299 episodes

Wouldn't it be nice if you could spend more time designing and less time worrying about your design business? Resourceful Designer offers tips, tricks and resources for freelancers in order to help streamline your graphic design and web design business so you can get back to what you do best… Designing!
Let me know what topics you would like me to cover by emailing feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business Mark Des Cotes

    • Arts
    • 5.0 • 16 Ratings

Wouldn't it be nice if you could spend more time designing and less time worrying about your design business? Resourceful Designer offers tips, tricks and resources for freelancers in order to help streamline your graphic design and web design business so you can get back to what you do best… Designing!
Let me know what topics you would like me to cover by emailing feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

    My Website Designing Toolbox

    My Website Designing Toolbox

    In episode 89 of Resourceful Designer, I discussed checklists and your design business. As a bonus to that episode, I offered my WordPress Website Setup Checklist. That was five years ago, and things have changed. In that time, I've grown and expanded as a web designer. The tools I use to create websites have also grown and expanded. Here is an up-to-date list of the tools I regularly use to design and build WordPress websites. Don't build in WordPress? Don't worry. I share a few things that may help you regardless of the platform where you design websites.
    Conceptualizing the website. Before I get down to designing and building a website, I want to know what I'm building. These are the tools that help me in the conceptual stage.
    Dynalist: Dynalist is a great outlining app that helps you get work done. I use Dynalist to outline the structure of every website I build. I like to know what pages a site will have and where they sit in the hierarchy. Dynalist helps me do this.
    Coolors.co Coolors.co is a super fast colour palette generator. I use it to choose colours for a website before the build starts. It's also convenient for finding great colours to go along with a client's existing brand colours.
    Setting up the website. SiteGround SiteGround I host all my and my client's websites at SiteGround. They're inexpensive, reliable, easy to work with and score well in web host comparisons. What more could a web designer ask for in a web host?
    Siteground has a very convenient one-click WordPress install feature that gets me up and designing quickly. Their installation registers me as the site admin using my email address instead of the default "Admin," usually generated by WordPress. If your web host doesn't have this feature, then I suggest the first thing you do upon installing WordPress is create a new Admin user and delete the default one named "Admin."
    During installations, Siteground installs two of its own plugins, SiteGround Optimizer and SiteGround Security. These are great plugins; however, I disable them until I finish building the site.
    Assets and tools I use on just about every website. Envato Elements Envato Elements is the first place I look for any stock images, icons or graphics I may need during a website build. Their low monthly subscription allows unlimited downloads, which comes in handy while experimenting.
    Depositphotos Depositphotos is another excellent resource for stock images and vector graphics. They're inexpensive, and their quality matches higher price stock image sites.
    Grammarly Grammarly ensures my website copy is error-free and written most effectively. I've been using it for years and won't compose anything without running it through Grammarly.
    Squoosh Squoosh.app is a handy website that does one thing very well, it optimizes images. Every image I upload to a website passes through Squoosh first.
    Screenflow Screenflow is only available on Mac (sorry, windows users). It's a screen recorder that makes it very easy to create tutorial videos explaining to clients how to use their new website. Screenflow is also a powerful video editor which I use any time I need to do minor edits to a video before uploading it to a website.
    Handbrake Handbrake is a free video conversion tool. It allows you to change the format of a video which is very useful in reducing a video's file size.
    Building the website. Divi Theme Divi by Elegant Themes is the world's most popular WordPress page builder and is trusted by hundreds of thousands of website creators. Divi takes WordPress to a new level by allowing you to build a website visually. With Divi, there's practically nothing you cannot create.
    Divi Marketplace The Divi Marketplace: is a one-stop shop for everything Divi, including layouts, child themes and extensions. If you need a website to do something special, chances are the solution can be found in the Divi Marketplace.
    Divi Booster Divi Booster allows you to customize Divi without adding extra code.

