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!
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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
Six Unconventional Ways To Find Design Clients
Ask any designer, and they’ll tell you that their number one way of landing new design clients is through word-of-mouth referrals.
If you do an excellent job on a client’s project, there’s a good chance they’ll pass your name along should they hear of someone requiring services you offer. I’ve built my entire business on this model. And chances are, so have you.
But does that mean you should only rely on word-of-mouth referrals? No, it doesn’t.
Are you familiar with the term diversify? In short, it means “using different options.” Such as “you should diversify your investments,” meaning you should have multiple investments. If one of them isn’t doing well, your other assets can help make up for it.
Diversification can also apply to your income stream. If all your work comes from one client, and that client suddenly has financial difficulty and stops sending work your way, you’ll be in trouble. That’s why it’s best to have multiple clients. If one stops sending you projects, you can still make a living from the rest.
But I want to talk about diversity concerning how you obtain new clients. As I said, word-of-mouth is the most popular method in our field. But word-of-mouth has limits. That’s why you shouldn’t rely solely on it for your clients.
This is how word-of-mouth works. Imagine a tree. The tree trunk s one client. You design a project for this one client. They may refer someone else to you via word-of-mouth if they like what you did. That someone else is now a limb on that tree.
Again, you do a good job, and that someone else, the limb, tells another person about you. That new person becomes a branch on your tree, and so on. Every limb and every branch can trace itself back to the trunk, the first client.
Now you have a big tree of clients, all somehow connected back to that initial client. And that’s great. But there’s more than one tree in a forest. This means many people could use your services but have zero connection to anyone in your tree of clients. And if they have zero connection to your existing clients, they’ll never hear about you through word-of-mouth. That’s why you should diversify how or where you find clients. Because every client you land that isn’t connected to your other clients starts a new tree for you.
Now there are many resources available on how to find clients. Searching the phrase “How to find graphic design clients” will produce more than 247,000,000 results. Have fun reading through all of them.
But today, I want to share six unconventional ways you can find design clients.
And just a note, I’ve successfully landed new clients using 5 out of 6 of these methods. And it’s not because one didn’t work. I just never tried it myself, but I know others who have. Also, note that some of these methods may require a small investment.
So let’s get started.
Placing business cards in books. Leaving your business card in a book is a great way to introduce yourself to someone who may not know you.
Look at your local library or book store for books on starting a business and insert your business card. If there happens to be a chapter on branding or marketing, place your card there. Should someone read the book, they’ll come across your card at the point in the book where they’re learning about the type of services you offer.
This method worked for me recently. A client contacted me saying, “I found your business card in a book I bought.”
BTW, you could leave a business card as I did. Or, if you want to get more creative, you can have a special card made for just this purpose. Imagine someone reading a “How to start a business" book and coming across a card that reads, “Are you thinking of starting a business? I would love to help you with your website.”
Join a board of directors or committee. As I mentioned above, some of these methods require an investment on your part. This one isn’t financial. It’s time.
We all kn
How Precise Is Your Writing
Let me ask you something. How confident would you be buying a meal from a food truck that is so rusted and smoke-stained that you can’t make out its name on the side? Or how confident would you be staying at a motel where the paint was peeling off the doors, siding was missing on the building, and duct tape held the cracked windows together? Or how confident would you be buying a car from an auto dealer whose windows were so dirty you couldn’t see through them and whose sign was missing a couple of letters?
I bet your confidence wouldn’t be very high in those situations.
How do you think a client would feel if they came across a website that contains errors while looking for a designer? I bet they wouldn’t feel too confident in hiring that person. That’s what I want to talk about today, making sure your messaging doesn’t contain errors.
Let me give you a bit of background here. I decided to talk about this today because someone sent me a message earlier this week.
Now, if you’ve ever contacted me for whatever reason, there’s a good chance I looked at your website. It’s just something I do. Any time someone emails me or contacts me on social media, I’ll try to find their website to see how they present themself.
So, someone sent me a message earlier this week, and when I found their website, the first thing I saw was a spelling mistake. The very first line of the website was “I Designs Websites.”
Other places on the website included passages that lead me to believe this person is not a native English speaker. But I’ll touch more on that later.
And even though it was a beautifully designed website, and this person had a fantastic portfolio, those spelling and grammar mistakes made me question the quality of this person’s work.
Now imagine I was a client looking for someone to build a website for my new business. Those errors may be enough to make me second guess this person and move on to another web designer.
Be careful with jargon. But it’s not just spelling or grammatical errors that can hinder your chance of landing clients.
Another section of this same website described their services and how they work. They mention that the first thing they do is build a wireframe to show the client before making their website using WordPress. Elsewhere on the site, it said their web hosting includes a CDN. You probably understand what I just said if you're familiar with websites.
Imagine a client with no knowledge of websites other than knowing their business needs one. “Wireframe,” “WordPress,” and “CDN” don’t mean anything to them. Reading these things may cause them more confusion, which may make them look elsewhere for a web designer.
