Ask A Freelancer #9 (Lightening Round!)

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…

At what point in your design process do you start talking with the client in detail about their project? Before someone becomes a client or after they are under contract and are “officially” a client?

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.

Do you have a niche?

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.

What do you say to tire-kickers to prevent them from wasting your time? And what do you say to red-flag clients to send them elsewhere?

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!

What do you tell clients who see to be “afraid” of white space?

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.

How do you say no to a client you don’t want to take while still keeping the door open? Or what if you have too many projects flowing in at once?

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!

Freelance Lessons Learned During My Weekend at The Emerald City Comicon

Many of you may already know that I spent my weekend flipping through books, talking to artists and meeting Sci-Fi celebrities at the annual Seattle geekfest known as the Emerald City Comicon* .

Queen Bavmorda!It was a really fun weekend and extremely inspiring! As many of you who are creatives, you might relate to this, except for a few of my buddies who share some of my nerdisms – I am so rarely surrounded by a group of people who will laugh at the same subversive jokes as me and where the more you embrace your geekery, the “cooler” you are.

No doubt, times have changed. The blockbuster super hero movies and the mainstream adoption of the internet has made a lot of things that once were reserved for the uber-nerd much more socially acceptable — but there is still a line between those who will shell out $8 to go see Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man at their local Cineplex and those who will spend a wad of cash, an entire weekend and several hours of waiting in lines to attend a Comicon. Being a part of the weekends festivities, I took away a few freelance related lessons to share!

Lesson #1: Be nice.

Being nice is really under estimated, and in todays world, it is really unexpected when people are nice, so it means a lot. I met a few cast members from The Guild, and was really surprised at how genuinely happy they were just to chit chat with some fans of the show and how appreciative they were of the support.

When you’re building a brand on the internet, your power is in your audience — without them, there is nothing to save you! You can apply this to building your blog or even in a design studio — your clients are all that is standing between you living your entrepreneurs dream or going back to the daily grind working for someone else. So be nice, show people the respect and appreciation they deserve!

Lesson #2: Be Yourself.

It’s an adage that gets a lot of flack, “just be yourself,” but I think people misunderstand this. I don’t take it to mean that if sitting in your room alone doodling in your sketchbook and watching old episodes of Shera make you happy, do it and expect to succeed. I see it as, take what you love and work your damnedest to embrace that and make it your life!

The other cliche, “life is too short.” It ain’t. Life is long. Unexpected illness and traffic accidents excluded, chances are – you are going to be on this planet for a long while — so how do you want to spend that time? Life’s too long to spend it trying to fit into someone elses mold of success, so define it for yourself and live it!

Lesson #3: Open Your Creative Circle.

This weekend made me feel really good about pursuing my creative career and also made me realized that I wanted to branch out my social network of other creatives. I love web design, but design and business lessons can be learned from writers, crafters, and comic artists – so open your creative circle!

* note from liz: If you’re not into comics, give them a chance! They aren’t all for kids and they aren’t all super powers and capes. There are books out there of all different generes from mysteries to sci-fi to romantic comedies. You can get into a series, try out some graphic novels, or subscribe to a web comic. It’s a great entertainment and art medium and if you don’t know much about it, give it a chance — you will not regret it.

Freelance Freak Outs!

One of my best friends, who I met in art school is setting out on the adventure to become a freelance illustrator. She invited me out for some dinner and drinks last week to get some advice and ask a few questions. She had some concerns about finances, legalees, and marketing — the stuff that even after 2 years of steady full time freelancing I freak out about from time to time.

She took notes on the links i spouted out and the random tidbits. “Seattle requires a city business license, in addition to your state license.” …We headed back to my house and I showed her my simple book keeping system and handed down to her my copy of the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook.

She seems to be going about this venture in a very smart way. She has saved up a nest egg, she is doing her research and is arranging with her boss to keep on schedule part time so that she has a steady cash flow with time left to build her business up. So it struck me was when she expressed how terrified she was. I understand, I’m terrified sometimes. Being in business for yourself can be scary, I don’t think that EVER goes away.

But isn’t regret even scarier? Maybe you will be a successful freelancer, maybe you will make a living doing what you love on your own terms, maybe you will find out it’s not right for you… the only way to know – is to try. “Well… what’s the worst that could happen?” I asked her. “You lose some money, you have to go back to working full time. …that’s not so bad.” Her expression changed and a smile started to peak through the terror that was on her face. “Yea. …yea! You’re right!”

So I was a little bummed that I missed out on going rollerskating with her yesterday (neither of us had even attempted to put on a pair of skates since adolescence!) But it gave me a big smile when I logged into Facebook today to see this inspirational and absolutely adorable status update from her…

“if I can rollerskate, I can illustrate!”

Kendal Tull Esterbrook, LubDub Art

What do you get freaked out over in your career and how do you calm yourself down about it?