    • 45 min
    Getting Out Of A Rut

    Getting Out Of A Rut

    I have a confession to make. I’m not perfect. Even though I’ve released 297 episodes of the Resourceful Designer podcast, a show I created to share tips and strategies for running a graphic and web design business. I still don’t have all the answers.
    And even though I consider myself a successful entrepreneur. After all, I’ve been running my home-based design business for 17 years. Plus, I started my niche side business, Podcast Branding, just over three years ago, and it’s doing better than I ever imagined.
    And yet, I still struggle.
    I don’t struggle much with finding clients or design projects. I’ve been fortunate in that aspect. What I find myself struggling with from time to time is motivation.
    Feeling lazy. Some days, no matter how many things are on my to-do list, I don’t feel like working. I feel lazy. I’ll sit at my computer in the morning with the best intentions, having thought of everything I wanted to work on that day. But at the end of my work day, I look back and realize I didn’t accomplish any of them.
    Sure I answered some emails. I read a few business-related articles. I watched some tutorials on YouTube. But actual work, the thing that makes me money, not so much. Not enough to compensate for an 8-hour work day.
    Luckily, one of the perks of working for yourself is you don’t have to answer to anyone. As long as you get the work done, it doesn’t matter how or when you do it.
    And everything would be fine if this was a sporadic occurrence. But that’s the problem. Sometimes it isn’t. When I get in a rut like this, it could last days.
    I’ll chastise myself at the end of the day for my lack of drive, my laziness. And tell myself I’ll work twice as hard tomorrow. But then tomorrow rolls around, and, for some reason, it happens again. Sure I’ll get some small things done. But not nearly enough to satisfy me.
    A few weeks ago, I needed to start a website project. I intended to begin it on Monday. It was a big project, and I planned to get ahead of the timeline. But for some reason, I found other things to do. A lot of them non-productive.
    So Monday went by, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and I still hadn’t started the website. To me, Friday is never a good day to begin something new. So I told myself I would finally start it on Monday. A week later than I initially wanted. And you know what? I didn’t start it on Monday either.
    It’s as if I knew how much work was involved with designing and building the website, and the laziness that had overcome me wasn’t motivated to get started.
    I don’t know what depression feels like. And honestly, I don’t think that’s what was happening. I honestly believe I was feeling lazy. But whatever it was, I was in a rut.
    When you're in a rut. Rut, what a funny word. I just looked up its meaning. A Rut is a habit or pattern of behaviour that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change. That’s exactly what I was going through. I had gotten into the behaviour of pushing off the big things on my to-do list because I was feeling lazy and unproductive.
    Maybe I should have called this post “Starting Is The Hardest Part.” I know now, as I knew then, that everything would be fine once I started the website. Once I worked on it, I would find the motivation to keep going.
    Newton’s first law of motion says, “An object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion.” There’s more to Newton’s law than that, but we’re talking about laziness and work motivation here, not physics.
    However, the principle still applies. As long as I didn’t start the website project, leaving it be was easier. But once I did start, I kept going and saw it threw to the end.
    Do you ever feel this way? Lazy, I mean? Do you ever stall or delay getting things started for no good reason? And I’m not talking about procrastination. I feel that procrastination is something different.
    I’m a notorious procrastinator. It

