Friday, October 31, 2008

Juggling assignments

Over the past few days, I worked on a promotional post card, a home page for a tech company and a home page for a home improvement company, took care of my bills, and had a couple of conference calls on current and future (I hope) assignments.

To be a successful freelancer it's important to know how and when to juggle assignments. But more importantly you have to know when to say "NO" to an assignment. 

I knew that my delivery dates for these 3 assignments are well spaced out, but they all needed to see something to get the ball rolling. If I run into an assignment that has a due date that would be difficult to hit because of my current assignments, I would turn it down.

Now don't get me wrong... I hate turning down work, but I would hate to miss a deadline even more. I don't mind working late at night or on the weekends... that's the life style of a freelancer, but as a successful freelancer you have to protect your reputation. Delivering an assignment late is one of the worst things you can do. Miss a date you will lose a client.

Bottom line: Don't take an assignment if you feel you can't juggle your workload to make the date it's due. You are not doing anyone any favors if you miss a deadline. Successful freelancers are on time all the time.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Generating new business. Part 1

How do you get new business?

There are many strategies for getting new business... let's start with what I call the "sharpshooter".

You can design a fantastic mailing piece and mail it out to thousands of companies... this is what I call "buckshot". It means that you aim at your audience and hope a few hit the target.

I prefer the "sharpshooter" approach. By this, I mean I do a little research and send out a SMALL mailing to just a few people a week (via e-mail or snail mail). The beauty of doing a sharpshooter approach is that your letter to your target is very specific (because you did your homework.. you know you can help them and you can detail how and why). 

And here's the most important thing about the sharpshooter approach... you can do extensive followup. Think about it, if you send out a mailing to 1,000 people, how are you going to follow up on them? But if you send out 2 or 3 a week, it's easy! Plus it's very personal.

Bottom line: Put together a mailing piece for print and e-blast. Research who you feel you can really help... and send it out... then Follow Up!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

How to negotiate higher design fees

In 1987 when I went into freelancing full time. I received as a gift a book called 'How to Negotiate Higher Design Fees".

Now I firmly believe that when you quote a price, you stick with it. But what happens when a client asks for more?

The answer is simple... re-negotiate your fee. It's fair and reasonable to do this and as long as you are up-front there will be no surprises or ill will.

To be a successful freelancer your job is made easier by return customers. Say goodbye to recurring customers if you take advantage of your client. But you don't want to be taken advantage of too.. so speak up.

I have found that my clients understand that if they are asking for more or if they have changed the scope of the project, that an adjustment of the costs is appropriate.

Bottom line: Be fair to yourself and your client. Get more if they ask for more.. but don't surprise your client.. work it out ahead of the time.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Playing games...

I just finished a web e-blast. Started it yesterday, it was approved this morning. Now why did I deliver it so fast when other designers play the "time game"?

What's the "time game" you ask? 

It's when you finish a job but you hold onto the job for a day or two before you show it to your client.

Now why would a designer do that? 

Some designers (who work by the hour.. not me, I work on a project basis) hold the project to "fudge" the numbers so they can bill more.

Some designers want their clients to think that they have spent a lot of time "thinking about and designing" their project.

And some designers hold onto the job because they don't want their clients to expect that kind of service all the time.


If you're like me, you have lots of experience, you're very creative and you know what you are doing... be proud of the fact that you can create and deliver fast... it makes you more valuable.

It's like this joke I heard:
A repair man with 20 years experience  is asked to fix a machine. He walks in, pulls out a hammer, stands there for 2 minutes, then hits the machine with the hammer. The machine immediately starts running. Then he hands the owner the bill for $1000. "What!!!!???" says the owner... 2 minutes, $1,000.. "I want an itemized bill" he says. The guy takes back the bill, scribbles on it and hands it back.
The owner reads it.
Hitting machine with hammer: $1.00
Knowing where to hit the machine with a hammer: $999.00

This guy was not billing by the hour.. he was billing what the project was worth... and his 20 years of experience is what the owner was buying. The owner was back in business!

As a successful freelancer you should be proud that you know what you are doing.. is it fair that someone who doesn't know what they are doing and spends a week doing the job would be paid more just because they are incompetent? You should be payed NOT for just for your time... but for your experience.

Also, who are they going to call again when they are in a real time crunch... you, the reliable freelancer or the person that takes forever? 