I talked about Jargon in episode 217 of the podcast. Jargon is common terminology in specific industries but maybe not so common outside of them.
I’m a web designer, and I remember wondering what wireframes were the first time I heard someone use that term. It wasn’t until I understood what a wireframe was that the word became part of my vocabulary.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t use these jargon terms in your communication. But if you do, you should add some clarity for anyone unfamiliar with them.
“We start by building a wireframe, a mockup layout of your website for you to approve before we start building the real thing in WordPress, a popular website platform, powering over 60% of the world’s websites.”
“Our web hosting includes a CDN, a content delivery network that improves the efficiency and speed of your website and helps you rank higher in search engines.”
Even if a client doesn’t recognize the jargon, they can still understand what you’re saying because of the descriptions.
A designer's job is communication. As designers, people think our job is to make things look good. And in part, it is. But more importantly, a designer’s job is to ensure a message is told clearly and understandably.
I'm looking for guest blog authors
Hi there, it’s Mark here.
I’m sorry, but there won’t be a typical podcast episode this week. But I will be back next week with more great content to help you with your design business.
In the meantime, I have a proposition for you.
If you know anything about website ranking and SEO, you know the importance of good quality backlinks.
How would you like to get a backlink to your website from a very well-established site in the design space? I’m talking about https://resourcefuldesigner.com
If you visit the Resourceful Designer website, you’ll notice that it’s divided into two sections. The podcast, and the blog.
I started it that way with the best of intentions of maintaining both.
And although I’ve done a great job of putting out new podcast content over the past 6 years.
The same cannot be said of the blog section. And I’d like to remedy that.
However, I don’t have the bandwidth to produce a podcast and write a blog post every week.
That’s why I’m reaching out to you.
I’m opening up the Resourceful Designer blog to guest authors and I’d love to give the first opportunity to listeners like you.
If you have an idea that would benefit designers who are starting or running their own design business and want to write an article about it, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you the specifications to get started.
I’ll give you full credit for your article, including a do-follow link back to your website in your author bio.
If you’re interested, please reach out at email@example.com.
Thanks for your time.
I’ll be back next week with another great episode of Resourceful Designer.
Until then, stay creative.
Prices Are Non-Negotiable
The local tourism board where I live, a client of mine, in partnership with one of the local newspapers, produces a 72-page visitor guide every year for people visiting the area. The tourism director hired me to design a countertop display stand for these guides that they will place in various stores and businesses in the region.
These visitor guides are an odd size. So I started researching companies that produce custom cardboard countertop display stands. And let me tell you, I was super impressed with one company I contacted.
While browsing their website to see if they offer what I need, a chat bubble popped up saying, “Hi, I’m Frank. I’m available right now if you need to chat about anything.” I took Frank up on his offer and asked what my best option was for the display stand I needed. He replied by requesting my phone number and asking if it was ok for him to call me, as it would be easier to discuss my needs over the phone. I agreed, and I was on the phone with him a minute later.
Frank listened to what I needed, made a few suggestions and said he would email me a price by the end of the day. In my opinion, Frank and his company went above and beyond to impress me, a potential new client.
But it didn’t end there. Within a couple of minutes of hanging up the phone, I received a welcome email from Frank thanking me for agreeing to talk to him. In the email, he briefly outlined what we had discussed. And he attached an intro packet outlining the company for me to read. This intro packet upped my impression of the company tenfold.
A couple of hours later, I received another phone call from Frank. He tells me he just emailed me the quote and asked if I have time to go over it with him.
At this point, I felt like royalty. I was so impressed with the way they were treating me. I had never heard of this company before, and now I couldn’t wait to tell everyone about them.
Frank walked me through the various charges involved with my project, such as the price for a custom die, among other things. But when we finally reached the cost per unit, it was higher than I had hoped. Not overly so, but still more than I wanted to pay for them.
When he asked me what I thought, I hesitated for a moment. And that’s when Frank goofed up.
Offer excellent customer service. Before I get to what Frank said, I want to emphasize the importance of excellent customer service and how it affects you and your design business.
You may think of yourself as a designer, but designing is a small portion of what you do if you’re running your own design business. And it might not even be the most critical portion.
If you’re working for yourself, your most important skill is the ability to sell yourself.
Running your own design business requires you to be a good salesperson. Every client who agrees to work with you does so because you successfully sold them on you and your ability to do the job. They agreed to your price, had confidence in your skills, and trusted you to complete their project because you sold them on these things.
This ability to sell goes way beyond the monetary aspect and is part of every interaction you have. It’s what makes people like and what to work with you. Sometimes, even despite the price. If you lack this ability to sell yourself, you will be hard-pressed to find clients.
I’ve said it many times before. Clients would prefer to work with a good designer they like, then work with an amazing designer they don’t like. And it all comes down to your ability to sell yourself.
What you should never do. Anyway, back to Frank. So as I said, the price per unit he quoted me was a bit higher than I hoped. And Frank sensed my hesitancy. And what he said next changed my impression of this company.
