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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: 2022
Dec 19, 2022

A look back at 2022 and a look ahead to 2023.

Thank you for your continued interest in Resourceful Designer. You have no idea how much I appreciate you. Many great resources are available for learning and growing as a designer, and I’m humbled that you chose to spend a bit of your valuable time with me.

I am continuing my annual tradition. This last podcast episode of 2022 is my Look Back, Look Ahead edition. It’s where I reflect and share my year as a design business owner. Then I’ll look ahead at what I want to accomplish in 2023.

A Look Back at my 2022 goals.

At the end of 2021, I set these goals for myself.

FAIL: Talk at more conferences. Even though we were on the downslope of the pandemic, I chose not to travel in 2022. Therefore I wasn’t able to talk at any conferences. I also made the decision not to speak at any virtual conferences. I’ve presented at virtual conferences and found the return wasn’t worth the time commitment to prepare and give my talk.

EVEN: Grow the Resourceful Designer podcast audience. Since the pandemic hit in 2020, my podcast listenership has dropped, but the total number of downloads has increased. I attribute this to older listeners giving up on the podcast while new listeners discover it and download multiple episodes.

ACCOMPLISHED: Grow the Resourceful Designer Community. The Community is my pride and joy. One day, when I’m no longer doing the podcast, I’ll look back at everything I did with Resourceful Designer, and I’m sure the Community will be my proudest accomplishment. The friendships formed and all the freely given help is more than I could have ever hoped.

If you’re looking for camaraderie with fellow designers and are not a Community member, I highly suggest you check it out.

ACCOMPLISHED: Do more consulting work. Several clients paid for my consulting service, both in and outside the podcast space. I added podcast brand audit as a service under Podcast Branding which brought in several consulting clients.

ACCOMPLISHED: Grow Podcast Branding. What started as an offshoot of my main design business has become my main business focus. Podcast Branding is earning me more money than my main business ever has, with much less effort.

Some of my numbers from 2022

Resourceful Designer

  • I released 30 podcast episodes. The lowest in a calendar year since I launched the podcast. As my Podcast Branding business increases, it’s become harder to make the time to produce the podcast.
  • It reached over 710k total episode downloads in 2022. That’s an 80k increase over last year.
  • Resourceful Designer released on Gaana, Boommplay, Deezer, JioSaavn and Resso.
  • Resourceful Designer has listeners in 120 countries around the world.

My design business

NOTE: I didn’t actively promote my design business in 2022. Instead, I concentrated on growing my other business, Podcast Branding. I continued working with existing clients but made no effort to attract new ones.

  • Worked on 43 design projects for 22 different clients (one fewer client than in 2021)
  • Gained one new client in 2022.
  • I lost one client due to closure.
  • I sent out 27 invoices in 2022 (down from 41 in 2021)
  • Revenue increased over 2021.

Podcast Branding

My Podcast Branding business was my moneymaker this year.

  • Worked on 66 different projects for 47 different clients (more projects but fewer clients than in 2021)
  • Revenue increased by 27% compared to 2021. Primarily due to websites.
  • Launched 12 new websites for clients. (up from 9 in 2021)
  • I appeared as a guest on three podcasts to discuss podcast artwork and websites, increasing my exposure.
  • Podcasters hired me for projects outside the podcast space.

A Look Ahead at my 2023 goals.

My previous goals will continue to carry over in the new year. Continue to grow the Resourceful Designer Community. Concentrate more on Podcast Branding and so forth.

New Goal for 2023.

  • Create new partnerships to grow what I offer at Podcast Branding.
  • Expand the Resourceful Designer Community to include even more offerings than now.
  • Do more consulting work.
  • Explore video as a content platform for Resourceful Designer and Podcast Branding.
  • Increase the number of website clients on my web maintenance plan.

What about you?

Did you accomplish your goals for 2022, and What are your goals for the new year?

  • Are you a student getting ready to graduate? What are your goals once school is over?
  • Are you still relatively new to the design world? What are your goals for honing 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; perhaps 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 goals do you have to grow your business?

Wherever you are in the world, your skill level, and your situation, please take some time to look back at 2022 and think about your accomplishments and shortcomings.

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

So long, 2022.

As 2022 comes to an end. I encourage you to reflect. Think about everything you’ve learned. Your struggles, the things you fell short on (be it your fault or just the state of the world) and your accomplishments. And come up with a plan to make 2023 your year of success.

I once heard a saying: “It’s easier to know where you’re going if you know where you’ve been.” This aptly applies to growing a design business. Knowing and reflecting on where you came from will help you get to where you want to be.

To help with your planning, perhaps you should listen to episode 55 of the podcast, Setting Goals For Your Design Business.

These past few years have been tough on all of us. I hope that we never have to endure something like this ever again. But you know that old saying, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. Remember the lessons from these past few years, and use everything you’ve learned to make 2023 and future years even better.

I’ll be back in 2023 with more advice for starting and growing your design business. Until then, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season. And, of course, no matter what goals you set for yourself in the new year, always remember to Stay Creative.

What are your goals for 2023?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Dec 12, 2022

Before I start, let me preface this by saying I am not an expert in AI-Generated Art. These platforms are still in their infancy, and nobody knows what the future holds for them or their effect on the graphic design industry, but I doubt they’ll ever replace graphic designers.

I’ve experimented with various platforms, read articles, and watched videos. I’ve seen both sites of the debate argued. Some people don’t see AI-Art as a threat to our industry, while others are all doom and gloom, saying designers should start applying to work at McDonald’s as flipping burgers will soon become more lucrative than designing things.

I don’t see AI-Generated art as a threat to the graphic design industry. And I’ll get to why in a bit. However, I’m not so sure about artists and illustrators. If that’s your profession, I suggest you pay close attention to how AI-generated art matures, as it will affect those creative people much more than it will designers.

As I said, I’m no expert here. And these AI Art Generators are evolving fast. So what I say today may change soon. Who knows?

I also haven’t tried all the various platforms nor used the ones I have tried to their fullest potential. So some of what I say today may be wrong. If that’s the case, if you know something I don’t, please reach out to me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com. I would love to be educated more on the subject.

First, a story.

Before I begin my discussion on AI-Generated Artwork, I want to tell you a story that will help put my beliefs into perspective.

I entered the three-year Graphic Design program at my local college in 1989. The first two years were spent learning and applying design principles to our projects. We learnt things like design history, colour theory, using grids, layout hierarchy, typography and more. And we were taught the different tools of the trade, most of which are no longer in use and are considered archaic by today’s standards.

It wasn’t until our third year, once we were familiar and comfortable with what being a graphic designer was, that we were granted access to the computer lab. Computers were still new to the industry back then, and very few design agencies used them. When I started working at the print shop after graduation, the first two years of my employment were spent designing everything by hand before I convinced the owner to invest in Macintosh computers.

I don’t remember what year it was, but during school, a few of my classmates and I made a trip to Toronto for a graphic design trade show. It was the largest show of its kind in Canada and the third largest in North America. All the big names were there, including Adobe, Quark, and Microsoft, to name a few.

I remember overhearing a conversation between two design agency owners at a demonstration put on by Adobe. They were talking about the introduction of computers to the design industry. Both were concerned that computers would harm the design industry by minimizing what they considered a particular skill set, that of a graphic designer. To them, computers took the “Art” out of being a “Graphic Artist.”

With today’s mindset, It’s kind of crazy to think that back then, design agency owners thought computers would harm our industry. You can easily argue that computers have made the industry better.

Having lived through that period, I can tell you that even though computers didn’t harm our industry, they did change it. Drastically, in fact. QuarkXpress, Photoshop and Illustrator replaced the standard tools of the trade, such as wax machines, no-repro blu pencils and Letraset rub-on type. And I know a few designers who left the profession because they couldn’t grasp the use of computers.

So computers were introduced, the industry evolved, and the graphic design industry persevered.

Microsoft Publisher

Fast forward a few years, and personal computers are becoming more popular, with Windows-based machines outselling Apple. And Microsoft released a program called Microsoft Publisher that introduced an affordable means for anyone with a computer to “design” their material.

Quark and Adobe software costs thousands of dollars which weren’t feasible for most people. But Microsoft made Publisher affordable. And what do you think happened? The graphic design industry started to panic. With “design” software now available to the masses, designers would lose their jobs.

But you know what? Microsoft Publisher was introduced, and some people changed their thinking about design, yet the graphic design industry persevered.

WordPress.

Around that same time, an innovation emerged called the World Wide Web. Businesses started embracing the idea of having a website—a way for people to find them over the internet.

Computer programmers created the first websites. They were functional but lacked design aesthetics. And graphic designers worldwide took notice and realized an opportunity to apply their skills to something other than paper.

Some learned to code, while others embraced WYSIWYG software, allowing them to build websites without coding. A whole new side of the design industry was created.

And then WordPress arrived. This new platform allowed people to build websites using pre-built templates called Themes. The arrival of WordPress sent web designers into a panic. If people could build websites using a pre-built template, our design skills would no longer be needed. WordPress was going to kill the web design industry.

But you know what? WordPress stuck around, designers evolved and changed their view of the platform, and the graphic design industry persevered. I’d say most web designers these days design using WordPress.

99 Designs.

Fast forwards another few years, and 99designs is introduced to the world. For a small fee, clients could submit a design brief to the platform, and multiple designers would compete by submitting their designs and hoping the client chose theirs. The selected designer would win the contest and be paid for their work. The others received nothing.

99Designs was all the talk back then. It was an industry killer. Why would anyone pay hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to a single graphic designer when they could pay a much smaller fee and have multiple designers compete for them?

Many designers worldwide tried to offset this intruder by lowering their rates, hoping to lure clients back from the dark side. But you know what? Designers quickly learned that to attract clients, they needed to sell the value and the relationship of working with them, not just the design deliverables. Because the designers on 99Designs didn’t care about the client, they only cared about the subsequent contest they could enter.

In fact, 99Designs helped weed out the most undesirable clients making it easier for the rest of us to grow. The graphic design industry persevered.

Fiverr.

Not long after that, Fiverr was launched, putting our industry into another tailspin.

Whereas a design from 99Designs might cost $100 or more. Fiverr’s claim to fame was that all tasks were only $5. It didn’t matter if you need a logo, a poster, a web banner, or a booklet. Everything was $5. How was a graphic designer supposed to compete with that? The design industry was doomed.

And yet, 12 years after its launch, Fiverr is still around. However, nowadays, people on the platform are charging much higher than $5, and graphic designers worldwide are still thriving despite the “competition” of Fiverr.

The graphic design industry persevered.

Adobe Creative Cloud

In 2013 Adobe launched Creative Cloud, replacing their Creative Suite platforms.

Whether you like the subscription model or not, there’s no arguing that Adobe changed the creative landscape when it introduced Creative Cloud. Software that had previously cost thousands of dollars to own was now available at an affordable monthly rate, making programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Indesign, the bread and butter of most people in the design industry, accessible to the masses.

Designers were no longer a unique breed with our special tools. Adobe opened the floodgates. Now anyone who wanted to tinker with their programs could do so. This created a whole new breed of graphic designers who lacked formal education. Even kids as early as kindergarten started learning Photoshop.

For all our education and skills, being a designer didn’t seem as prestigious as it once was. Clients would no longer need our expertise since anyone with a computer could be a “designer.” And the industry started to panic.

But you know what? Giving people access to tools doesn’t make them an expert. Clients appreciate the years of dedication and knowledge we have when it comes to design. It shows in the work we produce. So even though these tools were available to everyone, the graphic design industry persevered.

Canva.

A couple of years later, Canva emerged. It was touted as yet another graphic design killer.

Canva not only makes it easy to create beautifully designed materials, but you can use it for free if you don’t want to pay for their premium offerings. And there’s a lot you can do on the free plan.

Whenever you see a social media or forum post where someone inquires about hiring a graphic designer, you will find at least one comment suggesting they do it themselves on Canva.

Did Canva steal potential clients from designers? Yes, it did. But did it kill our industry? Far from it.

I’ll argue that Canva made clients appreciate us more. I’ve had numerous people hire me after dabbling in Canva and realizing their creations lack that professional touch.

So even Canva, the closest thing to a design industry killer, hasn’t made that much of a dent in our industry. We still persevere.

BTW, Canva recently announced their own incorporated AI Art generator.

There will always be new design industry killers.

It seems like something new comes out every few years, making designers panic. Do these things affect some designers? I’m sure they do. Just like everything else, there will be some people affected. But none of these things have made an impact on our industry. Or at least not in the way the nay-sayers believed they would.

You can almost argue that these things have made our industry better. Can you imagine what it would be like if computers were never introduced? Or WordPress? And I’m sure many freelancers couldn’t afford thousands of dollars for Adobe’s software if they hadn’t switched to a subscription model.

This mentality dates back to Guttenburg’s invention of the printing press. I’m sure caligraphers of the time panicked that this new invention would ruin their industry. But graphic design perseveres.

The only people it ruins are those unwilling to evolve with the times.

Now back to AI-Generated Art.

By this point, you probably know my stance on AI-Generated Art. This innovation may seem like an industry killer. But only if you allow it to affect you.

I see Artificial Intelligence as another opportunity for our industry to evolve. It’s up to us to embrace these tools as just that, tools.

I already see designers putting AI-Generators to good use. Katie, a Resourceful Designer community member, recently shared how she needed an abstract pattern for a background of a design she was creating. Instead of searching for a stock image or making one herself, she turned to AI. She told it what she wanted, and it produced something she could use.

Katie also used it as inspiration for an annual report project. She asked it to produce a report cover design using blue and yellow triangles. It gave her a few options that she used as inspiration to create something herself.

And these are just a couple of examples.

As for creating full designs using AI, I think the technology is still a long way off. And no matter how good it gets, it will never be able to replicate the emotions we designers bring to a project or the empathy we feel towards our clients.

I like to meet every client I work with. If I can’t meet them face to face, I at least want to get on a video call. I do this because I want to get to know them. I want to see their personality and understand how they act and think. Because these things will help influence my design decisions. No artificial intelligence can do that. At least, as far as I know. And that’s why AI will never replace a live graphic designer.

And don’t forget relationships. How often have I stressed the importance of building relationships with your clients over the years? Not only does it help you understand your clients better, which allows you to design better things for them. But relationships build loyalty. It keeps clients coming back to you, regardless of your price.

AI-Generated Art has limitations.

At this point. I see too many limitations with AI-generated design to affect us as an industry.

Since every piece of generated art is uniquely created, it’s tough to replicate should you need to.

Say you’re working on a marketing campaign and need several images. You ask an AI-Generator to create an illustration of a rocket ship flying through space, and it produces something you like. But now you need a different image of the same rocket ship landing on the moon. And maybe another of it returning to Earth.

Every time you enter a prompt in an AI Generator, it creates a unique image, so there’s no way to ask it to use the same rocket ship in future creations. The rocket ship will look different in each image. Even the style of art might look different.

Plus, these prompts, the instructions you type into the generator telling it what to create, are very subjective.

These two prompts

  • “An elderly man is sitting on a park bench feeding pigeons.”
  • “An old man is feeding pigeons in a part while sitting on a bench.”

To you and me, they both mean the same thing. But to the AI, they could be vastly different. How does artificial intelligence interpret “elderly man” vs. “old man”? The smallest detail can drastically affect the output.

Also, from what I can tell, It’s tough, if not impossible, to adjust an image.

Say you like the AI-generated photo of a woman sitting on a chair with a cat on her lap. But you decide you want it to be a dog instead. None of the systems I tried would let you make that sort of change. The best I could do was change the word “cat” to “dog” and rerun my prompt, producing a new batch of images with different women and chairs. There was no way I was getting the same woman in the second set of images.

Again, maybe this is possible, but I couldn’t see it.

Conclusion

All of this to say. Don’t panic. There are people out there leaning on both sides of the fence. Some say our industry is doomed, while others say we have nothing to fear.

I’m just one voice. But I don’t think we have anything to worry about. And I have the history I just shared with you backing me up. Fiverr, Canva, WordPress, Creative Cloud. These “design industry killers” are now part of my design toolbox. Instead of taking work away from me, they allow me to do better work and do it more efficiently.

I see AI-Generated Art as no different. I plan on embracing it and using it in any way I can.

And don’t forget—no matter what new “things” come out. Clients will always appreciate what a good designer can do for them.

You can be that designer.

Dec 5, 2022

Scan the news these days, and you’d be hard-pressed not to come across a story about price increases. The price of gas has gone up. Rents are increasing, and groceries are at an all-time high. It’s depressing, I know. But that’s the world we live in. And your business should be no different. At some point, you’ll have to raise your rates if you want to remain solvent.

The one benefit of inflation is that people are getting used to price increases. So it won’t be as much of a shock when you announce you’re raising your rates. Be that as it may, you still want to do it the best way possible to soften the blow for your clients.

So what’s the best way to announce a price increase to your clients? Let me share some methods with you, along with some points that will make the task easier for you and make your clients more receptive to the news.

Signs you should increase your prices.

Before I get to how to increase prices, here are four signs indicating it’s time for you to increase your rates.

1) Your operating costs are increasing.

As the cost of subscriptions, software and other expenses go up. You need to raise your rates to offset the economy’s effect on your business.

2) You’re consistently busy.

Suppose you have an abundance of projects that never seems to end. Or you find yourself turning down work because you don’t have time for it. Raising your rates can help you offset things and enable you to engage the help of subcontractors to ease the burden.

3) You’re prices are too low.

Some clients won’t take you seriously if your prices are too low. If you want to attract a higher level of clientele, you need to raise your rates.

4) You’ve increased your value.

Over time, you’ll gain experience and knowledge. As the value you offer increases, so should your prices.

So now that you’ve deiced to raise your rates. Here’s how to inform your clients of the price increase.

Keep it short.

Announcing a price increase is a serious matter, and you want to ensure your clients take notice.

Keep it short and to the point, if you tell your clients via email. There’s no reason to include any fluff or to go into the philosophy behind the price increase.

If possible, announce the increase alongside more pleasant news, such as new or improved services you’re offering. It will help soften the blow.

And make sure you give the clients a way to contact you should they want to discuss your new rates.

Tell only affected clients.

Nobody likes to hear about price increases, even if they don’t affect you directly.

You may not be in the market for a new car, but hearing about rising automobile prices still leaves a bad taste in your mouth and may even affect your perception of the various auto manufacturers.

Don’t give your clients a reason to think negatively about you.

If you’re increasing the price of a business startup package you offer, there’s no reason to notify already established businesses because it doesn’t affect them.

Suppose the price of your website hosting and maintenance is going up. Notify the clients already paying for your plan. There’s no reason for you to tell clients whose websites you are not maintaining since it doesn’t affect them.

If you’re raising your hourly rate, only notify those clients you charge by the hour.

And there’s no reason to notify clients of a price increase if you’re not currently working on a project for them. They’ll find out the next time you give them a quote.

Only notify affected clients of these price increases. And if this means advising different clients about price increases for various services, so be it. Send out one letter to your web maintenance clients. Another note to your retainer clients. Another to your hourly rate clients, and so forth. Ensure your clients are notified only about the price increases affecting them.

Don’t give your clients a reason to think negatively about you if your price increase doesn’t affect them.

Give clients enough of a warning.

The more time you give a client to accept and adjust to new prices, the better.

Clients will resent a sudden price increase far more than a price increase that will occur in the future. The more time they’re given to think about it, the easier it will be for them to accept the increase.

Don’t forget some clients may require time to adjust their budgets. More prominent companies may need approval from higher up the corporate ladder.

The idea is to give clients time to come to terms with your higher rates.

And if you’re worried about losing clients due to a price increase, remember that it’s much easier for them to pay your higher rates than finding someone new to deal with. The chances of losing clients are slim. But should it happen, the increased revenue you’ll now receive from your other clients should make up for it.

Giving enough warning also allows clients to place new orders before your prices go up.

Don’t make excuses or apologize for a price increase.

Notifying your clients of a price increase is not the time to sugarcoat things. Be confident and direct, and inform them plainly that your rates are increasing.

Be as straightforward as possible. Say your prices are increasing. Don’t say you’re adjusting your prices or bringing them in line with your services. This will only confuse your clients. They all know what an increase means.

Do be empathetic with them. Tell your clients you appreciate their business. Thank them, and let them know it’s because of them you’ve been able to grow.

Show your clients that your appreciation for them goes beyond the money they spend with you.

Justify your price increase.

Justifying the reason behind your price increase gives the client something to understand and relate to. It shows your clients that your decision to raise prices isn’t only to increase your revenue. They’ll appreciate your transparency and will be more open to the change.

Explain in your own words why you’re raising your rates. Don’t use jargon or corporate speak. Be specific without going into too much detail.

  • Have you increased or improved the services you offer?
  • Have you undergone any new training or acquired new equipment or software that will improve overall results?
  • Have your existing tools increased costs, causing you to raise yours?

Explain the increase in a way that highlights the value to your client and ties the price increase to the benefits they’ll receive by continuing to work with you. After all, if they now have to pay you more, it would be nice for them to know why your rates have gone up.

Remind clients of your value.

Your clients initially chose to work with you for a reason. Now’s a good time to remind them of that decision and what they can expect from you.

