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Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business

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Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business
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Now displaying: February, 2022
Feb 28, 2022

NDAs or Non-Disclosure Agreements is a very popular topic here on Resourceful Designer. The previous episode I did on NDAs is one of the most searched posts on this site.

I recently had the privilege of talking NDAs with attorney Gordon Firemark. Gordon practices entertainment law in California, the USA, where he helps artists, writers, producers, and directors achieve their dreams in the fields of theatre, film, television and new media.

But what does that have to do with graphic or web design, you might be thinking?

Well, every theatre production, film and movie, television show and other forms of new media such as YouTube and podcasting, at some point require the expertise of a designer. And many times, those designers are brought into the mix long before the entertainment product is ready to go public. And of course, the person hiring said designer wants to protect their intellectual property.

That’s where Non Disclosure Agreements come into play. They help protect their IP by setting the boundaries of what the designer can say or not say about the projects they’re working on for their clients.

To learn more, be sure to listen to the episode. Here are some topics we covered.

  • What is an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement)?
  • Is an NDA a separate contract?
  • In what situation would you be asked to sign an NDA?
  • Are your contractors covered by an NDA you sign?
  • What should you look for in an NDA?
  • What should you look out for in an NDA?
  • What is covered under an NDA?
  • When should an NDA end?
  • Are NDAs negotiable?
  • When is it ok to break an NDA?
  • What are your obligations to materials provided to you under an NDA?
  • When should you ask a client to sign an NDA for you?
  • Is a Non-Complete Agreement the same as an NDA?
Feb 14, 2022

Communication: According to the dictionary, communication is the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs. But that definition doesn’t do it justice. Communication is so much more than that.

Without communication, conflicts could escalate. Governments would collapse. Businesses fail. And loved ones may never get together.

Communication is one of the most crucial reasons for our species survival. I know. I’m getting a bit heavy here. But I want to emphasize the importance of communication.

Your design business will grow or fail based on communication. How you interact with your design clients can drastically impact your success.

But is there a right or wrong way of communicating with your clients? The short answer is no. I don’t believe so. But there may be some ways that are better than others. Better for both you and your client.

Let’s list some ways of communicating with your clients to get started.

  • Email
  • Telephone
  • Text
  • Social Media DM
  • Chat Apps (WhatsApp, Messenger)
  • Video Chats
  • Video Messages
  • CRMs
  • Mail
  • In-Person

I’m sure I’m missing some, but you get the idea. There are many ways of communicating with your design clients.

This past week, I posted several polls in the Resourceful Designer Facebook Group asking various questions about communicating with design clients. I know this isn’t a very scientific study, but I figure you may be interested in the results nonetheless.

Phone Calls

Let’s start with phone calls. I bet that most designers have a phone of some sort at their disposal. But there are different types of phones and various phone services you can use.

According to my poll

  • 50% of those who responded use a cellular phone for personal and business use.
  • 33% Use cellular phones but have a separate business phone number through a third-party service or app, such as Google Voice or eVoice.
  • 12% have a dedicated landline for their business
  • 5% responded that they don’t use a phone at all.

Personally, my cell phone is for friends and family only. The only clients who have my cell number were people I was acquainted with before they became clients.

I still have a landline for personal family use, but I also have a dedicated business number that rings through my landline. It’s a service called Ident-A-Call offered through Bell Canada.

When someone calls the home number, my phone rings like usual, ring, ring, ring, but if they reach the business number, it rings differently, ring-ring, ring-ring. These distinctive rings let my family know who the call is intended for and whether they should answer it or not.

The service comes with two voice mailboxes. When someone calls, they have the option of pressing 1 to leave a message for the Des Cotes family or pressing 2 to leave a message for my design business.

This system has worked well for me for over 15 years. I like having a separate phone number for my business that I can ignore if I want.

Although if I were setting things up today, I would probably take advantage of my iPhone’s dual SIM option and have two different cell numbers, one for family and one for business.

On the Facebook poll, Dustin said he uses Hubspot to forward his landline to his cell phone, which I think is pretty cool.

And Col said not only does he use a landline for his business, but it goes to his virtual assistant. Then his VA decides if he needs to take the call.

Text Messages

With the invention of smartphones, text messages, or texting as it’s commonly called, surpassed phone calls as a way of communicating. Heck, sometimes I think my kids forget they can make calls on their phones.

But what about clients? Do you text them?

