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!
RSS Feed iOS App
Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business










All Episodes
Now displaying: Page 6
Aug 24, 2020

Do you vet potential new design clients?

How do you know that you’re the right designer for a project? Or maybe the question should be, how do you know a potential new design client is right for you?

In the past, I’ve covered what to ask during a discovery session, 50 questions to ask every new design client, and four vital questions to ask your design clients about their projects.

Almost all of the questions covered in those episodes are for building relationships with your clients after you’ve decided to work with them. But I don’t think I’ve ever talked about that first contact with a potential new client before.

First contact.

The first contact refers to those times your phone rings with an unknown number, or emails you receive from unknown people or the conversations that start when someone finds out you’re a designer.

How do you determine during those initial first few minutes of contact if this potential new client is someone worth investing your time and energy? Because as a designer, you will hear from people who you don’t want anything to do with.

So what do you do? You conduct a quick, impromptu interview.

First contact questions.

Here are some questions I like to ask before getting too deep into a conversation. If I’m not satisfied with the answers, I politely end things before I waste too much of my valuable time.

1) What can I help you with?

Cut to the chase. There’s no reason to have a conversation with someone if you cannot help them. The first thing you should do is ask the client what it is they need your help with.

Many people don’t know what graphic or web designers do. In the past, I’ve had people ask me if I could redesign their restaurant’s floor plan, create blueprints of their new building, develop software or apps for them, design 3D prototypes in C.A.D. and many more things I’m not capable of doing. So before wasting your time, find out if this person does indeed require your skillset.

2) How do you expect me to help?

Once you’ve determined the client can benefit from your skillset, the next step is to find out what they expect from working with a designer and if it’s worth your time.

Some clients are not looking for your design or creative skills. They’re looking for a person who can take the idea they already have and recreate it on paper or pixels.

Some designers don’t mind that kind of mindless work, but I don’t. If the conversation starts with “I know exactly what I want, but I need someone to do it for me.” then there’s little chance I’ll end up working with that client. I went into business for myself so that I can work WITH clients, not FOR clients.

Now I understand that you may not be in a position to turn down work. If that’s the case, I suggest trying to turn the conversation towards how you can offer more to the client than being a simple instruction follower.

3) Is there a deadline for your project?

To grow and prosper in this field of design, you must form relationships with your clients, which is difficult if you’re working on a tight deadline.

For existing clients, it’s not as big a deal since you already know them. But the first time you work with a new client, you should take the time to get to know them, their business and how best to assist them.

Of course, deadlines are subjective. A two-month period for a small website project allows ample time for relationship building. However, if they say they need their site launched by next Wednesday, I suggest you pass. Regardless of how simple it sounds, if they’re that rushed and under pressure, that stress will be passed on to you.

Determine if the deadline is a constraint you’re comfortable working within.

4) What’s your position regarding this project?

I ask this question because I want to know if the person contacting me is the one I’ll be dealing with for the project.

I’ve agreed to too many projects in the past only to find out later the person I thought I was working with turned out to be a middle person, and once the project started, I was dealing with someone different. I don’t like is to find out after I’m hired that the person that I talked to is now out of the picture, and I’m left dealing with someone else that I haven’t vetted.

If I’m going to be working with the Owner, CEO, Chairman or whoever, I want to know, and I want to meet or talk to them before I agree to anything.

5) What budget did you have in mind?

I know, budget is not a topic you like bringing up. But wouldn’t you rather get it over with now, instead of later during a discovery or pitch meeting after investing your valuable time?

I like to know right from the start if a client can afford me. If their budget is $500 for a website or $150 for a logo design, I can politely end the conversation, wish them all the best and get back to whatever it was I was working on when they called.

Of course, I’m being harsh here. I don’t merely brush a client off because their dollar sign is low. I explain why I charge the prices I do, and on some occasions, the person is convinced and realizes that increasing their investment is beneficial to them. But most times, after explaining why their budget doesn’t fit my prices, we part ways. If they can’t afford me, they can’t afford me. That’s just the way it is.

6) Are they able to pay my deposit?

The last interview question is about payment. Depending on the project, I insist on at least a 50% deposit before starting any work. I’m strict about this. “The check is in the mail.” Or “it’s going through our accounting department” are not good enough excuses. I need the money in hand before I start on anything.

If the client makes excuses or complaints about paying a deposit before we begin, I can only imagine how the rest of the project will go. In these cases, it’s best to turn down the project.

Interview the client before hearing them out.

Of course, there are many other questions you should be asking a new client before agreeing to work with them. The purpose of the interview is to vet the client and quickly determine if it’s worth spending any more time discussing their project.

In some cases, even vetted clients don’t work out. But most occasions, you can save a lot of valuable time, and possibly some big headaches by asking questions and quickly determining if the conversation is worth prolonging.

What questions do you ask to vet potential new design clients?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Thank you to Wireframe for supporting this episode of the podcast.

Check out the new season of Wireframe by Adobe – Wireframe is a podcast all about how UX can help technology fit into our lives.

Aug 17, 2020

How are you going to take your design business to the next level?

“What got you here won’t get you there.” I’ve heard this phrase a few times over the past couple of weeks, and it got me thinking about my life, my design career and my business.

This is not about Marshall Goldsmith’s book of the same title. Although I hear it’s a great book. It’s about the phrase itself and how it applies to you and your design business.

At its core, “What got you here won’t get you there” is such a simple statement, and yet it holds so much truth. You can only get so far in life if you stick with the status quo. To advance and grow further, you need to expand yourself and do things you’ve never done before. Otherwise, you’ll never be more successful than you are right now.

Are you ok with that? To never be more successful than you are right now? I know I’m not.

Thinking back over my career, I can pinpoint specific times when pushing myself, learning new things, or just taking a leap propelled me to bigger and better things.

I started working in the design department of a commercial printer straight out of college. I was one of several designers, all of which had attended the same design program I had, but graduated many years before me. Most had been working at that printer ever since.

Being the new guy, I was at the bottom of the hierarchy. My education had gotten me where I was, but it alone wouldn’t propel me any further. That was up to me.

While the other designers were satisfied grinding away, day after day doing the same work, I wasn’t. I didn’t want to be doing the same thing day in day out. And without even realizing it, I started following the “what got you here won’t get you there” principal.

I read books, subscribed to magazines, attended conferences and training seminars—all to better myself. Soon, the “new guy” was teaching all the veteran designers new ways to do things.

As the years went by, I kept expanding my skills and my knowledge until I was the go-to person in the design department. But was I satisfied? No, I wanted more.

In the early 90s, I heard about this new thing called the World Wide Web. It was amazing. It had these pages built by programmers that you could visit with a computer to get all kinds of information.

An article I read in one of my design magazines said the World Wide Web was a new frontier for graphic designers, and I was keen to conquer it. My graphic design skills had gotten me to where I was, but they wouldn’t be enough for me to tackle this new avenue of design. I needed to learn how to design websites.

At the start, computer programers ruled the WWW, but they made very clunky, and frankly ugly websites. Without realizing it, they were leaving the door wide open for graphic designers to build aesthetically pleasing websites that people preferred. Sites that not only easy to use but pleasant to look at and easy to use.

I wanted to do that, but learning how to program would be a long and tedious road. Luckily there was this new software by Adobe called PageMill that allowed people like me to design websites without coding using a WYSIWYG interface. They later released Adobe SiteMill, then Adobe GoLive. I used these tools to build good looking websites.

Before I knew it, I started a side gig designing websites from home while still working at the print shop. It was the best of both worlds. I got to design print stuff during the day and web stuff in the evenings. However, my web clients weren’t as happy. They didn’t relish the idea of dealing with me at the print shop for their printed material and then waiting until evening to discuss their website.

If I wanted to rectify this problem, I needed to make some changes. What got you here won’t get you there.

I didn’t know how to be an entrepreneur. But I knew it’s what I needed to do if I wanted to take my career to the next level. So I left the print shop and started offering both print and web design under my own business.

Now I’m not going to continue through my entire history. But suffice it to say, there are many times since starting my business that I needed to leap to “get me there.”

At some point, I stopped creating “pretty websites” and started offering “strategic websites.”

I stopped trying to do everything myself and began hiring freelancers and contractors to help with projects. This opened up a whole new world for me and allowed me to grow my business. I no longer had to turn down work I wasn’t capable of or comfortable doing. Instead, I could continue to offer excellent services to my clients by farming out those parts I couldn’t handle myself.

I grew my team to include programmers, illustrators, photographers, designers, copywriters, translators, etc.

Then at some point, I realized that charging an hourly rate for my services was not a sustainable model for growth. The only way to make more money that way was to either work longer hours, which didn’t sound great. Or substantially raise my hourly rate, which wouldn’t go over very well in my small town.

What got you here won’t get you there.

So I changed my pricing strategy and started billing by the project and then later using value-based pricing.

Over the years, I implemented discovery meetings, brand strategy sessions, a client onboarding process and started using contracts. All of these things helped me grow my design business.

At each stage, everything I had done up to that point was not enough to get me to the next point. I had to take a leap and move beyond what I was currently doing.

Are you happy with your career right now, today? Can you imagine continuing as you are right now, for the rest of your working life until retirement? If you’re like me, the answer is no. You probably want bigger and better things in your future as well. What got you here won’t get you there.

Where do you imagine yourself in one year, two years, five years, ten years from now?  What steps do you need to take today, tomorrow, next week, next month, to propel your design business to that next level?

A good business person, heck, a good person in general, should never be satisfied with there current situation. They should always be striving for more. To better themselves, to grow their business, to accomplish bigger and better things.

So what’s stopping you from reaching that next level? Remember, what got you here won’t get you there.

Questions of the Week

Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.

This week’s question comes from Ryan

How do you handle written content on your client projects. I was wondering if you hire that out to another company, if you write it, or do you require the client to write their own content?

I'm having a hard time with content for my clients websites and thought your perspective would be helpful in my decision.

To find out what I told Ryan you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

Thank you to Wireframe for supporting this episode of the podcast.

Check out the new season of Wireframe by Adobe – Wireframe is a podcast all about how UX can help technology fit into our lives.

Aug 10, 2020

Are you creating systems to help your design business?

Mike, a member of the Resourceful Designer Community, posted in the Community Slack group his frustrations with one of his clients. Mike built, manages and updates an eCommerce website for a client of his. His frustration is that every time his client wants a new product added to the site, he fails to provide Mike with all the necessary information, requiring Mike to contact the client, sometimes more than once, for the rest of the info.

Mike’s situation reminded me of a similar one I had with a client several years ago. And how my frustrations forced me into creating systems to address the issue.

Around 2010 a new client hired me to build an eCommerce website. This site would sell a wide and often unrelated assortment of products – everything from baseball bats, sunglasses, headphones, plastic shelf brackets, night lights and car seat warmers. And it was up to me to add every item to the site.

After I launched the website, I quickly realized the process my client wanted was not going to work. He started calling me at all hours of the day and on weekends with new products to add even though I explicitly told him I work Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm.

And similar to Mike’s situation that I mentioned above, any time my client had a new product for me to list, I would have to fight with him until I had all the content I needed to add it to the site.

I know this sounds like a toxic relationship. The only caveat was that even though I was charging my client by the hour, and you can imagine how the hours would add up, he never questioned my prices, and he paid his invoices on time. I was making good money, but this client was quickly becoming a pain to deal with.

A few weeks after the site launched, I finally put my foot down, and I created some systems to save my sanity.

The first thing I did was alter the way I charged him. Instead of billing for my time, I started charging him $50 for the first product and $30 for each subsequent product he sent me on a given day. This change immediately stopped the random emails and phone calls. To save money, my client started saving up products and submitting them to me in bulk.

The second thing I did was to create an online submission form that contained fields for all the information I needed to add a product to the website. Things like product name, description, selling price, shipping costs, size, colours, attributes, variations, etc.

I made most of the form fields mandatory, so my client couldn’t submit it until he had filled it out.

In some cases, I included YES/NO radio buttons asking questions like, “Does this product come in different colours?” If my client chose YES, he would then have to fill out another field listing the colours.

Finally, there was a way for him to attach product photos to the form.

Putting these two systems in place is what turned a nightmare of a client into someone I enjoyed working with. Plus, once I implemented these systems, my client started taking me more seriously.

Unfortunately, my client was not a very good business person, and his business failed, and we shut down the site after two years. But that project taught me the value of creating systems.

Of course, there are other types of systems. I use all kinds these days.

  • Questionnaires
  • Marketing and sales funnels
  • Social media strategy and calendars
  • Even my daily work process and routine

All of these can be called systems. Not only do they make my job easier, but they drastically speed up my tasks, AND they make it very easy for me to delegate work to others.

Creating systems for delegation.

Systems are a great way to teach others how to do things the way you need them done. I have a system for preparing a new WordPress website before I start designing it. It’s my step-by-step process for configuring the WordPress settings and installing and configuring the theme and plugins. I follow the same procedure on every website design I start.

I also have a system for launching a site to make sure nothing is forgotten. Before a website goes live, I make sure to check off every item on my list.

These two systems are the way I want things done. And because I have them set up as systems, I can easily pass off these duties to a virtual assistant and know that everything will be as I expect.

I have a system for my podcast artwork clients. It’s a questionnaire, but it’s still a system I use to gather the information I require to work on their project. Every time I meet with a new client, I pull out my list of questions and make sure to address each one during our conversation. It makes my job easier, and I never have to contact a client afterwards, saying I forgot to ask them something.

If I ever hire a project manager for my Podcast Branding business, they could use my questionnaire and get the same information I’m currently collecting. Because of the system I have, I know they won’t miss anything.

Creating systems makes you more efficient.

The systems I’ve created make me a more efficient designer and business person. They help streamline what I do and free up my time for other things. And creating systems can do the same thing for you.

I bet if you think hard, you already have systems in place. You’ve probably just never thought of them as systems. But now that you have, maybe you’ll start creating more systems that could help you become a more efficient person.

What systems do you use?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Jul 13, 2020

My strategy for securing WordPress websites.

The internet is filled with unscrupulous people. Are you doing everything you can to ensure your clients’ portion of it is safe by securing their WordPress websites?

I recently published a podcast episode and article on earning extra income by offering website maintenance plans. Part of that strategy is making sure the websites you manage are secure. I received many questions afterwards asking how I secure my clients’ WordPress websites.

There are many ways and many tools available for securing a WordPress website. Here is the method that works for me.

WordPress Security.

Those two words, “WordPress Security” may sound intimidating to the uninitiated. Let me assure you they’re not. If I can learn how to do this, so can you. I’m not a programmer. I’m not even a developer. I’m just a WordPress user who figured out a security strategy that works for me.

What is WordPress Security?

WordPress security involves putting measures in place to decrease the chance of someone compromising a website.

If you sell WordPress Security as part of your website maintenance plan, be sure to tell your clients there are no guarantees. If a skilled hacker is determined to gain access to a website, they will, and there’s not much you can do to prevent it.

The purpose of Website security is to make it as difficult as possible for them, so they leave your site alone and go in search of an easier target.

Most hacking attempts are easily preventable with a few simple measures. Here’s what I do.

Securing Account Login.

By default, every WordPress installation provides easy access for administrators to gain entry to a site through the URL This default makes the WordPress login page the most attacked part of any website.

So how do you secure the account login?

Hide the backend

I use iThemes Security Pro to hide the backend of every website and replace the login page with something else. If anyone tries entering the site via the /wp-login.php page, they’ll be taken to a 404 page not found page instead.

This is more of security by obscurity, and is not a very strong strategy, but if it helps prevent automated bots and such, then why not do it?

iThemes Security Pro > Security > Settings > Advanced > Hide Backend

Force the use of a strong password.

The stronger the password, the harder it is to crack. Forcing a strong password makes it more difficult to gain access to a site.

iThemes Security Pro allows me to force the use of strong passwords. New site users must enter a strong password to create their account, and existing site users are forced to update their weak password when they next log in.

iThemes Security Pro > Security > Settings > Password Requirements

Prevent the use of compromised passwords.

One of the main vulnerabilities of passwords is their reuse. Many people think up a good password, but then they use it everywhere. All it takes is for one database breach containing their user name and password, and a hacker can gain access to wherever the two are used in combination.

iThemes Security Pro connects to the haveibeenpwned API and refuses any compromised passwords.

As part of this prevention method, I recommend all my clients use a Password Manager such as 1Password to create strong, unique passwords for every site they visit.

iThemes Security Pro > Security > Settings > Password Requirements

Limit Login Attempts.

Even a strong password may be guessed if given enough time. So as an extra measure, I turn on Brute Force Protection in iThemes Security Pro to prevent the number of failed login attempts.

I have it set so that three failed login attempts will lock a user out of the site for 15 minutes. After their third lockout, it bans the IP address from even viewing the website.

iThemes Security Pro > Security > Settings > Local Brute Force Protection

Two-Factor Authentication.

Two-Factor Authentication, sometimes called 2FA, adds an extra step to the login process. The way it works is after entering a username and password; users must enter a temporary six-digit code to gain access to the site.

This code can be obtained from a predetermined list, one that’s emailed to the user, or, my preferred method, using an App on a smartphone such as Google Authenticator.

Google Authenticator generates a new unique code every 30 seconds. When logging into a website with Two-Factor Authentication, you must enter the code from the app and press the login button before the code expires.

The only way to gain access to a website protected by 2FA is to have the user name and password, plus have access to the smartphone tied to the account.

iThemes Security Pro > Security > Settings > Two-Factor Authentication (This is a PRO feature)

Passwordless Login

I want to mention Passwordless Login as a security option, but note that I don’t use this method myself. I explain why, later.

