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Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business

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Now displaying: October, 2022
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.

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