I do not text with my clients. It makes sense. If I don’t share my cell number with them, there’s little chance of them texting me. But according to the Facebook poll, I’m in the minority.

  • 58% of respondents said they communicate via text message with their clients.
  • 24% said they don’t
  • 12% said they communicate using Watsapp.
  • 4% said they do use text messages but with some exceptions.
  • 2% said they don’t use text messages except for a few exceptions

What are those exceptions, you ask?

Suzanna says she tries not to but does have a few clients who use text. However, she never accepts work over text.

Tammi, on the other hand, uses both text and WhatsApp. She likes the quicker responses as compared to waiting for an email.

Greg said absolutely not. It’s too easy for vital communication to get lost or forgotten. Plus, he likes to unplug from work, and if clients can text him, he’s never truly away.

Minja said not for changes, pricing, or other project-related things. But texts are ok for other communications, such as scheduling meetings or sending verification codes.

I feel you, Minja. Verifications codes are the bane of all web designers.

How do you accept changes or approvals?

Next, I asked how people accept changes or approvals for design projects from their clients. This time around, I allowed them to select multiple answers.

  • 54% accept changes or approvals via Email
  • 21% use marked-up printouts
  • 6% use Video Chat
  • 5% over the phone
  • Text Message, Face to Face and CRMs such as Basecamp, Asana and Trello tied at 4% each.
  • Finally, 2% use Social Media DM.

I’m with the majority for this one. I only accept changes or approvals via email. My clients are welcome to tell me over the phone, video chat or in person, but I always ask them to write down their thoughts and email them.

And like Nick, Rafael and others in the comments pointed out. They like email because it’s easy to find and refer back to in the future.

How do you prefer presenting to your clients?

I also asked about presenting concepts or proofs to clients. This would be for print work such as logos, posters, business cards etc., not websites. Once again, I allowed people to select three options from the list I provided.

  • Coming in first with 35% was emailing a PDF or JPG of the design to the client.
  • Second, 30% is presenting over a live video chat.
  • Third, 17% prefer presenting in person.
  • Next at 13% is emailing a PDF presentation explaining your designs.
  • And finally, with 4% of the votes, sending a pre-recorded video to the client.

My favourite way to present to a client is in person. I like to be in the room with them when they first see the design. This lets me see their reaction and interject should I see any doubt in them.

When do you allow a client to see a web design project

My next question was in a similar vein except for websites. I asked when do you allow clients to view a web design project.

  • With 72% of the votes, setting predetermined stages during the design process wins this one.
  • A distant second with 20% showed the client a mockup or wireframe before starting the actual website and then at predetermined intervals during the build.
  • And rounding things out with 4% each were
    • Showing the client a mockup or wireframe and then again at the end of the build.
    • Allowing the client full access throughout the entire build process.

Troy posted a comment that mirrors my method. I show my clients their site once I’ve completed the home page. Once they sign off on it, and If it’s not that large a project, I finish the entire thing before showing it to them again. If it is a big site, I may show it again once large sections are complete.

The one thing I would never do is allow a client full access throughout the build. That seems like asking for trouble. I know they would keep critiquing stuff I was not done working on, and it would cause more problems than it’s worth.

Do you use a CRM?

The final question I asked is whether or not you use a CRM, a Customer Relationship Manager. A platform that lets you communicate with clients. You may be able to send proposals and invoices, and most of them allow you to share files with clients.

  • 77% of respondents said they do not use a CRM
  • 15% use a CRM but only for internal use. Clients do not have access to it.
  • And only 8% said they use a CRM to communicate and share things with their clients.

I use Plutio as my CRM. I use it to keep track of all the projects I have in progress. Plutio allows me to grant access to my clients, but I don’t use that feature. I use it as a replacement for the old leather-bound notebook I used to use to keep track of projects I’m working on.

Col mentioned that he uses Basecamp.

Fraser said he’s currently setting up SuiteDash as his CRM. Zack, a member of the Resourceful Designer Community, also uses SuiteDash and likes it.

Minja, who’s in New Zealand, uses Workflow Max, which according to them, is quite popular among New Zealand businesses.

There’s no right or wrong answer.

As I said initially, there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to how you communicate with your design clients. As you can see, many people do different things.

The one thing I want to point out is consistency and limiting options. If you use text messaging, WhatsApp, or a CRM to communicate with your clients. Be consistent. This way, you will always know where to look if you need to refer to a conversation.

