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


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 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 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 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 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 Security Pro:

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

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

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

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

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

Jul 11, 2022

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

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

And yet, I still struggle.

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

Feeling lazy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When you're in a rut.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Acknowledge The Problem

I had already done this, hence my google search.

2) Break Things Down Into Steps

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

3) Done is Better Than Perfect.

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

4) Get Some Fresh Air.

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

5) Get Some Exercise.

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

6) Talk to Someone.

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

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

What got me out of my rut.

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

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

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

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

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

The following day I wrote two things above the line.

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

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

And you know what happened?

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

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

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

Everything is back to normal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You don’t have to go through it alone.

Jun 20, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

The Magic Email.

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

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

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

Hi [FirstName];

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

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



That's it.

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

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

What to expect after sending The Magic Email.

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

1. Silence.

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

2. Thank You.

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

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

3. No, Wait!

This is the response you're hoping for.

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

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

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

Variations of The Magic Email.

Variation by Kai Davis

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

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

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

That's it, nothing else.

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

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

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

Variation by Chris Voss

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

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

This is how it works.

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

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

Which variation would you use?

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

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

May 30, 2022

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

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

Take time to contemplate after a design project.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Record your conversations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It helps you become a better communicator.

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

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

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

Record all meetings.

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

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

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

Ask for permission before recording someone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 23, 2022

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

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

But how do you go about choosing?

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

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

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

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

Culture and Heritage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gender and Orientation.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Other ways to be different.

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

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

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

Small things can make a difference.

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

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

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

So what did I do to make myself different?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Worth thinking about, isn’t it?

May 9, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is my three-step process.

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

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

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

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

Presentation and mockups.

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

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

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

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

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

Showing confidence, a client's perspective.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 2, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is how word-of-mouth works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s get started.

Placing business cards in books.

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

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

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

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

Join a board of directors or committee.

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

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

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

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

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

Advertise your design business on T-shirts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sponsor your kid’s activities.

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

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

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

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

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

Advertise your design business on your vehicle.

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

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

Include an ad for your design business in any proposal involving ads.

You’ll get to work on projects that involve ads from time to time. Maybe you’re asked to design a magazine. Or a program for a local event. It might be a sponsor board or a t-shirt with sponsor logos. Maybe a website client wants you to incorporate space for ads on their new site.

Whatever the project is, always ask for one ad spot to be reserved for you as part of the proposal. If it's a sponsor board, request to include your logo as a sponsor. Try to have your ad or logo on everything you can whenever possible.

There's more than just word-of-mouth.

Word-of-mouth is, and will always remain, the best way for you to land new design clients. But it shouldn’t be your only way. Try as many of these unconventional ways to land design clients as you can. Who knows what will happen. After all, people aren’t going to hire you if they don’t know who you are.

The more you diversify how you find clients, the more trees you'll have in your forest.

Apr 18, 2022

Let me ask you something. How confident would you be buying a meal from a food truck that is so rusted and smoke-stained that you can’t make out its name on the side? Or how confident would you be staying at a motel where the paint was peeling off the doors, siding was missing on the building, and duct tape held the cracked windows together? Or how confident would you be buying a car from an auto dealer whose windows were so dirty you couldn’t see through them and whose sign was missing a couple of letters?

I bet your confidence wouldn’t be very high in those situations.

How do you think a client would feel if they came across a website that contains errors while looking for a designer? I bet they wouldn’t feel too confident in hiring that person. That’s what I want to talk about today, making sure your messaging doesn’t contain errors.

Let me give you a bit of background here. I decided to talk about this today because someone sent me a message earlier this week.

Now, if you’ve ever contacted me for whatever reason, there’s a good chance I looked at your website. It’s just something I do. Any time someone emails me or contacts me on social media, I’ll try to find their website to see how they present themself.

So, someone sent me a message earlier this week, and when I found their website, the first thing I saw was a spelling mistake. The very first line of the website was “I Designs Websites.”

Other places on the website included passages that lead me to believe this person is not a native English speaker. But I’ll touch more on that later.

And even though it was a beautifully designed website, and this person had a fantastic portfolio, those spelling and grammar mistakes made me question the quality of this person’s work.

Now imagine I was a client looking for someone to build a website for my new business. Those errors may be enough to make me second guess this person and move on to another web designer.

Be careful with jargon.

But it’s not just spelling or grammatical errors that can hinder your chance of landing clients.

Another section of this same website described their services and how they work. They mention that the first thing they do is build a wireframe to show the client before making their website using WordPress. Elsewhere on the site, it said their web hosting includes a CDN. You probably understand what I just said if you're familiar with websites.

Imagine a client with no knowledge of websites other than knowing their business needs one. “Wireframe,” “WordPress,” and “CDN” don’t mean anything to them. Reading these things may cause them more confusion, which may make them look elsewhere for a web designer.

I talked about Jargon in episode 217 of the podcast. Jargon is common terminology in specific industries but maybe not so common outside of them.

I’m a web designer, and I remember wondering what wireframes were the first time I heard someone use that term. It wasn’t until I understood what a wireframe was that the word became part of my vocabulary.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t use these jargon terms in your communication. But if you do, you should add some clarity for anyone unfamiliar with them.

For example:

“We start by building a wireframe, a mockup layout of your website for you to approve before we start building the real thing in WordPress, a popular website platform, powering over 60% of the world’s websites.”

“Our web hosting includes a CDN, a content delivery network that improves the efficiency and speed of your website and helps you rank higher in search engines.”

Even if a client doesn’t recognize the jargon, they can still understand what you’re saying because of the descriptions.

A designer's job is communication.

As designers, people think our job is to make things look good. And in part, it is. But more importantly, a designer’s job is to ensure a message is told clearly and understandably.

Design is about communication. And if the communicated message is confusing, then the person, company or organization behind that message will appear less competent.

But what can you do?

The first suggestion I have is simple. Spell and grammar check your work. A spell and grammar checker can help eliminate most problems, but only to an extent. They can identify misspelled words but are not as good at finding incorrect or better words. For that, I use a tool called Grammarly.

I’ve been using Grammarly for years. Not only does it find spelling and grammar errors, but it helps improve my writing by suggesting alternatives. It helps me be a better writer by making me sound better. It’s well worth the small price.

Be wary of mistakes in headlines.

I read a report that said there were more errors per capita in newspaper headlines than in the body copy. It said that, on average, there was one error for every 1000 words of body copy compared to four errors for every 1000 words of headline copy.

Most people don’t read headlines; they skim them—even the proofreaders whose job it is to find errors.

Don't only rely on spell checkers.

The other thing about spell checkers is they won’t help you identify jargon. For that, you need to have someone else read over your text and tell you if there are problem areas.

We do this all the time in the Resourceful Designer Community. People share their work, and others point out any problem areas they detect. Then the designer can choose whether or not to make a change.

Having someone else read your work is especially important for anyone where English isn’t their first language. This is probably the case with the website I looked at this week. The person wrote the copy themself to the best of their ability, but the fact that they are not native English speakers is evident. And this may turn away potential clients.

The more precise and accurate your writing, the more professional you’ll sound, and the more willing clients will be to work with you.

Different dialects for different regions.

And it goes beyond just language. Regional dialects also come into play. For example, if you’re targetting clients in North America, you may say something such as. “I design custom logos.” However, if you’re targetting clients in Europe, you may want to write “I design bespoke logos.” Both words mean the same thing, but “Custom” is more common in North America, whereas “Bespoke” is used more often in European countries.

Colour is another example. You’re going to spell it c-o-l-o-r if you're talking to Americans and c-o-l-o-u-r for most other parts of the world.

I’m in Canada. And any time I’m looking for a printer or supplier, I’ll take note of the spelling on their website. If I see "color," I’ll know it’s an American company, and I may continue my search to find someone in Canada.

Make it count.

You only get one chance to make a first impression. And if you fail at that first chance because of poor writing, there’s not much you can do to regain someone’s trust. So I suggest you take some time and closely go over your website and other marketing material. Or have someone else do it for you. Identify any problem areas or areas that could be improved and make changes.

The better you sound, the more professional you’ll appear, and the better the chances are that a potential client will hire you. Don’t lose out because of poor writing.

Apr 4, 2022

The local tourism board where I live, a client of mine, in partnership with one of the local newspapers, produces a 72-page visitor guide every year for people visiting the area. The tourism director hired me to design a countertop display stand for these guides that they will place in various stores and businesses in the region.

These visitor guides are an odd size. So I started researching companies that produce custom cardboard countertop display stands. And let me tell you, I was super impressed with one company I contacted.

While browsing their website to see if they offer what I need, a chat bubble popped up saying, “Hi, I’m Frank. I’m available right now if you need to chat about anything.” I took Frank up on his offer and asked what my best option was for the display stand I needed. He replied by requesting my phone number and asking if it was ok for him to call me, as it would be easier to discuss my needs over the phone. I agreed, and I was on the phone with him a minute later.

Frank listened to what I needed, made a few suggestions and said he would email me a price by the end of the day. In my opinion, Frank and his company went above and beyond to impress me, a potential new client.

But it didn’t end there. Within a couple of minutes of hanging up the phone, I received a welcome email from Frank thanking me for agreeing to talk to him. In the email, he briefly outlined what we had discussed. And he attached an intro packet outlining the company for me to read. This intro packet upped my impression of the company tenfold.

A couple of hours later, I received another phone call from Frank. He tells me he just emailed me the quote and asked if I have time to go over it with him.

At this point, I felt like royalty. I was so impressed with the way they were treating me. I had never heard of this company before, and now I couldn’t wait to tell everyone about them.

Frank walked me through the various charges involved with my project, such as the price for a custom die, among other things. But when we finally reached the cost per unit, it was higher than I had hoped. Not overly so, but still more than I wanted to pay for them.

When he asked me what I thought, I hesitated for a moment. And that’s when Frank goofed up.

Offer excellent customer service.

Before I get to what Frank said, I want to emphasize the importance of excellent customer service and how it affects you and your design business.

You may think of yourself as a designer, but designing is a small portion of what you do if you’re running your own design business. And it might not even be the most critical portion.

If you’re working for yourself, your most important skill is the ability to sell yourself.

Running your own design business requires you to be a good salesperson. Every client who agrees to work with you does so because you successfully sold them on you and your ability to do the job. They agreed to your price, had confidence in your skills, and trusted you to complete their project because you sold them on these things.

This ability to sell goes way beyond the monetary aspect and is part of every interaction you have. It’s what makes people like and what to work with you. Sometimes, even despite the price. If you lack this ability to sell yourself, you will be hard-pressed to find clients.

I’ve said it many times before. Clients would prefer to work with a good designer they like, then work with an amazing designer they don’t like. And it all comes down to your ability to sell yourself.

What you should never do.

Anyway, back to Frank. So as I said, the price per unit he quoted me was a bit higher than I hoped. And Frank sensed my hesitancy. And what he said next changed my impression of this company.

When Frank sensed my hesitation, he told me, “Don’t worry. All prices are negotiable.” And at that point, the pedestal I had placed this company on crumbled.

Frank had presented me with a reasonable price for what I needed, although higher than expected. But now he was telling me that price was negotiable. In other words, he was admitting that his company could do the job for less.

So I asked him about it. My response was something like, “Are you telling me that the price you’re showing me is not the best price you could have given me for this job? That you inflated your quote hoping that I would be gullible enough to agree to it?”

Frank quickly went on the defensive, saying no, this is how much the job costs. However, if I wanted to negotiate, he would hear me out.