    • 18 min
    The Magic Email

    The Magic Email

    Has this ever happened to you? A new client contacts you looking for a designer. Their project sounds fun, and you seem to hit it off well with them. They verbally agree to your terms, and since everything sounds encouraging, you send them a formal proposal. And you wait in anticipation for them to approve your proposal and give you the go-ahead to get started on their project.
    And then you wait and wait, but you don't hear back. You send follow-up emails but don't receive any replies. The client has ghosted you.
    If you're not familiar with the term "ghosted," it's when someone ends all communication and contact with another person without any apparent warning or justification. Subsequently, they ignore any attempts to reach out or communication made by the person they're ghosting.
    And by that definition, this client is ghosting you. And it's not only with new clients. Sometimes an exiting client may ghost you in the middle of a project. You send them a proof and don't hear back. Or you ask them a question or for content you need, and you don't get a reply.
    This is any time you don't hear back from a client for whatever reason, even after several failed attempts at contacting them. What do you do? You send them The Magic Email, that's what.
    The Magic Email. What is The Magic Email, you ask? According to Blair Enns, Author and CEO of Win Without Pitching, a sales training organization for creative professionals. The Magic Email is a message you send to raise deals from the dead. That's its purpose, to solicit a response from someone who has been avoiding you.
    According to Enns, you must resist the temptation of sending an overly polite email. He suggests you do the opposite. Don't make excuses for your client's behaviour. And don't go soliciting a yes or any other answer from them.
    Enns suggests you strip away all emotions and let your prospect go matter-of-factly. And you that that with the following Magic Email. Within the last existing email thread, you had with your client, hit reply, change the subject to "Closing the Loop," and then write the following.
    Hi [FirstName];
    I haven't heard back from you on [project/opportunity], so I'm going to assume you've gone in a different direction or your priorities have changed.
    Let me know if we can be of assistance in the future.
    That's it.
    Enns says this removes the emotional reasons for the prospect to continue avoiding you. You are stripping out your neediness by no longer feigning politeness, by not asking how they've been or by being anything other than completely practical.
    This Magic Email says, "I can read between the lines, and you have decided we are not doing business together. No hard feelings – it's just business. You can call me if things change."
    What to expect after sending The Magic Email. You can expect one of three things to happen when you send The Magic Email.
    1. Silence. Silence is the least likely scenario where you don't get a response at all. There's no longer any reason for the client not to wrap things up. All they have to do is send you a one-line acknowledgement email to remove this stress from their own lives.
    2. Thank You. The client will send you a reply acknowledging that they have decided to cancel the project or they've moved in a different direction.
    This gives you closure and allows you to stop wasting energy over something that wasn't going to happen and move on to other clients and projects. There's no need to sulk about it. The deal was already done, probably a long time ago. The client just didn't tell you.
    3. No, Wait! This is the response you're hoping for.
    According to Enns, by retreating unemotionally, where you might otherwise be inclined to advance, you suddenly become the one that might get away. The client stops seeing you as the predator that keeps sending them emails, to the prize they're about to lose.
    There's a psychological effect of this unemotional retreat that can be staggering in its e

    • 15 min
    Two things that helped me become a better designer

    Two things that helped me become a better designer

    There are two things I started doing that have helped me provide a better service to my clients. Which, in turn, makes me a better designer as far as they are concerned. I've been doing one of them for quite a while, while the other I only started doing a few years ago, and much more so since the pandemic began.
    What are these two things, you ask? Contemplation and Revision.
    Take time to contemplate after a design project. When you have a busy schedule, it's easy to finish one design project and immediately jump to the next. After all, with deadlines and clients to satisfy, you need to stop diddle-daddling and start that next project. If this is how you work, you are doing yourself a disservice.
    Some of the best insight you can gain is by taking time to contemplate after finishing a project. Think about the ups and the downs. What went right with the project? What went wrong? Were there any parts of the project that slowed things down or helped things along?
    Take the time to think about all aspects of the project and ask yourself, what could I have done to make things better? Is there anything I can learn from this project that I could use to improve my SOP, Standard Operating Procedure, so that future projects go smoother?
    If you have a team, talk it over with them. Ask your team if there's anything that could have made their part easier?
    Do this after every design project, and you'll quickly learn ways to make your life easier.
    I do things differently now than the way I did things when I first started my business. Heck, the way I do things now is different from how I did things a few months ago. All because I regularly take the time to contemplate how I've been doing things and if there's anything I can do to improve upon the way I work.
    Now I know you're probably thinking. I already do what you're suggesting automatically. If something works on a project, I'll implement it on future projects.
    That's well and good. And we should all do the same thing. But that's not the same thing as what I'm suggesting. Discovering something new and implementing it on future projects is great and should be automatic for you.
    But what I'm saying is that by dedicating 15, 30, or 60 minutes, depending on the size of the project, to contemplate the ups and downs of how the project went, you can learn valuable insights you may otherwise gloss over.
    Perhaps the way you've always done things isn't the best. Only by contemplating what you do can you spot areas for improvement.
    You get the idea. It's hard to remember and even harder to try and fix problems if you don't think about them again once a project is over. The same can be said of things that go well. If something goes very well with a project, you should figure out if there's any way to implement it in future projects.
    Contemplation: Dedicating time after completing a design project to figure out what went well, what didn't and how what you learn can improve your SOP on future projects. I've been doing this for years, and I can honestly say I'm a better designer for it.
    Record your conversations. The second thing I wanted to talk about that helped me become a better designer is recording my conversations with my clients.
    This one kind of started by accident. When I first started my side business, Podcast Branding, I began interviewing clients over Zoom in a quick discovery meeting. And even though I took notes, I would often need to follow up with a client for clarification.
    After doing this a few times, I started recording my Zoom meetings. And this became a game-changer for me.
    Now, If there's something I can't remember or I'm not quite sure of, I can rewatch our Zoom call and find the answer most of the time.
    Sometimes it might be a few days between when I talk to a client and start their project. I now make a point of rewatching the Zoom call before starting every project to ensure I do not forget anything.
    As I rewatch our meeting, I follow along with the notes