Bottom line: Educate your clients that they are purchasing your knowledge and experience.. not just design... you will be more valuable to them and they will call you again and again.. making you too a successful freelancer.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Everything old is new again

Many years ago when I stopped doing hand drawn comps and switched to the computer, I said good bye to pen, pencil, markers and drawing paper.

But I recently thought... there still must be a market for some hand drawn art.. like for story boards.

Now let's think about this for a moment... if there's still a small market for hand drawn art, and if you can grab a piece of that market, you can make more money!

That's what being a successful freelance artist is all about... opening up different areas to make money. If all I did was design logos, I wouldn't be doing as well as I am by doing all manner of print and web including Flash animations and banners.

Now, I will be the first to admit that after over 10 years of not drawing by hand, I've gotten a bit rusty... so every night now, I pick up my pencil and I start drawing. It might take me a year to get up to the level of art that my prospective clients will want... but it's worth the time.

I've done work for Coca-Cola, RC Cola and Pepsi Cola... and what I've learned is that some areas of the soft drink market are small niche markets... but if you can capture a big percentage of the small market... you can make a lot of money. 

It's the same thing about drawing by hand... it's a small market, but if I can grab a big percentage of the tiny market, I can earn more money.

Look at calligraphers, when the computer came along, their business died. But for some clients, the computer wouldn't do... they want real hand lettering. The market for their business shrunk, but the top calligraphers are still making money because there's still a demand for their services on the high end. And because they are so good, that there aren't that many professionals around and because they are in demand, they can charge more! 

Bottom line: Be flexible... offer a wide range of services (as long as you can do them at a top level) and you too can be a successful freelancer.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The lighter side of logo design

Every now and then I run across stories where someone's logo or slogan "turns bad". 

Case in point: in England, the Office of Government Commerce had a bold logo designed. "According to insiders, the graphic was already proudly etched on mouse-pads and pens before it was unveiled for employees who spotted the clanger within seconds"

The "clanger" was that when the logo was viewed vertically (like on the pens) it looked like a stylized man with an erection. 1901756/OGC-unveils-new-logo-to-red-faces.html

My other favorite was when a school board handed out thousands of pencils to students with the following message embossed in big bold letters for kids: Don't Do Drugs!

Sounds harmless... but when the kids used their pencil sharpeners the message changed to "Do Drugs!" 

I did a project for a major cereal brand...

They were offering one of those animated flip books.. you know the kind you flip the pages really fast and it looks like an animated cartoon.

They asked me what I thought of the name that they were giving to their free gift inside... they were going to call it a FLICKER BOOK.

I said to them... you are in for a BIG problem if you use that name. The letters LI when spaced together look like a letter U. You might have people thinking that you are offering for free a F_CKER BOOK!

Bottom line, look at your designs up, down and inside out... to be a successful freelancer you don't want your client or yourself associated with a public relations disaster.. it could FLICK you up.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Your client spent their budget with another designer... what now?

Now my heart goes out to folks who say to me.. "I spent a lot of money on my logo (or brochure, or web site...), but I don't like it could you design one for me for a lot less than you usually charge?"

I feel really bad. 

But I would feel worse spending lots of my time helping them out for pennies. 

I don't mind working on a sliding scale and I don't mind throwing a freebie to a charitable cause... but I won't lower my price because someone spent their money with a poor designer.

These might be the same folks that asked for a quote from me and decided that it wasn't in their budget... but now to repair the work, they will be spending more money.  It's sad, but if they went with me from the beginning it probably would have been less in the long run!

Your client can buy day old bread for less... but the next day it's moldy and they will have to buy more... or they could buy it fresh ( spend a bit more ) and it will last longer and will get eaten and enjoyed. 

Tell your client that spending a little more at the beginning and getting a better product will save them money in the long run.

And one more thing.. if your client changes the scope of the project, you should re-negotiate your fee. I always inform my clients, when I give them a solid quote, that if they change the project brief, there could be an additional fee. I don't always charge them if it's simple, but if they do a 180 degree turn I have no problem getting a bit extra for the work because they weren't surprised. Remember, from my previous posts... no surprises.

Bottom line... you fee should be fair and reasonable... lowering it even more is not fair and reasonable for you.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Take the long view...

I just finished a tough logo assignment: Over 25 logos for a client before they were happy with the perfect one... and I'm not charging a penny more. 

Am I crazy?
Nope. Because as a successful freelancer you have to look at the long view. I've been doing business with this client for a while. They pay on time. They have reasonable budgets. I want them to be happy. If they are happy, they will call me again. If I'm a pain in the butt they won't.