Passwordless login is a way to gain access to a website without entering a password or a 2FA code.

To use Passwordless Login, you enter your email address on the login page then check your email for a “magic link” that grants you access to the website. No password or Two-Factor Authentication code required.

Passwordless login is secure because it requires access to the email account associated with the site.

Although Passwordless Login is very secure and works great for clients, I don’t use this method. I sometimes need to access to a client’s website through their account instead of my admin account. I wouldn’t be able to access a site with Passwordless Login since I don’t have access to my client’s email account.

iThemes Security Pro > Security > Settings > Passwordless Login (This is a PRO feature)

WordPress Site Monitoring

Now that the account login is secure, the next thing I turn to is site monitoring. I want to know when something happens to one of my client’s website.

Security Logs

WordPress security logs are an excellent resource for seeing what is happening with a site. If a website gets hacked, the security logs will have the best information to help you recover.

To be honest, I don’t understand most of what the security logs contain. But I know where they are, and how to download and share them if I need to get an expert involved in fixing a compromised site.

iThemes Security Pro > Security > Logs

Monitor File changes

iThemes Security Pro allows me to monitor when files on a website change. This is a great way to know when someone had gained access to a site.

Be warned; this feature will also notify you of every change and update you make to the site.

iThemes Security Pro > Security > Settings > File Change Detection

Scanning for Malware

iThemes Security Pro regularity scans and notifies me if it detects malware on a website. This has saved me in the past when a client’s site became compromised. I was able to fix the issue before it escalated.

iThemes Security Pro > Security > Settings > Site Scan Scheduling (This is a PRO feature)

Themes and Plugin Management

Delete unrequired and inactive themes and plugins.

It’s much easier to hack into a website if it has outdated themes and plugins installed.

The first step in theme and plugin management is to deactivate and delete any unrequited or unused plugins. You can always reinstall a plugin should it be needed.

Also, make sure you acquire your plugins from reputable sources. I’ve seen some questionable WordPress Plugin bundles recently offering thousands of dollars worth of premium plugins for next to nothing. These plugins may work, but they may also be compromised. It’s not worth risking your business or reputation over.

Keep active plugins and themes updated.

As far as security is concerned, when it comes to the WordPress Core, Themes and Plugins, the best rule of thumb is to keep everything updated.

Many updates are to patch security vulnerabilities.

iThemes Security Pro has a nice feature called Version Management that allows a site to automatically update itself as new versions of the WordPress core, themes and plugins are released. Although handy, I leave almost all of this feature off. I prefer updating plugins myself. Should something on the site break during an update, I want to know right away.

The only option I turn on is the “Auto Update if Fixes Vulnerability” option. This allows updates only if it fixes a security issue.

iThemes Security Pro > Security > Settings > Version Management (This is a PRO feature)

Manually updating the WordPress Core, Themes and Plugins.

For updating my client website, I use iThemes Sync, a WordPress manager. iThemes Sync allows me to monitor and update all my clients’ websites from one dashboard.

iThemes Sync sends me daily emails telling me what plugins and themes have updates available. I can log into iThems Sync and perform all the updates from the one dashboard without having to log into each website individually, saving me time.

The basic version of iThemes Sync is free for up to 10 websites.

Domain security.

Whenever registering a domain, I highly suggest you include domain privacy. Some hosts include domain privacy while others charge an extra fee.

Domain Privacy hides the domain owner’s contact information from the public. Without domain privacy, a domain owner’s email address, mailing address and phone number are available for anyone to see.

Since it’s common to use the same email address to register a domain and access the associated website, without domain privacy, you’re handing hackers half of the login information they need.

That’s my WordPress Security plan.

That’s it. That’s what I do to secure my clients’ WordPress websites.

This is not meant to be an add for iThemes. There are many tools you can use to do the same things I do. Some of them possibly better and maybe less expensive than what I use. But I’ve been using the iThemes programs for several years, and I know, and I trust them. And so far, knock on wood, they’ve worked for me.

What's your strategy for securing WordPress websites?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Jul 6, 2020

If only I knew these things before starting my design business.

You know that saying, hindsight is 20/20? It means that it’s always easier to see things when you’re looking back than when you’re looking forward.

Before I decided to leave the print shop where I worked as a graphic designer to start my graphic and web design business in 2006, I had a preconceived notion of what to expect. Some of what I imagined turned out to be accurate and some of what I believed was way off.

For example, I imagined how much I would love running my own business, spending my days designing beautiful things for great clients. It turns out I love it even more than I anticipated. However, I do spend a lot less time designing than I thought I would.

I didn’t know many designers in 2006 who were running their own business. There were a few who used the print shop I worked at for their client’s print work. But they were more of what I call freelance designers. Meaning, they had other sources of income and did design as a side-gig. So there was nobody for me to emulate.

I did have one friend, Jason, with a successful design business in Toronto. I talked to him quite a bit before deciding to go it on my own. But even with those conversations, there was still a lot I didn’t know or wasn’t expecting when I did eventually jump ship.

So here are ten things I wish someone had told me before I started my design business.

1) You don’t need a lot of clients to run a successful design business.

Before starting my design business, I thought I would need 50 to 100 clients for my new business to be sustainable. Boy, was I wrong. I quickly learned that a solo designer could make a good living with only a handful of clients. In fact, during the first two years of my business, I only had 11 or 12 clients. Clients come and go, but on any given basis, a dozen clients is a good number to aim for. More than that and you risk overloading yourself with work.

2) You’ll spend a lot of time on things other than design.

Running your own business is a lot of work. And a lot of it is considered non-billable time. Things like invoicing and bookkeeping, keeping track of expenses and taxes, writing pitches, contracts and proposals. And so much more.

I thought I would be spending my days in creative bliss, designing beautiful things for grateful clients. But there have been days when I’m too busy running my business to design anything.

3) You need to become a time management expert.

When you work for someone else, they tell you when to take breaks, go for lunch, and call it quits at the end of the day. When you’re running your own design business, there’s nobody prodding you along but yourself.

Learn to take breaks and find time to eat—set boundaries between your work and non-work life. Otherwise, you’ll burn yourself out by working days, evenings and weekends, and you’ll start to resent what you do.

Running your own business means a flexible schedule, but you need to learn how to manage your time effectively. When you make your own schedule, you have the freedom to go to the grocery store on a Wednesday morning or to cut your day off early so you can bring your kids to their karate class or their soccer game. That’s the benefit of working for yourself. But you also need to be able to juggle multiple design projects with overlapping deadlines and clients who are not always on time delivering the content they promised you.

Conquering time management is the only way to stay sane in this business.

4) The rejections and criticisms will never stop.

Just because your the boss doesn’t mean clients won’t find fault with your work. But don’t worry, that’s a good thing. It doesn’t matter how long you do this work or how good you become. There will always be room for improvement. Clients will reject your proofs or decide not to work with you at all.

I’ve been a designer for over 30 years, running my own business for half that time, and I still have clients turn me down or tell me they don’t like certain things I design.

Learn to embrace failure, because there’s a lot of it when you’re on your own. The trick is to learn from them and grow as a designer and as a business person.

When the rejections stop is when you need to worry, because that means you’re either the best designer in the world and you’re way undercharging for your services. Or you’ve stopped putting yourself out there, and there are no more clients to complain.

5) Fake it until you make it.

You can’t succeed in this design business if you’re timid or hesitant or if you come off as self-conscious about the way you handle yourself.

You need to present yourself as a solution to the client’s problem. Their best option at success, even if you’re not sure of yourself.

Confidence comes with experience, but it also comes in the form of self-motivation. If you tell yourself you can do the job, then nobody else will doubt you.

The way to make it in this business is to continually go after more prominent clients. Ask for more money than your previous design jobs, pursue larger projects than you’re used to. If you keep aiming high enough, soon you’ll believe it’s where you ought to be.

6) Find a mentor.

If you try to run your design business all by yourself without any help, chances are you’ll fail. Not because you’re a bad designer, nor because you’re a bad business person. But because you don’t have the support you need to succeed.

You’re lucky that it’s 2020. You have a cornucopia of resources at your disposal to help you start and run your design business. Take the Resourceful Designer Community, for example. The community is home to a great group of designers who love helping fellow community members. In a way, we’re all mentors to each other.

When I started my design business in 2005, there were no Facebook groups or online communities. What got me through the beginning of my solopreneurial journey were the mentors I followed. People like Jason, who I mentioned earlier. Or Shari, a fellow local designer who helped me get my first clients.

Without people to model myself upon or to ask questions of when I needed help, I don’t know how my journey would have turned out. Find yourself a group of peers that can help and guide you. It will make your journey so much easier.

7) The respect given to you is a reflection of how much you charge.

Clients will never stop trying to take advantage of you. But the level of pushback you receive is closely associated with how much you charge. The higher your rates, the more you’ll be viewed as an expert. The more clients see you as an expert, the more they’ll appreciate your opinion and the less pushback you’ll hear.

When I used to charge $100 or $200 for a logo design, clients would try dictating what they wanted me to do. “Move that there,” “make that bigger,” “use a different colour,” “try another font.”

But as I raised my prices, the less “dictation” I received, and the more freedom I had to design the way I saw fit. Trust me, when you’re charging thousands of dollars for a brand identity, clients are much less likely to micromanage you.

The more you charge, the more your clients will respect you.

8) Don’t put all your design eggs in one basket.

You should never rely on one or two clients to sustain your design business. If there’s anything I learned over the years, it’s that clients can vanish in a heartbeat.

Just like investments, you need to diversify where your design work comes from. It’s great to have big clients with big budgets, but make sure you have enough smaller clients to diversify your income.

I’ve had several big clients over the years, from huge festivals to big shopping malls, to government agencies that have all gone away. The festival shut down. An investment firm with an internal design team bought the shopping mall. And the government agency amalgamated with another division who did work with another designer.

I survived the loss of these clients because I had other smaller clients to sustain me following their departure.

9) You can make a lot more money doing a lot less work.

Before leaving the print shop, I was working 40 hours per week at $21 per hour. That works out to $840 gross per week and roughly $550 net once the government took their deductions.

When I started my design business, I chose $50 as my hourly design rate. I no longer charge by the hour, but that’s another story.

Since there are no deductions for the self-employed, for me to make the same weekly income from my old salary, I needed to work 11 billable hours every week. That was it.

I mentioned earlier how one of the things I didn’t expect when starting my business was how much time I would spend not designing. There are plenty of non-billable hours in the workweek, but it’s ok because designers can make an excellent income designing just a few hours each week even while billing by the hour.

10) The riches are in the niches.

When I started my design business, I didn’t know what a design niche was. It wasn’t until a few years later, when I met a designer specializing in the dental industry that I leaned about niching. And to be honest, I didn’t give it much thought because she told me how much he hated it.

This designer was making good money in her niche, but she had no passion for the dental industry. It was merely a lucrative niche she had stumbled upon. In fact, when I met her, she was planning on getting out of it to do what she called “normal design work” that had nothing to do with dentists.

It wasn’t until much later that I started hearing about niching again and started to appreciate this specialized approach to design.

I recently branched out my design business to focus on the podcast niche. And let me tell you, it’s pretty good. The trick is finding a niche your passionate about. That was the problem with that designer I mentioned. She had no passion for the dental industry and grew bored with the work she was doing.

So there you have it. Ten things I wish someone had told me before I started my design business. I hope you find these things helpful–especially if you’re at the start of your business journey. And if you already have an established design business, maybe I’ve shared something that will inspire you to look at what you do differently.

What do you wish you had known before starting your design business?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Tip of the week Strong Passwords

Have you ever heard of Password Entropy? It’s the measurement of unpredictability in a password.

A password like LMNOPQR is much more predictable and easier to crack than something like L8?X49[. That’s why randomized passwords are considered the strongest. Passwords should be composed of upper case letters, lower case letters, numbers and common ASCII characters. When combined, each digit in a password has 92 possible options.

Here are the estimated times it takes to crack a password using a four-core i5 processor computer. You can see that the number of characters in your password matters!

7 characters will take .29 milliseconds to crack.
8 characters will take 5 hours to crack.
9 characters will take 4 months to crack.
10 characters will take one decade to crack
12 characters will take two centuries to crack.

How secure are your passwords?

Jun 29, 2020

Find local design clients to grow your business.

If you want to grow your design business, your best chance is to find local design clients to work with. After all, it’s much easier to find a client among the people who know you.

Of course, as your design business grows, you’ll want to expand your reach and acquire clients farther and farther away until you have a global range, that’s the dream. But never forget where you started, because, in a pinch, your local client market is where you’ll find the most help and the most work.

When I first started my design business, all of my clients were within 20 kilometres from me. As my business grew, so did the radius of my client base. 20 kb became 100 km, then 200 km and soon it was all of Canada. Then I started acquiring clients across the USA. Now, I work with people around the globe.

But even with that wide-spanning net of clients, my closest connections and best relationships are with my local design clients in my area. And I’m not alone. Ask any successful designer, and they’ll tell you there’s something special about working with local clients.

For one thing, it’s easier. When working with distant clients, there’s so much you need to learn about them and their environment.

  • Where are they located?
  • Where are their target market located?
  • What’s their local environment like?
  • What’s their local competition like?
  • And so forth.

But with local design clients, you have the inside scoop. There’s a good chance you’re already familiar with where the client is located. If not, it’s easy for you to become familiar. You know the local environment. You know or can quickly determine their competition.

All of this “inside knowledge” of your local area gives you an advantage over designers from outside your local area.

Plus, you can sit down and talk face-to-face with local design clients, which can only deepen that oh-so-important designer-client relationship.

From a local client’s perspective, I’m sure they would prefer to work with a local designer rather than someone they can only interact with over the phone or the internet. Not to mention, most people feel good when they support local businesses.

Focusing locally is more important now than ever.

It’s now more important than ever to embrace a Shop Local mentality. COVID-19 has taken its toll on businesses everywhere. I’m sure your local economy took a hit. Nobody knows how long this will go on, but as companies start opening up again, it’s essential to support them however you can.

Those business clients think the same way. If they need the help of a graphic or web designer, their first thought will be to focus locally for someone before looking elsewhere. That designer should be you.

Make it easier for local design clients to find you.

Here are some tips to help you get noticed in your local area.

1) Your marketing should have a local presence.

Make sure your website prominently displays your address. Clients searching locally for a designer will look for your address to confirm you’re local. Clients who are not searching locally won’t care what your address is and won’t bother looking at it.

Carry business cards with you everywhere you go and leave one or two behind at opportune moments.

2) Join local organizations.

Organizations such as your local Chamber of Commerce and other business groups are great ways to spread the word about your design services.

You can also get involved with local charities. Join their board of directors to committees. Your child school might have a parent committee you can join as well.

Business networking groups are another excellent opportunity to get your name out there.

Remember, It’s not who you know, but who knows you.

3) Submit your business to local directories.

A great way to be discovered is to be listed in as many local directors as possible. Local municipalities, chamber of commerce, business groups, newspapers, etc. often host directories of local businesses. Find out how your business can be included.

Make sure you are listed in Google My Business so you can be found in local online searches.

4) Do local SEO

You know the importance of SEO. However, not everyone knows the importance of local SEO. Local SEO requires a different strategy to ensure you’re not only found by local searchers but that you show up as close to the top as possible.

5) Pay for locally targetted ads.

Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google all offer a way to target ads to your local area. Take advantage of this feature and promote your business to those around you who can benefit from your services.

Local design clients are there if you look.

There are many local design clients and local businesses in your area that can use someone like you. And even though it’s great to work with clients around the globe, you shouldn’t neglect the ones in your own backyard. When it comes down to it, they’re the ones that are more likely to remain loyal when times get tough. They’re more likely to refer you to others. And they’re most likely to support a fellow local business.

Make sure you’re doing everything you can to get yourself and your services in front of local design clients and businesses.

How much effort do you put into finding local design clients?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Resource of the week LBGT+ Chamber of Commerce

LBGT+ entrepreneurs and business owners have a great resource in the LBGT+ Chamber of Commerce. Similar to all Chamber of Commerces, these ones aim to help businesses run by LBGT+ community members.

There are many LBGT+ Chamber of Commerces around the world. Check your local area to see if there's one nearby. Here are links to the Canadian and American national branches.

Canada's LBGT+ Chamber of Commerce

National LGBT Chamber of Commerce

Jun 22, 2020

Uninterrupted time can help you become more productive.

If you want a more productive design business, arrange your schedule to have periods of uninterrupted time. Time that is free of notifications and distractions, allowing you to focus all your energy on the task at hand.

If you’re anything like me, you have a million things on your mind, and a good number of them are on your to-do list. But no matter how efficient you think you are, there are only so many hours in a day, and never enough time to get things done.

But what if I told you there is a way to get more hours out of your day?

Ok, not really. Nobody has come up with a way to slow down or stop time yet. Or at least not that I know of. But there is a way for you to FEEL like you have more time and for you to be more productive. The trick is uninterrupted time. That means no distractions, a span where you focus 100% of your mental and creative energy on the task at hand.

Have you ever had one of those days where you feel like you accomplished so much? Chances are, you felt that way because you were less distracted that day. One hour of uninterrupted time is equal to three hours of a regular workday, so it’s no wonder you felt like you accomplished so much.

How can one hour of uninterrupted time equal three hours of regular time? Let me explain.

