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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: August, 2022
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.

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