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Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business

Offering resources to help streamline your home based graphic design and web design business so you can get back to what you do best… Designing!
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Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business
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Now displaying: Page 4
Oct 11, 2021

As a freelance designer, you will face peaks and valleys while running your business.

I've said it before, and I'll repeat it. There's nothing better than working for yourself. From deciding who you want to work with to how much you want to charge for your work. Being your own boss is, well, liberating.

As your own boss, you get to set your own hours. Want to waste time during the day and work at night? That's your prerogative. Feel like getting away for a few days? Go ahead. You don't need permission to take time off.

When you're working for yourself, you get to chose where and how you want to work. If you feel like spending the day at a coffee shop working away on your laptop, you can. If you feel like hunkering down at home to avoid all distractions, go for it. As a self-employed designer, a freelancer if you will, you have the freedom to make your destiny. I don't think there's any better career than that.

However, I will give kudos to one aspect of working as a design employee for someone else—a steady paycheque.

With all the restrictions, limitations and handholding that may come with being an employee, the one bright light is the knowledge that every week or two, on schedule, a predetermined amount of money gets deposited into your bank account. This money shows up regardless of how busy or not busy you were. This steady paycheque may be the only way that being a designer trumps being a freelancer.

It's true. As a self-employed designer, a freelancer, you never know when or where you'll get your next payment. Nor how much it will be. And that can cause a lot of stress in your life, especially if you are the primary breadwinner in your household. Because even though your income may be unpredictable, your monthly expenses are not. They show up right on schedule regardless of the balance in your bank account.

I wish I could tell you there's a simple solution to this dilemma, but there isn't. Ask any self-employed designer, and they'll let you know of their experiences navigating these peaks and valleys. Peaks when work, and of course income is in abundance. And valleys when they become scarce. There is no solution if you want to remain a freelancer.

However, there are ways to mitigate the problem so peaks and valleys even out over time. Here's what's worked for me and some other methods I've heard work for other designers.

Recurring revenue.

Recurring revenue is as it sounds. It's revenue (or income) that recurs regularly.

Retainer agreements.

The best way to acquire recurring revenue is by offering a retainer to your clients. I talked about retainer agreements in episode 32 of the podcast and again in episode 255. The gist of a retainer agreement is offering an ongoing service to your clients that they pay for regularly.

In some cases, you may have to sacrifice some income for the guarantee of this recurring revenue. For example, If your hourly rate is $100, you may want to offer a retainer where, if a client guarantees to pre-purchase 10 hours of your time per month, you'll only charge them $90/hr for them.

Or if a client asks you to design social media posts regularly. You could offer a retainer agreement where they guarantee to pay a fixed fee for a certain number of graphics every month.

Since retainer agreements are guaranteed recurring revenue, they act as a regular paycheck similar to what you'd get as a design employee. Some designers work exclusively on retainer agreements, allowing them to predict how much money they earn each month.

There's a lot more to retainer agreements than just this. I suggest you listen to episodes 32 and 255 of the podcast if you want to learn more about them. But suffice it to say, retainer agreements are a great way to even out the peaks and valleys.

Website maintenance agreements.

Another form of recurring revenue if you're a web designer is to offer a website maintenance agreement. A website maintenance agreement states that you will secure, update and take care of a client's website for a fixed monthly fee. It's kind of an insurance polity for their website.

Website maintenance agreements require very little time and effort on your part and offer peace of mind to your clients.

Selling digital products.

Another form of recurring revenue, although not as steady or predictable as retainer agreements or maintenance agreements, is selling digital goods and products.

You are a designer, a creative visionary. Why not use the design skills you offer your clients and put them to use for yourself? There are many platforms such as Creative Market or Design Cuts where you sell your creative wares. These offerings are available for purchase by other creatives and people who need certain assets but may not have the skills to create them themselves.

I've created dozens of designs that I sell on various print-on-demand platforms. I get paid any time someone buys a t-shirt, coffee mug, phone case or sticker with one of my designs on it. This is another form of a digital product.

For me, it's not enough to make a living. At least not with my few dozen designs I sell. But every month, I receive anywhere between $70 - $120 for my designs. Some of them I created years ago, and I'm still collecting money from them. And I'm sure if I dedicated the time to make more of these designs regularly, I could generate a more considerable recurring income.

To learn more about selling digital products, listen to episode 155 of the podcast, where I talked about this exact topic with Tom Ross, the founder of Design Cuts.

So, all in all, recurring revenue is a great way to even out the peaks and valleys you'll encounter as a freelance designer.

Promote when you're busy.

There are other things you can do to help ease the peaks and valleys situation. One of the best pieces of advice I've ever heard is "Promote your business when you're busy." It's a case of don't wait until you're thirsty to dig a well.

It sounds crazy. When you're pulling your hair out because you have too many projects on the go and deadlines quickly approaching, the last thing on your mind is drumming up more work. But believe it or not, that's precisely the time you should be promoting your business. Why? Because marketing takes time to germinate. 

The more you promote your business while you're busy and experiencing one of those peaks in workload, the less deep the valleys will be that you'll have to navigate once the work rush dies down. If you do this right, you may be able to raise those lulls to the point where instead of peaks and valleys, you'll be cruising across an even plain.

I know what you're thinking. If I'm that busy, how will I find the time to promote my design business? To that, let me say: Promoting your design business doesn't require a massive advertising campaign. All it takes is sending off a few emails to idle clients to ask how they're doing and if there's anything you can do for them. It doesn't take much. And if you do it right, your peaks and valleys won't be that severe.

Draw a salary from your business.

There's another way for you to lessen the impact of peaks and valleys. Remember when I said the one benefit of being a design employee is the regular paycheque? Want to know a little secret? You can make yourself a design employee of your own freelance design business and have the best of both worlds.

What? No way! Yes, way. I know many designers who do just this. They treat themselves as an employee and draw a regular paycheck from their own business. Here is how it works.

All revenue earned from design work, recurring revenue, and selling digital products belongs to your design business. It all goes into a business bank account and gets treated the same way any other company treats its capital assets. From that pool of money, you, the designer, draw a salary.

Running your company this way puts the burden of dealing with the peaks and valleys on your business and not on you, the designer. As far as you're concerned, those peaks and valleys even out because you draw the same salary every week regardless of the business' income. This method spreads out your income evenly over time. Let me give you an example.

Let's use some round numbers here and say you make your salary $500/week. One week you take on a $1200 web project. That $1200 is deposited into your business's bank account, and from it, you withdraw your weekly $500 salary, leaving $700 in the bank.

The following week things are slow, and the only work you get is a $300 poster design. That $300 is deposited into the bank, bringing the balance up to $1000. At the end of the week, you withdraw your $500 salary, which leaves $500 in the business bank account. Enough for your next week's salary should no work come in.

Here's the fun part. At any point, as the funds in the business' bank increase, you can always pay yourself a bonus. The other benefit is since the business has this money, it's available for business purchases such as new equipment or subscriptions and doesn't have to come out of your pocket, which lessens the hurt of spending it.

I know many designers who use this model. In most cases, those designers run their businesses as LLCs or some other form of corporation. I have my business set up as a sole proprietorship, so it's not easy to separate the business from myself.

I even know some designers who use a third-party employee payment service to prevent them from dipping into the business' bank account.

The best thing you can do is check with your accountant to see if this is a good model for you. It may offer tax benefits for you as well, especially if your business is incorporated.

Raise your rates.

The last idea I want to share with you has to do with the rates you charge. Many designers who switch from full-time employment to freelancing use their full-time salary to base their freelance rates. Don't. As a freelancer, you are expected to charge more. 

If you were making $25/hr working for someone else, you should be charging your clients double or triple or even more for your services.

As a self-employed designer, you have to pay for your own benefits. Three are no sick days or vacation pay, or parental leave. You have to make sure you are compensated for the risk of lost income due to anything from medical emergencies to vacations in the tropics. 

Call the higher rates you charge a form of self-insurance. You should make sure the money you earn today when things are going well will get you through the times when work dries up. You do this by charging enough to make sure your future is covered.

Not sure how to raise your rates? Luckily for you, I wrote a blog post on this exact topic.

It's up to you to deal with the peaks and valleys of freelancing.

These are some ideas for dealing with the peaks and valleys of a freelance income. It may sound daunting and stressful. And knowing about these peaks and valleys may have you thinking that working for someone else is looking more appealing. But if you can learn how to manage the fluctuating income of running your own design business. Chances are you'll not only outearn your employed counterpart. But you'll enjoy greater job security, autonomy and flexibility.

A 2018 study by Upwork shows that nearly three-quarters of full-time freelancers report earning more than when they had a full-time job. And 87% are optimistic about their future careers. In fact, more than half of respondents say no amount of money would get them to switch back to being full-time employees working for someone else. I know that's how I feel.

Remember, running your own design business is two jobs–a designer and a business owner. When you're pursuing your passion, it's easy to get caught up in the former and forget about the latter. If all of your focus is on your design work, you're only doing half your job. It's that business owner side that needs to do whatever you can to ensure those inevitable valleys you'll face are not as deep as they could be. You do that by following the advice I just shared with you.

One last thing.

I've been talking about these valleys as if they are a terrible thing. Something you should try to eliminate if at all possible. But when they do happen, and they will, try to enjoy those slower times. Use them to your advantage. Get out there and network. Contact old clients you haven't heard from in a while. Work on personal projects you've been neglecting. And make sure you use those slow times to work on your business. You know, all the things you told yourself you'd get to one day.

Heck, You can even use some of that slow time to relax and enjoy life. After all, when you're in a valley, it just means there is another peak on the horizon.

Sep 13, 2021

Earlier this week, a member of the Resourceful Designer Community was seeking advice. A potential client contacted her asking if she designs book covers, which she does. Before replying to this unknown person, she decided to investigate who they were. She discovered that this potential client is an author. And the subject they write about is something the design is strongly against.

The Community member wanted our advice on how to proceed. Should she turn down the client, or should she wait to hear more about the project before deciding?

As always, when someone asks a question in the Community, she received lots of great advice. The consensus was she should hear them out before deciding what to do. After all, their new book might not have anything to do with the subject of their previous books.

But this posed a bigger question. What reasons are there to turn down a lucrative design project?

In episode 133 of Resourceful Designer, I shared 12 Red Flags For Spotting Bad Design Clients. Most of those Red Flags only become visible after you’ve started working with a client. Stuff such as the client being rude to you or inconsistent communication.

In the episode after that one, episode 134, I shared ways to turn away clients politely. It included sample scripts you can copy and paste for yourself. You may want to refer to that episode after you’ve finished listening to this one. Some of those scripts apply to today’s topic.

It’s one thing to spot the red flags once you’ve started working with a client. But how can you avoid ever working with them in the first place? And why would you want to turn them down? After all, we’re in this business to make money. And when you’re first starting, it may seem like a foreign concept to turn down a paying gig.

What I can tell you is that after 30+ years of working with design clients, knowing when a client isn’t a good fit and how to turn them down becomes a top priority whenever you meet a potential new client. You’re better off putting your time and energy into finding better clients to work with.

If you’re a long-time follower of Resourceful Designer, you’ve heard me many times before say that you don’t work for your clients. You work with them. You need to consider every client relationship as a partnership. At least for the duration of the project. That may be only a couple of days or weeks. But it could also turn into something much longer. So you need to ask yourself every time you meet a potential new client. Is this someone I would like to partner with, yes or no?

Reasons why you shouldn’t work with a client.

There are many reasons why you shouldn't work with a client. Some of them are nefarious reasons.

  • They want you to do the work for “exposure.”
  • They have an unreasonable deadline they want you to meet.
  • They undervalue you and want to pay below your regular rate.
  • They’re unclear of exactly what they want or need.
  • They’re asking you to do something unethical or illegal.
  • They’re not comfortable signing a contract.

There could also be legitimate reasons for not working with a client. These reasons have nothing to do with the client persé and more with you.

  • You have current obligations to existing clients and don’t have time for this new project.
  • The project they’re asking you to design conflicts with your values.
  • The services you offer are not a good fit for their project.
  • Their budget is too small.

All good reasons to turn down a client. But, ultimately, the biggest contributing factor to whether or not you should work with a client is your gut. Trust your gut. It’s seldom wrong.

Mike, a founding member of the Resourceful Designer Community, gave the best answer to the original question. Whenever Mike finds himself in a situation where he’s uncertain about a potential client, he asks himself three questions.

1. Am I giving up anything that I am more passionate about or that would be more profitable if I choose to take on this new project?

Think about that. Any time you say yes to something, it means you’re inadvertently saying no to something else. There’s always something that has to give, even if it’s your personal or family life.

If taking on this new project means neglecting another client’s project, it may not be a good idea, especially if the existing client’s project is more profitable.

Likewise, if taking on this project means you’re going to lose out on time with your spouse or kids, it may not be a good idea. The extra money may be nice, but is it worth it if all your child remembers is mommy or daddy missed their game, their performance, their school outing?

Only you can weigh the options.

2. Will the new project be harmful to others?

You may recall a story I’ve shared on the podcast before. I had a huge client I had worked with for years. They owned many different companies ranging from restaurants to car washes to a telecommunication company.

During my time working with them, they ended up acquiring a tobacco company.

According to a study by an anti-smoking organization, the biggest demographic increase in smokers was among girls between 12 to 18. My client wanted to use that information to their advantage and asked me to design a poster depicting their cigarettes that would appeal to girls in that age range.

I refused. There was no way I was going to be complicit in enticing young girls to start smoking. The client threatened to pull all their work from me and find another designer if I didn’t comply. So I fired them.

If a design project will be harmful to others. Turn down the job.

3. Will taking on the project jeopardize an existing and valued relationship.

Think about that. Are you willing to put an existing client relationship at risk to earn some money from a new client? I hope not.

Of course, this one is a bit tricky. There’s a fine line between what could jeopardize a relationship and what wouldn’t. To some, having two clients who are competitors might not be a good idea. To others, it's not an issue.

In my opinion, the best way to interpret this third point is on moral grounds. For example, a designer with ties to the health industry may not want to take on a design project that discourages people from getting vaccinated. It’s not worth jeopardizing that relationship.

It's up to you.

I encourage you to copy down and remember Mike’s three rules.

  1. Am I giving up anything that I am more passionate about or that would be more profitable if I choose to take on this project?
  2. Will the new project be harmful to others?
  3. Will taking on the project jeopardize an existing and valued relationship.

If a project fails any of these three criteria, it’s not worth taking on.

Brian, another member of the Resourceful Designer Community, also had a good suggestion. If a project is something you would be ashamed to have on your monitor if a child walked by, then it’s not worth taking.

I’ll add to Brian's statement by saying if it’s not something you would want to tell your mother you’re working on, then maybe you should take a pass.

Should you ever find yourself having to turn down a client or a project. Remember to look at episode 134 of Resourceful Designer, where I shared different scripts you can use depending on your situation.

Sep 6, 2021

We’re lucky that we chose a profession where confidence beats knowledge. Before I dive deeper into that, we first have to look at what confidence is.

According to disctionary.com, Confidence is the belief in oneself and one's powers or abilities.

  • Confidence is what’s center stage when you say, “I can do this.”
  • Confidence is what’s driving you when you say, “I can figure this out.”
  • Confidence is the ladder you climb when you say, “I can succeed.”

Without confidence, your goals, your intentions, your ambitions might as well be called dreams. Because that’s all they’ll ever be if you don’t believe in yourself and your abilities.

I fully believe that without confidence, you cannot succeed as a design business owner. I’m not talking about being a designer. Many designers lack confidence in themselves. I know and have worked with designers who fall into that category. I’m talking about running your own design business. Being a freelancer if that’s what you want to call yourself.

But I digress.

Confidence. If you want to succeed in this business, you need confidence.

But what about knowledge? Don’t you need knowledge to succeed? That’s a trick question. The definition of knowledge, according to dictionary.com, is an acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation. Acquaintance. What an interesting word to use. Most of the time, when you think of acquaintances, you think of people you know of but don’t necessarily know.

I consider Betty, the cashier at the grocery store I go to, as an acquaintance. She knows me by name, and we exchange pleasantries whenever I’m in her checkout line. If we run into each other in town, we’ll smile at each other and say hi, but that’s the extent of our interaction. We’re acquaintances.

Merriam-Webster defines knowledge as The fact or condition of being aware of something. Being aware of something? According to this dictionary meaning, that’s all that’s required to have knowledge.

So, according to two reputable sources on the meaning of all things. Knowledge doesn’t mean intimately knowing something. It just means being acquainted or aware of something. When you think of the definition in that way, you realize that you don’t actually need to know something to succeed. What you need is confidence in your ability to seek knowledge. And that's why confidence beats knowledge.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of times when knowledge trumps confidence. If I’m about to have surgery, yes, I want a confident surgeon, but I hope their knowledge of the procedure they’re about to perform supersedes that confidence.

If I’m about to take a trip, I’m less interested in how confident the pilot is and more concerned that they know how to fly a plane.

But when it comes to design or to run a design business, confidence beats knowledge.

You probably don’t remember, but there was a time in your life when you were very young when you didn’t know how to walk. You crawled around on all fours. Or maybe you were one of those butt dragging babies. Regardless, one day, after spending your entire life so far on the ground, you got up and walked.

At one time, you didn’t know how to ride a bike. Then one day, you did. You didn’t know how to swim. Then one day, you did. This applies to hundreds, or should I say thousands of accomplishments in your life. You didn’t know how to do something until you did.

I remember when my kids were young. Any time they would get frustrated and say, “I can’t do it,” I would calmly correct them by saying, “It’s not that you can’t do it. You just don’t know how to do it yet.” And once they learned, I would remind them how they felt before their accomplishment.

But what does Confidence beets Knowledge mean? It means that you don’t need to know how to do something before taking on the task of doing it. You just need to be confident that you’ll figure it out.

I admit I didn’t always feel this way. Back in 2006, I was approached by our local library to design a new website. They had heard good things about me from several people and had decided I was the one they wanted to work with.

This was going to be a huge project. In fact, I was a bit intimidated when I found out their budget for the website was $50,000. That was more than I made in a year back then.

The library wanted their new website to be connected to their catalogue of books. They wanted visitors to the website to tell what books they carry, if they were available for loan or already checked out. And if the latter, when they would be back. They also wanted members to be able to reserve books for pickup and put holds on books. All the typical things you expect of a library’s website today. But in 2006, not many libraries had integrated catalogues on their website.

I knew enough about websites to know that it was way beyond my capabilities. At that time, I was hand-coding websites in HTML and CSS. However, this website would require a database and therefore PHP and MySQL.

The problem was, I didn’t know PHP or MySQL. And even though I tried to learn it in a hurry, I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept. Where HTML and CSS were so easy for me. PHP left me stumped. No matter how many books I read or courses I took, I just couldn’t grasp it. Maybe it was the pressure I was under to learn it quickly to start on the website. I don’t know. But in the end, I gave up.

Now you may be thinking, you gave it a good shot, Mark, but at least you could hire someone to do the coding for you.

Well… I kick myself to this day for not thinking of that. No, that’s not right. I did think of it. I just didn’t have the confidence back then to follow through. I didn’t know what to do. I realized I didn’t have the skills required for the project, but I didn’t know how to find someone to help me. I knew what I needed to do but not the confidence to follow through.

Upwork’s former halves Elance and oDesk were around back then, but I wasn’t aware of them or any other online platform I could turn to. So, backed into a corner, I did the only thing I thought I could do. I contacted the library and told them I couldn’t take on the project.

I turned down a $50,000 job.

Several months later, their new website was up and running, I talked to my contact at the library, and he told me who they had hired to do the job. I was taken aback. I knew the person they hired. And I also believed their knowledge of web design wasn't much more than mine. So how did they pull it off?

I ran into them shortly after that and asked them. You guessed it, they created the design look for the site but had hired someone to do the actual coding. It cost them $12,000 to hire a developer to complete the site for them.

Presuming they were being paid the same $50,000 I had been offered, that meant they made $38,000 just for designing the look of the website. And I lost out on that money because of my lack of confidence.

That lesson taught me a lot.

1) I was an idiot for not thinking of hiring someone myself.

But most importantly

2) I lacked confidence from the moment I was presented with the website project. I figured I didn’t have the knowledge and, therefore, couldn’t handle the job.

If I wanted to succeed in this business, I would need to rectify that. I would need to be more confident in what I could get done.

Since that fateful day, I have never turned down a job for lack of knowledge. When a client asks me if I can do something that I’m unsure of or flat out don’t know how to do. I answer them with confidence that I can get the job done. And then I figure out either how to do it or who to hire to do it for me.

Confidence beats knowledge.

Be your own guinea pig.

It’s great to be able to hire a contractor when you need one. We’re lucky that there are so many options with good talented people available to us. But nothing beats learning how to do something yourself.

You know that old saying, give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime. Providing he likes fish, that is. But the same concept applies to us as designers. I love hiring contractors to help me. But given the opportunity, I would much prefer to learn the skill and do the job myself.

There are ways you can do just that while working on client jobs. Not sure how to do something the client is asking for? Chances are there’s a blog article or YouTube video that will walk you through it.

But sometimes, it’s a good idea to be your own guinea pig.

If you’ve been following Resourceful Designer for a while, you know that I design websites in WordPress. Specifically using the Divi Builder from Elegant Themes. However, I just told you how I was hand-coding websites for clients.

I remember in the early 2010s, fellow web designers telling me I should try WordPress. But I had a strong aversion to WordPress. To me, the fact that WordPress used predesigned themes was an afront to designers. There was no way I would build a website for a client using someone else's design.

But in 2013, I was getting into podcasting and was told that I needed a WordPress website to generate the RSS feed for the show. Very reluctantly, I installed WordPress and bought a theme called Evolution from Elegant Themes. This was before they came out with Divi. In fact, the friend who was helping me get started in podcasting had an affiliate link to Elegant Themes. Hence, as a way to repay him for his kindness, I bought a lifetime deal through his link, even though I only needed one theme and had no plans on building any WordPress websites beyond my own.

That decision to buy the lifetime deal may have changed the course of my life—more on that in a moment.

So I built my WordPress website and had to admit that there was a lot more flexibility in it than I originally believed. The theme did restrain me somewhat, but at least I could control how each part of it looked, even if I had no control over the layout itself.

That was in June of 2013. December of that same year, Elegant Themes released Divi. And it changed my view of WordPress.

Since I had a lifetime deal with Elegant Themes, it cost me nothing to test Divi out. I installed it on a dummy site I didn't care about and really liked how it worked. Divi was a game-changer. Here was a theme that gave me full control over how each element of a website looked and how each element was placed out on the screen. I could make a website look like how I wanted it to look. Not like how some theme designer wanted it to look.

The next time I had a client website project to work on, I used my newfound confidence in my ability to make WordPress work for me and switched to WordPress and Divi. And I haven’t looked back.

If I hadn’t used myself as a guinea pig and tested out WordPress on my own website and then Divi on a dummy site, I probably never would have made the switch to what I do today.

Since then, there have been many times when I used myself as a guinea pig to test things and build my confidence. Be it new software or new features in existing software. Offering services I had previously never offered. Taking on projects I had never done before. Working on stuff for myself gave me the confidence to then use those skills on client work.

Even today. I recently started building a website for a personal project I’m doing. And even though I’ve been a devoted Divi fan since day one, I decided to build my new website using Elementor. Why? Because I know the day will come when a client will ask me to take over a website built using Elementor. So why not get my feet wet on a project of my own choosing. So When the time comes, I’ll have a better understanding of what I’m working with.