The University of Illinois and Microsoft did a joint study on the impact of disruptions on the workforce and recovery time after those disruptions. They tested a pool of workers, monitoring their work habits and how they were affected by typical, everyday distractions such as email notifications, text messages, social media DMs and phone calls.

They deduced that the average worker takes nine munites to return to a task after an interruption. NINE MINUTES.

They’re not saying that it takes nine minutes to reply to an email or a DM. But that most people, when distracted, will take a bit of extra time before getting back to the task they were distracted from. Replying to a Facebook Message may only take a few seconds. But while distracted from their primary task, they might as well check to see if anyone liked or commented on their most recent post. Or after replying to a text message, they may as well see if any new emails came arrived. Or they may decide to take the time to refill their coffee before getting back on track.

So, on average, simple distractions like a social media DM can take you away from your primary task for up to nine minutes. And that’s just time away from the task. There was a study a while back that said it takes roughly 10-20 minutes of working on something to become entirely focused on the job.

You may be thinking, “I don’t take nine minutes to get back to a task after a distraction.” The test subjects in the Microsoft and University of Illinois study thought the same thing. However, when interviewed after the study, almost every one of them was surprised by how long their distractions lasted.

Most of them thought they were away from their primary task for only a minute or two, when in fact, they were away from it for three to five times longer than they thought.

Even if you ignore your notifications, leaving them for later, they’re still a distraction. If you don’t click, the distraction still breaks your focus and interrupts your work. Which means it will take longer to complete that task.

A study on people’s work habits conducted by RescueTime said the average person couldn’t go six minutes without checking some sort of communication platform.

Once you add in other forms of distractions and 40% of people, never get more than 30 minutes of uninterrupted work time per day.

How does this apply to your design business?

We live in a world of communication overload. I’m sure that like me, you’re bombarded with messages and notifications every day. But what you need to remember is that You Are In Control. You have the power to turn your distracting notifications off.

You’ve probably heard about successful business people getting up at five or six in the morning to get an early start on their day. They often say it’s the most productive time for them. The reason is there are no distractions during that time since most people are still asleep.

If you’re a morning person, you may want to try starting work early. Work from 6 am to 9 am and then take a break for a couple of hours to take care of all the emails, text messages and check in on your social accounts.

Or perhaps you’re a night owl. Try finding some uninterrupted time by working late at night after your family is in bed.

But even if early mornings or late at night are not your thing and you work traditional business hours from 9 to 5, there’s still hope. You’re in control. You can choose to eliminate distractions from your workspace.

  • Quit your email program.
  • Turn off notifications.
  • Set your computer to Do Not Disturb.
  • Put your phone in airplane mode.

If you eliminate all distractions and work for a few hours uninterrupted, you’ll be amazed at how much you can get done. Your concentration will improve. You’ll be more focused on the task at hand. Your creativity will increase. And problem-solving will be easier. Without distractions, you’ll feel like a better designer.

Aim for three hours of uninterrupted time.

Another study said the optimal amount of uninterrupted time is three hours. Three hours is enough for you to get involved with the task you’ve started and then slowly build your focus and creativity until you’re in a zone where the outside world almost disappears. All your concentration is on your task.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this “Focused Zone” before. Being so focused on what you’re doing that, you lose track of time and forget things like lunch.

The study claimed that focused times lasting longer than three hours might lead to fatigue, causing you to lose focus. The more engaged your brain is, the more calories you burn. And just like a physical workout, the longer you concentrate on a single task, the more drained you’ll feel afterwards.

So uninterrupted time is excellent for productivity, but too much of it and you may feel drained for the rest of the day, which becomes counterproductive to the whole process of trying to get more work done.

Another study took place with young children at a Montessori school. They observed that when left alone with a task of their choosing, the children would focus for the first hour to an hour and a half.

A 15-20 minute period would follow where the children would seem a bit restless as if they were losing focus on their work. The researchers thought the kids were becoming disorderly, losing interest in what they were doing. But it turned out to be what they dubbed “False Fatigue.” After this short period of restlessness, the kids became even more focused for another hour as they continued to work on their projects.

The kids were so focused that a lot of them became oblivious to their surroundings and ignored distractions introduced by the researchers.

After roughly three hours, the kids lost interest and stopped. But they looked delighted with their accomplishments.

The same principles apply to adults, including designers like you.

Times may vary for you, but three hours of uninterrupted time to set as your goal.

Finding uninterrupted time with kids in the house.

Perhaps three hours of uninterrupted time while your children busy themselves unsupervised is unrealistic. But what about one hour? Is that not feasible?

Mommy Blog Practical, By Default, shares a hack for getting uninterrupted work time without feeling “Mom Guilt” (the same solution works for dads as well.)

The hack involves using a timer to teach young kids that while the timer is counting down, it’s not ok to interrupt Mom or Dad. Even young kids can learn to watch a timer.

When the timer rings, you give your kids your undivided attention. It doesn’t matter what you’re in the middle of doing. There’s no “just a couple of more minutes.” You need to follow your end of the deal if you expect your kids to leave you alone during your uninterrupted time.

Be sure to read the blog for full details.

It’s up to you.

If you want to feel and be more productive, the easiest thing to do is turn off the communication overload. Limit distractions and get some uninterrupted time to focus 100% on your work. You’ll be amazed at how much you can get done in such a short period of time.

Do you add uninterrupted time to your schedule?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Resource of the week

TinEye is an image search and recognition company. They are experts in computer vision, pattern recognition, neural networks and machine learning. Their mission is to make your images searchable.

TinEye delivers image search and recognition solutions to the industries where searching images is mission-critical. TinEye's image recognition is used by millions of people and powers billions of searches across a wide range of industries.

Jun 15, 2020

What are you doing to stand out?

I was listening to a podcast recently, and the guest on the show said something about how businesses need to stand out from its competition. To which the host replied, “That’s for sure, you don’t want to be a penguin.”

Sometimes, the most mundane things that I see, hear or read spark an idea for a podcast topic. Well, that phrase did it for me – Don’t be a penguin.

What do I mean by – Don’t be a penguin?

First, let me ask you, have you ever seen a large group of penguins? Maybe at a zoo, in the wild or even on TV? How do you differentiate one individual bird from the rest? I have no idea. And I suspect, unless you have an affinity for penguins, neither do you.

Unless one of the penguins has some form of distinguishing feature, they all look pretty well the same. So if I asked you to pick out one penguin from the bunch, you might have a hard time deciding since they all look the same. You would probably look harder for that distinguishing feature to make your selection easier. It’s much simpler to choose something that stands out from the rest, than something that blends in.

Think of your design business.

I want you to think of your design business in terms of those penguins. Or more on point, I want you to think about a client looking for a designer.

To a client, unfamiliar with the design space, we’re all penguins. As far as they’re concerned, we’re all the same. So how do you expect them to choose you out of all the other design businesses out there? You need to be different.

Your design business needs that distinguishing feature that will help clients chose you.

I recently had Col Gray on the podcast. Col’s business, Pixels Inc, is growing because he stands out. I’m not talking about Col’s Scottish accent. Sure, that’s a distinguishing feature in most parts of the world. But it doesn’t help him in his home country of Scotland. I’m pretty sure most of the other native designers he’s competing with locally have a similar accent.

No, Col stands out because of the personal brand he’s developed, Including his look. If you don’t know Col, he has a very distinct look. He’s almost always wearing black. He has a very long beard that grows down below his chest level that he often ties it with hair elastics.

On top of that, you never see Col without a ball cap. And not just any ball cap. It’s either black or red.

So visually, Col stands out. If a company asked multiple designers to pitch them, they’d remember Col. In fact, I’m sure they’d remember him months or even years later. Col is not a penguin.


Do you remember Craig Burton, who was on the show a while back? Craig’s design business is called School Branding Matters. One look at his website or even just hearing his business name and you know right away how Craig’s design business is different.

Imagine a school principal or school director looking to rebrand their institution. If presented with three or four different designers to choose from, which one do you think will stand out as the best choice? The three designers who have practically the same message on their website just worded in different ways? Or the one designer whose website says he helps schools craft compelling visual brands?

Do you get my point? The penguin that stands out is the one that gets picked.

Even niches have penguins.

Even within a niche, you don’t want to be a penguin.

Take my Podcast Branding business. I know several other people in this niche that offer podcast cover artwork as a service. I also know I’m one of the more expensive options. Some of them charge a fraction of what I do. And yet, I get new orders every week. Why is that? Because I stand out.

I ask every client who hires me why they chose Podcast Branding? Most of them say it’s because the other options all looked the same, and they couldn’t tell which was better. But my business looked different. I presented as the most professional, and even though I cost more, I seemed more trustworthy, and I looked like the one that could help them the most.

I’m also the only podcast cover artwork service, as far as I know, who insists on meeting and talking with each client before I design anything for them.

I’ve had several clients tell me that was the clincher. They felt that personal touch meant I would take better care of them than any of the other services that wanted them to submit their information via a web form.

So you see,

It doesn’t matter who’s the better designer.

It doesn’t matter who’s the fastest designer.

It doesn’t matter who’s the most affordable designer.

What matters is which designer stands out from the others because the one that stands out is the one chosen most often.

How can you stand out?

What can you do to stand out? You could try embracing a uniquely personal look as Col has. But that strategy could take years to develop. Or you could try narrowing down and focusing on a niche like Craig, and I have. Niching automatically sets you apart from all-purpose designers.

But what if you don’t want to go to those lengths? What if you don’t want a unique look or to niche down?

What you need to do is figure out what makes you unique and embrace it. Emphasize it for everyone to see.

Be unique.

I knew a web designer who exuded personality on his website. For example, this is how he described part of his design process.

“Once I know the scope of your project, I’ll present you with a proposal. I can do this over video, but I much prefer to do it in person. We can meet at my office or yours, but whoever’s office we chose is responsible for supplying the cookies.”

His site was full of small nuances such as that. And you know what, he told me that most clients he pitches to have cookies waiting for him.

I also remember this headline on his website.

“I’m a Scottish Web Designer, and I’m very good at it. Web Design, that is, I’m only so so at being Scottish.”

Upon landing on his site and reading that line, you knew he was different. Some people might be turned off by his presentation, but chances are those weren’t clients we would have wanted anyway. Those who did like it saw his uniqueness as different than the other designers and hired him because of it.

Don’t be a penguin.

So ask yourself, what am I doing to make my design business stand out from my competition?

What can I change or do better to improve my chances of being the chosen one?

What can I do differently so that I’m not just another penguin in the rookery?

That’s something for you to ponder.

Resource of the week ShortPixel

ShortPixel improves website performance by reducing image sizes, resulting in smaller images that are no different in quality from the original. The results mean faster loading web pages, which translates into better user experience and better search engine rankings.

ShortPixel can be set up to compress images as they're uploaded to your website or as a way to batch process your existing media library.

ShortPixel offers a one-time purchase or monthly plans depending on how many and how often you need to optimize images. They even have a free plan if you only need to optimize up to 100 images per month.

Jun 8, 2020

If you don’t tell them, they won’t know.

Before I launched the Resourceful Designer podcast on September 30, 2015, I sat down and wrote a list of over 50 topics I could discuss on the show. I wanted to be sure before embarking on this journey that I wouldn’t run out of things to say.

Almost five years later, and 219 episodes in, I still haven’t covered all 50 of those original topics. The ideas behind many of my episodes come from my own experiences in the week or weeks before recording.

Maybe I’ll read something in a book, or an article or on social media that gets me thinking, and those thoughts emerge into an episode topic. Or perhaps something I hear on another podcast or TV sparks an idea. And of course, my interactions with my design clients often turn into teaching moments for the show.

All of this to say, I’m never genuinely lacking for content.

But back before I started Resourceful Designer, I wasn’t so sure I’d have enough discussion material. That’s why I wrote my original list. To prove to myself, I had enough things to discuss.

I remember when I was getting ready to start the podcast, looking at that list and wondering which topics I should cover first. There were a lot of good ones, after all. In the end, I settled on what I thought was one of the most important topics a home-based designer should know and “Do Your Design Clients Know What You Do?” became the first topic I shared with my audience. It’s an episode devoted to telling your clients what it is you do, because, believe it or not, most of them don’t know.

I know it sounds strange, but it’s true. Most of your clients don’t know what services you offer beyond what it is you currently do for them. And almost five years after recording and releasing that episode, the situation hasn’t changed.

Earlier this week, a client I’ve been working with for over 20 years, dating back to my days working at the print shop, asked me to send him a copy of his logo in vector format. Curious because most clients don’t know what a vector is, I emailed him questioning why he needed a vector of his logo.

To my surprise, he told me he hired a designer to create a flyer for his clinic. I immediately called him on the phone and asked if I had done something wrong that made him look elsewhere for a designer instead of asking me?

It was then his turn to be surprised. He told me no, not at all, we have a great relationship, and he loves working with me, but I do websites, and he needed a flyer.

A bit of back story.

Before I continue my story, let me give you a bit of history between myself and this client.

I designed this client’s logo almost 20 years ago. I also designed his business cards and the rest of his stationary. The signage outside and inside his clinic, that was me. I’ve also created rack cards, postcards, posters and probably other printed material I can’t recall. That’s not counting his original website back in 2005 and the two re-designed sites I made for him over the past 15 years.

Back to my story.

When I reminded my client of all the things I designed for him in the past, he tried to dispute it. He told me his logo, business card, etc. etc. were all created by the print shop where I used to work. Which is correct, I designed all of them when I was working at the print shop.

However, even though he remembers me working at the print shop before starting my own business, he doesn’t remember me being the one who designed his stuff. He remembers dealing directly with the shop owner on every project. Not the designer who worked on his projects.

This admission surprised me even more. He has one of the most recognized brands in our community, something I’m incredibly proud of, and yet he doesn’t remember that I designed it for him. Talk about bursting my ego.

He then proceeded to tell me he’s had several print-related projects designed over the years by various designers.

When I questioned him on why he never asked me for any of them – I worked at a print shop after all and know a thing or two about print design – he told me he thought I left the print shop to get into web design. I didn’t realize I still do print design.

I’m not blaming my client for his shortsightedness. This situation falls wholly on my shoulders. In hindsight, it was stupid of me not to realize that in the 15 years I’ve been running my own design business, this client has only ever contacted me for his website. What kind of company goes 15 years without needing print design? So this is on me, not him. He had a preconceived notion of what I do, and I never corrected him.

But you see, that’s the issue. I never thought I had to educate this client because of our history together. In my mind, I had designed all sorts of print material for him. So it only made sense that if he needed anything else, he would come to me. But in his mind, I was his “web guy,” and he never considered me for any of his print projects.

Unfortunately, he signed a contract and gave a deposit to the other designer for the flyers. So I’m out of luck there. But he did assure me the next time he needs something he’ll let me know.

What’s even more frustrating is he’s referred several web clients my way over the years. This makes me realize how much I probably lost because he wasn’t referring me for print design. I can only shake my head at the situation.

Silver Linings.

Fortunately, there is a silver lining to this story. When this happened earlier this week, and I knew I would use the experience to create a podcast episode, I went back and listened to that first episode I released. In it, I shared similar frustrations. But I also shared a strategy I used that helped—something about which I completely forgot.

When I recorded that episode, I was used to sending quarterly emails to all my clients, letting them know what sort of fun projects I had completed recently for other clients. I would make sure to include a variety of web and print jobs, including t-shirts, trade show booths, vehicle wraps, etc. It was a way to showcase my work and inform my clients what I was capable of producing. And it worked. Clients would often contact me after receiving my email asking for information on one of the projects I mentioned. They would inquire if I could do something similar for them.

Their messages would often contain lines saying something like, “I didn’t know you did that.” So I had the solution to this problem. And then I forgot about it. As life would have it, what started as a quarterly email became less frequent until it eventually drifted off my radar altogether. It’s been a few years since I sent one out, but I now plan on reviving the practice ASAP.

In the meantime, after this enlightening conversation with my client, I did send personalized emails to my clients. I personalized each one with details about the client’s business, our relationship and their industry, but before editing each email, I composed a base email to use. Here’s the base email I wrote.

Hi [client’s name]

As we approach the far side of the pandemic lockdown, and life slowly gets back to the “new normal,” more and more businesses are being allowed to reopen.

A lot of people are wondering how their past routines will be different as we emerge from isolation. Now is the perfect time to let your clients know what to expect from you.

If you require new or updated marketing material, please let me know. Here are some ideas for you to consider that may help your marketing effort.

  • Posters
  • postcards
  • flyers
  • T-shirts
  • Signage (interior/exterior)
  • Display stands
  • Vehicle wraps
  • Digital Ads (Google, Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
  • Website updates
  • Trade Show Supplies

If you require any help designing these or any other print or digital material, please let me know. I’d love to help.

I wish you all the best in your return to operation.


Mark Des Cotes

As I said, I added to or altered the content for each client. I didn’t want them to think it was a blanket email I was sending out to the masses. I wanted each client to think I was writing just to them. And you know what? I already got my first hit.

A website client read my email and contacted me to design a postcard for her shop. Not only had she never considered a postcard until she read my email, but she also forgot I did print design since I was her “web guy.”

Let your clients know what you do.

All of this to say, don’t take for granted that your clients know what services you offer because there’s a good chance they don’t.

It doesn’t matter if you list your services on your website, you showcase different projects in your portfolio, or you explain them in your marketing material. Because chances are, your existing clients are not looking at that stuff. After all, they already know you, or so they believe, so they have no reason to look into what you do.

Unless you keep reminding your clients what services your offer, there’s a good chance they’ll only know you for that one project they hired you to do. So take this time to reach out and inform your current and past clients about all the things you can do for them.