You may want to offer your clients a deal as an added value to accompany your price increase. You could offer them more deliverables along with the increase. Such as adding social media banners to your business startup package or free domain registration with your website maintenance plan.

For example, you could offer a free month of your website maintenance plan. Your prices are increasing for everyone on your maintenance plan. But as a long-time valued client, you can offer them the first month for free.

Small incentives will soften the blow associated with the increased expense.

Ensure your clients feel appreciated.

First off, personalize your email. Don’t write one email to send to all clients. Personalize your message by referencing the client and the work you do for them.

Explain the value the client is getting, not the pain points you and your business are experiencing. Higher prices should either mean better value for them. Or give you the ability to maintain the same high quality they’ve come to expect from you.

You could even offer them a deal to lock in current prices for a fixed period. Prices are going up next month, but you can lock in the current price for the next six months if you pay in advance.

Whenever possible, inform your clients of a price increase in person or over the phone. They’ll appreciate the personal dedication and feel better about paying the new rate.

Keep your clients happy while notifying them of a price increase.

You’ve worked hard to be where you are today. And you deserve to be financially compensated for what you do. You’re only doing yourself a disservice if you don’t raise your rates.

Announcing a price increase is never fun. But following the tips I provided should make it easier to communicate the change to your clients and ease the transition for them.

Get what you deserve. You’re worth it.

Nov 28, 2022

One of the perks of running your own design business is the freedom it provides. You have nobody to answer to but yourself. Ok, sure, there are the clients. You do have to answer to them, to a degree. But it’s your business, so you can dictate how you respond to them.

If you don’t want to work Friday afternoons, you can take them off. Nobody is stopping you if you want to try a new design technique or different software. And you get to decide how much you charge for your services and can change your rate any time you like.

The freedom of working for yourself is one of, if not the main reason people choose the life of, and I’m going to say it, even though I disagree with the term, the life of a freelancer. It felt dirty just writing that. Want to know why? Listen to episode 17 of the podcast titled “Being a Freelance Graphic Designer Could Hurt Your Business.” It will make you rethink calling yourself a freelancer.

But where was I? Ah, yes, the freedom of running your own design business. For many of us, it’s the ultimate dream. I will never work for an employer again. And I know many who feel the same. But, just because you’re working for yourself, running your own business, doesn’t mean you’ve made it.

I hate to burst your bubble, but the purpose of every business is to grow. A business that doesn’t grow will eventually fail. Many business studies have proven this. And your business will never grow to its full potential because of one thing holding it back. And that one thing is you.

Yes, without you, there wouldn’t be a business. However, you are also one of your business’s most significant liabilities. How can that be? It’s because of your limitations.

Your limitations may include skills you lack. It may be a lack of time, the time to do things or learn things. Your knowledge may be limiting you. You can’t expect to know everything. Or it could be any number of things.

Don’t feel bad. I’m not singling you out. Everyone has limitations.

What will help your business grow is knowing your limitations and finding a way to overcome them. And one of the best ways for business owners to overcome their limitations is by working with people who offset those limitations.

In other words. Your business will grow when you learn to outsource and hire subcontractors to do what you can’t or shouldn’t do.

I know this may seem like a foreign concept. The whole point of going at it alone is just that, to be alone. But being alone will only get you so far. You need a team if you want to grow beyond your limited capabilities.

I speak from experience. I ran my design business for several years, all by myself. In my mind, it was my business. Therefore I had to do everything myself. My clients were hiring me, after all.

I didn’t take on the project if a client asked for something I couldn’t do. I was limiting my growth. I once turned down a $50,000 website project because I wasn’t confident in my skills with PHP and MySQL. I kick myself to this day for that one. But I couldn’t do it, so I said no.

And I kept at it, Trudging away, taking on only the projects I could do and passing on the ones I couldn’t.

At the time, I was making decent money and thought I was doing well. But my business wasn’t growing. Year after year, my income was pretty much the same. It wasn’t going up as needed for growth. I had reached what I like to call now, my solo limit. I could only take my business so far on my own.

I didn’t know it then, but I was holding my business back. It wasn’t until I started reading more business books and listening to business-related podcasts that I realized that most successful entrepreneurs don’t work alone. They have a team that works with them to accomplish their business goals and help them grow. If I wanted my business to grow, I would have to build a team.

Now I didn’t jump in with both feet and hire a bunch of people. I took it slow.

The first job I outsourced was when I ran into an issue with a client’s e-commerce website. I wasn’t sure how to handle the problem. Given enough time, I could probably fix it, but I had no idea where to start or how long it would take.

Instead of spending hours researching and troubleshooting it myself. I hired a sub-contractor online who was an expert in that e-commerce platform and paid them to fix it for me. It cost me $100 for what I’m sure would have taken me an entire day’s work to accomplish, if not more. Plus, I could charge my client a premium fee for the fix and profit from it.

That’s the case with most contractors. Sure, you have to pay them, but you mark up that expense and make a profit when you charge your client. So there’s no downside to paying a contractor.

That was my first experience in hiring a sub-contractor. And it was such a good experience that I started looking for other ways outsourcing to subcontractors could help me.

Fast forward several years, and now I have an expanded team of contractors I can turn to for all sorts of situations. And through them, I’ve almost tripled my income compared to my pre-outsourcing days.

I removed myself as a liability to my business by hiring people to help me.

Building your outsourcing team.

To clarify, I’m not referring to employees when I say hire. I’ve never had an employee, so I can’t help you with that. I’m talking about hiring subcontractors. These are people you outsource work to on an as-needed basis. When a situation arises where you require help, you hire someone for the task.

You’ll work with some contractors regularly, and some you’ll only work with once or twice.

You should constantly look for people to add to your team. When you meet or hear of someone with a particular skill, file away that information for when you need it.

This team you’re forming is just for you. You don’t even have to tell the people on your team that they’re part of it. They’ll find out when you hire them.

All you’re doing is building a personal database of people whose skills may be helpful someday. That’s your outsourcing team.

What subcontractors can you hire?

So what kind of subcontractors can you hire for your business? The possibilities are endless, but here’s a short list of the more common people designers outsource to.

Photographers

Hiring a photographer, instead of relying on the client to provide photos, allows you to control and get the exact images you need for your design.

To learn more about dealing with photographers, listen to episode 3 of the podcast, where I talk with Brett Gillmore, an award-winning commercial photographer in Calgary, Alberta, here in Canada.

Illustrators

For those of us lacking in this particular talent, hiring someone is the only way to include custom illustration work in your designs.

Even if you’re an accomplished illustrator, you may need someone with an illustration style or technique outside your comfort zone.

I have several illustrators on my outsourcing team for this very reason. One specializes in caricatures, another in technical drawings, another is good at watercolours, and another is good with markers.

I have people with different illustration styles, such as Japanese manga, vintage looks, and modern cubism. I even have one who makes people look like the Simpsons characters.

The idea is to know as many illustrators as possible should I need their skills.

Copywriters

Unless you have a degree in journalism or another writing discipline,  you should consider working with copywriters whenever possible.

Copywriters do with words what we designers do with pixels. They turn simple sentences into compelling messages. When designers and copywriters work together, it creates magic. And that magic allows you to charge much more for your services.

Including a copywriter on a website design project can increase its value from $5,000 to $10,000. Clients who understand the importance of a good copywriter are more than willing to pay a premium price for them.

Web Developers/Coders

Websites are versatile, and the ecosystem is ever-expanding, so it’s understandable that one web designer can’t do everything. Outsourcing parts or even entire projects to web developers allows you to offer much more to your clients.

In most cases, you hire a developer to do things you don’t know how to do. But there are also times when you may want to hire a developer to help speed things up if you believe they can complete a task more efficiently than you can.

In most cases, it’s more beneficial to pay a sub-contractor for three hours of work than it is for you to spend six hours doing the same task. And while the sub-contractor tackles whatever task you give him, your time is freed up to work on other things.

So even though you’re paying for the subcontractor’s services, you’re making more money than if I didn’t hire them since you can charge the client for their time while you’re making money doing something else during that same time. It’s almost like double charging.

Outsourcing possibilities are endless.

I can go on and on with people you can hire. Some people specialize in SEO, Social Media, Online Advertising, Sales Funnels, Building Email Lists, Translators, etc.

Sometimes you outsource to someone for something you don’t want to do. Such as removing the background on over 300 product photos for a catalogue. I’d rather pay someone to do this than sludge through it myself.

Every one of these people can help grow your design business.

What to look for in a subcontractor.

When looking for someone to outsource work to, you want to find someone with the skills you seek that are reliable, trustworthy and easy to deal with.

In my limited experience, you are better off finding multiple subcontractors who each excel in a particular skill than finding one person with a general knowledge of various skills.

Someone with a specialized skillset may charge more, but their expertise is worth it. You are better off paying a bit more for someone specializing in a specific area.

Where to find subcontractors.

There are many places where you can find subcontractors to outsource your projects. However, the best place, in my opinion, is through your existing network. It’s much easier to work with someone you already have a relationship with or with a subcontractor vouched for by someone you know.

The subcontractor that helps me with website projects is someone I met through the Resourceful Designer Community. One of the illustrators I’ve used over the years is someone I went to school with. Another developer I’ve used was recommended by a designer I know. When my first copywriter took a job that prevented her from doing side work, she recommended a fellow copywriter I could hire. These types of hires are always the most lucrative in my experience.

But if your network doesn’t have the people you need, there are plenty of places online you can turn to for outsourcing help.

My favourite places to find subcontractors are Upwork.com, toptal.com, freelancer.com and fiverr.com.

These platforms often offer you two options when hiring subcontractors. You can either post a job posting that lists the position or skill you’re looking for, along with how much you’re willing to pay and let those interested apply.

Or you can search these platforms for people with the talent you’re looking for and reach out to them individually to see if they’re interested in taking on your project.

I’ve had success with both methods. However, I prefer to approach them myself.

Considerations when outsourcing to a subcontractor.

Some things to consider when hiring a subcontractor are where they’re located, their familiarity with the language you speak and, of course, price.

Time Zones.

These online outsourcing portals connect people from around the world. It’s not unheard of if the perfect person for your project lives on the other side of the globe.

You must consider if time zones are an issue. Are you ok working with someone who is going to bed as you start your day? In most cases, it probably won’t be a problem. However, if deadlines are pressing, knowing your contractor won’t see your instructions for 10-12 hours may be a problem. If that’s the case, you may want to refine your search to people geographically closer to where you are located. Most platforms allow you to do this.

Language Barriers.

Be wary of language barriers when hiring someone to outsource to. Understanding a language and being fluent in it are two different things. You don’t want issues because of a misunderstanding in communication.

Some online platforms will indicate what languages a subcontractor is fluent in. Keep that in mind when hiring.

Rates and Price.

Rates and prices on these platforms vary significantly. Due to the various living costs worldwide, contractors charge different fees for their services.

Typically, you’ll pay higher for a subcontractor in North America than someone in an Asian country. Is it worth paying more to work with someone in a closer time zone who speaks your native language? Only you can decide.

You must consider all these things when hiring someone. Where they are located, their comfort level with your language, and the rate they charge for their services. Weigh each of these and choose the perfect subcontractor for you.

Build your outsourcing team.

There is so much more when it comes to hiring a subcontractor. Entire books are dedicated to the subject. But I hope my little scratch of the surface gives you an idea of how and what to look for when outsourcing and expanding your team.

I know it’s in our nature to do everything ourselves. It’s tough to relinquish control. But I want you to remember something. Clients don’t hire you to do a job. They hire you to get a job done. And sometimes, the most efficient, practical and cost-saving way to get a job done is to outsource it to someone who can help you.

Your clients will appreciate your ingenuity.

So the next time you are unsure how to handle a task or find yourself with too much to do and too little time to do it. Or maybe you don’t feel like doing a particular job yourself. Remember that you are not alone. There’s a world of people ready to join your team and help you grow your design business.

Don’t be the liability that holds you back from growth. Learn how to outsource.

Nov 14, 2022

This episode is sponsored by Sticker Mule. Get 10 Custom Stickers for $1, plus free shipping. Visit stickermule.com/resourcefuldesigner


It’s well-established that it’s easier to get a new design project from a past client than to land a project from a new client.

You can run a successful design business with only a few good recurring clients. It’s the 80/20 rule. 80% of your business will come from 20% of your clients. Therefore you must keep as many clients as you can.

For the first few years of my design business, I had less than a dozen clients, and less than a handful of those clients kept me busy on an ongoing basis.

According to Invesp, the probability of existing clients giving you work in the future is 60-70%, while the likelihood of getting work from new clients is 5-20%. So it’s easy to see why client retention is so necessary.

Clients know a talented graphic or web designer when they find one. But it takes more than being an excellent designer to keep them returning. I’ve said this many times on the podcast before. Clients prefer to work with a good designer they like rather than an amazing designer they don’t like.

The best way to keep your clients happy and coming back is to ensure they like you. And you do that by providing excellent service and building relationships with them.

It’s best to do everything possible to ensure your clients feel valued, appreciated, and satisfied with your services. Here are nine tips for doing just that and keeping your clients returning. And you’ll notice repetition as I go through them, as many of these tips play off each other.

Here are nine ways to make clients love working with you again and again.

1) Be Proactive

Make sure your clients understand what they should expect from working with you. Be proactive and set expectations upfront, so there aren’t any surprises down the road.

Being proactive shows your professionalism and positions you as a leader instead of an order-taker. Clients will appreciate this and quickly learn to trust you.

Think about the entire relationship—you’re trying to land a client, not just a design project. And if you can change your mentality and think of them as partners instead of clients, you’ll find the relationship even easier to build.

Don’t fall into the trap of viewing client projects as transactional, one-off projects. Instead, think of them as long-term relationships.

Being proactive may also mean learning about your client and their industry. Do some homework and learn a little about them and their industry before meeting with them. Clients will appreciate your effort and are more likely to trust you with their project.

Don’t forget to keep in touch after the current project ends, as I discussed a couple of weeks ago in episode 303 about following up with dormant clients.

If you do a good job setting expectations at the start, many clients will return to you for future projects.

2) Be Honest

It’s easy to tell clients what they want to hear, but delivering on those promises is much more challenging.

A good designer is honest with clients about their limitations and how they plan to work within those constraints. It’s ok to tell a client you don’t know something. It’s even better to show the client how you’ll overcome those shortcomings.

A good designer should be reliable enough to stick to their commitments. However, If you encounter any issues or setbacks during a project, be honest and let the client know. Clients want to work with someone they can trust and who will be truthful with them. If you are not honest with your clients, they will not return.

So be honest with them from the start. This means being upfront about your prices, services, policies, limitations and timelines. You should also be honest about any problems or concerns your clients may have.

If you are honest with your clients, they will appreciate it and will be more likely to come back to you. After all, honesty is the best policy for running a successful business.

3) Be Timely

If you’re a freelancer, you know how important it is to be timely. Deadlines are critical; you will not get repeat clients if you’re not meeting them. That’s why ensuring you’re always meeting your deadlines is vital.

If you’re consistently meeting your deadlines, then clients will take notice. They’ll see that you’re reliable and that they can count on you to get the job done. This will keep them coming back to you time after time.

So if you want to keep your clients happy (and keep them coming back), ensure you’re always meeting your deadlines. It’s the best way to ensure their satisfaction and ensure that they keep coming back for more of your great work.

4) Be Flexible

You need to be flexible with clients. If you’re unwilling to adapt to their needs, you will lose them as a client. Yes, It’s your business, and you set the ground rules for how clients deal with you. That’s part of being a professional. But it’s not worth holding your ground if it means possibly losing a good client.

For example, if a client insists on using their project management software instead of yours, or the deal is off, you must decide if this is something worth taking a stand on or if you can be flexible to appease the client.

In today’s ever-changing world, designers must adapt to their client’s needs, or they will quickly become outdated.

Clients hire you for your expertise, but they expect input as well. If their contributions fall on deaf ears, they won’t enjoy working with you. And you know the outcome when that happens. After all, you aren’t as experienced in their field as they are. Learn from your clients by talking and listening to them.

Being flexible and adaptable shows that you are a business willing to change and eager to meet your client’s needs. This is key to keeping your clients happy and returning for more.

5) Be Organized

For clients to keep coming back, you must be organized.

It’s easy to lose track of things when you work alone, but if you want to be successful, you must be organized. Here are a few tips to help you stay organized:

  • Make a list of everything you need to do so nothing gets overlooked, and tackle one task at a time.
  • Invest in a good physical or software planner to keep track of projects, tasks, deadlines, appointments, and other important dates. All your important dates and times should be viewable in one location.
  • Keep your work area clean and clutter-free. It will help you focus and be more productive. I often struggle with this, even though a clean desk allows me to work better.
  • Take breaks throughout the day to clear your head and relax. This will prevent burnout and help you stay fresh.
  • Delegate tasks whenever possible, so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

The more organized you are, the more professional you’ll appear to your clients, which will keep them coming back.

6) Be Professional

I’ve already mentioned being professional several times so far. Maybe I should have moved this one closer to the top.

As a business professional, and that’s precisely what you are, you always want to ensure that you put your best foot forward. This means dressing appropriately and acting professionally at all times.

If you are unsure what attire is appropriate, err on the side of caution and choose something more conservative. Remember that first impressions are important, so take the time to present yourself in the best light possible.

In addition to dressing and acting the part, it is also essential that you provide a high level of service to your clients. This means being responsive to their needs, meeting deadlines, and following through on promises. If you consistently provide a positive experience for your clients, they will be more likely to come back to you.

Lastly, be careful with jargon. Using industry words may make you feel more professional, but it could alienate your clients and create misunderstandings that may create a wedge between you. Dropping jargon allows you to communicate clearly and effectively with your clients by putting you on the same page.

7) Be Reliable

Clients will come back again and again because they trust you. They know you won’t let them down. And they know you’ll deliver quality work on time.

If you want your clients to keep coming back, they must know they can count on you. Whether it’s showing up on time for appointments or completing the work you promised, being reliable is key to maintaining a good relationship with your clients. When your clients trust that you will do what you say, they are more likely to continue working with you.

8) Be Trustworthy

One of the most important traits you can possess as a business owner is a trustworthiness. If your clients don’t trust you, they won’t come back. It’s as simple as that.

Here are a few ways to make sure you stay trustworthy in their eyes:

  • Always be upfront about costs and fees. Don’t try to hide anything from your clients – they’ll appreciate your honesty, which will build trust between you.
  • Follow through on your promises. If you tell your client you’re going to do something, make sure you do it! This will show them that they can rely on you and trust what you say.
  • Be transparent in your dealings. This means being honest about the quality of your products or services and providing accurate information about pricing and availability. Additionally, you should be clear about any deadlines or expectations for your clients. Being transparent in your dealings with clients will build trust and goodwill that will keep them returning.

9) Be Responsive

When it comes to keeping clients, responsiveness is critical. If you want returning clients, you must be responsive to their needs. This means being available when they need you, within reason, of course, and being able to address their concerns promptly.

You need to adapt to changing circumstances and respond quickly to new ideas. You should be willing to adjust your habits and designs as required.

Please take advantage of your client’s feedback and learn from their opinions. This will help you hone in on the areas that matter to them.

Being responsive shows your clients that you value their business and are invested in their success. It builds trust and rapport, which are essential for any lasting business relationship. So if you want to keep your clients coming back, ensure you are always responsive to their needs. It might take some extra effort, but it will be worth it in the long run.

Turning new clients into recurring clients shouldn’t be complicated.

Keeping clients coming back, again and again doesn’t have to be complicated. Remember, clients, don’t want to look for another designer. It’s as much trouble for them as finding new clients is for you. They’re hoping you’re “the one” they can stick with for the long haul. So it’s up to you to become that person.

By following these nine simple tips, you’ll create long-lasting relationships that will benefit you and your clients by providing them with excellent customer service, going the extra mile, and making them feel special. And you can ensure that your clients will be happy, satisfied, and loyal to you and your design business for years to come.

Nov 7, 2022

Google. Very few brands have transitioned beyond their original intent. But Google is one of them. What started in 1998 as a small company launched by two Stanford U students to promote their new search engine has grown to become one of the world’s largest conglomerates.

Not only that, but the name Google has evolved to become a noun, an adjective and a verb. Don’t believe me? Google it for yourself.

And even though Google now offers a wide gambit of technological solutions to improve people’s life. At their core remains the search engine.

Did you know that there are over two trillion Google searches every year? It’s hard to fathom how big two trillion is, so let me put it in perspective. There are over 5 billion searches on Google every day. That’s 228 million every hour, almost 4 million searches every minute. That’s a lot of searching.

With an entire planet using them to satisfy their curious minds, Google must ensure its platform is easy to use. Easy enough for young children and seniors alike. You type in what you’re looking for in the search bar, and Google provides you with possible answers. It’s that easy.

Of course, Google’s results aren’t always what you’re looking for. But they make it very easy to try again with another search.

But what if I told you some simple tricks could help you get better results on the first try?

Here are 16 search hacks to help you find things faster on Google.

1) Use quotation marks (“”) in your search.

Enclosing your search term in quotation marks will return results with that exact phrase.

