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?
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.
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!
Some of your may hear feedback from your clients on a design mock-up you present and want to claw your (or your clients,) eyes out! You worked really hard on this design and you love it, they should too! Well.. that isn’t always how it goes – an sometimes this is a good thing!
I know you think I’m insane, but here is why I say this…
This post is largely inspired by a current project I have going, and the events over the last 2 weeks where I created an initial design mock-up and then after going over it with my client – realized we hadn’t communicated with eachother well enough before the design process started and I had went down the wrong path.
What I ended up creating was something very cool – but, not right for the client – so cool or not, good design or not, if it isn’t right, you have to be willing to scarp it and readjust your focus!
Letting go of an idea can sometimes be really hard. I put a lot of work and passion into my design and when I show something to a client, I feel confident about it – so when I realize it’s not the right fit, it can be difficult to let go of something.. but it’s essential to do this in order to be able to focus in the right direction!
Sometimes the first idea you have isn’t always your strongest, being pushed to look at things in a different way that your first instincts help you to be more creative! Sometimes the obvious solution is the right one, but not always! …Sometimes if you push yourself to be creative you will come upon the solution and thing “Oh duh! Why didn’t I come up with this an hour ago!?”
(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!
I’m totally serious!
One of my dear friends and clients, Seattle Wedding Photographer Laura Marchbanks won a contest last month that was put on by another Seattle company (and another client of mine!) CreativeLive! They were hosting a contest for a free wedding, so that they could broadcast it live and make the process part of a photography course taught online by Jasmine Star.
(I know, crazy huh?)
It was just a couple weeks ago when I got a frantic call from Laura asking for help with her invitations, the two of us have worked together on marketing for her Photography company so she was confident I would be able to quickly tune into what she wanted on the invite and get her something that she loved. We talked about the style she was after and after about 8 emails back and forth and less than 2 hours we had the design done and sent off to the printer. (That is NOT a normal turnaround, but Laura was putting this wedding together in 4 weeks with the team that CreativeLive compiled, and I was happy to have her back and be a part of this awesome experience!)
So this evening, I will be headed to celebrate Laura and Billy and you can check out the whole thing yourself, cause it will be happening live online at creativelive.com/billymarieslaura.
How did you decide to specialize in wordpress design, and do you charge your clients for any time you spend training them on it?
WordPress isn’t something I decided to specialize in, it just sort of evolved. My first introduction to the software was with putting together this blog. In the months before leaving my old 9to5, I came home every night and spent hours at the computer slowly teaching myself WordPress and building what was version1.0 of the CMD+Shift Design blog. It was late 2007, I was working with WordPress Version 2.3 — which when I think about it now it was pretty primitive compared to what we know as WordPress today!
Time Lapse from Late 2007 of me learning WordPress and building V1.0 of the blog in the hours after my “9to5″ workday was over.
As I worked with the software more and with the big upgrade to features that version 2.5 brought, I was very excited about how vertistile WordPress could be and naturally started selling it to clients. It is not a solution for every type of site, but it is much more than just a blogging platform, for sure!
What I like most about it is how easy it is for my clients to use! Whenever I do a WordPress project I always include a tutorial session at the close of the process. The client has a chance to sit down with the software and get walked through how they will update and maintain their new website. As the software evolves more and more, it has just gotten easier and these sessions rarely last more than a half hour.
Over the last month, I have even opted to make screencast tutorials for my clients — in a 10 minute video I can walk them through all they need to know and they have that to reference back to whenever they need it! There are also some great resources for helping your clients get familiar with the software, like WordPress.tv.
I remember the days when having a content management system was an expensive process that was still not very simple for a casual user to pick up and for the most part — websites were fully static creations, meaning if you wanted to change something, you had to edit the code. I’ve dealt with teaching clients how to do basic HTML editing, it was awful! No client should have to deal with that stuff, they have businesses to run and they shouldnt have to shell out my hourly rate everytime they need some contact info changed.
Content manegement systems put the power into you clients hands so that they can grow their business in an efficient way and it ensures that the integrity of the design you have created with them is not compromised by any code blunders along the way.
WordPress isn’t the only game in town, there is a bunch of great CMS’s out there that can do a variety of unique things for you unique projects! There is Joomla, Drupal, Expression Engine, Movable Type, Magento, CushyCMS, CMS Made Simple and a lot more. Download and install and just try one out, see what it can do and think about how it may benefit your clients and you business!
Anyone who knows me knows — I LOVE my clients Seriously! My clients have some awesome businesses that I am lucky enough to play a part in growing… they are all really dedicated passionate people who truly love what they do. They appreciate and respect the work I do with them, they have kind hearts, open minds and great senses of humor. They tell me I am a pleasure to work with and I say the same back to them — and it is true.
I’m not bragging here — and I’m not some mythical freelance fantasy. Having awesome clients isn’t much about luck, but more about defining the client base you are after and not being afraid to turn down work with clients who are not desirable to you.
OK, i know — we’re in a tough economy! One cannot turn down an honest dollar! But, I tell you… if I worked as cheaply as 85% (that may be a bit of hyberbole,) of the people who email me wanted, I would work four times the hours each week and make a quarter of the money! How do I spot and weed out these less than amazing clients?
While my portfolio site does have a prominent phone number available, most make their first approach to me via the small contact form — they are able to specify that they are looking to get a quote and have space for sharing some details about their design needs.