I replied, “You’re telling me that you would consider lowering the cost if I negotiated with you. That tells me that this price isn’t really what this job costs and that you could easily do it for less. Otherwise, why tell me the price is negotiable? And even if you agree to take 5, 10 or 15 percent off the price, I will still wonder if you’re conning me, and I could have gotten it for even less.”

At this point, I thanked Frank for the quote, told him I would get back to him if I had any questions and then ended the call. All the fantastic work this company did to win me over as a client went down the drain.

What’s the big deal about negotiating price?

You may be wondering, what’s the big deal? People negotiate prices all the time. This is true. In fact, I love haggling over prices. It’s a skill I learned from my mother, and it drives my wife crazy when I ask for a discount or rebate from anyone.

The way I see it is there’s no harm in asking for a lower price. If they say no, I can still purchase whatever it is at the displayed price. And if they agree, I feel good about my actions because I got a better deal.

But this situation is different. I wouldn’t be upset if I were the one who had asked if the prices were negotiable and Frank had said yes. But the fact that he presented me with the price and immediately told me they were negotiable means he didn’t have my best interest in mind. Frank was trying to get the most out of me he could. And when I showed hesitation on the price, he tried to save the sale by offering to negotiate. This company that I thought was so amazing now makes me wonder if I should consider working with them.

Your prices are non-negotiable.

But what does all of this have to do with you and your design business?

You don’t want people to think you’re taking advantage of them. But any time you offer a discount or agree to lower a price, that’s precisely what you are doing.

If you lower your price just one time, that client will forever question any future price you give them. They’ll always wonder if you’re trying to take advantage of them. And even if you provide them with another discount in the future, they’ll wonder if it’s the best discount, or could you have offered more?

Think about anything you’ve ever bought on sale. In your mind, if you purchase a $399 item on sale for $249, is it worth the sale price you paid for it or is it worth the original price? Most people feel the sale price is its actual value.

You never want your clients to think your services are not worth as much as you charge because you offered a discount.

Let’s use hourly rates, for example. If you usually charge $100/hr and offer a client a discount of $70 per hour. They’ll feel resentful should you ever charge them your standard rate in the future because they’ll know you can do it for less.

When are discounts ok?

This is not to say that you should never offer discounts. There are times when lowering your prices is in your best interest.

Pro-bono work

Pro-bono work is an obvious example. Offering free or discounted work for a charity or non-profit you believe in doesn’t diminish your perceived value. I highly suggest you invoice the charity for your services showing the total price with an applied 100% discount.

Or better yet, and this is what I do, I charge the charity the total price for the project. And agree to donate the entire amount back to them after they’ve paid. This way, they get to claim the project as a business expense since they’re paying for the work, and you get a tax receipt for the donation you make back to them.

An added benefit of invoicing for your charity work is that should staff at the charity change; any future person will know the value of what you provided them because of the invoice.

Friends and family

Friends and family are also acceptable recipients of discounts. Doing something for a friend at a discounted rate or even for free shows them you care. Again, let them know the total price and that you’re discounting it.

My rule of thumb for family and friends is to offer more significant discounts for personal work. Offer smaller discounts for businesses they own. And no discount for companies they work for or if they own it with a partner. I don’t mind cutting a deal for someone I care about, but there’s no reason for collateral people to get a discount because of them.

Retainer agreements

And, of course, discounts are a significant selling factor with retainer agreements, where you presell your time or deliverables at a discounted rate in exchange for guaranteed monthly income.

Other than these three scenarios, charity work, friends and family and retainers. There’s no reason for you to offer a discount.

What if a client questions your price?

What do you do in a situation where a client questions your prices or asks if they can get a discount? This scenario is bound to happen to you at some point. You give a client a fee, and they ask if there’s any way you can do the job for less?

First things first, your price is never wrong. You chose whatever price you presented because you believe that’s how much the project is worth. If you thought to yourself, “there’s no way anyone would pay this much.” you would never present that price. So stick to it. Tell the client you’re sorry they feel that way, but that’s the price for what they’re asking of you.

However, if you think you may lose the client, offer to negotiate. Never on price. Instead, negotiate the scope of the project.

Offer to cut out parts of the project to lower their cost. On a website, for example, Instead of every offered service having a landing page, offer to create one “Services” page that lists everything they do. This makes less work for you and can shave off a bit of the price.

If it’s a printed booklet you’re designing, You could suggest they reduce the number of pages to bring the price down on both design and printing. Or suggest they have it saddle-stitched instead of perfect bound.

Anything you can do to reduce the scope of a project will, in turn, lower the price, which may help the client with their decision. And, it doesn’t compromise the value you bring to them.

By showing clients how much they can save by eliminating options, they learn the value of those options and feel less conflicted about paying for them.

My personal experience is that most of the time, the client will appreciate the effort but decide to stick to the full scope at the price you originally quoted.

Think of it in terms of buying a new car. How would you feel if the dealer said they could offer you the same make and model vehicle at a lower price, but it won’t have air conditioning? The original price won’t seem as bad anymore if you want air conditioning.

So allow your client to lower the price by reducing options on their project. If they accept the lower price, you’re still getting paid for your work at the price you deserve. And if you’re lucky, they’ll decide they don’t want to lose those options and choose to pay your original cost to keep them.

What if you can’t reduce the scope of the project?

For projects such as logo design, where you can’t reduce the project’s scope, I suggest using the three-tiered pricing system. Offering three different price options, each with an expanded scope gives clients a choice and minimizes their chances of going elsewhere.

You must be ok with losing clients.

I must point out that you have to be prepared to lose clients. There’s always the possibility that the client doesn’t like your price, and instead of asking for ways to lower it, they decide to go elsewhere. And you know what, that’s ok. Any client that doesn’t see the value in what you do isn’t worth having as a client.

Again, think of cars. Many people buy Toyota Corollas, while others prefer to drive a Mercedes-Benz. Some design clients can afford your services, while many can’t. It’s up to you to focus your energy on those who can.

One last tip on clients who think you’re too expensive.

If a client ever tells you your price is too expensive, you may want to respond like this.

“I’m sorry you feel that way. I understand that for some people my prices may seem high. But I assure you, I charge what I’m worth, and I have many repeat clients who are very happy paying for the services I provide them.

I know, that hiring a designer is a big investment. And not everyone can afford my prices. No hard feelings if you would prefer to find a less expensive designer.”

You’d be surprised when you answer in this manner how many people will decide to work with you anyway.

All of this to say, your prices are non-negotiable. You deserve every cent you charge and more. So never compromise your principles or values just because a client is hesitant about the price you present them. It’s your business, after all, and you know what you’re worth much more than they do.

Mar 28, 2022

I had a conversation recently with fellow designers over how we refer to ourselves. This conversation started when one designer asked another why they referred to themselves as a freelancer? We then talked about the impression and stereotypes associated with the word freelancer. In the end, the designer acknowledged that it was in their best interest not to use the term freelancer anymore when referring to themself. And it would be best if you did the same. Stop calling yourself a freelancer.

Why you should stop calling yourself a freelancer.

There’s a stigma associated with the term Freelance or Freelancer. In episode 17 of the Resourceful Designer podcast, I discussed how calling yourself a freelance graphic designer could hurt your business. I shared a story of when a company approached me for an in-house position. I turned them down, but I shared the name of a designer I knew would be perfect for the job.

The company’s CEO later told me the designer I told them about had all the right qualifications. However, The title she used on her resume was Freelance Graphic Designer, and they were looking for someone more serious than that for the position.

She didn’t get the job because she listed herself as a freelancer. I know it’s crazy, but it’s true.

You see, the term freelancer is popular among designers. When I was in school, my classmates and I talked about how great it would be to be a freelancer. But outside of our sphere of peers in the design industry, the term freelancer is not as familiar. Or maybe I should say it’s not as “prestigious” as we like to think it is.

The term freelancer is akin to being quick and cheap, which reminds me of episode 71 of the podcast Good Design, Quick Design, Cheap Design. Pick Two. For many business people, freelancers are people you hire if you want something done fast and for a reasonable price, not necessarily if you want something designed well.

For this reason, I tell designers who work for themselves to stop calling themselves freelance designers and instead say they run a design business. Even if you only do it as a side gig.

In an article titled Stop Calling Yourself A Freelancer, author Andrew Holliday says that a company commands more respect than freelancers. And that freelancers are perceived as commodities. Meaning they’re interchangeable.

If you need a quick design job, hire a freelancer. In the future should you require more design work, you could hire the same freelancer, or you can hire someone else. It doesn’t matter because freelancers are interchangeable. Anyone will do. And usually, the cheaper, the better.

Hiring a freelancer is kind of like purchasing fuel for your vehicle. You know that all gas or petrol stations are basically the same, so you pick and choose where to fill up based on price. That’s how many business owners perceive freelancers–as commodities.

However, if you want a partner to help you develop your brand and marketing assets, someone you can work with long-term, then hire a design company, even if that design company is just one person.

Holliday made another interesting point in his article that freelancers often fight for hourly work. Whereas companies typically get paid by the project. And therefore, your earning potential is much higher if you refer to yourself as a business owner and not a freelancer.

But don’t take his or my word on it. Earlier this week, I posted a poll in a large entrepreneur community where I’m a member. It’s a community made up mostly of solopreneurs to mid-size business owners. In other words, the type of people you want as design clients.

Here’s what I asked.

Who would you prefer to hire for design work:

A: A graphic designer who runs their own design business?

B: A freelance graphic designer?

I know. It’s a trick question since both answers are the same, but I wanted to see what people would say.

Two hundred four people responded. 176 (86%) chose A: A graphic designer who runs their own design business. Compared to only 28 (14%) who chose B: A freelance graphic designer.

What’s even more interesting are the comments on my poll.

Aren’t they the same thing? But if I had to choose I would pick A. It sounds more professional.

I would hire a freelance graphic designer. I’m just starting out and don’t have a large budget and option A sounds more expensive to me.

If I knew exactly what I wanted and just needed someone to implement it for me I would choose B. If I needed someone to help me develop new ideas I would choose A.

Isn’t hiring a freelancer kind of like hiring an employee who doesn’t actually work for you, so it’s less paperwork?

I think the difference between the two is confidence and trust. I could trust that a design business owner is competent and knows what they are doing because they took the time to start a business. I know they’ll be around for a long time should I need them again in the future. I wouldn’t feel the same way about hiring a freelance graphic designer.

I have a background in design, and I choose A. Most freelancers I know are only doing it until they can find a full-time job.

And there were many other comments just like these. And they all came to a similar conclusion. If you want someone cheap, someone you can tell what to do, and you’re not interested in building a working relationship with them, then hire a freelancer.

However, if you want someone knowledgeable, someone who can help you solve the problems you’re facing, and someone reliable who will be around for a long time, hire a designer who runs a design business.

I think these people make my point for me. Stop calling yourself a freelancer.

Let me simplify it.

Let me simplify it by creating another distinction between a design business owner and a freelancer.

If the projects you work on are for someone other than the person or company paying you, you are freelancing.

For example, if an agency contracts you to work on projects for the agency’s clients, you are working as a freelancer. They may or may not have in-house designers, but they need to hire you to fulfill their commitment to their clients.

It doesn’t matter if you work directly with the client or deal with someone at the agency as a go-between. If the end client is not the one paying you, then there’s a good chance you’re freelancing.

However, if a client hires you to do work for them and pays you directly for your services, you are not freelancing. You are running a design business.

Take my Podcast Branding business, for example. Podcasters hire me to design their artwork and websites. That’s not freelancing since the client is paying me. But I’m also the designer for a large podcast agency. This agency sends their clients to me for their podcast artwork. In this case, I’m working as a freelancer for the agency since they pay me to create artwork for their clients.