For example, searching for “How to start a graphic design business” will only show results with those words in that exact order. Using quotation marks in your search makes it easy to find precisely what you’re looking for.

NOTE: Using double quotations (“““") tells Google what’s inside them MUST be in the search results.

2) Use a minus sign (-) to exclude words from your search.

If your search produced nonrelevant results, try eliminating words by placing a minus sign in front of them.

For example, if you want to know the top speed of a Jaguar, the cat, not the car. You could search for “jaguar speed -car” This will eliminate searches about the jaguar motor vehicle.

3) Use Site: only to show results from a specific website.

Not every website has a search bar. But that doesn’t matter if you know Google’s site search function. Adding Site: followed by the website you want to search, along with your search term, will return results only from that website.

For example, to find out how many computers you can install Photoshop on, you could search for “Site:adobe.com how many computers can I install Photoshop on?” The results will only give you answer from the Adobe website.

4) Use an Asterisk (*) as a wildcard in your search.

An Asterisk is a star-looking character you get by pressing Shift-8 on your keyboard (*). Replace a word in your search with an Asterisk to see results with multiple possibilities.

For example, if you’re planning a trip to Disney land. Searching for “best * at Disney Land” will return results for the best food at Disney Land, the best rides at Disney Land, the best hotels at Disney Land, the best shows at Disney Land, etc. You get the idea.

The Asterisk is very useful when combined with the Site: operator. For example, if you want to find results only from government websites, include site:*.gov in your search string, and you’ll only get results from websites with a .gov extension.

5) use OR or AND in all-caps to find multiple results.

Using OR or AND returns results from both sides of the operator.

OR can be used to find multiple results. For example, you could search for “Christmas decorating ideas in blue OR Green.” You’ll get results showing blue ideas and results showing green ideas.

AND can be similarly used to combine results. Searching for “Christmas decorating ideas in blue AND green” will show you results with ideas that combine blue and green.

6) Use Intitle: to find results from a web page’s title.

The Intitle: operator can be very useful in narrowing down your searches by only displaying results that include your search term in the web page’s title.

For example, if you search for intitle: “communicating with your design clients,” Google will show you two results. Episode 284 of the Resourceful Designer podcast on https://resourcefuldesigner.com and the same podcast episode on YouTube. That’s because no other web page in Google index has “communicating with your design clients” in the title.

Intitle: is very useful for finding relevant pages specific to your search and not just mentioning your search term somewhere in the body.

7) Use Allinurl: to find results from a web page’s URL.

The Allinurl: operator is similar to the Intitle: operator, except this time, the search term is in the URL of the website instead of the title.

For example, typing “Allinurl: Resourceful Designer niche” will return every web page containing the words Resourceful Designer and niche in the URL.

8) Use Filetype: to find specific files.

This is one of my favourite Google hacks. Using Filetype: lets you find specific file types such as .doc, .png or .pdf.

Say you want to find a user manual for something you bought second-hand, such as a treadmill. Searching for the treadmill’s brand name and model number and including Filetype:pdf in your search query will show you results of PFD files of your treadmill’s user manual.

This is one of my favourite Google Hacks. I use it all the time to get vector logos from companies in combination with the site: operator I mentioned earlier.

For example, say I’m designing a poster for a local event, and I need to include sponsor logos on it. Contacting each sponsor to find a vector version of their logo can be tedious. But if they’re a well-established company, you can sometimes search their website for pdf files and extract the vector logo yourself.

Just search for site:[the company’s website] Filetype:pdf. This will show you a list of all the PDFs on that company’s website. It’s then easy to look through them and find one that has a logo you can extract. Filetype: has saved me countless hours over the years.

9) Use Related: to find similar websites.

I find this one useful when doing research. By typing related: and entering a website URL, Google will show you websites it thinks are similar to the one you entered.

For example, searching for related:shutterstock.com will show you websites Google believes are similar to Shutterstock.

10) Use Cache: to see a website’s cached version.

Cache: is helpful if the website you are trying to visit is down. Or if you want to buy a domain and see how it was used before.

I used this recently after an Instagram ad and purchasing something from the resulting website. The item I received wasn’t at all as described in the ad. And when I went back to the website, it was gone.

Luckily, I found a cached version of the site using Cache: and the site’s domain name and managed to find their contact information. After several back and forths, they agreed to return my money.

11) Use Link: to find pages that link to another page.

This one is useful if you are interested in website backlinks and where they originate.

Enter Link: followed by a URL; the search results will show you all the sites that link to that page.

This is an excellent way of finding out who links to your website or a competitor’s website.

12) Use the Plus Sign (+) to include specific websites or terms in your search results.

You can use the Plus sign (+)similarly to the Site: operator. Searching niche+resourceful designer will show results containing both niche and Resourceful Designer.

You can also use it as a quick way to narrow down a search. For example, you can search for “famous quote+Henry Ford,” and you’ll get results containing quotes from Henry Ford.

13) Us a Tilde (~) to find approximate words.

The tilde is the wave-like line usually found on your keyboard’s key to the left of the number 1. Press Shift to type it.

Tilde is helpful if you are unsure of the spelling word’s spelling or if there are multiple spellings of a word.

For example, since I’m in Canada, I spell the word colour with a “u.” But while searching for a new printer, I would get the best results by typing “best ~colour printer.” This way, I’ll get results showing the best COLOR printers and COLOUR printers.

14) Use brackets () in your search to isolate parts of your search string.

Brackets allow you to combine multiple methods I’ve shared above in a single search string.

Similar to a math problem, such as (2+3) x 2 = 10, where you solve what’s in the brackets first and then the rest of the equation, adding brackets to your search string can help focus your search.

Here’s an example of a search combining multiple methods and using brackets to separate them.

Site:aiga.org (conference OR workshop) AND (Photoshop OR Illustrator)

15) Search a range of numbers using two dots (..)

If you want only to see results between a range of numbers, use two dots between the numbers.

For example, typing “who won the Super Bowl 1996..1999” will show results containing the Super Bowl winners from 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999.

16) Use @ to find something on social media

If you’re searching for something and only want results from social media, include @ and the social media platform. For example, “Taylor Swift @twitter” will return results containing “Taylor Swift” found on Twitter.

Google can do so much more.

There you have it, 16 hacks to improve your Google searching and help you find things faster. And that’s only scratching the surface. Google has so many other uses as well.

Need to figure out a math problem? Type it into Google search.

Need to do a quick conversation from Fahrenheit to Celcius or miles to kilometres or convert anything else? Type it into Google search.

Need to know how much your money is worth elsewhere? Do a quick currency conversion in Google search.

Are you planning a trip? Search [City Name] to [City Name] to get flight costs from multiple airlines.

Need to know what time it is anywhere in the world? Type “Time in [city]” to find out.

Don’t know what a word means, type define before the word to learn its definition. You can also type etymology before a word to find its origins.

Google can also be used to translate languages, get stock prices, find weather forecasts, and so much more. It is a wonderful tool.

And I hope that after reading this, you’re now more proficient in using it.

Oct 31, 2022

Episode Sponsor: StickerMule

How often do you follow up with dormant clients? I’m not talking dormant like they haven’t replied to an email in a few days. However, following up is always a good idea when you don’t receive an expected reply.

I’m talking about following up with dormant clients months or even years after you’ve completed whatever project you did for them.

In episode 72 of Resourceful Designer, I discussed getting new work from existing clients. It’s proven that getting new work from existing clients is much easier than landing new clients. After all, you don’t have to worry about the awkward introductory phase since you already know each other. You have a proven track record, so you and your client know what to expect.

And yet, even though it’s much easier to get new work from existing clients. Many designers don’t actively seek out that work.

Why is that? You may be thinking to yourself. “I don’t want to bother them. The clients know me. If they have more work for me, they’ll contact me.” But that’s not always the case.

I’m not saying they won’t contact you when they have more work. They probably will. The problem is clients don’t always realize they have work for you.

What? What are you talking about, Mark? No, it’s true. It’s a case of “out of sight, out of mind.” Your dormant client isn’t thinking about you; therefore, they aren’t thinking of the work they could be sending you.

I want to run an experiment with you right now.

Last week I went to the dentist for a routine checkup. I’m happy to say they found nothing wrong with my teeth. I take dental hygiene seriously, so I scheduled a new appointment for a cleaning in 9 months.

Now, let me ask you this. Did you think about your dentist and your next appointment? Chances are you did. Maybe you thought about an upcoming appointment. Or perhaps it made you think you should make an appointment if you don’t already have one. Regardless, I’m pretty sure, even if only briefly, you thought about your teeth.

Why is that? It’s because of triggers.

Triggers.

Triggers, the verb, not the thing you squeeze to fire a gun, are something that can connect one event to another. The mention of my dental appointment triggered your thoughts about your dental hygiene.

If I say I recently changed the tires on my car because they had worn-out threads. You probably just started wondering about the tires on your vehicle.

If I say, I have no idea what I’m having for dinner tonight. Now you’re probably thinking about your next meal.

All of these are because of triggers. Our day is full of them. Most of the time, you don’t even realize they’re there. But triggers influence you in many ways. Triggers are often the correlation between one thing and another.

Triggers and Dormant Clients.

That brings me back to following up with dormant clients. Remember when I said the problem is clients don’t always realize they have work for you? It’s because they don’t have anything with which to correlate that work. And that’s very easy to fix.

Just like me mentioning my dentist made you think of your dentist. Reconnecting with a client can trigger them to find new work for you.

Remember, “out of sight, out of mind?” When the client isn’t thinking of you, they’re not thinking of projects you can do for them. The solution is to get them to think of you. You can do that by following up.

Triggers in action.

Resourceful Designer Community members are beta testing a weekly accountability group where we share long-term and short-term goals. We meet once per week for 10-15 minutes. Each person shares one thing they want to accomplish before our next meeting.

This goal could be small, like adding a new case study to their website, creating social media posts, or getting organized for a presentation.

The object is to share something to which you want to be held accountable. Because the following week, you have to share whether or not you completed that goal.

My goal two weeks ago was to reach out and reconnect with four dormant clients. I ended up emailing six long-standing clients. Their dormancy ranged from six months to a couple of years since the last project I did for them.

When I sent my email, I didn’t ask them if they had any work for me. Instead, I asked them how they were doing, and in a couple of cases, I wondered if they were happy with the last project I did for them.

Over the following few days, three of these dormant clients replied with new design projects for me. One wanted an update on a flyer I created for them a few years ago. Another asked me to refresh their website with updated text and photos. The third wants to meet next week to discuss a new project.

All three thanked me for reaching out and said they wouldn’t have thought of these projects if I had not sent them my email. But my message triggered an interest in these projects.

Of the other three clients, two thanked me for reaching out and asked me to contact them in January at the beginning of their new fiscal year. And the last one said times were tough, and business wasn’t going well. But that he appreciated me checking in.

So, six emails, three new projects and possibly two others in the new year. Not a bad return for the few minutes I spend composing six emails.

And it was all because of triggers. Receiving an email from me triggered something that made them realize there was work they could give me. Funny how that works.

How do you follow up?

As I said, when I reached out to these clients, I didn’t ask them if they had any work for me. I made the email about them. Not about me.

For one client, I asked how the website I designed worked out for them. Was it bringing in the business they hoped? They’re very pleased with the site and happy I reached out. They asked me to make some changes to the site.

One of the clients is a retail outlet affected by the pandemic. I asked them how things were going now. He said things are finally picking up. He’s the one that wants to meet with me next week.

Another is a local membership association. I hadn’t talked to them in almost two years, so I inquired how the pandemic had affected them. They’re the ones that want me to update their flyer.

Clients appreciate it when you think about them. If you email them asking if they have work for you, they’ll see right through that. It sounds pleading. But if you make your message about them without asking for anything in return. They’ll genuinely appreciate the thought behind it. That’s how you build relationships. And we all know those client relationships are essential in our business.

That’s how you get more work from dormant clients. It doesn’t matter if it’s been a couple of months or a few years. Reach out to old clients and ask them how they’re doing. Show them you care. You might get some work out of it. Triggers. It’s funny how they work.

Now go and make that dental appointment.

Oct 24, 2022

Here’s some valuable advice to help make you a more productive graphic or web designer. Stop wasting time on time management.

I’ve been in the graphic design space for over 30 years. I’ve been running my own home-based design business since 2005. And I’ve been publishing the Resourceful Designer podcast since 2015. In all that time, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to many designers. Be it graphic designers, web designers, UI and UX Designers. I’ve spoken with generalists and specialists, such as those focusing on specific niches. I’ve talked to design strategists, consultants, directors, and even design influencers.

Two answers come out on top whenever asked what their biggest struggle is. Finding new clients. And Time Management. It’s that latter one I want to talk to you about today.

What is Time Management?

According to dictionary.com, time management is the analysis of how working hours are spent and the prioritization of tasks to maximize personal efficiency in the workplace.

Sounds simple enough. You analyze how you spend your time and then prioritize what you need to do to maximize efficiency.

But if time management is that simple, why do so many people struggle with it? I mean, if time management were so easy, there wouldn’t be thousands of different “solutions” addressing it.

A search on Amazon returns over 70,000 books covering the subject. YouTube has over half a million videos on Time Management. And Google has over 80 million search results.

Time Management is such a popular topic because EVERYONE has problems with it.

Let me share a revelation with you today. Time is impossible to manage. Contrary to confusing movies such as Tenet. Time moves in one direction at a steady pace. So you’re not trying to manage time. You’re trying to manage how you go about your day while time continues at its own pace, totally ignorant of your plight.

If you’re looking at your fellow designers and thinking, “They seem so organized. I don’t know how they do it.” I’ll let you in on a little secret. They’re thinking the same thing about you.

Everybody wants tips, tricks and techniques to be able to get more things done. To do things faster, to be more productive, more efficient and to work better. But the truth is that stressing over these things makes you slower, less productive, and less efficient and impedes your work.

In my opinion, the only people who succeed with Time Management, and I don’t mean succeed AT time management, but WITH time management, are those with something to gain from it, which means the authors of all those books on Amazon. The creators of those YouTube videos. And the writers of all the articles found through Google.

It’s what they say. If you want to make money, find a solution to a widespread problem. That’s what these people are doing—offering a solution in order to make money. But are they addressing the problem? I doubt it. Because if they did, then time management wouldn’t be such a prevalent issue.

And you know what? I guarantee you that the people who created these time management assets still struggle with time management. It’s inevitable. Why is that? It’s because of this little thing called LIFE. I’m sure you’ve experienced it.

It’s like the military saying, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” Similarly, no time management plan can survive contact with life.

You can have the best laid-out plan. You have everything organized and scheduled down to the millisecond. And it all goes out the window when “life” happens.

  • You’re kid’s school calls because they’re feeling sick.
  • You get a flat time on the way to a meeting.
  • A storm knocks out your power.
  • Your dog gets sprayed by a skunk.
  • Your magic mouse dies in the middle of the day, and you can’t work while it’s charging. Why Apple, Why?

Life has a way of interfering with your best plans. So you just have to learn to live with it.

What to do about Time Management?

So far, I’ve been pretty bleak. I haven’t been very helpful if you started reading this because you’re struggling with time management and were hoping for a solution. So let me talk a little bit about your options.

First, there is no one solution to getting the most out of your time. Again, if there were, then time management wouldn’t be an issue for most people.

Every individual is different. And that includes you. You learn differently. You process information differently. You go about completing Your tasks differently than anyone else. That’s why there’s no Time Management system you can shoehorn to fit everyone. You have to figure out what works best for you, and the solution that ends up working for you may come from many different time management options.

And believe me, the many different options and opinions regarding this topic can leave your head spinning. Just look at this list of popular time management solutions.

  • Eisenhower Matrix
  • Getting Things Done, or the GTD method
  • Time Blocking
  • Autofocus
  • Iceberg Method
  • Pomodoro Technique
  • Agile Results
  • Kanban System
  • Bullet Journalling
  • Time Tracking

And this is just a tiny sampling of some of the more popular time management solutions people share.

So, where do you start?

Start small with baby steps and combine options.

The best advice I can give you is to start small. Trying to jump in feet first and embrace any of these systems in their entirety rarely works. In most cases, the person who tries gets overwhelmed and gives up.

You must tackle time management in baby steps over an extended period—even years. I’ll even go as far as saying your time management strategy should be ever-evolving.

So first. Find one thing you can implement into your routine and test it out. For example, you may create daily to-do lists of the tasks you want to complete. If you find this works for you, embrace it and move on to the next thing to build out your personalized time management plan. If it doesn’t, then try something else.

It’s ok and even encouraged to mix and match strategies from different systems to find a plan that works for you.

Perhaps you can try Time Blocking next. Time blocking is when you block certain times of the day to perform specific tasks. Such as saving all your invoicing for Friday mornings.

After that, you may want to dabble with the Agile Results method, where you identify three tasks from your To-Do list as priorities for today. Or the Eisenhower Matric method that divides tasks based on their importance. It doesn’t matter what you try. Keep experimenting until you find something you feel good sticking with.

What you’re essentially doing is building a system that works for you. And this process will take time, as it should.

And don’t be afraid to adjust and tweak your system as you go. Don’t worry about what others are doing. Steal ideas from them if you want. But ultimately, you need to do what works for you.

For years, I managed my client projects in a leather-bound notebook. I found it very efficient. The more organized I was, the better I could manage my time. Then one day, I tried Plutio, a client management system, and I found I liked it. Now it’s what I use. My system evolved.

When I set up my appointment scheduler, I had it open five days a week from 9 am to 5 pm. Those were my business hours, so those were the hours I should be available to meet with clients. Or so I thought.

It didn’t take me long to realize that having meetings scheduled every day of the week impeded my productivity, making it very hard to manage my time regarding projects. So I blocked off Mondays and Fridays. Allowing Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as my possible meeting days.

I set up my scheduling software with one-hour buffers between meetings. When someone selects a meeting time, the software blocks off the hour before and after that meeting so nobody can book an appointment that might overlap.

Then one day, I found myself with meetings scheduled for 9:30 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 2:30 pm, and 4 pm. It pretty much ruined my day for anything else. There wasn’t enough time between meetings for me to get into the flow of designing. Any time management I had went out the window.

So I tweaked my scheduling software again. I shortened the buffer to 30-minutes between meetings and the availability window to Tuesday afternoons, Wednesday mornings and from 9-11 am and 3-5 pm on Thursdays. This new option opened up my schedule for me to work on projects for more extended periods while still being able to meet with clients.

Do what works for you, and keep adjusting it. A time management system should never be written in stone. It needs to be something flexible that you are constantly moulding.

Is Time Management the solution?

Let me ask one last thing. Why do you need to manage your time? Is it because you’re feeling overwhelmed? Is it because you have trouble prioritizing the things you do? Is it because you feel stressed running your business? Do you believe managing your time better will help you with any of these?

Maybe other things are affecting how you work besides time. Is that a possibility?

Working by yourself from home can be isolating. And what could at first appear to be a time management issue may have to do with your mental health.

If trying various methods doesn’t seem to be helping, you may want to consult someone to see if there’s an underlying issue affecting how your work.

The stigma regarding mental health is not what it was 10-20 years ago. It’s entirely ok to seek help should you need it. You’re worth it. Never forget that.

So as I said at the beginning. Everyone suffers from time management issues—even the so-called experts on the subject. Life sees to that. I’ve been in this business for over 30 years and time management still gets the better of me more often than naught. So don’t feel inadequate if you’re suffering from it as well. You’re in good company.

Oct 17, 2022

Episode Sponsor: StickerMule

I want to talk to you about your tools (software). But first, I want to tell you a story.

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter invited her mother and me for dinner, and we arrived mid-afternoon.

As is always the case, Mother and daughter had lots to do and talk about, which left me to my own devices. So I turned on the TV, launched Disney+ and started scrolling through the menu to find something to watch. I knew there was the possibility they might need my help with something, so I didn't want to choose a show that would require my full attention.

After some time, I decided to watch the Pixar movie UP! I hadn't seen it since my kids were young, but I remember it as a fun, feel-good movie. Plus, I wasn't concerned about missing part of it for whatever reason.

In UP!, there's a character named Dug. Perhaps you're familiar with him. Dug is a dog that the two main characters meet along their journey. Dug wears a special collar his master made that allows him to talk.

Now, I don't want to spoil too much of the movie if you haven't seen it. But let's say that Dug, like most dogs, is easily distracted. This is evident in the film every time he sees a squirrel. He might be mid-sentence explaining something important when suddenly, SQUIRREL. He's distracted. If you've ever heard the term Squirrel Syndrome to describe someone who is easily distracted, it came from Dug.

A close sister to Squirrel Syndrome is Shiny Object Syndrome. Shiny object syndrome (SOS) is a continual state of distraction brought on by an ongoing belief that there is something new worth pursuing.

According to Wikipedia, Shiny object syndrome is a psychological concept where people focus on a new and fashionable idea, regardless of how valuable or helpful it may ultimately be. While at the moment, it seems to be something worth focusing one's attention upon, it is ultimately a distraction. People who face a fear of missing out are especially susceptible, as the distraction of shiny objects in themselves clouds judgment and focus.