So all of this to say, without confidence, I don’t believe you can get very far as a design business owner. It’s nice to have the knowledge, but confidence in yourself and what you do with that knowledge will propel you. Look at any successful freelancer you know, and you’ll see that they exude confidence. That’s the secret to their success.

Confidence always beats Knowledge. Or at least, almost always.

Tip of the week

Let me ask you a question, is an email a contract?

Last month, a Mississippi court took up an interesting case looking at what it takes to make a contract by email.

Spoiler Alert: Not Much.

As you know, a contract is just another word to describe an agreement. So when you exchange emails with someone and come to terms on a deal you both agree on, you ARE making a contract.

In the Mississippi court case, the two parties had done just that... agreed on terms for the sale of some equipment in a series of emails.

Now here’s the tricky part.

One of the parties, Jordan, had proposed the initial offer from his computer’s email, which included his name and contact details in the signature. The other party, Parish, then countered the offer. But when responding to the counteroffer, Jordan used his iPhone to seal the deal with a “Let’s do it.” reply.  The trouble is that the message had no signature from his iPhone other than “Send from iPhone.”

Jordan later sold the goods to another buyer at a higher price. Parish sued for breach of contract, but Jordan claimed that there was no valid signature to his email and, therefore, the exchange was not enforceable as an agreement.

The trial court agreed, and an appeals court affirmed. But the Mississippi Supreme Court found the state’s Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) permitted contracts to be formed by electronic means such as emails. Then, the Court stated that the determination of whether an email was electronically signed according to the UETA was a question of fact that turned on a party’s intent to adopt or accept the writing and is, therefore, a question for the finder of facts. So, because there exists a genuine factual question about Jordan’s intent, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

Anyway. That’s a lot of legal talks. But the takeaway is. Emails can be the basis for an enforceable contract.

So be careful in wording your messages. Even something as simple as “sounds good” could be deemed sufficient to bind you.

If you consider your emails merely preliminary to a formal, written contract on paper, SAY SO. Add something to the signature of your emails, such as “this email message is preliminary and shall not constitute a binding agreement, which may only be made in a formal, written memorandum executed by all parties.”

Adding a simple line like this can save you a lot of trouble should a client ever try to hold you accountable for something mentioned in an email.

It makes you think.

Aug 30, 2021

I’m happy to announce that this week is, in fact, the final part of my Psychology of Pricing series, where I share research-proven tactics to make the most out of the prices you display. If you haven’t listened to the previous parts in this series, I suggest you go back and do so before continuing with this one. I'll still be here once you’re done.

These pricing tactics are great to use in your design business. But the real gem here is they can make you look like a pricing guru to your clients. Imagine improving their conversion rate simply by manipulating the way you display their prices. They’ll be throwing money at you.

As in the previous episodes. All of these tactics I’m sharing come from Nick Kolenda. Specifically, an article on his website nickkolenda.com titled appropriately enough The Psychology of Pricing.

The Psychology Of Pricing - Part 6

In the previous five parts of this series, I shared various ways to manipulate how a price is displayed to improve sale conversions. In this last part of the series, I’m going to share how to use discounts properly.

According to Nick, if not used properly, discounts can actually harm your business. In fact, some people suggest you should never use discounts. That may be a bit extreme. Discounts can prove useful if you know how to use them properly.

But how can offering a discount backfire?

For one, if you offer discounts too frequently, customers will become more price-conscious and wait for the next discount.

Offering discounts can also lower the reference price of a product. I’ve talked about reference prices in previous parts of this series and how they create the bar by which consumers judge other prices. Offering a discount can lower the reference price, causing people to purchase less in the future when the price seems too high.

So reducing the frequency and depth of discounts helps. But there are a few other tactics you can put to use that will help you as well.

Tactic 46: Follow the “Rule of 100.”

In a previous episode, I shared how people can perceive different magnitudes for the same price, depending on the context.

For example, changing the words that appear next to a price from “High Performance” to “Low Maintenance” can reduce the magnitude of the price, making it appear smaller.

Discounts are no different. When offering a discount, you want to maximize the perceived size of the discount so that people feel like they are getting a better deal.

Consider a pair of pants selling for $50. Which discount seems like a better deal: 20% off or $10 off? If you do the math, you’ll see that the discounts are the same. But at first glance, 20% off has the advantage by seemingly being larger than $10 off.

That’s where the “Rule of 100” comes in. If the price you are discounting is under $100, you should always offer the discount as a percentage. Saving 10% off a $20 item sounds much better than saving $2 off a $20 item. Don’t you agree?

However, as soon as the price you are discounting goes above $100, you should switch to an absolute price discount instead of a percentage. So for a $250 item, offering $25 off creates a higher perceived magnitude than offering 10% off.

Tactic 47: Mention the Increase From the Discounted Price.

This tactic also relies on magnitude. When a price is reduced, the emphasis is placed on the decrease—Now, 20% Off. 

However, a way to once again increase the perceived magnitude of the discount is by reversing the way you announce it. Instead of saying “Now 20% Off,” try something like “Was 25% higher.” It will make it more persuasive because it shows a higher numeral.

Tactic 48: Provide a Reason for the Discount.

To maximize the effectiveness of a discount, explain why you are offering it.

For example, stores may offer a discount because of inventory surplus. Or maybe it’s to clear out outdated stock. Clothing retailers do this all the time. When the new season’s fashions arrive, the previous season’s inventory goes on sale.

Or perhaps you can say you are passing on a discount you received from the supplier. Wal-Mart does this all the time with their Rollback pricing. It conveys the message that the cost savings they are receiving are being passed on to the customer.

If you offer print brokering as one of your design services, you may be able to increase orders by passing on any discount your printer offers you.

By providing a reason for the discount, you reinforce that this is a temporary or provisional thing. This will make it less likely for people to latch onto the discounted price as a reference price. And make it more likely to pounce on the discount before it’s gone.

Tactic 49: Offer Discounts in Round Numbers.

I don’t even know why this one is on the list. If you recall, specific prices, such as $21.87, seem smaller than rounded prices. Keeping that in mind, you should follow the opposite approach for discounts by using round numbers since they appear larger.

Using round numbers as discounts also makes it easier for customers to calculate the discount.

As I said, I don’t know why this one is on the list. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone offer a non-rounded discount. Have you ever seen a store advertise something like “Save $8.67"? No, it’s either save $8 or $9.

I can say about this tactic that you should try to ensure that discounts are easy to compute. You don’t want to confuse people by offering a 23% discount on a price of $37.89. If they need to take out their calculator to figure out how much they are saving, you are missing the point.

Tactic 50: Give Two Discounts in Ascending Order

This is useful for those occasions when more than one discount is applied. Say, for example, a store offering 20% off all purchases, including already discounted items.

A 1979 study showed that offering two combined discounts is often preferred to a single lump sum discount. Saving 20% off an already discounted item by 10% seems like a better deal than if the item was marked at 30% off.

Whenever possible, arrange these discounts in ascending order. So 10% off, then 30% off. a 2019 study showed that this creates an ascending momentum, making the total discount seem larger.

Tactic 51: Offer Discounts Towards The End Of The Month.

Remember that Pain of Paying thing? Well, as your budget gets smaller, paying for things becomes more painful. You’re more likely to buy a product and be more satisfied with your purchase when you have more money in your budget.

Offering discounts towards the end of the month, as monthly budgets are nearing exhaustion, is more effective because people seek ways to save money.

Bonus Tip: If you have clients who offer free trials, you may suggest they do so at the beginning of the month. Because people have a full budget at the beginning of the month, the offer of a free trial will seem more appealing to them.

Of course, this assumes the consumer uses a monthly budget. You should always consider the target customer and plan your promotions accordingly.

Tactic 52: Arrange Discounts in Tiered Amounts.

Suppose you or your client launch a promotion where customers save $50 when they spend $200. In this scenario, people need to spend $200 – which might be difficult for some people to imagine.

To make this discount more enticing, you need to strengthen the mental imagery of spending $200. How? By offering tiered discounts. Such as...

  • $50 off when you spend $200
  • $25 off when you spend $150
  • $10 off when you spend $50
  • $5 off when you spend $30

A customer might struggle to imagine spending the full $200 to get the biggest discount. However, spending $30 to get $5 off is easy to imagine.

And this is the brilliance of this tactic. Once a client can imagine spending $30, it becomes much easier to imagine spending $50. Then it becomes easier to imagine spending $150 and finally $200.

You provide a sequence of images that transform that highest threshold into a feasible reality by offering tiers.

This is the same reason the three-tiered pricing system works so well. When clients compare the first price in your three tiers to the second, they realize how much more value the second tier is, even if it’s higher than they originally wanted to spend. And once they are entertaining that second tier, the third one doesn’t seem like a big stretch, and they may go for it.

This tactic might also be used to sell bigger retainer agreements. For example, if you normally charge $100/hour for your design services, you could sell retainer agreements such as this.

  • $70/hour if they buy 20 hours per month. Total $1400
  • $80/hour if they buy 10 hours per month. Total $800
  • $95/hour if they buy 5 hours per month. Total $475

Tactic 53: End Discounts Gradually.

Traditionally, marketers use two types of pricing strategies: Hi-Lo Pricing, such as putting a $99 product on sale for $79 for a week and then putting the price back to $99 once the sale is over. Alternatively, some use EDLP or the Everyday Low Pricing method. They take a $99 product and list it permanently at $89.

A 2010 study found benefits in a new strategy: Steadily decreasing discounts (SDD for short).

Instead of dropping a price and then putting it back. This SDD strategy suggests you drop a price and gradually increase it until you’re back at the original price.

So a $99 product might be discounted to $79 for one week, then $89 for an additional week before returning the price to its original price of $99 on the third week.

The researchers found positive outcomes on multiple metrics. This new SDD strategy led to.

  • Higher revenue
  • Higher willingness to pay
  • Greater likelihood of visiting a store.

During a 30-week trial, the researchers alternated between the three strategies and found that the SDD method produced the highest overall profit margin.

With the SDD method, consumers learned that they had to get to the store early if they wanted the best deal. However, if they could not make it on time, there was still a chance for them to save money before the price returned to full.

Tactic 54: Don’t Discount Premium Products.

Remember at the beginning of this episode when I said that discounts could be harmful. This is especially true when you discount premium (AKA expensive) products.

It’s harmful because people may choose to hold off on purchasing until there’s a new discount when the discount ends. Or worse, they may choose to shop at a competitor.

When a discount is retracted on a premium product, demand shifts towards lower-priced products, however, when a discount is retracted on lower-priced products, the demand remains the same.

This boils down to that if you are competing on price, it’s ok to give discounts. But if you’re competing on quality, you should avoid discounts that emphasize price and focus on the attributes and quality of the product.

Have you used any of the tactics I've shared in this series?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Aug 23, 2021

This is week five of my Psychology of Pricing series. Where I share research-proven strategies to help the prices you display convert into sales. Some of these pricing tactics work great with your design business, and many of them are perfect for helping your clients get more sales.

So if you haven’t read or listened to the previous parts in this series, I suggest you do so before continuing with this one.

The tactics I’m sharing here are taken from a very in-depth article called The Psychology of Pricing by Nick Kolenda. You can find it on his website. Let’s get on with the list.

Tactic 35: Place Low Numerals After Right-Facing Digits.

As a designer, you know how to create flow in a design. For example, If a person is looking to the right, you want to put their photo on the left of a layout. If they’re facing the left, you want them on the right of the layout. This creates flow in the direction you want people to focus on.

There are many ways to create flow in a layout besides which direction a person is facing. One of the ways you can do it is with numbers.

A 2007 study determined that certain digits face particular directions.

  • 2,3,4,7,9 face the left.
  • 1,8,0 face centre.
  • 5,6 face right.

Rightward digits 5 & 6 push attention towards the right. When used in a price, they push attention towards the digits that follow them. Since customers tend to round numbers up or down, you’ll want to place a lower number next to a right-facing digit causing customers to round down the price.

Conversely, leftward digits, 2,3,4,7 & 9 push the attention towards the left. This means that customers may ignore a large number placed to the right of them.

Tactic 36: Insert Alliteration into Prices.

Alliteration is the repetition of similar initial sounds within a group of words. Such as Karl craves coconut cookies with a repetitive hard "C" sound.

There’s something about alliteration that feels good. It feels right. And that feeling can be misattributed towards another context. A 2016 study found that customers were more likely to buy products when alliteration was used.

For example, “Two T-Shirts for $20.” The repetitive “T” sounds make the purchase feel right.

Tactic 37: Use Round Prices in the Right Context.

Rounded prices, those that don't display cents, should be used for emotional purchases. Non-rounded prices, those that display cents, should be used for rational purchases.

There are three contexts when you should consider using round prices.

1) Emotional Purchase.

Because round prices “feel right,” they are good for emotional purchases over rational purchases.

A 2015 study found that customers prefer buying something such as a bottle of champagne for a rounded price such as $40. Whereas when buying something such as a calculator, they would prefer a non-rounded price of $39.72.

2) Convenience Purchases.

Round prices that “feel right” also trigger an “easy” sensation. Making a transaction seem easy and a good choice.

A 2016 study found that using round prices on point-of-sale items at a checkout counter increased sales.

3) Social Benefits.

Customers prefer round prices for social products. Since round numbers are easily divisible, people confuse numerical connectivity for social connectivity. For example, charging $457.99 for a four-day conference may seem expensive to someone because they see it as a high price for one social benefit.

However, charging $400 for a four-day conference makes it easy for people to think of it as $100 per day, which may sound more reasonable to them.

Tactic 38: Distinguish the Most Expensive Option.

This tactic works great with the three-tiered pricing method when quoting design projects.

In a previous part of this series, I said you should sort prices from high to low. But there are ways around that.

As designers, you know that design can have a hierarchy. A good designer knows how to lead a viewer's eye from one design section to another in a predefined path. So instead of putting the highest price first, you can achieve the same effect by adding visual distinction to the most expensive option.

You see this all the time on websites with pricing pages where one price is highlighted as the “best option.” By making something stand out, you set it up to be viewed first, creating a reference price in the viewer's mind. And if that first price they see is the highest priced option. The lower prices will seem much more appealing to them.

Tactic 39: Attribute Discounts to Emotional Products.

Face it. We like buying emotional products. I mean, nobody needs a cupcake, but that doesn’t stop you from wanting one. The problem with emotional purchases is you often feel guilty after you’ve spent the money.

A 2010 study showed that attributing a discounted price to the emotional product reduces the guilt associated with the purchase.

For example, a restaurant may sell salads and cupcakes individually for $3 each. But they have a special offer where you can get a salad and cupcake together for only $4. Saving $1 off each item is a great deal. However, they can make the deal seem even more appealing if they word it as buy the two together and save $2 off the cupcake price. Associating the discount with the emotional product, in this case, the cupcake reduces the guilty feeling of buying it.

Tactic 40: Encourage Customers to Budget Early.

Budgeting is a good thing, right? Well, not always. In fact, budgeting sometimes increases spending. Why is this? Budgeting separates you from your money. It’s put away for a specific purchase, and the farther removed it gets, the less pain you feel spending it.

A 2021 study showed that students spent more money on a class ring when they budgeted early for it.

When a client tells you they don’t have the money right now for a website redesign, you could suggest they start budgeting for it now so they can afford it when the time comes. Who knows, you may end up with a bigger project this way.

Tactic 41: Make Sales Prices Look Different From Original Prices.

A 2005 study showed that adding a visual distinction to a sales price, such as colour, point size and even the font used, increases sales. It’s called contrast fluency. It’s a trick they often use in infomercials. When an infomercial shows a person struggling with their problem, the colours are usually dull and muted. Then things clear and brighten up when they show the person using the product they’re selling.

With contrast fluency, your brain misattributes visual distinctions to abstract distinctions: Hmmm, this sales price feels different. Which must mean it’s a good deal.

Tactic 42: Add Space Between Discounted Prices.

A 2009 study showed that placing more space between an original price and the discounted price creates cognitive confusion, causing people to interpret the visual distance for numerical distance.

The further apart numbers are visually, the further apart they appear to be numerically. Add space between the original and sale price so that the numerical gap seems larger.

Tactic 43: Place Sales Prices Below Original Prices.

A 2013 study found that customers perceive a larger discount when the sale price is positioned below the original price. This is because it’s easier to subtract two numbers when the larger number is first and the smaller number second.

If you don't have enough room to put the sales price below the original price, you can place the sales price to the right of the original price for the same effect.

Tactic 44: Reduce Every Digit in the Discounted Price.

Unlike words, people read numbers in a digit-by-digit manner. A 2008 study showed that reducing every digit in a sales price increases sales. Suppose the original price is $85; you’ll want each digit to be reduced by at least one. So the sales price might be $74.

This tactic works great with larger numbers. A product that sold for $9799 might be reduced to $8650.

Tactic 45: Offer Discounts With Low Right Digits.

When the left digit in both your original and sale price is the same, using a low right digit will make the discount seem larger.

For example, if you take two different sales.

  • Item 1: Original price $19–Sale price $18.
  • Item 2: Original price $23–Sale price $22.

Even though both items are on sale for $1 off, item 2 seems to offer a larger discount. This is based on numerical cognition. We compare numbers in relative terms. $10 off a $50 product is more appealing than $10 off a $500 product, even though the money you save is the same.

This same mental process occurs when you compare small numbers with large numbers. A 2007 study found that because the number 3 is 50% greater than the number 2. It’s perceived as a greater gap than the difference between 7 and 8, which is only a %14 difference. Therefore, dropping a number from 3 to 2 seems like a much better deal than dropping from 8 to 7.

The same 2007 study showed that even when an actual larger discount was applied to prices with large right digits, people perceived the discount to be less than when a smaller discount was applied to prices with small right digits.

It’s amazing how the mind works.

If you find that hard to comprehend, try looking at it this way. And this is me saying this, not Nick. The way I see it. Numbers between 6-9get rounded up, and numbers between 1-4 get rounded down. Therefore using a low number as your right digit will lower the perceived price.

  • $17 will be rounded up to $20
  • $13 will be rounded down to $10.
Aug 16, 2021

This is week four of my psychology of pricing series. Where I share research-proven strategies to influence people to part with their hard-earned money, some of these pricing tactics work great with your design business, and many of them are perfect for helping your clients get more sales.

If you haven’t listened to part 1, part 2 or part 3 of this series, I suggest you do so before continuing with this one. Let’s continue with the series.

As previously mentioned, I took the tactics I’m sharing here from an article by Nick Kolenda on his website nickkolenda.com on the psychology of pricing. Nick has links to many of the studies I mention in these episodes.

Let’s get on with the list.

Tactic 29: Create a Payment Medium.

If you’ll recall the last episode, I talked about the Pain of Paying. That feeling we get when we have to part with our hard-earned money. Tactic 29 offers a great way to reduce that pain by creating a payment medium between the money spent and the purchased product.

What is a payment medium? Casino chips are a great example. When gambling at a casino, it's much easier to place a $10 or $20 chip on the table than it would be if you had to put a ten or twenty dollar bill down. Casino chips act as a buffer between your wallet and the act of betting, which reduces the Pain of Paying.

Another way this works, and possibly a way for you to incorporate this into your design business, is with advanced payments.

If you charge clients by the hour, Instead of offering a monthly retainer agreement, you may instead offer a discount if a client pays for a pool of hours upfront, to be used at a later date.

For example, if your regular rate is $100 per hour, twenty work hours should cost $2000. However, you could offer clients twenty hours of work to be used later for $1900. Your client would get 20 hours of your time banked for future use at a discounted price. The next time they have a design project, it won’t cost them anything because your time is already paid for. This creates a payment medium reducing the pain of paying.

Should the client have a design idea they want to explore, it will be much easier for them to justify spending hours they’ve already paid for than it would be for them to justify spending the money on their idea even though it works out to the same thing in the end.

Another thing to consider is a refundable deposit. Someone starting a venture that requires people to open an account to make purchases may require them to make a $50 refundable deposit when opening their account. This $50 can be used for future purchases or returned should the purchaser decide to close their account.

Since the money required to open the account is refundable, there will be less resistance to depositing it. More importantly, the deposit now acts as a payment medium. People will be more willing to spend it on a purchase since it doesn’t feel like money coming out of their pocket.

Tactic 30: Avoid Language Related to Money.

This tactic works great when combined with tactic 29 above. Instead of referring to deposited money as money, you may want to refer to it as something else, such as credits.

For example: Instead of clients buying 20 hours of your services. You have them buy 20 design credits, where each credit is worth up to 1 hour of design time. Then, when a client asks for a quote on a new design project, you can say it will cost them X credits.

A 2004 study showed that using credits creates an off-balance conversion between the money and the value. This conversion creates a payment medium that is more effective as it’s more difficult for the customer to convert the values.

A client with 20 design credits is likely to be more willing to spend 3 credits on a new project than spend $300 on it. Even though the two are essentially the value.

Tactic 31: Emphasize the Inherent Costs of Your Product.

People don't just care about the perceived magnitude of a price, for example, whether it’s high or low. They also care about the perceived fairness of a price.

Even if you price something low, people could still perceive it to be unfair. The opposite is also true. People could perceive a high price to be fair. It all depends on your pricing method. Cost-Based Pricing or Market-Based Pricing.

Cost-Based Pricing: Prices based on cost factors such as the cost of the materials.

Market-Based Pricing: Prices based on supply and demand or the competition.

Most people view cost-based pricing to be fairer than market-based pricing. And you can increase the perceived fairness of a price by emphasizing the inherent cost of the product.

Since consumers don’t know the actual cost and markup of an item, making the relevant cost and quality information transparent helps them make their purchase decision.

How does this work?

It’s quite easy. Emphasize the product's “top-of-the-line” materials or any other cost-based input.

Instead of advertising a new beverage as Delicious, say something like this new beverage uses naturally sourced organic ingredients. Including this information triggers a more empathetic perception of the price, causing people to imagine it's worth more. This will translate into more people willing to buy it.

Tactic 32: Add Slight Price Differences to Similar Products.

Whenever you have multiple options for a single product, you create a Paradox of Choice.

When presented with multiple options, people feel less likely to choose an option. That’s because once they choose an option, they lose the benefits offered by the other options. This loss aversion causes them to hesitate or postpone their decision. This feeling increases as more options become available.

In a 2012 study, two groups of participants were asked if they wanted to purchase a pack of gum. Each group had two options.

Group 1: Two different packs of gum priced at $0.63 each.

Group 2: One pack of gum priced at $0.62, and a different pack of gum priced at $0.64.

Surprisingly only 46% of people in group 1 chose to purchase a pack of gum. Compared to 77% from group 2. Why did this happen?

It’s kind of weird. When the two packs of gum shared the same price, people perceived them to be less similar. However, adding the small price difference increased the perceived similarity of the two packs.

This happens because when the two packs of gum are priced the same, people can’t distinguish between the two based on price. As a result, they look for other differentiating characteristics making the two products less similar. But when the prices were slightly different, people felt less need to compare the characteristics between the two packs of gum because they could differentiate them based on price.

Since the people in group two focused less on the differences between the two packs of gum, both packs maintained a higher degree of similarity, making it easier for them to choose a pack to purchase.

This tactic is used a lot on Amazon. Items that are available in different colours are priced differently depending on the colour option chosen.