Who knows, you may get lucky and pick up some new work from it.

How do you let your clients know what you do?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

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?

Jun 1, 2020

Have you ever considered YouTube as a way to market your design business?

Ask any marketer, and they'll tell you that if you're not doing video, your missing out on a massive part of the market. In the past couple of years, revenue generated through video marketing has outpaced all other forms of promotion. And of course, YouTube is the number one place to be if you're using video. But how do you use YouTube to promote a graphic or web design business?

I'm no expert when it comes to YouTube. I would consider myself an absolute novice. But as you know, when you want to learn something, your best option is to learn from someone who's doing it successfully.

In today's episode of the Resourceful Designer podcast, I'm talking to designer Col Gray, owner of Pixels Ink, a logo and brand design studio in Dundee Scotland. We discuss how he's making significant strides with his YouTube channel, Pixels Inc, as a means to market his business.

In this episode you'll hear us discuss:

  • How Col got started on YouTube.
  • The strategy he decided to embrace.
  • Why he chose business people instead of other designers as his target audience.
  • How he finds topics for his videos.
  • How YouTube is a long term marketing strategy.
  • His experience in getting his first client through YouTube.
  • What makes a video engaging.
  • What equipment you need if you're just starting.
  • The equipment Col uses to optimize his show.
  • His video process

Equipment and software mentioned in the episode:

What's your experience with video and YouTube?

Do you have a YouTube channel for your design business? Please share it in the comments for this episode.

May 25, 2020

Communicate clearly and jargon-free.

Hero Image.
White Space.

I imagine, as you read each of those words, your mind quickly thought of each one’s meaning and how you use them.

To you, a designer, deciphering these words uses up the same amount of brainpower as reading the words eggs, horse, car, or house. There’s no need to burn brain calories contemplating them since they are second nature to you because you’re familiar with the jargon of the design industry. You wouldn’t be much good as a designer if you didn’t know what pixels or bleed or a wordmark, etc. were.

But you deal daily with people who are not in our industry. That’s why they hire you, after all, because of your creativity and knowledge of all things design.

But sometimes, that knowledge can become a crutch—especially when dealing with clients who don’t know what we know.

I recently had a Zoom chat with a new client looking for podcast cover artwork. The gentleman was in his 80s and starting a podcast about the commonalities between creationism in religion and science. He’s a retired professor of quantum physics with an in-depth knowledge of string theory. He’s no dummy. Some may even consider him a genius.

However, during our discussion about his podcast cover artwork, he asked me what a pixel was. He had read how podcast cover artwork should be 3000px by 3000px square. He was unfamiliar with the term but rightly surmised that pixels are a form of measurement. But he had no idea how big or small a pixel was because, in his vast knowledge of the inner workings of our universe, pixels had never come up.

This goes to show you that even the brightest minds don’t know everything from every field. And nor should they.

Maybe you’re thinking, “The guy was in his 80s, so that’s understandable. However, most people these days know what a pixel is.” And I’ll concede that point. I, too, believe most people know what a pixel is.

However, if you ask a non-designer how wide 300 pixels are, they probably couldn’t answer. You, on the other hand, could probably make a reasonably accurate guess as to how wide 300 pixels are. That’s because you’re familiar with them. You work with pixels daily and therefore have a good idea. For the rest of the world, there’s no reason for them to know how wide 300 pixels are.

Let’s get away from pixels.

What I’m getting at is jargon is an excellent way for us to learn, for us to share information and communicate with our peers, and for us to instruct the next generation of designers.

But jargon has no place when communicating with our clients unless you explain what you mean by the terms you use.

For example, I never tell a client I’m installing an SSL Certificate on their website because they have no idea what that means. Instead, I say I’m installing a security certificate because most people understand the word “security.” I then further explain, in terms they know that a security certificate encrypts the communication between a visitor’s web browser and their website. So when the browser and website are exchanging information, it’s like that information is put in a sealed envelope and handed to someone to deliver it to the other side. Nobody can see what’s in that envelope until it reaches its destination, and the appropriate party opens it.

Without a security certificate, it’s as if that information is delivered back and forth on sheets of notepaper that everyone can read.

When explained in these terms, a client can understand the importance of an SSL Certificate without knowing the jargon.

When you’re talking with your clients, be conscious of the terminology you use. If you need to use jargon, make sure the client understands what you are saying. If you’re not sure, ask them.

For example, “I think a wordmark would suit your brand. Do you know what a wordmark is?”

Don’t presume the client knows what you’re saying. Give them a chance to learn during the process by asking. They’ll appreciate and trust you more for it.

Clients are guilty of using jargon as well.

Communicating with our clients is not the only time jargon comes into play. Our clients are just as guilty of this when they deal with their clients or customers.

Industry speak, another word for jargon is seen in marketing material everywhere, mucking up the message it’s trying to relay.

Your job as a designer isn’t to create pretty designs for your clients. It’s to ensure your designs tell a precise and accurate message, a message that provides a solution for your clients. One that those who see it will understand.

One of my clients is a Chiropodist (foot doctor).

When he acquired a new state of the art laser unit to help him treat various foot ailments, he asked me for a new brochure to help him spread the word. Rightly so. It was a great addition to his clinic. However, the way he wanted to spread the news was all wrong.

He sent me the text for the brochure he wrote himself. Copy that included all sorts of technical information about his new laser, information full of jargon that only other chiropodists would understand and find appealing.

I could have taken the information he supplied me and designed a beautiful looking brochure that would have ultimately failed. It would have failed, because his target market, people with foot problems would be confused by the industry jargon and not understand the benefit they’d receive from the new laser unit.

Instead, I sat down with my client to discuss not what the laser does or how it works or the technology behind it. But how it benefits his patients, what it means as far as their treatments go, how it speeds up the healing process requiring fewer and shorter visits, how it’s safer than the older traditional methods for treating different foot conditions.

We eliminated the jargon and explained in easy to understand terms why people suffering from foot problems should book an appointment with him.

And you know what?

After distributing his brochures to doctor’s offices and clinics around the area, he saw a spike in new patients asking about his new laser treatment. I’m convinced that replacing the jargon with easily understood copy is what made that project a success.

Your job is to ensure your client is thinking about their project from their target’s point of view. It doesn’t matter what your client thinks or likes, just as long as it appeals to their target market.

Convincing your clients.

It’s not always easy to convince clients to think in terms of their target market. I know. I’ve been a designer for over thirty years, and I still have trouble doing it. But here’s something you can try.

Ask your client to imagine that a grade-schooler is doing a research project on their brochure, website or whatever it is you’re designing for them.

With the information provided, do they think a grade-schooler would understand it? If not, then they should change the wording of the message.

If they argue that their target market isn’t grade-schoolers, remind them that according to studies, when interpreting instructional or informative texts:

  • 49% of the global population have basic or below basic reading skills. (In the USA that number is 52%.)
  • 12% of the global population read at a grade 9-10 level or lower. That’s the same percentage in the USA.
  • Only 2% of the global population read at a grade 11 level and up.

What this means is, people have a hard enough time comprehending the instructions or information they read that you shouldn’t complicate it by adding jargon to the mix.

There are some exceptions when jargon is beneficial.

I recently built a new website for an engineering company that manufactures control systems for industrial plants, hospitals, hydro dams, airports, etc. Any business requiring industrial automation.

My client didn’t need this website to attract new clients. They needed it for recruitment. The problem they faced was weeding out the skilled and capable engineers amongst the hundreds of resumes they receive every month.

So in their case, we used all sorts of industry jargon that only the most qualified candidates would understand.

Since its launch, they’ve received few resumes, but the quality of candidates increased.

So there are some instances where jargon can be beneficial. But in most cases, jargon should be saved for conversations amongst your peers.

When talking to your clients, you should make a conscious effort to minimize the jargon you use or at least explain it in terms your clients will understand.

And don’t be offended if they ask you to clarify something. There are no dumb questions when posed by the uninformed.

If you take care of your clients, they’ll be more impressed and more loyal to you.

Resource of the week is a super fast colour scheme generator. Press the spacebar and create beautiful colour schemes that always work together. also allows you to pick colours from uploaded images. You can adjust and refine colours by temperature, hue, saturation, brightness and more. You can also save your pallets for easy future access.

They also offer an IOS and Android app as well as an Adobe Add-on for Photoshop and Illustrator to display all your pallets in your programs.

May 18, 2020

Do you offer Website Maintenance to your web clients?

[sc name="pod_ad"]Offering Website maintenance is a great way to make extra money while putting in minimal effort. It’s right up there with print brokering as a way to supplement your design income.

Way back in episode 9 of the podcast, I shared 12 ways designers can earn extra income. On that episode, I mentioned making extra income by offering to host your client’s websites. Since then, I’ve made a few changes to the way I operate. I no longer provide web hosting on its own. Instead, I offer website maintenance, and I make a lot more money doing so. And so can you.

The typical lifecycle of a web design project.

  • A client approaches you to design and build their new website.
  • You agree on a price, get the contracts signed and receive your deposit.
  • You get to work on their site.
  • When it’s ready, you present your client with their new website.
  • You make any requested adjustments until they’re thrilled with what you did for them.
  • They pay the balance owing to the project, and you launch their site.
  • The client is happy with their new website. You’re pleased with the money you earned—end of the story.

Once this process is over, you may or may not hear from that client again until they need a new website in a few years. That’s providing they don’t meet another web designer between now and then. If they do, then all bets are off.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

By offering a website maintenance plan as part of your web design services, you retain that client on the books, and chances are when they need new web work in the future, they’ll turn to you because of your ongoing relationship.

Plus, wouldn’t it be nice to earn a recurring monthly income that gives your clients piece of mind while costing you very little in return? If you are not offering a website maintenance plan as part of your services, you’re leaving easy money on the table.

Offering a website maintenance plan doesn’t require much tech knowledge.

The best part of a website maintenance plan is if done right, you don’t need much tech knowledge. I didn’t know much when I started. And to be honest, there’s still a lot I don’t know. But I don’t have to know much for my plan to work.

What a website maintenance plan looks like.

Website maintenance plans differ from designer to designer. However, let me break down what my website maintenance plan looks like.

When I started offering website hosting in 2005, I charged my clients $12/month. When I switched from hosting static HTML sites to hosting WordPress websites, I raised my hosting fee to $35/month. Then I attended WordCamp Ottawa and met a fellow designer whose business was very similar to my own. However, instead of just hosting his client’s websites, he was offering a website maintenance plan. After hearing about his success, I immediately implemented it in my business. I raised my price to $69/month and expanded my offering from simple hosting to a full-fledged website maintenance service.

Some web designers may find $69 per month expensive. But it’s not. I know designers who charge much more than I do for their website maintenance plans.

Look at it this way, if you’re building $500 or $800 websites for clients. Then yes, they’ll find $69/month expensive. However, a client who pays several thousand dollars for a website, won’t hesitate to pay $69 or more each month to keep their investment safe. That’s what a web maintenance plan offers, safety and peace of mind.

My website maintenance plan consists of:

  • Managed WordPress hosting (I have a shared hosting plan that I divide and resell to my clients.)
  • Premium licence fees for themes and plugins.
  • Unlimited email accounts for the client’s domain name.
  • An SSL Certificate for their site.
  • Malware Scans.
  • Weekly WordPress Core, Theme and Plugin updates.
  • Daily website backups to an offsite storage location.
  • Enhanced Website Security.
  • Uptime Monitoring.

In return for these monthly services, my clients get a stress-free website. They don’t have to worry about their website getting hacked. They don’t have to about keeping their site updated. They don’t have to worry about evolving security measures. They don’t have to learn how to manage their own website.

Instead, my clients can concentrate on growing their business, knowing that I’m taking care of their website for them. Over 90% of my website clients see the value in my maintenance plan and sign up without hesitation.

Variations on website maintenance plans.

Some web designers offer a certain number of non-carryover hours as part of their monthly plan that allows a client to request small updates to their site. I don’t provide this. If a client wants changes to their website, I bill them extra.

Some web designers offer to maintain their client’s website regardless of where the site is hosted. I don’t provide this either. If one of my clients wants me to manage their site, I insist they host it with me. This way, I’m familiar with the web host, which makes it easier to fix any problems that may arise.

A website maintenance plan is not a lot of work.

Maintaining a WordPress website doesn’t require a whole lot of effort. Other than keeping WordPress, the theme and the plugins updated, there’s rarely anything to do.

Most of the work is done before launching the site and continues working month after month without any input required.

I use SiteGround to host my clients’ websites. They help me set things up, and their 24/7 support means I can count on them should I need help with anything. Here’s what I install on every client website I maintain.

Should anything go wrong with a website, If it crashes during a plugin update, or gets hacked, I can quickly restore it by reverting to a previous backup and have it up and running again in less than 30 minutes.

That’s it. There’s nothing else for me to do. Except collect $69/month from the client. It’s that easy.

How to start offering a website maintenance plan.

The first thing you need to offer website maintenance is a web host. There are many great web hosts you can choose from, but as stated previously, I recommend SiteGround.

  • A good web host can help you with most of the hard work.
  • When taking over an existing website, a good web host can help you migrate it to their platform.
  • A good web host can help you install SSL Certificates.
  • A good web host can help you update and add DNS Zone records as required.
  • A good web host can help you troubleshoot site issues that may arise.

Basically, a good web host will help you do the things you’re not comfortable doing.

Once you've chosen a web host, the next thing you need are plugins to manage your security and backups. I prefer iThemes plugins for this, but there are many other good ones you can choose.

Finally, if you want to get serious and maintain a growing number of websites, you'll want a way to minimize your time. iThemes Sync is the platform I use to maintain all my client websites. From one dashboard, you can monitor, update, backup and restore all the sites you manage, saving you precious time every month.

Website maintenance doesn’t require a lot of time.

On average, I spend less than 5 minutes per month, maintaining each client’s website.

Of course, not all of the $69 I collect goes into my pocket. I have to pay for the hosting fees, the SSL certificates (if they require something other than a free one.) Theme and premium plugin licenses, etc.

So maintaining ten client websites takes less than one hour per month at $69 each, which turns into a great hourly rate.

But what if something goes wrong?

I suggest you put a small percentage of your monthly fee aside in case of an emergency. In the rare case that something goes wrong with a client’s site that is beyond your abilities to fix, you can easily hire an expert to handle it for you.

What to look for in a web host.

Here are some things to look for when searching for a web host for your clients’ websites.

  • Dedicated WordPress server: Shows they understand WordPress.
  • Reputation: Look at reviews.
  • Cost: Get the best bang for your buck, but be careful of dirt-cheap hosting services.
  • Performance: What servers and OS are they using?
  • Scalability: Can you upgrade or grow should the need arise?
  • Uptime: Look for 99% uptime or higher. 99.9% is best. Nobody can guarantee 100% uptime.
  • 24/7 Customer Support via phone, chat or email.
  • Help/Training Resources: Document library to help you learn or get out of a jam.
  • Security: Good to have, but doesn’t replace a premium security plugin.
  • Bandwidth: Make sure they don’t limit you based on site traffic.
  • Storage: Unlimited websites doesn’t mean as many as you want. Read the fine print.
  • Domain Names: Good if you don’t already have a service for managing domains.
  • Email: If you offer email as part of your website maintenance plan.
  • Site Migration: It makes it easy to move a site from another host.
  • Ease of Use: An easy to use backend.
  • CDN: Servers web files from various locations around the globe.
  • File Access: FTP or File Manager for when you need to poke around.
  • Exit Strategy: Easy to leave should you want to migrate to a different web host.
  • Additional Services: Backups, Malware scanning, Updates etc.

As I’ve already mentioned several times, I recommend SiteGround as a great web host with all of these features.

Website maintenance is the best form of passive income for web designers.

Offering a website maintenance plan is a great way to supplement your design income. I estimate between 30%-40% of my annual income is from monthly website maintenance payments. This recurring income allows me to continue earning money while on vacation or at a conference.

You can do the same. You’re already designing the websites for your clients. Why not go the extra step and offer them the peace of mind of a worry-free website by providing a website maintenance plan? Both you and your clients will benefit from it.

You can thank me later.

May 11, 2020

Is your side gig a hobby or a business

I had a conversation with a fellow designer recently who works full-time for an ad agency and periodically takes on small design projects on the side. He called it a hobby. That got me thinking, what is a hobby and does what he’s doing qualify?

Hobby vs. Business

Standard disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, accountant, tax expert or business advisor. The following is solely my opinion.

Hobby: A hobby is an activity done for enjoyment, typically during one’s leisure time. A hobby encourages the acquisition of skills and knowledge in that area.

Business: Business is the activity of making money by producing or selling products such as goods and services. Simply put, business is any activity or enterprise entered into for profit.

By those definitions, any design work you do where you get paid should be considered a business venture. At least you would think.

When does a hobby become a business?

According to the IRS, a hobby is an activity that an individual pursues without the intent of generating a profit. “Intent” is the keyword here. Meaning it’s ok to make money pursuing your creative hobbies as long as it wasn’t your intent, to begin.

For example, let’s say you have a screen printing machine and print yourself graphic T-Shirts. If someone sees one of your shirts and offers you money to make one for them, it’s still considered a hobby, because it wasn’t your intent to sell the design or shirt when you created it. However, if you designed and printed the shirt with the hopes of selling more like it, then it’s a business.

An artist who paints for the joy of it, and sells the odd painting to cover the cost of supplies is considered a hobbyist. But as soon as that artist decides to showcase their paintings, in the hopes of selling them for a profit, it becomes a business.

