Earlier this week I met up for coffee with a client of mine. The two of us originally met when his employeer was my client and after leaving that job he hired me to customize his personal blog and we formed our own client/designer relationship. I was excited when he emailed me last week with the news that he was starting a new business venture and wanted to discuss working with me on branding and marketing materials.
We filled each other in on all that we’ve been up to, talked about family and pets and work. He expressed his excitement over building his business (which is a partnership with another owner) and that while he is working non-stop, he is loving it! We talked about dealing with clients… the art of retaining clients vs selling to new ones. The balance of looking out for your clients and also not being a push over. He said, “I don’t know how you handle this without a business partner. I need a ‘good cop’ in the scenario — I’m only capable of being ‘bad cop.’”
This got me thinking — am I both Good Cop and Bad Cop? I guess as an Independent business owner, you kind of have to be! It’s delicate balance of being able to lay down the law and tell a client something they may not want to hear, holding your foot firm on policies and generally being able to deal with people on a purely “getting business done” level and the Good Cop side is the smile you close with, the empathetic comment you offer when a frustrating situation arises, the hand holding for those high maintenance clients. It’s tough to play both of these rolls, but not impossible.
I’ve been dealing with a frustrating project lately. A client wants a feature added to a project that was not part of the original scope — trouble is, they didn’t anticipate the added cost of this from the get go, so they are struggling with passing along that expense to THIER client. It’s a mess and while yesterday I had almost reached the point of saying “I don’t care WHAT you do, here’s the bill for the time I put in — and here is some referrals to other devs you could hire to finish the project!” Instead I slept on it, pulled myself together (the good and bad halves) and told them “I know you’re in a really frustrating situation since you did not anticipate this feature being part of the project so the added cost was not part of your original budget (that was the Good Cop, now time to switch gears… Bad Cop, I know you have a ‘but’, right?) — BUT I have offered up some really good solutions and you can either go with the less expensive one that is CLOSE to what they want, but not exactly… OR you can go with the more expensive option that’s going to give that JUST what they want.” While the previous email from the client had been a little huffy — her next response after this message said “Thank you so much for all the time you’ve put into this! I am going to talk this over with my client and follow up with you next week.”
Thank you Good Cop and Bad Cop for Liz and her clients sane! :)
Do you recognize this in yourself? Is there one side you feel you need to get more in touch with?
This is a good watch, lots of business owners talking very candidly about their ideas and experiences.
A few weeks ago, I got an email from a Senior in the Graphic Design program at Western Washington University. She was interested in meeting up to do an informational interview with me. I had done a couple of these with designers myself when I was in school, so it was cool to have the opportunity to be on the other side of the table and hopefully offer up a young person in our community some advice.
While much of what was covered in the interview are things that I touched on before on this blog, I decided some of you might like to see what we talked about. The interview was a little over an hour, so I am going to publish this in parts, here you go! Thank you to Nicole for the transcription!
Interviewed by: Nicole Adsit, Friday, October 22, 2010.
The first job I got out of school was for a company that made high-end presentation material — mainly portfolio books. Their mail client base was commercial photographers and they had a full design department that offered design, branding and marketing services to commercial photographers. Now, I really wanted to get in there doing design — but they weren’t gonna hire me cause I had no experience.
They did have a sales position available though selling the portfolios and I thought I can do this, get my foot in the door that way. I worked as a sales person for almost year got close with the Art Director showed her projects I was working on on the side and one day she said “Hey, Do you want to try giving me some ideas on this project?” So I went home worked on that and within a few months I was pulled out of the sales job and started as a designer. I was there for almost 5 years collectively before I left to start my own business.
So it was taking whatever I could and being like, “I know I’m not going to be a designer but I at least wanna be around creative people,” and in that environment I just focused on learning whatever I could about the business and making myself indispensable there.
When I left the interview though, I was thinking, “well why don’t I just do that? Why wait 5 years?” So I started laying the ground work and left my job 4 or 5 months after that point.
So I went in and interviewed with them and let them know I was going to be looking for freelance work in the next few months. That was encouraging, there was a lot of security in those positions but also a lot of freedom. When you’re on a contract there’s a little bit of security but you’re not an employee. I ended up taking a short term contract doing web development for a hospitality company in town… it was only 15 – 20 hours a week, but that was enough to allow me to leave my job, pay rent and stuff. Once I landed that I left and started focusing on building my personal brand online, networking with people building up a client base.
I’ve never done a cold call in my life. A lot of my networking was through other people. This person would introduce me to this person. Basically, getting to know one person, them hooking you up with someone else, and so on… meeting other designers.
No. I think that would be completely unethical to steal someone else’s clients. My former job actually became one of my top clients and would hire me out for freelance work regularly and I still have a working relationship with them. And after being gone for several years, I have had some clients I worked with back then that have since ended their relationship with my former employer come to me, but to actually take a client — I just see that as shady.
I started working full time in February of 2008 which was the beginning of the recession. You would think that would be the worst time but I feel that was the best time. I feel like if I can be successful in the last three years then it’s only gonna get better from here.