Tactic 33: Use More Frequent (Yet Smaller) Price Increases.

Out of all the tactics I’ve shared with you, this is the one that I find mostly relates to designers.

The idea behind this tactic is to control price perception when it comes to price increases through what is called JND (Just Noticeable Differences).

Just Noticeable Differences: The minimum amount of change that triggers a detection. In other words, a difference that is just noticeable.

Increasing your hourly rate from $50/hr to $55/hr will be less noticeable than if you increased it from $50/hr to $80/hr.

Obviously, people take more notice of price increases when they are larger.

Unfortunately, most businesses, including designers, are guilty of avoiding price increases until it’s necessary. The problem with this is once you reach the point when it's necessary to increase your prices, chances are a tiny amount won’t help much, and you’ll need to increase it noticeably.

Many designers I know still charge the same rate as they did five or more years ago. As the price of everything increases with inflation, they are still making the same amount of money. When they finally decide to raise their rates, they’ll need to increase them significantly to catch up with inflation.

This tactic states that you should increase your rates or prices more frequently but in smaller amounts.

My suggestion is to increase your rates every January. Your clients might not even notice a small increase. And those who do won’t be too concerned with a small increase as they would if you increased your rates significantly.

Tactic 34: Downsize a Feature Besides Price.

The concept of Just Noticeable Difference can be used in other ways as well. It's used all the time in the food industry. Instead of raising the price of something, they reduce the size instead.

For example: Instead of raising the price on a 500g bag of chips, the chip company will instead use the same size bag at the same price but reduce the contents to 450g. This saves them money, and most customers won’t notice they’re getting fewer chips in the bag.

A variation of this tactic can be used when negotiating prices with clients. If a client thinks your price is too high. Offer to reduce it by removing a feature from the project. And make sure the feature you remove is worth more than the amount you reduce the price by.

More to come.

Next week I’ll conclude this series with the final tactics in the psychology of pricing.

Aug 9, 2021

This is week three of my psychology of pricing series. Where I share research-proven strategies to influence people to part with their hard-earned money. Some of these pricing tactics work great with your design business, and many of them are perfect for helping your clients get more sales.

If you haven’t listened to part 1 and part 2, I suggest you do so before continuing with this one. Let’s continue with the series.

The Psychology Of Pricing - Part 3

As I mentioned in the previous parts of this series, these tactics were taken from a very in-depth article by Nick Kolenda on the psychology of pricing. Have a look if you want to read through it yourself.

Since you’re here right now, I’ll presume you want me to continue summarizing each pricing tactic. So let’s get on with the list.

Tactic 19: Raise the Price of Your Previous Product.

This tactic applies whenever you or your client introduces a new, more expensive version of a product. Although under certain circumstances, it may also work with the services you offer.

If you’re introducing a new, more expensive version of a product, what do you do with the old version that’s left? Many people would lower the old one to sell the remaining stock as soon as possible. But a 2010 study suggests raising the price of the old product might be a better idea.

If you lower the old product's price, you’ll be reinforcing the lower reference price, which makes the new product seem more expensive, making people question if it’s really worth it.

Let’s say the old product originally sold for $100, and the new product is priced at $130. If you drop the price of the old product to a clearance price of $80, people are going to wonder if it’s really worth spending $50 more for the new product.

However, if you raise the old product's price, you also raise people’s reference or anchor price, which enhances their perceived value of the new product.

So instead of dropping the original product's price from $100 to $80, you raise it to $110. Now, people who compare the old and new versions will favour the higher-priced new version that is only $20 more than the old one. And those looking for a deal will be happy to save $20 by purchasing the old version.

Tactic 20: Sort Prices From High to Low.

A study conducted in 2012 showed that, on average, customers chose a more expensive option when products were listed in descending price order from highest to lowest.

This study was conducted in a bar over the course of 8 weeks. The researchers regularly alternated the sequence of the beer prices. Sometimes the beers were listed from the lowest priced beer at $4 down to the highest-priced beer at $10. Other times they reversed the list putting the $10 beer at the top.

The researchers discovered that, on average, the bar generated more money in beer sales when the higher prices were listed first.

Why does this work?

Once again, it comes down to the ever-important anchor price. Whenever someone looks at a list of prices, the first few prices create their anchor price. If the initial prices are low, it creates a low anchor price which creates an aversion to spending money on the higher-priced items lower on the list. If someone wanted to splurge a bit, they might opt for a $5 or $6 beer instead of the base $4 beer, but they probably won't be interested in the highest-priced beers at the bottom of the list.

However, if you reverse the order by placing the highest prices at the top to act as the anchor price, each lower price on the list seems like a better deal. Instead of spending $10 on a beer, someone might decide to save a bit of money and opt for a $7 or $6 beer instead. They feel good about saving money but still spent more than in the previous example.

As a species, we have an aversion to losses. When we see a list of ascending prices, meaning from low to high. We subconsciously see each price as we descend the list as a loss. Our motivation to minimize that loss causes us to chose a lower-priced product from the top of the list.

But when we see a list of descending prices, meaning from high to low, we see each item as we go down the list as a loss in quality. And since we don’t want to lose quality, we are motivated to purchase the higher quality, and hence more expensive product.

So if you're putting together an eCommerce site for a client, you may want to put the higher-priced items first in the hopes of increasing the average revenue from each sale.

This might also work with the Three-Tiered Pricing System I’m so fond of. I show my three price options from lowest to highest. It might be worth reversing it and showing the most expensive option first. You never know.

Tactic 21: Position Prices to the Right of Large Quantities

This tactic applies to products sold in bundles. A study conducted in 2012 shows that listing prices to the right of large quantities convert better.

70 items for $29

is better than

$29 for 70 items

However, the study showed that two conditions must be met for this tactic to work.

Condition 1: The unit price calculation must be difficult.

Meaning it shouldn’t be easy to figure out the individual unit price. The tactic works well with "70 items for $29" because it requires a somewhat difficult calculation to determine how much each item costs.

However, "10 items for $10" is too easy to figure out for this tactic to be effective.

Condition 2: The item quantity must be larger than the price.

Following this condition, "70 items for $29" works, but "3 items for $29" doesn't.

This brings us back to anchor prices again. "70 items for $29" works because, as Tactic 18 states, exposing people to any high number creates an anchor that makes the lower price seem more favourable. So $29 seems more favourable when placed to the right of "70 items."

Tactic 22: Add Visual Contrast to Sale Prices.

When you compare a price to a higher price, people are less likely to shop around for a comparable price. This is the same trick that works with the three-tiered pricing strategy. By showing three prices, you reduce your client's chances of comparing you to another designer since they already have various prices to compare together.

Tactic 22 takes another step and optimizes that comparison by visually distinguishing one price from a reference price.

As shown in a 2005 study, changing the colour of a sale price triggers a fluency effect. Customers will misattribute any visual distinction to a greater numerical distinction.

By listing the original price in black and the sale price in colour, you create a greater numerical distinction making the sale price seem more favourable.

Combine this with Tactic 3: Display prices in small font sizes for a double whammy. So not only should you change the colour but also make the sale price smaller to bring home the sale value.

Tactic 23: Offer a Decoy Option.

We’ve discussed using your own products as reference prices to prevent clients from looking elsewhere for comparison prices. Tactic 23 says you should consider adding a “decoy option.”

Back in 2008, Economist magazine did something that many people thought strange. They offered three subscription options.

  • Web Only: $59
  • Print Only: $125
  • Web and Print: $125

What? Print Only for $125 and Web and Print together also for $125? That had to be a mistake. Why would anyone chose "Print Only" when they could get "Web and Print" for the same price?

That was the point.

Further investigation revealed that without the "Print Only" option, people couldn’t accurately compare the other two subscription options. How much should a "Web and Print" subscription be? Who knows? Most people had no idea and therefore chose the "Web Only" option. In fact, 68% of people subscribed to the "Web Only" option.

But when Economist introduced the “Print Only” option, it helped people compare the other options.

Because "Print Only" was the same price but a worse version of the “Web and Print” option, people could now easily recognize the value of the "Web and Print" subscription.

With the "Print Only" option available, subscription purchases suddenly shifted, with 85% of people buying the "Web and Print" option. Economist magazine generated 43% more revenue simply by offering a Decoy Option.

By offering a similar, yet worse, version of a more expensive product, you influence the comparison process making the more expensive product more appealing.

How could you use this tactic for your design business?

When submitting a proposal, you may decide to offer a logo package for one price, a website for another price and a combined logo and web package for a very similar price as the website alone option. It might be worth testing out.

Motivating people to buy.

So far, we’ve been talking about ways to make prices more appealing. These next tactics are not about making the price look better but more about giving people a little nudge and motivating them to buy.

The idea here is to reduce the “Pain of Paying.” That feeling you get when you have to part ways with your hard-earned money. This “Pain of Paying” comes in two factors.

One: The pain we feel when our money leaves our hands.

Two: The pain we feel when we pay after we consume.

Uber, the ride-sharing service, does a great job of countering these.

With a normal taxi, you see the price meter go up and up with each kilometre you ride which causes stress. Plus, you’re forced to pay once you reach your destination heightening the Pain of Paying.

Uber, on the other hand, is almost pain-free. You pay for your ride in advance, and their app is connected to your credit card, so you barely notice the money leaving your hands.

Offering credit card payments for your design business and charging upfront are both ways of reducing the Pain of Paying and motivating people to buy from you.

Tactic 24: Remove the Currency Symbol.

A 2009 study showed that the Pain of Paying could be triggered pretty easily. Just seeing a dollar sign (or Euro or Yen or whatever currency symbol) reminds people of that pain and could cause them to spend less. Removing the currency symbol can help reduce that pain for them.

However, don’t start leaving the currency symbol off without considering the clarity of your price. We often need the currency symbol to show that a number is, in fact, a price.

Only use this tactic where people expect a price to appear. Such as on restaurant menus.

Tactic 25: Charge Customers Before They Consume.

Whenever you can, charge people before they use your service or product. It’s a benefit to everyone involved in the transaction.

By charging first, you know you’ve already been compensated for the work you do, so you won’t be worrying about getting paid. And chances are your client will be happier with your product.

A 1998 study shows that people are happier with a product or service when they prepay for it. This allows them to focus on the benefits they’re receiving, which numbs the Pain of Paying.

If they’ve already experienced the benefits before paying, such as a taxi ride, spending the money becomes much more painful.

This tactic works great for designers who offer retainers. Make sure you charge your retainer clients at the beginning of the month for the services they will receive. Not at the end of the month for services already rendered.

Tactic 26: Attribute Bundled Discounts to Hedonic Products.

To be honest, I don’t understand this tactic. Plus, I had no idea what the word "Hedonic" meant. So I looked it up.

Hedonic is Something relating to or considered in terms of pleasant (or unpleasant) sensations.

In other words, attribute bundled discounts to pleasant (or perhaps unpleasant) products.

Even knowing the definition, I still don’t fully understand how this tactic works, so I’m not going to try and explain it. If you’re curious, you can read the full description of Tactic 26 in Nick's article.

Tactic 27: Don’t bundle Expensive and Inexpensive Products.

The tactic is self-explanatory. Avoid bundling expensive and inexpensive products because the inexpensive products reduce the perceived value of the expensive products.

A 2012 study asked people to chose between a home gym and a 1-year gym membership. The results were an even split, with 51% choosing the home gym.

But when the researchers bundled the home gym with a fitness DVD, only 35% of people chose the bundle, the rest opting for the 1-year gym membership. The inexpensive fitness DVD reduced the perceived value of the home gym.

Tactic 28: Shift the Focus Toward Time-Related Aspects.

Try to avoid references to money when describing a product. Instead, focus on time: A much greater benefit.

An experiment conducted in 2009 had a lemonade stand where the researchers alternated three different signs advertising the product.

  • Sign One focused on TIME: “Spend a little time and enjoy C & D’s lemonade.”
  • Sign Two focused on MONEY: “Spend a little money and enjoy C & D’s lemonade.
  • Sign Three was NEUTRAL: “Enjoy C & D’s lemonade.”

Shoppers were told they could pay whatever they wanted between $1 to $3 for a glass of lemonade.

The results were unanimous. Not only did the “TIME” sign attract twice as many people to the stand, but those people paid more for their glass of lemonade than the other patrons.

Whenever you write sales copy, emphasize the enjoyable time people will have with your product or service over the money they may save.

The added benefit is that not only will focusing on time make your offer more appealing, but it will also lessen the Pain of Paying.

More to come.

Next week I’ll conclude this series with the final tactics in the psychology of pricing.

Aug 2, 2021

Last week I shared the first nine psychology of pricing tactics from Nick Kolenda's article. This week I continue the series with more great pricing tactics.

Tactic 10: Position Low Prices Toward the Left

According to a 2002 study, when designing a layout, you should position prices on the left if you want them to appear smaller. Here’s the reasoning.

Research shows that people associate directional cues with certain concepts. Up is usually associated with good, whereas down is usually associated with bad. You give a thumbs up to things you like and a thumbs down to things you don’t. In the Christian faith, good people go up to heaven, and bad people go down to hell.

This notion of up being good and down being bad triggers a spatial association. A 2004 study found that people recognized positive words faster when those words are positioned at the top of a layout. They recognize negative words faster when positioned near the bottom of a layout.

This same principle applies to numbers, including prices.

When people conceptualize numbers, they imagine a horizontal like with numbers going up from left to right. The smaller numbers on the left, the larger numbers on the right.

Since people associate smaller numbers as belonging on the left, positioning prices on the left side of a layout can trigger someone to associate it with a smaller value. The opposite works with larger numbers. If you want a number to appear large, position it on the right of a layout.

For example: for a message saying, “Receive a $20 credit for every person you refer.” you’ll want to place the $20 towards the right of the layout so that those seeing it will associate it with a large number making the offer more appealing.

The whole point of this tactic is to change the perception of a fixed price.  If you want $20 to seem like a great low price, position it accordingly. Whereas if you want $20 to seem like a nice high reward, position it accordingly.

Because of these directional cues associated with spatial concepts, the optimal position for your prices is the bottom left of a layout if you want it to appear as a low price. And the upper right of a layout if you want the price to appear higher.

Tactic 11: Expose Customers to Two Multiples of Your Price

My first time reading this tactic, I thought, “c’mon, this can’t be true.” but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.

A 2011 study showed that customers exposed to two multiples of a price reacted more favourably to the price. Let me explain this.

Nick’s article shows four ads from Pizza Hut, a popular pizza chain you may be familiar with.

All four ads offered a deal costing $24.

  • The first ad is for 3 Medium pizzas with unlimited toppings.
  • The second ad is for 4 small pizzas with unlimited toppings.
  • The third ad is for 3 medium pizzas with up to 8 toppings each.
  • And the fourth ad is for 4 small pizzas with up to 6 toppings each.

The study conducted showed that customers were more favourable to ads 3 and 4. The two ads that limited the toppings. Then they were to the first two ads that offered unlimited toppings even though the first two ads were an economically better deal.

Why is that? It’s because ads 3 and 4 incorporated multiples of the price.

  • 4 small pizzas with up to 6 toppings each for $24. 4 x 6 = 24
  • 3 medium pizzas with up to 8 toppings each for $24. 3 x 8 = 24

I know it sounds crazy, but psychology can explain it.

As children, we were drilled with simple math problems where an association develops between operands. For example, if I say 2 x 6, you immediately think 12. You don’t actually have to do any math. It’s been ingrained into your brain. You just instinctively know that 2 x 6 is 12.

Because of associations like these, your brain processes them more fluently than if we actually had to figure out the sum or product.

Back to the Pizza Hut ads,

Because ads 3 and 4 contained multiples of the $24 (4 x 6 and 3 x 8, respectively), customers could process the $24 more easily. The price feels right to them.

This tactic can be used with small and large prices.

  • A product could be on sale for $15. Next to the price, you could indicate a 3-Day Sale for $5 off (3 x 5 = 15).
  • Someone could offer 4 weekly 30-minute coaching calls for $120 (4 x 30 = 120).
  • A webinar might sell a training course for $500, and as a reward for signing up before the end of the webinar, you’ll get 5 bonus eBooks (a value of $100) (5 x 100 = $500)

Tactic 12: Use the Right Amount of “Roundedness

Instead of using a non-rounded price, such as $97.76, use the rounded price of $98.

A study done in 2015 found that round prices are processed fluently, whereas non-rounded prices are processed disfluently.

This tactic seems to contradict tactic 9 that I shared with you last week. Tactic 9 said to use precise numbers instead of rounded numbers because people assume rounded prices are artificially higher as if you plucked them from thin air. However, there is a time when round numbers are preferred. And that’s when emotion plays a part.

It turns out that rounded prices because they are fluently processed, work better for emotional purchases. The opposite is true for non-rounded prices, causing people to use more mental resources to process the numbers. These are good for rational purchases.

So if you’re trying to appeal to someone’s emotions, such as donating to a charity or supporting a fundraiser, remove the cents and round to the nearest dollar. However, if you want someone to make a rational decision, such as buying life insurance, include the cents in the price.

Tactic 13: Tailor Prices Toward Names and Birthdays.

This tactic is a bit weird, but there is a lot of scientific research to support it. However, I’m not quite sure how you would put it to use.

A 2014 study found that customers prefer prices that contain the same letters in their name or birthday. For example, someone named Frank is more agreeable to a product priced at fifty-five dollars because fifty and five both start with F, the same first letter as his name.

This principle is called implicit egotism. It causes us to subconsciously gravitate towards things that resemble ourselves, including our names and the numbers on our birthdays.

I can’t argue with the birthday thing. My birthday is on the 26th, and I know that I notice the number 26 whenever I see it.

So maybe the next time you submit a quote to a client, adjust the price to suit their name? $55 for someone named Frank, $66 for someone named Sam.

Tactic 14: Show Prices at the Optimal Time

Unlike the previous tactic, this one makes a lot of sense. It asks what you should display first, your product or your price?

A 2015 study found that the order in which a product and price are displayed influences the buyer's criteria when making their decision.

When a product is displayed first and the price next, buyers base their purchase decision on the quality of the product.

When the price is displayed before the product, buyers base their purchase decision on the product's value.

Put the Product before the price, and people ask themselves, “Do I like this product?”

But put the price before the product, and these same people ask themselves, “Is this product worth it?”

So how do you put this into practice? The same study determined that if you consider what you sell as a luxury product or service, you want people to base their decision on the product or service quality. Therefore you show the product before the price. A good example of this is a jewellery store. A jewellery store wants customers to focus on the product before they see the price. Hopefully swaying their purchase decision.

The opposite is true for utilitarian or economic products, such as flash drives or batteries. You want to display the price first so that customers see the economic value of the purchase.

Tactic 15: Display Red Prices to Men

This is another tactic I’m not 100% sure of. Probably because it makes men, of which I’m one, seem simple-minded. (Ladies, stop nodding your heads)

A 2013 study found that men are more likely to buy something when the price is displayed in red. This study noticed that men process ads less in-depth and use price colour as a visual heuristic to judge the perceived savings offered.

Meaning, men are less likely to compare the product's other attributes when presented with a red price. They diminish the importance of the photos and listed features and focus on the red price.

Studies have proven that the colour red increases arousal, so maybe that explains it.

Tactic 16: Start Negotiating With a High Precise Number.

In my opinion, this tactic applies more to products than it does to services, but I suppose you could get it to work. The trick is to use a higher anchor price to drive up the selling price.

You’ll see this tactic often used with higher-priced items such as cars and furniture. It’s often referred to as the MSRP or Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price.

When you buy a new car, the sticker on the vehicle will often display two prices: the price the manufacturer suggests and the price the dealer is selling the car for. I can guarantee you that the dealer price is always lower than the MSRP. That MSRP creates an anchor or established value, making the dealer price seem like a great deal.

I suppose you can use this if you offer packages to your clients. For example, you may offer a package of services for $800, but next to it, mention that it’s a ($1000) value if they were to buy each service individually.

A 2004 study of eBay sales showed that auctions with a higher reserve price – the price that needs to be met for the item to sell. Higher reserve prices create an anchor towards the higher end of the price spectrum, resulting in more people bidding and the seller making more money.

Another study done in 2008 found that using a precise value as the anchor price also produced better results.

When people were asked to estimate the actual price of a plasma TV based on the suggested retail prices of $4,998, $5,000, or $5,012, the researchers found that the average estimated price was much higher for the two prices that were not rounded.

Tactic 17: Expose People to Higher “Incidental” Prices.

I just talked about anchor prices and how setting a high anchor price can make the actual price seem like a good deal. That tactic works great with higher-priced items. But what if you’re using lower prices?

A 2004 study showed that items could sell at a higher price when placed next to higher-priced items.

For example, a clothing store sells belts for $15 each. When the belt rack is placed near a rack of $25 pants, the store sells very few belts. However, when they move the belt rack next to a rack of $80, pants belt sales increase.

If you’re offering a service, it might be a good idea to mention some other higher-priced services you have to make the current selection seem like a great deal.

Tactic 18: Expose People to Any High Number

Continuing on the topic of anchor prices. This same tactic can be used with not only prices but with any number.

A 2003 study did a test with rare wines. They asked participants whether they would purchase a bottle of wine for the dollar amount equal to the last two digits in their social security number.

After receiving a YES or No answer, the researchers asked the participants to state the exact dollar amount they would be willing to pay. Remarkably, they found a direct correlation between the purchaser’s social security number and the price they would pay for the wine.

  • Those with Social security numbers ending in 00-19 were willing to pay $16 for the wine.
  • Those with Social security numbers ending in 20-39 were willing to pay $26 for the wine.
  • Those with Social security numbers ending in 40-59 were willing to pay $29 for the wine.
  • Those with Social security numbers ending in 60-79 were willing to pay $35 for the wine.
  • Those with Social security numbers ending in 80-99 were willing to pay $56 for the wine.

Obviously, you’re not going to ask your customers for their social security numbers to come up with a price. But you can expose them to a high anchor number just the same.

For example, on my podcast branding website where I sell podcast artwork for $295. I could list below the price that I’ve designed artwork for over 400 podcasts. Even though 400 isn’t a price. It still acts as an anchor, which psychologically affects their perception of the $295, making it seem lower.

Check back next week for even more ways to use psychology when displaying prices.

Tip of the week How not to miss anything when updating a project.

Whenever I have to update or make changes to a previous client project, the first thing I do is colour every element of the project MAGENTA. I colour the text, the lines, and for photos, images and graphics I colour or add a magenta frame to them.

Then, as I make the necessary changes or determine that a section doesn't require any changes, I recolour it back to what it should be.

Once I’m done, I can quickly look over the project to see if there are any magenta sections I've missed.

Jul 26, 2021

Use these psychological tactics to change how people see prices.

I recently read a very in-depth article by Nick Kolenda on the psychology of pricing. I was so fascinated by what he revealed that I immediately changed some of the ways I display prices for myself and the things I design for my clients.

I thought I would save you time by summarizing the 42 research-proven psychological tactics in Nick's article in a podcast series. I’m sure you’ll find it very useful in your design business. All studies I reference are linked to in Nick's article, in case you're interested.

As Nick puts it, At the end of the day, price is merely a perception. Nothing more. Nothing less. In fact, you can change that perception of how people interpret a price simply by changing the visual traits of the numeral.

It’s a given. The number 5 is greater than 4. And 6 is greater than 5. But using these psychological pricing techniques, you can actually make prices seem lower - without reducing the actual price.

