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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: December, 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.

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