What you don’t want to happen is a client emailing you one day, communicating via your CRM the next, all the while texting you while they’re on the go and later messaging you via social media.

This could get very confusing, very fast. When you finally sit down to work, you’ll be stuck searching through various communication methods to find the one where the client asked you to do a particular thing.

And what happens if they text asking you to change something to blue and then later send you a DM on Instagram telling you to make it green? How are you supposed to keep track of which one to implement?

My suggestion is to set boundaries right from the start. Let them know you would prefer to receive changes or approvals via email. If you don’t want to communicate with a client in a certain way, inform them of your preferred method.

Every time she has a new project for me, I have a client who reaches out to me over Facebook Messenger. That’s fine, but I ask her to take the conversation to email as soon as she does.

This is the whole point. To get you thinking about how you communicate with your design clients. Because the easier it is for both you and your clients to communicate, the easier it will be for you to do your job. And in the end, isn’t that what matters?

Resource of the week

I’m not sure if you know this, but Adobe PostScript Type 1 fonts stopped working in Photoshop 2021, and Adobe announced that they will stop working in other Adobe apps in 2023.

This could potentially leave you with dozens, if not hundreds, of fonts you can no longer use in your favourite design apps.

Luckily, there is a solution. TransType 4 from FontLab works on both Mac and Windows to easily convert legacy Postscript Type 1 fonts into rock-solid, high-quality modern Open Type fonts that you can use in any app for years to come.

TransType 4 makes it so easy. I’ve been using it to convert fonts for the past few months. Whenever I discover a font that doesn’t work in Photoshop, I launch TransType 4, drag the Postscript Type 1 font onto it, and voila, I have a new Open Type font I can now use.

TransType 4 does more than just this, but this feature alone is worth the purchase price.

Feb 7, 2022

Last week, I talked about how you should view your worth. How you are a one-person team. I gave the example of a website project you might start where you take on the role of salesperson, researcher, UX and UI designer, developer, bookkeeper, etc. and how each one of those "people" should be compensated accordingly.

That episode relayed a precious message that many designers don't understand. That message is that you are worth more than you think you are, and you are probably not charging your clients enough for what you do for them. Because, if you needed to hire each one of those people individually, chances are you would pay them more than what you are charging your client for the same services.

But what if the situation wasn't figurative? What if you did have to hire each one of those people? Would you know how to go about it? That's what I want to talk about today, building your team.

I know that many designers are not comfortable hiring contractors. I know, I used to be one of them. I used to have the mentality that my clients hired me; therefore, I needed to do the work myself. I even turned down projects because I didn't know how to do parts of them.

I've shared before how I turned down a $50,000 website project because I didn't know how to code in PHP. I kick myself now for that decision. But that was my mentality back then. If I couldn't do it, it wasn't a project I could take on.

A couple of years after that, I stumbled upon a line in some self-help book. I wish I could remember which one, but I don't. But I do remember the line that stuck with me.

Client’s don’t hire you to do a job. They hire you to get a job done.

And there's a vast difference between those two statements that many designers don't get. You're job, the reason clients hire you is that they have a problem they can't solve themselves. In many cases, you, with all your skills, can solve it for them.

But there are some situations where your skills alone are not enough. Or your skills are not the most proficient option. Or perhaps you don't have the time to do everything yourself. That's where building a team comes in—a team of people who possess the skills required to complete the job for your client.

Do you think the head chef at a restaurant cooks and prepares every meal all by themself? Of course not. There's no way one person could do that. A Chef has a sous-chef, station chefs, junior chefs, and other people working with them. They all form a team that prepares the meals they serve their guests. And yet, people still visit fancy restaurants because of the reputation of the head chef. They want to experience what it's like to eat one of their meals even though many other people are involved in preparing those meals.

Think of yourself as a head chef. Everyone on your team is there to help you prepare what your clients are served.

But, even with this knowledge, many designers still worry about what their clients might think if they "farm out" work. I have news for you. Your clients won't care. Remember, they didn't hire you to do a job. They hired you to get a job done.

Think of it this way, would you be upset if you brought your car in for repair and the mechanic told you he traced the issue to your transmission, so he brought in a transmission specialist to work on it?

I'm going to hazard a guess and say no, you wouldn't be upset. You wouldn't say, "no, I brought my car to you; therefore, I want you and only you to work on it." You would probably be grateful that your mechanic knows someone who can do the job in the best and most proficient manner. That's how your clients will react when you tell them about your team. They'll think it was an intelligent decision to hire you because you know how to get the job done.