According to a 2002 study, most people don’t remember exact prices. Rather, they remember general prices.

Have you ever looked at a price, and later when asked about it, only have a general idea of how much it was?

When I get home from the grocery store and my wife asked me how much it cost. I don’t always remember the exact price. Was it $131 and change, or was it $138 and change? So I might tell her it cost "$130 something dollars."

Because humans have such a hazy memory regarding prices, we can use certain psychological tactics to influence people into seeing smaller prices than they realize. Let me get right down to the actual tactics.

Tactic 1: Reduce the Left Digit By One

You’re probably already familiar with this tactic. Reducing the left digit by one creates a perception of a lower price. $199 is viewed as a much better deal than paying $200.

Gumroad's conversion rates study shows that pricing things at $0.99 instead of $1 or $2.99 instead of $3, or $5.99 instead of $6 conversion rates increase by 2-3%.

According to a 2005 study. Our brains encode numbers so quickly that we register the size of the number before we finish reading the entire number. When reading $1.99, our brain registers it as a dollar something which is lower than $2 something making it more desirable.

Nick offered a bonus tip to this tactic. Superscripting or minimizing the digits after the decimal places more emphasis on the number before the decimal. So $1 with a small 99 next to it appears smaller than $1.99 all the same size.

Tactic 2: Use Prices With Fewer Syllables

I'm a bit skeptical about this tactic. But according to a 2012 study, the more syllables there are, the more mental resources we need to process the information.

The same principle applies to numbers. If we spend more mental energy reading a number or price, we falsely perceive that price as larger. The fewer syllables involved, and we perceive that price as smaller. It doesn’t matter that you are not saying the number out loud. Your brain does it for you.

This same study found that a slightly higher price with fewer syllables was more favourable to people than a lower price with more syllables.

For example. $27.82 has 7 syllables. $28.16 has only 5 syllables. There’s only $0.34 between the two prices. But people were more inclined to spend the higher amount.

As I said, I’m skeptical about this one, but the studies do show it to be true.

Tactic 3: Display Prices In A Small Font Size.

This one applies to what we do as designers.

According to a 2005 study. Human brains conceptualize size with value. If you display the price in a smaller font size, people will perceive the price to be smaller.

Another trick is to position larger elements around the price to create a visual hierarchy. The larger elements will make the price visually smaller, which in turn makes the perceived price smaller.

The revers works for discounts. Display discounts larger to emphasize their large value.

Tactic 4: Remove The Comma.

I really like this tactic.

According to a 2012 study, removing the comma from a price makes it seem lower.

This one ties into tactic 2 of having fewer syllables. A price displayed as $1,499 reads as one-thousand four hundred and ninety-nine–10 syllables. Whereas a price displayed as $1499, without the comma, reads as fourteen ninety-nine–5 syllables.

I may be skeptical about the syllables thing. But I cannot argue that $1499 sounds like a better deal than $1,499.

Tactic 5: Use Words That Indicate a Reduced Magnitude.

According to a 2005 study, the words associated with a price influence people’s perceptions of that price.

For example. Two identical pairs of inline skates are selling for the same price. Both packages list the same features and benefits. However, one pair emphasized “High Performance” while the other pair emphasized “Low Friction.” The pair that emphasized “Low Friction” outsold the other pair.

The wording associated with the price caused the perception of the price to change.

How can you incorporate this into your design business?

Maybe you can promote low-maintenance websites as opposed to high converting websites? I don’t know. But it might be worth doing some A/B testing.

Tactic 6: Separate the Shipping and Handling.

According to a 1998 study, people are more likely to use the base price when making comparisons.

By partitioning your price, meaning separate the price into multiple components instead of offering a total price, you lower the base price, which creates a perception of the offer being more affordable.

A 2006 test run on eBay showed auctions with an opening bid of $0.01 and a shipping cost of $3.99. Outperformed auctions for the same item with an opening bid of $4 with free shipping.

The total prices were identical. And yet, the first one received a lot more traction.

Tactic 7: Offer Payments in Installments

By offering people an option to pay in smaller increments rather than one lump sum, you anchor their perception on the smaller price.

Let’s say you are pitching a new website design to a client. Instead of quoting them $6000, quote them three installments of $2000 each.

Don’t get me wrong. Client’s are not stupid. They know that three installments of $2000 are $6000. But by offering installments, you taint their comparison process.

Even though the client knows your total price is $6000, if they compare it to another web designer who quotes a total of $6000, you’re lower installments will feel much more appealing to them and have a good chance of influencing their decision towards you.

Tactic 8: Mention the Daily Equivalence.

You see this tactic often used by charities and non-profits. Instead of mentioning the monthly or yearly cost, they share the low daily price.

A 1998 study proved that using a daily price creates a perception of an overall lower price.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t mention the regular price. In fact, it should still be the primary focus. However, mentioning the daily equivalence anchors people towards the lower end of the price spectrum.

For example. Being a member of the Resourceful Designer Community is $14.95/month. That works out to $0.49 per day. Is having a group of fellow design peers who are able and eager to help you grow your business not worth $0.49 per day to you? If so, join today.

A bonus tip: if you can’t reframe your price into a daily cost, a 1999 study shows that the same thing can be done using petty cash expenses, such as the cost of a cup of coffee.

Tactic 9: Be Precise With Large Prices

This is one of my favourites out of all of these tactics. It’s also the first one I started implementing.

When dealing with large prices, people are willing to pay more money when a price is precise instead of rounded.

For example,  A website project costing $6834 as opposed to a website project costing $6000.

Why is that?

A rounded price is more suspicious. A client may question how you came up with a nice round price of $6000. Did you pick it out of thin air? Did you calculate the actual cost at $5700 and decided to round it up to $6000?

However, a precise number, such as $6834, leaves little room for suspicion. If you are quoting a precise number, clients will readily believe it's the actual price of the project. This thought pattern makes people much more agreeable to the price.

A 2007 study analyzing 27,000 real estate transactions showed that home buyers were willing to pay more, often thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars more, for a home listed at a specific price compared to a home listed at a rounded price.

These same people were also less likely to negotiate, or if they did, they would negotiate in much smaller increments than those bidding on a home with a rounded asking price.

By providing a specific price, such as $6834 for a website instead of $6000, the client is much more likely to trust what you are selling them and be agreeable to the price.

As I said, after reading this one, I immediately stopped quoting rounded prices to my clients. It’s still too early to tell how it’s going, but so far, so good.

Use specific prices instead of rounded prices

Want more tactics?

Tune in to next week's episode

Resource of the week Chrome Application Shortcuts

A convenient way to turn a website into a desktop application is by using Chrome Applications Shortcuts. This is especially useful for browser-based tools such as invoicing/bookkeeping and Customer and Project Management Software. Instead of searching through dozens of open browser tabs for the right one, create an application shortcut and treat the webpage as a desktop application.

To create a Chrome Application Shortcut, open the website, you would like to turn into an application in a browser tab. On the far right of the address bar, click the three vertical dots. Select “More Tools” > “Create Shortcut”

Name the application in the pop-up window and be sure to check “Open as Window.” then press Create.

A new Application icon will appear in the Chrome Apps folder within your Applications folder. You can now use it just like you would any other application. You can add it to your Dock. You can create Aliases from it. And you can easily switch between it and your other applications via the Control Centre.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Jul 19, 2021

Do you want to know the secret to a satisfying design career?

Let’s face it; it’s impossible to be completely happy and satisfied with whatever career choice you choose. I mean, even being a professional chocolate taster has its drawbacks.

But out of all the gazillion different things you can do with your life. Being a graphic or web designer, at least in my opinion, is one of the more satisfying options out there. Then again, I may be a bit biased.

But just like every other career choice out there, being a designer has its ups and downs. You get to make money using your creativity. You get to design things that change peoples’ lives. Your creations are displayed for everyone to see and admire.

But there’s the flipside. Clients don’t always have the same vision as you. Some people are demanding to work with. And don’t get me started on taxes and all the administrative work involved with being a designer.

As I said, ups and downs. Luckily, and I’m sure you’ll agree, the life of a designer is filled with more ups than there are downs. That’s what keeps us going.

But what if I told you that you could increase the number of ups you experience? What if I told you there’s a very simple secret that will allow you to have a happier and more satisfying design career? That secret boils down to four words.

But hold on, before I tell you those four words, I want to share a scenario with you. Something you’ve probably experienced yourself at some point in your design career. And if you haven’t, give it time. I’m sure you will.

Let me know if this sounds familiar.

You’re hired to design a logo for a client. Being the good designer, you are you hunker down and get to work sketching out dozens, if not hundreds, of different ideas for the logo.

Most of these will be dismissed almost as soon as you make them. Some of them you know even before you make them that you won’t use them, but you have to get the idea out of your head. Or am I the only one who does that?

After a while, you are drawn back to a handful of your ideas that show merit. Some of them you play and tweak, trying this and that until you realize they won't work and discard them. But there are a few that are promising. So you concentrate all your talent and design skills on making them just right.

In the end, you are left with two or three logos ideas. You then create a nice presentation, including various mockups to showing how each one would look in real-world situations. Then it's off to present to the client.

Even though all three ideas are good, you secretly have your favourite from the bunch. You know, The one you’re already picturing in your portfolio. The one you can’t wait to show off and let everyone know, “Hey, I designed this logo.” Yes, you always have your favourite.

Then, of course, there’s your second favourite. You don’t like it as much as the first one, but still, it’s a damn nice logo. Not that there’s anything wrong with the third logo. After all, you wouldn't present a logo to a client that you didn’t think was good enough, would you? I didn’t think so. But logo number three, even though good, doesn’t compare to logo one or even logo two.

You present your three designs to the client. You may even try to upsell your favourite logo a bit more than the other two. There’s no harm in doing that. And then you sit back and wait for the client’s decision.

You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?

Regardless of your effort and your desires, the client chooses the third logo.

You put on your happy face as you pretend to share in the client’s enthusiasm, but in your gut, you feel let down.

How could they choose logo number three? Can’t they see how great the first logo is? Or even logo number two would have been fine. But no, they chose logo number three.

I’m sure this exact scenario is why some designers practice the one-concept approach. They don’t offer their client’s any options. Instead, they offer them one concept-take it or leave it. If that’s how you work, then more power to you. But that’s not the way I do things myself.

Why did I share this scenario with you? It’s because I was hoping you could think about how you would feel in that situation. You were so sure the client was going to fall in love with the same logo you loved. And they didn’t.

You feel confused.
You feel torn.
You feel let down.
You feel dejected.

Remember I told you that the secret to a happy and satisfying design career came down to four words? Well, here they are.

IT’S, NOT, ABOUT, YOU.

It’s not. It has never been, and it never will be. A happy and satisfied designer knows that everything they do is about the client. When you embrace this concept, your design career becomes so much easier.

You may have liked logo number one better, and that’s fine. But that wasn’t the client’s choice. To them, logo number three is the best one. And you know what? They’re right. At least for them. It’s not about what you think. It’s about what they think. The client is more than happy with their decision to chose the third logo. And so should you be. After all, they hired you to create something for them, not something for you.

Sure, you wish they had chosen the first logo so you can showcase it on your social media and in your portfolio. But it’s not your logo; it's theirs. Once you move on to the next design project, you’ll give their logo very little thought. On the other hand, the client is going to embrace and live with your creation for hopefully a very long time.

So regardless of your preferences, it was never about you. It was always about the client. Remember that.

But “It’s not about you” doesn’t only apply to client preferences in logos. It applies to many aspects of your business.

The RFP (Request For Proposal) you submitted gets turned down. The person reviewing it had their reasons for saying no. Maybe you didn’t match their criteria. Maybe someone else submitted a better proposal. Maybe the person judging the RFP already had a preference in mind, and the process was just a formality. Regardless, It’s not about you.

A client turns down your website proposal stating the price is too high. Did you overprice the project? No. You priced it where you thought it should be. The fact that the client thinks it’s too expensive is not about you. It’s about them. It’s about their expectations.

Now you do have some control over client expectations. The way you present your proposals, the way you explain the value you bring, the way you show how much of a benefit working with you can be. All these things can help sway a client’s expectations. But ultimately, it’s not about you. It’s about them. They make the decision they think is right for them. And even if you feel it’s the wrong decision. It’s still not about you. It’s all about them.

If you remember that it’s not about you. It will make every hurdle in your design career much more palatable as long as you do the best that you can. As long as you present the best options. As long as you’re sincere and honest in your dealings. Then the results will never be about you. You can be satisfied that you’ve done everything possible. The final decision is in their hands, and therefore, it’s all about them.

Hopefully, you'll learn something from the process, take note of it for next time, and then put the whole thing behind you and move on.

It’s not about you” applies to smaller things as well.

The client doesn’t like a suggestion you make. It's not about you.
The client doesn’t like the colours you chose. It's not about you.
The client doesn’t like the font you used. It's not about you.
The client doesn’t like the web feature you added. It's not about you.

None of these are about you. And therefore, there’s no reason to get upset about them.

And even if the client does agree to your price and hires you. Even if they love your choices and ideas, even if the client praises your designs, it’s still not about you. You may feel good about it, and you should. But It’s still all about them and how they feel.

When you learn to embrace an “it’s not about you” attitude and learn to let go of all the little things that may upset you about this career. You will notice that your life as a designer will be much happier and much more satisfying.

Always remember, your goal as a designer is to make the client happy. You’re there to serve them to the best of your ability. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you think, because it’s not about you.

And when your clients are happy with what you do for them. When they come back to you over and over again with more design projects. When they tell everyone about the great services you offer. When they treat you as a trusted partner, well, at that point, maybe it is a little bit about you.

Resource of the week Backblaze

There are not many tools on my must-have list. Even Divi, my ultimate choice for building WordPress websites, isn’t a must-have.

But one thing everyone with a computer should have is a backup strategy—a way to safeguard all those precious files you have. And an extra hard drive is not enough.

And that’s why I believe that no backup strategy is complete without BackBlaze.

Backblaze is a cloud backup solution that gives you peace of mind, knowing all of your precious files are safe and secure, regardless of what happens to your computer.

You may be thinking, I don’t need Backblaze. I have DropBox or Google, or One Drive. Let me tell you that those platforms were never meant to be a backup solution. They’re great for storage and file sharing but not for backup.

For a true cloud backup solution, you need something that was build just for that purpose. And that’s Backblaze.

I’ve had Backblaze installed on every computer I’ve owned for the past decade. And it’s well worth the low yearly cost of the service.

Give it a try. You won’t be sorry.

Jun 7, 2021

Have you ever worked with a bad client?

Ok, I have a confession to make. Obviously, bad clients are a thing. I chose this title to get your attention. And it worked. You’re here, aren’t you? The title I should have chosen is If you do your job right, you should never have to deal with bad clients. But it just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

I bet if I asked you to recount an experience with a bad client, it wouldn’t take you long to think of one. Heck, there are entire websites dedicated to stories of bad clients designers have had to endure. Be warned. Once you start reading the stories, it’s hard to stop.

What is a bad client?

Every designer has their own definition of what makes a bad client.

To some, it’s their personality. They’re demanding or obnoxious. “This is how I want you to do it” or “That’s not what I asked for. What’s wrong with you?” Or they’re too timid and uncommitting, never able to give a firm opinion. “I can’t decide. What do you think?”

Maybe it’s their inability to visualize. For example, “I have no idea what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.” or “can you try it like this, and like this, and like this and perhaps like this so I can see what each way looks like?”

Bad clients also come in the form of people who reluctantly or flat out don’t pay. They don’t realize, or they don’t care, that as a freelancer or small business, you rely on every bit of income to make a living, and their refusal or tardiness in paying can drastically affect your way of life.

Then some clients want something for nothing. They assure you that the exposure you’ll get from working on their project will be more valuable than any sum of money you would charge them.

The list of bad clients continues with clients who change scope midway through a project. Some do it innocently, asking you to add on small extras, not thinking anything of it. “Can we add an extra page to the website that talks about all the philanthropic work we do?” And some do it not so innocently, trying to squeeze in extras without paying for them. "While you’re making the header for our website, can you also supply us copies to fit our Facebook Page, LinkedIn Profile, Twitter and YouTube headers? It’s a simple matter of resizing what you already have.  It shouldn’t take you any time at all."

Don’t forget the clients who make strange demands. You know the “can you make the logo bigger?” type clients. Or those who expect too much “I searched for ‘car dealership’ and our brand new website isn’t showing up on the first page of Google, what are you going to do about it?”

Some clients think they know more about design than you do. Some clients wait until the last possible minute to supply the content you've been waiting months for and still expect the project to be delivered on time. And some clients are so disorganized that you don’t know how they’re still in business.

I could go on and on. There are no shortages of “bad clients.” However, there are ways you can minimize, if not eliminate, your interaction with this less than desirable clientele. It all comes down to experience.

Minimizing bad clients requires experience.

When you first start in the design field, you will encounter bad clients. It’s inevitable. Call it an initiation or rite of passage.

Treat these bad clients as a learning experience. You have to experience bad clients to be able to spot bad clients.

Whenever you work with a bad client, make a mental note of what was undesirable about working with them. Then use that knowledge to help your future self. This could simply be adding a new clause to your contract or starting to use a contract if you’re very new. Or you could use that knowledge to spot the red flags and weed out potential bad clients before you start working with them.

If you find yourself working with the same type of bad clients over and over again, you’re doing something wrong. And that something wrong is not learning from your mistakes.

With enough experience and by putting that knowledge to use, you should be able to spot a bad client a mile away and steer clear of them.

Turn bad clients into good clients.

Don’t get me wrong, not all clients who appear bad are actually bad. Some, and I would even hazard a guess that most are uneducated clients. That is, uneducated in the ways of working with a professional designer.

Many clients don’t understand what creative professionals do, and they don’t realize why their requests are so crazy. In these cases, instructing the client on how you operate can turn a potentially bad client into someone who is a pleasure to work with.

If you haven’t already, I suggest you listen to my seven-part Client Onboarding series. In my Client Onboarding series, I explain the entire process of acquiring a new client, explaining how you operate and laying the foundation for a strong and ongoing relationship with them. Following the steps I outlined in that series can help steer a client from the dark side and turn them into a great client.

You're there to help.

When a client hires a designer, they have a goal in mind. But they don’t necessarily know how to reach that goal and sometimes not even what that goal is. That’s where you come in. Through proper communication and an understanding of their problems, the two of you together can set out on a plan to reach a solution.

Show the client you understand what they want, and let them know what you need to make it happen. Some clients will get it right away, and others will require a bit of handholding before they understand. Either way, you need to draw clear lines so that both parties know what they’re getting into.

Remember, most clients don’t think like a designer. They don’t have the same creative process you have. That puts you in the unique position to lead and educate them on a process that works and results in success for both of you.

In the end. Any client who lets you do your work, no matter how demanding, impolite or fussy they are, and who pays you fairly for the work you provide, is a good client.

Not every project can be creatively satisfying. Sometimes even the best clients give you boring and mundane projects, and there’s not much you can do about it. Unfortunately, that’s par for the course.

What you can do, however, is chose who you want to work with. Through acquired experience and knowledge gained over time, the day will come when you’ll be able to weed out and pass on the less desirable clients who approach you and identify those who need to be educated on how the process works. That should make what you do all the more satisfying.

Remember, the only truly “bad clients” are the ones you take on despite your better judgement. Trust your gut. It won't let you down.

Resource of the week Nested Pages.

Nested Pages is a simple and yet useful WordPress plugin that provides a simple and intuitive drag and drop interface for managing your page structure and post orders. It allows you to add multiple pages and posts to a site quickly. And, if you want, it can automatically generate a native WordPress menu that matches your page structure.

May 24, 2021

Have you ever given a presentation?

This Bootstrap Advertising series is to help give you ideas to use to gain exposure for your design business. Because after all, people won’t hire you if they don’t know about you.

So far in this series, I’ve covered Bartering Your Services For Exposure, Promoting Yourself On Client Projects and Getting Free Media Exposure With Press Releases. But in my opinion, one method trumps all of those, and that's making presentations.

Making presentations is one of the best ways to get exposure and actually land new design work. Almost every time I make a presentation, I end up with at least one new client.

I’m not talking about design pitches or presenting to your clients. I’m talking about getting up in front of a group of people and presenting on a topic that is beneficial to them, AND paints you as an expert when it comes to that area.

Did I lose you? I know that many designers are introverts, and the thought of getting up in front of a group of people sounds terrifying. However, if you can find it within yourself to conquer that fear, I can almost guarantee it will be worth it.

Save your trepidations for now and hear me out. Who knows, I may convert you.

Why Presentations?

Presentations are a great way to educate people on the part of the business industry that you are familiar with—design. It may be branding, marketing, advertising, online presence through websites or social media, or any other design aspect that the average business owner might find useful.

Regardless of what aspect of design you decide to present, just the fact that you are presenting it gives you credibility in the eyes of those watching. The fact that you are presenting to them, that you are educating them, that you are bestowing valuable knowledge that will help improve their businesses elevates the way they see you.

They may have known you before as just another graphic designer, but you graduate to becoming an expert once you present. And as an expert, you become someone they admire and look up to. And when it comes to hiring a designer, who do you think they’ll consider? One of the many designers from your area? Or, the expert designer they admire because you gave them valuable advice during a presentation?

It sounds strange, but it’s true.

In March of 2020, I was at a podcast conference in Orlando, Florida. A few of us designers met up for an impromptu get-together in the hallway outside the conference rooms. We had a very in-depth conversation on the impact good design has on the success of a podcast.

As with any conference, several other attendees, non-designers migrated their way to our conversation. They were curious as to how design could help their shows.

My fellow designers were very knowledgeable, and we had a great discussion. It was obvious to anyone listening that each one of us knew what we were talking about.

During our conversation, I mentioned I was presenting the following day on the importance of good podcast cover artwork to help grow a show. When we were done, and we parted ways, several podcasters stopped me to ask questions. The other designers walked away unaccosted while I had a small gathering around me. These people chose me because I was a presenter at the conference. I hadn’t even presented yet, but the fact that I was, was enough to elevate my status above the other designers as far as these podcasters were concerned. The conference had chosen me to present; therefore, I must be someone worth listening to.

That’s the power of presenting. It elevates you in the eyes of those you talk to.

And you know what? A couple of those people hired me to help brand their podcast. And I gained several more new clients after my presentation. It works.

Where can you give presentations?

You may be thinking, "That’s easy for you Mark, you started a podcast branding business, so it makes sense for you to present at a podcast conference. But I don’t have a niche like you. So where am I supposed to present?"

I’m glad you asked.

You don’t have to travel to big conferences with thousands of people in attendance to present. There are many opportunities for you around where you live. In fact, presenting close to home is even more beneficial because you have the bonus of word of mouth afterwards.

“You’re looking for a designer? I heard so-and-so present recently, and they really knew what they were talking about. So you should give them a call.”

Places you can give presentations.

Chamber of Commerce.

  • Special events.
  • Small business month (October)
  • Business trade shows

Business Associations

  • Municipal Business Associations (Downtown, Waterfront, Central, etc.)
  • Women's Business Associations
  • People of Colour Business Associations
  • LGBTQ+ Business Associations.

