaks and time off. Making sure you are eating well and staying hydrated.

If your health falters, there’s nobody to help you out. So take care of yourself.

How to improve your time management skills

  • Plan your day ahead of time with to-do lists
  • Prioritize your tasks by order of importance and do the most important ones first.
  • Use a clock or timer to help you keep track of time.

5 Money Management Skills

The final important skill I want to talk about is money management.

Unlike employed designers who receive a weekly paycheque. Freelance and design business owners are at the whims of their clients when it comes to income.

Mastering skills 1 through 4 above should help you build your clientele to the point where you always have projects on the go. However, unless you’ve set up your business so you collect a salary, money management may not be top of mind for you.

When it comes to money skills, many freelancers are of the mindset that the money comes in, and the money goes out. They don’t give much thought to managing that flow of income.

How you budget your business earnings affects every aspect of your business. Good money management skills will help you set your rates and prices, so you remain profitable. Money management skills will help you determine which projects to take on and which are not worth it.

Money management skills will help you maintain your business by making sure the funds are there should there be a dip in your workload or should you have to purchase a new computer.

A business can generate a lot of money, but if that money isn’t managed well, it can still fail. And you don’t want your otherwise successful design business to fail because you lack the skill to manage your money.

How to learn money management.

  • Separate your business money from your personal money, including bank accounts.
  • Know your overhead, the cost of running your business so you know if you’re making a profit or not.
  • Learn basic money management skills through books, podcasts, and budgeting apps.
  • Talk to your bank or financial advisor.

Good money management skills will ensure you are rewarded for all the hard work you do.

Master these five skills to succeed.

These are the five skills that will help you succeed as a freelancer or design business owner. As I said at the beginning, there are many more skills required to run a business. But these five are essential if you’re in this for the long term.

Do you have these five skills?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Resource of the week Grammarly

I first purchased Grammarly on a whim a few years ago during some ridiculous sale they were having. It was probably one of the best purchases I've made in recent years. Not a day goes by that Grammarly doesn't help me out.

What is Grammarly? Simply put, it’s a spelling and grammar checker for your computer and web browser. But it’s so much more than that. As they say on their website, Grammarly leaves outdated spelling and grammar checkers in the dust.

Grammarly helps me whenever I fill out online forms, when I'm designing in WordPress and when I'm posting on social media. Anywhere I write, Grammarly is there to make sure I write well.

Grammarly doesn’t only correct, it teaches. It tells you if you are using repetitive words, warns of things like weak adjectives, and so much more. According to their website 85% of people using Grammarly become stronger writers. I've seen it in my writing.

It can be set for American or British spelling and is available for both Mac and Windows.

Feb 15, 2021

Follow the 10-20-30 Rule for great presentations.

Have you ever heard of the 10-20-30 Rule? It’s more often called the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint, but the principle applies elsewhere as well.

This Rule was coined several years ago by Guy Kawasaki, a venture capitalist who sat through dozens of presentation pitches regularly. It was his job to listen to people pitch their business ideas, and after years of this, he noted that the best presentations, the ones that are more likely to close the deal, all followed a similar format, which he coined the 10-20-30 Rule.

And this Rule is simple.

• 10 Slides
• 20 Minute Presentation
• 30 Point minimum size font.

That’s it. According to Kawasaki, this setup gives you the best chance to impact the person or people you’re presenting positively.

Kawasaki was talking about people pitching business ideas to venture capitalists. But the same principle applies to you, a designer pitching your ideas to clients.

Let’s break it down the 10-20-30 Rule.

Rule #1: 10 Slides.

Kawasaki pointed out that it’s tough for someone to comprehend more than ten concepts in a meeting. If you try, you’re more than most likely to confuse them.

Follow the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid.) Limiting your presentation to only 10 slides or 10 sheets or pages does just that.

Break your presentation down into 10 points, one per slide. Maybe something like this.

• Slide 1: Your interpretation of who the client is.
• Slide 2: Identifying the client’s competition.
• Slide 3: The Problem the client is facing.
• Slide 4: The Solution you are proposing.
• Slide 5: How your solution solves the client’s problem.
• Slide 6: Examples of your solution in place.
• Slide 7: Projections and outcomes from Implementing your solution.
• Slide 8: Timeline for the project.
• Slide 9: Cost of the project.
• Slide 10: Summary and call to action. 

This example uses a maximum of 10 slides, but you can do it in less, then all the better. 

Rule #2: 20 Minutes.

It doesn’t matter if you are allotted 30 minutes or an hour. Your actual presentation should take no more than 20 minutes. If you can’t present your idea within that time frame, you’re doing something wrong.