I have a confession to share with you. For a long time, I suffered from Shiny Object Syndrome regarding software. Any time I saw or heard of a new tool, especially software, that might somehow make my life easier, I wanted it. Even if I had no idea how or why I would use it, it was FOMO, the fear of missing out.

The pitch, ad, or recommendation made the software sound so helpful and desirable that I just had to have it.

Someone would mention, or I would read, how this new software was the be-all, end-all of software. Using it can save you 10 hours of work per day, and your clients will start mailing you envelopes full of cash for all the fantastic features you can offer them because of it. It sounds too good to be true. But what if it isn't? And if I act right now, for a limited time, I will only pay $99 instead of the regular price of $9,000. What a deal. How could I pass that up?

Ok, you know I'm exaggerating. But you also know there's some truth to what I'm saying.

Looking through my Applications folder, I see several tools, and BTW, I'm using the terms tools and software interchangeably. Still, I see several tools I bought and never used or used for a short time before consciously giving up on them, or sometimes, just forgetting about them because it was not as helpful as I thought. I fell for the hype.

And that's not counting all the online tools, memberships, subscriptions and communities I paid for and never used.

We work hard for the money we make as designers. And we must be careful not to waste that money on tools we don't need.

Case in point.

Have you ever heard of Doodly? It's a tool that lets you easily create whiteboard animation videos. You know, the kind where you see a hand with a marker that quickly draws the animation. They're great for explainer videos.

A few years ago, I saw a Facebook ad promoting a lifetime license for Doodly. It usually costs $39/month. But for a one-time purchase of $67, I would have access to it for life. There's no arguing. That's a fantastic deal. The problem is, I've never used it.

The ad pitch for Doodly made it so appealing. I thought to myself. This would be an excellent service to offer my clients. And they hooked me in.

I never considered that in my 30+ years in the design space, I've never needed to create a whiteboard animation video. Not once did I ever think, "you know what? A whiteboard animation video is exactly what this client needs. I wish I knew how to make them." The possibility of this tool blinded me. But in the three years since I fell for this deal. The opportunity to create a whiteboard animation video has never come up. So even though it was a fantastic deal. It was a waste of my money.

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with Doodly. I still think it's a great tool. It just isn't a tool I need. Sure, the lifetime deal means I have it should I ever need it. But why spend money on something you may or may not ever need?

Nowadays, everywhere you look, there's some tool or software that can benefit you and your business.

I'm a big fan of AppSumo. I'm even an affiliate of theirs. If you're not familiar with AppSumo, it's a website that offers software products at amazing deals. Often lifetime deals where you pay once and own the software forever.

AppSumo does a fantastic job at making these deals seem irresistible. How owning them improves your life and streamlines the way you work. In other words, they're great at marketing the products they promote in a way that makes you want them.

And AppSumo is just one site. PitchGround, MacHeist, MightyDeals and many other websites offer lifetime deals for great-sounding products. And if you buy something, A lifetime deal is the way to go. After all, why pay monthly for something if you can pay once and use it forever?

I've bought many lifetime deals for software I still use daily. And they've saved me a ton of money.

Plutio, my project management software, costs $39/per month. I paid $49 for a lifetime license.

Billwaze, is my invoicing software, although when I bought it, it was called EZBilling360. The plan I have costs $99.99/month. I paid $59 for a lifetime license.

SocialBee is what I use to schedule and recycle social media content. It costs $39/month. I paid $49 for a lifetime license.

Book Like A Boss is my appointment scheduler. The plan I have costs $15.83/month. I paid $49 for a lifetime license.

And that's just a few. So you can see how buying a lifetime license is worth it. But that's provided you use the software. I've also purchased many lifetime licenses on these sites and elsewhere for tools I don't use. I was a culprit of shiny object syndrome.

My problem was I would buy a great-sounding tool without knowing why or how I would use it. And I wasted a lot of money because of it.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the products sold on these sites are not good. Many of them are. And they do help a lot of people. But just because they help a lot of people doesn't mean they're going to help you. In fact, my AppSumo purchase history is four pages long and dates back to 2015. And you know what? Looking through those pages, I can see a pattern. Every piece of software I bought and still use today is something I bought because I needed it at the time. Equally, almost every piece of software I purchased but didn't have an immediate use for, I don't use anymore, if I ever did at all.

Just because something might be helpful to you someday is not a good excuse to part with your hard-earned money today. Owning many different tools doesn't make you a better or more efficient designer if you don't or can't use them. Remember, you're what makes you a designer. It's not the tools you use.

Just like a photographer is a photographer regardless of the camera or lenses they use. Just because they buy a new lens doesn't make them a better photographer. Sure, it might allow them to take photos they couldn't take before. But that only helps them if they take the kind of photos the lens is designed for. A portrait photographer doesn't need a high-power zoom lens. So buying one is a waste of money.

As a design business owner, you must be careful about your purchase of tools. That's why, to help fight my shiny object syndrome, I started to apply filters and question every tool I'm considering buying. It helps me stop wasting money on tools I don't need.

And you should do the same. Don't ask yourself whether or not a tool will be helpful because, in most cases, it could be helpful. Look at Doodly. It's a beneficial tool if you need to create whiteboard animation videos.

Instead, ask yourself whether or not it's something you need right now or in the foreseeable future. Are you in a situation or know of an upcoming situation that could benefit from owning that tool? If you can't think of immediate use for it, don't buy it.

Now, sometimes you feel tempted by a tool because you feel it will help fast-forward something that might be difficult you're trying to avoid or get through. Take a CMS, for example, a Client Management System. There are hundreds of options out there you could use to manage your clients and projects. And hearing how someone is successfully using a different system may make you question your current system.

But buying a new CMS may not be the answer. Maybe your frustration comes from a lack of understanding of your current CMS. And buying a new one is an easy way to avoid dealing with it.

How does that saying go? "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." Even though a tool is working well for someone else, it may not be the answer to your problem. New is not always better.

Instead, embrace what you already have and make it work for you.

I mentioned how I use Plutio to manage my projects. Is it the best tool for the job? I have no idea. It might not be. Many designers use other tools that work well for them. However, I invested in Plutio, so I'm making it work.

And think of this. Tools that claim to make things easier or more efficient, or ones that say they'll save you time, may attract you because you don't want to do those things. You're looking for an easy way out. What sounds like a great deal may be nothing more than a bandaid covering up what you really should or could be doing on your own.

I  talked earlier about lifetime deals and how they can save you a lot of money, which is true. But be wary. The offer of a lifetime deal makes it easy to get roped into purchasing something you don't need. My AppSumo purchase history is evidence of that. It lists many lifetime deals I've purchased that I never used. I bought them because I thought the price was too good to pass up for something that may come in handy someday. In other words, they were a waste of money. I didn't apply my filters. I didn't have an immediate use for them, so I never should have bought them.

But what about tools with monthly fees? How many tools do you have that you pay a monthly fee for? How many of them do you get your money's worth from?

I had an aHrefs subscription for over a year. Ahrefs is a fantastic platform to help track, analyze and grow websites. It's excellent with keyword research. It enables you to analyze and monitor competition, track website backlinks, and much more.

If you're trying to build and grow websites, aHrefs is the tool to have. But it comes at a cost. My subscription was $127 Canadian per month. And every month, when I saw that charge on my credit card statement, I questioned whether it was worth it. The tool is excellent, but I wasn't using it as much as when I first subscribed. Was I getting $127 per month worth out of it? When I concluded that the answer was no, I wasn't; I cancelled my subscription. Why pay $127 a month for a tool I only use occasionally, no matter how much I like it? If I find myself in a situation where I need it again, I can always re-subscribe. But in the meantime, that $127 can be used elsewhere.

I recently did an audit of all my monthly subscriptions and cancelled several of them that I no longer felt I needed. In all, I'm now saving over $300 per month.

These days, I apply a filter, as I mentioned earlier, whenever I consider a new tool if I see an ad for something interesting on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube. Or maybe a podcaster I trust or a colleague recommends something I could use. In the past, I might buy it, no questions asked. But now I try to disconnect myself from the idea that the tools are the answer that will take me to the next level.

The tools are simply a way to become more efficient at something. The tools are a means to an end. They're there to support and help you with the things you are trying to do. Once again, you're who makes you a designer. Not the tools you use.

In many cases, these tools become a distraction and pull us away from the things we're trying to do. And they cost money and can become dangerous for you because they're masked by the idea that they'll make your life easier. But you don't need all the tools.

I want you to make an audit of all the tools you're currently using and figure out which ones are necessary. This can save you money. It can save you time. And it can bring you back to what's vital for you and your business. And stop paying for those tools that aren't necessary.

Think back to the photographer analogy. A photographer who buys a new lens every time they want to take a different kind of photo will soon find themselves with a hefty camera bag, just like all the tools we have to deal with as designers.

Imagine that photographer making decisions now. They have over a dozen lenses to choose from, and it will become harder and harder for them to decide which one to use. This works against them and makes them less efficient photographers because they don't have the time to master each lens.

Be honest with yourself. The tools you have right now. Are you using them to the best of your ability? Are you maximizing the investment you put into them? Tools are not magic buttons. You can't just buy something and all your problems go away. That's not how it works.

So do that audit. Figure out which tools are necessary for what you do. Next, figure out which would be great if you actually used them. Then decide if you want to commit to using them. If not, stop paying for them. Finally, determine what you don't use or need and eliminate them. Open up your wallet and mind for the tools you will use.

I did this episode as much for me as it is for you. I've failed at this before, and I want to hold myself accountable to be better at it in the future. Every time I see a new tool come across my screen, I need to ask myself. Do I need this right now? Will this actually help me? Or is it just distracting me from what I know I need to do?

More often than not, it turns out I don't need the tool, regardless of how good the deal seems.

Sep 8, 2022

I need to put the Resourceful Designer podcast on a short hiatus. Episodes will return on October 17th, 2022.

In the meantime, if you watch the new The Rings Of Power television series on Amazon Prime Video, please check out my new podcast. The Rings Of Power Podcast - Tales From Middle Earth.

http://theringsofpowerpodcast.com/

Aug 29, 2022

When first starting in graphic or web design, firing a client may seem like a foreign concept. After all, isn’t the whole point of building a business to increase your number of clients, not reduce it? But money is money, and as long as clients pay, they’re worth having. Right?

If you’re strapped for cash and don’t have a choice, then I say, sure, get every client you can. But as your client list grows and things become more stable, you’ll inevitably notice that some clients are easier to work with than others. Or maybe it’s not the client. It might be that you enjoy working on specific client projects more than other client projects.

Like many of us, it’s also possible that you may find yourself dealing with clients who frustrate you for one reason or another. These are the clients that make you sigh or groan every time they contact you. Dealing with them is more complicated than with your other clients.

You can put up with these clients for a while. But if something isn’t done to resolve whatever issues you have with them, the solution may be to let them go.

Not every reason to let a client go is a negative one. As you’ll see from the situations described below, there are times when you may want to let a client go because it’s the right time to do so.

You’ll grow over time, as a designer and as a business person. This growth may lead you to pivot your business and perhaps narrow down on a niche, making some existing clients no longer a good fit for you.

Whatever the reason, you will be faced with walking away from a client at some point, hopefully, in a way that minimizes the impact on your business.

Here are 11 signs that it’s time to let a client go.

The client has unreasonable demands or is abusive.

If you ever feel like a client is mistreating you or is outright abusive, it’s time to let them go.

Some clients expect you to behave like an employee. They want you at their beck can call, doing their bidding whenever they want. Just because they are paying you does not give them the right to treat you unprofessionally. You’re a business person just like them, not their employee.

Any Abusive behaviour or verbal attacks against you or your business should never be tolerated, regardless of the cost of a design project. This may sound like common sense, but many designers put up with unreasonable and abusive clients because the money is good.

Let them go. You’ll find better clients to replace them.

The client negatively impacts your bottom line.

Some clients are notorious for expecting special favours. Maybe they want special rates or discounts or expect you to provide services above and beyond your typical offerings.

If your relationship with these clients no longer feels like a good business decision, let them go.

The client refused to work your way.

Any client who refuses to follow your guidelines or work the way you outline should be a concern for you. If you cannot resolve the issue with them, it’s a sign they are not a good fit for you. Let them go.

The client asks you to do the same monotonous work over and over.

Some design projects often become repetitive. I had a client years ago that wanted their product photos to be on a white background. So all I did for them was close crop photos.

It was easy money initially, but the work became tedious after several months. I realized the client didn’t require anything else from me other than this dead-end project. I let them go and devoted my time to other client projects.

The client has payment issues.

Having to deal with a client who is consistently late with payments or wants to negotiate on every project isn’t fun.

Hopefully, a well-written contract will alleviate these problems. But if not, it’s probably in your best interest to let the client go. After they pay you, of course.

The client is not someone you enjoy working with.

Not everyone gets along. That goes for designers and their clients as well. It’s not necessarily because the client is a difficult person. Sometimes personalities just don’t mesh.

If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t enjoy working with a particular client, it might be time to let them go and find someone better suited to you.

The client expects more than what you agreed upon.

You can’t blame a client for trying to get the most from their investment. However, if a client keeps requesting additional work beyond the original agreed-upon project, and isn’t paying for your extra effort, then there’s a problem.

Scope creep is quite common in our industry. It’s best to put a stop to it right away before things escalate.

If the work you are doing for your client keeps increasing, but they are not compensating you for it, it may be time to let the client go.

You’ve outgrown your client.

At some point, you may decide that a client is no longer a good fit.

Maybe your business grows to the point where you don’t want to deal with smaller-budget clients. Perhaps you narrow your focus on your services, and existing clients no longer meet your criteria.

Any time you outgrow a client, let them go and find new ones which suit you better.

The client is inconsistent.

Some designers prefer to work with clients who can guarantee consistent work. This is a perfect business model for retainer agreements which I’ve discussed in episodes 32 and 255 of the podcast.

If a client only offers you the odd project here and there with no guarantee of steady work, you may consider letting them go and focusing your energy on clients with recurring projects.

The client doesn’t respect you as a professional.

It’s a fact that many people don’t take designers seriously as business professionals. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t yourself.

Suppose a client disrespects you by consistently cancelling, postponing or not showing up for meetings. Or if they take forever to reply to your emails or phone calls. Or if they disrespect you in any other way, let them go. As a business professional, you don’t have time to deal with people who don’t respect what you do.

The client isn’t paying your current rates.

As time goes by, you will inevitably raise your rates as you grow your design business. You may start at $30/hr or $150 for a logo design, but you’ll want more at some point.

Raising your rates isn’t hard to do. You decide what your new rate is and charge it. All new clients pay the new rate.

But what about old clients who are used to paying your old rates? In my experience, most clients will understand and accept your new rate. I’ve never lost a client because of a rate hike.

But, should a client not be able to or is unwilling to pay your new rates. Take it as a sign that it’s time to part ways with them. Some clients can afford you, and some can’t. That’s Ok. It’s the same for every business.

There you have it, 11 signs that it’s time to let a client go.

As you can see, sometimes you should let a client go not because they are a lousy client but because you’ve evolved beyond them. Regardless of why you let a client go, it would be best if you did so in a professional manner.

Whenever possible, try to come up with a solution that will prevent you from having to let a client go. But if it comes to parting ways, always try to leave on good terms. Leaving on good terms can strengthen your relationship with the departed client.

There’s no telling what the future holds. You never know. A client you let go of today might be in a different situation down the road and in need of someone with your talents. If you parted on good terms, you might be able to pick up and continue that relationship.

Even a lousy client may one day see the light. So don’t burn bridges if at all possible.

I’ve talked on this show many times about how any design business’s success is built on the relationships you form with your clients.

Ending a relationship can be challenging, especially one you’ve had for a long time. Remember, you are running a business. As such, you need to do what is in the best interest of that business. Sometimes, that means letting clients go. They’ll respect you for it.

Aug 15, 2022

Find something to distract your creative mind.

Nobody tells you when you get into the design industry that regardless of whether you’re doing this part-time or full-time or how many hours you devote to working each day, being a graphic or web designer is a 24/7 job.

The curse of creativity.

Let me know if this sounds familiar to you.

You’re out doing errands. Maybe it’s grocery shopping or going to an appointment. It doesn’t matter. Whatever you’re doing has nothing to do with design work. And yet, for some reason, you find your mind churning away at design-related things.

It starts contemplating a problem your having with a client website. Hmm, what’s the best way to accomplish that? Or it starts generating ideas for that new logo you’re designing. What if I play around with using an abstract star in the logo? It could be something as mundane as imagining colours. I like the blue on the cereal box. I wonder how this blue would look on that poster I’m designing?

Even though you’re “off-the-clock,” your mind keeps designing.

You may be watching TV and only half paying attention to what’s playing because part of your brain is crunching away at some design problem. Or worse, you’re lying in bed in the pitch dark, wanting to fall asleep, but your brain has other plans.

Have you ever found yourself in any of these situations? Call it the curse of creativity. Those gifted with it know that creativity can pop up at the most inopportune times.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love how my mind works and all the creative things it comes up with. However, I could do without the sleep deprivation. But even that’s a small price for something I love doing.

But even though I embrace this wild creativity we designers possess. Sometimes it would be nice not to have my mind wander towards some design problem when I’m not working.

Because letting it do this over and over can lead to burnout. If all we think about is our jobs as designers, we may end up resenting what we do for a living.

A creative solution.

Now there are various solutions to this “problem.” Some people practice meditation to clear their minds. And I’m sure it’s beneficial for them, but meditation isn’t my thing. Some people listen to music or podcast. But just like watching TV, I find your mind can still wander away from these intended distractions.

I can’t tell you how often I found myself listening to a podcast or audiobook only to realize my mind started wandering, and I have no idea what was said over the last several minutes.

Some people turn to exercise, which is never a bad thing. But I’m not sure how effectively it curbs a wandering creative mind. It doesn’t take a lot of brain power to count repetitions.

I found that the best way to stop a creative mind from wandering is to give it another creative outlet. That’s right, fight creativity with creativity.

Now I’m far from being a brain expert. But I think many of these scenarios I’ve mentioned don’t require a lot of brain processing power. Walking down a grocery ails and picking out a cereal box doesn’t need your undivided attention. Nor does putting one foot in front of another while out running.

This “brain idling” leaves a significant portion of your mind with nothing to do. And what do most sentient things do when they have nothing to do? They get bored, and they start to wander. And that’s why creativity is the best weapon against wandering creativity.

It’s kind of like fighting fire with fire. Or maybe it’s not. I don’t know.

The best way to stop thinking about your job as a designer is to occupy your mind with another creative task. Since creativity uses a lot of brain power, it’s difficult for your mind to think of two creative things simultaneously. So it focuses on the more immediate one.

The creative outlet you choose is irrelevant. Maybe, instead of listening to music, you create music. Maybe, instead of reading, you try writing. Perhaps you try a sport instead of going to a gym to exercise. After all, most sports require creative thinking.

Or it could be knitting, sculpting, dancing, scrapbooking, or even basket weaving if that’s your thing. It doesn’t matter, as long as it requires creativity. When it comes to creative outlets, there are unlimited choices.

My creative outlet.

My favourite creative outlet is woodworking. I may have mentioned it before on the Resourceful Designer podcast, but I love woodworking. If I hadn’t become a designer, I probably would have become a carpenter or something in the woodworking field.

I even have battle scars to prove it. Last year, while building a plant stand for my wife, I caught the tips of two of my fingers on my table saw. Luckily the damage was minimal. A couple of tiny scars are the only evidence of the mishap. But the dangers of woodworking aside, I love taking raw pieces of wood and creating something new and unique out of them.

This past weekend I created a food cage for our cat. Don’t worry. It’s not as sinister or cruel as it sounds.

We recently got a new puppy, and we don’t want him to eat the cat food that we leave out. Our cat is getting old, so making her jump up to areas that are out of the dog’s reach wasn’t a great idea. So I designed and built a cat food cage. It’s a wooden cage with an opening on one side that we place over the cat’s food bowl.

We place the cat food cage in the corner of our bedroom, close enough to the wall so the cat can squeeze beside it and get in through the opening, but the dog can’t. Problem solved. The cat can eat in peace whenever she wants, and all the dog can do is sit outside the cage and watch.

It took me a weekend to design and build this cage. Not that it was difficult, but I had to give time for the wood glue to dry.

Let me tell you, the entire time I was conceptualizing and working on this cage, I did not think about any of the websites, podcast artwork or other design projects I have on the go. And that felt great. It felt great not to be a graphic or web designer for that short period and instead be a woodworker.

That’s my creative outlet. Whenever I need to give my mind a break, I go to my workshop and build something. And I always feel refreshed and energized after doing so. It’s as if taking a break from thinking about design makes me more eager and excited when I start back up. Woodworking recharges me.

What creative outlet do you use to escape from being a designer? I firmly believe that having one, if not more than one, will make you a better designer.

Think of it as exercising your creativity. Just like you don’t do the same routine each time you go to the gym, changing up your creative outlets will make you a healthier and more rounded creative person. Your mind and your clients will thank you.