I can hear you ask... "But what about the clients who are a pain to work with?"

You have to take a few things into consideration. How busy are you? If you're not busy, it's better to "grin and bear it" and earn the bucks. 

If you are busy, then the next time you do an assignment, work out ahead of time exactly how much you will be billing if their project goes "over". Remember NO SURPRISES.

A fellow designer friend of mine said that he found that some clients are "grinders". They keep making small changes. But after a while you find that they have ground you down and eaten lots of your time...  when you find your self working with a grinder, sometimes, even if you are slow, it's a good thing to charge more... even if there's a chance to lose the account. 

Explain to them that it's "only fair" that you charge them more since they are demanding a lot of your time.

Bottom line: You can be working long hours and go out of business being busy with some clients. But if your client is a good client and you get caught in an assignment that runs longer then you expected.. go with the flow. I'm sure that in a years time you will do assignments for that client that take less time and so in the long view... it evens out.

Your client is happy, you're happy.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Let me rant for a moment

I just was checking out, on-line, the resume of a fellow designer... yep, I'm checking out my competition.

Well, he's someone I don't have to worry about because he made 2 big mistakes!

The reason I'm discussing this is that if you want to be a successful freelance graphic designer like myself, you don't want to make the same mistakes this guy made.

Now to be fair, the guy is good... but I wouldn't hire him because I would leave his site in 1 minute after trying to read his resume.

What were his mistakes?
His first mistake is he posted his resume with white type on a black background. It's dramatic looking BUT HARD TO READ! It's a fact that light color lettering on a black background REDUCES readability. Sure I use white text against a dark background but NEVER for large blocks of copy.. it's to hard to read.

I wanted to read his resume, and I gave up real fast... what about prospective clients?

His second mistake was to post it as a jpg image and not editable html text. What this means is the search engines can't read his resume (less people will find him) and as a jpg image, his text was not as crisp and clear as it could have been as html type.

Bottom line: As a freelancer, you want your own work and your clients work to be noticed and read. Know who your audience is and make it easy for them to get your idea fast.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Getting more business

Every now and then I "shake the bushes". This means that I try to generate more work when things are slow. The best way to generate more business is to call your existing accounts, talk to them and ask if there's anything you can help them with.

Sounds basic doesn't it. But you would be surprised to learn that many freelancers don't do this.

They feel that they have a great relationship with their clients and when they are needed they will be called. But that's not always the case. Your client might have a few freelancers on hand. If you catch them at the right moment, an assignment that might be added to another freelancer's project could be split up and part of it can go to you.

This is an easy way to increase your billing.... because your clients know and trust you and have no problem giving you the assignment... BUT THEY WERE NOT THINKING OF YOU.

So bottom line: Call your clients from time to time, tell them flat out that you are slow and was wondering if they had any assignments they could throw your way. You only have to get one YES and you are on your way to being more successful as a freelancer.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Your client has a "problem"

Every now and then I get a client who says... "Rob... we've got a problem". 

The first time I heard that my heart skipped a beat then I almost "tossed my cookies" right there on the floor.

"What's the matter?"

Well, my client went on to describe that he wanted some text changed and it was a big rush because his meeting was rescheduled and the problem was a timing issue. After my heart beat returned to normal I told my client that what he described was NOT a problem... a problem, I explained, is "if we printed 1000 brochures, and they are sitting in your office with the CEO of the company's name misspelled".

Now when I hear the word "problem", I see it as an opportunity to help my client. Remember, to be a successful freelancer, your goal is TO HELP YOUR CLIENT. And when you help them out you reinforce your relationship with them.

In earlier posts I indicated that you should always be fair with your clients so that they will get spoiled by you and not want to use anyone else. This is a win-win for everyone. Your clients get a straight deal and you get repeat business.

Bottom line: when you hear "problem" you are really hearing "an opportunity to help solidify your relationship and add to your bottom line".

Monday, October 13, 2008

Who do you want working on YOUR job?

There are two freelance artists... 

The first freelancer knows great design and fights for the "integrity" of the design.

The second freelancer knows great design but knows that some issues (like the shade of color or a logo a little larger) are not as important as the design SELLING the clients goods or services.

Now who do you want to work with? The "prima dona" or the guy that listens to you?

I can't tell you how much work I've gotten because I'm easy to work with.. keep that in mind. If you are a pain to deal with, why would a client want to work with you again? 