Have you heard of TED Talks? Did you know that TED Talks have a maximum length of 18 minutes?

TED organizers chose this time length based on neuroscience research that says 18 minutes is long enough for a speaker to flesh out their idea and short enough for a listener to take it in, digest what they are hearing, and understand all of the vital information.

Not only that, but they know that shorter presentations require you to edit things down to the most important and relevant material. 

If you have more time allotted to you, use it for introductions and setting up your equipment. You should also leave time for Q&A after your presentation. Plus, you never know when an emergency might arise and cut the meeting short.

20 minutes is the ideal time to keep someone’s interest in what you are showing them. Longer than 20 minutes, and you risk their mind wandering to other things and possibly missing critical points you’re trying to make.

Rule #3: 30-Pt Font.

As a designer, I trust you know that slides or presentation papers are most effective when they contain very little wording. I’m hoping I don’t have to explain that to you.

This 10-20-30 Rule was written for people pitching a product or business idea, not for experienced designers. But just the same, it’s something to remember when you create your presentation slides or handouts.

Using a larger point size forces you to cut back on unnecessary verbiage. The only reason to have a smaller type on a slide is to cram on more text. But by doing so, your client may think you’re not familiar with your material and that you need your slides to act as a teleprompter. And that, in turn, may make them feel like you are not invested in them.

Not to mention, the more type you have on a slide, the more the client will focus on reading it and not listening to what you’re saying. You know what I mean, we’ve all done it before—reading ahead while ignoring the presenter. Avoid this by using 30 point or larger fonts.

Forget the bullet list and instead, tell your clients the key points. It will mean much more coming out of your mouth than words on a screen or sheet of paper.

As a comparison, Steve Jobs, a great presenter in his time, insisted on a 96-point type on all his presentation slides. If it’s good enough for a multi-billion company, it should be good enough for you.

Bonus

As a bonus to his 10-20-30 Rule, Guy Kawasaki also said that the most persuasive presentations he’s sat through, typically used white type on a black or dark coloured background. 

The way he puts it is, anyone can put black type on a white background. It’s the default in all programs. However, white type on a dark background is something you have to conscientiously, and shows that you’ve put effort into your presentation.

Not to mention that white type on a dark background looks classier and is easier to read.

Don’t believe me? Think of movie credits. How often do you see black credits on a white background? Hardly ever. You can learn from that.

Do you follow the 10-20-30 Rule?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Tip of the week Capture Full-Screen websites on your iPhone.

If you are an iPhone user there's a nifty feature you may not know about. The ability to take full-page screenshots of webpages.

In Safari, take a screenshot of any webpage. Edit the screenshot. At the top of the page, you can toggle between "Screen" and "Full Page". Selecting "Full Page" allows you to save the entire webpage as a PDF to your Files folder.

This is a quick and easy way to capture the mobile view of any webpage.

Feb 8, 2021

Are you missing out by not charging your clients for everything you can?

Running your own design business or freelancing as a graphic or web designer seems like such an easy gig. A client asks you to create something for them, and they pay you for what you design. Simple right?

For thousands of graphic and web designers around the world, that’s exactly how they do it. A Client brings them a project. The designer designs the project. The Client pays for said project. And the cycle repeats.

What if I told you many of these designers are leaving money on the table? How they could and should be charging much more to their clients than they currently are.

I’m not talking about design rates. I’m not saying these designers are worth more than the rate they are charging. Although they probably are.

No. What I’m getting at is there are many aspects of what you do as a designer that you could be charging your clients for. And yet, many designers don’t. And as such, those designers are missing out on money they could be earning. Are you one of them?

Case study.

Imagine a client hires you for a new project. To design a poster for an upcoming local festival.

Many designers will figure out how much to quote for a poster design. They may base it on an hourly rate. Maybe offer a flat fee. Or perhaps base their price on the value they’re providing, regardless of what pricing strategy they use. The price they quote is based on designing the poster alone. And that’s wrong.

You’ll notice most successful designers refer to what they work on as projects. They’re not working on a poster for a local festival. They’re working on a project for the local festival that involves designing a poster. You see, a design project consists of multiple tasks. And not all of those tasks involve actual designing.

Let me break this down.

A client calls you on the phone to see if you’re interested in designing a poster for their festival. You say yes and set up a time to meet their organizing committee to go over what is required of you.

You meet with them to discuss the festival, who it’s for, where it’s happening, when it’s taking place and how long it’s lasting. You go over what the festival's brand and message entail, and of course, what sort of information they want on the poster.