Teams are a powerful thing.

  • Teams allow you to take on more work.
  • Teams allow you to take on bigger and better projects
  • Teams will enable you to offer services you couldn't provide alone.
  • Teams can help your design business grow and go further.

There's an African proverb that says, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." That's what having a team can do for you. It can help you go far.

How do you build a design team?

It's one thing to know you should build a team. It's an entirely other matter to put one together.

To be clear. When I say a team, I'm talking about contractors, not employees. Sure, you can hire employees to be on your team, but that's a whole other conversation with additional complexity involved.

I'm talking about contractors or freelancers that you hire on an as-needed basis. Some of them you may repeatedly use, while others may be for a single one-off job.

Simply put, your team is a network of people you can call upon should the need arise.

First, let me break down the type of people you may want on your team before I get into how to find them. Since there's no way I could list or even know all the types of team members you may need, I'll use the ones I've hired myself as examples.

Illustrators:

I've used several illustrators over the years. Some I've hired only once, while a couple I work with on a fairly regular basis. Illustrators widely vary in styles, so it's a good idea to have several you can call upon when needed.

Copywriters:

Copywriting is one of those services that can set you apart from other designers. While many designers only use the text provided to them by the client, designers that offer copywriting and design are viewed as a premium service and garner more respect, which means you can charge more.

Like illustrators, copywriters range in styles and niches, so it's best to know a few. In some situations, you may need a copywriter who writes in a particular field, such as medical or technology.

Translators:

Depending on where you live or what clients you work with, you may need to design in multiple languages. On many occasions, your client might only have the text in one.

Where I live, it's prevalent to display things in both English and French. I have a translator that can provide me with a French copy should I need it.

Graphic Designers:

I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes you may want to hand off a project or part of a project to another designer. Either free up your time or because it's something you don't want to do. Having a designer you can trust for this is an invaluable teammate.

Web Developer:

I've said it before. Other than HTML and CSS, I don't know how to code. And even with HTML and CSS, I find myself Googling how to do things more often than I used to. So any time I need coding done that I can't manage with a plugin, I hire a developer.

SEO Specialist:

If you're not comfortable doing SEO or want to give a website an extra boost, you may want to consider hiring an SEO specialist. I did this at the request of one client, and we saw great results.

Virtual Assistant:

The fact is, just about every specialty I just talked about could be considered a virtual assistant. A virtual assistant is just that, someone who assists you virtually. But a VA can help you with so much more than the skills I mentioned above.

I've hired several VAs over the years. My main VA does repetitive tasks, so I don't have to worry about them. Every Monday, she logs into my iThemes Sync account and makes sure all the themes and plugins of every site I manage are up to date.

This updating is a service I offer my website clients as part of my maintenance agreement. But I have better things to do than click on "update plugin" several dozen times. So I pay someone to do it for me.

I've also hired virtual assistants to do research or data gathering for me.

I hired one recently to go back over every episode of the Resourceful Designer podcast and create a spreadsheet listing the episode number, the episode title and the resource or tip I shared if there was one.

Before the pandemic, I was trying to get more speaking gigs, so I hired a VA to create a list of every graphic or web design program offered by a college or university in the province of Ontario. I asked him to find out who was in charge of each program and include their email address. I then asked him to email them on my behalf, asking if they would like me to come to talk to their graduating class about the realities of working in the real world.

This is just a small list of the type of people you may want on your team.

How do you find people for your design team?

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about networking. Well, that's a great start. Several of my team members are people I happened to meet through casual networking conversations.

One of my copywriters I found through a friend who mentioned he knew a journalism graduate looking for work. I reached out to her and asked if she could do some copywriting for me.

After overhearing him talking with someone about a project he was translating, I discovered my translator at a restaurant. I introduced myself asked for his business card, and we've worked on several projects together since.

I've hired illustrators I discovered at local comic cons. There are always vendors at comic conventions selling their illustrations. I pick up their business card and reach out if their style of artwork is what I need for a particular design project.

Each of these people was added to my list of potential team members to draw upon should the need ever arise. I have many that I've never used. But I know who they are, just in case.

Last week I hired Brian, a member of the Resourceful Designer Community, to help me with a website.