Now I'm not saying that you have to bow to your client's every demand... they aren't designers that's why they are hiring you... but there are some issues that you shouldn't be "falling on your sword" about.

I just finished up an assignment. During the final stage, the client asked for a different font in the ad. "Sure... no problem". They wanted the logo a little larger.. "Sure." They wanted a different line break... "no problem". 

Then they wanted a different font ADDED to the ad. This would have been 3 different fonts. "Nope" I said... your ad will look too busy and not as classy.

They said. "OK". Then we were done. Nice and easy.

By being accommodating on many other issues, my client realized that when I said "no" to a request, there was a strong reason not to do it. 

If I said no, no, no, throughout the assignment, 2 things would have happened:

1-They wouldn't work with me again because I would be perceived as a pain in the butt to work with.
2-They wouldn't have listened to me on an important issue.

Bottom line: To be a successful freelancer, don't let your ego get in the way of delivering a wonderful purchasing experience for your clients.. or you won't get anymore business.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Adapt or die

A long time ago in the advertising field, artists used T-Square, Triangle and charcoal to draw their comps. (A comp is short for "comprehensive"). When clients were shown what their ad would look like, before it was produced, it would be shown as a layout done in black and white with chisel pencils for lettering and charcoal.

Then colored pastels came along as the "tool of choice"... lot's of artists made the switch.

Then came markers.

There were some artists who didn't like drawing with markers, they liked the subtle looks they could achieve with pastels... they didn't make the switch and found themselves looking for a new job with old skills.

Who would have thought that tools that have been around for ages would go the way of the dinosaur.

Who would have thought that skills like hand lettering and figure drawing would not be needed to be a designer and that instead of clients taking a leap of faith when they saw a drawing of what their would look like, that today it's "what you see is what you get".

My point here is that you have to be on the lookout for new trends and not be caught up thinking that things will stay the same. 

I called an associate of mine during the period of time that some of us were getting into the computer. "What are you up to" I asked.. "Selling car stereos" was his reply. I laughed. I thought he was joking. He wasn't. He didn't make the switch and found himself unemployed.

I used to have a machine called a Lucy. It's official name was Camera Lucidia. If a client gave me a photo of their product, I would place it in the machine and it would project the image onto my paper. It would cut down on the amount of time it took me to draw things and it allowed me to be more accurate and more profitable.

I couldn't give it away when the computer came along!

Also keep an eye out for new areas to increase your revenue stream. When I saw that people were cutting down on advertising and putting their money into the web, I started offering web design. When banner ads started to become popular... I added Flash to my "arsenal".

Read the business news, keep your ear to the ground. Keep an open mind to change. Adapt or die. 


Friday, October 10, 2008

Earning more as a freelance graphic designer

I know a very talented designer... but he has always had trouble making a decent living as a freelance graphic designer and here's why:

He only knows how to do one thing.

If a client wants a web site, he farms it out, then adds a mark up. If a client wants a Flash banner, he farms that out. Logo design, farms it out. 

Now if he were super busy all the time, then it's a great way to make a living... don't do the work yourself and make money on other people's talents. Hey large agencies do that all the time. But you want to be a successful freelancer so you have to have many areas where you can make a profit.

But getting back to this freelancer that I know... he's NOT busy all the time. And instead of earning $5000 on a web site, he earns $500. 

As a freelancer, you have to open up different revenue streams and to do that you should know how to design for the web, do animations, retouch photos, design logos, brochures, sales promotion material, and all sorts of other collateral material as well.

When a project comes in, I handle it ALL. This is a win-win for my clients and for me.

Here's why:
1- When they see my portfolio on line ( they want ME to work on their project... not someone else.

2-I can offer a very competitive cost for doing the project for my clients because I don't pay anyone else to do the work for me (that I would then have to mark-up to cover the time I spend overseeing the project). 

3-I can get a fair and reasonable fee for my work.

Bottom line... the more you can do for you and your client, the more successful you will be as a freelance graphic designer!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

It's not about design...

To be a successful freelance graphic designer you have to remember that it's not about "pretty pictures"... it's about helping someone with their "problem".

There are thousands of graphic designers out there that can do "pretty pictures" but that's not what it's about. 

It's about selling their product or service. 
It's about getting an ad to the magazine on time. 
It's about making things SIMPLE for your client.
It's about educating them.
It's about becoming a member of their team.
It's about making them look good.
It's about helping them.
It's about SALES.