By using a simple Google Mail Filter set up, I am able to track each quote request that comes in from my website, making responding to each a much more productive task. I will usually check in on these about 3 times a week and follow up accordingly. My follow up system has also been streamlined over time, mainly because of the large number of exremely vauge inquiries. Who else gets stuff like this;
”I need a website, how much will that be?”
I actually have a canned response for these that sends out a list of questions about the clients business, industry and specific needs, budget and deadlines. My first lesson I learned here? Most people who cannot be bothered to write a proper inquiry are not very serious about the project at hand. This simple step of following up with some questions weeds out a large percentage.. so … for those who follow up with a response?
Clients who are asking for you to quote them on something WANT to know a price. Don’t be shy! Too many of us get weird talking about money, but it’s something you have got to get over. I rarely work on an hourly rate, usually define a project price. So once I have a general idea of what my client is looking for — I can get them an estimate. This is based on my experience with previous projects that may have been similar, and that clients particular needs. I send them a quote and if at this stage the project seems even a tiny bit undefined, I let them know that the pricing is based on the information they have supplied — if the scope of the project needs to expand, we can adjust the price accordingly.
Clients who make it with me through the quoting step… go on to be one of my prized clients — the rest fall into a few categories…
This is easy. Some dissappear after I email asking for more information about thier needs… but some hold on and then disappear after I send them a quote. Is it outside of thier budget? Did they just change thier mind? Who knows — these ones never respond. They disappear into the client abyss.
There is a small subset of the Disappearing Client, they do follow up to let you know they will “let you know” or that they will be starting the project “down the road.” 99.9% of this subset will never be heard from again, but that small sliver of them — they DO come back. I’ve had people write back and say flat out ”I want to work with you, but don’t have this in my budget right now. I’ll contact you once I do!” …and then one day, they do! (yay!)
Unfortunately, this category seems to be a crowded one and I have heard it all. “I was hoping to get something for about $200.” or “I watched a youtube tutorial on Dreamweaver and already did all the design and development myself, but the navigation looks weird on my husbands computer and I just need a blog added. Could you just fix what I have here? It shouldn’t be more than a few minutes work.”
Look. I am a small business too. I don’t own a home (I don’t even own a car!), I do not have a fancy office or a staff of hundereds. I understand that you have to be smart about the money you spend when you’re starting out… but I would never say anything like this to someone who I am looking to do legitament work for me that is going to help grow my business. For these folks, be polite — but you can tell them “thanks, but no thanks.”
…Oh yes, of course, because otherwise that would be stealing! No. I
can not will not do that.
…Sure. This is called Consulting… here is my hourly rate for that type of work.
If you like my work, you can hire me to work with you on a design. I wor really hard to make sure my clients are happy (no, THRILLED) with the product they get from me — but if you find it isn’t working out with us, here is my policy on canceling a project…
I don’t usually rant on this blog and I really dislike those who talk shit about their clients. But, here’s the magic — these aren’t my clients… and I intend to keep it that way.
For the past 3 weeks I have had a Formspring account and have been asking all sorts of anonymous questions that come into me about dealing with clients, marketing, blogging, etc. I have a backlog of questions in my inbox over there and just try to pop in and answer a few of them each week. (If you have submitted something and I haven’t got to it yet, just be patient – I am answering everything!)
This has become a bit of an “Ask A Freelancer” Lightening round, so I decided to pick a few each week that I think might be of interest to you guys and re-post them here. So here we go…
Before someone signs a contract and becomes an official “client”, we usually talk in pretty broad terms about the design end of their project. We usually discuss scale at the onset of things… how large the website they need, what print pieces need designed, how many illustrations. THAT type of stuff. After a quote – if they choose to move forward, they put down a deposit, sign off on a project agreement and then we have a “kick off meeting” or a “consult” where we go further into the philosophy of their business, their goals, their businesses aesthetic, etc. etc. If after this chat we find that the scope of what we initially discussed had widened – we adjust the project agreement to accommodate it.
I specialize in WordPress Design and Development. That is what maybe 75% – 80% of the work i do. But, I have a background in branding and print design and lately have been doing a fair amount of that. I love print, i LOVE IT. But, i think I do love web a little more.
A red flag for me goes off when the first correspondence from a prospective client is vague. Emails like “I’d like a quote for a website.” Usually, these people either never respond, or they really have no clue what they need or want, but they know they can;t spend much money on it. I have a collection of “canned responses” in my email to respond to emails like this. It explains that I need more info to quote and then gives some wide-range ballpark prices they might expect for different types of sites. This will weed out most of those “tire-kickers,” but if they respond with more details on the project, they will already have a general idea of where your quote might fall from the previous email, so take the time to send them a quote!
Well, when dealing with any client who is not comfortable with a design choice I have made on their project – I would explain the reason for it framed in the language of business instead of design. Telling a client “this empty space gives balance and order to the layout and allows your eye to rest.” makes perfect sense to you and your designer friends, but a client might likely heard “Wah wah wah wah wah,” try something like. “This space is important to give your companies logo more dominance, establishing a strong sense of brand and making sure your customer doesn’t get lost in too many elements.” Try not to let your client focus too strongly on what they like, but pull it always to what the customer needs.
Just be honest. If you have too much on your plate, tell them you can’t accept new projects for another 3 weeks – but you would love to work with them if they’d be willing to delay the start of the project! ….If you just aren’t interested in doing the job they have for you, tell them you don’t think that the project is the right fit for your skill set or style, but that they should contact you again if they have other projects in the future that the 2 of you could work on together!