Aug 8, 2022

In episode 89 of Resourceful Designer, I discussed checklists and your design business. As a bonus to that episode, I offered my WordPress Website Setup Checklist. That was five years ago, and things have changed. In that time, I've grown and expanded as a web designer. The tools I use to create websites have also grown and expanded. Here is an up-to-date list of the tools I regularly use to design and build WordPress websites. Don't build in WordPress? Don't worry. I share a few things that may help you regardless of the platform where you design websites.

Conceptualizing the website.

Before I get down to designing and building a website, I want to know what I'm building. These are the tools that help me in the conceptual stage.

Dynalist:

Dynalist is a great outlining app that helps you get work done. I use Dynalist to outline the structure of every website I build. I like to know what pages a site will have and where they sit in the hierarchy. Dynalist helps me do this.

Coolors.co

Coolors.co is a super fast colour palette generator. I use it to choose colours for a website before the build starts. It's also convenient for finding great colours to go along with a client's existing brand colours.

Setting up the website.

SiteGround

SiteGround I host all my and my client's websites at SiteGround. They're inexpensive, reliable, easy to work with and score well in web host comparisons. What more could a web designer ask for in a web host?

Siteground has a very convenient one-click WordPress install feature that gets me up and designing quickly. Their installation registers me as the site admin using my email address instead of the default "Admin," usually generated by WordPress. If your web host doesn't have this feature, then I suggest the first thing you do upon installing WordPress is create a new Admin user and delete the default one named "Admin."

During installations, Siteground installs two of its own plugins, SiteGround Optimizer and SiteGround Security. These are great plugins; however, I disable them until I finish building the site.

Assets and tools I use on just about every website.

Envato Elements

Envato Elements is the first place I look for any stock images, icons or graphics I may need during a website build. Their low monthly subscription allows unlimited downloads, which comes in handy while experimenting.

Depositphotos

Depositphotos is another excellent resource for stock images and vector graphics. They're inexpensive, and their quality matches higher price stock image sites.

Grammarly

Grammarly ensures my website copy is error-free and written most effectively. I've been using it for years and won't compose anything without running it through Grammarly.

Squoosh

Squoosh.app is a handy website that does one thing very well, it optimizes images. Every image I upload to a website passes through Squoosh first.

Screenflow

Screenflow is only available on Mac (sorry, windows users). It's a screen recorder that makes it very easy to create tutorial videos explaining to clients how to use their new website. Screenflow is also a powerful video editor which I use any time I need to do minor edits to a video before uploading it to a website.

Handbrake

Handbrake is a free video conversion tool. It allows you to change the format of a video which is very useful in reducing a video's file size.

Building the website.

Divi Theme

Divi by Elegant Themes is the world's most popular WordPress page builder and is trusted by hundreds of thousands of website creators. Divi takes WordPress to a new level by allowing you to build a website visually. With Divi, there's practically nothing you cannot create.

Divi Marketplace

The Divi Marketplace: is a one-stop shop for everything Divi, including layouts, child themes and extensions. If you need a website to do something special, chances are the solution can be found in the Divi Marketplace.

Divi Booster

Divi Booster allows you to customize Divi without adding extra code. This plugin adds 100s of new configuration options to Divi.

Divi Express

Divi Express is a vast library of Divi layouts, sections, headers & footers, sub-pages and more that you can import into your Divi website. Using Divi Express has drastically reduced my website design time.

Divi Supreme

Divi Supreme Is an All-in-One Divi Plugin that adds over 50 new Modules and eight extensions to Divi. Divi Supreme eliminates the need to customize things with a ton of CSS, saving you time.

Divi Extended

Divi Extended offers over 50 Divi Child Themes and 11 unique plugins. Their Divi Plus plugin adds over 50 new Modules to Divi. I love their Divi Blog Extra and Divi Blurb Extra plugins.

Divi Life

Divi Life also offers Layouts, Child Themes and Plugins. My favourite plugins from Divi Life are the Divi Overlays and Divi Bars plugins that I've used on several client websites.

Divi Engine

Divi Engine also offers plugins and extensions for Divi. However, it's their one plugin Divi Machine that excites me. With Divi Machine, you can create dynamic content with Div and Advanced Custom Fields. Learning about Divi Machine has changed the way I imagine websites.

Plugins I use during the build.

Gravity Forms

Gravity Forms is the ultimate forms plugin as far as I'm concerned. Even though Divi has forms built in, the ease and versatility of Gravity Forms make it a must-install on every website I build.

PrettyLinks

PrettyLinks makes it easy to create prettier and easily sharable URL links for your pages directly from within WordPress.

SEO Plugins

Yoast and Rank Math are the two SEO Plugins I'm most familiar with. Yoast has been an industry leader in website SEO for years, but I've recently seen great results with Rank Math. Both are highly recommended, so research to see which one is best for you.

Once the website is built.

These are the plugins I install once I've completed a website build. These add functionality to protect and make the site more efficient.

iThemes

iThemes Security Pro:

iThemes Security Pro is arguably the best WordPress Security Plugin available. I don't take chances with website security, and that's why I rely on the best.

iThemes BackupBuddy makes it easy to create and store backups of a WordPress website. Over 1 million WordPress sites trust BackupBuddy, and so do I.

iThemes Sync: I install this plugin on every website. iThemes Sync allows you to update and manage multiple websites from one location, making it very easy to perform weekly maintenance.

SiteGround Optimizer and SiteGround Security: I deactivate these two plugins while building websites and reactivate them once the site is complete. SiteGround has created two great plugins that I've come to rely on.

Google Analytics for WordPress by Monster Insights: This plugin makes it very easy to monitor your website traffic.

Jul 11, 2022

I have a confession to make. I’m not perfect. Even though I’ve released 297 episodes of the Resourceful Designer podcast, a show I created to share tips and strategies for running a graphic and web design business. I still don’t have all the answers.

And even though I consider myself a successful entrepreneur. After all, I’ve been running my home-based design business for 17 years. Plus, I started my niche side business, Podcast Branding, just over three years ago, and it’s doing better than I ever imagined.

And yet, I still struggle.

I don’t struggle much with finding clients or design projects. I’ve been fortunate in that aspect. What I find myself struggling with from time to time is motivation.

Feeling lazy.

Some days, no matter how many things are on my to-do list, I don’t feel like working. I feel lazy. I’ll sit at my computer in the morning with the best intentions, having thought of everything I wanted to work on that day. But at the end of my work day, I look back and realize I didn’t accomplish any of them.

Sure I answered some emails. I read a few business-related articles. I watched some tutorials on YouTube. But actual work, the thing that makes me money, not so much. Not enough to compensate for an 8-hour work day.

Luckily, one of the perks of working for yourself is you don’t have to answer to anyone. As long as you get the work done, it doesn’t matter how or when you do it.

And everything would be fine if this was a sporadic occurrence. But that’s the problem. Sometimes it isn’t. When I get in a rut like this, it could last days.

I’ll chastise myself at the end of the day for my lack of drive, my laziness. And tell myself I’ll work twice as hard tomorrow. But then tomorrow rolls around, and, for some reason, it happens again. Sure I’ll get some small things done. But not nearly enough to satisfy me.

A few weeks ago, I needed to start a website project. I intended to begin it on Monday. It was a big project, and I planned to get ahead of the timeline. But for some reason, I found other things to do. A lot of them non-productive.

So Monday went by, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and I still hadn’t started the website. To me, Friday is never a good day to begin something new. So I told myself I would finally start it on Monday. A week later than I initially wanted. And you know what? I didn’t start it on Monday either.

It’s as if I knew how much work was involved with designing and building the website, and the laziness that had overcome me wasn’t motivated to get started.

I don’t know what depression feels like. And honestly, I don’t think that’s what was happening. I honestly believe I was feeling lazy. But whatever it was, I was in a rut.

When you're in a rut.

Rut, what a funny word. I just looked up its meaning. A Rut is a habit or pattern of behaviour that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change. That’s exactly what I was going through. I had gotten into the behaviour of pushing off the big things on my to-do list because I was feeling lazy and unproductive.

Maybe I should have called this post “Starting Is The Hardest Part.” I know now, as I knew then, that everything would be fine once I started the website. Once I worked on it, I would find the motivation to keep going.

Newton’s first law of motion says, “An object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion.” There’s more to Newton’s law than that, but we’re talking about laziness and work motivation here, not physics.

However, the principle still applies. As long as I didn’t start the website project, leaving it be was easier. But once I did start, I kept going and saw it threw to the end.

Do you ever feel this way? Lazy, I mean? Do you ever stall or delay getting things started for no good reason? And I’m not talking about procrastination. I feel that procrastination is something different.

I’m a notorious procrastinator. It used to drive my manager crazy when I worked at the print shop because I often waited until the last minute to start a project. But that was a conscious decision. And I still do that today.

If I have a deadline in three weeks and know that it will only take me a couple of days to do the task, I’ll often put it off until that third week and then plough through it. I like to think I work best under pressure.

But these ruts I’m talking about are not the same. I’m not consciously deciding to put things off or procrastinate. It’s the opposite; I want to start these projects. But somehow, I don’t. At least until I don’t have a choice because I’m running out of time. To me, that’s a rut.

And ruts come in spurts. I’ll go months, if not years, where everything runs smoothly. And then, I find myself in a rut for no apparent reason.

As I said earlier, I found myself in such a rut a few weeks ago. And what’s worse is I knew I was in a rut, and it annoyed me. But being annoyed by my behaviour wasn’t changing the fact that I felt lazy.

I got so annoyed that I googled “How to get out of a rut.” I found a good article on Forbes.com titled 6 Ways To Get Out Of A Rut. Here are the six steps the article recommends.

1) Acknowledge The Problem

I had already done this, hence my google search.

2) Break Things Down Into Steps

Which said to make a to-do list and chip away at it one task at a time. I already work with a to-do list, so this wasn’t anything new to me.

3) Done is Better Than Perfect.

Which talked about not getting hung up on perfectionism and that you should be satisfied with a project’s completion, even if it’s not perfect. This didn’t apply to me since my issue wasn’t finishing a project but starting one.

4) Get Some Fresh Air.

I was already going outside when I should have been working. So this step didn't apply to me.

5) Get Some Exercise.

This is a good idea for someone feeling stressed or anxious. But I wasn’t feeling either of those.

6) Talk to Someone.

This was good advice. And yet I didn’t do it. I have a group of colleagues I could talk to in the Resourceful Designer Community, yet I didn’t for some reason. Not because I was embarrassed or anything. I think it was because I felt it was something I should be able to overcome on my own. After all, I’ve been in ruts before, and they never last. I guess I failed on this last step. I should have opened up to someone.

So even though this was a great article, It didn’t help me. Or at least I didn’t feel like it helped me at the time. I mean, after all, I am talking to someone about it. You. A bit after the fact, but I still think this counts.

What got me out of my rut.

Do you want to know what finally got me out of my rut? Believe it or not, it was a to-do list. And what’s funny is I got this idea from a different article, not on getting out of a rut, but on productivity. Which I guess go hand in hand.

The article’s title that helped is The Counterintuitive Secret To Get More Done Every Day.

In her article, the author explains that you should create a to-do list with two sections. In the top section, you write down one to three things you must accomplish that day. Then draw a line across the page. Below that line, write all the things you want to do that day but are not critical if you don’t.

The trick is not working on anything below the line until the item(s) above the line are complete.

I know, it sounds silly. But I decided to give it a try, and it worked.

The following day I wrote two things above the line.

  1. Set up WordPress for the new website and install Divi and starter plugins.
  2. Start designing the website header.

Below the line, I wrote other items from my to-do list that I wanted to do that day. I wanted to do these things, but it wasn’t crucial that I get them done that day.

And you know what happened?

As I began my work day, I received an email from a client asking for a small change to their website. Something that would take less than 5-minutes to complete. Most days, I might do it to get it out of the way. But I looked at my list and added it to the items below the line. And then I got to work starting the website.

I did the same thing each morning until momentum picked up, and I no longer felt like I was in a rut.

This happened a few weeks ago. That website is complete, and my client is pleased with what I made for them. I also made that small change to the other client’s site, but only that afternoon after completing the above-the-line tasks.

Everything is back to normal.

I’m happy to report that things are going well right now, and I’m keeping on top of things. I’m no longer in a rut, and my business is again running like clockwork.

Do I still use this to-do list hack? No. I’ve gone back to how I did things before I was in the rut. But I’ve been at this long enough to know there will be more ruts. They don’t happen often, but they do. And when I notice I’m in the middle of the next one. I’ll think of this little trick. And hopefully, like it did this time, it will help me out of my rut and get back on track much faster.

I wanted to share this with you because I’m sure I’m not the only designer who experiences ruts like these. And I want you to know that you are not alone if this happens.

Feeling lazy happens. It’s normal, we all experience it, and it’s ok. Providing it doesn’t affect you long term.

I mentioned how I brushed off the idea of depression because I’m confident that wasn’t what was affecting me. However, depression is serious and not something you should be ashamed of if you think you may be depressed.

If you feel lazy, in a rut, lul, or anything else that seems to be stealing your motivation to work and can’t get out of it on your own, don’t be afraid to talk to someone. You can contact me via email at feedback [at] resourcefuldesigner.com.

You don’t have to go through it alone.

Jun 20, 2022

Has this ever happened to you? A new client contacts you looking for a designer. Their project sounds fun, and you seem to hit it off well with them. They verbally agree to your terms, and since everything sounds encouraging, you send them a formal proposal. And you wait in anticipation for them to approve your proposal and give you the go-ahead to get started on their project.

And then you wait and wait, but you don't hear back. You send follow-up emails but don't receive any replies. The client has ghosted you.

If you're not familiar with the term "ghosted," it's when someone ends all communication and contact with another person without any apparent warning or justification. Subsequently, they ignore any attempts to reach out or communication made by the person they're ghosting.

And by that definition, this client is ghosting you. And it's not only with new clients. Sometimes an exiting client may ghost you in the middle of a project. You send them a proof and don't hear back. Or you ask them a question or for content you need, and you don't get a reply.

This is any time you don't hear back from a client for whatever reason, even after several failed attempts at contacting them. What do you do? You send them The Magic Email, that's what.

The Magic Email.

What is The Magic Email, you ask? According to Blair Enns, Author and CEO of Win Without Pitching, a sales training organization for creative professionals. The Magic Email is a message you send to raise deals from the dead. That's its purpose, to solicit a response from someone who has been avoiding you.

According to Enns, you must resist the temptation of sending an overly polite email. He suggests you do the opposite. Don't make excuses for your client's behaviour. And don't go soliciting a yes or any other answer from them.

Enns suggests you strip away all emotions and let your prospect go matter-of-factly. And you that that with the following Magic Email. Within the last existing email thread, you had with your client, hit reply, change the subject to "Closing the Loop," and then write the following.

Hi [FirstName];

I haven't heard back from you on [project/opportunity], so I'm going to assume you've gone in a different direction or your priorities have changed.

Let me know if we can be of assistance in the future.

Regards,

[You]

That's it.

Enns says this removes the emotional reasons for the prospect to continue avoiding you. You are stripping out your neediness by no longer feigning politeness, by not asking how they've been or by being anything other than completely practical.

This Magic Email says, "I can read between the lines, and you have decided we are not doing business together. No hard feelings – it's just business. You can call me if things change."

What to expect after sending The Magic Email.

You can expect one of three things to happen when you send The Magic Email.

1. Silence.

Silence is the least likely scenario where you don't get a response at all. There's no longer any reason for the client not to wrap things up. All they have to do is send you a one-line acknowledgement email to remove this stress from their own lives.

2. Thank You.

The client will send you a reply acknowledging that they have decided to cancel the project or they've moved in a different direction.

This gives you closure and allows you to stop wasting energy over something that wasn't going to happen and move on to other clients and projects. There's no need to sulk about it. The deal was already done, probably a long time ago. The client just didn't tell you.

3. No, Wait!

This is the response you're hoping for.

According to Enns, by retreating unemotionally, where you might otherwise be inclined to advance, you suddenly become the one that might get away. The client stops seeing you as the predator that keeps sending them emails, to the prize they're about to lose.

There's a psychological effect of this unemotional retreat that can be staggering in its effectiveness. And any resentment the client had over you harassing them turns into guilt about not replying to you earlier. This gives you the upper hand emotionally, and you suddenly become much more attractive to the client.

You can learn more about all of this on Blair Enns site winwithoutpitching.com

Variations of The Magic Email.

Variation by Kai Davis

We recently had a discussion in the Resourceful Designer Community about The Magic Email. Particularly about the different variations.

Kai Davis of kaidavis.com adapted his Magic Email from Blair Enns' He says he split-tested it, and his version works better. His version is to send this one-sentence email.

"Since I have not heard from you on this, I have to assume your priorities have changed."

That's it, nothing else.

Davis says it works because it's simple, intentionally vague, and effective. People are loss averse. Meaning their natural inclination is to reply immediately to keep you from walking away. You are taking back control of the situation by declaring it's over.

Davis goes on to say that you may find this email rude. And that's the discussion we had in the Resourceful Designer Community. But he says it's not rude, just direct. It's the client who doesn't answer your emails that is rude. The person has already ignored you for weeks, so you have nothing to lose. It's just business.

To learn more from Kai Davis' use of The Magic Email at themagicemail.com

Variation by Chris Voss

You can find another variation of The Magic Email in former FBI negotiator Chris Voss's book Never Split The Difference.

Voss' variation is a simple message that provokes a "no" response, which gives the other party a feeling of safety and the illusion of control while encouraging them to define their position and explain it to you.

This is how it works.

  1. Reply to an existing email thread.
  2. Change the subject line to a "no-oriented question." such as "have you given up on this?"
  3. In the body of the message, write the same or a very similar sentence. Don't add details or explanations. One short sentence is all you need. For example. "Have you given up on this project?" or "Have you moved in a different direction?"

According to Voss, this is not a trick or technique. It's a respectful approach that gives the other party the freedom to respond truthfully to you without pressure.

Which variation would you use?

What version of The Magic Email would you use? We had our discussion in the Resourceful Designer Community, but I would love to know your thoughts. Leave a comment below and let me know how you approach clients who are ghosting you.

Nobody likes to be ignored. And it's a waste of time and energy pursuing someone ghosting you. It's frustrating. So the next time something like this happens to you, try sending a variation of The Magic Email and see what happens. Who knows. You may light that fire under the client and get your stalled project back on track.

May 30, 2022

There are two things I started doing that have helped me provide a better service to my clients. Which, in turn, makes me a better designer as far as they are concerned. I've been doing one of them for quite a while, while the other I only started doing a few years ago, and much more so since the pandemic began.

What are these two things, you ask? Contemplation and Revision.

Take time to contemplate after a design project.

When you have a busy schedule, it's easy to finish one design project and immediately jump to the next. After all, with deadlines and clients to satisfy, you need to stop diddle-daddling and start that next project. If this is how you work, you are doing yourself a disservice.

Some of the best insight you can gain is by taking time to contemplate after finishing a project. Think about the ups and the downs. What went right with the project? What went wrong? Were there any parts of the project that slowed things down or helped things along?

Take the time to think about all aspects of the project and ask yourself, what could I have done to make things better? Is there anything I can learn from this project that I could use to improve my SOP, Standard Operating Procedure, so that future projects go smoother?

If you have a team, talk it over with them. Ask your team if there's anything that could have made their part easier?

Do this after every design project, and you'll quickly learn ways to make your life easier.

I do things differently now than the way I did things when I first started my business. Heck, the way I do things now is different from how I did things a few months ago. All because I regularly take the time to contemplate how I've been doing things and if there's anything I can do to improve upon the way I work.

Now I know you're probably thinking. I already do what you're suggesting automatically. If something works on a project, I'll implement it on future projects.

That's well and good. And we should all do the same thing. But that's not the same thing as what I'm suggesting. Discovering something new and implementing it on future projects is great and should be automatic for you.

But what I'm saying is that by dedicating 15, 30, or 60 minutes, depending on the size of the project, to contemplate the ups and downs of how the project went, you can learn valuable insights you may otherwise gloss over.

Perhaps the way you've always done things isn't the best. Only by contemplating what you do can you spot areas for improvement.

You get the idea. It's hard to remember and even harder to try and fix problems if you don't think about them again once a project is over. The same can be said of things that go well. If something goes very well with a project, you should figure out if there's any way to implement it in future projects.

Contemplation: Dedicating time after completing a design project to figure out what went well, what didn't and how what you learn can improve your SOP on future projects. I've been doing this for years, and I can honestly say I'm a better designer for it.

Record your conversations.

The second thing I wanted to talk about that helped me become a better designer is recording my conversations with my clients.

This one kind of started by accident. When I first started my side business, Podcast Branding, I began interviewing clients over Zoom in a quick discovery meeting. And even though I took notes, I would often need to follow up with a client for clarification.

After doing this a few times, I started recording my Zoom meetings. And this became a game-changer for me.

Now, If there's something I can't remember or I'm not quite sure of, I can rewatch our Zoom call and find the answer most of the time.

Sometimes it might be a few days between when I talk to a client and start their project. I now make a point of rewatching the Zoom call before starting every project to ensure I do not forget anything.