Once you’re satisfied, you go back home or to your office and prepare a quote. Maybe they have some follow-up questions that go back and forth before they agree on your price and you finally get to work on their project.

Your design process may include researching similar festivals from other areas to see what sort of posters they did. It may include browsing stock image sites to find the perfect images to compliment the festival's theme as well as your design. It may include contacting a local printer to ask about different paper stocks or finishing options. It may include coordinating with the festival’s web designer, if that’s not you, to make sure the poster and website follow a consistent brand.

Then, once you’ve designed the poster, you need to present it to the client. Perhaps you place your poster design on situation mockups to help the client visualize it in place. Then you email them a PDF, or maybe you present it to them in person.

Once the client approves your poster design, you prepare the final print files and hand them over to your client to bring to the printer. Unless you are also brokering the printing for them, but for this example, let’s say you aren’t.

Then you prepare the invoice, send it to the client, and take care of the payment and bookkeeping once it's received. Only then is the project over.

Out of all of that, for how much of it did you charge the client?

  • Did you charge them for the initial phone call?
  • Did you charge them for the travel time to and from any in-person meetings?
  • Did you charge them for the time those meetings lasted?
  • Did you charge them for the time it took you to prepare the quote and answer any follow-up questions?
  • Did you charge them for the research you did or the time you spent browsing stock image sites?
  • What about the time you spent discussing the festival’s brand with their web designer or the time you spent discussing paper stock with the printer?
  • How about the time it took to present the poster to the client?
  • Or the time it took to prepare the mockups and final files for the printer?
  • And what about the time you took to prepare the invoice and handle any payment you received?

Did you charge them for any of that? Or did you only charge them for designing the poster?

Most inexperienced or struggling designers probably did the latter. Charge for only the poster. But that's wrong. The poster design is only one small part of the overall project you were hired to do. A project that started when the client called you and finished the moment you received the final payment. Everything in between is billable. Your time is valuable. You shouldn’t be giving it away for free.

Think like a lawyer.

Have you ever received an invoice from a lawyer? Make fun of lawyers as you will, but designers can learn a thing or two from how a lawyer runs their business.

Lawyers keep track of every phone call. Every sheet of paper they print out. Every email they send. And every minute a client spends with them. And they bill the client for all of it. Why? Because lawyers know every little bit of it has a cost or value associated with it. And since it was all done on behalf of a client, that client should be paying for that cost or value.

I’m not telling you to charge for every piece of paper or every paperclip you use. But, you would be in your right if you wanted to.

How I charge my clients.

Let me explain how I charge my clients.

In my case, the initial email or phone call from a client is free. Providing that call doesn’t last more than 15-20 minutes. 15-20 minutes should be enough time to propose their project and for me to ask some initial questions. If it goes on longer than 15-20 minutes, I’ll make a note of it and incorporate the extra time into my project cost. But normally, if it looks like the conversation will go long, I’ll ask them to schedule a time with me to discuss their project in greater detail.

I charge my clients for any travel time as well as the time I spend with them. That time could be for presenting a proposal, conducting a discovery meeting, making a presentation, or whatever reason I'm with the client.

Once I’m back in my office working, I keep track of the time I spend doing research for their project. That may include learning about the client and their industry or browsing stock image sites.

I use a tool called Clockify to keep track of the time I spend on a project. Clockify makes it very easy to turn timers on and off, assign them to a project and keep track of how much time I spend working on it. So before I start any research or anything to do with the project, I turn on the timer.

Just a side note here. Most of my projects these days are quoted using either project-based or value-based pricing. So I’m not billing by the hour. But I still like to keep track of how much time I spend on every project for my own benefit. That way, I get to learn how much time it takes me to do certain tasks.

If a client calls me while I’m working on a different project, I’ll switch the timer to their project for the call duration. Again for my benefit.

And I also know from experience how long it takes me to prepare and send out an invoice.

All of this is taken into consideration when quoting on a project. Of course, most of this is speculation and guesswork. But it’s accounted for.

  • How many trips will I have to make to the client’s office, and what is the average duration for these meetings?
  • What’s the travel distance to the client's office?
  • Will I need to coordinate this project with another designer, printer or other third parties?
  • How much research do I anticipate having to do?
  • Etc.

All of this is worked into the quote. Because my time is valuable, and if it’s spent on behalf of the client. Then the client should be paying for it. If I only charged for the actual designs I create, my business would not be as successful.

There are plenty of other aspects of what you do you could be charging for.

Consulting

I receive lots of inquiries from people wanting to “pick my brain” about design or branding.

"Mark, I have an idea for a new mail campaign for my business. I want to get your opinion on it." Or "Mark, my wife is opening a new business, and I was wondering if you had any ideas of what she needs branding wise to get started?"

