Category Archives: Freelancing

Global Competition

Whether we as designers try to or want to compete with the Chinese is irrelevant. We are competing with them – and with everyone else. Our clients have the option of going on the Web and finding someone willing to do what we do for a third of the price.

And “you get what you pay for” doesn’t work as an excuse anymore. The guy from China is good. So is the guy from India. Very good. They are as talented and experienced as the best of the West. They simply charge less.

As designers we have to start either matching their prices or we have to start doing more, faster, better without charging more.

There is a third option. Learn from history. The industrial revolution replaced factory workers with machines which could do the same and do it cheaper. Where did all the factory workers go? They did not disappear or starve. They went up one level and continued working. The ones who went early and enthusiastically became wealthier. The ones who clung to manual labor the longest became poorer as their opportunities dwindled.

It’s a terrible thing, comparing design to manual labor, but there you have it.

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Educating the Client. Not.

I spoke to a client yesterday who says he agonized over how he would generate enough creativity to develop a logo. Of course, that was unnecessary – creativity is my job – but it did get me thinking. Most clients know nothing about logo design, like I know nothing about car engines. I don’t go to the mechanic who’s going to teach me about engines. I go to the one who’s going to fix my car and treat me fairly. All this BS in the graphic design industry about “educating the client” is getting old. Truth is that most clients are not interested. They want a great logo at a fair price. Our job as logo designers is to convince them that that’s what we do, without drowning them in the technical details.

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Would You Buy From You?

Knowing your competitors, if you were in the market for what you sell, would you buy it from you or from a competitor who sells it cheaper or who does it better?

I used to do cartoon characters. Mascots and such. Then I found a guy from Spain who does it better (a lot better) and he charges about 80% of my price. Sigh. New benchmark. Now I need to either lift my game or get out of the cartoon business. No good trying to sell something when you know your client/customer can get it better/cheaper elsewhere. It will just make you miserable. It’s so much more fulfilling when you know that you are #1 – and the selling part gets easier too.

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Control The Client Stream

Does Google control your client stream?
Does Google’s algorithm control how much money you will make this month?

It is a very scary scenario. At the time of writing I’m still dependent on Google to some extent, hoping that it will continue to like my sites enough to send me the clients that my business needs to survive. Somebody somewhere in California has a finger on a kill-switch that can sink me. I can’t even rely on their mercy, because they have never heard of me or my business. They simply tweak an algorithm and businesses all over the globe live or die.

It’s not good enough. The stress will take a decade off your life. Use Google traffic to build your business, but outgrow your dependence on that traffic as quickly as possible. Do that by creating awesome value – the kind that keeps your existing clients coming back for more. The kind of value that sells itself because people WANT to refer their friends to you.

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Money: DIY

Even when your design business gets to the point where you can hire someone to take care of payments and keep an eye on the finances, don’t. Better to do that part yourself. Your accountant is only there to check everything and to make sure that the taxman gets paid what’s due to him. Only you as the company owner can/should monitor the financial health of the company. There is of course a point where it makes sense to hire a financial manager, but don’t rush. Chances are that you are nowhere near that point. Get to 100+ employees first.

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Productive Meetings

I personally like meetings. I like having structured, productive discussions with clients – or employees or my kids for that matter.

Whether you like meetings or not, make sure that you know why you are having a meeting. Not about what, but why.

We don’t always have the time to prepare for meetings, but take 1 minute before the meeting to identify what you want to achieve in that meeting. That will help you focus, which makes you appear considerably better prepared than you are. Chances are that you will start enjoying meetings when you see them as an opportunity to achieve a specific outcome. Even if it’s not your meeting – if you’re just invited to sit in – what can you achieve? What will happen if you takes sides with a colleague who does not expect support from you? Can you use a mundane meeting to gain an ally? Can you use it to diffuse tension? Can you use it to earn trust?

A word of caution though: If it’s not your meeting, don’t be so determined to achieve your outcome that you derail the organizer’s outcome in the process.

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Honesty is a great selling tool.

Clients appreciate honest, straight answers and can usually tell the difference between a designer who knows what she’s talking about and one that’s trying to sound like she does. If you’re in a meeting and out of your depth, say it. Be specific about which of the required processes or technologies you are not familiar with and offer a solution – either to outsource that part of the project or to use a different process or technology which would achieve the same thing. Clients love that. It tells them that everything else required for their project is within your scope of experience and for that assurance they might well be willing to scale down on the bit that is not.

I’m not sure why people don’t do the honesty thing as the default. It gets better results and, more importantly, it’s a better way to treat others. A better way to live.

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It’s Not Supposed To Be Easy

When I started selling logos online, it was a hard thing to do. We did not even know how much we should be charging for a “pre-designed” logo. Not a clue. There was a lot of exploratory work to be done. Through trial and error we eventually struck a formula that works for us.

All those who came after could just copy the formula. Or so they thought.

It’s the same in any industry. Any product or service. The real money is in innovation. If you do exactly what everyone else is doing you can make a living, but you will be scraping by.

That’s a given.

There’s already someone doing what you are doing, doing it longer and possibly better because they’ve ironed out some of the bumps you will soon run into. Why would anyone buy from you rather than from the leader? Would you buy from you? Honestly?

Making money online is supposed to be hard. There are many ways to make money online – and they all eventually become crowded as the path is beaten open. Eventually the money dries up. Well, actually no, the money just starts flowing to the innovator who found a better way.

Look at the design industry over the last ten years. Things that used to make money no longer does. The money is starting to flow elsewhere. Find the new money river and follow it until you run out of “beaten path”. Then start building. Make a new path. Be prepared to fail and start over.

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Quality in Graphic Design

It’s hard to define.

It is not only about awards won.

It is not only about the number of clients.

It is not only about skill or experience.

It is about service more than anything else, in my opinion. About actually listening to the client and delivering what she needs, how she needs it – even if that does not win you any awards.

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Are You A Replaceable Designer?

Will the company you work for miss you when you move on?

You might think that you are a valuable designer because you get through all your work every day, produce good designs and always deliver on time.

The questions is, are you the only designer that can get through that much work a day, produce good designs and always deliver on time?

In today’s economy there is probably someone who can do what you do and who will do it for a smaller salary.

To be a irreplaceable, you need to be more than a good designer. You need to find ways to add value. Become THE BEST at something and apply that knowledge to benefit the company.

The same applies to freelancers. Give your clients a reason to come back. If you do only what is expected, you are not doing enough. If the quality of your work is acceptable, it is time to start aiming higher.

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