    • 20 min
    What Makes You Different?

    What Makes You Different?

    One of the best things about being human is our ability to make choices. If you’re in the mood for a hamburger but also in a rush, you still have options. Do you go to Mcdonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s or one of the other fast-food burger joints?
    If you’re in the market for a new car, do you look at Ford, Dodge, Toyota, or Honda? Need a new computer? You can choose one of the many models of Pcs or go with a Mac. Regardless of your choices, the ultimate decision is still up to you.
    But how do you go about choosing?
    You do so by looking at what makes each option different and how those differences appeal to you.
    We all know that not all hamburgers are equal. McDonald’s has consistently stated that “Great Taste” makes them different. I know, that’s very subjective. But it is a recurring marketing slogan they’ve used over the years. Burger King claims it’s the flame broiling that makes them different. At Wendy’s, it’s the fact that their meat is never frozen, so it taste’s fresher. Ultimately, you decide which one of these differences appeals to you the most. And that’s where you get your burger.
    This same concept of what makes something different can equally apply to designers. What makes you different from the other designers in your town? What would make a client choose you over one of them?
    If you can figure out this question and use it to your advantage, you may outpace your competition with more work than you can handle. So what makes you different?
    Culture and Heritage. Maybe your culture or heritage makes you different. People find it easier to deal with people similar to them or who understand them.
    It’s currently the middle of May, which is Asian Heritage Month. As a white person, I would never expect someone to hire me to design a campaign for Asian Heritage Month. It’s not that I don’t think I could do a good job. It’s just that I feel that an Asian designer is better suited for the project. After all, they can relate to the subject matter better than I ever could.
    Whatever your heritage or culture is, you should embrace it and find a way to use it.
    A member of the Resourceful Designer Community is an indigenous Canadian woman. She’s using this to her advantage by marketing her design business to companies, organizations and groups run by First Nation people. And she’s killing it. She had to halt a recent marketing campaign because her available time quickly filled up for the rest of the year. Wouldn’t you like to be booked entirely for the rest of the year?
    She’s become so busy that she’s in the process of hiring another designer to help with the workload. How is this possible? Is it because she’s terrific at marketing her services? That may be part of it. But her marketing message alone isn’t what’s bringing in so many new clients. It’s who she’s marketing to.
    First Nations people, just like everyone else, need help when it comes to design and branding. And when given a choice, they are more likely to choose someone like them who is a member of a First Nation. Someone who understands their culture doesn’t need to be educated on what works and what doesn’t for them.
    In other words, it means they are comfortable working with her because she understands them. And this makes it easy for them to choose her over another designer who isn’t a member of a First Nation.
    Perhaps you can apply a similar strategy. Are you Hispanic, Asian, or a person of colour? Have you ever thought of marketing yourself to people of the same ethnic background? It may give you an advantage over others in your field as clients may prefer you over someone who isn’t of the same ethnicity as them. It’s worth a try.
    Gender and Orientation. There has never been so much discussion over gender and orientation as there is today. And that’s a good thing. The more we talk about it, the more it will become accepted. And when it comes to your business, your gender and orie