You know the types of questions I’m talking about. Sure they may turn into paid work, but most of the time, they’re innocently looking for free advice.

Once in a while is not a big deal. But when this starts happening regularly, it eats into your valuable time. The time you could be spending working on projects you are being paid for.

It got so bad at one point that I implemented a consulting fee. Now, whenever someone calls or emails to ask for my advice. I tell them I would love to help, but I can’t right now. And then provide a link to a webpage where they can schedule a time with me.

The page I direct them to is titled One-On-One Consultation, and it allows them to book a 1-hour time slot at the cost of $100. And you know what? 9 out of 10 times, they follow through and book a time with me.

I used to get asked these questions and ended up spending my valuable time offering advice free of charge. Now I’m being paid for my knowledge. I’m an expert. That’s why they’re reaching out to me. So why shouldn’t I be paid for that expertise? And so should you.

I use a service called Book-Like-A-Boss for booking. But there are many other options you could use to set up your own consulting schedule.

Charging for add-ons.

Another thing you should charge for is add-ons. Add-ons include WordPress plugins or perhaps stock images—basically, anything you need to purchase to complete the client's project.

Every web designer that works with WordPress uses themes and plugins to enhance the sites they build. Many of these themes and plugins are free. But oftentimes, a premium plugin is required to get the job done. Premium plugins come at a cost. And in some cases, those costs should be passed on to the client.

For example, I love Gravity Forms for creating custom forms on websites. But not every website needs a custom form. In most cases, the default form that comes with Divi, the page builder I use, is good enough.

However, I have several clients who need something more than basic, and that’s where Gravity Forms comes in.

Gravity Forms is a premium plugin. It costs $59/year for one site.  So there’s nothing wrong with me charging my clients $59/year for the use of that plugin. I’d just be passing on the cost to them. The same cost they would pay if they were designing their site themselves and purchased the plugin.

However, I pay for an Elite license, which allows me to install Gravity Forms on unlimited websites.

But why should I incur that expense for something that benefits my clients? If it were a single client, I would pass the cost on to them. So why not do the same thing with multiple clients? Every client that uses Gravity Forms pays $59/year for the use of the plugin.

For the record, my website maintenance plan includes premium plugins. So if a client signs up for my maintenance plan, the cost of all premium plugins is included, which is another great selling feature for the maintenance plan.

Stock Images.

I mentioned Stock images above. There’s nothing wrong with charging your clients a small fee for any stock image you use on their project. Include them in your quote or itemize them as extra items on your invoice.

Think of stock image sites as image wholesalers. Meaning it’s OK to mark up the costs of the images you use.

Every year I stock up on DepositPhotos credits when they come on sale at AppSumo. The deal works out to $0.50 for each stock image I download.

However, if the client bought the images themselves, without the benefit of AppSumo credits or a DepositPhotos subscription, they would pay between $5-$10 per image.

So five stock images are used while designing a poster, why not charge the client $25-$50 for them?

There's more you can charge for.

The whole point I'm trying to get across is to help you realize there are things you do for your clients that you could be charging for.

It’s nice to think these things are just the cost of doing business. And in most cases, they are. But why should that cost come out of your pocket when your client is the one benefiting from them? It’s OK to charge your client for all the extra things you do beyond the actual design you create for them.

Don’t believe me? Try to think of the last down on his luck starving lawyer you’ve seen.

Designing might be your passion. It is for me. But passion doesn’t pay the bills. If you want to run a successful design business, you need to treat it as a business. And that means charging your clients.

What sort of things do you charge your clients for?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

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.

Feb 1, 2021

This is a cautionary tale on how not to treat your clients.

Several months ago, I quoted on a branding and web design project for a client. This was an existing client who was starting something new and wanted my help. I gave her a price, she agreed. I sent her a contract, which she promptly signed and returned along with her deposit.

Because of the nature of the project, which I’m not going to get into, we had to wait a few months before starting. But a couple of months ago, the client contacted me to cancel the project.

The nature of her business involves large gatherings of people, and with the pandemic affecting things, she informed me that she was putting the project on indefinite hold.

According to my contract, deposits are non-refundable. However, I did tell her that should she revive the project within six months. I would honour the original quote and the deposit she had given me. And that was that. Or so I had thought.

Earlier this week, the clients contacted me. As it turns out, the project wasn’t put on indefinite hold. What happened was another designer who happens to specialize in this client’s niche contacted her and offered to do the project for almost half of what I had quoted.