Another thing to consider is if you charge fixed, project-based or value-based pricing, then you are running a design business. Since freelancers typically charge by the hour.

And finally, If you don’t plan on ever being employed or working for a boss. Then you are running a design business.

It’s up to you.

In the end, you can call yourself whatever you want. It’s your career, after all. But I hope I’ve given you something to ponder.

I know I was surprised by the response I got from the poll. I figured Design Business Owner would prevail over Freelance Designer, but I didn’t know by how much. And if those who responded are the people who represent our ideal design clients, then why not heed what they are saying.

Call yourself a freelancer if you want. But if you take yourself seriously and, more importantly, if you want others to take you seriously, then why not drop that moniker. Stop calling yourself a freelancer.

Mar 21, 2022

On Monday, when I sat down to start my week, I had an email in my inbox from a client giving me their approval to launch their new website. I anticipated this, and the site was live within an hour and a half.

Satisfied with another completed project, I opened Plutio, my project management software of choice, to see what I was to work on next. And what I found was nothing. I had no website projects. I had no podcast cover artwork to design. My to-do list of client work was blank.

I can’t remember the last time this happened. I didn’t even have proofs out with clients that may come back. I had nothing, nil, nada, zip, zilch and whatever other ways I could say it. I had no client work.

It’s now Friday afternoon as I write this, and not a single new project came in this week.

For the first time in over a year, an entire week went by without a single order from my Podcast Branding website. For the first time in an even longer period, I didn’t have a client website on the go.

This lack of work is a situation that many self-employed designers may face. It doesn’t only happen to new designers trying to grow their business. It can happen to anyone at any time.

Maybe it’s how the planets have aligned, or Lady Luck decided to take a vacation. I don’t know, but it happens. It just happened to me. And it can happen to you.

But experiencing a lull like this shouldn’t make you worry. I’ve been in this line of work for a long time, and I can tell you, lulls never last. Give it a little time, and once again, you’ll feel overwhelmed from having too much on your plate.

What to do when facing lulls.

The best way to face lulls is by embracing them. Please take advantage of the time they provide you because it won’t last.

This past week was one of the most productive for me in a while. I had no client work to hold me back, allowing me to accomplish many things.

On Tuesday, my daughter asked if I could build her a website. She has an Etsy store but wants to move off that platform to one of her own. What she wanted was very simple. And there was no rush. She told me I could get to it whenever I had the time.

Well, guess what? I had the time. So I got right to it, and in a matter of hours, I had completed her new eCommerce website. I did say what she wanted was very simple. So it didn’t take long.

And the look on my daughter’s face when I showed it to her that same day was priceless. You got to win those parenting points whenever you can. Am I right?

But that wasn’t all.

I met with a client the week before this. They’re looking for a website redesign and expect a proposal from me.

I have a multi-page website proposal template, which makes submitting proposals very easy. I open the template, update the information about whatever project I’m proposing, save it as a PDF file and send it to the client. Easy peasy. I’ve been using this template for a few years now, and it was getting a bit dated. But I never had the time to update it until now.

It would typically take me 20 to 30 minutes to complete a proposal like this one. Instead, I devoted a couple of hours to redesigning my proposal template before sending it to the client. I’ve been thinking of redesigning it for a long time, and because of this lull, I was able to scratch it off my to-do list.

I also had the opportunity to look at my Podcast Branding website and make many minor changes. I changed some wording here and there and updated a few of the images on the site. I also decided to eliminate one service I wasn’t keen on doing anymore. And I added some clarification to the other services to increase conversion.

I closed many of the browser tabs I had opened by reading articles I was “saving for later” or watching tutorial videos for various things. And I didn’t feel guilty about any of it because I wasn’t taking time away from client work. After all, I didn’t have any.

And of course, I did take the time to reach out to several old clients that I haven’t heard from in a while, to get in touch and let them know I’m still here should they need me.

Every day this week, I worked from 9-5, and I wasted none of that time even though I had no client work. I didn’t feel self-pity or down in the dumps. Because I knew this lull wouldn’t last, and I wanted to take advantage of every minute of it.

We often put off working on our own business. And then we forget about it when we have a bit of time we could devote.

I usually say you should treat your own business as a client and block off time to work on it. But a lull is the perfect opportunity to get as much of it done as possible.

It helps if you have recurring revenue.

I would feel much worse if I didn’t have recurring revenue streams in this situation. In episode 216 of the podcast, I talked about offering website maintenance to earn extra income. This service provides peace of mind for my clients since they don’t have to worry about the security or maintenance of their websites. If they have a blog or podcast, all they have to do is publish new posts or episodes, and I do everything else.

I have a virtual assistant who handles the weekly maintenance for me, so other than checking in once per month; I only need to get involved when there’s an issue. And to be honest, that rarely happens, thanks to the many preventative measures I have in place. But this also means that even though I had no client work this week, money was still flowing into my bank account.

Retainers are another form of recurring revenue that could help you get through lulls. I don’t currently have any retainer clients, but it will help you get through slow times if you do. Check out episode 32 and episode 255 to learn more about retainer agreements.

Lulls are a normal part of running a design business.

Lulls will happen. In your early years, you may experience them more often. As your reputation grows and you gain more and more clients, you’ll experience fewer lulls. But that doesn’t mean you’ll never experience any. I hope you don’t. But that’s the reality of our industry–There’s no guarantee of steady work or income.

But in my opinion, that trade-off is worth it so that you and I can do what it is we love doing, designing.

So the next time things slow down, remember these five things.

  1. Lulls offer an excellent opportunity to reconnect with past clients
  2. They allow you to work on what you’ve neglected in your business.
  3. They allow you to catch up on the many to-do items you keep putting off.
  4. They give you the time to improve your design and business skills.
  5. And most importantly, remember that lulls don’t last. So please take advantage of them when they present themselves.

Just because there’s no client work doesn’t mean you should stop working.

Mar 14, 2022

Don’t you hate that feeling when you can’t find what you’re looking for? It could be anything. You can’t find your wallet or your car keys. Have you misplaced your phone? Maybe it’s that scrap of paper you scribbled that critical information on that you can’t find.

Regardless of whatever it is you can’t locate, you’re left with an empty feeling inside—a feeling of unfulfillment.

A similar feeling occurs when you land on a website only to see those three words – No Results Found.

It’s so frustrating. Maybe you clicked a link in an article you were reading, anticipating a solution to a problem you’re facing, only to be disappointed by where it brought you. Perhaps you used the search field on a website hoping to find something only to come up short. Or it could happen while navigating a website, and you have no idea how you got there.

Regardless of the circumstances, you’ve landed on the dreaded 404 page. A page that mocks you with those three words – No Results Found. It might as well say - ha, ha, you lose, we don’t have what you’re looking for. It’s so frustrating.

Then what do you do? Do you go back and click the link again, hoping that you get better results this time around? Do you randomly start clicking around, hoping to stumble upon what you were looking for? Or, do you shrug your shoulders in defeat and close the page, or go looking elsewhere for your answer?

It doesn’t matter when or why. Landing on a No Results Found page is never fun unless the person who designed the website makes it fun for you.

You can customize the 404 page.

The 404 page is something that every website in the world has, whether the site owner knows it or not. And it’s a page that’s landed on more often than you would think. And yet, very few websites take advantage of this “popular” page. And you should take advantage of it. Whether it’s your website or sites you create for your clients.

You may or may not know this, but you can customize the 404 page on a website. If you’re a Divi user, it’s as easy as creating a new page layout in the Divi theme builder and assigning it to the 404 page. That’s how I do it for the sites I build.

Other WordPress themes and builders, as well as platforms such as Squarespace Wix, Weebly, etc., should allow you to do so as well. If not, you can install plugins that will enable you to edit the 404 page.

Why should you customize the 404 page?

But what’s the point, you may ask? The fact is, the default 404 page is a stepping-off point for some visitors. When someone arrives at the No Results Found page, it’s a signal for them to leave the site. And no website owner ever wants visitors to leave their site unsatisfied.

But if you customize the 404 page, you can improve visitor retention by giving them something to do other than leaving the page. And this goes for your website too. Do you want visitors to your site who happen to stumble upon your 404 page to leave? Of course, you don’t. So give them an incentive to stay.

Look at the Resourceful Designer 404 page, for example. I’ve designed the 404 page to capture visitors’ interest in the site.

Upon landing on the 404 page, the first thing they see is a whimsical “Oops” image. Followed by the heading: “Looks like someone forgot to proofread.” The paragraph below says, “The page you are looking for is nowhere to be found. Not to worry, there are plenty of other great pages for you to see. Here are some popular posts that may interest you.”

A list follows, showing three popular podcast episodes and three blog posts that may interest visitors to the site. I also ask them if they want a copy of my Four Week Marketing Boost and provide a way to acquire it.

So even though someone arrived on this page because the content they were looking for isn’t available, they still have something to engage with. And you know what? It works. I track where people sign up for my Four Week Marketing Boost, and many of them came from my 404 page.

I made it a bit simpler on my Podcast Branding website. The page shows an image of a man, seen from behind, scratching his head in confusion. The heading reads, “Uh oh!” followed by “I don’t think this is what you were looking for, was it? No worries, if you’re starting a podcast or you’re looking for help with your show’s visual branding, you’re in the right place, just not the right page. Why don’t you click this button to see how Podcast Branding can help you?” Then, a button labelled “LEARN MORE” takes them to the home page. It’s simple, and it works.

Do you get my point? You can make the 404-page look however you want. The point is to give visitors something to do instead of simply leaving the site.

I like to have fun with these pages by making them whimsical. I put a photo of an older woman holding her hand up to her ear on a hearing aid website as if she couldn’t hear. The heading reads, “Say that again, I didn’t quite catch it.” Followed by a search field.

On a tech and electronics site, I wrote, “It looks like we have a broken circuit.” and provided a few links visitors could click.

Give visitors something to do other than leave the site.

Visitors are already frustrated when they land on a 404 page since they’re not finding what they wanted, so why not inject a bit of fun and give them something to do.

If you don’t customize the 404 page on your or your client’s websites, you’re doing the site visitors a disservice. Create something that will engage them, and make them want to stay on the site. After all, isn’t that why you built the site in the first place?

Did you customize your 404 page?

Show it to us by leaving a link in the comments for this episode.

Mar 7, 2022

Wants and needs. What an interesting juxtaposition.

I want a new sword for my collection. But I don’t need another sword. I want a cheeseburger and poutine for supper. But I don’t need all that fat or those calories. I want enough money to do whatever I want in life. However, I only need to make enough money to cover my expenses.

Wants and needs. They govern a lot of our decisions, don’t they?

Your clients’ wants and needs.

What about you and your design business? How do wants and needs factor into what you do for your clients?

As a design business owner, your goal is to make money. After all, a business that doesn’t make money doesn’t remain a business for very long. Sure, it’s great to do some pro-bono work from time to time, but I don’t know of any designer who cherishes working for free. No, you want to make money so that you can pay your bills, support your family, take vacations, and perhaps indulge yourself from time to time.

To make money, you need to charge your clients for the services you offer. And the more clients you have and the more design work you do, the more money you earn.

As a design business owner, it can be tempting to simply give clients what they want in order to make a sale. Like when a client comes to you with an idea in mind and asks if you can design it for them. You know you can, and it would be easy money. And so many designers across the globe work this way. They do exactly what the client wants.

But the problem is, clients don’t always know what they want, or what they think they want isn’t the best option because they don’t know any alternatives.

Adopting this strategy of doing what your client wants is not conducive to growing a successful design business. You may get work. Maybe even lucrative work. But your business will eventually reach a cap if all you ever do is what your clients ask you to do.

To be successful, you need to figure out how to deliver what your clients need, not just what they want.