Business Enterprise Center

  • Small business startup presentations
  • Entrepreneurial help presentations

Municipal Events

  • Lunch and a talk
  • Business growth seminars

Local Library

  • Themed Presentations
  • All sorts of presentations

Networking groups

  • Local Networking Groups
  • National Networking Groups

Co-working spaces

  • Business Growth Sessions

Schools

  • Present to Business Students
  • Present to Marketing Students
  • Present to Design Students

If you look around, I’m sure you can find places or venues around your area that would love to host your presentation.

And don’t just look for existing opportunities. Make them. Approach your Chamber, library, Business enterprise center, etc. and ask them if you can put on a presentation. Many of them would be happy to accommodate you.

What to present?

The idea behind any good presentation is to keep it simple and keep it focused. How much you present is determined by the time allotted to you and to whom you’re presenting.

In most cases, pick one topic to talk about. The broader your presentation, the more confusing it will be. The more focused it is, the more memorable it will be.

The best presentations provide 2 to 3 pieces of actionable advice at the most. But, of course, one piece of actionable advice is even better.

Instead of giving a presentation on branding a business, which entails a lot. Give a presentation on choosing a colour palette. The idea is to narrow down the topic so as not to confuse people.

Possible presentation topics include:

  • How Landing pages can help increase website conversions.
  • How to focus on benefits instead of features in your marketing material.
  • How to understand Web analytics.
  • The importance of consistency with your visual assets.

Who you’re presenting to will help you decide on what topic to chose. For example, if you’re talking to a group of retailers, you may want to talk about increasing sales by marketing with floor decals. Or how different colours on a website can increase conversions.

If you’re talking to a group of new entrepreneurs, you may want to talk about using visual assets to help build a brand. Or the importance of creating visual assets that appeal to their target market, not just the business owner.

If you’re talking to a mixed group of businesspeople, you may want to talk about the importance of branding in social media. Or how to identify your competition. That’s actually a good one. Unfortunately, many new business people don’t know how to identify their competition.

The skies the limit to the number of topics available to present.

And if you find yourself unable to narrow down your topic, maybe consider doing a series of presentations instead of just one. Whatever works.

Making presentations works.

In my opinion, presenting is one of the best ways to garner exposure for your business without spending anything. Not only that, but there’s an excellent chance that you pick up some work from it. It's worked for me time after time. Over the years, I’ve made presentations at:

  • Chamber of Commerce events.
  • At a Starter Business seminar put on by our local Business Enterprise Centre.
  • A business series put on by our local library.
  • At several local schools.
  • At networking events.
  • At trade shows.
  • At conferences.
  • And more.

And almost every time I gave a presentation, I gained new clients from those who attended.

So try to get over your fear if presenting is not something you’re used to doing. It helps to start small and work your way up. Like anything else, the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll become.

As you get better at presenting, you'll discover people will invite you to speak at their events. Who knows, maybe someday you’ll actually get paid to present. Now wouldn’t that be nice?

Until then, try to settle with the new clients that come your way from those you help.

Presenting, it’s worth looking into if you’re not already doing it.

Remember, the idea behind this Bootstrap Advertising series is to get your name out there. To get as much exposure for your business without having to spend anything doing it. I believe in you. So go out and do it.

Resource of the week Swatchos.com

Swatchos is a deck of 130 cards to help you choose colours for your design projects.

Each card has one clour on the front and six on the back. The front is the primary colour, and the back shows darker and lighter versions of the colour on the front. That’s 903 colours in total with millions of possible combinations.

Each colour shows the CMYK value and the Hex Code.

And because they’re cards and not in a book, like the Pantone swatch books, they’re really easy to mix and match to find that perfect colour combination.

And once you do find that perfect combo. Use the downloadable swatch files for Adobe CC and pick the colours within your favourite applications.

I bought my deck through a Kickstarter campaign.

But you can get yours by visiting swatchos.com. There’s a link at the top of the page to where you can purchase your deck.

May 17, 2021

Use Press Releases To Get Media Exposure.

In parts one and two of this bootstrap advertising series, I talked about bartering your design services for exposure and promoting yourself on your client projects. Two great ways to get your name out there. After all, the more people there are who know about you and the services you offer, the more successful you will be.

Both bartering for exposure and putting your name on client projects are great methods of spreading your name. But that’s all they do. They don’t offer any form of credibility or positioning. Sure, people can’t hire you if they don’t know about you. But just knowing about you doesn’t guarantee they’ll contact you when they need a designer. Especially if all they know about you is your name.

Media coverage, on the other hand, gives you credibility. It means you’re “important” enough to merit mentioning. And that publicity can mean the difference between someone just knowing about you and someone hiring you.

When combined, these different forms of exposure leave a powerful impression that can lead to more business.

But how do you get media exposure?

Send out press releases.

The easiest way to get media coverage is by submitting a press release for each of your accomplishments.

A press release is sometimes called a "press statement," a “news release," or a "media release,” which is an official way to inform the media about something you deem important.

Media could be newspapers, radio or tv stations. It might be blogs, magazines, podcasts, social media channels, YouTube channels or industry journals. Any platform people visit for current information is considered media. And most media outlets are constantly looking for new stories to cover, especially on slower news days.

Press releases are a great way for media outlets to add “filler content” to their platform. Then, if they deem the press release to be newsworthy, they’ll write or report on it. It’s that simple.

Don’t forget other places that may be interested in your special announcements. If you’re a member of your Chamber of Commerce or similar associations, send them your press release. They may publish it in their newsletter. If you attended design school, send your press release to the school. Most schools love hearing and sharing the good news about their alumni.

Lastly, reach out to any industry-specific platforms related to the announcement you are making. For example, if you designed new signage for a local law office, send your press release to any law-related publications or outlets that may cover your story.

The purpose of a press release isn’t just for recognition and publicity; although it is the principal reason, most media outlets that run your story will also include a link to your website. And every backlink to your website, especially from recognized news outlets or schools, helps to boost your position in the search rankings.

What merits a press release?

Any time you do something somewhat “newsworthy,” you should send out a press release. This includes any time you...

  • Offer a new service
  • Complete a big project
  • Win an award
  • You are recognized for an achievement
  • You reach a milestone
  • If you take on a partner

Any exciting news you would share with family, friends and peers might be worthy of a press release.

When Resourceful Designer was a finalist for a People’s Choice Podcast Awards, I sent a press release to my local media. It must have been a very slow news day because my story appeared on the front page of my local newspaper. All because I sent a press release.

When my local Chamber of Commerce told me the cover I designed for their printed club directory won an award at a national Chamber of Commerce event, I sent a press release. The story was covered by two local newspapers and one of our radio stations.

When I was awarded the contract to design the event program to unveil a new Canadian National Heritage site, I sent a press release, and several media outlets shared the story.

When I launched my secondary design business, Podcast Branding, I sent a press release to everyone who covers news in the podcast space. Many of them mentioned my new business.

Sending out a press release is an amazing way to get media exposure for your design business.

How to write a press release.

A press release is usually one page, two at the most, with succinct information on what you want the media to know.

The idea is to give the reader the details so they can, in turn, write or compose their own story. Rarely will the media publish your press release word for word. Instead, in some cases, they’ll compose something based on what you submit, and in other cases, they’ll contact you for an interview or perhaps invite you to appear on their program.

The generally accepted format for a press release is as follows.

1. Title.

Your press release title is important. The more irresistible you make it, the better your chances of it being picked up. If required, you can use an italicized subheading to summarize the news you’re sharing.

Make your titles stand out. For example, instead of “Designer builds a website for local business,” which is pretty boring. Write something like “Business hires local designer and sees online revenue soar.” That’s something people want to hear about.

2. The body.

The body of your press release has to grab whoever is reading it. Chances are the person reading your release gets dozens, if not hundreds of them each day. So the quicker you grab their attention, the better your chances of them using your story.

It’s customary for your first paragraph to start with the city you are in so they know where the story relates to. In my case, I would start the first paragraph of my press release with – Cornwall, Ontario: and then introduce my story.

Your first paragraph needs to cover not only who you are but the what, why, where, and how of whatever it is you’re telling them. Please keep it to the facts without any fluff. They should know everything they need to know about your story after reading that first paragraph.

Once you’ve set the scene with your first paragraph, the rest of the paragraphs in your release help fill in the details and give them any other pertinent information with greater detail that will help them paint a picture of what they can write.

  • How has what you’ve done made an impact?
  • How has it changed the client?
  • How will people benefit from it?
  • What makes it newsworthy.

If applicable, provide a direct quote they can use in the story they write about you. For example, when I submitted the press release about the Canadian heritage site, I included a quote something like this.

“it’s an honour to be chosen for this project out of the many talented graphic designers from across Canada.”

The writer assigned to my story used my quote in his article.

You should also provide any background information on the press release subject, such as why you undertook the project or what you won the award for. The reader already has most of the vital information they need. Don’t provide superfluous facts or such about you, your company or the announcement.

Remember, a press release needs to be concise. But do offer any details that strengthen your narratives, such as any creative ways you accomplished your announcement or any struggles you had to overcome.

If you can, comment on the future implications of your announcements. For example, in the case of a new client website, you may want to say the company expects to double their income with their new online sales. Just make sure the information is factual.

3. Your last paragraph.

The last paragraph of your press release should summarize who you are and what you do. In plain English, list your company name, your name and title, the full URL to your website, and your email address and phone number should they need to contact you.

Follow that information with pertinent details such as how long you’ve been in business, What you offer, for example, “Graphic and web design services,” and any awards or recognition you’ve received.

4. Photos

It’s a good idea to include a headshot of yourself and a photo that relates to the announcement.

When my Resourceful Designer story was published on the front page of our newspaper, I included a photo of me sitting in front of my microphone with the press release.

Attach any photos to your press release if you're submitting them by email. It’s also a good idea to upload them online and include a URL link where the reporter can download them. Just in case something happens to the attachments you send.

The very last thing on your press release should be three octothorps. Or as you may know them by Hashtags or Number signs.

###

This is the traditional way to mark the end of a press release and is still appreciated by the media. It informs the reader that there is no more information to read.

Tips to submitting press releases

  1. If you know a specific journalist, try sending your press release directly to them instead of the general news@ address. You’ll have a much better chance of having your press release seen.
  2. Give them enough time. Most media outlets release stories at specific times of the day. TV news, for example, often airs at noon, 6 pm and 11 pm. So send your press release early enough for your best chance to get in on the next news cycle.
  3. And lastly, if your announcement does get picked up, be sure to share it as much as possible to help spread the word.  Keep the buzz going for as long as you can.

That’s how you submit a press release.

Just because you submit a press release doesn’t mean they will use your story. If you’re lucky and it’s a slow news day, there’s a better chance they’ll use your press release. But it is hit and miss. However, when they are used, the media exposure you get from it is a great form of publicity.

As I said initially, when someone sees, hears or reads about you in the media, it increases your clout. It strengthens the mantle of the professional that you are. And it gives you credibility in the eyes of those who see or hear it. And all of that is great exposure. And it doesn’t cost you a cent.

For more information about press releases, read this great article by Hubspot. It includes a free press release template kit for you to download.

Resource of the week Designers Available

Simply put, Designers Available connect social justice organizations with pro bono designers.

Let me stress, this is not a platform for getting paying clients. This is an opportunity for you to put your design skills to work for causes you can get behind.

As stated on the website, Designers Available is an opportunity for designers to use their skills and abilities to support the work of community organizations, non-profits, social causes and movements.

Upon submitting your name, you will be included in a member network that receives regular calls for designers to be matched with organizations.

If this sounds like something you would be interested in please visit designersavailable.com

May 10, 2021

Get your name out there.

In part one of this Bootstrap Advertising series, I discussed bartering your services to get exposure. This week I’m sharing more ways to get exposure by promoting yourself on client projects.

Exposure means making people aware of your design business. After all, People cannot hire you if they don’t know you exist. So the goal here is to get your name, business name, and logo in front of as many people as possible.

This form of promotion is called a shotgun approach. There’s nothing scientific or targeted about it. Instead, you hit the masses and hope that someone who sees it needs or knows someone in need of your services. This “spray and pray” approach doesn't cost you anything and is a great method of bootstrap advertising.

If you’re not familiar with the term bootstrap or bootstrapping, it means promoting or developing by initiative and effort with little or no assistance. In other words, bootstrap advertising is getting your name out there with minimal effort and practically zero expense on your part.

Let me share two methods you can promote yourself on client projects.

Put your name on everything project you design.

My stance is if I design something, my name deserves to be on it, from websites to posters, brochures, car wraps, wedding invitations and more. If I can get away with it, I put my name on it.

I’ve learned over the years that, as the adage goes, “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission?” If you ask a client if it’s ok to put your name on their project, there’s a 50/50 chance they’ll say no; they’d prefer you don’t. And many times, they’ll ask if they get a discount if your name appears on their project.

However, if you include your name on the initial project proof without asking, only one in twenty clients will ask you to remove it. That’s why I never ask a client if I can put my name on their project. Instead, I present the work with my name and sometimes logo already there. Should the client ask me to remove it, I’ll take it off without a fuss. But in my experience, there have been very few clients who have asked me to take it off.

My name or logo appears in small inconspicuous corners of the project for printed work—kind of like an artist's signature.

On a poster, I include it in the bottom corner. I try to include it on the back cover of a brochure, sometimes running vertically along the spine. If it’s a book or booklet, and I can’t put it on the back cover, I’ll try to include it on the inside front cover somewhere.

Over the years, I’ve included my name on

  • Posters
  • brochures, flyers and rack cards
  • books and booklets
  • door hangers
  • reports
  • pocket folders
  • event tickets
  • invitations
  • stickers and decals
  • Vehicle wraps
  • Window signage
  • Banners
  • and many more items I can’t think of right now.

I’ve even included my name and logo on trade show booths. I’ve designed several pop-up or roll-up banners as well as many backdrop walls for trade shows, and I’ve included my name and logo on the bottom right corner of all of them.

For websites, the obvious place is the footer, or sometimes on a separate bar below the footer. Divi makes this really easy.

Sometimes, when I do T-Shirts, I’ll have my screen printer add my logo to the sleeve with my client's permission. My screen printer is a great guy, and depending on the size of the order, he'll add my logo to the sleeve at no extra cost. Think about it. Everyone walking around wearing one of these shirts has my name displayed on their sleeve.

So whenever possible, I try to include my name on every printed piece I design.

Showcasing yourself via an ad.

I’m a bit surprised how well the following method works.

Have you ever designed something for a client that includes boxes for ads?

I've designed event programs, maps, placemats, pocket folders, magazine layouts, and more for clients. What all of these had in common were advertising spots the client could sell.

Take a program for a local theatre company, for example. The program contains information about the theatre company, the play their performing, the cast, perhaps upcoming plays, etc. The theatre company then sells the extra space in the program as ad spots to cover the printing costs.

The way these sort of projects work is the client has the program designed, and once all the pertinent information is in place, they are supplied with a PDF to see how much available space is left for ads.

When I present the client with this initial proof, I include an ad for my business in one of the spots. I tell them it's so they can show potential advertisers what an ad may look like. And you know what? 75% of the time, the client leaves my ad in the program. Of course, I’ll gladly remove my ad if they ask me to, but they rarely do. And not once have they ever asked me to pay for my ad spot.

Over the years, I’ve had ads show up for free in programs for theatre productions, sporting events, entertaining events, fairs and festivals and other things. In addition, I’ve had my ad appear on local maps, paper diner placemats, on the back of pocket folders that real estate agents and mortgage brokers hand out to their clients, and even in a couple of local business magazines. All because the initial project proof included my ad, and the client never asked me to remove it.

Funny story, one client actually apologized, saying they had oversold the allotted ad spots and asked if I would be willing to give up my spot to accommodate it. Of course, I said yes.

These were all free advertising opportunities gaining good exposure for my design business. All because I took the time to include an ad in the initial proof.

I designed a website for a local association that includes three ad spots on the home page. They planned to sell these ad spots to association members to promote their businesses.

When I designed the website, instead of leaving the three spots blank, I included my ad in one of them. That was in 2017, and even though I’m not a member of the association, my ad is still there. The other two ads have changed over the years, but they’ve never removed mine.

When given the opportunity, present the proof to your client with a “temporary” ad, and cross your fingers that they don’t remove it.

These are two great ways to get free advertising for your design business without spending anything.

Why it works.

The idea behind this is to get your name out there. If people don’t know about you, there’s zero chance they’ll hire you. By putting your name on as many things as you can, those who see it will take notice.

Imagine a new entrepreneur looking for a designer to help brand their new business. They remember seeing your name on a store poster, in an event program, on their kid’s dance recital t-shirt and in a local magazine. They’re going to think, wow, this person must be good since I see their name everywhere. A lot of people must trust him/her. That confidence, along with repeated recognition, is good enough for them to reach out and hire you for their project.

All because you included your name on everything you could.

I’ve been doing this ever since I started my design business, and I can tell you, it works. The more people who know about you, the more successful you will be. Isn’t that what you’re going for?

A side benefit of putting your name on everything is that the contact people you deal with at your clients may change.

Sally may retire, and Jason takes her place. Maybe Sally forgot to inform Jason who their designer is. Luckily for you, you’ve included your name on everything you’ve designed for that client, making it very easy for Jason to know who to contact.

That’s yet another reason to put your name on everything.

Resource of the week pixsy.com

This week’s resource of the week is a great tool for photographers and illustrators to keep track, or should I say, stay on top of who is using their images.

If you sell your images through any stock image platform, you’re often left wondering what people are doing with the images they purchase.

Pixsy.com allows you to discover where and how your images are being used online.

It’s also a great resource for battling image theft. Find out who is using your copyrighted material and use Pixsy’s tools to help you resolve the issues.

Best of all, you can start with their free plan and only upgrade if you need to take advantage of one of their premium features, such as issuing a takedown notice.

As I said, if you are a photographer or illustrator, you’ll want to bookmark Pixsy.com and take a stand in the battle over Copywrite theft.

May 3, 2021

Do you ever barter for exposure?

Working for exposure. That thought is the bane of most designers. A client asks you to use your valuable time and skills to benefit them. And in exchange, they’ll tell everyone they know about the great services you offer. It’s a win-win for both of you. They promise you fame and fortune if only you do this project for them... for free, or at a vast discount.

It’s a crock full of s**t if you ask me or any other designer who’s ever been presented with a similar offer. Those clients don’t care about you. And they will never be advocates for your services. If they do tell someone about you, it will be in the context of “offer them exposure, and they’ll give you a great deal.” Is that really the reputation you want as a designer? of course it isn’t.

You should never agree to a request to exchange your services for exposure. But that’s not the same thing as you bartering for exposure.

Let me ask you a question. You’ve probably spent some if not a great deal of time stuck at home during the 2020 pandemic. During that time, did you ever order out for a meal?

How many times did you order from a restaurant you had never heard of before? I don’t mean a place you recently found out about through family, friends or colleagues. How many times did you order from a restaurant you’ve never heard of?

Of course, that’s a trick question. If you’ve never heard of a place, how are you supposed to order from them? The same applies to your design business. Nobody is going to hire you if they don’t know you exist.

Sure they can google designers in your area and stumble across your website. That might be all they need to reach out. But there has to be some intent for that to happen. The person needs to be seeking a designer.

But how can you let that person know about you and your services if they are not currently seeking a designer? The only way is through exposure.

What is exposure?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of exposure is:

Exposure:

the fact or condition of being exposed: such as the condition of being presented to view or made known.

In other words, getting exposure means making people aware of your design business. And once people are aware of you and what you can offer them. They are much more likely to think of you the next time they need a designer.

Think about it. If you wanted to order a pizza and, for some reason, your regular place is closed. Wouldn't you order from the next place you’re most aware of?

Would you order from a pizza joint you had never heard about and just found through a google search? Or would you choose the pizza place whose ads you’ve seen over and over, who’s commercials you’ve seen or heard, who’s delivery vehicles you’ve spotted around town?

Chances are you would choose the one you are most familiar with, even though that familiarity is only perceptual since you’ve never eaten one of their pizzas before. You would choose them because you’ve been exposed to them.

There’s a whole industry based upon this principle of exposure. It’s called advertising.

Needless to say, the more you get your name out there, so people become familiar with you and what you do, the more successful your design business will become.

But how do you get your name in front of people without spending a truckload of money on advertising? You barter for exposure.

I talked about bartering in episode 47 of the podcast. In that episode, I talked mostly about bartering for goods. For example, I acquired my custom-built desk through bartering. I designed a website for a woodworking client in exchange for him building my desk. As a result, I only had to pay for the wood. That’s bartering. Exchanging one good or service for another without the exchange of money.

Bartering for exposure works on the same principle, except instead of getting a physical product or service back, you are compensated for your time and effort through exposure. That exposure can come in many forms, but they all come down to a form of advertising.

Case study #1

Every year I design a T-Shirt, free of charge, for a local children’s dance studio. I make money by brokering the printed shirts, but I have never charged her for the design on the shirt. In exchange, I get a full-page ad in their yearly dance recital program. This gives me exposure to hundreds of people every year.

We’ve had this arrangement ever since I started my design business. Without fail, in the weeks following the dance recital, I’m almost guaranteed to get at least one and oftentimes several inquiries from parents of the dancers saying they saw my ad in the program.

Case study #2

Our city used to host one of the largest hot air balloon festivals in North America until it folded a few years ago. The festival was one of my biggest clients. I did all sorts of design work for them, and it paid very well.

One of the arrangements I made with them early on was that I would offer them a discount for being listed as one of the event sponsors.

As a sponsor of the event, my logo was prominent in all their marketing. It also appeared on the fence surrounding the festival grounds, and it appeared on the baskets of one of the hot air balloons. Every time that ballon went up, you could see my logo on the basket. It was giving me exposure.

Case study #3

Every year our local fire hall hosts a firefighter challenge. Firefighters from all over the region come to compete.

When they hired me to be their designer, I suggested a deal. I would max their bill at five hours of work, regardless of how much time I actually spent on their job. In exchange, I would be listed as a Bronze sponsor of the event, which meant my logo showed up on all their promotional material, giving me more exposure.

Case study #4

A few years ago, I was asked to design something for a charity Christmas fundraiser. They had a dozen or so fully decorated Christmas trees they were auctioning off.

They didn’t have a lot of money and were asking for a discount. However, it was a good cause, so I suggested that they place a sign in front of one of the trees listing me as the sponsor for that tree in exchange for my services.

They thought it was such a good idea that they found sponsors for all the trees. I have no idea how much they charged for the spots, but mine didn’t cost me anything but my time. And it gave me great exposure.

Case study #5

The last story I want to share with you is about a local theatre company. I built their website and designed the posters, ads, tickets and other marketing material for every play they put on.

I was brokering all the print material. When I noticed the theatre company's tickets were only printed on one side, I made them an offer. I asked them to allow me to put an ad for my design business on the back of the tickets In exchange for free website hosting. I agreed to pay the difference in print costs which worked out to nothing since I made money on the print brokering.

For every play they put on, every ticket holder saw my ad. Over the years, I gain many new clients through that exposure.

Get Exposure

I think you get the point.

In each of these cases, I took advantage of a way to get my name in front of more people. The more people who saw it, the better the chance they would call me the next time they needed a designer or the better the chance they would pass my name along the next time they heard of someone needing a designer.

Just like for a restaurant to succeed, people have to know about it. So likewise, your design business cannot succeed if people aren’t aware of you. And one of the easiest ways to gain exposure is to take advantage of your current clients and barter a way to get your name out there.

Even if each method only brings in one or two clients, they are clients you wouldn’t have had otherwise. And the more you do it, the more it adds up. So whenever you have the opportunity, I suggest you barter for exposure.

