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.
After a very busy work week last week, this one has been a little slow. I have a few project quotes I’m working on that I am excited about (just need at least one of them to come through and I will have made my gross earnings goal for the year!)
Much of this week I have been extremely aware of the usability (or lack of it) for all the websites I visit. As you may know, I am reading Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think for this months Pagebreak Podcast and I am really enjoying it. Anyone interested in web design or improving the site they own should pick this up.
Lastly, I’ve been working on a project I have wanted to work on for a long time now… and I may have even mentioned it before on the blog. I have some great content in this sites archives, so I have gathered it all up and I am not in the process of editing it, piecing it together and adding all new content to create an Ebook. I’m still in the starting stages of this, but It’s going to turn out to be about 2 parts freelancers advice guide and 1 part personal memoirs. It’s a big project to take on, but I’ve gotten excited 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?
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.
I am interested in growing their business—some clients get really excited about this and we form a strong client/designer bond… some people just want someone who can work cheap and fast and get something out the door for them. That’s just NOT me. – Liz Andrade, Interview at They Call Me Marty
Blame it on the internet or the evolution of consumer gadgets or whatever you want to blame it on but in today’s business world, being a nerd is an asset! Being a little off kilter, a little different is something clients and (many) employers are seeking out! Blending in and matching the status quo have become a burden on your business and being a little bit nerdy (or a lot nerdy) is where it’s at!
Why is this? What is it about nerdiness that adds that special ingredient for success? Well, here’s one nerds two bits on the matter…
Part of being a nerd has to do with having some strong opinions on whatever it is you’re nerdy for — be it Star Wars, video games or typography — nerds pride themselves on knowing a lot about what they are into and your opinions on the matter are part of your identity.
Working with someone who is nerdy about their chosen profession makes any consumer experience infinitely more enjoyable than getting service from someone just “doing their job.”
When shopping for new eyeglasses for myself I encountered this for myself and I could not stop talking about it! In the past I had always bought my glasses from the closest LensCrafters and it was a perfectly adequate experience. I truly have nothing bad to say about this company, they had a nice selection of styles, everyone was always very polite and it was always convenient to stop in and get my frames adjusted whenever I needed to.
This past year I shopped for glasses at 2 separate locally owned Seattle businesses for frames (Seattle Vision Clinic and Eyes on Fremont) and the experience I had at both of these places made something that in the past was nothing more than a necessary task into a remarkable experience! How? The people at these locations were total eye wear nerds!
This is a sect of nerd I was not even aware existed, but they were really excited to talk with me about what I wanted, what I liked and what I didn’t like. They were able to suggest ideas based on my face shape and style, they knew about eye wear designers, frame shapes, materials, vintage styles and their enthusiasm for the subject was infectious!
When you are passionate about what you do, you inspire the people around you – and who doesn’t want to work with someone inspiring!?
Part of being nerdy is accepting yourself for who you are and what you are into even if isn’t what fits into the status quo or flow into the mainstream. Those who are able to embrace their nerdisms and not be ashamed of them have this obvious badge of honesty.
Whether it is real or imagined, if someone can be totally open and honest about their Red Dwarf obsession, you feel they are probably transparent about other things in their life, like business practices and ethics.
Nerds are usually stand out from the crowd… and being unique makes you easier to remember, as simple as that. It is each of our unique experiences and abilities that make us valuable individuals, blending in has become a liability to any business trying to be remarkable!
What do you think?
Are you a nerd? Have you had experience working with, buying from or being served by a nerd?
“I own and operate a one-woman design studio,” that is part of my elevator speech, when people outside of the freelance community ask what I do – this is usually what I tell them.
As time goes on, I steer further away from using the word “freelance”, because of what it communicates. Freelance refers to a self-employed individual who does not have a work agreement with any one company, but has free range to work for multiple businesses for varying lengths of times. This does not describe me, I do work for only one company — CMD+Shift Design.
I know some of you who are involved in the freelance community are not working as true free agents, but running small (but well oiled!) design firms. What do YOU think of the word “Freelance?”
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!