If you create something because you want to help a friend, a family member, your church, a local organization or charity you support or your kid’s sports team, and they offer you money for your generosity, as long as you intended to help them and not of making a profit, then it’s not a business dealing.

However, if that friend, family member, church, organization or charity asks you to create something for them in exchange for payment of some kind, then your acceptance is based on the knowledge you will be making a profit. Therefore it’s a business transaction.

Why is the distinction between hobby vs. business important?

The distinction between hobby vs. business is essential for tax purposes. Yup, blame it on the government. If you are making a profit from something, they want their cut. But that could be a good thing.

If you are making money from your “hobby” or “side gig” you should want the taxman to take a cut. Why? Because as a hobby, you can’t deduct losses and expenses on your tax return. But once you’re hobby is classified as a business, you are entitled to the same tax advantages other businesses enjoy. Including home business expenses or additional costs that don’t typically apply to income from your day job. Who knows, declaring your hobby a business, may even end up saving you money on your taxes.

Check with a professional.

Rules may differ depending on where you live, so check with a professional in your area to see if your side gig or hobby qualifies as a business. Keep in mind; you have to be actively seeing to make a profit for what you do to be considered a business.

But be careful. Even if you are actively seeking to make a profit, don’t just declare what you’re doing as a business without checking with a professional first. There are stiff penalties for claiming business expenses on your taxes if you don’t qualify for them.

What the IRS is looking for in declaring a venture a business.

The IRS has a vague outline for determining the state of your earnings. However, here are some rules that may help you achieve business status with your hobby.

  • You engage in your activity with continuity and regularity.
  • You’re taking actions to improve profitability.
  • You keep accounting and business records.
  • You consult professional advisors to help improve profitability.

Officially declare yourself a business.

The easiest way to get the IRS or any government tax agency to view what you do as a business is to make it official.

  • Name and register your business.
  • Open a business banking account
  • Begin collecting sales tax if applicable
  • Hire a CPA and other advisors.

There are no guarantees the IRS or whatever taxing agency there is in your country will consider you a business. But if you officially register as one, chances are they’ll agree with your assessment.

Is your design business registered?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Resource of the week Savvy Social School

If you’re looking for a simple, easy (and fun) way to use social media as a tool to grow your design business, the Savvy Social School takes you from wasting time to feel confident that you’re making the right choice for you and your business.

Savvy Social School is the BEST training and coaching resources for entrepreneurs wanting an online presence who are tired of GUESSING and STRESSING about social media.

I’ve been a member of the Savvy Social School for almost a year now, and it has helped me grow the social media presence for my business, which in turn has translated to paying clients. You can do the same.

May 4, 2020

Are you a Pixel Pusher or a Design Thinker?

Do you exude confidence when dealing with your design clients? If you answered no, you could be losing out on valuable business.

Designers usually fall into one of two categories: PixelPushers, and Design Thinkers.

Pixel Pushers rely mostly on instructions to do their job. A client or art director tells them precisely what they need, and the designer uses his or her skills to create it. Pixel Pushers can be amazing designers. Capable of turning those simple or vague instructions into something beautiful. However, Pixel Pushers tend not to exercise their creative powers as much, since they let other people do the conceptual thinking for them.

Design Thinkers, on the other hand, not only know how to use the tools at their disposal to create stunning designs, but they also have the skills to imagine and conceptualize those designs from scratch. They think up vague ideas, the smallest of thoughts and massage and expand on them until they turn it into something amazing.

Now, of course, I am harsh with these distinctions. There is no hard line separating Pixel Pushers and Design Thinkers. Pixel Pushers do require design thinking skills to turn someone else’s ideas into reality, just as Design Thinkers need the technical expertise to turn their own ideas into reality. In fact, in most cases. Design Thinkers started their careers as Pixel Pushers. Following the instructions of someone more experienced than them.

Think of your path. Were you ever a junior designer? Did you ever follow the instructions of a more senior designer? That’s how I started. The print shop hired me straight out of college, and without any experience working with real clients, I relied upon the other, more knowledgable designers around me for guidance. It’s how most of us start and grow as designers.

Some designers are content with that life, content with the limited creative freedom they have, as they design things based on someone else’s ideas. There’s nothing wrong with that. I know several designers who enjoy what they do, while recognizing the pressure of the design concept, dealing with the clients, the success or failure of a design campaign, is all on someone else’s shoulders.

But for people like you and me, being a Pixel Pusher isn’t fulfilling enough. We want more.

We want to deal directly with the clients. We want to come up with the design ideas ourselves. We want to manipulate those pixels and bring the images from our head to life. We want to revel at the successful campaigns we design for our clients and learn from the failed ones because that’s what makes us better designers.

But how do you go from being a Pixel Pusher to a Design Thinker?

One word, confidence.

Confidence in your skills. Confidence in your knowledge. And confidence in your ability to do what it is you do, without the need for instructions from anyone else. You’re probably reading this because you either run your own part-time or full-time design business or you’re dreaming of one day starting one. So chances are, you fall into the Design Thinker category. Congratulations, and welcome to the club.

But, just how much confidence do you have?

There’s a wide range of Design Thinkers, and where you stand among them is mostly determined by your confidence level. That’s why you see some self-employed graphic and web designers who are struggling and barely getting by, while others are hugely successful. It’s not their design skills that separate them. It’s their confidence level. Their confidence when they deal with clients. Their confidence in their abilities. Their confidence in what they charge. All of this adds up to greater success.

Think about it. How much confidence would you have in a lawyer who tells you they’re not sure about your case? How about a surgeon who says they’ve seen the procedure they’re about to perform on you many times, but have never done it themselves? What about an auto mechanic who says, “sure, I’ll have a look at your car, but I have no idea what I’m looking for?” Your trust in them would be very low, giving you second thoughts about proceeding with them.

Now imagine your interactions with your design clients. From the client’s perspective, how are you coming off? Are you exuding enough confidence for them to know you’re the right person for their project?

  • If you quote with confidence, clients are more likely to accept your price and hire you.
  • If you present your project proposal with confidence, clients are more likely to trust your instincts.
  • If you submit your design concepts with confidence, clients are more likely to agree with your ideas.

So, how do you exude confidence?

Here are my thoughts combined with a few ideas I read on articles about confidence in business from entrepreneur.comand

Stop waiting to feel confident.

Confidence is a state of mind that grows the more you practice. You don’t have to feel fully confident before starting anything. Start small and expand on it. Begin by “acting confident,” even though you don’t feel it. The more you practice this, the more your mind will shift, and soon you’ll stop acting and actually start to feel confident.

Keep in mind that a little fear and nervousness are healthy. Even the most confident people still experience these emotions. Don’t let them stop you from feeling confident.

Focus on the benefits to your clients.

A great way to grow your confidence is by focusing on the benefits you bring to your clients. Concentrate more on how your work will help your client and less on how you’re going to accomplish that work. If you show confidence and make it clear what the client is getting by working with you, you’re halfway to getting them to agree with you.

Be direct.

Tell your clients exactly how it is and how it’s going to be.

  • This is your price.
  • This is my proposal.
  • Here are my designs.

Clients will appreciate your directness and see you as a professional.

Learn to accept rejection.

If you want to be confident, you need to be able to accept NO as an answer and move on. Every time someone says no to you, think of it as one step closer to getting a yes response.

If you confidently give a quote and the client rejects it, move on. If need be, use what you learned and adjust your price on the next similar project to quote.

Package yourself for success.

To show confidence, you should look the part. Dress well for the client. Wear formal attire for corporate business clients and something clean, casual and yet still professional for more relaxed clients.

Correct your posture.

Your posture is a clear indication of your confidence level. If you’re slouching, you come off as insecure, lazy or disinterested. The straiter you sit or stand, without looking stiff, the more confidence you’ll exude.

Do your best, and worry less.

Stop worrying about what others think of you. If you doubt yourself, people will sense it. Focus on the things you do well and learn and grow from your mistakes. If there are things you don’t do well, hire someone else to do them for you.

Focus on your future.

Gain confidence by focusing on your Vision Statement.Your business’ Vision Statement will help guide you towards your long term goals and give you confidence in your decision making. It will help you refocus on what is the most important moves for you and your business. Proceed with confidence with anything that enables you to reach that destination.

Embrace positivity.

The more positive you are, the more confidence you’ll exude. When dealing with clients, look for the positive aspects in their criticism. Focus and expand on what they liked about your design, and put aside and forget the things they didn’t like.

Let go of small mistakes.

Nobody is perfect; we all make mistakes. Don’t dwell on small errors. Don’t obsess over what you did wrong, Instead, take responsibility, apologize if you need to, fix the mistake if you can and move on.

Practice and continue to grow and improve.

The more you know, the more your skills improve, the more confident you’ll be. Confidence is like a muscle; it gets stronger the more you use it. So keep practicing it in your day to day life. Try acting more confident with family and friends and everyone you deal with on a day to day basis. You’ll soon see a positive change in the way they react to you. Invest in yourself and your business will grow.

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

One of the best ways to show confidence is by admitting you don’t know something. Let your client know with confidence that what they’re asking is beyond your abilities, but you’ll find someone with the required skills for their project.


If you want to be a highly successful design business owner and not a struggling artist, you need to show confidence in all your business dealings.

  • The more confident you are, the more money you can charge.
  • The more confident you are, the more focus and dedication you’ll put into your work.
  • The more confident you are, the more your clients will trust and enjoy working with you.
  • The more confident you are, the more your clients will refer you to others.
  • The more confident you are, the less stressed you’ll be while running your design business.

So go out there and be confident in everything you do.

How confident are you in your business?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Resource of the week SiteGround

SiteGround, in my opinion, is one of the best website hosting companies out there. I have several of my own as well as clients' websites at SiteGround. They offer easy 1-clickWordPress installation and allow multiple domains and websites on one hosting package. And if you are already hosting your site elsewhere you can take advantage of their free migration tool to have your site moved from your old host to SiteGround.

Apr 27, 2020

Do you have a vision statement for your design business?

I heard this quote on a podcast recently.

Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.

I looked it up, and it turns out this is an old Japanese proverb. It means if you have a vision, but you don’t do anything to achieve it, it’s nothing more than a daydream. However, if you take action, without any sort of vision to guide you, the results can be chaotic and possibly catastrophic.

I know that sounds kind of dire. But many new businesses, including graphic and web design businesses, never achieve their full potential due to a lack of vision. That’s why having a vision statement is essential.

The difference between a Mission Statement and a Vision Statement.

What is a Mission Statement?

The purpose of a Mission Statement is to define the what, who and why of a company at the present moment. It’s kind of an action-oriented instructional roadmap for how a business operates. It defines the purpose of a business; it’s function and objectives.

What is a Vision Statement?

A vision statement, on the other hand, defines where the company, in this case, your design business, wants to be in the future. It guides you in your decision making when it comes to setting goals to reach an eventual destination.

When comparing the two, a Mission Statement is a journey, one you take to reach your destination, the Vision Statement.

As Jessica Honard, co-owner of North Star Messaging + Strategy, a copywriting and messaging company, puts it “A mission statement focuses on the purpose of the brand, the vision statement looks to the fulfillment of that purpose,”

In most cases, a Vision Statement is shared within an organization, while a Mission Statement is shared with the public.

Why do you need a Vision Statement?

The primary purpose of a Vision Statement is to give you focus. Many business owners, including designers, start businesses without any focus. And without focus, you can end up all over the place.

You know you want to start a design business, but what does that entail? Finding clients and designing projects for them? But what else?

Do you want to be still doing the same thing 3-4 years from now that you’re doing today? Do you want to be working for the same types of clients? Do you want to be doing the same kinds of design projects? Do you want to be making the same income?

Without a proper vision to follow, you may end up being very busy but not accomplish anything. A vision statement creates a clear picture of the future of your business 3-4 years from now.

What’s the difference between a vision and a goal?

Think of a vision as a mindset, a position to strive for in the future. It’s something you want to achieve, but it isn’t as measurable as a goal.

For example, your vision might be to become a recognized design influencer. Your goal to achieve that vision might start with talking at 30 regional and national design conferences within the next three years. Visions are more abstract, something to dream of. Goals are more concrete, something you can measure.

Having a Vision Statement makes it easier to create goals. Goals that help achieve your vision.

A Vision Statement for your design business.

If you don’t have one already, you need to write a Vision Statement for your design business. Figure out a destination, a place you want to be in three to four years from now. Then figure out how to get there.

The purpose of a Vision Statement is to inspire you, encourage you, to push you.

  • What do you need to do to fulfil your vision?
  • What do you need to stop doing because it’s preventing you from achieving your vision?
  • What do you need to learn that will make it easier for you to reach your destination?
  • Who can you partner with to help you realize your vision?

Without a vision for your future, it’s easy to get bogged down by the day-to-day details of running your business. It’s like you’re on a boat in a river without oars. You’re making progress, but you have no control over the direction you’re going. You have no idea how far you’ll get, you have no idea where you’ll end up down the river, and you have no idea when you’ll get there.

Do you see why it’s essential to have a Vision Statement for your business?

Writing your Vision Statement.

There are no templates or plans to follow when writing a Vision Statement. It can be as short as one sentence or several pages long as long as it outlines what you want for the future of your business.

Things to consider.

Set it in the future but write it in the present: Your Vision Statement shouldn’t reflect what you are doing now, but where you hope to be 3-4 years down the road. However, you should write it in the present tense as if you’ve already achieved it. It will help encourage you.

Make it challenging: Your Vision Statement needs to challenge you; otherwise, what’s the point? Make it attainable, but it shouldn’t be so easy that you lose focus over time.

Make it clear: Focus on one or two goals for your future. That’s all you need. Don’t stuff your Vision Statement full of grand ideas. They’ll only distract and possibly confuse you.

Make it general: Your Vision Statement, although defined, should be general enough to offer direction but not instruction. Meaning, it should say where you want to be, but not how you’re going to get there.

Make it inspiring: There’s no point setting a vision for yourself if it doesn’t encourage you to work hard to achieve it. Infuse some passion in what you write and allow it to inspire you.

Keep it short: Your Vision Statement should be simple, easy to read, without any fluff. Something you can memorize and repeat to your self as you work towards achieving it.

Examples of Vision Statements

Here are some visions statements by companies you may know.

Patagonia: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

Amazon: “To be Earth’s most customer-centric company where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

Ben & Jerry’s: “Making the best ice cream in the nicest possible way.”

Habitat for Humanity: “A world where everyone has a decent place to live.”

Walgreens: “To be America’s most loved, pharmacy-led, health, well-being and beauty company.”

Southwest Airlines: “To become the world’s most loved, most flown and most profitable airline.”

Do any of these inspire you?

How to use your vision statement.

Once you’ve written your Vision Statement, use it as a guiding light in everything you do with your business.

Your Vision Statement will help you decide what clients and projects to take on and which ones to pass on. Your Vision statement allows you to identify distractions from opportunities. The better your vision, the more productive you’ll be because you know where you’re going.

Use your Vision Statement as part of your strategic plan, share it with your partners, contractors and clients to communicate where you envision your future.

A vision statement can change.

Your vision statement is a destination. Sometimes destinations change.

It’s nice to know where you want to be 3-4 years down the road, but a lot can happen in that time. New opportunities may come your way that will change your vision. Or you may encounter roadblocks that force you to change your plans. And maybe, as you and your business grow, your priorities may change, and you’ll want to review and alter your vision statement to fit your changing needs.

Trust your gut. If it’s telling you your vision of your future needs to change, then do so. It’s your business, after all. A Vision Statement should not be a set of blinders to the world around you. Don’t let it limit your opportunity to grow your business in a different direction than initially intended. But have one nonetheless.

All the best companies have vision statements. Don’t you want to be considered one of them?

Do you have a Vision Statement for your design business?

Share your Vision Statement with me by leaving a comment for this episode.

Tip of the week Emoji Shortcut

Here's an easy way to type Emojis on your desktop computer. From any text box, press this key combination to open up a pallet of Emojis for you to choose from.

Mac = Control + Command + Space Bar

Windows = WIN key + "." or ";" (depends on your version of Windows)

Apr 20, 2020

Do you have enough of these?

When it comes to running a home-based design business, there are some things you can never have enough of. Here's a list of twelve you should consider.

1) Printer supplies

You should always make sure you have spare ink cartridges and extra paper on hand. It's never fun when you need to print something, and you can't because one of your ink cartridges is empty of you ran out of paper.

2) Input devices

It's always a good idea to have a spare input device for your computer. Perhaps an extra mouse, trackpad, trackball or pen and tablet to operate your computer. Should something happen to your primary instrument, you'll be glad you had a spare.

3) Digital storage space

When it comes to graphic/web design, you can never have enough storage space for your digital files. The price of hard drives keeps dropping, so there's no reason not to have extras on hand.

As for cloud storage. You are always better off purchasing more storage space than you believe you need. Chances are, you'll end up glad you did.

4) RAM

Whenever you purchase a new computer, you should try to maximize the amount of RAM you get. The more RAM you have, the longer your machine will last as software and operating systems become more demanding on memory. The extra cost upfront will be worth it if you can get an additional year or two out of your computer.

5) Backups

It's better to be safe than sorry. And that means having backups of your backups. When disaster strikes, you'll be glad for the redundancy.

Services such as Backblaze make it extremely easy to backup your computer and physical hard drives. BackupBuddy by iThemes is my plugin of choice when it comes to backing up WordPress websites.