Resource of the week MailChimp

A great way to gain exposure is through a newsletter.

Exposure isn’t just for people who don’t know about you. Exposure helps those familiar with you keep you top of mind for the next time they require your services.

My favourite tool for creating a newsletter is MailChimp. I won’t lie. I like them because their free plan lets you have up to 2000 contacts, which means you can go a long way into building your mailing list before it starts costing you anything.

Although many options are not available on MailChimp’s free plan, I think it’s a great way to start.

When you eventually outgrow the free plan, you can then decide if you want to upgrade to one of MailChimp’s paid plans. Or if you want to export your list and move to a different email marketing platform.

Apr 26, 2021

Do you remember every design job you've ever done?

Please think of this as a PSA, a public service announcement from me to you. Remember what you’ve done.

This week’s topic came about after three separate incidents this past week. I don’t know if it was a coincidence, but after the third time, I just knew I had to talk about it.

Incident #1

The first incident happened this past weekend. My son asked me if I had a certain Tom Clancy book. Rainbow Six, to be exact. He’s looking for something to read and wanted to give it a try. So I told him I’d have a look.

I keep most of my books in rubber storage bins in my basement. I have a tough time parting with books I've enjoyed and have several large bins full of them.

So one night this week, I went digging through our storage area in hunt of this novel. We don’t just have books stored downstairs. There are all sorts of things down there in bins. As I was sifting through them, I came across a plastic bag. Inside was a baseball cap with an embroidered logo I had designed for a client. It was a logo for an over 50 beer league hockey team. The team was called the Old Timers.

The logo I designed was an old-style alarm clock. You know, the kind with the two bells on the top. The clock face was one of an old man. And the clock had legs and arms and was using a banged-up hockey stick as a walking cane.

Seeing that logo brought back so many memories. I designed it 15 or 20 years ago. And I had completely forgotten about it. So much so that if you had asked me before that if I had ever designed a logo for a hockey team, I would have only thought of one. The one I created for our local minor hockey league. I would never have remembered that old-time hockey logo.

Remember what you've done.

Incident #2

The second incident happened a couple of days ago. I was on my way back home from Walmart when I saw flashing lights ahead of me. It looked like a big accident, and I could see cars making U-turns and coming back my way.

Instead of driving up only to be forced to turn around, I decided to turn off and use side streets to go around the accident. This took me through a part of town I hadn’t been in for several years.

As I pulled up to a stop sign, I noticed a business on the opposite corner. A storage facility where you can rent units to store your things. It had a double horseshoe logo that caught my eye. There was something familiar about it. Then I realized it was familiar because I designed it almost 25 years ago when I worked at the print shop. Trust me. It's not a logo to be proud of. In fact, I might have based the two horseshoes off a stock image I had found.

Here again, within just a couple of days was another design I had completely forgotten about.

Remember what you've done.

Incident #3

The third incident happened yesterday. I have a filing cabinet in the corner of my office. I use it to file away receipts, insurance papers and whatever else you store in file cabinets.

Yesterday I was filing away some investment reports when one of the sheets slipped back and fell behind the bottom drawer.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to remove a drawer from a filing cabinet, but it’s not that easy to do. Especially when it’s full. But after tugging and grunting, I finally managed to get it free. As I retrieved the sheet of paper, I saw something else on the bottom of the cabinet—a book.

As I picked up the book, a flood of memories came back to me. The book is titled Of Curds And Whey. And it’s a history of cheese factories from our area. Not real a page-turner, I know. But as I flipped through the first couple of pages and there it was.

Copyright 2005.
Cover and interior design by Mark Des Cotes.

I spent the next 20 minutes or so flipping through that book, remembering the time I designed it.

Once again, within the span of a few days, there was something from my past that I had completely forgotten I had done.

Remember what you've done.

These three incidents got me thinking. What else have I forgotten over the years? This leads me to dig out an old hard drive containing client files from 2010 and older. I spent time going down memory lane. I found logos, and websites and print jobs that I hadn’t thought about in years. Many for people or businesses who are no longer around. It actually made me a bit sad, wondering what else don’t I remember doing?

I spent 15 years designing stuff at the print shop. And I don’t have a written record of what I did back then. How many great projects have I designed that are lost to memory? Thinking back, I wish I had kept a record of them.

I know for websites, I used to keep a bookmark folder of all my client sites. Even if the site was gone, I kept the bookmark as a reminder. But for some reason, I haven’t added any bookmarks to it in a long time. I think I’m going to start again.

But what about other work? How do I keep track, so I don’t forget all the amazing projects I work on? I really don’t have an answer.

We used to print out and frame every logo we designed and hang them on the wall for everyone to see at the print shop. But once we ran out of room, we stopped adding new ones. I’m not going to do that here. But I would like to find a way to keep track so that 20 years from now, I can look back and see everything I’ve created.

If you know of a good way to keep track of your work, I would love to know. Or better yet, leave a comment below for everyone to see.

Take this as a warning. You are creating amazing things. Things that deserve to be remembered. What are you going to do so that 5, 10, 20 years from now, they don’t fade from your memory and are forgotten? Do something today so that you can remember what you’ve done.

Apr 19, 2021

Have you ever had to chase delinquent clients for money?

The life of a home-based designer, a freelancer, is a precarious one. You spent a lot of time learning your craft. Whether you went to school or learned on your own, you invested a lot in yourself to get you to where you are today.

Now clients hire you to design wonderful and functional things for them. You spend hours, if not days working on and perfecting each project until you and the client are satisfied.

After doing all of that, you expect to be compensated accordingly. So you send your invoice to the client feeling good about your accomplishment. And then you wait and wait, and wait some more, but no payment is forthcoming.

Has the client stiffed you? Have they simply forgotten to send your payment? Are they purposely delaying things? Did they even get your invoice, to begin with? These are all things that go through your mind when a client fails to pay your invoice within the allotted time.

Luckily this is the exception to the norm. 99.99% of clients will pay you for your work. But it’s almost inevitable that at some point in your design career, you’ll have to deal with a delinquent client.

In the 16 years I’ve been running my design business, there have only been three invoices I was unable to collect.

The first was a local embroidery shop. It was in my first or second year of business, and the owner of the shop hired me to vectorize images for his embroidery machine.

We had an agreement where he would send me images throughout the month, and I would keep a tally and invoice him at the end of each month. It was an easy and well-paying gig.

Then one day, the owner called and asked me to hold off depositing his $300 cheque. He told me there was a mixup at the bank and needed to wait until the following week to deposit the cheque. He was a good client, so I thought nothing of it.

The following week I called to see if It was OK for me to bring his cheque to the bank, and he informed me that he had declared bankruptcy. The cheque I had was no longer any good, and he would not be paying my last invoice.

What could I do? He had declared bankruptcy, and I was out $300.

The second time I was unable to collect on an invoice is a bit of a mystery. The client was a chef who owned a local restaurant. His 10-year-old son had died a few years prior, and he asked if I could photoshop his son’s head onto an image of a young boy in a chef outfit. He wanted to frame and display the photo in his restaurant.

We agreed to a price of $100, and once done, I emailed him the digital file and an invoice. A few days later, he called to say I could drop by the restaurant any time, and he would write me a cheque. However, when I stopped by a couple of days later, the restaurant was closed. I tried several more times over the next couple of weeks, but it was never open.

One day as I was driving by, I noticed someone inside, so I stopped and knocked on the door. The woman who answered told me the chef was her brother and he had disappeared a few weeks earlier and nobody has seen him since. They found his wallet and keys in his apartment, and the police were investigating.

I saw the framed photo of the chef’s son on the wall, but there was no way I was going to ask his sister to pay the past due invoice. I never found out what happened to him.

The third delinquent client was the owner of a paintball field my son frequented.

While talking to the owner, I mentioned in passing that I was a graphic and web designer. He asked me if I would offer suggestions for his old, outdated website. I took a look and offered to build him a new one for $600. This was back around 2007-08 when I was charging low prices for websites.

He agreed to the price, and I got to work. I transferred his domain to my registrar and moved his old website to my hosting server. A couple of weeks later, I presented him with a brand new website. He loved it, and everything seemed fine. But when it came time to pay, he kept delaying things and giving me excuses as to why he hadn’t sent the money yet.

This went on for a few months to the point where I took down the website and told him I would put it back up once I received payment. I even threatened legal action if he didn’t pay my invoice. He called my bluff and told me to go ahead and take him to court. I mentioned this to my accountant, and he told me $600 wasn’t worth the time and effort to go after, and I was better to write it off. It was this third instance that convinced me to start using contracts for design projects.

The point of telling you these three stories is to say some clients won't pay their bills for some reason or another.

I was lucky that I only lost $1,000 between these three clients. And all three of them occurred within the first three years of my business. They taught me a lesson, and I’m happy to say that I’ve never failed to collect an invoice since then. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t spent time chasing down payments over the years.

I hope you’re never in that situation. But in case you ever are, I want to share ways to get delinquent clients to pay.

First, let me emphasize that different clients, especially larger ones, have their own internal payment policies. This doesn’t mean they are not paying, just that they have a longer than normal payment window they work in.

When I did work for our local shopping mall, I learned to expect a 90 day wait until I received payment. My local municipal government has a 60-day payment policy. Some companies send out payments at the end of the month. So if you invoice them on the 25th, you’ll get your payment in five or six days. But if you invoice them on the 1st, you can expect to wait the full month for your money.

These are not delinquent clients, just clients with longer than normal payment policies that you’ll have to learn to live with.

But what if payment policies are not the issue?

Protect yourself in advance.

The best way to deal with delinquent clients is not to have delinquent clients to begin with. Lay out some groundwork to protect yourself from situations like these.

  1. Make sure you have every client sign a contract.
  2. Make sure your clients understand your payment schedule.
  3. Make it easy for clients to pay you by using an online payment portal.
  4. Whenever possible, get paid upfront.

Don’t Assume Anything.

When payment doesn’t arrive as expected, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the client is delaying payment for some reason. But until you know the situation, don’t assume anything. Just because you sent an invoice doesn’t mean your client received it. Even billing software that tracks when a client opens an invoice sometimes registers a false positive.

It's also possible the client did receive your invoice but didn’t see it. Have you ever clicked on an email, realized it’s not the one you were looking for and clicked on another without giving it a second thought. That first email is now marked as "Read," even though you never looked at it. Maybe that's what happened with your client.

Before jumping to conclusions, send a reminder message saying you just wanted to make sure they received your invoice.

Confirm the recipient.

If you’ve emailed the client and haven’t heard back, try picking up the phone and calling them. Don’t feel bad about checking up on a past due invoice. You never know. Maybe the person you emailed it to is on vacation or maternity leave and didn’t set up an out-of-office response. Or maybe your contact is no longer at the company, and nobody is checking their email.

Any time you call a company about a past due invoice, always ask for accounts payable. This gets puts you in contact with the person in charge of sending out payments. Be understanding but firm when you explain the situation, and hopefully, it can all be handled right there.

Decide if it’s worth pursuing.

At some point in this process, you need to ask yourself if going after the money is worth the hassle.

Yes, what you do is valuable, and you deserve to be compensated for your work. However, sometimes you could end up spending more time chasing the money than it’s worth. Figure out if the amount owed to you is worth pursuing.

Offer a payment plan.

If, for some reason, your client is hesitant or straight out tells you they are unable to pay. Before getting angry or threatening them, perhaps you can offer a payment plan. A client who wants to maintain a good relationship with you might agree to an option of paying by installment.

This is a great way to build client loyalty. They’ll remember your understanding once they’re back on their feet.

Offer a discount.

Depending on the situation, you may want to offer a discount. If it sounds like the client is hesitating, you may want to offer them a deal if they pay their invoice immediately or within the next couple of days.

A limited-time discount may entice a strapped-for-cash client to pay the bill now to save some money. It’s better to lose a little of what’s owed than risk losing all of it should the client not pay at all.

Seek a legal solution.

Before starting legal action, send a letter warning of legal action. This will inform the client you plan on seeking legal action without actually starting anything. Give them a deadline to submit payment and if it isn’t met, Follow through.

Do not threaten legal action if you don’t plan on going through with it. Oftentimes the mere mention of legal action is enough for clients to find enough money to pay your invoice.

When all else fails, your last resort is to seek a legal solution. Let me emphasize. Seeking a legal solution should only be used when nothing else has worked. Even offering a discount is preferable to taking a client to court.

If nothing else worked and the amount owed isn’t too big, you can take the client to small-claims court. This will require you to take time away from your business, so weigh the option against the amount owed and decide if it’s worth it.

If you are going after a larger sum, a letter from an attorney may be all you need. The thought of litigation is not something to take lightly, and most clients will want to avoid it when at all possible.

Be careful of going after larger clients in this way. If they have an attorney on staff or retainer, they may be willing to battle your complaint.

Communication is key.

If you’re lucky, your situation won’t escalate to the point where lawyers get involved. Your best option is to communicate clearly with the client and work out a satisfactory solution for both of you.

Don’t stress over it.

If, for one reason or another, you never receive the payment owed to you. Try not to stress too much over it. Your time is better spent working with your paying clients and trying to land new ones than it is fretting over your loss. No matter what the sum is, it’s only money. You’ll make more of it. And one day, you’ll look back and realize it wasn’t as big a deal as you made it out to be.

Get advice

If you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation, don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Many people have been in similar situations before you, and they’ll be more than willing to offer their advice.

Remember, clients, are rarely being underhanded or petty. Most of the time, they don’t pay your invoice because they simply forgot or hadn’t gotten around to it yet or perhaps they needed to delay payment for a very valid reason.

It’s extremely rare to have to go to extremes to collect what’s owed you. But it’s nice to know the options are there should the need arise.

Apr 12, 2021

Do you pitch retainer agreements to your clients?

In the Resourceful Designer Community Slack group, we have a channel called #Bragging-Rights. It’s a place where community members share their most recent wins. Things like Katie telling us her client approved the logo she asked us to critique a few weeks ago. Or Brian sharing the completion of a huge website project with an extremely tight deadline. Or Mike sharing yet another signed design proposal.

Whether it’s landing a new client or having their design business showcased in a magazine, everyone in the Community is genuinely happy for the person sharing the good news. That’s what being part of a community is.

But nothing seems to garner more congratulations than when someone says they’ve landed a new retainer client. We don’t even have to know the details. The fact that it’s a retainer client is huge and worth celebrating on its own.

You see, having a client on retainer is considered the pinnacle of client acquisition.

What is a retainer agreement?

So what does having a client on retainer mean?

  • It means guaranteed work.
  • It means guaranteed income.
  • It means a fixed schedule.
  • And most importantly, it means better clients that you can create long-lasting relationships.

A retainer means your client pays you in advance, regularly, in exchange for whatever work you outlined in the retainer agreement.

You see. One of the drawbacks of being a freelance designer is the unpredictability of income. You don’t work a 9-5 at a set hourly rate. Nor are you working in a salaried position with a guaranteed income. There’s no predictable paycheck arriving on a fixed schedule. That’s one of the sacrifices we home-based designers make for the freedom of working for ourselves.

But a retainer brings us closer to that predictable, guaranteed income. It creates a steady cash flow you can count on. This is great since you know how much money you are guaranteed every month, which helps with monthly expenses.

Not only that. But a retainer helps provide both stability and consistency in your work instead of learning how to deal with new clients every project. It reduces the need to pitch and win new design projects constantly.

On top of all that, Retainer agreements attract better clients and allow you to build a deeper relationship with them. Plus, clients treat designers they have on retainer with more respect and as an expert and professional.

These clients understand the long-term benefit of working with you. They are not looking for the least expensive designer. No, they’re looking for someone who can consistently contribute to their business. They want an expert and are willing to invest in one.

Another benefit of retainers is your schedule. In most cases, you know in advance how much work you will have from your retainer clients every month. This makes it much easier to plan your schedule. If you’re contracted to create a weekly blog post image and want to take a two-week vacation. You know in advance that you need to create three images the week before you leave.

Knowing your schedule in advance allows you to manipulate it when needed.

How does a retainer work?

A retainer is a contract between you and a client that states the service or deliverable you will provide them regularly in exchange for how much.

Most retainer agreements work monthly. A client pays you a fixed fee every month in exchange for what you provide to them.

You can also have a yearly retainer payment where the client agrees to pay for the full year in advance. Or a lump-sum payment where the client pays you a certain amount, and you work it off or supply deliverables until the money runs out, at which time the agreement is ended or starts over.

Retainer benefits to the client

Why are retainer agreements appealing to clients? Oftentimes, retainers have built-in discounts that make them more appealing for the client.

For example: If your rate is $100/hour, you might offer a retainer of $900 for 10 hours of work each month. Your client saves $100 each month, and you sacrifice $10/hour in exchange for the guarantee of payment.

If you don’t charge by the hour, you can set up retainers for deliverables.

For example, you agree to create four blog post images and 16 social media images every month for a fixed rate of, let’s say, $500 per month. The client can then budget $500 every month knowing you will deliver the images. It gives them peace of mind knowing it’s taken care of.

How do you pitch a retainer to a client?

The idea of pitching a retainer to a client can seem scary if you’re not used to it, especially if the client came to you with only one project in mind.

The trick is to determine what value you can provide to the client beyond the project they brought to you. What service or deliverables can you provide them regularly that benefit their business?

Some things to consider could include.

  • Monthly newsletters
  • Marketing campaigns
  • Social media imagery or posts
  • Blog post images
  • The list is endless.

Website maintenance plans are a form of retainer. You agree to update, backup, protect and upkeep the client's website for a fixed monthly fee. Web maintenance plans are a great form of a retainer and guaranteed income.

For any retainer to work. The client needs to understand the value and be able to explain it to others within their organization.

Get to know the client.

Before you pitch a retainer to a client, you need to get to know them and their business and figure out how you can use your skills to advance their interests.

Luckily, getting to know the client is part of any good project brief and discovery meeting. While you are prepping your project proposal, you should also be looking for ways to help the client beyond the project.

Do they have a monthly newsletter? If so, is there any way you can help them with it? And if not, could they benefit from one?

Are they active on social media? If so, who handles it for them? If it’s an employee, could you take that off their hands and allow the employee to be better spent their time on other aspects of the business?

The more you understand about the client and their business, the easier it will be to figure out how a retainer agreement will benefit them and convincing them you’re the person to have it with.

The retainer pitch

Once you’ve figured out how you can help the client on an ongoing basis, it’s time to pitch your retainer idea.

Some designers like to pitch the retainer idea as part of the project proposal. In comparison, some like to bring up the idea after pitching the project. There is no right or wrong way to do it.

I prefer to do it at the beginning myself. I personally think it helps build some credibility by showing the client you’re not just in this for the one project, but you are willing to build a long-term relationship with them.

This works especially well with website projects. You can show that you will understand the client and their needs by the end of the web project, allowing you to better support the website you build for them and provide some ongoing support to help them grow after the launch.

Bringing up the retainer agreement at the end of the project also works since the client has had a chance to get to know you and see how you work and can see the value you can bring to their business.

So there’s no right or wrong way as long as you do it.

How to structure a retainer agreement

The two most popular forms of retainer agreements are for deliverables or hours.

A retainer agreement for deliverables means the client pays you a certain amount in exchange for a fixed number of deliverables, such as social media images. This allows you to bill for the value of the actual work you create, not your time.

When using this method, it’s important to clarify a fee should the client require more than the allotted number of deliverables or what happens should the client not require the full amount that month.

The second option is a retainer agreement for a fixed number of hours per month. When choosing this method, it’s important to determine what happens should you need to go over the allotted hours or what happens should you not use up the allotted hours. Are extra hours billed at a discounted rate or your standard rate? Are unused hours lost or rolled over to the next month?

There is a third form of retainer that is not as popular. That’s for a client to pay a monthly fee for priority access to you. This puts you at their beck and call. Meaning they pay you to drop whatever you are doing and work on their project any time they need you.

I don’t recommend this third option as it could jeopardize your relationships with other clients, especially if you end up missing a deadline because your retainer client needed you.

A Retainer Agreement is a contract.

A retainer agreement with a client is a contract of its own and should be signed separately from any project contract you enter into with the client.

A retainer agreement contract needs to clearly define the work expected of you to prevent scope creep. It also needs to outline exactly what happens should extra work be needed or not enough work in a given month.

The agreement also needs to outline what is not covered under the contract. If your retainer agreement states you provide social media images and the client asks you to design a brochure, for example. Is there a condition for additional work? Or does your agreement stipulate that additions work requires a new contract?

The agreement should also stipulate timelines. If you agree to provide 16 social media posts per month, is that 4 per week or can you provide all 16 by the end of the month?

Retainer Agreement Time Frame

An essential part of your retainer contract is establishing a time period for the agreement. This can be anything you and your client agree upon 1-month, 6-months, 1 year, or more.

Whatever timeframe you chose. Your contract should indicate when you can renegotiate or terminate the agreement. Perhaps you raise your rates every year. Or you realize the work is more involved than you expected and want more compensation. Or, you decide after a time that you no longer want to be doing this kind of work. Make sure you have it in your contract when you can renegotiate or get out of the agreement.

Stipulating a payment schedule for the retainer agreement.

The whole point of a retainer agreement is a guaranteed steady income. To accomplish this, you need to state a payment schedule. Will the client pay a lump sum upfront, monthly, quarterly?

Or perhaps they pay a fixed price per delivery. For example, the client agrees to pay you a certain amount for every 10 blog images you create for them regardless of the time frame.

Introduce retainer agreements to your design business.

That’s retainer agreements. As I said at the start, they’re the pinnacle of client acquisition. Having several retainer clients can give you peace of mind, knowing you don’t have to spend as much time trying to acquire new clients. Instead, you work with a small handful of clients regularly as you build long-term relationships with them. It’s a win-win for both sides.

One last thing to remember, Any time you enter into a retainer agreement with a client, there are three parties to consider.

  • How does it affect you?
  • How does it affect the client?
  • And, how does it affect your other clients?

Before you enter a long-term agreement with someone, make sure the work and time commitment won’t interfere with your existing clients and commitments.

The next time a client approaches you with a new design project. Take some extra time to figure out how you can help them long term and pitch them on the idea of hiring you on retainer. You never know what will happen.

Resource of the week Lambdatest

Lambdatests offers Cross-browser compatibility testing tools. Perform live interactive cross-browser compatibility testing of websites and web apps on the latest mobile and desktop browsers, different operating systems and even differing resolutions. You can also test geolocation from over 27 different countries.

These are not screenshots. Lambdatest lets you take control of whatever browser you want on whatever system you want.

Their free plan offers 60 minutes of real-time browser testing per month. For unlimited testing, they offer a $15/month billed annually plan.

No more guessing or calling your friend that has that specific Android phone and asking them to check a website for you. You can do it all from the comfort of your own chair with Lambdatest.

Apr 5, 2021

Do you suffer from Imposter Syndrome?

I don’t know if it’s the pandemic, the stress of everything we’ve had to endure over the past year. But lately, I’ve seen more and more designers struggling with Imposter Syndrome. I’ve seen it in the Resourceful Designer Community. In Facebook groups. And just talking with people, I know in the design space.

I don’t know what’s causing so many people in our profession to doubt themselves and their abilities. But if you’re one of them, let me tell you a little secret that may make you feel better. Although everyone feels Imposter Syndrome at one time or another. It’s most often felt by high achievers who have trouble celebrating their success, no matter how large or small. So if you suffer from Imposter Syndrome, there’s a good chance you’re a high achiever. That’s a good thing and something that should make you feel a bit better.

