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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Getting Delinquent Clients To Pay
Have you ever had to chase delinquent clients for money? The life of a home-based designer, a freelancer, is a precarious one. You spent a lot of time learning your craft. Whether you went to school or learned on your own, you invested a lot in yourself to get you to where you are today.
Now clients hire you to design wonderful and functional things for them. You spend hours, if not days working on and perfecting each project until you and the client are satisfied.
After doing all of that, you expect to be compensated accordingly. So you send your invoice to the client feeling good about your accomplishment. And then you wait and wait, and wait some more, but no payment is forthcoming.
Has the client stiffed you? Have they simply forgotten to send your payment? Are they purposely delaying things? Did they even get your invoice, to begin with? These are all things that go through your mind when a client fails to pay your invoice within the allotted time.
Luckily this is the exception to the norm. 99.99% of clients will pay you for your work. But it’s almost inevitable that at some point in your design career, you’ll have to deal with a delinquent client.
In the 16 years I’ve been running my design business, there have only been three invoices I was unable to collect.
The first was a local embroidery shop. It was in my first or second year of business, and the owner of the shop hired me to vectorize images for his embroidery machine.
We had an agreement where he would send me images throughout the month, and I would keep a tally and invoice him at the end of each month. It was an easy and well-paying gig.
Then one day, the owner called and asked me to hold off depositing his $300 cheque. He told me there was a mixup at the bank and needed to wait until the following week to deposit the cheque. He was a good client, so I thought nothing of it.
The following week I called to see if It was OK for me to bring his cheque to the bank, and he informed me that he had declared bankruptcy. The cheque I had was no longer any good, and he would not be paying my last invoice.
What could I do? He had declared bankruptcy, and I was out $300.
The second time I was unable to collect on an invoice is a bit of a mystery. The client was a chef who owned a local restaurant. His 10-year-old son had died a few years prior, and he asked if I could photoshop his son’s head onto an image of a young boy in a chef outfit. He wanted to frame and display the photo in his restaurant.
We agreed to a price of $100, and once done, I emailed him the digital file and an invoice. A few days later, he called to say I could drop by the restaurant any time, and he would write me a cheque. However, when I stopped by a couple of days later, the restaurant was closed. I tried several more times over the next couple of weeks, but it was never open.
One day as I was driving by, I noticed someone inside, so I stopped and knocked on the door. The woman who answered told me the chef was her brother and he had disappeared a few weeks earlier and nobody has seen him since. They found his wallet and keys in his apartment, and the police were investigating.
I saw the framed photo of the chef’s son on the wall, but there was no way I was going to ask his sister to pay the past due invoice. I never found out what happened to him.
The third delinquent client was the owner of a paintball field my son frequented.
While talking to the owner, I mentioned in passing that I was a graphic and web designer. He asked me if I would offer suggestions for his old, outdated website. I took a look and offered to build him a new one for $600. This was back around 2007-08 when I was charging low prices for websites.
He agreed to the price, and I got to work. I transferred his domain to my registrar and moved his old website to my hosting server. A couple of weeks lat
Why You Should Pitch Retainer Agreements
Do you pitch retainer agreements to your clients? In the Resourceful Designer Community Slack group, we have a channel called #Bragging-Rights. It’s a place where community members share their most recent wins. Things like Katie telling us her client approved the logo she asked us to critique a few weeks ago. Or Brian sharing the completion of a huge website project with an extremely tight deadline. Or Mike sharing yet another signed design proposal.
Whether it’s landing a new client or having their design business showcased in a magazine, everyone in the Community is genuinely happy for the person sharing the good news. That’s what being part of a community is.
But nothing seems to garner more congratulations than when someone says they’ve landed a new retainer client. We don’t even have to know the details. The fact that it’s a retainer client is huge and worth celebrating on its own.
You see, having a client on retainer is considered the pinnacle of client acquisition.
What is a retainer agreement? So what does having a client on retainer mean?
It means guaranteed work. It means guaranteed income. It means a fixed schedule. And most importantly, it means better clients that you can create long-lasting relationships. A retainer means your client pays you in advance, regularly, in exchange for whatever work you outlined in the retainer agreement.
You see. One of the drawbacks of being a freelance designer is the unpredictability of income. You don’t work a 9-5 at a set hourly rate. Nor are you working in a salaried position with a guaranteed income. There’s no predictable paycheck arriving on a fixed schedule. That’s one of the sacrifices we home-based designers make for the freedom of working for ourselves.