6) Business cards

I don't understand people who don't have business cards for their design business. They make a great marketing tool. And at such a small cost to produce, the return on investment is well worth it.

7) Cables

You can never have enough cables. Power cables, charging cables, connection cables are just some of the various wires you should have on hand. You never know when you'll be required to connect a new device and not having the proper cable can cause unnecessary delays.

8) Connection ports

Most computers come with a limited number of connection ports. I'm talking about USB, Thunderbold, Video, Audio, etc. Devices that add extra ports are convenient in avoiding having to juggle your connections.

9) Internet Bandwidth

When it comes to graphic and web design businesses, the faster your internet, the better. Don't skimp on your internet plan. You'll be glad for the faster speeds. Plus, you get to write it off on your taxes as a business expense.

10) physical storage space

Your home office should have sufficient storage space to keep all your "stuff." Drawers, shelves, cabinets and closets are a must to keep your work area organized.

11) Suppliers contractors

Try to keep a list of people who could help you with your endeavour. Web and graphic designers should keep lists of copywriters, photographers, developers, illustrators, translators, printers and anyone else you may need to call upon for future projects. Even if you have your go-to people. It's good to know others just in case.

12) Peer support

Working from home can get very lonely. To battle the isolation, you need to build a community of peers you can connect with regularly. Join clubs, organizations and networks that keep you connected to what is happening in your local area, your niche and your industry.

What can you never have enough of for your design business?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Resource of the week Udemy

As graphic designers, we need to keep our skills and knowledge in peak form. Udemy is one of the best places to learn new skills or brush up on rusty ones. Udemy offers a wide variety of courses for all stages of your career. I've personally bought courses on SEO, Google Analytics, Facebook Ads and more. Have a look today and see what you're going to learn next.

Apr 13, 2020

Are you nervous about video chatting?

Without proper video chat etiquette, you and your design business can come off as amateurish and unprofessional. Not the impression you want to present to your clients.

I work with design clients from around the world. As such, video chatting is a practice I take for granted as part of doing business. But right now, the world is isolated at home to flatten the curve on the Coronavirus. That means that many people, perhaps yourself included, are only now discovering the intricacies of video chatting.

Allow me to share my experiences and make this new practice more comfortable for you and allow you to present yourself in the most professional manner possible.

Scheduling a call

You should always allow your client to choose a time that suits them for your video chat. However, you should dictate the times you’re available. Online scheduling software works really well for this. They show your availability and allow the client to chose the time they want to talk. Here are a few scheduling options you may want to try.

If you don’t have a calendar booking tool, email your client a range of times you are available and let them choose a time that works best for them. Be sure to let them know approximately how long the video chat will be so they can choose a time appropriately.

Once you agree on a time, add it to your calendar and set two reminders, one a couple of hours before to remind you of the upcoming call, and a second reminder five or 10 minutes before so you can get ready.

If you plan on recording the call, which I suggest you do for later referral, let your client know in advance. In most places, it’s illegal to record someone without their consent.

Your equipment

To video chat, you need a computer or a mobile device. Although most modern devices have a camera built-in, you may want to use an external camera for better quality. The same goes for the microphone. The one built into your device is acceptable for infrequent video chats. But if you plan to implement regular video chats into your routine, you will want to invest in a better microphone.

If you are using a mobile phone or tablet for your video chatting, a stand or tripod will help you keep the camera steady and at a proper hight.

The next thing to consider is your lighting. Natural light is preferable but not always available. There are several desktop options for lighting your call.

With hardware taken care of, you should next consider your software. There are numerous platforms for video chatting, including the following.

Your environment

You should video chat from a quiet, well-lit area. Before the meeting begins, make sure your lighting is in place and turned on, and turn off anything that makes noise, including washing machines, furnaces, fans, etc. Close your windows to prevent distracting noises from outside.

Examine your background. The person you are video chatting with can see what’s in your room behind you. It’s ok to have a busy background, so long as it’s not messy. If you’re unsure about your background, try hanging a drape or curtain of some sort to act as a backdrop.

Your setup

If you are using a laptop, make sure it’s plugged into a power source. Video chatting uses a lot of CPU power. If you’re running on battery, your laptop will heat up faster, and your noisy fans will run longer.

If possible, plug your computer directly into your modem or router. You want the best internet connection available, and WiFi can be unreliable when video chatting.

Close all unnecessary running software during the video chat. Some software connects periodically to the internet without your knowledge and could interfere with your connection. If you are unsure, try restarting your computer and only opening the required software.

Turn off all notifications. All those pings and beeps can distract you while video chatting.

Set your camera as close to eye level as possible. If not elevated, a laptop camera will force your guest to look up your nose.

For best sound quality, external microphones should be as close to your mouth as possible.

If you are using your phone or tablet, set it horizontally. Portrait mode is fine for Facebook and Instagram stories, but most video chatting takes place on a computer where landscape mode is preferable and professional looking.

If you plan on sharing your computer screen with your guest, clean up your computer’s desktop and close unnecessary windows.

Preparing yourself

When preparing yourself for a video chat, you should dress in the same manner you would if you were meeting your guest in person, including your grooming. Just because you are video chatting from home is not an excuse for not shaving.

Be sure to check yourself in a mirror before getting on the call. You don’t want to find out afterwards that you had food stuck in your teeth or worse.

Depending on your lighting, you may want to remove your glasses as the light reflection in your lenses can be distracting for your guests.

Conducting yourself on the video chat

When video chatting, you should act as if you were meeting the client in person. Sit up straight, don’t fidget and look directly into the camera, not the image of the person on the screen. If you’re finding it difficult to look into the camera, try minimizing the video window and placing it at the top of your monitor so that you’re looking at the person just below the camera.

Avoid looking at distractions outside your window or in other parts of the room outside of the camera’s view. Your guest can’t see what caught your attention and may feel like you are ignoring them.

If you must cough or sneeze, or make any other sound, mute your microphone beforehand.

After the video chat

It’s good practice to follow up with the person after a video chat. Send them an email thanking them for their time and outlining what you discussed.

If you recorded the video chat, save the recording in your client file for future reference. You may need to watch it later for clarification on something that was said or as proof in case of a dispute.


Until the Coronovirus pandemic is over, video chatting will be the norm in our industry. And who knows, once people get used to it, it may become a routine for you in the future. If you follow these suggestions, your clients will appreciate you as they come to know you as not just a professional designer, but as a business person, able to conduct themselves professionally.

What's your video chatting procedure?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Apr 6, 2020

Want to use your illustration skills to earn extra income?

A conversation I had with Andrew, a member of the Resourceful Designer Community, inspired me to write this post. Andrew is a very talented illustrator and designer. He’s created many illustrations for his clients as well as illustrating and publishing his own children’s book Heyward the Horse! In his book, children follow along with Heyward, a carriage horse from Charleston, South Carolina, as he takes them on an illustrated tour of local landmarks.

Andrew and I were discussing various ways he could use his illustration skills to earn extra income. After our conversation, I started thinking, Andrew is not the only designer with illustration skills. So why not use our discussion as a starting point for a podcast episode?

Just to preface, you do not need to be an illustrator to benefit from what I’m about to share. I am not an illustrator, and yet I’ve generated a decent amount of passive income over the years by putting my design talents to use on things other than client work.

Also, these are not ways to earn money quickly. That’s not the point of all of this. What I’m sharing today are ways to put things into motion to generate a form of recurring income down the road. Be it a year from now or even ten years from now.

Earning extra income.

I’ve always believed that creative people should never lack for work. A creative person has the skills to make money from their creations. As graphic and web designers, you earn your primary income by completing projects for clients. But there are numerous other ways you could make money with your skills.

We’re living in an unprecedented age for creative people. There are more opportunities today than there has ever been before. Take Etsy, for example. Before platforms like Etsy, a craftsperson could only sell their wares in local bazaars or craft shows. Now, they can reach clients around the globe. The same opportunities are available for illustrators and designers.

Here are some ways for you to use your creative skills to earn extra income.

Talent Marketplaces

Talent marketplaces such as Fiverr or Upwork have a bad reputation amongst designers. However, these are perfect marketplaces for illustrators. Many people search these platforms for illustrators for both small and large projects. If you are an illustrator, you should create an account on talent marketplaces to showcase your services.

Don’t think of these marketplaces as cheap discount services. You can charge whatever you like for your illustrations. Showcase your portfolio of work, and even if your prices are higher than other illustrators on the platform, clients who love what they see will find it within their budget to hire you.

If you’re not on these platforms, there’s zero chance of being discovered.

Stock Image Sites

Earn extra income by digitizing and uploading your illustrations to sell on stock image sites.

A friend of mine has been doing this for years. He’s uploaded hundreds of illustrations to various stock image sites. He doesn’t make much money on each sale, but the volume of sales adds up to a nice income.

Stock image sites are one and done platforms. Meaning you create something, upload it to the platform, and forget about it. Allowing you to draw your next illustration as the first one earns you money with each sale.

The trick to earning extra income through stock image sites is diversification. While some images will sell very little, others will bring in a steady earning each month. The more images you have for sale on these sites, the better your chances of a monthly payout.

Add in compounding by uploading the same image to multiple stock sites, and you increase your return for that one image.

Design Marketplaces

Design market places such as Creative Market and Design Cuts offer a platform for designers and illustrators to sell digital products. Fonts, digital brushes, and illustration bundles, amongst other digital products, provide various opportunities for creative people to earn extra income.

Designers and other creative people frequent these marketplaces looking for ways to simplify their process. Make money by offering a solution to their needs.

Unlike stock image sites that sell individual images, the benefit of design marketplaces is the bundles they offer. Bundles contain many similarly themed illustrations packaged together for one price.

An example of a bundle might be a collection of illustrations of farm animals all drawn in the same style. Floral packages are also trendy.

Whatever you enjoy illustrating, try to find a way to turn it into a product to sell. If you’re not an illustrator, you can create brochure templates or logo templates that people can use as a starting point for their projects.


Print-on-demand services allow you to upload your image or design and sell it on merchandise in their marketplaces. Popular merchandise includes T-Shirts, mugs, phone cases, stickers, pillows, leggings, notebooks, wall art, and so much more.

You don’t have to be an illustrator to make money on these platforms. A well-designed image or a word or phrase written in a beautiful font can also sell very well on merchandise.

Not sure what to design, consider Fan Merchandise. Platforms such as Redbubble, CafePress and Zazzle have license agreements with entertainment properties that allow you to create and sell merchandise without infringing on intellectual property.

Design merchandise for popular movies such as:

  • A Christmas Story
  • Elf: The Movie
  • Dumb and Dumber
  • the Matrix
  • National Lampoon’s Vacation movies
  • The Exorcist,
  • The Hangover movies
  • The Wizard of Oz

TV Shows

  • Amazing Race
  • Big Bang Theory
  • Black-ish
  • Breaking Bad
  • Flintstones
  • Friends
  • Grey’s Anatomy
  • How I met Your Mother
  • Westworld
  • Star Trek

You can also design merchandise promoting the U.S. Military.

  • U.S. Air Force
  • U.S. Marine Corps
  • U.S. Army
  • U.S.Navy

Here are links to available licensed fan properties on each platform: Redbubble, CafePress, Zazzle.

It’s a long game.

If you decide to put your illustration skills to use on any of these services, keep in mind this is a long game. You probably won’t make much money this week, or this month or possibly for months to come. You are doing this to generate extra income down the road.

These platforms work because of compounding. You start slow, with maybe one or two images per week, or possibly even per month. And over time, if you’re persistent, you’ll end up with lots of designs that bring you money regularly.

Even if the payout from each platform is small, they all add up over time. Wouldn’t it be nice to know your monthly car loan or mortgage payment was taken care of through the work you created long ago?

It only takes time.

You’ve heard the saying, “you need money to make money?” In most cases, that’s true. However, for everything I’ve talked about above, the only investment on your part is time. If you’re willing to put in a little bit of time now, it can pay off tenfold in the future.

And there’s something satisfying when you see that first $1 come in because some random person, somewhere in the world, purchased an image you created. That’s when you know you’ve got something. Because if one random person thought what you created was good enough to spend money on, there must be others out there as well.

That feeling should encourage you to keep on producing and uploading. Who knows, maybe one day, you’ll be able to retire and live solely off this passive income you’ve created with your creative skills.

Let me know how you earn extra income with your creative skills.

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Resource of the week Four Week Marketing Boost

The Four Week Marketing Boost! is a free guide I created that will help you strengthen your marketing position, boost your brand’s awareness & social presence and ultimately ensure you are in tip-top shape to offer the best first impression to potential new clients.

This guide is divided into 20 short actions that comfortably fit into your regular day and are designed to take as little time away from your client work as possible. Although you can complete these exercises quickly, it is recommended you tackle only one per day, spending no more than 30 minutes per task. After completing this four-week plan, you will be in a better position to present yourself to, and win over new clients.

You can download the Four Week Marketing Boost for free by visiting Or, if you are in the U.S.A., you can text the word MARKETINGBOOST to 44222.

Improve your business' image and create the best first impression possible to attract more clients.

Mar 30, 2020

Will your design business survive the 2020 Pandemic?

Are you worried your graphic or web design business won’t survive this 2020 pandemic? With so many clients forced to temporarily close their doors due to social distancing, it’s no wonder designers around the globe are lacking for work.

We’re living in an unprecedented time, and people are reacting and being affected in different ways.

As a home-based designer, isolation is part of daily life. We chose this lifestyle for ourselves. And the longer this pandemic goes on, the more evident it becomes that this lifestyle isn’t for everyone.

Many people are not taking well to being cooped up. Others are embracing this new way of working and may decide it’s something you want to continue doing once life gets back to normal. Only time will tell, and only you can make that decision for yourself.

But there’s a difference between voluntarily working alone and being forced to stay at home day in, day out. For many, the isolation is too much. And unfortunately, the typical remedy for isolation of getting out and being amongst other people is not a solution right now. Even for someone like me, who is used to staying home, it feels strange.

But like all things in life, this too shall pass.

I heard a great quote today.

“In order to appreciate a beautiful sunrise, you first have to live through the darkness.”

Stay strong and stay the course. You’ll get through this.

But what about your design business?

Is your design business suffering right now because of the coronavirus? Are your clients and projects drying up?

Over the past week, I’ve seen designers at both ends of the spectrum. Some are busier now than ever, while others are desperate for work. How are you going to weather this storm?

State of the world today.

Around the globe, almost all businesses except for essential services are shut down. And with so many companies temporarily closed, it’s no wonder work is drying up for graphic and web designers.

Government aid packages created to help businesses affected by COVID-19 may not be enough. Many of the businesses forced to close due to the coronavirus will never reopen. Financially, this is the nail in their coffin. Without money coming in, there’s only so long a business can hang on. No matter how much aid is offered.

I know this sounds grim, but I assure you, there is a silver lining to this.

Back in 2008, when the last big recession hit, almost all businesses suffered. Many of them forced to close, except for designers. in 2008-09, design businesses saw a boom.

How can that be?

When businesses shut down, their employees start looking for jobs elsewhere. But when multiple companies in the same industry shut down, there are not enough available jobs for the number of people searching for work. This leads to a large number of those people deciding to start their own business.

I saw this myself in 2008, especially in the trades field. Layed off electricians, plumbers and construction workers started their own business. Other people started businesses based on their areas of expertise, their hobbies, or other skills they had.

All of these people needed a logo, a website, and other branded material to get their business started, and designers everywhere saw an increase in work. I anticipate the same thing will happen once this pandemic has passed.

With the inevitability of businesses closing, many of their employees will decide to start their own business, and they can use your help.

Pivot your design business.

To take advantage of this influx of new entrepreneurs, you may have to pivot the way you do things.

1) Forget about niching.

I’ve talked before about the importance of finding a niche for your design business but now is not the time. Right now, you should focus all your efforts on getting as many new clients as you can, regardless of niche.

2) Focus locally.

These new business people are not seasoned entrepreneurs. They don’t know about the various resources available to them online and abroad. They don’t know about Fiverr or 99designs. What they do know is they need help, and when someone needs help, the first place they look is close to home.

And that’s why you should be focusing all your marketing effort locally.

  • Create landing pages on your website to attract these new clients. Focus on local SEO and speak to them in a way that shows you understand what they’re going through.
  • Use locally targetted online ads to attract clients. Google AdWords, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn all offer the ability to create ads targeted to your local area.
  • Increase your social media presence and post local content. Use popular local hashtags in your posts.
  • Join your Chamber of Commerce and other local business groups. You may not be able to meet people in person right now, but there are still benefits and exposure to be gained by being a member.
  • List your design business in Google My Business.

You can also contact your local business center and let them know you’re available to help anyone who is starting a new business.

Do whatever it takes to get your name out in your local market.

3) Review your prices.

Raise your prices, raise your prices, raise your prices. So many people who talk in the design space are continually encouraging you to increase your rates. I usually agree with that 100%. I’m always saying that whatever you’re currently charging for your design services, you’re worth more than that.

However, now’s not a good time to raise your prices.

In fact, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, If your design business is suffering right now because of the pandemic, this may be a time to offer discounted pricing.

I usually discourage discounts because I believe that discounts lower the value of the service you provide. But these are not regular times.

Perhaps you could offer a discount to clients who are starting a new business.


I’m not a fan of design packages, but you may want to create special packages for new business owners. Try anything it takes to get clients on board. And once the world gets back to normal, your design business can get back to normal. Hopefully, with all the new clients you picked because of the crisis.

This will pass.