In case you are unfamiliar with the term Imposter Syndrome, it refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. In other words, you don’t think you’re as good as other people think you are.

Imposter Syndrome

An internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be

I suffer from Imposter Syndrome when it comes to illustrations. If you’re a long-time follower of Resourceful Designer, you’ve heard me on several occasions say that I am not an illustrator. And yet, the truth is, I can draw. I’ve been drawing my whole life. Maybe not regularly; I haven’t honed my skills, but it’s not like I’ve never doodled before with some degree of success. And I’ve had many people over the years tell me I’m good at it. But in my mind, I’m not.

I look at what others like Andrew or Kat, or Krista from the Resourceful Designer Community can do, and my skills pale compared to theirs. In my mind, the only reason people tell me I’m good at illustrating is that they don’t want to make me feel bad by telling me the truth. That’s Imposter Syndrome.

And you know what? In this case, it’s ok. It’s ok because I’ve never wanted to be an illustrator. So if I don’t think I’m good enough, so be it. I’m ok with that. But that’s not the issue I’ve seen lately among fellow designers.

Imposter Syndrome becomes serious when it involves what you are trying to do to earn a living. What I’m seeing is a lot are people with the skills, talent and knowledge to do something well but who feel they are not good enough to be compensated for what they’re offering. People who are competent web designers but don’t think they’re good enough to charge $5,000 or $10,000 or even $50,000 for a website. Or people who are talented logo designers who have never charged more than a couple of hundred dollars for a logo project. That’s Imposter Syndrome.

These people have this idea in their head that if they charge that much, others will think they’re a fraud, and they’ll be exposed. These people are afraid to approach clients they really want to work with because they don’t think they’re good enough to work with them.

Is that how you feel? Are you unable to internalize your success because you’re afraid of being outed as an unqualified fraud?

Let me tell you something. You are not alone. In fact, everyone battles imposter syndrome at one point or another—even those who seem to have it all.

Actors Tena Fey, Emma Watson and Tom Hanks have all said in interviews that no matter how well they do, they always feel inadequate and that at any moment, someone’s going to find out they are not good actors and don’t deserve the success they’ve achieved.

Best-selling author John Green, who’s won several literary awards and whose books have been turned into major motion pictures, says he feels like a fraud all the time. He’s said that he doesn’t feel like he knows how to write a novel and doesn’t think he ever will. He finds pleasure in the process of writing, but he thinks everything he writes sucks.

If talented, successful people such as this suffer from imposter syndrome, what chance do you have? The truth is, you have as much chance as them and as everyone else.

To overcome that feeling, you have to realize that everything you’ve done in your life so far, every achievement you’ve achieved, no matter how small, was something you were not qualified to do before you actually did it. You weren’t able to walk - until you did. You weren’t able to ride a bike - until you did. You weren’t able to use the software you use daily - until you did. You weren’t able to complete a design job for a client - until you did.

You are the person you are today because you’ve successfully achieved thousands, if not millions, of things you were previously not able to do. That’s life. It’s how we grow. It’s how we mature. And that means that everything that you don’t think you’re qualified for right now is just something you haven’t achieved yet.

I want to share something with you, and I wish I could remember where I first heard it to give credit where credit is due. But I heard this many years ago, and it changed the way I look at life.

Somewhere, right now, there are people who are less skilled, less talented and less knowledgable than you are, doing the exact thing that you don’t feel you’re qualified for.

Think about that.

Regardless of your abilities, there are designers out there who are not as good as you, who are succeeding at the thing you want to be doing. When I first heard that statement, it changed the way I look at life. It helped me breakthrough my inhibitions and become the person I am today. I no longer look at obstacles as something I’m not good enough for. I look at them simply as things I have not achieved yet. That mentality has helped me grow and achieve things I once thought impossible.

I faced Imposter Syndrome before starting the Resourceful Designer podcast. I thought, “who am I to be talking to you about running a design business? Many other designers are much more successful than I am.” But I pushed through anyway and launched this show. And even though I know I’m not the most qualified person to instruct you; I still have something to share. And the thousands of people who listen to each podcast episode must think so as well, or they wouldn’t keep listening. And neither would you.

You don’t have to be the best at something to overcome Imposter Syndrome. It just means you have to be willing to try. There is no such thing as perfections. What there is, is good enough. Nobody can ask any more of you than that.

If you can design a $200 logo, there’s no reason why you can’t design a $2,000 logo. If you can design a $1,000 website, there’s no reason why you can’t design a $10,000 website. It’s not because you are not qualified. It’s simply that you haven’t done it yet.

Work, just like life, should be a challenge. You need to reach if you want to get anywhere. Because you too can succeed. And you know that’s true, because of all the less qualified people than you who are doing just that. Succeeding. Don’t let them show you up.

And you know what? If you try something, and you fail. Chalk it up to a learning experience and then try again. You’re only human, after all. Remember, feeling incompetent isn’t the same thing as being incompetent, and I know you’re not the latter because if you were, you wouldn’t be reading this right now.

If you’re feeling Imposter Syndrome. Find someone to talk it out with. Sometimes, all it takes to overcome Imposter Syndrome is to talk it through with others. Especially people who understand you. That’s where places like the Resourceful Designer Community are great. We’ve all been there and know how it feels, and we’re more than happy to guide you through it.

In case you are suffering from Imposter Syndrome right now and what I’ve said so far hasn’t helped you, I want to share something from Valerie Young, an internationally recognized expert on imposter syndrome.

As Valerie puts it in her TED Talk. The only difference between people who feel Imposter Syndrome and those who don’t is that the same situations that trigger imposter feelings in some trigger different thoughts in others. That’s it. That’s the only difference.

So The only way to stop feeling like an imposter is to stop thinking like an imposter.

For example, someone who suffers from Imposter Syndrome might think they are not as good as the others in their group and be afraid they’ll be discovered as a fraud. Whereas those who don’t suffer from imposter Syndrome know that even if they are not as good as the others in their group. That’s OK. They can’t be the best at everything, after all. Valerie has literally written the book on Imposter Syndrome. I highly encourage you to watch Valerie’s TED Talk. It’s only 6 minutes long and well worth the time. And here's a link to Valerie's 10 steps to overcome Imposter Syndrome, which you might find interesting to read.

But if you take one thing from this today, I hope it’s what I shared with you before. The statement that made such an impact on my own life.

Somewhere, right now, there are people who are less skilled, less talented and less knowledgable than you are, doing the exact thing that you don’t feel you’re qualified for.

So get out there, and do it.

Mar 22, 2021

Their competition might not be who they think it is.

Have you ever heard the term “The Curse Of Knowledge?” According to Wikipedia, The Curse Of Knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand.

Curse Of Knowledge: A cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand.

You see this a lot with instructors. The instructor is so familiar with a subject that they forget the person or people they are instructing don’t have the same background and therefore might not understand their teaching them.

Like a web designer giving a presentation to a group of fellow web designers and falsely assuming they all know CSS. Where in fact, some of the web designers may use Wix, Squarespace, GoDaddy Web Builder or Webflow. Platforms where knowledge of CSS is not necessary.

Why am I talking about the Curse of Knowledge? It’s because, as graphic and web designers, we sometimes take for granted that our clients know what we know. Especially when it comes to identifying the competition. But let me tell you. Many, if not the majority of clients, don’t have the background and knowledge that we do and therefore fail in their competition identification.

Case in point. I'm a member of a grant approval panel for my local Business Enterprise Centre. Every year, our BEC receives government funding and hands out grants to help new businesses start and get off the ground. The grant process requires each applicant to have a business plan, a three-year financial forecast, and a presentation to the grant approval panel saying why they believe they should receive a grant.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen dozens of these presentations. For my part, I read every applicant's business plan and follow up their presentation with questions to ascertain their merit regarding the grant. Part of their business plan requires a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Under the Threats part of the SWOT analysis, each applicant identifies their competition.

After sitting through dozens of these grant presentations, I've learned that most startups don’t know who their competition is. Some do a good job, but on average, the bulk of them don't realize who they are competing with. Most of them don’t realize that every business has two types of competition.

Direct Competition. Meaning those who sell or provide the same or very similar product or service that they do. And Indirect Competition. Those who might not sell or provide a similar product or service but are still competing for the same target market. It’s this second one where almost all of them fall short.

That’s why I brought up the curse of knowledge earlier. I’ve been in the design field long enough, and I’ve dealt with enough clients over the years that it’s become second nature for me to not just think of direct competitors but the indirect ones as well.

Let me give you an example.

One of the presentations I sat through was for a couple who were in the process of opening up an escape room business.

If you don’t know what an escape room is, it’s an entertainment venue where you and a group of friends are locked in a room or group of rooms and have a deadline to figure out puzzles to get out. So you’re up against the clock as you all work together to decipher the clues you find in your surroundings. If you’ve never tried an escape room before, you should really give it a shot. They’re a lot of fun.

Anyway. This couple was in the process of starting an escape room business. They leased a building, and construction had begun. They applied for the grant to help offset the cost of building supplies.

I noticed something while reading their business plan and hopped they would clarify it during their presentation. But instead, they excitedly said they were sure they were going to succeed because escape rooms are becoming more and more popular AND they have no local competition. The closest escape room is over 100 km away. They stressed this point.

After their presentation, I called them out. I pointed out their direct competition being over 100 km away. But then I asked about their indirect competition. The response I got was, “what do you mean?” I asked if they had conducted any analysis on their local indirect competition, such as the local movie cinemas or the theatres where they put on plays. I asked about the dance clubs, the bars with live entertainment, the local miniature golf course, etc. They looked at me confused and said, “We’re not competing with them.”

I asked the applicants how they can think they are not competing with them? They're starting an entertainment business. It offers a fun outing for groups of people that lasts 1-2 hours. So does every other venue I mentioned. When a group of friends figure out what to do on Friday night, they better believe they're competing with all of those other places and many more for that group's attention.

One person in the group might want to see a movie. Another might want to spend time outside at the mini-golf. Another might suggest they go to a club that offers a live band.

The couple opening the escape room business didn't realize they were competing with every option that might prevent someone from choosing their escape room for their fun.

And that was just one of the grant applicants.

A massage therapist failed to see she was competing against not only fellow massage therapists but also chiropractors, acupuncturists, and physiotherapists. Not to mention electric neck or back massagers you can buy at various stores.

The one that really got me was the craft brewer who thought his only competition was other craft brewers. He completely failed to realize that he’s making beer, and therefore he’s competing with all the big beer labels as well.

As a designer, a problem solver as we like to call ourselves, our job is to not only design amazing things for our clients. But to also help them identify their shortcomings. And that means making sure your client understands not only who their direct competition is, but even more importantly, who their indirect competition is.

You’re not just designing marketing material in the hopes that someone will pick your client’s escape room over another escape room. You’re designing marketing material trying to persuade people to chose your client’s escape room over any and every other entertainment they could choose.

The same principle applies to identifying target markets. There are direct target markets, and there are indirect target markets. Some clients don’t know who they are targetting.

Several years ago, I designed a logo for a client starting a science kit subscription box for kids ages 5-12. Each monthly box would contain fun science facts and a couple of experiments the kids could do around the house.

When I received the written copy for their brochure and website, I immediately questioned the material. When I asked the client who they were trying to target, they told me their target market is young boys and girls ages 5-12 who enjoy doing things like learning about bugs or digging through dirt.

The client completely missed the point. I explained that their box might be geared to 5-12 year-olds, but their actual target market was the parents who would subscribe for their kids, not the kids themselves. The wording they had provided me was written for the kids and not the parents.

There was also a secondary target market they could target in grandparents and aunts and uncles who may want to send a monthly subscription box as a gift to the young ones in their lives. This client had failed to identify their actual target market through all their research, just like my previous examples had failed to identify their competition.

What I’m trying to say is don’t become a victim of the curse of knowledge. Don’t assume your clients have done their homework and identified their competition. Or their proper target market, for that matter.

A few years ago, I thought only a small percentage of new businesses got it wrong. But my time sitting through dozens of grant presentations has taught me that what I take for granted is not something most people think about. I’d estimate less than 40% of the businesses I saw truly understood who they were competing with.

Take it upon yourself to educate your clients. It will show them your value, and they’ll appreciate you all the more for it. Help them in identifying the competition.

Resource of the week Gravity Forms

I’ve been using Gravity Forms for several years, and I love it. It’s the easiest, most trusted tool for creating advanced forms on your WordPress website. Packed full of time-saving tools and features, Gravity Forms is more than just a form creation tool; it’s a form management platform.

Build and publish simple or complex WordPress forms in minutes. No coding or guesswork required. Simply choose your desired fields, configure your options and embed the form on your website. It’s that easy. And with so many built-in integrations with some of the most popular partners on the internet, Gravity Forms makes it extremely easy to connect your website to platforms such as PayPal, MailChimp, Dropbox, Freshbooks and so many more.

I install Gravity Forms on every single website I build. What else can I say?

Mar 15, 2021

It's OK to have one of those days.

Wednesday this past week started like any other day. I got up around 7:45 to see my wife off to work, then went to the kitchen to feed our cat and dog before going to the living room and turning on the TV.

I fast-forwarded through SportsCentre, which I record every day at 4 am. I watch the hockey and soccer highlights and then usually skip through most of the other sports.

Once done with SportsCentre, I switched on a Canadian morning news show called Your Morning. As a designer, the show's logo drives me crazy, but I like the hosts, and they usually cover some interesting topics. It’s been part of my morning routine for years.

This takes me to 9 am when I normally start my day. But on Wednesday, when Your Morning wrapped up, instead of turning off the TV, I sat there as Live with Kelly and Ryan started. I don't usually watch this show, but I decided to sit through their opening dialogue. After 20 minutes of this, I realized why I rarely watch the show and turned it off.

I made my way to my office, which is only 10 steps away from where I was and sat down to begin my day.

I had an issue with a website the day before and had sent an email to the support team at SiteGround to see if they had any ideas.

I normally don’t look at my email first thing in the morning, preferring to wait until noon to read through them. But I checked it on Wednesday morning and found the anticipated reply email from Siteground waiting for me with the info I had been hoping for.

I made the necessary adjustments to the website and then sent an email to my client saying the problem was fixed.

With that out of the way, it was time to look at my To-Do list. I had seven things on my list,

  1. Design podcast cover artworks for client A.
  2. Design podcast cover artworks for client B.
  3. Start a new website for client C.
  4. Finish website for Client D.
  5. Create social media header images for Client E.
  6. Perform a podcast brand audit for Client F
  7. Read and reply to an RFP (Request For Proposal.)

None of them had a pressing deadline, and none seemed very appealing at the time. I couldn’t decide which one to tackle first. Instead, I decided to have a shower.

45 minutes later (I lost track of time standing under the showerhead,) I was back at my computer.

I saw my email program was still open and decided what the heck, and went through my inbox, which killed about 30 minutes and brought me to 11:30 am.

Looking again at my to-do list, there was nothing there that would only take the 30 minutes I had until lunch.

Let me interject here. I’ve been doing IF, Intermittent Fasting for the past couple of years. It’s a way of managing my weight without actually dieting.

The way I do it is to only eat between the hours of 12 noon and 6 pm. I can eat anything I want, within reason, of course, as long as it falls within that window of time. From 6 pm until noon the next day, all I have is water.

That means that by noon each day, I’m hungry. And the idea of starting a new project 30 minutes before my eating window opened was not very appealing to me. So instead, I decided to go for a walk.

We’ve had an unusually mild week this past week, and I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and get some exercise.

I walked around the block, a 2.5 KM loop or 1.55 miles for you Americans, before arriving back home in time for lunch.

During lunch, I turned on the TV again and switched to Netflix. I’ve been watching Suits lately and am really enjoying it. I was halfway through season 2, so I put on an episode while I ate.

This episode had a guest character that I recognized but couldn’t remember where I had seen before. You know how it is. You know the person but can't place them. It keeps nagging at you.

So when the episode was over, and I went back to my office, I opened up the trusty IMDB and looked up that episode instead of getting to work. The actor was Scott Grimes, and the show I recognized him from was The Orville, where he plays ship pilot Gordon.

That was one nagging thing satisfied. But now I was wondering when The Orville would return. So I searched for that. I couldn’t find any definitive answer as to when The Orville will return, but in my search, a couple of the websites I visited had sidebar mentions of the new Disney plus show WandaVision, which I had watched the first 4 episodes on the weekend.

The links were talking about all the Marvel Easter eggs in the series. Curiosity peaked, I clicked through to a YouTube video that went over episode one.

Now I’m not going to go over all the videos I ended up watching, but needless to say, YouTube is a rabbit trail, and I was there for much longer than I planned on.

Luckily, I had set myself a 10-minute reminder for a video chat I had scheduled at 2 pm with a new podcast artwork client.

After refilling my water bottle, I set up my equipment and launched Zoom. The guy showed up right on time, which was nice. Plenty of them schedule a meeting and then show up several minutes late.

Anyway. These meetings normally last between 15-20 minutes, where we discuss things about the podcast they’re starting. Things such as what their topic will be? What makes them qualified to talk on this topic? What is the purpose of starting a podcast? Who is it for? What format are they going to do (Solo, interview, mixed)? And so on.

As I said, these meetings normally last between 15-20 minutes, but this guy seemed very eager but also very naive to all things podcasting. So I started asking him questions that had nothing to do with the artwork he was hiring me to design. We ended up talking for 45 minutes before ending the call.

It was now 2:45 pm, and I decided it was time for a snack. I stuck my AirPods in my ears, started up a podcast and when to the kitchen to find something to stuff my face with.

I chose a 30-minute podcast and decided to finish it before getting back to work. When I finally did, the first thing I did was open up Facebook and check in on the Resourceful Designer group.

I read through the various posts, leaving comments whenever I deemed them. Then I checked a few other groups I belong to before saying enough is enough and shut it down.

Then it was back to checking my email and replying to a few. Then checking in on the Resourceful Designer Community on Slack.

Right around this time, Andrew, one of the members, asked an innocent question. "How many browser tabs do you have open right now?" Of course, I had to check. The answer was 51.

I then decided to go through them all and see what I could do to lower that number. I read several articles I had been saving so I could close the tabs. I made bookmarks for a few of them and saved a few to Evernote for later review.

I managed to get it down to 37 open tabs before I heard the garage door open, indicating my wife was home and it was time for me to end my workday.

My to-do list still had seven unscratched items on it.

Why did I tell you all of this?

I shared this story to tell you that it’s ok. It’s your business, your entitled to do what you want with your time.

I didn’t realize it at the time. But when I left the TV on that morning, instead of turning it off at 9 am like I normally do. It was an indication that I was not in a creative mood.

The projects on my to-do list, projects I’m very enthusiastic about, I might add, didn’t appeal to me that day. I didn’t feel like working, and that’s OK.

Creativity is not something you can turn on or off at set times. If I was under a deadline, could I have created something for my clients in the state I was in? Absolutely. I’ve been under that crunch before and have always come through.

But knowing that none of the items on that list were pressing gave me the freedom to say, nope, not today. I’m just not feeling it. And that’s OK.

Looking back at that day, I managed to solve a client's web issue first thing in the morning. I build a great foundation for a client relationship by turning a 15-minute artwork meeting into a 45-minute strategy session. And I managed to catch up and read several articles I had wanted to get to. So the day was not a total loss.

Did I do any of the to-do items I had planned for the day? No. But once again, that’s ok. It’s your business. You’re entitled.

Don’t feel guilty when you have one of those days. We all do from time to time. Just don’t make a habit of it.

If you start feeling this way more often than naught, it might be a good idea to seek help. It may be a sign of mental health issues. And that’s not something you want to brush under the rug.

The stigma of mental health has come a long way in the past decade. There’s no shame in asking for help.

But if it’s something that happens once in a blue moon, don’t worry about it. As I said, it’s your business. You’re entitled.

Take a day to sack off, and then double down and get back to work the next day. You deserve it.

In case you’re wondering, today is Friday. Two days after this happened. And I’m happy to say all seven items on that list have been scratched off. I obviously haven’t finished the new website in two days, but my list only said to start it, which I now have.

Even the most disciplined of us are entitled to a personal slack off day from time to time, including you.

Mar 8, 2021

Where would you spend your extra money?

In the Resourceful Designer Community, we recently discussed the question, "what would you do if you had extra money to invest in yourself and your business?" There were many great ideas on how to use the extra money and, just as importantly, how not to use it. It was such a great conversation that I thought I would share my thoughts here on Resourceful Designer.

Before I go any further, I must state that I am not a financial planner or financial advisor, nor do I play one on TV. In fact, I have absolutely no expertise when it comes to this stuff. As far as I know, experts who see this may tell you what I'm saying is completely the wrong approach. These are my thoughts on what I would do if I had extra money to invest in myself or my business. So here goes.

Imagine you had extra money sitting around. Anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. I know, it’s a nice thought. But you never know. Maybe you had a favourable tax return. Or you inherit a sum of money. Maybe you won a cash prize in some lottery or draw. Perhaps you had an outstanding quarter and have money left over once all your monthly bills and expenses are paid off.

Whatever the reason, you have extra money and try to figure something practical to do with it other than blowing it on a vacation or other luxury. No, you want to use that money as an investment of some sort. But what?

This is the order of preference for how I would invest the money.

Investing in your future.

I believe the most important thing any business owner can do is invest in their future. That future could mean next year, or it could mean retirement in many years. The idea is to use the money to help you down the road.

As a solopreneur, your income relies on your ability to work. In most cases, if you are unable to work, you don’t make any money. That’s why I believe padding your future is one of the most important investments you can make.

This may mean putting money into a savings account to act as a three to six-month buffer in case things get tough and business slows down. Work in our field is never guaranteed, and even the best of us experiences lulls from time to time. This buffer can help tide you over and help cover your expenses until work picks up again.

Or maybe an accident or illness will force you to take a medical leave. Having a buffer to get you through that period may mean the difference between staying afloat and being forced to close your business.

And then there’s retirement to think of. Saving for retirement is something you should start doing as soon as possible, especially if you want to continue living the good life in your later years. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to save up.

I don’t know about you, but as a creative person, it’s hard to think I’ll ever retire. I believe I will be creating and designing things until the day I die.

But the fact is, one day I may not want to spend 8-10 hours a day in front of my computer anymore. And that means less money will be coming in.

Not to mention that even though designers are like a good wine, we get better with age; some people may not want to hire a 65-year-old to design the brand for their hip new startup.

These two reasons alone. For short absences such as dips in work or medical leave and retirement are why I believe investing in your future is the first thing you should do with your money. I know it’s hard when you have bills and debts to pay. But even a few dollars here and there will add up over time.

If you do come into some extra money, this is where I suggest you invest it. In your future.

Investing in your present.

Next on my list is investing in your present. Investing in your present means putting money to use towards immediate self-improvement.

Learn a new skill.

Invest in is things such as tutorials, courses and programs to learn new skills or improve your existing skills. These may be design-related, or they may be business-related.

There are many great places to learn new skills, such as

Let's say you design Wix websites and have had to turn down several clients because they wanted a WordPress site. You may put your extra money to good use by learning WordPress and expanding your service offerings.

Or you may want to take a course or webinar on growing your business through social media. Or learn more about SEO or Google Analytics. The possibilities are endless when it comes to learning new things.