How do wants differ from needs?

Now don’t get me wrong. You’ll have clients whose wants and needs are in line with each other—those who are business savvy and understand what is required for their businesses to grow. You’ll enjoy working with those clients because you’ll be able to communicate with them on an even level.

However, many clients don’t understand that their wants and needs may differ.

I find this especially true with newer entrepreneurs–people who have left corporate life to start their own businesses. They’ll often get their ideas from what others are doing and falsely think they’ll experience the same success if they do the same thing. They see someone else grow their business by sending out postcards, so they believe they should send out postcards as well.

That’s not the proper way to think about or grow a business. Giving clients what they want might make them happy in the short term, but they’ll eventually realize that it doesn’t solve whatever problem they’re trying to fix. And clients always come to you, a designer, to fix a problem, whether they know it or not. That’s what we do as designers. We’re problem solvers.

Just doing what a client wants can lead to unfulfilled expectations and frustration on the client’s part. “I spent good money on these postcards; why aren’t they working?” It’s because postcards weren’t what the client needed.

Your job as a designer is not to fulfill your client’s every desire or cater to their every whim; it’s about understanding their needs and addressing them in a way that meets those needs and exceeds their expectations.

When you give your clients what they need, you are helping them achieve their goals and solve their problems. When you manage that, your clients will view you in a whole new light, and they’ll want to work with you more.

Do you ignore what a client wants?

Does this mean you ignore what the client wants? Of course not. The key is to balance what the client wants and what will work best for their business. For example, a client may want you to redesign their website because they’re not getting enough traffic and low sales. They think that getting more traffic to their site will increase sales and solve their problem. When more traffic isn’t the solution, better-qualified traffic is.

Having 1,000 random people visit a website probably won’t increase sales as much as attracting 100 targeted visitors. The client wants more visitors, but what they need is better-targeted visitors. And it’s your job to explain this to them.

My own experience.

One of my clients is a hearing aid clinic. When they first opened and were trying to build up their client list, they wanted to get as much exposure as possible. One of the marketing strategies they wanted to explore was placing ads in local magazines.

The salesperson they contacted at a nearby distributor represented several magazines. He convinced them that they would get the most exposure by placing an ad in a local outdoor life magazine that covered hiking, bicycling, canoe and kayaking, snowshoeing etc. It was a newer magazine with a circulation of over 500,000 copies delivered every month.

He told my client that it was a new magazine, and they were offering special discounted prices on ads. He assured them it was a fantastic once-in-a-lifetime deal to put their name in front of half a million local people. The clinic asked me to design a full-page ad, excited about all the exposure it would give them.

When I received the ad specifications from the distributor, I saw on the sheet that the exact specs were used by other magazines the distributor represented. One of them was a senior living magazine.

For the fun of it, I contacted the distributor, not telling them who I was, and asked for details on placing a full-page ad in the senior living mag. I found out that the distribution for this magazine was 100,000 copies, and the price they quoted me was almost the same price that the hearing aid clinic was paying for their ad in the outdoor life mag.

I then called my client and explained that according to the documentation I received, the outdoor life magazine targeted people ages 18-40 who enjoyed an active outdoor life. The senior living magazine was geared towards people 55 years and older who still want to get the most out of life.

I explained to my client that yes, the senior living mag had a distribution of one-fifth the size of the outdoor magazine, so they wouldn’t be seen by as many people. However, those 100,000 people who received the senior living magazine were probably in or at least approaching the target market of people who require hearing aids. In contrast, most of the outdoor life magazine’s target market won’t be interested in hearing aids for many years to come.

The client wanted me to design an ad for an outdoor life mag, but I convinced them that they needed an ad in the senior living magazine. And they agreed.

And you know what? Within weeks of their ad appearing in that senior living magazine, their phone rang off the hook with new clients saying they saw their ad.

Listen to your client to figure out what they need.

It’s essential to listen to the client and understand what they think they want. This will help you to figure out what they need. Then it’s up to you to explain to them that there’s something else they need that they don’t see.

I had another client who started a subscription box that offered science experiments for kids ages 3-8 years old. It was two moms, and they wanted me to design their marketing material. The sketches and layouts they presented of what they wanted me to create were juvenile. When I asked about them, they said they wanted something that appealed to young children. They had even asked their own kids’ opinions on their sketches.

I asked them how many 3-8 years old could afford to spend their allowance on a monthly subscription box? They looked at me like I was crazy. Then one of the ladies explained that the kids weren’t paying for the subscription box. Their parents are. To which I replied, “Exactly. So why are you marketing to the kids when you should be marketing to the parents?”

Instead of explaining to young children how much fun they’ll have doing these monthly science experiments, they should explain to mothers how their subscription box offers something constructive for kids to do. It’s an educational pastime that doesn’t involve kids looking at a screen. It’s a bonding experience between them and their child. And it will improve the child’s knowledge of science which will help them in school.

You know what? They had never considered marketing to parents and thought it was a brilliant idea. Now imagine if I had simply designed what they originally wanted when they first approached me?

What clients want and what they need are often two different things.

What clients want and what they need are often two different things, especially when it comes to graphic design and website development.

Clients often come to you with an idea of what they want their finished product to look like. They might have images or a style in mind, but that’s usually where their ideas stop. It’s often hard for clients to see the bigger picture.

They may want a flashy website that is all about them, or they see something on another website and want it on theirs, but they may not need all of the bells and whistles.

As designers, we need to interpret what our clients want while still giving them what they need. And often, what clients need is someone like you who can take their vague desires and turn them into a functioning reality.

Sure they want an attractive website, and you can do that, but what they need is a website that functions for their business. This means striking a balance between the two and creating something that meets their wants and needs. It can be a challenge, but it is essential to create a successful final product.

It’s not always easy.

With some clients, this will be easy. With others, it might be more difficult.

Sometimes it’s as simple as suggesting different fonts or colours than they originally had in mind.

I recently designed podcast work for a client and submitted two different ideas. He liked the layout of option one but preferred the font I used in option 2. He asked if I could use the font from option 2 in the first one. I told him no. The font from option two wouldn’t fit the layout of option 1. What he wanted wouldn’t work.

Or you might need to steer a client away from using too many images, making their website too busy or convincing them to eliminate things that don’t help them.

Other times you may need to suggest alternative or innovative ways to accomplish something the client might not have thought about.

A recent website client wanted me to create a page on their site to list all the books they recommend. They wanted a page they could edit whenever they wanted to add a new book. They would add the latest info and format it to look like the rest.

Instead of doing what they wanted, I added custom fields to the website and created a section to enter book information quickly. Now, whenever they want to add a new book, all they have to do is click a “Create Book” button I made for them, fill out a simple form, and the information will automatically show up on the page already formatted.

The client can’t believe how much easier this method is than what they were doing before and has thanked me several times for designing it that way. It wasn’t what they wanted. But I figured it was what they needed. And I was right.

The point is that you need to adapt your designs to fit the client’s needs, not the other way around. That doesn’t mean you never have to do what the client wants, though. It is a compromise. And on some occasions, if you’re lucky, what a client wants and needs turns out to be the same thing.


When you give a client what they need, especially when it’s not something they considered initially, they are more likely to be satisfied with the work you do for them. They’ll appreciate your out-of-the-box thinking. They’ll feel like you took their needs into account and over-delivered.

Remember, good graphic designers and website designers take the time to learn about their clients and what they’re looking for before starting any project. Use your skills and experience to figure out what your client needs and deliver on it. This helps ensure that the client is happy with the final project.

This may be harder for newer designers. Knowing what clients need comes from experience. Often, ideas for new clients come from interaction with past clients. The more you work at this, the easier it will become. At that point, you truly become a problem solver, and not just a “yes person.” meaning someone who simply follows orders. And that opens up a whole new opportunity for your design business.

Remember, your goal as a design business owner is to make money. And when word gets out that you can take what a client wants and turn it into what a client needs, clients will be lining up to work with you, and the money will start flowing in.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.

Jan 31, 2022

I want to start with a story. A business coach client hired me for a design project about a dozen years ago. He had just finished writing his second book and wanted me to design and format it for him for publication. The project also included an accompanying bookmark and a small website related to the book.

I had given him a quote for the project, which he readily accepted, and we got underway.

Once the project was completed and paid for, this business coach told me how impressed he was working with me. He said everything went so smoothly that he would have paid three times the amount for the great work I provided him.

Now I brushed this statement off as hyperbole from a grateful client. I mean, how many times have you received excellent service somewhere and thought, "I got more than I paid for?"

But then he said he wasn't exaggerating and proceeded to explain why he thought that way. And what he said next changed the way I looked at pricing my projects from that day forward.

How do you determine your pricing?

I'll get to what that business coach told me in a moment.

One of the most challenging tasks freelance designers or design business owners have is determining what to charge for their services. I mean, how much does a website or a logo cost? It's as arbitrary as asking how long is a piece of string?

It never fails. Whatever number you come up with for a design project, you will always wonder if it's too little or too much. Let me put your mind at ease on one of those fronts. "Too much." is never the correct answer to that question. And I'll explain why in a bit.

Coming up with applicable fees is difficult because many factors are to consider.

  • Your level of experience will influence what you charge.
  • The quality of the work you do is also a factor.
  • The type of clients you work with can significantly affect your pricing.
  • Where you live, city, state or province, country all play a part in your pricing structure.
  • Even culture may play into it.

With everything to consider, no wonder pricing is such a debated topic among designers. One designer may think $2000 is a lot for a website, while another won't consider a web project for less than $10,000. I'm saying that there are no right or wrong answers regarding how much you should charge for your design services. You charge what you think you're worth.

But that's what I want to talk about, what you're worth. Because there's a good chance, you're undervaluing that number.

Let me ask you a question. How much do you think it would cost if you had to pay someone else to do your job?

If you think it would cost more than what you charge, then there's your answer. You're not charging enough. However, you might think that it would cost a very similar or maybe even a lower amount to what you charge your clients. And that may be true. It's hard to tell.

But let me rephrase my question. How much do you think it would cost if you had to pay individual people to do everything you do for your clients? Now it gets more complicated.

Let's take a website project, for example. We tend to group all our services into one easy-to-explain package called a "website design" and slap a price on it. But what exactly goes into a website design? Let's break it down. Of course, everyone will have their way of working on a website, so this is just a simplified example.

For a website project,

  • You'll probably start things off with some form of discovery meeting to determine what the client needs and the problem the website will solve.
  • With what's entailed determined, you and the client need to settle on a proposal and sign a contract.
  • Once that's out of the way, you'll do some research. You'll look into what others in the industry are doing, especially your client's competition. You may research adjacent sectors as well. You may search for new and innovative ways to meet your client's needs.
  • Next, you may start wire-framing or thought mapping out the website with all this info in hand, figuring out the best structure and hierarchy to use.
  • Then you'll start with the design: Colour palette, font choices, styles, image aesthetics and all the other visual elements that go into a website.
  • Maybe you'll need animations or videos. After all, the client wants the website to POP, don't they?
  • Next, there's development. The nitty-gritty of connecting all the pieces together, so you have a functioning website. This may involve more research as you look into plugins and third-party solutions to help with your build. Sales funnels, eCommerce platforms, email lists, calendar scheduling tools are just a few things you may have to incorporate into the build.
  • Then, the client wants the website to be found, so you'll do your best at implementing SEO strategies to help with find-ability.
  • Finally, you'll send your last invoice and get paid for the project once the website is complete.

Whoa, good job. You worked your butt off, and everything worked out great. The client got the site they wanted and paid the fee you quoted for this website project.

But back to my question. How much do you think it would cost if you had to pay individual people to do everything you just did?

