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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Resisting Innovation

Whenever something new comes along you always have the old-schoolers who will kick against it until it hurts.

“It will never work.”
“It will never be as good as ___.”

It was that way with pre-designed logos. If I had a penny for every time someone told me I’m “hurting the industry”!

It is now that way with crowdsourcing.

Instead of kicking, why not embrace the next innovation? Even if you have an established business that seems threatened by this new way of doing things. If it’s good for the client (in the client’s eyes) then it will eventually become the norm and the only way for you to compete. The sooner you start playing by the new rules, the bigger your slice of the future market will be.

And if you see serious problems with the new way of doing things, like the glaring problems with crowdsourcing, then you are probably perfectly placed to offer the solution. Crowdsourcing 2.0.

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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

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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Failure

Thinking about failure is pretty scary. Actually getting off your butt and failing isn’t all that scary. Who knows, you might not fail at all.

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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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Spam Filters

Some network admins take great pride in the fact that they can block everything, including the bulk of legitimate emails. It’s killing online businesses – and the business owners don’t even know it because they never see how many legitimate business emails get thrown out with the trash.  If only they knew.

We have trouble getting emails through to certain clients when we have the word “logo” in the email.

“Logo”!

For crying out loud! Just because a logo designer spammed you in 2003 does not mean that you never ever want to speak to anyone about any logo ever again.

You might start a business next year and need a logo, but thanks to the spam filtering awesomeness of your network admin, you will receive only silence when you request design quotes from designers. An empty inbox. You won’t know why.

Your boss might ask for your opinion on the new company logo and think you are rude to simply ignore her like that. She might send follow-up emails and demand a response, but you will continue to ignore her, wondering why she hasn’t asked for your opinion on the new company logo.

Spam filters are much, much worse than spam.

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It’s Still Business

Online business is different from “offline” business in many respects, but it’s still “business”.

I see fewer head-over-heals, sell-the-farm-and-get-a-web-site mistakes than in the early days of the web, but even 16 years into the life of the web it seems that the majority of people don’t get it.

I started my first online business while I still had a day job. About a year later the company I worked for went bust and I had to fall back on my online income to survive. It was amazing to see how quickly and how vastly my online business improved once I upgraded it in my mind from being a hobby/extra income to being the main and only income. As soon as that switch flipped in my head I was able to find sloppy mistakes on my web sites that I simply hadn’t noticed there before.

It’s purely a mindset. Treat it like a serious business and it might become one.

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