    • 17 min
    Think Like A Design Client

    Think Like A Design Client

    It’s so easy to get caught up in what we do, be that logo design, vehicle wraps, websites, trade show booths; you name it. We forget that our clients don’t live in the same world as we do. Our clients don’t see the world through a designer’s eye.
    When they look at a billboard, they see the message. When a designer looks at a billboard, not only do we take in the content and message. But we also take in the layout, the hierarchy, the use of negative space and the colour pallet. We note what fonts are used and what imagery they chose to relay their message.
    When we see something that isn’t kerned correctly, we feel the need to point it out.
    We feel almost obliged to mention every stock image we recognize out in the wild. "See that photo of that happy family in that car insurance ad? I saw that exact photo on Depositphotos."
    And we stop to admire displays, posters, cards and everything else we think is well designed. After all, when you see something that you feel is well designed, don’t you secretly start cataloging pieces of it away in your mind so you can “borrow” the idea for something you create in the future?
    As designers, our brains are just wired that way. We see the world through a designer’s eye. But sometimes, we forget that non-designers don’t see the world the way we do.
    My wife has perfected the eye roll she uses whenever I start talking design about something I see. Sometimes she’ll feign interest, but I know that she doesn’t care that the line spacing on the restaurant’s menu is too tight. She just doesn’t get it because she’s not a designer.
    But neither are our clients. That’s why they hire us for their projects. And sometimes, it’s easy to forget that they don’t have the same knowledge as us, nor the same interests. And they view the world through a different set of lenses than we do.
    That’s why it’s a good idea that before you say or present anything to a client, you try to consider it from their point of view.
    Case in point. A designer shared an intro packet PDF in a design group I belong to, asking for advice. The PDF is to give prospective website clients to explain what a CMS is, a Content Management System.
    She went into great detail, outlining everything there is to know about CMSs. I how thorough she was. However, I and several others pointed out that it wasn’t suitable for clients.
    She explained how databases work, with columns and rows and entry IDs. and how you can edit a database directly with tools such as phpMyAdmin. Then she explained how she builds a custom portal for each client that allows them to easily add, delete, and edit posts in the database.
    And finally, she explained how the items in the database end up displaying on the web page. She even showed examples of the PHP code required to make it all happen.
    Nothing was wrong with anything she presented, except that most of them are redundant to clients.
    A client doesn’t need to know how databases work or how the info from the database ends up on a web page. All the client needs to know is their website will have a CMS with an easy-to-use interface allowing them to add, delete and edit the content of their site.
    Remember, these are perspective clients. Meaning they haven’t committed to working with you yet. You don’t want to scare them away before they’ve had a chance to work with you. Donald Miller, the author of Building a StoryBrand, said it best. “If you confuse, you’ll lose.”
    Consider your marketing message from a design client's perspective. Let’s say you specialize in logo design, and you showcase your three-step process on your website.
    Step 1) I start with a meeting. I have a list of over 50 questions I ask you, covering everything from how your company got started, to your mission, to where you see the future going. This allows me to get to know you and your business.
    Step 2) I take the answers you gave me and start the research process. I take a close

    • 20 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
16 Ratings

16 Ratings

AllisonRoseC ,


Such an amazing resource! I love several graphic design podcasts, but the level of preparation that goes into this and the specific pieces of advice and tricks are mind blowing. Thank you!

dmcmtl ,

Freelancers Goldmine of advice/ideas/strategies

I've been binging through episodes for the last few weeks and there is actionable advice in every podcast I've listened to so far (older posts included)! Really appreciate the wise words & advice, (please) do not stop!

Thanks for everything.

From another Canadian designer :)

heyginette ,

Awesome Podcast!

Thank you so much Mark for such a fantastic Podcast. I'm a Junior Graphic Designer and find that these Podcasts are so helpful!
North Bay, ON Canada

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