As I rewatch our meeting, I follow along with the notes I took. Sometimes, I'll pause or rewind to add to or clarify my notes. And I'll often catch something I may have missed during our live meeting, or maybe I didn't fully comprehend it at first but listening back helped me understand.

Yes, relistening to your meetings adds more time to a project, but you would be amazed at how much it makes working on the project easier.

Not just that, but listening again with fresh ears allows me to create better artwork that better meets the client's needs. And the clients appreciate how diligent I am, especially when I refer back to our conversation.

It helps you become a better communicator.

The other benefit of recording your conversations is you'll be able to pick up on things you said or didn't say and how you communicate with your clients.

Listening to yourself on a recording will help you improve your communication skills. Did you sound confident? Were the questions you asked easy to understand? Did you answer your client's questions to the best of your ability? The more you listen to yourself, the more you'll improve.

I've been doing it for years with my podcasts. I hear every episode three times. Once while recording the episode, again while editing it, and yes, I listen to it a third time after it's released. And I think I'm a better podcaster and communicator because of it.

Record all meetings.

Recently, since we can now meet people face to face again, I've asked clients if I can record our conversations in person. I use the Voice Recorder app on my iPhone for this. I put it down on the table between us and press record.

I explain to the client that I'll refer back to the recording should I need clarification on something I may have missed during our conversation. Plus, it gives us a recorded record of what was said during the meeting. Which eliminates the "I thought you said this" scenario.

So far, I haven't had a single client refuse to let me record them.

Ask for permission before recording someone.

In most places, it's illegal to record someone without their consent. Luckily, Zoom notifies participants they are being recorded before they join a call. By joining, they consent to be recorded.

During in-person meetings or on the phone, the best practice is to ask for permission first, and once given, press record and ask for permission again, so you have it on record.

Once I have the client's consent for my meetings, I press record and open with this statement. "Today is [date], and I'm with [name of the client(s)]. Do you consent to be recorded for this meeting?" and have all parties present say yes.

Since I started recording client meetings, I've found it so much easier to work on their projects. I no longer have to ask silly questions such as, "I can't remember. Did you say you wanted this or this?" I just listen back to the recording. And through listening, I'm becoming a better communicator, which will benefit me in my next client meeting.

I know these two things; contemplating after a project and recording your meetings sound simple, and maybe you're already doing them. If so, good for you. But I can tell you that these two things have helped me become a better designer, and I know they can do the same for you.

After your next design project, dedicate time to contemplate the ups and downs of the project and note how you can do things better the next time.

And during your next client meeting, ask if you can record it. Your clients will appreciate how diligent you are at understanding their needs.

Do these two things, and you too can become a better designer.

May 23, 2022

One of the best things about being human is our ability to make choices. If you’re in the mood for a hamburger but also in a rush, you still have options. Do you go to Mcdonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s or one of the other fast-food burger joints?

If you’re in the market for a new car, do you look at Ford, Dodge, Toyota, or Honda? Need a new computer? You can choose one of the many models of Pcs or go with a Mac. Regardless of your choices, the ultimate decision is still up to you.

But how do you go about choosing?

You do so by looking at what makes each option different and how those differences appeal to you.

We all know that not all hamburgers are equal. McDonald’s has consistently stated that “Great Taste” makes them different. I know, that’s very subjective. But it is a recurring marketing slogan they’ve used over the years. Burger King claims it’s the flame broiling that makes them different. At Wendy’s, it’s the fact that their meat is never frozen, so it taste’s fresher. Ultimately, you decide which one of these differences appeals to you the most. And that’s where you get your burger.

This same concept of what makes something different can equally apply to designers. What makes you different from the other designers in your town? What would make a client choose you over one of them?

If you can figure out this question and use it to your advantage, you may outpace your competition with more work than you can handle. So what makes you different?

Culture and Heritage.

Maybe your culture or heritage makes you different. People find it easier to deal with people similar to them or who understand them.

It’s currently the middle of May, which is Asian Heritage Month. As a white person, I would never expect someone to hire me to design a campaign for Asian Heritage Month. It’s not that I don’t think I could do a good job. It’s just that I feel that an Asian designer is better suited for the project. After all, they can relate to the subject matter better than I ever could.

Whatever your heritage or culture is, you should embrace it and find a way to use it.

A member of the Resourceful Designer Community is an indigenous Canadian woman. She’s using this to her advantage by marketing her design business to companies, organizations and groups run by First Nation people. And she’s killing it. She had to halt a recent marketing campaign because her available time quickly filled up for the rest of the year. Wouldn’t you like to be booked entirely for the rest of the year?

She’s become so busy that she’s in the process of hiring another designer to help with the workload. How is this possible? Is it because she’s terrific at marketing her services? That may be part of it. But her marketing message alone isn’t what’s bringing in so many new clients. It’s who she’s marketing to.

First Nations people, just like everyone else, need help when it comes to design and branding. And when given a choice, they are more likely to choose someone like them who is a member of a First Nation. Someone who understands their culture doesn’t need to be educated on what works and what doesn’t for them.

In other words, it means they are comfortable working with her because she understands them. And this makes it easy for them to choose her over another designer who isn’t a member of a First Nation.

Perhaps you can apply a similar strategy. Are you Hispanic, Asian, or a person of colour? Have you ever thought of marketing yourself to people of the same ethnic background? It may give you an advantage over others in your field as clients may prefer you over someone who isn’t of the same ethnicity as them. It’s worth a try.

Gender and Orientation.

There has never been so much discussion over gender and orientation as there is today. And that’s a good thing. The more we talk about it, the more it will become accepted. And when it comes to your business, your gender and orientation could be an excellent opportunity for you to attract clients.

If you are part of the LGBTQ community, you have an advantage over those of us who aren’t. Like-minded people prefer to deal with like-minded people. It makes them feel safe and understood. And it’s no different when it comes to business.

I know it’s not design-related, but I recently heard of a podcast editing company that only deals with LGBTQ clients. They’ve created a place where LGBTQ podcasters can feel safe and unjudged for the podcasts they make.

The same concept can be applied to a design business. An LGBTQ entrepreneur may feel more comfortable working with a designer from the same community. The manager at the print shop I used to work at is gay. And I know we had many LGBTQ clients because they felt comfortable dealing with him.

And when we talk about gender, it could be as simple as a female designer opting to work with women-led businesses. I’ve heard of several designers who do just this. They only work with companies that are run by other women. And they have plenty of work to keep them busy.

Niches

But what if you’re someone who can’t embrace your culture or heritage, or your particular gender or orientation doesn’t help? Then maybe you want to look at niching. Choosing a niche makes you different than other designers who don’t specialize.

Take Craig Burton, for example. I interviewed him back in episode 174 of the Resourceful Designer podcast. Craig’s design company is called School Branding Matters. And you guessed it; he designs brands for schools. That’s what makes Craig different. That’s what makes him stand out. And it’s helped him land clients around the globe. Not bad for a solo graphic designer from New Zealand.

But any time a school needs new branding searches for a designer, there’s a good chance they come across Craig’s website. And when given a choice between a generic designer and one who specializes in school branding. The choice is pretty simple. After all, chances are they won’t have to explain to Craig the intricacies of the school ecosystem and how a brand would be incorporated.

So yes, niches are a great way to make yourself different. You can hear more about niching in episode 54 and episode 93 of the podcast.

Other ways to be different.

Are there other ways to make yourself stand out from other similar designers? Sure there are. Take Ian Paget, for example. You may know him as Logo Geek. He’s a logo designer from Manchester, the UK and has a popular podcast of the same name as his business, Logo Geek.

Ian specializes in Logo Design, but so do a lot of designers. So how does he stand out? I just mentioned he has a logo design podcast. So that gives him some authority in the space. Ian has also judged logo design competitions. And he’s written articles about logo design for some well-established publications.

All of this gives Ian credibility and has earned him some prestigious clients. He’s been hired to design logos for universities, big corporations, large conferences, etc. His credentials differentiate him from all the other logo designers around. So he uses it to his advantage. And it’s working.

Small things can make a difference.

Finally, I want to mention that you don’t have to do much to be different. The things I just talked about are significant steps. But there are little things you can do to set yourself apart.

Take me as an example. As you may know, a few years ago, I started a second design business called Podcast Branding, which specializes in podcast cover artwork and websites for podcasters.

Other businesses in this niche specialize in podcast cover artwork beside me. Even though I know I’m priced higher than most of my direct competition; I have a thriving business.

So what did I do to make myself different?

For one, I established that not only am I a designer, but I’m also a podcaster. I’ve been podcasting since 2013, and that lays a strong foundation for my credibility in the space. I get podcasting. Any designer can design a square piece of art. But the fact that I’m familiar with the podcast industry helps me stand out.

The other thing I do that makes me unique is offer a one-on-one meeting with every client. Most of my competitors provide a questionnaire for clients to fill out. They then take the client’s information and design a podcast cover.

On the other hand, I get on a Zoom call with every client to discuss their podcast. I ask why they’re starting a podcast. What do they hope to accomplish with it? What format will it be? Will it be just them, or will they have a co-host? Will they interview guests?

I find out everything I can about their new show. I do this for two reasons. I need to know about the show if I’m going to design artwork for it. And I want to get a feel for who the podcaster is. Their personality will affect what I create for them. If a person is very serious and formal, I may design their cover one way. However, if they come across as joyful and bubbly, I’ll probably create it differently.

These 15-minute meetings make a massive difference to me. And I’ve been told over and over it’s the reason why a client chose me over someone else. Even when I’m the more expensive option, they felt my way of doing things is more personal than a questionnaire.

Conclusion

We all know that finding new clients can be difficult, especially when you’re just starting. We also know that word of mouth is the most common way designers get new clients. I talked about this in length in episode 281 of the podcast.

Word of mouth spreads quickest among like-minded people. Why is that indigenous member of the Resourceful Designer Community doing so well? It’s because indigenous people talk to other indigenous people, and when she does a good job with one, the word spreads.

The same applies in all communities, whether it’s an Asian or coloured community, an LGBTQ community or even a school or podcaster community. Like-minded people talk to like-minded people. And when you do a good job helping one of them, they’ll spread the word. Especially if they know you specialize in people of that community.

So what’s unique about you. What can you do to make yourself stand out from the competition? What can you do differently that will make clients choose you?

Figuring the answers to these questions can mean the difference between looking for your next client and being completely booked for the rest of the year.

Worth thinking about, isn’t it?

May 9, 2022

It’s so easy to get caught up in what we do, be that logo design, vehicle wraps, websites, trade show booths; you name it. We forget that our clients don’t live in the same world as we do. Our clients don’t see the world through a designer’s eye.

When they look at a billboard, they see the message. When a designer looks at a billboard, not only do we take in the content and message. But we also take in the layout, the hierarchy, the use of negative space and the colour pallet. We note what fonts are used and what imagery they chose to relay their message.

When we see something that isn’t kerned correctly, we feel the need to point it out.

We feel almost obliged to mention every stock image we recognize out in the wild. "See that photo of that happy family in that car insurance ad? I saw that exact photo on Depositphotos."

And we stop to admire displays, posters, cards and everything else we think is well designed. After all, when you see something that you feel is well designed, don’t you secretly start cataloging pieces of it away in your mind so you can “borrow” the idea for something you create in the future?

As designers, our brains are just wired that way. We see the world through a designer’s eye. But sometimes, we forget that non-designers don’t see the world the way we do.

My wife has perfected the eye roll she uses whenever I start talking design about something I see. Sometimes she’ll feign interest, but I know that she doesn’t care that the line spacing on the restaurant’s menu is too tight. She just doesn’t get it because she’s not a designer.

But neither are our clients. That’s why they hire us for their projects. And sometimes, it’s easy to forget that they don’t have the same knowledge as us, nor the same interests. And they view the world through a different set of lenses than we do.

That’s why it’s a good idea that before you say or present anything to a client, you try to consider it from their point of view.

Case in point. A designer shared an intro packet PDF in a design group I belong to, asking for advice. The PDF is to give prospective website clients to explain what a CMS is, a Content Management System.

She went into great detail, outlining everything there is to know about CMSs. I how thorough she was. However, I and several others pointed out that it wasn’t suitable for clients.

She explained how databases work, with columns and rows and entry IDs. and how you can edit a database directly with tools such as phpMyAdmin. Then she explained how she builds a custom portal for each client that allows them to easily add, delete, and edit posts in the database.

And finally, she explained how the items in the database end up displaying on the web page. She even showed examples of the PHP code required to make it all happen.

Nothing was wrong with anything she presented, except that most of them are redundant to clients.

A client doesn’t need to know how databases work or how the info from the database ends up on a web page. All the client needs to know is their website will have a CMS with an easy-to-use interface allowing them to add, delete and edit the content of their site.

Remember, these are perspective clients. Meaning they haven’t committed to working with you yet. You don’t want to scare them away before they’ve had a chance to work with you. Donald Miller, the author of Building a StoryBrand, said it best. “If you confuse, you’ll lose.”

Consider your marketing message from a design client's perspective.

Let’s say you specialize in logo design, and you showcase your three-step process on your website.

Step 1) I start with a meeting. I have a list of over 50 questions I ask you, covering everything from how your company got started, to your mission, to where you see the future going. This allows me to get to know you and your business.

Step 2) I take the answers you gave me and start the research process. I take a close look at what your immediate competition is doing. I examine your industry as a whole to determine if there are any trends we may want to follow. I may conduct focus groups to learn more about what your clients think of you.

I then gather all this information and begin the concept stage, where I brainstorm and develop several different ideas.

I then narrow it down to the most promising ones and fine-tune them until I’m satisfied.

Step 3) I present you with the best ideas. If required, we then enter the revision process, where you are allowed three sets of revisions to tweak your logo until you are satisfied.

Once done, I’ll create a brand guide that outlines the rules for using your new logo and supply everything you’ll need in various file formats.

This shows a comprehensive process. And a designer may think this is perfect for showing the client why they’re worth the price they’re charging. However, it may have an adverse effect from a client’s point of view. "50 questions? I just want a logo for my new business. Why does it have to be so complicated? Maybe I should find another designer."

Imagine a client’s perspective if they saw this on your website.

Here is my three-step process.

Step 1) I take the time to get to know you and your business.

Step 2) This is where the magic happens as I develop the perfect logo for your business.

Step 3) I present you with the best concepts for you to choose from. Don’t worry. You’ll be allowed to suggest minor adjustments to tweak the logo until you’re 100$ satisfied.

Now, this a client can understand. All the other information is redundant or can be relayed once the person becomes an actual client.

Presentation and mockups.

If you are not using mockups in your presentation, you are doing yourself and your clients a disservice. I can tell you from experience that mockups make a massive difference in a client’s decision-making process.

Many clients are not visual thinkers like designers are. Their creativity isn’t honed like ours to imagine how things will look in different situations. A logo presented on a white background doesn’t have the same effect as a logo shown on a storefront, a shirt or a vehicle.

A tri-fold brochure displayed flat may look good. But it doesn’t have the same oomph as a mockup showing what it looks like when partially folded.

I’ve had several clients over the years tell me they were hesitant about a logo design I presented until they saw the mockups. Once they saw the logo “in action,” they saw its full potential. That’s because clients often can’t picture it on their own. Asking them to imagine the logo on the side of a delivery van is nowhere near the same as showing them the logo on a delivery van.

When you prepare your presentations, thinking like a client can help you close more deals.

Showing confidence, a client's perspective.

You know the way you can sometimes tell when a person isn’t sure of themself. It’s offputting. Try to think about how you come across when dealing with clients. From the client's point of view, do you show confidence?

Think about it. As you’re pitching yourself to a potential client, They’re looking at you and considering whether or not you’re someone they want to work with. And that decision may have nothing to do with your actual pitch. From the client’s point of view, they want to see someone who shows confidence in themself and their ability to do the work.

You want every encounter with a potential client to end with the prospect thinking, “This is someone I want to work with.”

Let’s talk pricing from a client's perspective.

Once again, thinking from a client’s point of view. Are your prices too high or too low? Is a client willing to invest in you? There’s no right or wrong answer regarding how you price yourself. It comes down to the type of client you want to work with.

Think of it this way. Let’s say you’re in the mood to go out for a steak dinner. You can find a restaurant that serves a $20 steak. Or, you can go somewhere else and get a $200 steak. What’s the difference? The difference is how much you’re willing to spend on a steak.

People who opt for the $20 steak might never consider spending $200 for a similar meal. However, some people regularly go out for $200 steaks and would never consider a $20 cut of meat.

Now for all we know, both steaks came from the same cow. But that’s beside the point. The person who opts to spend $20 on a steak and the person who opts to pay $200 have two different mindsets. Neither is right or wrong in their decision. It’s just the way they are.

The same thing applies to design clients. Thinking again from their perspective. Most clients who consider Fiverr a good place to get designs made would probably never consider paying thousands of dollars for a freelancer. And there are just as many clients who are willing to spend thousands of dollars which would never consider ordering from a cheap designer.

So who are you marketing to? Do you want low-paying clients to say you’re their person? Or do you want high-paying clients to think you’re the perfect designer for them? Figure that out, and then target yourself to go after that group of clients. In this case, thinking like a client can help you land the clients you want.

I could go on and on about how thinking like a client can benefit you. But I think you get the idea. Most clients are not designers. They don’t think like designers, nor do they see the world around us the same way designers do. Don’t let that become a gap between you and them.

Before everything you do, ask yourself, “How would a client experience this?” And if you’re successful at doing this. There’s no reason why your design business shouldn’t be successful either.

May 2, 2022

Ask any designer, and they’ll tell you that their number one way of landing new design clients is through word-of-mouth referrals.

If you do an excellent job on a client’s project, there’s a good chance they’ll pass your name along should they hear of someone requiring services you offer. I’ve built my entire business on this model. And chances are, so have you.

But does that mean you should only rely on word-of-mouth referrals? No, it doesn’t.

Are you familiar with the term diversify? In short, it means “using different options.” Such as “you should diversify your investments,” meaning you should have multiple investments. If one of them isn’t doing well, your other assets can help make up for it.

Diversification can also apply to your income stream. If all your work comes from one client, and that client suddenly has financial difficulty and stops sending work your way, you’ll be in trouble. That’s why it’s best to have multiple clients. If one stops sending you projects, you can still make a living from the rest.

But I want to talk about diversity concerning how you obtain new clients. As I said, word-of-mouth is the most popular method in our field. But word-of-mouth has limits. That’s why you shouldn’t rely solely on it for your clients.

This is how word-of-mouth works.

Imagine a tree. The tree trunk s one client. You design a project for this one client. They may refer someone else to you via word-of-mouth if they like what you did. That someone else is now a limb on that tree.

Again, you do a good job, and that someone else, the limb, tells another person about you. That new person becomes a branch on your tree, and so on. Every limb and every branch can trace itself back to the trunk, the first client.

Now you have a big tree of clients, all somehow connected back to that initial client. And that’s great. But there’s more than one tree in a forest. This means many people could use your services but have zero connection to anyone in your tree of clients. And if they have zero connection to your existing clients, they’ll never hear about you through word-of-mouth. That’s why you should diversify how or where you find clients. Because every client you land that isn’t connected to your other clients starts a new tree for you.

Now there are many resources available on how to find clients. Searching the phrase “How to find graphic design clients” will produce more than 247,000,000 results. Have fun reading through all of them.

But today, I want to share six unconventional ways you can find design clients.

And just a note, I’ve successfully landed new clients using 5 out of 6 of these methods. And it’s not because one didn’t work. I just never tried it myself, but I know others who have. Also, note that some of these methods may require a small investment.

So let’s get started.

Placing business cards in books.

Leaving your business card in a book is a great way to introduce yourself to someone who may not know you.

Look at your local library or book store for books on starting a business and insert your business card. If there happens to be a chapter on branding or marketing, place your card there. Should someone read the book, they’ll come across your card at the point in the book where they’re learning about the type of services you offer.

This method worked for me recently. A client contacted me saying, “I found your business card in a book I bought.”

BTW, you could leave a business card as I did. Or, if you want to get more creative, you can have a special card made for just this purpose. Imagine someone reading a “How to start a business" book and coming across a card that reads, “Are you thinking of starting a business? I would love to help you with your website.

Join a board of directors or committee.

As I mentioned above, some of these methods require an investment on your part. This one isn’t financial. It’s time.

We all know that networking is one of the best ways to become known for what you offer. After all, if someone doesn’t know about you, there’s very little chance they’ll hire you.

But networking doesn’t have to be just at conferences or special events. You could join a local board of directors or a committee for an organization.

What’s good about this is you’re not just meeting people once. You regularly interact with people when you’re on a board or committee. This gives them a chance to get to know you. These relationships make it very easy for someone to consider you when they need a designer.

Don’t do this with the mindset of landing clients. If you're going to invest your time, it should be with an organization you believe in, even if it doesn't produce any clients.

Advertise your design business on T-shirts.

I’ve talked before about how when I first started my business. I had a T-shirt made with the message “Hi, I'm a website designer. Is your site working for you?” on the back. I wore this shirt to local events and trade shows. It landed me several new clients.

But wearing a T-shirt advertising your services isn’t what I wanted to talk about today. Over the years, I’ve designed T-shirts for various organizations, events and festivals in our area.