Let's see; you would have had to hire a salesperson for the initial contact, proposal and contract signing.

Next, you'd need a researcher for the discovery and other investigating you did.

Then there are the UX and UI Designers you would have to hire. One to design the feel of the website, how it flows and how easy it is to navigate. The other to develop the aesthetics of the site. How natural and attractive it is.

After that, you'll need a developer to put everything together. Someone who knows how to take what came out of the UX and UI Designers' minds and put it into action.

Along the way, you'll need an SEO person to make sure all the "T" s are crossed and "I" s dotted to give the website the best chance to be discovered by those searching the web.

And then, you would need a bookkeeper or accounts person to handle the invoicing and payment processing.

And on top of all of these people, you would also need a project manager to oversee them all and keep things on track.

Wow, that's a good group of people. Eight if my math is correct.

So how much do you think it would cost if you had to hire eight individual people to work on this job instead of you doing it yourself?

Chances are it would cost way more than what you charged your client for their website project. And hold on, I haven't even considered the profit for your design business. After all, you took on this project to make money, didn't you? So after paying all these people, there needs to be some leftover for you to make a profit.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

When your client hired you to design a website, they, in effect, hired all these people. You acted as a project manager, a researcher, a UX and a UI designer, a developer, and an SEO person. Plus, you took on the roles of sales and account person. So why should your client get such a good deal just because all of these people encompass one body, yours?

The answer is they shouldn't.

And that's the big mistake so many freelancers and design business owners make. When determining their prices, they fail to consider every specialty they are bringing to the table.

Think of yourself as a team of individuals, each with their unique skills, and you can see why you should be charging much more for your services.

And that's what that business coach client told me all those years ago.

For his first book, he had hired a page layout person to format the pages of his book. He also hired a graphic designer to design the cover for the book and the bookmark. And he hired a web designer to create the website.

Each of these people did their part and got paid separately. And the total for the three of them came up to almost three times what I charged him to do everything myself. So when he saw my quote, he knew he was getting a steal of a deal.

He told me that by lumping everything I do under one umbrella of "it's all part of designing." I was doing myself a disservice. I was undervaluing all the individual skills I brought to the table. Only when I started thinking about what, or perhaps who is required for each part of a design project, will I start realizing how much value I bring and start charging accordingly. Because every small part of a project you do, there's an individual out there that specializes in doing that one thing. And they're billing for it.

From that day forward, I started charging more for what I do.

Before I go, I'd like to ask you to do something for me. Think of the last design project you did for a client and how much you charged them. Now take out a pad and pencil and break down that price into the individual roles you performed to complete their project. How much did each "person" get paid? And don't forget to leave enough for your profit.

I have a feeling that if you do this small exercise, you'll realize that you are not charging enough for what you bring to the table. And I'm hoping this is incentive enough for you to stop undervaluing yourself and start charging what you're worth.

Jan 24, 2022
Networking is all about getting your name out there. It's not about selling or pitching. It's about gaining recognition, building a reputation, if you will. Networking is the building block to every successful design business.

Networking can take place anywhere and everywhere. You don't need to be at a conference, trade show or special networking event. Nor does it have to be with a particular sort of person or even a potential client. Every person you talk to, including family, friends and strangers alike, is a form of networking. And the more you do it, the better at it you'll become and the more successful you'll be.

It's no secret that the number one way a graphic design business grows is through word-of-mouth referrals. And for word-of-mouth referrals to happen, people have to know four things about you.

1. Who you are.
2. What you do.
3. Your reliability.
4. Your likeability.

When someone knows these four things about you, there's an excellent chance they will share your name with others.

Now you'll notice how I didn't mention how good a designer you are. Believe it or not, your skills as a designer have little impact on the referrals you get. Some fantastic designers rarely get referred. Like some questionable designers are referred all the time.

Why? It all boils down to those four elements. So let's break them down.

1. Do they know who you are?

This one is self-explanatory. If someone doesn't know you, There's zero chance they'll share your name with others.

Now luckily, you have two avenues to remedy this: yourself and your business. As long as one of these two is known, there's a possibility someone shares it. A person may not know who you are, but they may know your business. Or vice versa, they don't know your business, but they know you. In either of these situations, they have the opportunity to spread the word based on what they know.

If they don't know you or your business, the chances of referring you are zero.

2 Do they know what you do?

Someone may know who you are, but they won't recommend you to others if they don't know what you do.

And don't confuse "what you do" with "the career you have" someone may know you're a graphic designer, but graphic design is an extensive term, so it doesn't tell them what you do.

It's like saying someone is a mechanical engineer. That tells you their career, but it doesn't explain what they do. Two mechanical engineers can have two completely different skillsets and work in different industries. They are mechanical engineers with the same degree, but neither does the same work as the other one does.

Graphic design is the same thing. For example, some graphic designers work with video. Other graphic designers don't know anything about video. Some are illustrators; others aren't. Some designers design for the web, and some design only for print. Titles such as UX Designer, Multimedia Designer, Production Designer, etc., are great for people in the industry. But for the general client, titles like this don't explain what a designer does.

The idea here is to know what you do; people need to know more than what career you have.

3. Are you reliable?

To pass your name on to someone else, people need to know if you are reliable. Or maybe more accurately, that they know that you are not unreliable.

If someone asks you for a recommendation and you know of someone suitable for the task, you'll probably share their name even if you know very little about them.

However, if the person you're thinking of is unreliable, you probably won't share their name because it will reflect poorly on you.

A few episodes ago, I shared a story about my roof needing new shingles and my problems with the person I hired. Well, to give you an update. That was November, and he promised he would do my roof before winter. It's now the end of January, there are several feet of snow outside, and my roof still isn't done.

Now, if someone asks me if I know anyone who does roof repair, you know I won't be sharing this guy's name because he's shown himself to be unreliable. So even though I know who he is, and I know what he does. The fact that I think he's unreliable stops me from referring him.

The same applies to you. If you do something that makes people think you are unreliable, they will not refer you.

4 Are you likeable?

I've said it many times on this podcast before. Clients would prefer to work with a good designer they like than with an amazing designer they don't like.

Think about it. When was the last time you wanted to work with someone you didn't like, regardless of how good they were at what they do?

The more someone likes you, the more they'll want to work with you and the more they like you, the more they'll be willing to share your name with others.

So these four things:

1. Knowing who you are.
2. Knowing what you do.
3. Knowing that you're reliable.
4. Knowing that you're likeable.

These are the four key ingredients to getting referrals.

How do they work?

Now that we have a clear idea of the four ingredients, how do you ensure people know these four things about you?

Well... by communicating with them. And that's where networking comes in. As I said at the start, networking occurs any time you communicate with someone. Every conversation you have, be it in person, over the phone or video, or in writing, brings that person closer to knowing these four key ingredients about you.

Whenever possible, talk to everyone you meet. I know this can be hard for a lot of people. Designers tend to be introverted, and to an introvert, the thought of striking up a conversation with a total stranger is like asking them to stick their hand in a bee's nest.

But it doesn't have to be that hard.

You're not trying to relay each one of the four key ingredients with every conversation you have. This isn't a pitch for work. You're making progress if you show someone just one of the four points. Let it build up over time.

Letting people know who you are is the first and easiest of the four key ingredients. All you need to do is introduce yourself. After all, they can't refer you if they don't know you. So make sure you tell them your name. And if the conversation merits it, tell them your business name. They only need to remember one of the two to refer you.

Next, Tell them what you do. An elevator pitch is great for this. I talked about crafting your elevator pitch back in episode 116 of Resourceful Designer. But in a nutshell, your elevator pitch should briefly and concisely explain who you are, what you do, who you do it for and what results you produce.

In other words.

Hi, I'm (your name). I'm a (your title) who does (insert what you do). I help (type of people) to achieve (the outcome you provide).

For example: Hi, I'm John Smith. I'm a web designer, and I build fast and functional websites that turn visitors into paying customers. I help small businesses grow their revenue by increasing their online sales.

Do you see? Short and precise. It tells people who you are and what you do. If this interests them, they'll ask you to explain more. And if it doesn't engage them, that's ok. They've learned enough information to pass your name along should they have the chance.

In my case, my elevator pitch might go something like this.

Hi, I'm Mark Des Cotes. I'm a Brand Consultant who develops visual branding for podcasts. I help podcasters look more legitimate and gain more traction by offering them professionally designed band assets, including cover artwork, social media graphics, websites and more. All of which leads to better exposure and more downloads for their show.

A simple elevator pitch can go a long way to explain what you do to someone.

As I said earlier, just saying you're a graphic designer doesn't explain what you do. It would be best if you lay it out for them.

And don't take it for granted that someone you know is familiar with all the services you offer. Never presume a client, a friend, a family member, or anyone else knows what you do.

I talked about this way back in episode 2 of the podcast, where I shared a story about my brother-in-law. Who knew me before I even became a graphic designer and someone who I've designed many things for over the years. He asked if I knew anyone who could create a rack card for him one day. I thought he was joking, but he wasn't. It had never come up, so he didn't know that I could also design rack cards on top of everything else I do.

So whenever possible, share specifics of what you do with others.

FYI, a newsletter is a great way to do this. Once per month or once per quarter, send something out to your clients and all your contacts, letting them know what sort of work you've been doing. I guarantee you that someone will reach out saying they had no idea that you did that sort of thing.

And then there are the final two ingredients.

Reliability is something that takes time. Showing up on time for a scheduled meeting or promptly returning an email or phone call shows that you are reliable. Completing a job or project on time and to a client's satisfaction shows that you are reliable. Offering helpful advice or suggestions shows that you are reliable.

Everything you do that creates a positive impression helps build that notion that you are a reliable person.

And that brings us to likability.

Once again, time is your friend here. Is it possible to instantly like someone? Sure. But if you're looking for referrals, and that's what we're talking about today, you need that impression of you to grow over time.

Getting people to like you shouldn't be that difficult. I mean, you're a great person, aren't you? What's not to like?

But seriously, simple things such as greeting everyone you meet, regardless of who they are, help solidify your likability.

For example. Whenever I have a meeting at a corporate office, not only do I try to get there 10 to 15 minutes early (which shows my reliability). I make a point to talk to as many people there as possible. The doorman, the receptionist, the assistant, everyone. Not just about why I'm there. But simply to talk.

I'll ask the receptionist how his or her day is going. I'll ask if they're looking forward to the weekend. If I know anything about their family life, possibly from a previous conversation, I'll ask about their spouse or children.

These short 1-minute conversations add up over time and help someone form a good impression of you.

When our local shopping mall was one of my clients, every time I went there to meet with the marketing manager, I made a point to stick my head in the Managing director's office to say hi. Sometimes it was a quick wave. But other times, we would have a short conversation. Not about design or why I was there, but about life. We were both fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team, which gave us common ground to talk about. When he decided to run for political office, he hired me to design his campaign material. That might not have happened if I had not made a point of connecting with him.

I would also talk to the receptionist during each visit. A shopping mall receptionist is used to dealing with upset mall shoppers over everything from the lack of baby strollers to lost and found items to taking complaints about one store or another. They welcome a conversation with someone who doesn't have an agenda with them.

Over many small conversations with that receptionist, including some, where I shared what I was working on for the mall. She knew who I was. Through our discussions, she learned what I did. My punctuality showed her I was reliable. And my taking the time to talk with her led her to like me. 1, 2, 3, 4. All four key ingredients checked off.

And you know what? When that receptionist left her job at the mall to work at a financial firm and heard her new employer was looking for a designer, she recommended me. I had never worked with her directly, but she had learned the four key ingredients about me during her time working at the mall, and that was enough for her to mention my name. And for me to get a new client.