But a retainer brings us closer to that predictable, guaranteed income. It creates a steady cash flow you can count on. This is great since you know how much money you are guaranteed every month, which helps with monthly expenses.
Not only that. But a retainer helps provide both stability and consistency in your work instead of learning how to deal with new clients every project. It reduces the need to pitch and win new design projects constantly.
On top of all that, Retainer agreements attract better clients and allow you to build a deeper relationship with them. Plus, clients treat designers they have on retainer with more respect and as an expert and professional.
These clients understand the long-term benefit of working with you. They are not looking for the least expensive designer. No, they’re looking for someone who can consistently contribute to their business. They want an expert and are willing to invest in one.
Another benefit of retainers is your schedule. In most cases, you know in advance how much work you will have from your retainer clients every month. This makes it much easier to plan your schedule. If you’re contracted to create a weekly blog post image and want to take a two-week vacation. You know in advance that you need to create three images the week before you leave.
Knowing your schedule in advance allows you to manipulate it when needed.
How does a retainer work? A retainer is a contract between you and a client that states the service or deliverable you will provide them regularly in exchange for how much.
Most retainer agreements work monthly. A client pays you a fixed fee every month in exchange for what you provide to them.
You can also have a yearly retainer payment where the client agrees to pay for the full year in advance. Or a lump-sum payment where the client pays you a certain amount, and you work it off or supply deliverables until the money runs out, at which time the agreement is ended or starts over.
Retainer benefits to the client Why are retainer agreements appealing to clients? Oftentimes, retainers have built-in discounts that make t
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
Do you suffer from Imposter Syndrome? I don’t know if it’s the pandemic, the stress of everything we’ve had to endure over the past year. But lately, I’ve seen more and more designers struggling with Imposter Syndrome. I’ve seen it in the Resourceful Designer Community. In Facebook groups. And just talking with people, I know in the design space.
I don’t know what’s causing so many people in our profession to doubt themselves and their abilities. But if you’re one of them, let me tell you a little secret that may make you feel better. Although everyone feels Imposter Syndrome at one time or another. It’s most often felt by high achievers who have trouble celebrating their success, no matter how large or small. So if you suffer from Imposter Syndrome, there’s a good chance you’re a high achiever. That’s a good thing and something that should make you feel a bit better.
In case you are unfamiliar with the term Imposter Syndrome, it refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. In other words, you don’t think you’re as good as other people think you are.
Imposter Syndrome An internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be I suffer from Imposter Syndrome when it comes to illustrations. If you’re a long-time follower of Resourceful Designer, you’ve heard me on several occasions say that I am not an illustrator. And yet, the truth is, I can draw. I’ve been drawing my whole life. Maybe not regularly; I haven’t honed my skills, but it’s not like I’ve never doodled before with some degree of success. And I’ve had many people over the years tell me I’m good at it. But in my mind, I’m not.
I look at what others like Andrew or Kat, or Krista from the Resourceful Designer Community can do, and my skills pale compared to theirs. In my mind, the only reason people tell me I’m good at illustrating is that they don’t want to make me feel bad by telling me the truth. That’s Imposter Syndrome.
And you know what? In this case, it’s ok. It’s ok because I’ve never wanted to be an illustrator. So if I don’t think I’m good enough, so be it. I’m ok with that. But that’s not the issue I’ve seen lately among fellow designers.
Imposter Syndrome becomes serious when it involves what you are trying to do to earn a living. What I’m seeing is a lot are people with the skills, talent and knowledge to do something well but who feel they are not good enough to be compensated for what they’re offering. People who are competent web designers but don’t think they’re good enough to charge $5,000 or $10,000 or even $50,000 for a website. Or people who are talented logo designers who have never charged more than a couple of hundred dollars for a logo project. That’s Imposter Syndrome.
These people have this idea in their head that if they charge that much, others will think they’re a fraud, and they’ll be exposed. These people are afraid to approach clients they really want to work with because they don’t think they’re good enough to work with them.
Is that how you feel? Are you unable to internalize your success because you’re afraid of being outed as an unqualified fraud?
Let me tell you something. You are not alone. In fact, everyone battles imposter syndrome at one point or another—even those who seem to have it all.
Actors Tena Fey, Emma Watson and Tom Hanks have all said in interviews that no matter how well they do, they always feel inadequate and that at any moment, someone’s going to find out they are not good actors and don’t deserve the success they’ve achieved.