When Frank sensed my hesitation, he told me, “Don’t worry. All prices are negotiable.” And at that point, the pedestal I had placed this company on crumbled.
Frank had presented me with a reasonable price
Why You Should Stop Calling Yourself A Freelancer
I had a conversation recently with fellow designers over how we refer to ourselves. This conversation started when one designer asked another why they referred to themselves as a freelancer? We then talked about the impression and stereotypes associated with the word freelancer. In the end, the designer acknowledged that it was in their best interest not to use the term freelancer anymore when referring to themself. And it would be best if you did the same. Stop calling yourself a freelancer.
Why you should stop calling yourself a freelancer. There’s a stigma associated with the term Freelance or Freelancer. In episode 17 of the Resourceful Designer podcast, I discussed how calling yourself a freelance graphic designer could hurt your business. I shared a story of when a company approached me for an in-house position. I turned them down, but I shared the name of a designer I knew would be perfect for the job.
The company’s CEO later told me the designer I told them about had all the right qualifications. However, The title she used on her resume was Freelance Graphic Designer, and they were looking for someone more serious than that for the position.
She didn’t get the job because she listed herself as a freelancer. I know it’s crazy, but it’s true.
You see, the term freelancer is popular among designers. When I was in school, my classmates and I talked about how great it would be to be a freelancer. But outside of our sphere of peers in the design industry, the term freelancer is not as familiar. Or maybe I should say it’s not as “prestigious” as we like to think it is.
The term freelancer is akin to being quick and cheap, which reminds me of episode 71 of the podcast Good Design, Quick Design, Cheap Design. Pick Two. For many business people, freelancers are people you hire if you want something done fast and for a reasonable price, not necessarily if you want something designed well.
For this reason, I tell designers who work for themselves to stop calling themselves freelance designers and instead say they run a design business. Even if you only do it as a side gig.
In an article titled Stop Calling Yourself A Freelancer, author Andrew Holliday says that a company commands more respect than freelancers. And that freelancers are perceived as commodities. Meaning they’re interchangeable.
If you need a quick design job, hire a freelancer. In the future should you require more design work, you could hire the same freelancer, or you can hire someone else. It doesn’t matter because freelancers are interchangeable. Anyone will do. And usually, the cheaper, the better.
Hiring a freelancer is kind of like purchasing fuel for your vehicle. You know that all gas or petrol stations are basically the same, so you pick and choose where to fill up based on price. That’s how many business owners perceive freelancers–as commodities.
However, if you want a partner to help you develop your brand and marketing assets, someone you can work with long-term, then hire a design company, even if that design company is just one person.
Holliday made another interesting point in his article that freelancers often fight for hourly work. Whereas companies typically get paid by the project. And therefore, your earning potential is much higher if you refer to yourself as a business owner and not a freelancer.
But don’t take his or my word on it. Earlier this week, I posted a poll in a large entrepreneur community where I’m a member. It’s a community made up mostly of solopreneurs to mid-size business owners. In other words, the type of people you want as design clients.
Here’s what I asked.
Who would you prefer to hire for design work: A: A graphic designer who runs their own design business? B: A freelance graphic designer? I know. It’s a trick question since both answers are the same, but I wanted to see what people would say.
Two hundred four people responded. 176 (86%) chose A: A graphic design
A True Goldmine
I knew this was coming, but have not been looking forward to it.
I am the sole Graphic Designer at a printshop. I do not get the chance to do a whole lot of design, and have been more of a pixel pusher for the last 4.5 years. Since covid hit, we had to reduce staff. This put me running the production printer and bindery when I was not on the computer. At the end of July, I discovered this podcast. It has been an absolute goldmine of information for me! I have been binging every time I would go print or do bindery. Now I am all caught up, and am going to miss listening to the podcast every single day. Now I will have to be happy once a week.
If anyone is reading this and have not finished the podcast from beginning to end, keep going. I listened to every single minute. Even the episodes I thought did not pertain to me, because I always found hidden gems in each one. I have the Evernote app (tip from the show) and jotted down notes and resources everytime I thought it was helpful to me. This has given me the confidence to open my own business full time again. It won't be tomorrow, because I am taking the time to take the appropriate steps this time to ensure success. All the talent in the world will not guarantee a successful business if you don't know how to run it properly. This podcast has given me what I was missing the first time.
Like Having a Mentor!
Mark, thank you so much for this podcast. I just branched out on my own, full time, as a graphic designer. Your podcast has been invaluable in the information given, as well as being a motivating virtual “business meeting”! As a social person, getting motivated in the morning when I work for myself from home is difficult. Your podcast inspires me and gets me on the right track every day. I also love getting to learn from your experience so that I don’t have to learn as much from trial and error. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise!
I’ve started taking graphic design classes with my university after 20 years of service both to the county and to local governments as a deputy sheriff (getting ready to retire from both). I’ve decided to change my career. I absolutely love this podcast it inspires me to be better and to do better. Thank you for all the hard work you put into this podcast and keep it up. I hope to work as a graphic designer as a side gig, until I can work full time, or do it as a full time gig.