You see how it works. Referrals can come from anywhere and anyone. Some even come from the least likely people. But they all have one thing in common. The person who refers you knows who you are; they know what you do, think you are reliable, and to some extent, like you. Or, at the very least, have no reason not to like you.

The title of this episode says it all. When it comes to networking, it's not who you know; it's who knows you.

And networking happens with every interaction you have. From interactions at a business conference to talking with the cashier at the grocery store. From attending trade shows to having a conversation with the person who cuts or styles your hair. From talking with your doctor to email correspondence with your clients. Every interaction plays a part.

The more someone knows about you, the better the chances of referring you.

And when they know who you are and what you do. And they know you're reliable and like you. That's when the magic happens.

And that magic turns into new opportunities for you and your design business to grow.

Networking: It's not who you know. It's who knows you.

Dec 13, 2021

A look back at 2021 and a look ahead to 2022.

Thank you for your continued interest in Resourceful Designer. You have no idea how much I appreciate you. There are so many great resources 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 2021 is my Look Back, Look Ahead edition. It’s where I reflect, and of course, share, what my year was like as a design business owner. Then I’ll look ahead at what I want to accomplish in 2022.

A Look Back at my 2021 goals.

At the end of 2020, I set these goals for myself.

FAIL: Talk at more conferences. For obvious reasons (hint, there was a pandemic), I failed at this one. I talked at two virtual conferences at the beginning of the year, but I didn’t enjoy the experience and opted not to apply anymore.

FAIL: Grow the Resourceful Designer podcast audience. When the pandemic hit in 2020, my podcast listenership took a big hit like many other podcasts. A lot of people listen to podcasts on their commute. And with the elimination commutes, people didn’t have time to listen as much.

I was hoping that the numbers would tick back up this year. But I’m still way below what I used to get before the pandemic hit.

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 not a member of the Community and you’re looking for camaraderie with fellow designers, I highly suggest you check it out. Registration will open up again in February 2022.

ACCOMPLISHED: Grow Podcast Branding. I think I made the pivot this year from Podcast Branding being a side business to my main business. I know financially, it’s much more lucrative than my long-standing design business.

Some of my numbers from 2021

Resourceful Designer

  • I released 41 podcast episodes. The lowest in a calendar year since I launched the podcast. The number is down because I took several weeks off this summer after my father passed away.
  • Reached over 630k total episode downloads in 2021 (Over 63k of which were in 2021)
  • Resourceful Designer released on Samsung devices.

My design business

COVID-19 continued to affect my business in 2021. I lost several clients due to closure. And many who remained were affected financially and didn’t ask me for anything.

  • Worked on design projects for 23 different clients (up from 9 in 2020)
  • No new clients in 2021.
  • I sent out 41 invoices in 2020 (up from 14 in 2020)
  • Lost five long-standing clients due to various reasons but mostly COVID-19 related.
  • Started consulting work with our local Business Enterprise Centre.

NOTE: I didn’t actively promote my design business in 2021. Instead, I concentrated on growing my other business, Podcast Branding.

Podcast Branding

My Podcast Branding business was my moneymaker this year.

  • Worked with 64 different clients (up from 51 in 2020)
  • Launched nine new websites for clients. (down from 16 in 2020. However, revenue from those nine websites was more significant than the 16 last year.)
  • It was featured as a guest on two podcasts that brought in new business.

A Look Ahead at my 2020 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 2020.

  • 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.

What about you?

Did you accomplish your goals for 2021, 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 to hone 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, whatever your level of skill, whatever your situation is, I want you to take some time to look back at 2021 and think about your accomplishments AND your shortcomings.

Did you stop after your accomplishments? Or did you plow right 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 2021.

As 2021 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 2022 your year of success.  To help with your planning, perhaps you should listen to episode 55 of the podcast, Setting Goals For Your Design Business.

These past two 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 two years, and use everything you’ve learned to make 2022 and future years even better.

I’ll be back in 2022 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 2022?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Dec 6, 2021

Make the most out of print brokering.

In episode 49 of the Resourceful Designer podcast, I talked about offering print brokering as a means to supplement your design business. If you do print design and do not offer print brokering, you’re losing out on a lot of potential income. I made over $1,000 from three different print jobs this past week alone. And that’s not counting how much I charged for creating the designs themselves.

One of those three jobs was reprinting an existing flyer for a client. It took me less than 3 minutes to find the print file, send it to the printer along with specifications for the order, including instructions to deliver the finished job to my client. Then I sent an invoice to my client. That 3 minutes of work earned me over $300 in print brokering commission.

What is print brokering?

If you are unfamiliar with print brokering, it’s when you act as the middleman between your client and the printer. In some cases, you mark up the printing price to invoice your client, and in other cases, you get a discount from the printer and charge your client the non-discounted cost, keeping the difference for yourself.

Clients like it when you offer this service because they don’t have to deal with the printer directly. Printers like this setup because they get to deal with someone who understands how things work. Listen to episode 49 of the podcast to learn more about print brokering.

Today I’m sharing ways to augment the money you make by print brokering. And not simply by increasing your markup. However, that is a way to do it. No, I’m talking about ways to improve your revenue, and at the same time, your client feels like they’re getting a better deal.

Upselling and Cross-Selling.

Let’s start with upselling and cross-selling. What are they, and what’s the difference between the two?

Upselling is when you offer more of the same thing. Think of McDonald’s when they offer to upgrade your medium drink to a large for only $0.25 more. That’s an upsell. You get a larger drink, and they get more money.

Cross-selling is when you offer an additional thing. When you order a burger and drink, McDonald’s will always ask you if you want to make a combo? That’s a cross-sell. In this case, you get something else, fires, and they collect more money.

Upselling and Cross-Selling Print Brokering.

How do you use these two concepts in print brokering?


You can upsell a print job in many different ways. But the easiest is through the paper stock and printing options. Printing on a specialty paper stock will improve the look and appeal of a printed job, which may interest your client. It will also increase the cost, which in turn increases your profit.

Printing using spot colours is a great way to improve the look of some printed pieces.

I have a client who is a lawyer. She insists on using spot colours for her business card. We could accomplish a similar result using CMYK, but she likes the flat look of the spot colours and is willing to accept the higher printing costs to get the look she wants. And in turn, I make more money on every print run.

Novelty stocks are a great upsell. Do you have a client who’s a window washer? Suggest clear business cards. How about a client in the construction or industrial industry? Suggest laser engraved metal cards. A client in the outdoor space may be willing to spend more on wooden business cards.

  • Embossing
  • foil stamping
  • die-cutting
  • rounding corners
  • Gilded edges
  • specialty folds
  • laminations or special coatings.

These are all printing options you can upsell to your clients.

Another way to upsell is to suggest larger quantities. Most of the operating costs in a print run occur in the setup stage–pre-press, printing plates, press set up, ink, etc. After that, all that’s left is paper and time. That’s why in most cases, the more you order, the less per unit the printing costs. Five hundred business cards may cost $50. Doubling the order to 1000 cards may only be $65. That’s an easy thing to sell a client on. They get more for their money spent. And you get more as your commission.


Like the McDonald’s combo, cross-selling a print order involves additional items.

When a client comes to you for business cards, you may want to suggest additional items such as thank you cards. If you’re asked to design invitations for an event, you could offer table cards or place cards. If it’s for a wedding, you could also suggest thank you cards and perhaps gift tags the couple can attach to whatever gifts they’re handing out to their guests.

Many designers offer stationery packs or bundles that include business cards, letterheads and envelopes. The bundle is less expensive than ordering each individually, which is great for your client. But it’s also usually more than what they initially thought to order. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve convinced a client to order envelopes to go with letterhead or maybe an invoice or other form. And it all means more revenue for me.

Another way to cross-sell is to suggest multiple print runs for various languages. I did this just recently.  A client hired me to design coasters for a local campaign. When they gave the information for the coasters, I noticed it was all in English. Our local area is bilingual in English and French, so I asked if they would like me to design a French coaster simultaneously, which they agreed to. This doubled the print run and doubled my profit.

Create opportunities for more print runs (more profit).

So far, I’ve been talking about increasing your revenue by printing more at a time–either larger quantities or more items. But another way to earn more money from print brokering is by designing something that has an “expiry date” which will require them to be printed more often.

I have a client that attends trade shows throughout the year. He includes his prices on his flyers. Every year as he increases his pricing, he asks me to update his flyer and have more printed.

Some products change appearance over time. If you include a photo of the product on the printed piece your client may be more inclined to update the photos as newer models come out, requiring new printed pieces.

I talked earlier about how larger print runs can save a client money in the long run. But sometimes they just don’t have the budget for a larger run. Smaller print runs will allow them to get by until they can afford to have more printed. And you make money each time.

Include dates on recurring events. A yearly festival could get away with using the same flyer and poster year after year. But if you include the date or any information specific to this particular year, they are forced to print new ones each time.

Another great way to increase your print brokering income is by keeping track of your client’s anniversaries. Designing an anniversary logo for a client is always a fun project. Suggesting they include the anniversary logo on all their print material is even better.

One of my clients is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2022. We’re in the process of adding the anniversary logo to the many print pieces they have. That means a huge printing order. All to showcase their special occasion. The following year they can continue using their current stock of printed material that doesn’t include the anniversary logo.

If you know when an anniversary is coming up, you can make the suggestion ahead of time and get the ball rolling. Your client will appreciate your thoughtfulness, and your business will appreciate the added income.

Two final tricks.

I want to share two more “tricks” with you that have helped me earn more money with print brokering.

I always tell every client who orders business cards through me, to never hand out just one card. Business cards are a networking tool. When you hand them out you should always give two or three at a time. You tell the recipient to keep one and hand the others out to anyone they know who could use your service. Clients love this idea. But it also means they run out of cards faster and need to reorder.

And finally, whenever possible, convince your client to include their photo on their business card. Again, it makes a great networking tool. A card with a photo makes it much easier to remember the person. It also creates a subconscious connection. When you see a photo of someone, seeds of trust start to germinate immediately. Knowing what a person looks like makes it easier to connect with them. Why do you think so many real estate agents put their photos on their For Sale signs? Because if you know who the person is, you’ll trust them more, regardless if you’ve met them or not.

But how does a photo on a business card help you as a print broker?

People change. Maybe it’s their hairstyle. Maybe they shaved their facial hair or grew some. Maybe they never liked their old photo. Whatever the reason, they may want to update their photo. And they won’t care if they have half a box of cards left. They’ll gladly discard them for new ones.

A couple of weeks ago one of my clients contacted me for business cards for a new employee. I replied back asking if any of their current employees wanted to update their cards with a new photo. That one order turned into four orders, which in turn, means more money for me.

If you’re smart about it. There are always ways to increase your print brokering sales. And not in a slimy salesperson way.

One last thing.

Make sure you follow up with your client after the fact. Following up lets you know if your client liked their print purchase. Hearing their comments is a great opportunity to learn what worked and what didn’t. And you can use those lessons when dealing with other clients.

How do you increase your profits from a print brokering job? Leave a comment below.

Nov 29, 2021

Don't confuse clients with rates that don't match your brand.

I’d like you to imagine this scenario.

There’s a neighbourhood in your city that you love. It has beautiful homes with big yards and lots of green space around. It’s close to amenities like schools and shopping. And the internet infrastructure is state of the art, which we know is a must for what we do as designers.

It’s the type of neighbourhood that you occasionally drive through and think to yourself; I would love to live here.

The problem is, home prices in this neighbourhood are way out of your budget. You figure you can afford maybe $350k. Perhaps you can push it to $400k. But unfortunately, homes in this neighbourhood typically sell for over $700k. But you can dream, can’t you?