Rush job just came in.. due this afternoon... gotta run!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

What makes a great logo design?

Many times I'm asked... what do you think of my logo? More often than not, the logo I'm asked to critique has been designed poorly.

So let's take a moment and critique your logo. Answer yes or no to the following questions:

Does my logo work in black & white?

Does my logo reproduce well very small.

Does my logo convey a "feeling" or communicate what my company does?

Does my logo have the look of professionalism to it?

Does my logo give people a sense of trust in my company?

Does my logo reproduce well in a variety of mediums like on a t-shirt or embroidered on a hat?

Does my logo stand out from the crowd?

Well, if you answered NO to any of the above questions, it's time to look at your logo and either "take it to the next level" with a slight redesign or you might want to get a new logo.

I can hear you say.. "But Rob, I spent so much money on that old logo and I have so many printed pieces with my logo on it."

Sorry to hear that, but you might be losing business right now with that poor logo because people might not trust your company based on the image your old logo is giving them. A new logo can cost you less in the long run because of the benefits associated with a professionally designed logo.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Playing fair

To be a successful freelancer, you have to be more than just a great designer. You have to put yourself in the other person's shoes and treat that person like you would want to be treated. To me that means NO surprises. Who want's to deal with the unexpected at the "11th hour". 

If you promise that the job will be delivered on time... you are commiting professional suicide if you don't deliver on time. 

Same is true with budgets. Unless the project brief has changed and you have alerted the client that there will be an additional fee, your project should be billed as agreed.

Which brings me to "word of mouth". This might sound surprising, but I rarely get business based on word of mouth. And here's why... my clients DON'T want me busy! The reason for this is when they are under the gun, they want me to be available to help them so they keep me as their secret weapon. It's like giving out the name of your favorite baby sitter... NOPE. You want your baby sitter available for only you. 

But let me tell you this, and remember this well. If you screw up a job or are not treating your client fair, that's when "word of mouth" kicks in. 

So... play fair. Quote a fair and reasonable price for your help and deliver on time all the time.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Making money as a freelancer

7- Pricing your work: Be fair and reasonable.  

Now as a freelancer, you have to take a few things into consideration when you are figuring out how much to charge. For example, I've seen logos range from $150 to $150,000 and a lot more.

Now if it's for a large company, if you told then a logo would be $150 they will run for the hills... who, in a large company is going to trust that you will design a great logo for them for only $150. What about Joe's Pizza? Charge them $1500 for a logo... they will run for the hills too. 

Take into account who it's for and how your designs will be used. A local ad campaign is worth less to your client than a national campaign. And although the amount of time and effort are the same... you should be billing a higher fee for the larger usage.

8- Bill by the project and NOT by the hour.
If you bill by the hour and you are very creative and fast you will work a lot and GO OUT OF BUSINESS EVEN FASTER.

You should not be "punished" for being really good, efficient and FAST. 

Ask yourself "how much is this worth?". If a logo is worth $1500 and you designed it in 1 hour, your client is not paying a fair and reasonable fee for your work if you bill them for an hour of your time. If you are like me, chances are you spent years training and lots of money setting up your freelance business. If the logo is worth $1500 to the client, bill $1500.

Every now and then you will get an assignment that is easy... let's take logo design again as an example. I designed a logo for Xerox. During the meeting I had it designed in my head. I went back to my studio and in 15 minutes it was done. Xerox didn't care how long it took... they were interested in the quality and what it was worth to them. 

Now look at it another way... sometimes an assignment is hard... but if you bill by the hour you will lose a client, have trouble collecting money and get poor word of mouth.

For example Joe's Pizza wants a logo... you tell him $10 an hour ( not really.. it's just easier to do the math)... then it takes you 100 hours to do the logo (again... just and example). "Hey Joe.. here's your logo.. $1,000 please." NOPE! You are in for trouble. You are not billing what the project is worth to the client.

So when it comes to the question of how to charge a fair price for a project..  billing by the project is the best deal for you and your client. 

So, bottom line.. bill a fair and reasonable fee for your work on a project based on what it's worth.

9- Work out your costs AHEAD of time and get 50% up front as a start fee. 

Or if the project is very large, break it down into a payment schedule. If they complain about doing that.. TURN DOWN THE ASSIGNMENT. If you have trouble getting them to pay you a start fee, you will have a lot more trouble getting paid later.