A Seattle local who is doing it right. Chase Charvis, awesome photographer. This is a video of his keynote at the PhotoPlus Expo last month, don’t matter if you’re not a photographer — if you’re passionate about what you do, watch this and be inspired.
I’ve had a pretty busy week! On Monday, the redesign of MyGreenlake.com was launched. This blog is a news site for one of Seattle’s most charming neighborhoods and the woman who runs this blog (Amy Duncan) is just awesome!
Amy contacted me a long time ago and expressed interest in having me redo her website. We chatted about her wish list for the site, her community and some of her concerns about the existing layout, I quoted her on the project and immediately got a response telling me that she could not afford me, BUT that she was going to save up and would be in touch again. Well… I don’t want to sound snotty, but I had heard that before and never once had someone actually came back. Well… Amy was the first! A few months later there was a new message from her in my inbox saying she was ready to lay down her deposit and begin work! :)
This was actually a pretty large project, the site has a loyal following, a hefty archive of posts and a number of paying local advertisers. This was truly a project where I worked hard to not only pay attention to the details, but also the BIG PICTURE. I look forward to watching how the site’s re-vamp will help it’s community to better utilize all of the great content Amy provides!
This week I met with a fellow designer who I have done some Illustration and production work for. She has been a print designer in Seattle for over 20 years. After the last few years of slowly downsizing her business more and more, she is closing up shop and had one client left that she had decided to pass off to me. She gave the a run down of the type of work they’ve done together, gave the owners a sparkling review and clued me in on that billings she’s done with them over the last 3 years. I feel honored that she thought of me as someone to hand-down her prized client to! Forming relationships with other designers is so invaluable! Aside from awesome things like this happening, you can learn so much from them!
This week Niki and I released the first Pagebreak Snippet! Basically, we realized that having 3 weeks between each Pagebreak episode was a long stretch, so these snippets are short-format episodes where we take about 10 minutes to discuss a blog post related to design, development, business or marketing. We plan to release snippets at least once a week throughout the month and of course we will continue to do our long-format book review episodes!
Our book for October is “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug, which is a all about website usability. I just received my copy in the mail yesterday and already am on page 35. I can already tell this will be a great benefit to my design work and I think Niki and I will be able to have a good discussion about it!
(Hey, that’s me!)
So the wait is finally over, Niki and I have been scheming about this for a long time now and then over the last couple weeks pulled it all off…
PageBreak is a design, business and marketing-themed book club and podcast, started by Liz Andrade and Niki Brown. The main goal of the club is to build a strong online community of designers, developers, freelancer (like ourselves) and to discuss and enjoy books about the stuff we love to do!
We’re starting out with the plan to pick a new book and record a show at the end of each month, so if you have a suggestion we’d love to hear them! You can subscribe to the show via iTunes or stream the show at pagebreakpodcast.com (we’re working on a site with commenting and all that jazz, so stay tuned…)
Book #1? Rework by 37Signals Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. Make it through the show (or download it and skip to the end) to find out what we’ll be reading for September, maybe you’d like to read along? If you’ve read Rework and you want to discuss it with me and Niki or other listeners of the show – head over to the GoodReads PageBreak group!
After 2.5 years in business — I still think of myself as new to the game. I am just getting started, still learning and still have plenty of room to grow! However sometimes those who are even newer to running a business than me ask how I do it. How do I market myself, get clients, get money, do projects, etc, etc? I don’t have much of a strategy or a secret. My business plan consist of this, “Do work I am proud of for businesses that I want to see succeed.” I realize this isn’t very helpful information to any of you who might be looking to me to help you find your path on the entrepreneurial road, sorry about that. After my last post and the response I got from everyone about it, I have this idea that maybe instead of talking about the things I do that may contribute to me staying in business, perhaps it will be more informative to talk about some of the things I DON’T do. So, some of you may be shocked by this one…
From Friday evening through Monday morning my home office stands untouched (unless my cat sneaks atop the desk to chew on a pencil – the little bugger!) I have a separate laptop for personal use, like laying on my couch watching youtube videos or making mixed CD’s. If you were to call my work phone on a Saturday evening — you’d hear my outgoing message informing you of my regular office hours and that the office is currently closed and many of you who follow me on Twitter even know — my stream slows a bit as the work week comes to an end.
I’m not going to lie, I do check in on email at least a couple times a day — But (perhaps it is because I’ve already set the standard with my clients,) I rarely GET emails and never get phone calls on weekends!
Now, there are exceptions. If a client has an expedited project with me, I work whatever hours are needed to finish the job on time — weekend, holiday, day or night. If I commit to doing a rushed project and my client pays the additional fees involved — I am at their beck and call until we finish. Also… while I never tell a client I will be working on their project over the weekend and I never promise any deliverables during my days off — sometimes I work cause I just like to! …I love what I do and it can be a lot of fun, so sometimes I am typing up a style sheet at 9PM or laying out a blog comment form on a Sunday morning. But, shhh… don’t let my clients know. ;)
If you love what you do so much, why don’t you work weekends?