You will get through this. You may need to pivot your design business to weather the storm, but you will get through this. And if you’re lucky, you may look back and say, 2020 was your best year to date.

Remember that quote I said earlier.

“In order to appreciate a beautiful sunrise, you first have to live through the darkness.”

Good luck.

What are you doing for your business to survive the pandemic?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Resource of the week Your local library.

Have you checked what services your local library offers lately? Many libraries offer free subscriptions to learning platforms such as or You can also download audiobooks and eBooks free of charge.

Libraries have come a long way since the days of only carrying books. It might be time for you to get or renew your library card and check them out.

Mar 23, 2020

What structure are you planning for your design business?

In this final instalment of The Definitive Guide To Starting A Home-Based Design Business, I'm covering your business structure.

If you haven’t heard the first three parts of this series, I suggest you go back and listen to them.

Once you know what you’re going to do with starting your business. You need to decide what form or structure it will take.

  • Sole-Proprietorship,
  • Partnership
  • Cooperative
  • Corporation

Your business structure will determine how and when you pay taxes. It may affect how you deal with banks, especially if you are applying for a loan or line of credit to help you get started. Different insurance rates may apply depending on your business structure.

I’m not a business expert. I highly suggest you talk to your local business center, your accountant, your lawyer and seek their professional advice on the structure that is right for your design business. Plus, the information in this article is based on Canada and the USA. Rules and regulations may differ where in the world you are and may even vary depending on what state or province where you live. That’s why it’s important to seek the guidance of someone in your local area.

Also, your business structure can change over time. It’s possible that you start off using one model today, and switching to a different structure down the road.

The four business structures.

Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the simplest way to structure your business. A sole proprietorship is a business that is owned and operated by one person, you.


    • Easy and inexpensive to set up.
    • Flexible - there are few regulations to comply with.
    • The business is directly controlled by you, the owner/operator.



  • The owner is personally liable for all debts of the business.
  • The life of the business is confined to that of the owner.
  • All business income is taxed as personal income.

If you are running a sole proprietorship under a name other than your own name, you are required to register the name with your government business registry.


A partnership is an agreement between two or more parties where they combine their skills and resources and share ownership in the business.


  • Reasonably easy and inexpensive to set up.
  • It allows a group of people to pool their skills and resources without the expense of incorporating the business.
  • Reasonably easy to add or remove partners from the business.
  • More people means more sources of capital.
  • Business risks are shared by all partners.


  • Each partner is personally liable for all business debts.
  • Each partner is responsible for the actions of the other partners, which affect the business.
  • Profits are personally taxable.
  • Slow decision-making and conflict resolutions because the approval of all partners is required.

Cooperative (Co-op)

A cooperative is an enterprise, or business, owned by a group of people or companies seeking to satisfy a common need. The initial capital for a business cooperative is raised by member shares, and personal liability is limited to the value of each member’s share. All members have one vote, regardless of the value of their shares.


  • More sources of capital due to members’ contributions.
  • A higher volume of production and service possible because there are more people involved.
  • Members provide mutual support and pool skills.
  • A relatively flexible structure allows for changes in membership and responsibilities.


  • Members may have trouble making decisions together and resolving conflicts.
  • Some banks don’t like lending to cooperatives, so individual members may have to arrange their own financing.


A corporation turns your company into its own legal entity. Meaning the company has the same rights as an individual. It can acquire assets; it can go into debt; it can enter into contracts, etc.

A corporation is the most expensive and most complex business structure to set up and operate. However, the majority of big businesses, as well as some smaller ones, are incorporated. In Canada, you have the choice of incorporating provincially or federally. In the USA, a business can be incorporated at the state or federal level.

For a home run design business, if you want to incorporate, you’re probably going to do it at the state or provincial level unless you regularly do business in a different state or province. For example, if you live in northern Florida and often travel to Georgia to meet clients in person, you may be better off incorporating on a federal level.

As an added benefit, if you incorporate on a federal level, you’re ensured that no other design business in your country can operate under the same business name. If you incorporate at the state or province level, there’s nothing stopping someone in another state or province from using the same business name as you.


  • Owners are not personally liable for the debts, obligations or acts of the company.
  • There are tax advantages to incorporating, talk to your accountant about them.
  • Capital may be easier to raise, and loans may be easier to obtain for a corporation than the other business structures.
  • The company exists independently of individual shareholders. I most cases, you the designer.
  • Funds can be raised by selling shares of the business with little effect on you as the business manager.


  • Corporations are the most expensive business structure to set up and do require a lawyer. Depending on where you live, the costs could be in the thousands of dollars to set one up.
  • Additional paperwork, including recordkeeping, regular reporting to the government, and corporate tax returns that may result in more expensive accounting fees.
  • Corporations are taxed differently than other businesses and implications vary depending on where you live.
  • Despite limited liability, financial institutions may ask for personal guarantees on business loans.

Any time you see the words “Limited,” “Ltd.,” “Incorporated,” “Inc.” or “Corporation” you know that the business is a corporation.

It is possible to incorporate it on your own. Still, the paperwork and regulations can get very complicated, so it’s advisable to hire a lawyer to help you through the process, especially when it comes to the division of and types of shares involved.

Plus, you’ll need to set out bylaws for your own business, stating how your corporation will operate, how “officers and directors” are chosen, how the business accounts will be maintained, etc. In other words, incorporating can get complicated if you don’t have help.


The majority of home-based designers are individuals who want to run a business all by themselves. For them, a sole proprietorship is all they need. However, if you want the extra protection, and you don’t mind the extra work and expense, then incorporating is the way to go. And if you plan on working with someone else, you have the option of starting a partnership or a co-op.

Once again, let me stress that you should seek business advice from a professional before making this decision.

Good luck.

What business structure did you choose?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Resource of the week 101 Ways to get freelance design work & clients looking for websites.

If you are looking for innovative ways to get new clients, this article by Flaunt My Design has you covered. They even used my T-Shirt idea.

Mar 16, 2020

Is the coronavirus (COVID-19) fording you to work from home?

This past week, sports organizations around the world have stopped play to minimize the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Broadway closed down all performances. Disney World, Disney Land, Disney Paris and Universal Studios shut their doors for the rest of the month.

Even Mount Everest shut down to climbers for the rest of the year. When one of the most remote places on earth shuts down, you know the situation is serious.

In light of this global pandemic, many businesses are asking their employees to self-isolate and work from home.

If you are not a self-employed designer and instead work for an employer, one who is asking you to work from home here is some advice to help you through this temporary job relocation.

1) Create a work from home schedule.

Working from home is very different than working in an office environment. Without a formal structure, it can be easy to lose track of time and become less productive.

A schedule helps you stay on track and get your work done. And the good thing is your home schedule doesn’t have to follow your regular work schedule.

You can adjust your home schedule for the times you’re most productive. If you’re not a morning person, then shift your schedule an hour or more.

If your morning commute typically starts around 8 am to be at work for your 9-5 shift, why not start working at 8 am and finish at 4 pm. Eliminating the commute gives you two extra hours per day.

Of course, you need to work the hours that your boss needs you to work. And be conscious of what times you may need to communicate with clients, contractors or co-workers.

2) Make a to-do list.

Since working from home is out of your element, and since there’s nobody there keeping an eye on you, the best thing you can do is make yourself a to-do list and adhere to it.

Identify what you need to accomplish each day and check off each task as you complete it. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, and it will hold you accountable and make sure you are using your time productively.

3) Find a dedicated work area.

Find a dedicated space in your home and designate it as your “work area.” Your bed or sofa doesn’t count. Lounging on the couch with your laptop on your lap may sound pleasant and relaxing, but it doesn’t lead to productivity.

In this case, your kitchen or dining room table is acceptable as a workspace if you don’t already have a desk.

The more you make the area feel like a work environment, the more you’ll feel like working.

Inquire if your company has any allowance or budget to help you with expenses. Sitting at a kitchen chair all day is not comfortable. Your employer may be willing to purchase or rent you a chair to use while you work from home. Or they may ship one to you from the office. The same goes for computer equipment or whatever else you need to do your job.

Your employer is paying you to be productive, even when you’re working from home. They might be willing to invest a bit to ensure you can do the work properly.

4) Handling meetings while working from home.

When working from home, any regular office or client meetings will most likely take place over video. Here are some tips.

When in a conference call with several people, make sure you acknowledge your presence. Let people know you are there. Sure they can see your avatar or your video, but letting them know you are there tells them you are focused on the meeting.

You should also acknowledge the others who are on the call. If you would typically say hi to everyone before a live meeting, do the same on a virtual one.

If you are not familiar with video conferencing platforms, two that I use are Skype and Zoom. All Resourceful Designer Community chats take place over Zoom.

You can also try Loom, which allows you to send video emails to people. It’s great for presenting things to your boss or clients that you would generally do in person.

5) Dealing with isolation.

For someone not used to working from home, it can get lonely, especially if the situation lasts for several weeks. Here are some tips to help you deal with isolation.

  1. Go outside. Even if there’s nobody around, just getting out of the house can help ease that feeling of isolation.
  2. Move your workspace. Work for a couple of days in the kitchen, then move to the living room. Changing up your environment, even if it’s within your own home, can help you feel less isolated.
  3. Keep in touch with your co-workers and colleagues. Find out what they’re working on and update them on your progress. Have the same conversations you would be having if you were back in the office. There’s no reason to stop just because you’re working from home.
  4. Engage on social media, or, better yet, become part of an online community like the Resourceful Designer Community.
  5. Members of the Resourceful Designer Community talk to each other daily. It’s one of the ways we cope with the loneliness of working all by yourself day after day.
  6. And finally, and I know this may sound crazy, but try talking to yourself. Sometimes hearing a voice, even if it’s your own, can help ease the stress of being alone.

6) Dealing with kids while you work from home.

There’s a good chance your children’s school will close during this pandemic. Which means you have to deal with kids at home while trying to work.

Explain to your kids that even though you are home, you are working, and they must allow you to work.

This may not be the best parenting advice, but let your kids watch tv, play video games, if possible, get them to read a book. Try different things to distract them and let you get your work done.

Make sure to check in on them regularly. Less so with older kids, but you may have to check on younger kids every 20-60 minutes if they are not within eyesight.

Make time in the schedule I talked about earlier. Set “breaks” throughout the day and spend some quality time with them before getting back to work. Show interest in what they’re doing. Be sure you let them know how much you appreciate them allowing you time to work. If keeping your children entertained and happy means extending your workday by an hour or so, it may be worth it.

7) Avoid distraction

Working from home is fantastic. I wouldn’t change my lifestyle for anything. But one of the fallbacks to home-based working are the many distractions that come with working in the same place you live.

You may want to do a load of laundry, empty the dishwasher, or take the time to prepare a big lunch. These are things you wouldn’t be doing if you were at the office, so try avoiding them while working from home.

Treat your work time and home time differently, even if they both happen at the same place.

8) Turn working from home into a learning experience.

Take advantage of this opportunity. If you want to dress casually while working at home, or even stay in your PJs, then go ahead. Don’t feel like shaving, doing your hair or putting on makeup; it’s not a big deal unless you have a video call.

Want to catch up on one of your Netflix show during your lunch hour. Why not.

Use this opportunity to learn what it feels like to work from home and figure out if it’s something you can picture yourself doing permanently in the future.

Who knows, this pandemic may turn out to be a blessing in disguise and propel you to a future life of entrepreneurship.

You never know.

Are you being forced to work from home?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Tip of the week Create a coronavirus (COVID-19) poster for your clients.

In the middle of this global pandemic, many businesses are making an effort to inform their employees, clients and customers of how they are handling things. This is the perfect opportunity for you to design a poster for them to use.

Create a single poster with all the information about the outbreak, and offer it to each of your clients with their own branding on the top.

Be sure to include your own branding and contact information on it as well.

Offer this for free during this trying time and your clients will appreciate you all the more for it.

Mar 9, 2020

Are you legally allowed to run a business from home?

[sc name="pod_ad"]By this point in the Definitive Guide To Starting A Home-Based Design Business series, you’ve determined that you want to start a home-based design business, you’ve written your business plan, and you’ve figured out your workspace situation at home. If you haven’t done any of that, go back and listen to Part One and Part Two of this series.

Now that the ball is rolling, and you’ve figured out precisely what you want to do and how to go about getting it all started, it might be a good time to see if you are allowed to run a business from home.

Legal restrictions.

Are there any restrictions that may prevent you from starting your home-based design business? Depending on where you live, there may be certain rules and regulations in place dictating what is allowed and what is not allowed when it comes to home-based businesses.

Some municipalities and communities require all home-based businesses to have a business license. Some require a home occupation permit, and some may require a regulatory license depending on the business model. Contact your local government to see what licenses and permits your business requires.

These licenses and permits cost money and, in some cases, may take time before they are approved. Some of them are one-time fees, while others must be renewed on an annual basis. All permits and licenses are tax-deductible as a business expense.

On top of the licenses and permits, you must check if there are any municipal or even neighbourhood by-laws that may prevent you from running a home-based business. For example, the neighbourhood I live in has a by-law preventing me from seeing clients regularly in my home.

Something else to look into is whether or not you might require license and permits from nearby municipalities. For example, if you live in one municipality but regularly commute to a nearby municipality to do business, you may require a license in both places.

No employees.

Many municipalities have by-laws prohibiting home-based businesses from having employees other than family members residing in the home. In most cases, this won’t be a problem for a home-based design business. However, if you are starting as a partnership or want to hire a salesperson or anybody else, you may not be allowed to depending on where you live.

I suggest you contact your local municipality to find out exactly what you need to run your business in your area legally. You can also contact your local business center and your chamber of commerce for their advice as well.

Employment Contract.

If you are starting your home-based business on a part-time or casual basis while you work another job for someone else, be sure that your main job doesn’t have restrictions against employees owning or working at another business.

If you signed a contact at your current employer, review it and make sure nothing in the contract prevents you from moving forward.


Another thing to think about is insurance. Both on your business and your property. Your home insurance premiums may increase if you are operating a business from your home. And some insurance companies may void your coverage altogether, so be sure to check yours.

Some municipalities require proof of insurance before issuing you any business permits.

When reviewing your insurance policy, consider increasing your liability coverage. This protects you should anyone come to your home for business purposes and are hurt while on your property.

You may be thinking you don’t’ need extra liability coverage because you don’t plan on having clients over. But what about delivery people? If you order a new printer or computer and the delivery person slips and falls on your steps, and your insurance company discovers they were delivering goods for your business, they may decide not to cover you.

Also, as a sole proprietor, you are personally liable for all debts. If you order a $10,000 print job and your client fails to pay. You are liable to the printing company.

You may also want to acquire business interruption insurance in the event of a fire, theft, etc. It can help cover the costs of getting things up and running again.

Permits, licences and insurance may not be fun, but they are something you need to think about when starting your home-based design business.


Let’s talk briefly about marketing your business.

As you know, marketing is key to any business’s success. It ensures that your services are put in front of people who need them.

Because all businesses market themselves differently, and that includes design business, home-based or not, you must decide how you plan on promoting yours. Your skill levels, knowledge, experience and resources will help determine who your clients will be and how you will promote your services to them.

A business that’s just starting should ask both existing and potential clients what they should be doing to promote their business. Start conversations, interview clients and potential clients, hand out questionnaires, and use the valuable information you get back to determine the best way to market your services.


Networking is a significant part of marketing. Every established designer in the Resourceful Designer Communityattributes networking to the success of their business. And it’s the same everywhere.

Design is mostly a word-of-mouth industry, and you cannot rely solely on your clients, spreading the word. You need to get out there and pound the pavement and let people know that you’re open for business. Networking should be a big part of your marketing plan, especially at the start.

Failure to develop a strong marketing plan is one of the reasons most new businesses fail.

  • Pricing your services
  • Defining your target market,
  • Methods for promoting your services, including a website, brochures, maybe ads and trade shows.

All of this is part of your marketing plan.

Your website.

Build a website first. If you are not a web designer, hire someone else to design one for you.

In episode 149 - Starting A Design Business From Scratch, I mentioned how if I was starting over, the very first thing I would do is build a website for my business. I have a website for my side business Podcast Branding that brings me several new design projects every week.

Don’t underestimate the power of a well-designed website. When done right, it can become your most valuable client acquisition tool.

In part 4, the final installment of this series, I’m going to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of the different business structures you can choose and a few other odds and ends as I wrap up this definitive guide to starting a home-based design business.

Make sure you’re subscribed to the podcast, so you don’t miss it.


Tip of the week Asking for critiques

When asking people for critiques, don’t ask what they think about the design, instead ask them how they would improve the design. You'll get much better and more useful responses from them.

Mar 2, 2020

Part 2: Business Plan and Workspace

In the previous episode, I talked about whether or not running a home-based business is for you as well as things to consider before deciding to start one. This episode I’m making the assumption that you’ve decided to go ahead with your plans and discuss the next steps in the process.

Some startup advice.

There is a cost involved with starting any business, even one run from your home. You may not be paying to lease office space, but you will still need to fork out money to get your design business started.

Some of the costs may include a separate phone number to keep your business and personal communications separate, preferably a plan with voicemail and call display. You’ll need a computer and design software required to do your work. And then there are things such as a desk and chair, bookshelves, maybe a file cabinet.

Don’t forget your internet. If web design is part of your services, or you'll need to upload and download large print files you may want to increase your internet plan for more bandwidth.

Other costs include business cards, We may be living in a digital world, but you really should have business cards. And maybe you’ll want a printed flyer or brochure to help spread the word of your new endeavour. An Intro Packet might be a good idea as well.