Then one day, while driving through the neighbourhood, you see a FOR SALE sign in front of what could be your dream home.

You’ve admired the homes in this neighbourhood for a long time, but always from the outside. But here’s your chance to get a peek on the inside because there are sure to be photos on the realtor’s website.

When you get home, you fire up your browser to take a peek. As you’re navigating to the page, you play the guessing game in your head. You guess its listing price at $795K. But when the page loads, that beautiful house, the one you’ve been admiring for years, is listed at $295k.

What do you think your first thought would be in this situation? Or maybe second thought after you realize you can afford it. You would probably start wondering, what’s wrong with it? Why is it listed so low? What mess would you be getting yourself into if you were to make an offer?

I’m sure you’ve experienced this feeling before. Maybe not with a house. But perhaps with a car, or something else. Especially when the item in question is something previously owned, what’s wrong with it that’s making the seller offer it for such a low price?

It’s not just houses.

Something similar happened to a designer friend of mine just a couple of weeks ago.

He was at a business conference, and on one of the days, they divided people up into small groups—kind of a Mastermind format where each person in the group had time to present their business.

Being prepared as only designers can be, my designer friend had a presentation ready and walked everyone through his business. He showed them what he does, how he does it, his processes, and his annual billing and 3-year financial snapshot. It was a business conference, and he was very transparent in everything he shared.

After his presentation, One of the attendees, a woman he had met earlier at the conference, approached him to talk. She told him that after the 5-minute conversation they had when they first met, she thought, “this guy knows what he’s doing, but there’s no way I can afford him.” But after seeing his numbers on paper, she told him she could easily afford him. And that’s not good a good thing because his prices conflict with the brand image he’s putting out.

Do you do this?

You’re a designer, you’re proud of what you can do, and I’m sure you like to showcase the best of it in how you present yourself. After all, you know that if you only put in a half-baked effort, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

But what happens if the brand image you present to the world conflicts with the prices you charge for your services?

Just like the house in my opening story, people may wonder, what’s wrong with you. They may be hesitant to hire you because the prices you charge seem too good to be true compared to the skills you showcase. And you know that when something looks too good to be true, it usually is.

Could this be happening to you? Could it be that you’re not getting enough work because you’re not charging enough for the talents you possess?

My own story.

About a year or two after I started working from home, I was working for a department of the Canadian government located in town. They were pleased with my work, so they passed my name up the chain. It wasn’t long before I had the chance to bid on a big federal government project.

I received the RFP (Request For Proposal) and read it over several times to ensure I understood what was involved. I then calculated every aspect of the job. I figured out how long it should take me, what assets I may need to purchase, and what contractors I may need to hire. I then added in time for revisions, and, like all good designers, I added in some padding for anything unexpected that may come up.

The price I came up with was $8,000. It was going to be my biggest project to date. Satisfied with my quote, I submitted the proposal, already designing the project in my head. But a week later, I found out I didn’t win the project.

Reaching out to my contact at the local government office, I asked if she knew how much I was outbid by. But to my surprise, she found out that I hadn’t been outbid. I was, in fact, the lowest quote. The issue was my price was too low.

The government agency had received four bids in total for the project. The other three ranged in price between $12,000 and $14,000. When they saw my $8,000 proposal, they thought it was way too low, which meant I must have misunderstood what was involved with the project. Not willing to take a chance, they discarded my proposal and chose the lowest of the remaining three.

Was my bid too low? Had I misunderstood the RFP? No, my price was accurate. Accurate for me, that is. You see, the other three bids came from design agencies in Toronto. And Toronto is a much more expensive city than where I live. Where my hourly rate at the time was $50, theirs were closer to $200/hr. They also carried way more overhead than me, a solo designer who works from home, and they needed to compensate for it in their bids.

But none of this was transparent to the person or people who reviewed the four submitted bids. All they had to go by was the price. And my much lower price did not give them confidence in my ability to complete the project.

It’s how we’ve been raised.

Since a young age, the world has conditioned us to associate excellent quality with a higher price. It’s the “you get what you pay for” way of thinking. The more you spend, the better the quality. The less you spend, and you’re taking chances.

I know someone who has several eBooks for sale on Amazon. She originally listed her books for $1.99 each. And every month, she sold roughly half a dozen books.

Then she read a report saying that $9.99 eBooks consistently outsell $1.99 ebooks on Amazon. The study determined that pricing it at $1.99 diminished the book’s perceived value no matter how good the content was. People didn’t believe that a $1.99 eBook could help them or was worth their time.

So she decided to raise the price of her books to $9.99. And you know what? Sales immediately went up. Instead of selling only a handful of books per month, he started selling several copies of each book per week.

Are you hungry?

Let’s look at it another way.

You have many options if you are hungry for a hamburger. You can get one at McDonald’s for $2, or you can choose to go to a fancy restaurant and order an $18 hamburger. I guarantee the $18 hamburger will taste better and be more satisfying. Because if that $18 burger tastes like a Mcdonald’s hamburger, you’re going to be mighty upset with your purchase.

That’s what clients think about you if you’re presenting yourself as the “Fancy Restaurant” of the design world.

When they hear you talk or visit your website or see your other marketing material, they will imagine a price range based on the quality of what you present them. That “$18 Hamberger,” if you will.

But if you then present your prices and they’re more in the “$2 hamburger” range, something will not feel right to them, and clients will second guess their decision to work with you. You’re lower prices may be impeding your business.

More proof.

If you’ve been following Resourceful Designer for a while, you know that I started a side business designing for the podcast niche a couple of years ago.

There are many options available for people looking for podcast cover artwork. My site is one of the more expensive ones. And yet, I receive new orders every week. And when I ask why they chose me over any other option, they tell me it’s because of the professional look I put forward and how they thought it was worth the higher price.

Does that mean that everybody wants to work with me? Of course not. I know that many people see my prices and immediately leave my site. But it’s not because my prices are too high.

A business coach once told me there’s no such thing as being too expensive. Just that you may be unaffordable to some people. And that’s OK. But to those who can afford you, your prices will be just right.

Don’t fall into that rut where the brand image you’re putting out there says one thing about your business, but your prices say another. All you’ll be doing is confusing your potential clients. And when you confuse, you lose.

Take this time, and review your rates. Are they in line with your brand image? If not, then you should consider raising them.  And you know what? I’m releasing this at the end of November, which means that the new year is just around the corner. And the new year gives you the perfect opportunity to introduce your new pricing.

Make sure your rates don’t conflict with your brand.

Nov 15, 2021

The reason to use checklists.

I first talked about checklists way back in episode 89 of Resourceful Designer. In it, I shared various types of checklists you can use for your business. I even shared my now outdated checklist for starting a new WordPress website.

Today, I’m not going to share checklist ideas with you. Instead, I want to talk about the importance of using checklists. To emphasize their importance, I want to start by telling you a story.

I heard this story while listening to an audiobook called My Best Mistake, Epic Fails and Silver Linings written by Terry O’Reilly. It’s a great book of stories about failures that led to amazing things. Check it out if you have the chance. One of the stories O’Reilly tells in the book inspired is what inspired what you’re reading here.

It’s estimated that the average American undergoes seven surgeries in a lifetime, and surgeons perform over 50 million surgeries annually. That’s a lot of operations.

In 2009, roughly 150,000 patients died immediately after surgery—3 times the number of fatalities from road accidents. What’s scary about that number is that half of those deaths were completely avoidable. That number caught the attention of Doctor Atul Gawande, a Boston surgeon and professor at Harvard Medical School.

It’s the 21st century. How can all these complications happen despite the accumulated knowledge of professionals? Gawande wondered if there was a way to reduce the number of operating room errors that resulted in these deaths. To find an answer, Gawande looked at other fields for ideas.

Back in 1935, The U.S. Army was looking for the next generation of long-range bombers. They held a competition between top airplane manufacturers to come up with a new design. Although the issued tender was fair for all involved. It was a known fact that Boeing’s technology was miles ahead of their rivals Martin and Douglas.

Boeing’s new Model 299 could fly faster than any previous bomber, travel twice as far, and carry five times as many bombs as the Army requested. The Army was prepared to order sixty-five of the aircraft before the competition was even over.

The big brass of the Army Air Corps gathered for the first test flight of the Model 299. The impressive machine took to the sky with its 103-foot wingspan and four gleaming engines (instead of the usual two found on most planes.) It was quite a sight to see.

As the plane took flight, it climbed to three hundred feet, stalled, and crashed in a fiery ball of flames. Two of the crew died that day, including the pilot who was the Army Air Corps’ chief of flight testing.

The Army decided to award the contract to Douglas instead. And Boeing almost went bankrupt.

However, The follow-up investigation revealed that there was nothing mechanically wrong with the plane. And it was determined that the crash was due to pilot error. But how could that be? How could the chief of flight testing, one of their most experienced pilots, make a mistake that would lead to the crash of such a sophisticated plane?

As the investigation showed, the Model 299 required the pilot to monitor the four engines. Each one requiring its own oil-fuel mixture. He also had to attend to the landing gear and wing flaps, adjust the electric trim to maintain stability at different airspeeds and regulate the constant-speed propellers with hydraulic controls. And that was only a few of the things on which the pilot needed to concentrate.

It turns out that while attending to all of these things, the pilot forgot to release a new locking mechanism on the elevator and rudder controls. It was a simple oversight that led to the crash.

Boeing was ready to scrap the plane, but a group of pilots believed the Model 299 was flyable. So they got together to find a solution. When they later approached Boeing, they didn’t request any mechanical changes to the plane. Nor did they think pilots needed to undergo extended training on how to fly it. Instead, they came up with a simple and ingenious solution. They created a pilot’s checklist.

They made a list that was short enough to fit on an index card. It covered all the mundane step-by-step tasks required for takeoff, flight, landing and taxiing. In other words, the checklist covered all the dumb stuff.

With the new checklist, pilots flew the Model 299 over 1.8 million miles without one single accident.

To distance themselves from the previous failure during the test flight, Boeing changed the name of their new plane to the B-17. The Army ordered 13,000 of them, which gave the Air Corps a decisive advantage in WWII. All because of a checklist.

Since the 1960s, nurses have relied on charts, a form of a checklist, to know when to dispense medicine, dress wounds, check pulse, blood pressure, respiration, pain level, etc. And although doctors would look at these charts when visiting a patient, they viewed these checklists as “nurse stuff.”

In the late 90s, a study determined the average hospital patient required 178 individual actions by medical staff per day. Any one of which could pose a risk. The researchers noted that doctors and nurses made errors in only 1% of these actions. But that still adds up to almost two errors per day, per patient.

When you multiply that by every hospital worldwide, it means millions of people around the globe are potentially harmed by the very medical staff assigned to help them.

In 2001, a doctor at Johns Hopkins designed a doctor’s checklist for putting in a central line; a tube inserted in a large vein used to administer medication. It’s a standard procedure that just about every doctor is familiar with. It was also a widespread cause of infection in patients.

So this doctor devised a simple checklist listing the five steps involved in carrying out the procedure. He then asked the nurses to observe the doctors for one month and record how often they carried out each step. They found that in over 1/3 of all patients, doctors omitted at least one of the five steps.

The following month, hospital administration instructed the nurses to insist doctors follow each of the steps. The doctors didn’t like being told what to do by the nurses, but the nurses had the backing of hospital administration, so they grudgingly complied. When the new data was later tabulated, they thought maybe a mistake had been made. The infection rate for central lines dropped from 11 percent to zero.

They continued the study for longer, to be sure, but the results were the same. It was estimated that a simple checklist had prevented 43 severe infections and possibly eight deaths in that one hospital, saving $2 million in costs.