Not only do I design the image for the shirts, but I broker the screen printing as well.

Whenever I give a client a quote for a T-shirt project, I offer them two prices. A regular price and a discounted price if they allow me to put my name and logo on the back of the shirt.

If it’s for an event and they want a list of sponsors on the back, I’ll ask to have my name and logo on the sleeve instead. Most clients jump at this opportunity to save money. And since I’m brokering the deal, I make sure I’m still making a profit either way.

I’ve had my name and logo on shirts for sporting events, festivals, concerts, charity events, etc. Each of them is an opportunity for someone to find out about my business. And over the years, it's brought in new clients.

Sponsor your kid’s activities.

Another option to get your name out there is sponsoring your kid’s activities. If you don’t have kids, you can still reach out to local youth groups or leagues and inquire if you can help them.

Growing up, my daughter played competitive soccer and volleyball and danced on a competitive dance team. I found a way to advertise my business with each organization.

For soccer and volleyball, I approached the teams with a fundraiser idea. I created a T-shirt not for the athletes but for the parents, grandparents, friends and siblings who watch the game from the sidelines. I designed a graphic with the team name and “Sideline Support” on the front. On the back, I put my business info.

My daughter's team sold the shirts to family and friends of every team in the league. And all proceeds went to my daughter’s team.

For the dance team, my daughter was on. I offered to design their yearly dance recital t-shirt in exchange for a full-page ad in the recital program. I’ve had several clients discover me through that ad.

Advertise your design business on your vehicle.

Another way to get your name out there is simply by putting your information on your vehicle. Vinyl letters, a wrap or even a car magnet, create a moving billboard advertising your services.

This is the method I haven’t tried myself. But I know a few designers who have their business information on their vehicles, and they’ve told me it brings in many leads.

Include an ad for your design business in any proposal involving ads.

You’ll get to work on projects that involve ads from time to time. Maybe you’re asked to design a magazine. Or a program for a local event. It might be a sponsor board or a t-shirt with sponsor logos. Maybe a website client wants you to incorporate space for ads on their new site.

Whatever the project is, always ask for one ad spot to be reserved for you as part of the proposal. If it's a sponsor board, request to include your logo as a sponsor. Try to have your ad or logo on everything you can whenever possible.

There's more than just word-of-mouth.

Word-of-mouth is, and will always remain, the best way for you to land new design clients. But it shouldn’t be your only way. Try as many of these unconventional ways to land design clients as you can. Who knows what will happen. After all, people aren’t going to hire you if they don’t know who you are.

The more you diversify how you find clients, the more trees you'll have in your forest.

Apr 18, 2022

Let me ask you something. How confident would you be buying a meal from a food truck that is so rusted and smoke-stained that you can’t make out its name on the side? Or how confident would you be staying at a motel where the paint was peeling off the doors, siding was missing on the building, and duct tape held the cracked windows together? Or how confident would you be buying a car from an auto dealer whose windows were so dirty you couldn’t see through them and whose sign was missing a couple of letters?

I bet your confidence wouldn’t be very high in those situations.

How do you think a client would feel if they came across a website that contains errors while looking for a designer? I bet they wouldn’t feel too confident in hiring that person. That’s what I want to talk about today, making sure your messaging doesn’t contain errors.

Let me give you a bit of background here. I decided to talk about this today because someone sent me a message earlier this week.

Now, if you’ve ever contacted me for whatever reason, there’s a good chance I looked at your website. It’s just something I do. Any time someone emails me or contacts me on social media, I’ll try to find their website to see how they present themself.

So, someone sent me a message earlier this week, and when I found their website, the first thing I saw was a spelling mistake. The very first line of the website was “I Designs Websites.”

Other places on the website included passages that lead me to believe this person is not a native English speaker. But I’ll touch more on that later.

And even though it was a beautifully designed website, and this person had a fantastic portfolio, those spelling and grammar mistakes made me question the quality of this person’s work.

Now imagine I was a client looking for someone to build a website for my new business. Those errors may be enough to make me second guess this person and move on to another web designer.

Be careful with jargon.

But it’s not just spelling or grammatical errors that can hinder your chance of landing clients.

Another section of this same website described their services and how they work. They mention that the first thing they do is build a wireframe to show the client before making their website using WordPress. Elsewhere on the site, it said their web hosting includes a CDN. You probably understand what I just said if you're familiar with websites.

Imagine a client with no knowledge of websites other than knowing their business needs one. “Wireframe,” “WordPress,” and “CDN” don’t mean anything to them. Reading these things may cause them more confusion, which may make them look elsewhere for a web designer.

I talked about Jargon in episode 217 of the podcast. Jargon is common terminology in specific industries but maybe not so common outside of them.

I’m a web designer, and I remember wondering what wireframes were the first time I heard someone use that term. It wasn’t until I understood what a wireframe was that the word became part of my vocabulary.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t use these jargon terms in your communication. But if you do, you should add some clarity for anyone unfamiliar with them.

For example:

“We start by building a wireframe, a mockup layout of your website for you to approve before we start building the real thing in WordPress, a popular website platform, powering over 60% of the world’s websites.”

“Our web hosting includes a CDN, a content delivery network that improves the efficiency and speed of your website and helps you rank higher in search engines.”

Even if a client doesn’t recognize the jargon, they can still understand what you’re saying because of the descriptions.

A designer's job is communication.

As designers, people think our job is to make things look good. And in part, it is. But more importantly, a designer’s job is to ensure a message is told clearly and understandably.

Design is about communication. And if the communicated message is confusing, then the person, company or organization behind that message will appear less competent.

But what can you do?

The first suggestion I have is simple. Spell and grammar check your work. A spell and grammar checker can help eliminate most problems, but only to an extent. They can identify misspelled words but are not as good at finding incorrect or better words. For that, I use a tool called Grammarly.

I’ve been using Grammarly for years. Not only does it find spelling and grammar errors, but it helps improve my writing by suggesting alternatives. It helps me be a better writer by making me sound better. It’s well worth the small price.

Be wary of mistakes in headlines.

I read a report that said there were more errors per capita in newspaper headlines than in the body copy. It said that, on average, there was one error for every 1000 words of body copy compared to four errors for every 1000 words of headline copy.

Most people don’t read headlines; they skim them—even the proofreaders whose job it is to find errors.

Don't only rely on spell checkers.

The other thing about spell checkers is they won’t help you identify jargon. For that, you need to have someone else read over your text and tell you if there are problem areas.

We do this all the time in the Resourceful Designer Community. People share their work, and others point out any problem areas they detect. Then the designer can choose whether or not to make a change.

Having someone else read your work is especially important for anyone where English isn’t their first language. This is probably the case with the website I looked at this week. The person wrote the copy themself to the best of their ability, but the fact that they are not native English speakers is evident. And this may turn away potential clients.

The more precise and accurate your writing, the more professional you’ll sound, and the more willing clients will be to work with you.

Different dialects for different regions.

And it goes beyond just language. Regional dialects also come into play. For example, if you’re targetting clients in North America, you may say something such as. “I design custom logos.” However, if you’re targetting clients in Europe, you may want to write “I design bespoke logos.” Both words mean the same thing, but “Custom” is more common in North America, whereas “Bespoke” is used more often in European countries.

Colour is another example. You’re going to spell it c-o-l-o-r if you're talking to Americans and c-o-l-o-u-r for most other parts of the world.

I’m in Canada. And any time I’m looking for a printer or supplier, I’ll take note of the spelling on their website. If I see "color," I’ll know it’s an American company, and I may continue my search to find someone in Canada.

Make it count.

You only get one chance to make a first impression. And if you fail at that first chance because of poor writing, there’s not much you can do to regain someone’s trust. So I suggest you take some time and closely go over your website and other marketing material. Or have someone else do it for you. Identify any problem areas or areas that could be improved and make changes.

The better you sound, the more professional you’ll appear, and the better the chances are that a potential client will hire you. Don’t lose out because of poor writing.

Apr 4, 2022

The local tourism board where I live, a client of mine, in partnership with one of the local newspapers, produces a 72-page visitor guide every year for people visiting the area. The tourism director hired me to design a countertop display stand for these guides that they will place in various stores and businesses in the region.

These visitor guides are an odd size. So I started researching companies that produce custom cardboard countertop display stands. And let me tell you, I was super impressed with one company I contacted.

While browsing their website to see if they offer what I need, a chat bubble popped up saying, “Hi, I’m Frank. I’m available right now if you need to chat about anything.” I took Frank up on his offer and asked what my best option was for the display stand I needed. He replied by requesting my phone number and asking if it was ok for him to call me, as it would be easier to discuss my needs over the phone. I agreed, and I was on the phone with him a minute later.

Frank listened to what I needed, made a few suggestions and said he would email me a price by the end of the day. In my opinion, Frank and his company went above and beyond to impress me, a potential new client.

But it didn’t end there. Within a couple of minutes of hanging up the phone, I received a welcome email from Frank thanking me for agreeing to talk to him. In the email, he briefly outlined what we had discussed. And he attached an intro packet outlining the company for me to read. This intro packet upped my impression of the company tenfold.

A couple of hours later, I received another phone call from Frank. He tells me he just emailed me the quote and asked if I have time to go over it with him.

At this point, I felt like royalty. I was so impressed with the way they were treating me. I had never heard of this company before, and now I couldn’t wait to tell everyone about them.

Frank walked me through the various charges involved with my project, such as the price for a custom die, among other things. But when we finally reached the cost per unit, it was higher than I had hoped. Not overly so, but still more than I wanted to pay for them.

When he asked me what I thought, I hesitated for a moment. And that’s when Frank goofed up.

Offer excellent customer service.

Before I get to what Frank said, I want to emphasize the importance of excellent customer service and how it affects you and your design business.

You may think of yourself as a designer, but designing is a small portion of what you do if you’re running your own design business. And it might not even be the most critical portion.

If you’re working for yourself, your most important skill is the ability to sell yourself.

Running your own design business requires you to be a good salesperson. Every client who agrees to work with you does so because you successfully sold them on you and your ability to do the job. They agreed to your price, had confidence in your skills, and trusted you to complete their project because you sold them on these things.

This ability to sell goes way beyond the monetary aspect and is part of every interaction you have. It’s what makes people like and what to work with you. Sometimes, even despite the price. If you lack this ability to sell yourself, you will be hard-pressed to find clients.

I’ve said it many times before. Clients would prefer to work with a good designer they like, then work with an amazing designer they don’t like. And it all comes down to your ability to sell yourself.

What you should never do.

Anyway, back to Frank. So as I said, the price per unit he quoted me was a bit higher than I hoped. And Frank sensed my hesitancy. And what he said next changed my impression of this company.

When Frank sensed my hesitation, he told me, “Don’t worry. All prices are negotiable.” And at that point, the pedestal I had placed this company on crumbled.

Frank had presented me with a reasonable price for what I needed, although higher than expected. But now he was telling me that price was negotiable. In other words, he was admitting that his company could do the job for less.

So I asked him about it. My response was something like, “Are you telling me that the price you’re showing me is not the best price you could have given me for this job? That you inflated your quote hoping that I would be gullible enough to agree to it?”

Frank quickly went on the defensive, saying no, this is how much the job costs. However, if I wanted to negotiate, he would hear me out.

I replied, “You’re telling me that you would consider lowering the cost if I negotiated with you. That tells me that this price isn’t really what this job costs and that you could easily do it for less. Otherwise, why tell me the price is negotiable? And even if you agree to take 5, 10 or 15 percent off the price, I will still wonder if you’re conning me, and I could have gotten it for even less.”

At this point, I thanked Frank for the quote, told him I would get back to him if I had any questions and then ended the call. All the fantastic work this company did to win me over as a client went down the drain.

What’s the big deal about negotiating price?

You may be wondering, what’s the big deal? People negotiate prices all the time. This is true. In fact, I love haggling over prices. It’s a skill I learned from my mother, and it drives my wife crazy when I ask for a discount or rebate from anyone.

The way I see it is there’s no harm in asking for a lower price. If they say no, I can still purchase whatever it is at the displayed price. And if they agree, I feel good about my actions because I got a better deal.

But this situation is different. I wouldn’t be upset if I were the one who had asked if the prices were negotiable and Frank had said yes. But the fact that he presented me with the price and immediately told me they were negotiable means he didn’t have my best interest in mind. Frank was trying to get the most out of me he could. And when I showed hesitation on the price, he tried to save the sale by offering to negotiate. This company that I thought was so amazing now makes me wonder if I should consider working with them.

Your prices are non-negotiable.

But what does all of this have to do with you and your design business?

You don’t want people to think you’re taking advantage of them. But any time you offer a discount or agree to lower a price, that’s precisely what you are doing.

If you lower your price just one time, that client will forever question any future price you give them. They’ll always wonder if you’re trying to take advantage of them. And even if you provide them with another discount in the future, they’ll wonder if it’s the best discount, or could you have offered more?

Think about anything you’ve ever bought on sale. In your mind, if you purchase a $399 item on sale for $249, is it worth the sale price you paid for it or is it worth the original price? Most people feel the sale price is its actual value.

You never want your clients to think your services are not worth as much as you charge because you offered a discount.

Let’s use hourly rates, for example. If you usually charge $100/hr and offer a client a discount of $70 per hour. They’ll feel resentful should you ever charge them your standard rate in the future because they’ll know you can do it for less.

When are discounts ok?

This is not to say that you should never offer discounts. There are times when lowering your prices is in your best interest.

Pro-bono work

Pro-bono work is an obvious example. Offering free or discounted work for a charity or non-profit you believe in doesn’t diminish your perceived value. I highly suggest you invoice the charity for your services showing the total price with an applied 100% discount.

Or better yet, and this is what I do, I charge the charity the total price for the project. And agree to donate the entire amount back to them after they’ve paid. This way, they get to claim the project as a business expense since they’re paying for the work, and you get a tax receipt for the donation you make back to them.

An added benefit of invoicing for your charity work is that should staff at the charity change; any future person will know the value of what you provided them because of the invoice.

Friends and family

Friends and family are also acceptable recipients of discounts. Doing something for a friend at a discounted rate or even for free shows them you care. Again, let them know the total price and that you’re discounting it.

My rule of thumb for family and friends is to offer more significant discounts for personal work. Offer smaller discounts for businesses they own. And no discount for companies they work for or if they own it with a partner. I don’t mind cutting a deal for someone I care about, but there’s no reason for collateral people to get a discount because of them.

Retainer agreements

And, of course, discounts are a significant selling factor with retainer agreements, where you presell your time or deliverables at a discounted rate in exchange for guaranteed monthly income.

Other than these three scenarios, charity work, friends and family and retainers. There’s no reason for you to offer a discount.

What if a client questions your price?

What do you do in a situation where a client questions your prices or asks if they can get a discount? This scenario is bound to happen to you at some point. You give a client a fee, and they ask if there’s any way you can do the job for less?

First things first, your price is never wrong. You chose whatever price you presented because you believe that’s how much the project is worth. If you thought to yourself, “there’s no way anyone would pay this much.” you would never present that price. So stick to it. Tell the client you’re sorry they feel that way, but that’s the price for what they’re asking of you.

However, if you think you may lose the client, offer to negotiate. Never on price. Instead, negotiate the scope of the project.

Offer to cut out parts of the project to lower their cost. On a website, for example, Instead of every offered service having a landing page, offer to create one “Services” page that lists everything they do. This makes less work for you and can shave off a bit of the price.

If it’s a printed booklet you’re designing, You could suggest they reduce the number of pages to bring the price down on both design and printing. Or suggest they have it saddle-stitched instead of perfect bound.

Anything you can do to reduce the scope of a project will, in turn, lower the price, which may help the client with their decision. And, it doesn’t compromise the value you bring to them.

By showing clients how much they can save by eliminating options, they learn the value of those options and feel less conflicted about paying for them.

My personal experience is that most of the time, the client will appreciate the effort but decide to stick to the full scope at the price you originally quoted.

Think of it in terms of buying a new car. How would you feel if the dealer said they could offer you the same make and model vehicle at a lower price, but it won’t have air conditioning? The original price won’t seem as bad anymore if you want air conditioning.

So allow your client to lower the price by reducing options on their project. If they accept the lower price, you’re still getting paid for your work at the price you deserve. And if you’re lucky, they’ll decide they don’t want to lose those options and choose to pay your original cost to keep them.

What if you can’t reduce the scope of the project?

For projects such as logo design, where you can’t reduce the project’s scope, I suggest using the three-tiered pricing system. Offering three different price options, each with an expanded scope gives clients a choice and minimizes their chances of going elsewhere.

You must be ok with losing clients.

I must point out that you have to be prepared to lose clients. There’s always the possibility that the client doesn’t like your price, and instead of asking for ways to lower it, they decide to go elsewhere. And you know what, that’s ok. Any client that doesn’t see the value in what you do isn’t worth having as a client.

Again, think of cars. Many people buy Toyota Corollas, while others prefer to drive a Mercedes-Benz. Some design clients can afford your services, while many can’t. It’s up to you to focus your energy on those who can.

One last tip on clients who think you’re too expensive.

If a client ever tells you your price is too expensive, you may want to respond like this.

“I’m sorry you feel that way. I understand that for some people my prices may seem high. But I assure you, I charge what I’m worth, and I have many repeat clients who are very happy paying for the services I provide them.

I know, that hiring a designer is a big investment. And not everyone can afford my prices. No hard feelings if you would prefer to find a less expensive designer.”

You’d be surprised when you answer in this manner how many people will decide to work with you anyway.

All of this to say, your prices are non-negotiable. You deserve every cent you charge and more. So never compromise your principles or values just because a client is hesitant about the price you present them. It’s your business, after all, and you know what you’re worth much more than they do.

Mar 28, 2022

I had a conversation recently with fellow designers over how we refer to ourselves. This conversation started when one designer asked another why they referred to themselves as a freelancer? We then talked about the impression and stereotypes associated with the word freelancer. In the end, the designer acknowledged that it was in their best interest not to use the term freelancer anymore when referring to themself. And it would be best if you did the same. Stop calling yourself a freelancer.

Why you should stop calling yourself a freelancer.

There’s a stigma associated with the term Freelance or Freelancer. In episode 17 of the Resourceful Designer podcast, I discussed how calling yourself a freelance graphic designer could hurt your business. I shared a story of when a company approached me for an in-house position. I turned them down, but I shared the name of a designer I knew would be perfect for the job.

The company’s CEO later told me the designer I told them about had all the right qualifications. However, The title she used on her resume was Freelance Graphic Designer, and they were looking for someone more serious than that for the position.

She didn’t get the job because she listed herself as a freelancer. I know it’s crazy, but it’s true.

You see, the term freelancer is popular among designers. When I was in school, my classmates and I talked about how great it would be to be a freelancer. But outside of our sphere of peers in the design industry, the term freelancer is not as familiar. Or maybe I should say it’s not as “prestigious” as we like to think it is.

The term freelancer is akin to being quick and cheap, which reminds me of episode 71 of the podcast Good Design, Quick Design, Cheap Design. Pick Two. For many business people, freelancers are people you hire if you want something done fast and for a reasonable price, not necessarily if you want something designed well.

For this reason, I tell designers who work for themselves to stop calling themselves freelance designers and instead say they run a design business. Even if you only do it as a side gig.

In an article titled Stop Calling Yourself A Freelancer, author Andrew Holliday says that a company commands more respect than freelancers. And that freelancers are perceived as commodities. Meaning they’re interchangeable.

If you need a quick design job, hire a freelancer. In the future should you require more design work, you could hire the same freelancer, or you can hire someone else. It doesn’t matter because freelancers are interchangeable. Anyone will do. And usually, the cheaper, the better.

Hiring a freelancer is kind of like purchasing fuel for your vehicle. You know that all gas or petrol stations are basically the same, so you pick and choose where to fill up based on price. That’s how many business owners perceive freelancers–as commodities.

However, if you want a partner to help you develop your brand and marketing assets, someone you can work with long-term, then hire a design company, even if that design company is just one person.

Holliday made another interesting point in his article that freelancers often fight for hourly work. Whereas companies typically get paid by the project. And therefore, your earning potential is much higher if you refer to yourself as a business owner and not a freelancer.

But don’t take his or my word on it. Earlier this week, I posted a poll in a large entrepreneur community where I’m a member. It’s a community made up mostly of solopreneurs to mid-size business owners. In other words, the type of people you want as design clients.

Here’s what I asked.

Who would you prefer to hire for design work:

A: A graphic designer who runs their own design business?

B: A freelance graphic designer?

I know. It’s a trick question since both answers are the same, but I wanted to see what people would say.

Two hundred four people responded. 176 (86%) chose A: A graphic designer who runs their own design business. Compared to only 28 (14%) who chose B: A freelance graphic designer.

What’s even more interesting are the comments on my poll.

Aren’t they the same thing? But if I had to choose I would pick A. It sounds more professional.

I would hire a freelance graphic designer. I’m just starting out and don’t have a large budget and option A sounds more expensive to me.

If I knew exactly what I wanted and just needed someone to implement it for me I would choose B. If I needed someone to help me develop new ideas I would choose A.