Plus, there’s the fee involved with business licenses and permits, the cost of accounting and legal fees, and memberships, clubs and communities to help you get started. It all adds up.

Sure, starting a home-based design business is the least costly option to begin your entrepreneurial life, but there’s still a start-up cost involved. And that's not taking into account the cash buffer you should have to tide you over as you build up your clientele, start designing and wait to get paid.

Suggestions to help with costs.

You should set long-term goals to acquire some of the above-mentioned things which allow you to spread out the costs. Buy only what you absolutely need right now. Buy used or refurbished to save money, or purchase lesser models until you can afford top-of-the-line equipment. Make do with what you have and grow along with your business.

For the first two years of my business I sat at a desk I picked out of the trash bin at the printer I used to work for. I had to replace one leg with a 2x4, but It got me by until I was able to barter a better desk by exchanging services.

Even though you’re starting a home-based business, there will be costs involved in the beginning so do what you can to save money.

Let’s talk about business plans.

A business plan is a written document describing the aspects of your proposed business. Although not absolutely necessary to start a business, a business plan can help you when it comes to business decisions and keep you focused on the right path.

A business plan is a worthwhile exercise because it helps you think through your ideas, focus on what needs to be done, and identify what information or assistance you still need.

A business plan will improve your chances of success by setting out realistic goals and financial projections that you can measure your progress against. Plus, if you plan on securing a start-up loan or applying for any grants, you will need a business plan.

There are various ways to write a business plan, and if you’re doing this just for yourself then whatever way you choose is fine. However, If you are applying for a loan or grant, I suggest you reach out to the organization and ask them what their preferred format is. It will save you time and trouble in the long run.

There are plenty of online resources, some free and some paid, that can help you write a business plan. But here are the general elements that should be included.

Background Information:

  • Your business concept: Describe the services you plan on offering in your design business.
  • Perform a SWOT analysis of your business.


  • Describe your working environment. List the equipment and supplies you already have, as well as those you need to acquire. Be sure to mention the costs involved.
  • List any suppliers and contractors you’ll be working with.


  • Describe the industry and target market you’re going after.
  • Talk about how you plan on selling your services.
  • Mention your marketing strategy to gain clients.


  • A Business plan should include a financial statement showing the startup costs, projected sales forecasts, financial projections, how much you’re investing in the business and how you plan on paying yourself.

There’s a lot more that goes into a business plan, but I wanted to give you a quick idea of how to lay one out.

Your WorkSpace.

Let's talk about your actual workspace.

If at all possible, your workspace should be a separate part of your home dedicated solely to your business. Having a designated area will help you feel like you are “going to work” and at the end of the day like you are “leaving work”.

Keeping the two separate makes it much easier to designate between your work and family life.

  • You can do things such as ignore your business phone when it’s not “office hours”.
  • Your important papers and materials won’t get mixed up with family or personal things and possibly get misplaced or lost.
  • Your family will know that when you’re in your “office” you’re at work and shouldn’t be disturbed.
  • It makes it very easy comes tax time if you have a dedicated office space, as you get to claim the square footage as a business expense.

More things to consider:

  • Does your office space have a phone jack if you plan on using a landline for your business?
  • Are there enough electrical outlets to accommodate your equipment?
  • Will your furniture fit the locations?
  • Is there proper lighting for you to work?
  • How noisy will the area be?
  • Is there enough room to spread out your work?
  • Is there enough storage space or will you need to get more?
  • Is your workspace ergonomically designed to prevent a sore neck or back, or eye strain?
  • Is the place suitable for client visits if you plan on inviting them to your office?

These are just a few things you might want to consider as you’re setting things up.

In Part 3 of this series,  I’m going to talk about the legalities of running a business from home as well as touch briefly on marketing your new endeavour.

Questions of the Week

Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.

This week’s question comes from Cynthia

I have one semester left of design school and am starting to get commissions here and there. I plan to work for someone after I graduate and then I'd like to start my own freelance. I was wondering if you have or could point me in the direction of a generic graphic design contract? I'm not really sure where to start with that.

To find out what I told Cynthia you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

Tip of the week Business Grants

Whether you're starting out or you are planning on expanding your business, it's a good idea to inquire if there are any special grants you may qualify for. Contact your local municipality, business centers and Chamber of Commerce and find out what's available. Grants are "free money" to aid you in your business. Every little bit helps.

Feb 24, 2020

Can you imagine anything better than doing something you enjoy while in the comfort of one of your favourite places - your home - and making money while doing it?

Starting a home-based design business is the dream of many designers. The idea of giving up the daily commute, of no longer sitting through rush hour traffic, and nobody looking over your shoulder while you work sounds desirable. Plus you get to choose your hours, dress however you want and be there for your family whenever they need you. It’s very tempting.

These and many other perks sound very appealing to designers dredging away at their daily 9-5 job. It’s a perfect life. Or is it?

Before you take steps towards setting up your own home-based design business, you should first do a self-assessment of yourself and your situation to determine if the solopreneur life is for you.

Is Self-Employment for you?

When it comes to running a home-based design business, there are three options; casual, part-time and full-time.


A casual business is one where you spend less than 10 hours per month on your venture. Perhaps it’s doing small odd projects for only one or two clients. The income you make while working casually gives you a little bit of extra spending money or helps pay a bill or two as it supplements your other full or part-time income.


A part-time design business is one where you dedicate between 10 to 40 hours per month. You might have a hand full of clients, and the money you earn adds nicely to your overall household income. You can run a part-time business while working another part-time job or even a full-time job if you’re devoted.

Many designers start a part-time business while on maternity or paternity leave. It’s a great way to stay mentally active and socialize with other adults while caring for your new bundle of joy.

Full Time:

A full-time design business requires your full attention daily. You should be spending as much time on your full-time business as you would if you worked 9-5 for someone else.

As your main source of income, you should be working with several clients, and when you’re not designing for clients, you should be devoting your time to acquiring more clients.

Those are your three choices for running a home-based design business.

But before you jump in, you need to determine if you have the self-discipline to work in an unstructured environment. You also need to determine if you are willing to take on the financial and personal risk of starting a venture that may not work out, especially if your new design business is your only source of income.

Things to consider before starting a home-based design business.

Is your family behind you?

If you’re on your own, this might not matter as much. However, if you have a family, you must realize that starting a home-based business is not only a significant adjustment for you but them as well.

You need to speak with your family members about your need to dedicate yourself to starting, growing and eventually succeeding in this venture. If you don’t discuss this with them beforehand, they may believe that since you are at home, you have the time to do extra little tasks around the house.

This “added benefit of working from home” may seem harmless, but these things tend to add up and take time away from your business and impede your success.

Do you have the self-discipline to manage your time and working hours?

Anyone who works from home will tell you that it’s easy to get distracted. The lawn needs mowing; the dishwasher needs emptying, the new season of that great show just dropped on Netflix. Do you have the confidence and self-discipline to devote your time to work in the face of all the distractions you’ll face daily?

Also, if you’re a workaholic, do you have the self-discipline to say “enough’s enough” and stop working? Working day and night may seem like a great way to grow a business, but it’s no way to live your life. It’s great to hustle, but not if it leads to increased stress, health issues and self-neglect.

Do you have a dedicated workspace?

If you’re working casual or part-time, you may be able to get away with working from the kitchen table. But that’s no way to run a full-time business. It’s impossible to concentrate on your work if family members and other distractions are constantly hindering you.

By dedicating a designated work area in your home, you make a statement saying you take your undertaking seriously. A dedicated work area provides the atmosphere needed for you to fully concentrate on your work and have the quiet and privacy necessary for important business calls.

If a dedicated work area isn’t possible, you must explain and make arrangements with your family to not disturb you while you are working. This may mean keeping the volume low on music and the TV or even moving their activities to other areas of your home while you are working.

Does your business fit a home base?

Resourceful Designer is aimed at graphic and web design business, but I also know there are plenty of other types of creative endeavours you may want to start.

If your creativity revolves around other creative arts, such as pottery, sculpting, stain glass creations, sign making, T-shirt printing or vehicle wraps, you may want to consider operating your business in a venue other than your home.

Yes, there will be other things to consider, but not all creative businesses are suited to be home-based businesses.

Will you be meeting with clients?

Most home-based designers I know, myself included, chose to meet clients at their own offices or some other location such as a coffee shop. However, if for some reason you must meet clients in your home office, you need to consider if your home is set up to receive clients.

If your office is in the basement, will the client need to navigate through a cluttered kitchen or areas strewn with children’s toys to reach your work area? It doesn’t create a professional image and could impede your growth.

If meeting in your own home is your only choice, such as for moms or dads on parental leave, try to find a neutral area in your home that you can keep clean and clutter-free to meet with clients.

Do you have room to expand?

A desk in the corner of your bedroom may be all you need for now. But what about a year or two years from now? Do you have the room to grow should you need to add filing cabinets or scanners and printers to your mix?

Will you be happy working from home?

Humans are naturally social creatures. Even introverts need some time around other people. Most people satisfy this itch through their work environment, but not so with people who work from home.

When you run a home-based business, there’s nobody stopping at your desk to chat about their weekend or the new movie that just came out. There’s nobody to take your coffee or lunch breaks with, and nobody organizing after hour staff get-togethers.

If you are the type of person that craves regular social contact, you may quickly find the isolation of working from home too much. If this sounds like you, consider joining social and professional organizations or take part in other social activities outside your home to keep you in touch with other people.

How will you keep up with change?

Something often overlooked when contemplating working from home is the outside world. There’s no gossip or industry news to hear when you’re working by yourself. So how will you stay on top of new tools, resources and developments in the industry?

You need to make an effort on your own to seek these things out. Subscribe to newsletters, magazines, blogs and YouTube channels. Make friends with other designers and keep in contact with past co-workers.

Just because you’re working all by yourself doesn’t mean you need to isolate yourself from the world.


There are so many benefits to starting a home-based design business.

  • Low startup costs
  • Minimal overhead and monthly expenses.
  • No commuting time
  • Freedom and flexibility
  • and plenty of tax deductions, to name a few.

And although I continuously push this endeavour. I know that it’s not for everyone.

You’re the only person that can answer the question. “Is running a home-based design business for me?”

In Part 2 of this series, I discuss writing a business plan and dive deeper into planning your workspace.

Tip of the week Identify yourself when answering the phone.

If you want to sound professional, you should always answer your business phone by naming your business and then who you are.

For example, you could say: Acme Design Studio, John speaking. This eliminates any potential confusion clients may have as to who they are calling. They may not realize you are a one-person business working from home.

Feb 17, 2020

Design Selling 101

Newcomers to the freelance life often believe that the success of a graphic or web design business lives or dies with their design skills. This is partially true. After all, if you are not a good designer, you’re going to have a hard time being successful on your own.

But the truth of the matter is, your skills as a designer are second to how good a salesperson you are. Because if you cannot sell, you might as well give up your freelance dreams. Get hired somewhere and earn an hourly salary to design all day, while someone else handled the selling part.

There’s nothing wrong with that scenario. Many designers spend their entire career working for someone else, and they’re delighted doing so. Running a home-based design business is not for everyone. However, if you do give it a go, you better feel comfortable selling because your business will depend on your skills as a salesperson.

Have you ever heard the saying, “Good marketing can sell a bad product, but bad marketing cannot sell a good product?” The same applies to home-based or freelance design businesses.

Someone good at selling, but a mediocre designer can still make a living as a freelancer. However, a fantastic designer that has no sales skills will have a difficult time staying afloat.

Become a good seller.

So how do you become a good seller? Like with everything else, it comes with practice and experience. Although being a people person does help. Let’s break it down.

First, you need to get the notion out of your head that selling is about making a sale. It’s not. The sooner you realize this, the better you’ll be at sales. Selling is not about the exchange of money for services, it’s about giving a client relief and lowering their anxiety when it comes to spending their money.

Clients come to you because they need something. It’s that “problem” that your job as a designer is to provide a “solution.”

However, even though the client realizes they need something from you, they feel a reluctance to part with their hard-earned money to get it. If you can put them at ease with that notion and make them realize what their money is buying, they’ll be more willing to spend what is necessary.

Putting the client at ease.

How do you put a client at ease? The core principle of successful selling is making the client feel cared for and appreciated. When someone feels cared for and appreciated, they let their guard down and open up, and become much more receptive to ideas.

If you offer a client a solution to their problem, and you make them feel cared for and appreciated in the process, it becomes much easier to lead them through the sales process.

The sales process.

Let’s break the sales process into basic components.

Imagine the sales process as a video game. In a video game, you can’t just turn on the game, jump to the final level and expect to win. Video games are designed, so every level along the way equips and better prepares you for that final level and victory. The same principle applies to the selling process. You can’t win over a client by jumping to the final level of the sales process (which is price by the way).

Before you discuss price, you need to lead the client through the various levels of the sales process. Think of these levels as objection points. Obstacles to overcome before moving on to the next level of the “video game sales process”.

Level one is: Trust.

If you cannot get a client to trust you, there’s no point moving forward because you’ll never make the sale.

Think about it. What was the last thing you purchased from someone you didn’t trust? I can’t think of anything. However, I can think of several things I did not buy because I didn’t fully trust the person doing the selling. It’s the stereotypical used car salesman. No matter how much they smile and say the right things, you always wonder what they are not telling you.

So the first level of the sales process is getting the client to trust you. How do you do that?

There are many, many ways to get someone to trust you. Here are the two most important ones, especially when pressed for time, such as on a phone call.

1. Listen more, talk less.

Trust is about focusing on what is important to the client and less on what’s important to you. If you can prove to the client that you care about their concerns and genuinely want to help them, they’ll trust you more.

2. Address their pain points

When a client comes to you with a design project, they imagine it will fix the overarching problem they’re facing. However, there may be many pain points to that overarching problem you need to address.

A client may say they need a website to promote and sell their services. But there’s sure to be some underlying issues they may not be talking about. Things like.

  • a lack of brand awareness for their services
  • increased competition
  • negative publicity
  • low conversion rates
  • dwindling sales

As you’re listening to the client, try to pinpoint their various pain points and be sure to acknowledge and comment on them. Clients will appreciate the added attention and quickly realize you care about them, and not just the sale.

Level two is: See if you’re a good fit.

Once you’ve established trust, it’s time to move to the second level and see if partnering with this client is a good fit.

Just because you’ve helped other clients with similar problems doesn’t mean you are the right person for this particular client, or that this client is the right fit for you. Establishing your compatibility continues the trust-building process.

Tell the client that before you proceed any further, you need to determine if you are the right people to work together to solve their problem. Ask them questions in a mini discovery process sort of way, learn more about them and their business. Find out what results they are expecting from you and from the services you are to provide. How will they deem the project successful?

A great question to ask is, what might prevent them from seeing the results they expect if you provide them exactly what they’re asking for? This sort of question forces them to look internally. What happens if you design the perfect logo, website, poster, etc. and yet they still don’t see the expected results?

Asking this question shows them you care, and are more interested in their success than you are about making the sale. Questions like these help both of you determine if you’re a good fit to work together. If you can show you’re a good fit, they will be more open to whatever you propose going forward.

Level three: Objections.

Level three and beyond is where things get a bit more challenging to explain. Once trust is established by showing the client you care for and appreciate them, and you’ve proven that you are a good fit to work together, It’s time to dive into the project itself.

Up until this point, your conversation was mostly about the client and their business and a tiny bit about the services you can offer them.

If you followed the sales process correctly, you should find it much easier to discuss the design project because you’ve established a level of trust and a connection with the client through levels one and two.

Your job is to now lead the client through whatever “objections” they may have regarding their project and your services and putting them at ease for each one.

Because every client and every design project is different, I can’t guide you through level three. Sticking to the video game analogy, there are no “cheat codes” for this part.

But by openly listening to your client, determining their pain points, and their concerns, you should be able to address any objections they may have as you discuss how you can help them achieve their desired goals.

The Final Level: Price.

That brings us to the final level, price. This is where the video game analogy falls apart because, unlike a video game, this last level is the easiest.

By this point, the client should be fully engaged and ready to work with you.

  • They’ve developed trust in you.
  • They know you understand their situation.
  • They believe you have the solution to their problem.
  • They know you care for them and have their best interest at heart.
  • They view you as an asset and a wise investment.

Price is now just a formality.

Provide the client with a reasonable quote for their project and chances are they won’t hesitate to accept because you’ve shown them the value of your partnership.

That’s the power of the sales process.


What have we learned?

People have been conditioned not to trust salespeople. So the trick to good selling, it to not sound like you’re selling. If you can establish yourself as an asset to the client, an investment and not just an expense, you’ll have a much higher chance of closing the sale.

I read this quote on an article written by Scott Hoover, he credits it to someone named Steve: “Sales is leading people to a solution favourable to you, via a solution that is favourable to them.” And that translates to a successful sale is a win for both parties involved.

You complete the sale by building trust and showing the client you appreciate and care for them and their success. And they return the favour by accepting the price you present them.

As a bonus, when done correctly, these selling tips can help transition you to a value-based pricing strategy because the client will see the value in hiring you and will be willing to pay for the investment.

What does your sales process look like?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Tip of the week Matching addresses

If you pair a website with a Google My Busines listing, make sure the address is written exactly the same way on both platforms.

If the address is 123 North Main Streeton Google my Business, don't write it 123 N. Main St.on the website. The two need to be identical in order to take advantage of Google's ranking algorithm and place higher in the search results.

1 « Previous 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Next » 15