Best-selling author John Green, who’s won several literary awards and whose books have been turned into major motion pictures, says he feels like a fraud all the time. He’s said tha
Identifying The Competition
Their competition might not be who they think it is. Have you ever heard the term “The Curse Of Knowledge?” According to Wikipedia, The Curse Of Knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand.
Curse Of Knowledge: A cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand. You see this a lot with instructors. The instructor is so familiar with a subject that they forget the person or people they are instructing don’t have the same background and therefore might not understand their teaching them.
Like a web designer giving a presentation to a group of fellow web designers and falsely assuming they all know CSS. Where in fact, some of the web designers may use Wix, Squarespace, GoDaddy Web Builder or Webflow. Platforms where knowledge of CSS is not necessary.
Why am I talking about the Curse of Knowledge? It’s because, as graphic and web designers, we sometimes take for granted that our clients know what we know. Especially when it comes to identifying the competition. But let me tell you. Many, if not the majority of clients, don’t have the background and knowledge that we do and therefore fail in their competition identification.
Case in point. I'm a member of a grant approval panel for my local Business Enterprise Centre. Every year, our BEC receives government funding and hands out grants to help new businesses start and get off the ground. The grant process requires each applicant to have a business plan, a three-year financial forecast, and a presentation to the grant approval panel saying why they believe they should receive a grant.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen dozens of these presentations. For my part, I read every applicant's business plan and follow up their presentation with questions to ascertain their merit regarding the grant. Part of their business plan requires a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Under the Threats part of the SWOT analysis, each applicant identifies their competition.
After sitting through dozens of these grant presentations, I've learned that most startups don’t know who their competition is. Some do a good job, but on average, the bulk of them don't realize who they are competing with. Most of them don’t realize that every business has two types of competition.
Direct Competition. Meaning those who sell or provide the same or very similar product or service that they do. And Indirect Competition. Those who might not sell or provide a similar product or service but are still competing for the same target market. It’s this second one where almost all of them fall short.
That’s why I brought up the curse of knowledge earlier. I’ve been in the design field long enough, and I’ve dealt with enough clients over the years that it’s become second nature for me to not just think of direct competitors but the indirect ones as well.
Let me give you an example.
One of the presentations I sat through was for a couple who were in the process of opening up an escape room business.
If you don’t know what an escape room is, it’s an entertainment venue where you and a group of friends are locked in a room or group of rooms and have a deadline to figure out puzzles to get out. So you’re up against the clock as you all work together to decipher the clues you find in your surroundings. If you’ve never tried an escape room before, you should really give it a shot. They’re a lot of fun.
Anyway. This couple was in the process of starting an escape room business. They leased a building, and construction had begun. They applied for the grant to help offset the cost of building supplies.
It's Your Business. You're Entitled.
It's OK to have one of those days. Wednesday this past week started like any other day. I got up around 7:45 to see my wife off to work, then went to the kitchen to feed our cat and dog before going to the living room and turning on the TV.
I fast-forwarded through SportsCentre, which I record every day at 4 am. I watch the hockey and soccer highlights and then usually skip through most of the other sports.
Once done with SportsCentre, I switched on a Canadian morning news show called Your Morning. As a designer, the show's logo drives me crazy, but I like the hosts, and they usually cover some interesting topics. It’s been part of my morning routine for years.
This takes me to 9 am when I normally start my day. But on Wednesday, when Your Morning wrapped up, instead of turning off the TV, I sat there as Live with Kelly and Ryan started. I don't usually watch this show, but I decided to sit through their opening dialogue. After 20 minutes of this, I realized why I rarely watch the show and turned it off.
I made my way to my office, which is only 10 steps away from where I was and sat down to begin my day.
I had an issue with a website the day before and had sent an email to the support team at SiteGround to see if they had any ideas.
I normally don’t look at my email first thing in the morning, preferring to wait until noon to read through them. But I checked it on Wednesday morning and found the anticipated reply email from Siteground waiting for me with the info I had been hoping for.
I made the necessary adjustments to the website and then sent an email to my client saying the problem was fixed.
With that out of the way, it was time to look at my To-Do list. I had seven things on my list,
Design podcast cover artworks for client A. Design podcast cover artworks for client B. Start a new website for client C. Finish website for Client D. Create social media header images for Client E. Perform a podcast brand audit for Client F Read and reply to an RFP (Request For Proposal.) None of them had a pressing deadline, and none seemed very appealing at the time. I couldn’t decide which one to tackle first. Instead, I decided to have a shower.