Not only can you learn something to grow your business, but you may learn a skill you can offer to your clients to make more money.

Invest in yourself by reading books.

Invest in business and self-improvement books that will help you grow.

I prefer listening to self-improvement audiobooks. I just recently finished listening to The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and next up I have Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck.

But if you don’t have time to sit and read a book. Audiobooks are a great way to still learn from the experts while out and about.

If you’ve never tried an audiobook, you can get one free book of your choice when you sign up for a trial Audible account. If you decide it’s not for you, cancel without paying anything, and they let you keep the free book you downloaded.

Join Networks.

Join networking groups or communities such as the Resourceful Designer Community to grow as a designer and business person. Or join a group such as Toastmasters who can help you fine-tune your presentation style when pitching to clients.

If you have extra money, after you’ve invested in your future, that is, I suggest using it to improve your current situation. The little bit you spend now can bring exponential growth for you and your business. Your future self will thank you for it.

Side note: I know I just said you should invest extra money in tutorials and courses and such. But don’t go looking for things to learn just because you have money to spend. It’s never a good idea to spend money on courses and such just for the sake of learning something. Only invest in things you want or need to know. Otherwise, invest the money in your future instead, as I mentioned earlier.

If you’re unsure if it’s important enough to learn now, go back and listen to episode 8 and episode 94 of the podcast. In both of those episodes, I talked about Just In Time Learning which plays right into what I’m talking about today.

Investing in your business.

The final category on my list is investing in your business. This means putting your extra money to use by improving the infrastructure that helps you perform your job.

  • Update your computer and equipment.
  • Purchase software and design resources.
  • Update your brand
  • Update your website and marketing materials.
  • Update your working environment

However, just like with investing in your present, there’s no point in spending money on a new computer or equipment unless you actually need it. You are better off saving the money for when you do.

Invest in growth.

There are more ways you can invest in your business. Use the extra money to hire outside help, such as photographers, copywriters, developers, etc., to help with your own promotional materials.

Hire a virtual assistant to help you with certain tasks and activities. I speak from experience that hiring my VA is one of the best investments I’ve made for my business.

If you haven’t done so already, use the extra money to register a trademark for your business name and visual assets. It’s always good to protect yourself.

And finally, Spend the money on growing your business through marketing, advertising, sponsorships and networking. Remember, the more people who know about your business, the faster you will grow.

When in-person conferences were cancelled in 2020 due to COVID, many of them went the virtual route. I took the money I would have spent on travel, hotel and expenses to attend PodFest Multimedia Expo and instead invested that money to become a sponsor for their online event.

That opportunity put my brand, Podcast Branding, in front of thousands of people in my niche and helped boost my business in ways that attending the conference in person could have never done.

So after you’ve invested in your future and your present, it’s a good idea to invest in your business.

Bonus

Here’s a bonus afterthought. If you’re satisfied that you’ve covered the three categories above, you can always use the extra money to thank your clients.

Sending a gift basket or special gift to a client, or even sending a client something as simple as a coupon for a free pizza, can go a long way to strengthen your relationship.

Imagine creating a new logo for a client and then sending them a glass mug with their new logo etched on the side?  That sort of thing can go a long way.

You can never go wrong when you invest in your client relationships.

As I said at the start, I'm not a financial expert. However, I believe you can't go wrong if you use any extra money you have to invest in your future, your present and your business. It's how you grow.

Where would you spend any extra money?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Tip of the week Refine search results by excluding unwanted domains

If you're searching for something on Google or other search engines and are tire of unwanted results such as Pinterest pins or YouTube videos showing up, you can refine your search by adding "-Pinterest" or "-YouTube" to the end of it. Doing so tells the search engine to not display any search results pertaining to those platforms. Give it a try.

Mar 1, 2021

If you change the way you think, you'll win more clients.

Not long after I went full-time with my design business, I met with a fellow local designer for lunch. I was somewhere between six months to a year into my entrepreneurial journey, and my business was growing fast. My clientele was increasing, and most people who contacted me ended up hiring me as their designer. Fifteen years later and I still win more clients than I lose.

The guy I had lunch with was a very talented designer. I knew him through the print shop where I worked before going out on my own. He would bring in projects to be printed for his clients, and his work was always beautiful.

He started his design business several years before I began mine. And when I was at the print shop, I thought he was living the dream. He doesn't know this, but he was an inspiration in helping me make the leap to solopreneurship.

During our lunch, he mentioned how much he was struggling. He was finding it harder and harder to win over new clients. He said that no matter how hard he tried to convince clients to work with him. Only a small percentage ever did. In fact, I learned during that conversation that several of my clients had contacted him before eventually hiring me. I didn't tell him that.

What I also learned, which is the focus of this post, is that he and I had two completely different approaches to acquiring new clients. Where he was trying very hard to win each new client. I, on the other hand, was trying not to lose them. When you consider those two concepts, you'll realize that my way is much easier.

Let me ask you this. Which is easier. Acquiring $100 or holding onto the $100 you already have? I think you'll agree that it's much easier to hold onto $100 than it is to acquire $100. That's the mentality I take when dealing with new clients. And that's what made me different from that other designer. Where he was doing his best to win each new client. I was doing my best not to lose them. Because in my mind, I had already won them the moment they contacted me.

Let me tell you a secret. Are you ready? Clients don't enjoy looking for a designer. In fact, they would much rather be doing countless other things instead. So when a client emails, calls or meets you in person, they are hoping you are the right person for the job. They want you to be the solution to their problem.

Think about that. No client will ever contact you, hoping you're not a good fit for them. None of them are saying, "I'm going to contact so and so designer about this project. I really hope they're the wrong person and waste my time." No, every client who contacts you wants you to be the last designer they contact.

When you take that concept into consideration, it means you are starting off every new contact with a client in the position that the job is already yours. Your position from that point forward is not to convince them to hire you. But to convince them, there's no need to look for anyone else. And that completely changes the way you communicate with the client.

Does that make sense? Let me repeat it.

You are not trying to convince the client to hire you. You are trying to convince the client they've made the right choice in contacting you.

This is how I've started every new client relationship since I started my business. As soon as the client and I introduce ourselves, we are working together until one says otherwise. If you approach each new contact with that in mind, you'll find yourself winning more clients than you lose.

How does this work in practice?

It's simple. You have to have the mindset that every time you speak with a potential client, you are working with them. From the moment the conversation starts, you are working together until you or they decide otherwise.

Here are some pointers.

Always speak to the client as if you are already working together. "I understand your situation. Here's how we'll tackle it." "We'll look at what your competition is doing and figure out a way for you to stand out." "The new brand we'll create will be a strong foundation for you in your market."

Do you see the way I've structured those sentences? I'm not saying, "if you hire me, we'll look at your competition." or "I would love to create a new brand for you." No. I talk to the client as if they've already made the decision to hire me. "This is what we'll do." "I'm going to do this for you."

After all, as I said earlier, the client is hoping you're a good fit for them before they even contact you. So show them they were right.

When it comes to conversing with the client, you must take the initiative by leading the conversation. This proves to them that you know what you are doing.

Clients want a designer who shows initiative. Someone who can take the lead. Someone who can work independently and get the job done.

Clients have enough on their plates. They don't want to dictate or micromanage what you do. That's why they're looking for an expert to handle their project.

Now we all know those people who do try to micromanage or dictate things. My experience shows that once you take the initiative and prove you know what you're doing, most of them will be happy to hand you the reins and back off. Anyone who doesn't isn't worth working with.

When talking to the client:

  • Listen attentively to what they are saying. This shows you care.
  • Ask pertinent questions. This shows you're interested.
  • Show you understand the situation. This shows you're knowledgeable.
  • Show your willingness to help them. This proves you're a professional.
  • Try to identify their pain points, their problems as early as possible. This shows you're an expert.
  • Offer solutions. This shows you are confident with their project.

If you can do all of this, there's little chance the client will look elsewhere.

Create a sense of urgency.

Whenever possible, create a sense of urgency for the project. The more urgent the project is, the less time the client wants to spend finding a designer and the higher the chance they hire you. Plus, if you can show them you're on top of things, they'll trust you even more.

Ask the client if they have a deadline. Then backtrack from their deadline to now.

If a client needs a package design for their new product that launches in 60 days, work backwards.

  • Two preferably three weeks at the printer.
  • One week for prototyping.
  • Two weeks to develop concepts and get the designs approved.
  • Add one week as a buffer in case of emergencies.

That's seven weeks total. Since the deadline is 60 days (eight weeks), you must start the project within the next seven days to meet the deadline.

Showing this sort of initiative and expertise proves to the client they made the right choice.

Of course, you can't do this with every project. But the more you exhibit a confident "take charge" attitude. The more the client will appreciate you.

Set Expectations

Another way to ensure the client they're making the right choice in hiring you is by setting expectations from the start.

Let the client know how often you will be updating them on your progress. How will you be communicating with them? Will it be via weekly phone calls, emailed progress reports, a client portal using a CMS, or what?

Clients don't like to be kept in the dark. So if you show them from the start how interacting with you will be, they'll have more confidence in you.

Explain what the whole process looks like. Explain each stage from research, concept and designing, right through to final approval and production if needed.

Remember, a client contacts you because they are hoping you are the right person for the job. Don't give them a reason to think otherwise, and 9 times out of 10, the project is yours.

All of this to say, your attitude plays a massive role in whether or not a client decides to hire you. The client wants you to be the right person for the job. They don't want to be forced to contact someone else. They want their project off their plate and in the hands of an expert, like you, who will see it through.

Keep all of this in mind and stop trying to convince the client you're the person they should hire. Instead, start showing the client they made the right choice by contacting you, and there's no reason for them to look elsewhere.

Stop trying to convince them to hire you. That's how you win more clients.

Resource of the week Google Advance Search

This is a simple little trick that has helped me out of a jam many times over the years. If you find yourself in need of a certain company's logo and don't want to jump through hoops trying to get it. Use this trick. In the Google Search Bar type “site:companywebsite.com” followed by “filetype:pdf”. What this does is return search results displaying all PDF files at that particular domain. Open the PDFs one at a time until you find one with a good-looking logo (you can usually tell by zooming in). Download the PDF and open it in a program such as Adobe Illustrator. If you're lucky you will have a perfect vector logo you can use.

You can also accomplish this by visiting Google's Advance Search page, but I find simply typing the parameters into the regular search bar is much faster.

Feb 22, 2021

Without these skills, your design business will struggle.

It sounds so easy. You’re good at designing, so why not start freelancing or start your own design business?

For the record, my definition of a freelancer is someone who does design work on the side while working another job in or possibly not in the design space. If you design things for clients on your own, and it’s your only source of income, meaning you don’t have an employer elsewhere, you are not freelancing; you are running a design business.

But regardless of whether you call yourself a freelancer or a design business owner. Working for yourself requires a different skill set than simply being a good designer.

You could have the most amazing portfolio of design work. You could be a wiz in Photoshop or Illustrator or InDesign, or maybe WordPress, Webflow or whatever tool you use. It doesn’t matter what skills you have as a designer. If you want your business to succeed, you have to run it like a business. And to do that, you need business skills.

There are numerous business skills that will help you get ahead. Most of them, such as file management, you can learn along the way.

However, there are five essential skills you need to succeed. Skills that the most successful designers use, be it freelancer or owner of a design business. They know the importance of these skills, and they know the success or failure of their business depends on their ability to master them. If you don’t possess these skills, you need to develop them ASAP if you want to ensure your endeavour's success.

So what are these all-important skills I’m talking about?

  1. Communication skills.
  2. Building Relationships.
  3. Thinking Strategically.
  4. Time Management skills.
  5. Money Management skills.

1 Communication

Without good communications skills, your business is doomed to failure. The ability to communicate properly is one of the most important skills you can have as a business owner.

Every client you talk to, every design proposal you write, every pitch or presentation you make will succeed or fail based on your communication skills.

Not only are good communication skills required to articulate and understand ideas. But clear communication can also save you and the client time and money.

  • The better you are at communicating, the more comfortable clients will be working with you.
  • The better you are at communicating, the more professional you will appear to people.
  • The better you are at communicating, the easier it will be to build and foster relationships with your client.

Plus, good communication skills can help you when dealing with different personalities or when discussing difficult topics.

Many designers are introverts. Myself included. But being an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t have good communication skills. You might have to work harder at it than an extravert does, but that’s easily accomplished.

Improving your communications skills will help you stand out from other designers who lack this skill. Not only will you be seen by your clients as a good designer, but also as a strategic partner and problem solver.

How to Improve your communications skills.

  • Use a tool such as Grammarly to check your written communication.
  • Reading books such as Dale Carnegie's How To Win Friends and Influence People.
  • Join ToastMasters or hire a speech coach.
  • Record your conversations and play them back, listening for areas you can improve on. (you need a client’s permission to record them)

Improving your communications skills will go a long way to ensuring your business’s success.

2 Building Relationships.

Have you heard the saying, it’s not what you know, but who you know?

Relationships are one of the key elements to any business’s success, even more so for service-based businesses like yours. The most successful designers out there know the importance of building relationships. Not just with clients but with everyone they meet, including fellow designers.

Every person you meet is an opportunity to start a relationship. Why is this important? Because every connection you make can lead to referrals, new clients, new projects, friendships, maybe partnerships and who knows what else.

If you’re a people-person, this should be fairly easy for you. But even if talking to people comes naturally to you, you have to learn to do it with purpose. Stay professional while you build your rapport. Building relationships takes time. But the payoff is enormous.

My Podcast Branding business grew to what it is today because of the relationships I’ve made in the podcasting space. You never know when one of the many relationships you’ve nurtured will lead to a new client or project. So keep building them.

Even when a relationship isn’t working out, it should still be nurtured as you back away. That means being cordial and considerate, even while turning down a client. You don’t want to burn any bridges because if you think good word of mouth spreads, let me tell you, bad word of mouth spreads so much faster.

How do you build relationships?

  • Do it slowly by making small connections with people.
  • Try to remember small details about a person and bring them up in conversation.
  • Ask about their kids or their recent holiday.
  • Keep in touch with your clients, even when you have no active projects with them.
  • Attend networking events and meet new people.
  • Read How To Win Friends and Influence People.

It may sound scary, but building relationships is a skill every good business owner needs to master.

3 Thinking Strategically

Being able to think strategically can transform an average freelancer into an extremely successful business owner.

Thinking strategically is the ability to envision the future and plan accordingly.

  • It will help you spot trends.
  • It will help you understand how your client is different from their competition.
  • It will help you contemplate ideas and directions your clients may not consider.

Thinking strategically will help you with your business and the work you do for your clients.

Strategic thinking is what differentiates a designer who designs logos from a designer who creates brands. Any brand strategy requires strategic thinking.

Thinking strategically will help you develop goals for yourself and your business by envisioning your future. Where do you want to be 6 months, a year, five years from now? Strategic thinking is going to help make the decisions, make adjustments, and tell you what you need to do and what not to do to reach your goals.

How do you think strategically?

Regularly take time to envision your future and figure out if you’re on the right path. Make time to work on your business strategy. Instead of waiting for the next new client to show up, figure out how you’re going to get your next 10 clients.

Read books and listen to podcasts that talk about building a business. Oh wait, you’re already listening to Resourceful Designer, aren't you? If so, you’re off to a good start.

4 Time Management

As a business owner, you have nobody to answer to but yourself. Nobody is breathing down your neck, telling you to get back to work or making sure you’re getting the job done. All of that falls on you, and if you want to succeed, you need to master time management skills.

Your Time management skills or lack thereof will make or break you.

When you’re fortunate enough to have several clients with multiple projects on the go, all with varying deadlines, your success in dealing with all of it will depend on your skill at managing your time.

And Time management isn’t just about managing client projects. You also have to worry about running your business and making sure you have time for yourself. Otherwise, your stress level will increase, and burnout becomes a possibility.

Time management comes down to four things.

  • Self-motivation, the ability to get going and keep yourself going
  • Self-discipline, the ability to focus on the work at hand and avoid the many distractions associated with running a business, not to mention the distractions of life in general.
  • Self-management is the ability to govern yourself by setting your own timelines, breaking down tasks, and delegating when needed.
  • Self-care, the ability to take breaks and time off. Making sure you are eating well and staying hydrated.

If your health falters, there’s nobody to help you out. So take care of yourself.

How to improve your time management skills

  • Plan your day ahead of time with to-do lists
  • Prioritize your tasks by order of importance and do the most important ones first.
  • Use a clock or timer to help you keep track of time.

5 Money Management Skills

The final important skill I want to talk about is money management.

Unlike employed designers who receive a weekly paycheque. Freelance and design business owners are at the whims of their clients when it comes to income.

Mastering skills 1 through 4 above should help you build your clientele to the point where you always have projects on the go. However, unless you’ve set up your business so you collect a salary, money management may not be top of mind for you.

When it comes to money skills, many freelancers are of the mindset that the money comes in, and the money goes out. They don’t give much thought to managing that flow of income.

How you budget your business earnings affects every aspect of your business. Good money management skills will help you set your rates and prices, so you remain profitable. Money management skills will help you determine which projects to take on and which are not worth it.

Money management skills will help you maintain your business by making sure the funds are there should there be a dip in your workload or should you have to purchase a new computer.

A business can generate a lot of money, but if that money isn’t managed well, it can still fail. And you don’t want your otherwise successful design business to fail because you lack the skill to manage your money.

How to learn money management.

  • Separate your business money from your personal money, including bank accounts.
  • Know your overhead, the cost of running your business so you know if you’re making a profit or not.
  • Learn basic money management skills through books, podcasts, and budgeting apps.
  • Talk to your bank or financial advisor.

Good money management skills will ensure you are rewarded for all the hard work you do.

Master these five skills to succeed.

These are the five skills that will help you succeed as a freelancer or design business owner. As I said at the beginning, there are many more skills required to run a business. But these five are essential if you’re in this for the long term.

Do you have these five skills?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Resource of the week Grammarly

I first purchased Grammarly on a whim a few years ago during some ridiculous sale they were having. It was probably one of the best purchases I've made in recent years. Not a day goes by that Grammarly doesn't help me out.

What is Grammarly? Simply put, it’s a spelling and grammar checker for your computer and web browser. But it’s so much more than that. As they say on their website, Grammarly leaves outdated spelling and grammar checkers in the dust.

Grammarly helps me whenever I fill out online forms, when I'm designing in WordPress and when I'm posting on social media. Anywhere I write, Grammarly is there to make sure I write well.

Grammarly doesn’t only correct, it teaches. It tells you if you are using repetitive words, warns of things like weak adjectives, and so much more. According to their website 85% of people using Grammarly become stronger writers. I've seen it in my writing.

It can be set for American or British spelling and is available for both Mac and Windows.

Feb 15, 2021

Follow the 10-20-30 Rule for great presentations.

Have you ever heard of the 10-20-30 Rule? It’s more often called the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint, but the principle applies elsewhere as well.

This Rule was coined several years ago by Guy Kawasaki, a venture capitalist who sat through dozens of presentation pitches regularly. It was his job to listen to people pitch their business ideas, and after years of this, he noted that the best presentations, the ones that are more likely to close the deal, all followed a similar format, which he coined the 10-20-30 Rule.

And this Rule is simple.

• 10 Slides
• 20 Minute Presentation
• 30 Point minimum size font.

That’s it. According to Kawasaki, this setup gives you the best chance to impact the person or people you’re presenting positively.

Kawasaki was talking about people pitching business ideas to venture capitalists. But the same principle applies to you, a designer pitching your ideas to clients.

Let’s break it down the 10-20-30 Rule.

Rule #1: 10 Slides.

Kawasaki pointed out that it’s tough for someone to comprehend more than ten concepts in a meeting. If you try, you’re more than most likely to confuse them.

Follow the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid.) Limiting your presentation to only 10 slides or 10 sheets or pages does just that.

Break your presentation down into 10 points, one per slide. Maybe something like this.

• Slide 1: Your interpretation of who the client is.
• Slide 2: Identifying the client’s competition.
• Slide 3: The Problem the client is facing.
• Slide 4: The Solution you are proposing.
• Slide 5: How your solution solves the client’s problem.
• Slide 6: Examples of your solution in place.
• Slide 7: Projections and outcomes from Implementing your solution.
• Slide 8: Timeline for the project.
• Slide 9: Cost of the project.
• Slide 10: Summary and call to action. 

This example uses a maximum of 10 slides, but you can do it in less, then all the better. 

Rule #2: 20 Minutes.

It doesn’t matter if you are allotted 30 minutes or an hour. Your actual presentation should take no more than 20 minutes. If you can’t present your idea within that time frame, you’re doing something wrong.

Have you heard of TED Talks? Did you know that TED Talks have a maximum length of 18 minutes?

TED organizers chose this time length based on neuroscience research that says 18 minutes is long enough for a speaker to flesh out their idea and short enough for a listener to take it in, digest what they are hearing, and understand all of the vital information.

Not only that, but they know that shorter presentations require you to edit things down to the most important and relevant material. 

If you have more time allotted to you, use it for introductions and setting up your equipment. You should also leave time for Q&A after your presentation. Plus, you never know when an emergency might arise and cut the meeting short.

20 minutes is the ideal time to keep someone’s interest in what you are showing them. Longer than 20 minutes, and you risk their mind wandering to other things and possibly missing critical points you’re trying to make.

Rule #3: 30-Pt Font.

As a designer, I trust you know that slides or presentation papers are most effective when they contain very little wording. I’m hoping I don’t have to explain that to you.

This 10-20-30 Rule was written for people pitching a product or business idea, not for experienced designers. But just the same, it’s something to remember when you create your presentation slides or handouts.

Using a larger point size forces you to cut back on unnecessary verbiage. The only reason to have a smaller type on a slide is to cram on more text. But by doing so, your client may think you’re not familiar with your material and that you need your slides to act as a teleprompter. And that, in turn, may make them feel like you are not invested in them.

Not to mention, the more type you have on a slide, the more the client will focus on reading it and not listening to what you’re saying. You know what I mean, we’ve all done it before—reading ahead while ignoring the presenter. Avoid this by using 30 point or larger fonts.

Forget the bullet list and instead, tell your clients the key points. It will mean much more coming out of your mouth than words on a screen or sheet of paper.

As a comparison, Steve Jobs, a great presenter in his time, insisted on a 96-point type on all his presentation slides. If it’s good enough for a multi-billion company, it should be good enough for you.

Bonus

As a bonus to his 10-20-30 Rule, Guy Kawasaki also said that the most persuasive presentations he’s sat through, typically used white type on a black or dark coloured background. 

The way he puts it is, anyone can put black type on a white background. It’s the default in all programs. However, white type on a dark background is something you have to conscientiously, and shows that you’ve put effort into your presentation.

Not to mention that white type on a dark background looks classier and is easier to read.

Don’t believe me? Think of movie credits. How often do you see black credits on a white background? Hardly ever. You can learn from that.

Do you follow the 10-20-30 Rule?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Tip of the week Capture Full-Screen websites on your iPhone.

If you are an iPhone user there's a nifty feature you may not know about. The ability to take full-page screenshots of webpages.

In Safari, take a screenshot of any webpage. Edit the screenshot. At the top of the page, you can toggle between "Screen" and "Full Page". Selecting "Full Page" allows you to save the entire webpage as a PDF to your Files folder.

This is a quick and easy way to capture the mobile view of any webpage.

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