Brian had done a presentation for us a couple of months ago, and one of the things he showed us was something I could use on a site I was starting on for a client. I intended to take the info from Brian's presentation and learn how to do it myself. You know, improving my web skills, making myself more valuable. But, when I got around to working on that part of the website, I didn't have the time to fiddle around with something new. So I asked Brian to do it for me. I explained what I needed, and he completed the work by the next day. As easy as that.

I'm sure if I had tried doing it myself, it would have taken me over a week to complete. Hiring Brian saved me time, which translates to money.

But what if you need someone for a job and you don't have a person in mind?

If you need someone with a particular skill, and you don't already know anyone who can fill the role, the first thing I suggest is asking the people in your network.

Like how people find graphic and web designers through referrals, you should do the same when finding your team members. If you need an illustrator with a particular style, ask people in your network if they know anyone. Need a web developer to help you with a web project? Ask around and see if anyone has a suggestion.

A referral from a trusted source can go a long way in finding the right person.

But what if asking around comes up dry?

When all else fails, turn to the internet. There is no shortage of people for hire online. Places like Fiverr and Upwork are great resources. I've hired multiple people from both platforms. TopTal is another excellent source to find freelancers. I've never used them myself, but I know of several people who have and were very pleased with the talent they hired.

Virtual Assistant marketplaces contain hundreds of talented people looking for work. Just search "Virtual Assistant" on Google, and you'll find plenty.

Things to consider when hiring a teammate.

What are some of the things you should consider when hiring someone? The top three, in my opinion, are location, language, and price.

Location

A talent marketplace such as Fiverr and Upwork allows you to work with people from around the globe. One of the illustrators I use lives in Indonesia.

But sometimes, you may want to hire someone closer to home. Time differences can potentially cause problems if you need to ask a teammate something and it's the middle of the night where they are. These delays can add up, which doesn't bode well if you're on a deadline.

Language

Language can also be an issue. The language someone uses to communicate with you may not be their first language. This may cause miscommunication issues should they not fully understand the instructions you provide.

In some cultures, people are raised not to question instructions from those who employ them. So if they interpret something a certain way, that's how they'll do it. Even if it doesn't make sense to them or there's a better way. You want to make sure the person you hire can work beyond just the instructions you provide.

So making sure there isn't going to be a language barrier should be a consideration.

Price

Location and Language may dissuade you from hiring someone abroad. However, the price may make you change your mind. There are places in the world where you can hire highly talented people for a fraction of the price you would pay closer to home.

A few years ago, I had a client using an eCommerce platform called PrestaShop. When the client accidentally broke their website, I had no idea how to fix it. So I turned to Upwork and hired a PrestaShop expert. They lived in a country with a much lower cost of living than here in Canada and quoted me $10 per hour for their services.

I knew he would be working while I was asleep. And his English wasn't that good. I had to message him several times before he understood what I needed of him. But the time difference and language constraints were worth it because of the low price. It took him 16 hours to fix the problem. I paid his $160 invoice, and in turn, I charged my client 16 hours at my then hourly rate of $80/hr. I made an $1120 profit, and I never touched the site.

Weigh your options

It's entirely up to you who you hire. In some cases, finding an inexpensive option is your best choice. Other times, spending a bit more is the right move.

Building relationships with your team.

The trick with this whole team-building thing is to find people you can trust to do the job right. There may come times when someone you hire doesn't work out. Either they don't perform to your liking, or you find some other reason things are not working.

The downside of building a team is that you may find yourself in a situation where you have to let someone go. Luckily these are not employees. So sometimes, letting go is as simple as never hiring them again.

But other times, you may have to fire them if they're not performing to your satisfaction and find someone else. It can be tricky, and you may have to eat that cost yourself. That's a chance we take when we hire people. That's one of the reasons I always try to hire from within my network before turning to online sources.

That website I told you about last week that Brian helped me on. I could have easily hired someone on Fiverr or Upwork to do the same thing for me and probably save some money. But I hired Brian because I already have a relationship with him, and I trust what he can do. It wasn't about the cost. It was about making sure the job got done.

Working with a team is a wonderful feeling. It makes you feel special. It makes you feel necessary. It makes you feel more professional.

When you get to this point in your career where you have a team of people working with you, you'll truly understand what it means to be an entrepreneur. And you'll see that the opportunities when you have a team you endless.

If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, to together. After all, your clients didn't hire you to do a job. They hired you to get the job done.

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