And yet, even with this evidence, many doctors refused to grasp the importance of this precaution. They were offended by the very suggestion that they needed a checklist. They already had so much to do that they didn’t want one more sheet of paper to worry about.

To prove his point, the doctor who wrote the checklist introduced it to other hospitals in Michigan. There was pushback, but in just three months, the rate of bloodstream infections dropped by 66 percent. Many of the test hospitals cut their quarterly infection rate to zero. A cost savings of nearly $200 million. All because of a simple little checklist.

All checklists have an essential function. They act as a “mental net” to catch stupid mistakes.

In 2005, the director of surgical administrator in a Columbus, Ohio hospital created a checklist for operating rooms. It contained simple things such as verifying they had the correct patient on the table and the right body area prepared for the surgery. This little addition improved surgical success rates by 89%.

There’s a lot more to this story. In his book, O’Reilly shares stories of how more and more hospitals started implementing checklists for various things, but I’m not going to bore you with them.

Back to the original story. In 2008, after conducting his research, Atul Gawande devised a checklist to be tested by a group of pilot hospitals worldwide. Some operating rooms embraced it, while others protested it as a waste of time.

During a knee replacement surgery to be performed by one of the checklist’s most vocal critics, it was discovered while checking the boxes that the prosthesis on hand was the wrong size. If they had started the surgery, the patient might have lost his leg. That surgeon became an instant checklist evangelist.

In all the hospitals using the checklists, surgical teams began working better together, and the surgical success rates soared. Complications fell by 36 percent, deaths by 47 percent and infections by 50 percent. And patients needing return visits to the operating room fell by 25 percent.

What’s amazing about using checklists is that they dramatically improved an outcome without increasing skill or expenditure. Instead of adding rigidity to their lives, checklists free people by getting the dumb stuff out of the way.

Today, 90 percent of hospitals in North America and 70 percent worldwide use a checklist.

And you want to hear something funny. When Gawande’s original pilot project was completed, doctors were asked to fill out an anonymous survey. Seventy-eight percent said the checklist had prevented errors. But there was still 20 percent who didn’t like the checklist saying it took too long to implement and didn’t think it was worth it. However, when those 20 percents were asked if they had to undergo surgery, would they want the checklist to be used? Ninety-three percent of those who opposed the checklist said yes.

I hope you found these facts as interesting as I did.

Now you may be saying, sure, a checklist in a plane or an operating room makes sense. It can save lives, after all. But I run a graphic design business, so I’m good. I don’t need checklists.

I used to think that way as well. But remember, checklists are freeing because they help get the dumb stuff out of the way, which frees you up for the more important things you do.

I remember a couple of years ago. I was doing routine maintenance on one of my websites I had launched a couple of years prior. While verifying and updating things, I noticed something that almost made my heart stop. The little checkbox next to “Discourage search engines from indexing this site.” was still checked. Meaning, for close to two years, my website was telling search engines, “I’m good. Don’t pay any attention to me. Go look somewhere else.” That’s a stupid mistake that I could have avoided with the use of a pre-launch checklist.

Today, I have several checklists I use regularly. I now have a website pre-launch checklist. A WordPress install checklist. A first client contact checklist. A podcast client checklist. A Resourceful Designer podcast checklist. And many more.

As I said earlier, these checklists help ensure the dumb stuff gets done so that you can concentrate on the more important things without worrying.

If you are not already using checklists in your business, I suggest you start now. And if you think that your checklists are in your head, remember the story about doctors putting in a central line. There are only five steps involved, steps that every doctor knows. And yet, when observed, nurses noted that over 1/3 of all patients, doctors missed at least one of the five steps.

Your memory is failable. A checklist is not.

Nov 8, 2021

Be wary of your reputation.

Let me tell you a story. It is a story that has nothing to do with graphic or web design, but it is relevant to running a business, and I'll tie that into running a design business if you stick around to the end.

We built our house in 2005. Or, more accurately, we had someone build our home in 2005.

If you've ever built your own home or know of someone who has, you know that it's a long and gruelling process. When you buy a pre-built house, you get what's there. Sure, you can renovate it. But until then, what you buy is what you get.

But when you build a home, you're starting with a blank slate. Think of it as opening a new document in Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign, or starting with a fresh installation of WordPress. What you do with it is entirely up to you. Building a home is like that.

When you build a home, you get to choose how many rooms it has and the size of each room. You get to select floorings such as tile, wood, or carpet. You get to choose the light fixtures, the plumbing fixtures, the windows, the door, etc. You decide everything that goes into your house.

My wife and I did that when we started the process for ours. One of the aspects we had to choose was the shingles for the roof. It sounds simple, but there are thousands of varieties and colours of shingles to select from.

My wife and I took many drives around different neighbourhoods, looking at roofs then trying to match those we liked with samples our contractor supplied us. In the end, we chose a nice brown multi-hued asphalt shingle that gave our home character. We loved it.

A couple of years ago, we started to notice these little grain-like substances appearing on our back deck. At first, we thought it was dirt. But we soon realized that it was debris falling from our shingles. There wasn't a lot of it, so we shrugged it off as peculiar.

Then last summer, the debris pieces started getting bigger and fell more often. And when we looked at our roof, we noticed the shingles were starting to turn up at the corners. We weren't happy about this but didn't know what we could do about it. So we let it go as a nuisance.

Well, this spring, when the snow melted, we were shocked to see a layer of dark brown debris on our deck, and our shingles curved and cracked much more than last summer. So I finally decided to take action.

I started by calling the contractor who built our house. When I explained the situation, he immediately knew what I meant. He had dealt with several other people facing the same problem. It turns out the singles on our roof had a defect. A big enough one that there was a class-action lawsuit filed and won against the manufacturer.

Our shingles have a 25-year warranty. According to the settlement, we're entitled to compensation for the unused portion of that warranty. The only specification is we have to replace them with a newer shingle by the same manufacturer.

I'm upset that I hadn't looked into the issue when we first discovered it. I could have received a more considerable compensation. But I'm glad there's something we can do.

Not knowing how to proceed, I asked my contractor for advice. He retired several years ago, but he gave me a name of a contractor he recommended who is familiar with the process. He suggested I contact him for a quote on redoing my roof, which I need for the claim process.

He also recommended I talk to his old foreman, who oversaw most of the homes he built, including mine. I called the foreman for advice. It turns out he's also retired, although more recently. He told me he had handled many of these shingle claims on behalf of other clients. And although he no longer does that, he would help me however he could.

He told me the first step was to get a quote from a qualified professional roofer. And the person he recommended was the same one my contractor had given me. The foreman had worked with him several times and was currently engaging him to build his new house.

Having received the same name from two trusted sources, I called this new contractor and left a message for him to call me back.

While waiting to hear back from him, I looked him up online. I read the Google and other reviews had nothing but good things to say about him, which boosted my confidence. I was eager to get the process started.

But several days passed, and the new contractor didn't return my call. So I called and left another message, and then a few days later another.

Finally, a week later, he called and apologized. He said the pandemic had taken a toll on his business. He lost several employees leaving him to juggle more than he usually did. This is understandable. The news is full of companies suffering due to staff shortages these days.

I explained my situation and what I required, and he agreed to stop by the next day to look at my roof. But he never showed up. Two days later, I called him, and once again, he apologized, saying he would be here the next day.

To his credit, he showed up. He spent almost an hour on my roof measuring and taking photos of all the problem areas for me to submit with the claim. Once done, he said he would send me the images and have a quote ready by the end of the week.

My wife and I are also thinking about adding a screened-off area to our back deck next summer, so while he was there, I asked him for a quote on that as well. He said I would have both quotes by Friday. But the end of the week came, and I didn't hear from him.

I waited until Wednesday the following week before calling. Once again, he apologized for the delay and said, once again, I would have the quotes by Friday.

Do you see a pattern here?

Friday came and went. On Monday, I called him, asking where my quotes were. He told me he couldn't send them because he didn't have my email address, which I had already provided him. I gave it to him again, and the following day I received the photos and the quote for my roof. The second quote for the screened-in porch was nowhere to be seen.

With the roof quote and photos of the damaged areas in hand, I filled out all the information required to submit my claim, including the material list the contractor supplied me.

Upon submission, I learned it could take up to 120 days before I get a response. In the meantime, no work was to be performed on my roof, in case they needed to send someone to inspect it.

I called the contractor, and I told him we couldn't move forward for possibly up to 120 days. But I would still like to book him for the job when the time comes. He told me it was not a problem. He could pencil me onto his schedule for the fall. All I had to do was let him know when we could proceed.

I also reminded him that he owed me another quote, to which he replied I would see it soon.

Now you may be thinking. This guy doesn't seem too reliable. Why not get someone else? Well, during the process, I did get two other quotes from other roofers. One I found online, and the other I remembered seeing when a neighbour had his roof done. Both were more expensive, and their online reviews were not as good as the contractor I was already dealing with. My neighbour even told me he wouldn't hire the same guy again. Plus, given the time frame of a 120-day wait, neither of them would guarantee they could repair my roof before winter.

Now true to form, it took exactly 120 days before I heard back that my claim was approved and I could move forward with the roof repair. I immediately called the contractor and left him a message saying we were good to go. And then I waited. Three days later, I called and left another message and waited some more.

Now I'm starting to get worried. Winter is fast approaching Eastern Ontario, and no roofing will be done once the snow starts falling. And my roof has deteriorated significantly over the summer to the point where I don't think we could last the winter without possible water damage.

Finally, a few days later, I heard from the contractor. He told me not to worry, he still has me on his schedule, and my roof will get done before winter. The next step is to choose what new shingles we want. He said he would drop off samples that afternoon. He never showed up. That was Tuesday.

On Wednesday, I called him. He apologized and said he would drop them off on Thursday morning before heading to his current project. He never showed up.

Today is Friday. I still don't have the shingle samples. And I no idea if or when he'll do my roof, even though he says not to worry, it'll be done before winter.

At this point, there's nobody else I can call. I have no choice but to rely on this person that I've lost all faith in. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that my roof gets repaired before snowfall.

So why did I share this with you? A story about my roof that has nothing to do with graphic or web design. It's because I wanted to share with you how NOT to run a business.

I had two people I trust recommend this guy. And his online reviews were great. So I had no reason to suspect the frustrations I would experience dealing with him.

But at this point, he could do the most fantastic job on my roof, and even if he offered me a discount because of the troubles, I would still never recommend him to anyone. His reputation is tarnished beyond repair.

That's the message I want you to take away from this story. It doesn't matter what sort of work you do for your clients. What matters is how you treat them. You may be a great designer, an amazing designer, in fact. But never forget that you're not the only designer around.

When a client calls or emails you, make sure you reply promptly. Even if it's only to say "thank you for the message." so they know you received it. That simple acknowledgement can go a long way in building trust.

If a client asks you to do something or send them something, make sure you follow through. If you're afraid you might forget, set a reminder on your phone or add it to your calendar. You can even stick a Post-It note to your monitor.

You want to build lasting relationships with your clients so they come back to you over and over again in the future. You'll never be able to do that if your reputation is tarnished. Because once you lose their trust. It's almost impossible to gain it back.


You won't believe this. As I was wrapping this up, the contractor showed up at my door with the shingle samples. He didn't even apologize for being late this time. He did, however, assure me that he would do my roof in three weeks. It's on his schedule, and I shouldn't worry. But you know I'll worry anyway, at least until the work is complete.

As for the quote for the screened porch for the deck? I still haven't seen it. But at this point, I don't care anymore. Once he's finished my roof, I never plan on hiring this guy again.

I hope none of your clients ever feel that way about you.

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