45 minutes later (I lost track of time standing under the showerhead,) I was back at my computer.
I saw my email program was still open and decided what the heck, and went through my inbox, which killed about 30 minutes and brought me to 11:30 am.
Looking again at my to-do list, there was nothing there that would only take the 30 minutes I had until lunch.
Let me interject here. I’ve been doing IF, Intermittent Fasting for the past couple of years. It’s a way of managing my weight without actually dieting.
The way I do it is to only eat between the hours of 12 noon and 6 pm. I can eat anything I want, within reason, of course, as long as it falls within that window of time. From 6 pm until noon the next day, all I have is water.
That means that by noon each day, I’m hungry. And the idea of starting a new project 30 minutes before my eating window opened was not very appealing to me. So instead, I decided to go for a walk.
We’ve had an unusually mild week this past week, and I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and get some exercise.
I walked around the block, a 2.5 KM loop or 1.55 miles for you Americans, before arriving back home in time for lunch.
During lunch, I turned on the TV again and switched to Netflix. I’ve been watching Suits lately and am really enjoying it. I was halfway through season 2, so I put on an episode while I ate.
This episode had a guest character that I recognized but couldn’t remember where I had seen before. You know how it is. You know the person but can't place them. It keeps nagging at you.
So when the episode was over, and I went back to my office, I opened up the trusty IMDB and looked up that episode inste
Invest In Yourself And Your Design Business
Where would you spend your extra money? In the Resourceful Designer Community, we recently discussed the question, "what would you do if you had extra money to invest in yourself and your business?" There were many great ideas on how to use the extra money and, just as importantly, how not to use it. It was such a great conversation that I thought I would share my thoughts here on Resourceful Designer.
Before I go any further, I must state that I am not a financial planner or financial advisor, nor do I play one on TV. In fact, I have absolutely no expertise when it comes to this stuff. As far as I know, experts who see this may tell you what I'm saying is completely the wrong approach. These are my thoughts on what I would do if I had extra money to invest in myself or my business. So here goes.
Imagine you had extra money sitting around. Anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. I know, it’s a nice thought. But you never know. Maybe you had a favourable tax return. Or you inherit a sum of money. Maybe you won a cash prize in some lottery or draw. Perhaps you had an outstanding quarter and have money left over once all your monthly bills and expenses are paid off.
Whatever the reason, you have extra money and try to figure something practical to do with it other than blowing it on a vacation or other luxury. No, you want to use that money as an investment of some sort. But what?
This is the order of preference for how I would invest the money.
Investing in your future. I believe the most important thing any business owner can do is invest in their future. That future could mean next year, or it could mean retirement in many years. The idea is to use the money to help you down the road.
As a solopreneur, your income relies on your ability to work. In most cases, if you are unable to work, you don’t make any money. That’s why I believe padding your future is one of the most important investments you can make.
This may mean putting money into a savings account to act as a three to six-month buffer in case things get tough and business slows down. Work in our field is never guaranteed, and even the best of us experiences lulls from time to time. This buffer can help tide you over and help cover your expenses until work picks up again.
Or maybe an accident or illness will force you to take a medical leave. Having a buffer to get you through that period may mean the difference between staying afloat and being forced to close your business.
And then there’s retirement to think of. Saving for retirement is something you should start doing as soon as possible, especially if you want to continue living the good life in your later years. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to save up.
I don’t know about you, but as a creative person, it’s hard to think I’ll ever retire. I believe I will be creating and designing things until the day I die.
But the fact is, one day I may not want to spend 8-10 hours a day in front of my computer anymore. And that means less money will be coming in.
Not to mention that even though designers are like a good wine, we get better with age; some people may not want to hire a 65-year-old to design the brand for their hip new startup.
These two reasons alone. For short absences such as dips in work or medical leave and retirement are why I believe investing in your future is the first thing you should do with your money. I know it’s hard when you have bills and debts to pay. But even a few dollars here and there will add up over time.
If you do come into some extra money, this is where I suggest you invest it. In your future.
Investing in your present. Next on my list is investing in your present. Investing in your present means putting money to use towards immediate self-improvement.
Learn a new skill. Invest in is things such as tutorials, courses and
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.