Isn’t hiring a freelancer kind of like hiring an employee who doesn’t actually work for you, so it’s less paperwork?

I think the difference between the two is confidence and trust. I could trust that a design business owner is competent and knows what they are doing because they took the time to start a business. I know they’ll be around for a long time should I need them again in the future. I wouldn’t feel the same way about hiring a freelance graphic designer.

I have a background in design, and I choose A. Most freelancers I know are only doing it until they can find a full-time job.

And there were many other comments just like these. And they all came to a similar conclusion. If you want someone cheap, someone you can tell what to do, and you’re not interested in building a working relationship with them, then hire a freelancer.

However, if you want someone knowledgeable, someone who can help you solve the problems you’re facing, and someone reliable who will be around for a long time, hire a designer who runs a design business.

I think these people make my point for me. Stop calling yourself a freelancer.

Let me simplify it.

Let me simplify it by creating another distinction between a design business owner and a freelancer.

If the projects you work on are for someone other than the person or company paying you, you are freelancing.

For example, if an agency contracts you to work on projects for the agency’s clients, you are working as a freelancer. They may or may not have in-house designers, but they need to hire you to fulfill their commitment to their clients.

It doesn’t matter if you work directly with the client or deal with someone at the agency as a go-between. If the end client is not the one paying you, then there’s a good chance you’re freelancing.

However, if a client hires you to do work for them and pays you directly for your services, you are not freelancing. You are running a design business.

Take my Podcast Branding business, for example. Podcasters hire me to design their artwork and websites. That’s not freelancing since the client is paying me. But I’m also the designer for a large podcast agency. This agency sends their clients to me for their podcast artwork. In this case, I’m working as a freelancer for the agency since they pay me to create artwork for their clients.

Another thing to consider is if you charge fixed, project-based or value-based pricing, then you are running a design business. Since freelancers typically charge by the hour.

And finally, If you don’t plan on ever being employed or working for a boss. Then you are running a design business.

It’s up to you.

In the end, you can call yourself whatever you want. It’s your career, after all. But I hope I’ve given you something to ponder.

I know I was surprised by the response I got from the poll. I figured Design Business Owner would prevail over Freelance Designer, but I didn’t know by how much. And if those who responded are the people who represent our ideal design clients, then why not heed what they are saying.

Call yourself a freelancer if you want. But if you take yourself seriously and, more importantly, if you want others to take you seriously, then why not drop that moniker. Stop calling yourself a freelancer.

Mar 21, 2022

On Monday, when I sat down to start my week, I had an email in my inbox from a client giving me their approval to launch their new website. I anticipated this, and the site was live within an hour and a half.

Satisfied with another completed project, I opened Plutio, my project management software of choice, to see what I was to work on next. And what I found was nothing. I had no website projects. I had no podcast cover artwork to design. My to-do list of client work was blank.

I can’t remember the last time this happened. I didn’t even have proofs out with clients that may come back. I had nothing, nil, nada, zip, zilch and whatever other ways I could say it. I had no client work.

It’s now Friday afternoon as I write this, and not a single new project came in this week.

For the first time in over a year, an entire week went by without a single order from my Podcast Branding website. For the first time in an even longer period, I didn’t have a client website on the go.

This lack of work is a situation that many self-employed designers may face. It doesn’t only happen to new designers trying to grow their business. It can happen to anyone at any time.

Maybe it’s how the planets have aligned, or Lady Luck decided to take a vacation. I don’t know, but it happens. It just happened to me. And it can happen to you.

But experiencing a lull like this shouldn’t make you worry. I’ve been in this line of work for a long time, and I can tell you, lulls never last. Give it a little time, and once again, you’ll feel overwhelmed from having too much on your plate.

What to do when facing lulls.

The best way to face lulls is by embracing them. Please take advantage of the time they provide you because it won’t last.

This past week was one of the most productive for me in a while. I had no client work to hold me back, allowing me to accomplish many things.

On Tuesday, my daughter asked if I could build her a website. She has an Etsy store but wants to move off that platform to one of her own. What she wanted was very simple. And there was no rush. She told me I could get to it whenever I had the time.

Well, guess what? I had the time. So I got right to it, and in a matter of hours, I had completed her new eCommerce website. I did say what she wanted was very simple. So it didn’t take long.

And the look on my daughter’s face when I showed it to her that same day was priceless. You got to win those parenting points whenever you can. Am I right?

But that wasn’t all.

I met with a client the week before this. They’re looking for a website redesign and expect a proposal from me.

I have a multi-page website proposal template, which makes submitting proposals very easy. I open the template, update the information about whatever project I’m proposing, save it as a PDF file and send it to the client. Easy peasy. I’ve been using this template for a few years now, and it was getting a bit dated. But I never had the time to update it until now.

It would typically take me 20 to 30 minutes to complete a proposal like this one. Instead, I devoted a couple of hours to redesigning my proposal template before sending it to the client. I’ve been thinking of redesigning it for a long time, and because of this lull, I was able to scratch it off my to-do list.

I also had the opportunity to look at my Podcast Branding website and make many minor changes. I changed some wording here and there and updated a few of the images on the site. I also decided to eliminate one service I wasn’t keen on doing anymore. And I added some clarification to the other services to increase conversion.

I closed many of the browser tabs I had opened by reading articles I was “saving for later” or watching tutorial videos for various things. And I didn’t feel guilty about any of it because I wasn’t taking time away from client work. After all, I didn’t have any.

And of course, I did take the time to reach out to several old clients that I haven’t heard from in a while, to get in touch and let them know I’m still here should they need me.

Every day this week, I worked from 9-5, and I wasted none of that time even though I had no client work. I didn’t feel self-pity or down in the dumps. Because I knew this lull wouldn’t last, and I wanted to take advantage of every minute of it.

We often put off working on our own business. And then we forget about it when we have a bit of time we could devote.

I usually say you should treat your own business as a client and block off time to work on it. But a lull is the perfect opportunity to get as much of it done as possible.

It helps if you have recurring revenue.

I would feel much worse if I didn’t have recurring revenue streams in this situation. In episode 216 of the podcast, I talked about offering website maintenance to earn extra income. This service provides peace of mind for my clients since they don’t have to worry about the security or maintenance of their websites. If they have a blog or podcast, all they have to do is publish new posts or episodes, and I do everything else.

I have a virtual assistant who handles the weekly maintenance for me, so other than checking in once per month; I only need to get involved when there’s an issue. And to be honest, that rarely happens, thanks to the many preventative measures I have in place. But this also means that even though I had no client work this week, money was still flowing into my bank account.

Retainers are another form of recurring revenue that could help you get through lulls. I don’t currently have any retainer clients, but it will help you get through slow times if you do. Check out episode 32 and episode 255 to learn more about retainer agreements.

Lulls are a normal part of running a design business.

Lulls will happen. In your early years, you may experience them more often. As your reputation grows and you gain more and more clients, you’ll experience fewer lulls. But that doesn’t mean you’ll never experience any. I hope you don’t. But that’s the reality of our industry–There’s no guarantee of steady work or income.

But in my opinion, that trade-off is worth it so that you and I can do what it is we love doing, designing.

So the next time things slow down, remember these five things.

  1. Lulls offer an excellent opportunity to reconnect with past clients
  2. They allow you to work on what you’ve neglected in your business.
  3. They allow you to catch up on the many to-do items you keep putting off.
  4. They give you the time to improve your design and business skills.
  5. And most importantly, remember that lulls don’t last. So please take advantage of them when they present themselves.

Just because there’s no client work doesn’t mean you should stop working.

Mar 14, 2022

Don’t you hate that feeling when you can’t find what you’re looking for? It could be anything. You can’t find your wallet or your car keys. Have you misplaced your phone? Maybe it’s that scrap of paper you scribbled that critical information on that you can’t find.

Regardless of whatever it is you can’t locate, you’re left with an empty feeling inside—a feeling of unfulfillment.

A similar feeling occurs when you land on a website only to see those three words – No Results Found.

It’s so frustrating. Maybe you clicked a link in an article you were reading, anticipating a solution to a problem you’re facing, only to be disappointed by where it brought you. Perhaps you used the search field on a website hoping to find something only to come up short. Or it could happen while navigating a website, and you have no idea how you got there.

Regardless of the circumstances, you’ve landed on the dreaded 404 page. A page that mocks you with those three words – No Results Found. It might as well say - ha, ha, you lose, we don’t have what you’re looking for. It’s so frustrating.

Then what do you do? Do you go back and click the link again, hoping that you get better results this time around? Do you randomly start clicking around, hoping to stumble upon what you were looking for? Or, do you shrug your shoulders in defeat and close the page, or go looking elsewhere for your answer?

It doesn’t matter when or why. Landing on a No Results Found page is never fun unless the person who designed the website makes it fun for you.

You can customize the 404 page.

The 404 page is something that every website in the world has, whether the site owner knows it or not. And it’s a page that’s landed on more often than you would think. And yet, very few websites take advantage of this “popular” page. And you should take advantage of it. Whether it’s your website or sites you create for your clients.

You may or may not know this, but you can customize the 404 page on a website. If you’re a Divi user, it’s as easy as creating a new page layout in the Divi theme builder and assigning it to the 404 page. That’s how I do it for the sites I build.

Other WordPress themes and builders, as well as platforms such as Squarespace Wix, Weebly, etc., should allow you to do so as well. If not, you can install plugins that will enable you to edit the 404 page.

Why should you customize the 404 page?

But what’s the point, you may ask? The fact is, the default 404 page is a stepping-off point for some visitors. When someone arrives at the No Results Found page, it’s a signal for them to leave the site. And no website owner ever wants visitors to leave their site unsatisfied.

But if you customize the 404 page, you can improve visitor retention by giving them something to do other than leaving the page. And this goes for your website too. Do you want visitors to your site who happen to stumble upon your 404 page to leave? Of course, you don’t. So give them an incentive to stay.

Look at the Resourceful Designer 404 page, for example. I’ve designed the 404 page to capture visitors’ interest in the site.

Upon landing on the 404 page, the first thing they see is a whimsical “Oops” image. Followed by the heading: “Looks like someone forgot to proofread.” The paragraph below says, “The page you are looking for is nowhere to be found. Not to worry, there are plenty of other great pages for you to see. Here are some popular posts that may interest you.”

A list follows, showing three popular podcast episodes and three blog posts that may interest visitors to the site. I also ask them if they want a copy of my Four Week Marketing Boost and provide a way to acquire it.

So even though someone arrived on this page because the content they were looking for isn’t available, they still have something to engage with. And you know what? It works. I track where people sign up for my Four Week Marketing Boost, and many of them came from my 404 page.

I made it a bit simpler on my Podcast Branding website. The page shows an image of a man, seen from behind, scratching his head in confusion. The heading reads, “Uh oh!” followed by “I don’t think this is what you were looking for, was it? No worries, if you’re starting a podcast or you’re looking for help with your show’s visual branding, you’re in the right place, just not the right page. Why don’t you click this button to see how Podcast Branding can help you?” Then, a button labelled “LEARN MORE” takes them to the home page. It’s simple, and it works.

Do you get my point? You can make the 404-page look however you want. The point is to give visitors something to do instead of simply leaving the site.

I like to have fun with these pages by making them whimsical. I put a photo of an older woman holding her hand up to her ear on a hearing aid website as if she couldn’t hear. The heading reads, “Say that again, I didn’t quite catch it.” Followed by a search field.

On a tech and electronics site, I wrote, “It looks like we have a broken circuit.” and provided a few links visitors could click.

Give visitors something to do other than leave the site.

Visitors are already frustrated when they land on a 404 page since they’re not finding what they wanted, so why not inject a bit of fun and give them something to do.

If you don’t customize the 404 page on your or your client’s websites, you’re doing the site visitors a disservice. Create something that will engage them, and make them want to stay on the site. After all, isn’t that why you built the site in the first place?

Did you customize your 404 page?

Show it to us by leaving a link in the comments for this episode.

Mar 7, 2022

Wants and needs. What an interesting juxtaposition.

I want a new sword for my collection. But I don’t need another sword. I want a cheeseburger and poutine for supper. But I don’t need all that fat or those calories. I want enough money to do whatever I want in life. However, I only need to make enough money to cover my expenses.

Wants and needs. They govern a lot of our decisions, don’t they?

Your clients’ wants and needs.

What about you and your design business? How do wants and needs factor into what you do for your clients?

As a design business owner, your goal is to make money. After all, a business that doesn’t make money doesn’t remain a business for very long. Sure, it’s great to do some pro-bono work from time to time, but I don’t know of any designer who cherishes working for free. No, you want to make money so that you can pay your bills, support your family, take vacations, and perhaps indulge yourself from time to time.

To make money, you need to charge your clients for the services you offer. And the more clients you have and the more design work you do, the more money you earn.

As a design business owner, it can be tempting to simply give clients what they want in order to make a sale. Like when a client comes to you with an idea in mind and asks if you can design it for them. You know you can, and it would be easy money. And so many designers across the globe work this way. They do exactly what the client wants.

But the problem is, clients don’t always know what they want, or what they think they want isn’t the best option because they don’t know any alternatives.

Adopting this strategy of doing what your client wants is not conducive to growing a successful design business. You may get work. Maybe even lucrative work. But your business will eventually reach a cap if all you ever do is what your clients ask you to do.

To be successful, you need to figure out how to deliver what your clients need, not just what they want.

How do wants differ from needs?

Now don’t get me wrong. You’ll have clients whose wants and needs are in line with each other—those who are business savvy and understand what is required for their businesses to grow. You’ll enjoy working with those clients because you’ll be able to communicate with them on an even level.

However, many clients don’t understand that their wants and needs may differ.

I find this especially true with newer entrepreneurs–people who have left corporate life to start their own businesses. They’ll often get their ideas from what others are doing and falsely think they’ll experience the same success if they do the same thing. They see someone else grow their business by sending out postcards, so they believe they should send out postcards as well.

That’s not the proper way to think about or grow a business. Giving clients what they want might make them happy in the short term, but they’ll eventually realize that it doesn’t solve whatever problem they’re trying to fix. And clients always come to you, a designer, to fix a problem, whether they know it or not. That’s what we do as designers. We’re problem solvers.

Just doing what a client wants can lead to unfulfilled expectations and frustration on the client’s part. “I spent good money on these postcards; why aren’t they working?” It’s because postcards weren’t what the client needed.

Your job as a designer is not to fulfill your client’s every desire or cater to their every whim; it’s about understanding their needs and addressing them in a way that meets those needs and exceeds their expectations.

When you give your clients what they need, you are helping them achieve their goals and solve their problems. When you manage that, your clients will view you in a whole new light, and they’ll want to work with you more.

Do you ignore what a client wants?

Does this mean you ignore what the client wants? Of course not. The key is to balance what the client wants and what will work best for their business. For example, a client may want you to redesign their website because they’re not getting enough traffic and low sales. They think that getting more traffic to their site will increase sales and solve their problem. When more traffic isn’t the solution, better-qualified traffic is.

Having 1,000 random people visit a website probably won’t increase sales as much as attracting 100 targeted visitors. The client wants more visitors, but what they need is better-targeted visitors. And it’s your job to explain this to them.

My own experience.

One of my clients is a hearing aid clinic. When they first opened and were trying to build up their client list, they wanted to get as much exposure as possible. One of the marketing strategies they wanted to explore was placing ads in local magazines.

The salesperson they contacted at a nearby distributor represented several magazines. He convinced them that they would get the most exposure by placing an ad in a local outdoor life magazine that covered hiking, bicycling, canoe and kayaking, snowshoeing etc. It was a newer magazine with a circulation of over 500,000 copies delivered every month.

He told my client that it was a new magazine, and they were offering special discounted prices on ads. He assured them it was a fantastic once-in-a-lifetime deal to put their name in front of half a million local people. The clinic asked me to design a full-page ad, excited about all the exposure it would give them.

When I received the ad specifications from the distributor, I saw on the sheet that the exact specs were used by other magazines the distributor represented. One of them was a senior living magazine.

For the fun of it, I contacted the distributor, not telling them who I was, and asked for details on placing a full-page ad in the senior living mag. I found out that the distribution for this magazine was 100,000 copies, and the price they quoted me was almost the same price that the hearing aid clinic was paying for their ad in the outdoor life mag.

I then called my client and explained that according to the documentation I received, the outdoor life magazine targeted people ages 18-40 who enjoyed an active outdoor life. The senior living magazine was geared towards people 55 years and older who still want to get the most out of life.

I explained to my client that yes, the senior living mag had a distribution of one-fifth the size of the outdoor magazine, so they wouldn’t be seen by as many people. However, those 100,000 people who received the senior living magazine were probably in or at least approaching the target market of people who require hearing aids. In contrast, most of the outdoor life magazine’s target market won’t be interested in hearing aids for many years to come.

The client wanted me to design an ad for an outdoor life mag, but I convinced them that they needed an ad in the senior living magazine. And they agreed.

And you know what? Within weeks of their ad appearing in that senior living magazine, their phone rang off the hook with new clients saying they saw their ad.

Listen to your client to figure out what they need.

It’s essential to listen to the client and understand what they think they want. This will help you to figure out what they need. Then it’s up to you to explain to them that there’s something else they need that they don’t see.

I had another client who started a subscription box that offered science experiments for kids ages 3-8 years old. It was two moms, and they wanted me to design their marketing material. The sketches and layouts they presented of what they wanted me to create were juvenile. When I asked about them, they said they wanted something that appealed to young children. They had even asked their own kids’ opinions on their sketches.

I asked them how many 3-8 years old could afford to spend their allowance on a monthly subscription box? They looked at me like I was crazy. Then one of the ladies explained that the kids weren’t paying for the subscription box. Their parents are. To which I replied, “Exactly. So why are you marketing to the kids when you should be marketing to the parents?”

Instead of explaining to young children how much fun they’ll have doing these monthly science experiments, they should explain to mothers how their subscription box offers something constructive for kids to do. It’s an educational pastime that doesn’t involve kids looking at a screen. It’s a bonding experience between them and their child. And it will improve the child’s knowledge of science which will help them in school.

You know what? They had never considered marketing to parents and thought it was a brilliant idea. Now imagine if I had simply designed what they originally wanted when they first approached me?

What clients want and what they need are often two different things.

What clients want and what they need are often two different things, especially when it comes to graphic design and website development.

Clients often come to you with an idea of what they want their finished product to look like. They might have images or a style in mind, but that’s usually where their ideas stop. It’s often hard for clients to see the bigger picture.

They may want a flashy website that is all about them, or they see something on another website and want it on theirs, but they may not need all of the bells and whistles.

As designers, we need to interpret what our clients want while still giving them what they need. And often, what clients need is someone like you who can take their vague desires and turn them into a functioning reality.

Sure they want an attractive website, and you can do that, but what they need is a website that functions for their business. This means striking a balance between the two and creating something that meets their wants and needs. It can be a challenge, but it is essential to create a successful final product.

It’s not always easy.

With some clients, this will be easy. With others, it might be more difficult.

Sometimes it’s as simple as suggesting different fonts or colours than they originally had in mind.

I recently designed podcast work for a client and submitted two different ideas. He liked the layout of option one but preferred the font I used in option 2. He asked if I could use the font from option 2 in the first one. I told him no. The font from option two wouldn’t fit the layout of option 1. What he wanted wouldn’t work.

Or you might need to steer a client away from using too many images, making their website too busy or convincing them to eliminate things that don’t help them.

Other times you may need to suggest alternative or innovative ways to accomplish something the client might not have thought about.

A recent website client wanted me to create a page on their site to list all the books they recommend. They wanted a page they could edit whenever they wanted to add a new book. They would add the latest info and format it to look like the rest.

Instead of doing what they wanted, I added custom fields to the website and created a section to enter book information quickly. Now, whenever they want to add a new book, all they have to do is click a “Create Book” button I made for them, fill out a simple form, and the information will automatically show up on the page already formatted.

The client can’t believe how much easier this method is than what they were doing before and has thanked me several times for designing it that way. It wasn’t what they wanted. But I figured it was what they needed. And I was right.

The point is that you need to adapt your designs to fit the client’s needs, not the other way around. That doesn’t mean you never have to do what the client wants, though. It is a compromise. And on some occasions, if you’re lucky, what a client wants and needs turns out to be the same thing.

Conclusion

When you give a client what they need, especially when it’s not something they considered initially, they are more likely to be satisfied with the work you do for them. They’ll appreciate your out-of-the-box thinking. They’ll feel like you took their needs into account and over-delivered.

Remember, good graphic designers and website designers take the time to learn about their clients and what they’re looking for before starting any project. Use your skills and experience to figure out what your client needs and deliver on it. This helps ensure that the client is happy with the final project.

This may be harder for newer designers. Knowing what clients need comes from experience. Often, ideas for new clients come from interaction with past clients. The more you work at this, the easier it will become. At that point, you truly become a problem solver, and not just a “yes person.” meaning someone who simply follows orders. And that opens up a whole new opportunity for your design business.

Remember, your goal as a design business owner is to make money. And when word gets out that you can take what a client wants and turn it into what a client needs, clients will be lining up to work with you, and the money will start flowing in.

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