I’ve talked about niching before on the podcast. How niching gives you an advantage because you are perceived as an expert in that niche. Which is true. It works. And it worked in this instance. The client couldn’t pass up this opportunity to work with a designer specializing in her industry and at a lower price than I quoted. So she cancelled with me and hired this other person. I don’t blame her. It sounded like a great deal.

Now back to the phone call I received this week.

The client contacted me and told me why she cancelled our agreement. Then she proceeded to tell me how much of a nightmare this other designer was to work with. The project was completed, but not to her liking, and she wanted to know if I would be willing to take over the project from now on.

Here’s what happened.

The client told me the designer seemed like a perfect fit for her project. So was impressed when they talked and she liked his price. She paid him half up front, with the second half coming due upon completion of the project. She gave the designer her credit card number, which you should never do, but she did. And the designer started the project.

A few weeks later, the client received her credit card statement and noticed that the designer's payment was converted from US funds. Both the client and the designer live in Canada, so naturally, the client thought the quote was in Canadian dollars. Nowhere on the invoice says US funds, and she doesn’t remember the designer ever saying anything about charging in US Dollars.

When she questioned the designer, he told her that all web designers charge in US Dollars (which is not true), and that’s just the way it is. She should have done her homework before hiring him. The US/CAN exchange rate means the client pays roughly 30-35% more than she expected for the project.

But at this point, the designer had already designed a logo, which the client liked and had started on the website. So taking the loss, things with the project proceeded, and everything continued to go well with the project.

It wasn’t until the client started asking for changes that the designer's true demeanour came out. The client asked the designer to move a few things around on the website, but the designer refused to make any of the changes she requested. He told her that she’s not a designer and therefore doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She should leave designing to the expert.

When the client expressed a dislike for the colour palette, the designer chose for the website. He told her he wasn't going to change it. He had a vision for the brand, and he was going to stick with it. He told the client the colours would grow on her and not worry about it. They never did.

When the client saw a proof of the website, including copy the designer had written himself, she decided to log into WordPress and edit some of the wording. The designer had a fit, accusing the client of trying to sabotage his vision. The designer sent her a message saying, “Will you please stop making changes to the website. If you start messing around, you’re liable to muck things up, which is just more grief for me. You’re not a web designer, so why don’t you stick to things you know and let me handle the website.” He then revoked the client’s access to the site until he was finished with it, saying any changes she wanted had to be done by him. But as stated earlier, the designer refused to make any changes that went against his vision.

And to make it worse, when the client complained that he wasn't listening to her, he replied, “I received your input, but I’m the designer. I’ve been doing this for a long time and know a lot more about designing websites than you do. Please keep your opinions to yourself unless I ask for them.”

This brings us to now. The client is not happy with the completed website and doesn’t want anything to do with the designer anymore. That’s why she’s reaching out to me, someone she’s worked with before and someone who has always treated her well.

The saving grace is the designer didn’t use a contract. So she’s not on the hook to stay with him once she pays her final fee. Things still need to be finalized, but it looks like I’ll be taking over this project very soon.

I wanted to share this experience with you to illustrate how not to treat a client. Yes, as designers, we are experts. Especially if you focus on a niche. However, being an expert doesn’t mean you’re better or above your client or that a client’s opinion isn’t valid. A designer/client relationship is a partnership. One where you work together to complete the project. A designer may know more about designing than the client, but they will never know more about the client's business than they do. Abusing this is a great way to lose clients.

Maybe this designer doesn’t care. Maybe he’s laughing and thinking how smart he is. He got paid for the project, and now he never has to hear from the client again.

But you know what? This client is an influencer in her space. The same space this designer specializes in. What do you think will happen when she starts telling other people in her industry about her experiences? Was it really worth it for that designer to get his way? In the long run, I don’t think so.

I wish him luck because if that’s how he treats his clients, he’s going to need it. No matter how good you are, your business will not succeed if you drive your clients away.

I've said it before. Clients prefer to work with a good designer they like than an amazing designer they don’t like.

That’s how NOT to treat your clients. I know you know better than acting like this. But it’s always good to hear these kinds of stories to make you appreciate the relationships you have with your clients. Treat them well, and they’ll treat you well. What more can you ask for?

Resource of the week ScreenFlow

This week’s resource is something I've shared before, ScreenFlow screen recording software. It has helped me streamline my graphic design business so much that I have to share it again. Using ScreenFlow has saved me so much time and headaches. Instead of teaching clients how to use their new websites and then helping them again a month or so later when they’ve forgotten, now I just record a short instructions video showing them what to do. If they need a refresher or need to train someone new, they have access to the video and they don’t have to interrupt me for help. For that reason alone I highly recommend ScreenFlow.

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