I love what I do, yes — but even more… I love my family and spending time with them (and my friends — which I group in that “family” label.) is something I value. Doing work you love is important, but having people to share your life with — there isn’t anything more important than that!
But if you work more hours, you could make more money and build your business faster!
In some cases this may be true. But, the general rule that working more hours means you get more done, is bullshit.
At my old 9to5, I spent the better part of my 4 years with the company skipping lunch breaks, logging 50 – 60 hour average weeks. I took work home, I worked on weekends and eventually… as you might have guessed — I got burnt out! I started having terrible anxiety problems, I gained about 30lbs as a result of skipping meals and binge eating before bed. I found myself overworked and under appreciated. And then one day, I decided to change that.
You’re thinking “Oh! This is the part where she quits!” No.. no… by the time I left to start my business I had actually found myself in a much healthier situation at my former post. The reason for THAT is because I made a conscious decision to stop with all the extra hours. I deleted all my work files from my home computer, deactivated office email from coming to my house. I started eating lunch (mostly) everyday and made it a regular habit to be out of the office no later than 6PM. After a week of this, I was amazed that instead of getting less done — I was getting MORE done! I felt less burnt out and happier, I was more productive! Since I knew my time at the office was limited, I worked smarter and prioritized tasks in a more efficient way. I was logging a fraction of the hours and getting the same amount (if not more) work done!
So there you go… I don’t have some crazy secret strategy on getting more client leads… just a glimpse at how and why I do (or don’t do) the things I do. Is my logic on this warranted or do you think it’s in spite of this practice that I’m staying in business?
I recently started using the “Superstars” labels in Google Mail in a new way that has totally changed the way I keep track of emails! It is something that sounds really small, but it works great for me — maybe it will work for you too?
I have 3 Superstars enabled the Red, Yellow and Green. (You starting to see where I am going here?)
Emails I have read and need to reply to or follow up with by sending back something, I mark with a green star. If I have an email that I want to keep in my radar, but I am not ready to reply to just yet (waiting for more information before a reply is ready or something like that), those get marked with yellow. Red gets used only when there is no need to reply to the email at all – but the email may hold some information relevant to something I am working on. I want it easily visible, but it required no action perse.
I know this system isn’t rocket science, but in the last few weeks that I have been using it, I haven’t had emails fall through the cracks or those situations where you thought you had replied and then a week later get a “you still there?” from your client.
This also saves time, since I am not re-examining read emails to make sure I’m on top of them. I can do a quick glance at my inbox and see by the stars what needs to get done!
Do you have any simple tricks you use that make a big difference in your work day? Leave a comment and tell us about it!
One of my favorite things about Seth Godin’s work is his language. His books each have their own unique vernacular which can make grasping the concepts he is presenting to you really easy to understand – but make it a little difficult to talk about these concepts with those who have never read the book – or have experience with Seth Godin’s writing. Linchpin is full of new additions to the Godin Glossary like art, genius, gift, cog, factory, work, and even some old favorites like remarkable and tribe. His practice of giving new meaning to words reiterates his message of defining your own path (and sometimes your own definitions) in life.
The first line in this book is enough to keep a conversation going all night. “You are a genius.” Seth Godin says everyone, each and every human on this earth is a genius. Now I know what you might be thinking, Really? Everyone? Yeah I was skeptical too, but I kept reading.
We are all able (and have at some time in our lives — even if it hasn’t been since toddler-hood,) solved a problem in a way that no one had ever thought of before, done something remarkable! The reason why many of us aren’t practicing our genius and don’t even believe ourselves capable is for a multitude of reasons — many of which get examined in depth over the 236 pages of Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
Fear of judgment or not fitting in, fear of being noticed, being held responsible for our actions. All these tiny voices in our “lizard brain” that start being encouraged at the start of life — by parents, friends, school, media, etc. It’s something we accept as the way things have always been, you have to play by the rules to get ahead. Seth Godin says, if you want to be valued, playing by the rules is dangerous!
work, has been transformed in just a hundred years from doing things that involve heavy lifting to leveraging and enhancing your personality. (page 210)
The only way to affect change in another person (what Seth calls creating art!) is NOT fitting in, NOT falling in line and NOT following the map, but to make your own. Being remarkable (worth remarking about,) is not something you can do a little bit of while still playing it safe, to be a linchpin you must commit yourself to your art, acknowledge your genius and live up to it!
This book is inspiring, thought provoking and like many of my favorite business books, it doesn’t take any shit. You have no excuse for not practicing your art anymore… So if you are happy with the status quo… if living up to your genius is more responsibility that you are willing to accept, then this book is going to scare the pants off you — cause it gives you nowhere to hide.
If you’re intrigued — but nervous, give it a chance, be nervous, it’s OK. But don’t let it stop you, start reading.
the best future available to us is a future where you contribute your true self and your best work. Are you up for that? (page 2)