Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I want a $50 logo.

It seems like there are some folks out there that think they can get a great logo for $50.

As a freelancer you have an idea about what your time is worth. If it's worth $50 an hour that means that your client wants you to work 1/2 an hour on their logo for concepts, then 15 minutes to take care of their feedback and then 15 minutes to finalize the art in the various formats they will need.

Now, I will admit that I'm fast and creative... but there is no way that I can come up with a world class logo in less than an hour.

Bottom line... you want to work with clients that are serious about succeeding. Try to educate them about how important their logo is. Explain to them that they will be spending a lot more money in the future plastering their logo everywhere and that in the long run a poor logo will be more expensive in the long run.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

You're only as good as your word.

For the first time since I started freelancing I've had to turn over a delinquent bill to a collection agency. I've had a good run since I've been freelancing for over 20 years now. I guess it's the economy or it was just this guy.

What really bothers me is that I helped this guy out in a jam on several levels:

1- It was rush and I didn't charge rush.
2- It was over a weekend.
3- I gave him a great deal.
4- He loved the work... he sent me an e-mail telling me how great it was.

This fellow presented my work to some heavyweight clients (SC Johnson and Coors to name just two). I was promised my final payment on a certain day. A week later when I called him to see if the check went out, he didn't answer so I left a message. 2 days later an e-mail. 2 days later another call, then another e-mail.

No response!

I finally sent him a strong e-mail telling him that I had to bring the matter to small claims court if he didn't respond.

I immediately got an e-mail back.... "I had no e-mail or phone reception for the past week".

What business man travels without a laptop? He had a blackberry. How can a businessman in the United States be out of touch with the world for a week? There's no internet service in hotels?

Now, I tried working out a payment schedule with him... but what can you do when someone refuses to talk to you and when they do talk to you they lie?

I felt really bad but I was forced to hand it over to a collection agency... I couldn't trust this guy after he said he'd pay me on the 18th then he say's he'll pay me 60 days later.

Bottom line: Work with people. Help them out. Become part of your client's team. If your client needs more time to pay, work with them. Sometimes people have cash flow problems. Do everything you can to help them if they are HONEST with you.

This fellow lied.

I will get my fee, minus the collection agency's 20% and hopefully in the future this fellow will learn that if you make a promise, keep it. You're only as good as your word. I promised that when he went into his meeting he would have his presentation boards. I delivered... he didn't.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A tale of two clients.

I love designing logos.

I can also tell if someone is serious about creating a new business when they talk with me about their logo.

Take Prospective Client 1:
Prospective Client 1 wants a logo design that he will be printing on a full line of cloths. He also tells me that I'm charging a little more for designing a logo than another "guy".

I said "You will be spending a lot MORE money plastering your logo on tons of merchandise. You NEED a great logo. It's like building a house. You need a good architects plan. Otherwise it doesn't matter how much you spend on building supplies, your house is going to fall down around you. You need a strong logo that shows people that you are serious, that you are professional, that they can count on you."

Prospective Client 1 said "Your right... you got the job". Prospective Client 1 is a smart guy. He was serious about giving his company his best shot so he invested wisely in a professionally designed logo. Today I delivered 7 logos. He liked so many, he requested to buy several.

Now, about Prospective Client 2:

I just got off the phone with him. He too needed a logo. "Something simple and classy." He directed me to the Oppenheimer site where they have an elegant logo with a capital letter O.

We talk budget and he says my price is not in his budget. "Well what would you like to bring your logo in at?" I asked. He replied "Well since I'm looking for a font and a capital letter, I think less than $50."

I doubt that this man is serious about creating an image and building a business. He loved the Oppenheimer logo and he could have had something of that quality, for a reasonable cost, to build his business around.

Bottom line, spend time talking with your prospective clients... give them the benefit of your experience.

And one more thing... when Prospective Client 1 (who turned into a client ) asked to buy several more of the logos from the batch I sent him, I told him "Save your money, from a marketing standpoint you are better off with just one logo". I saved him money and I lost money by giving him that advice. But I believe that by playing fair and square (and of course delivering top quality designs) I will have a lot more repeat business.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

7 things to know before hiring a Freelance Graphic Designer.

1. Fee based or hourly:

You might think you are getting a great deal when someone quotes you a cheap hourly rate.... but if the designer doesn't know what they are doing , a project worth $200 can cost you a lot more. I always work on a project basis.. you will know EXACTLY how much your project will come in at.

2. Full time freelancer or a part time freelancer.

There's a big difference between someone tying to make an extra buck as a part time freelancer and a full time freelancer. A part time freelancer's most important project is HIS or HER regular job. They are not going to be available to help you out in a pinch nor will they be able to get your project done in a timely manner if they are working overtime at their "real" job. You don't have to worry about that with me... I'm a full time freelancer and your project is my most important job.

3. Student or professional.

Do you really want to trust someone with limited real world experience to help you? Sorry, but the student's designs might look good.. but are they backed by marketing experience to help you sell your product or service? No. As a professional designer, your projects are designed to SELL. You can't get that with a student.

4. Outsourced or are you dealing with the "real" designer.

Some people outsource their projects to to other people and then tack on a percentage to cover their "consultation" time. But who's really doing the work... someone in India who doesn't know the US market? Don't worry... I will be the designer to helps you generate more sales. Look at my portfolio... print, web, Flash, logos... if you like what you see... then I'm the guy to help you.

5. Temperamental artist ahead... beware!

Some artists let their ego get in the way of making your project go through smoothly. Not me... I'll give you the benefit of my experience.. then you make the final decision. You know your business better than anyone else and I know I can help you increase your sales through solid marketing strategy and world class design... no ego to get in the way over here!

6. Are they order takers or are they giving you MORE?

You don't want an order taker. Order takers don't go that extra mile to give you MORE than what you asked for. Order takers take the fastest route to finishing a project.
Sure, I'll listen to what you want. I will listen to your suggestions. But I've found that the best way to make you very happy is to ADD to what you are telling me... make suggestions that can improve on your project and make it SELL.

7. Experienced or are they trying to be experienced?

Check out your freelancer's web site.... if you see high profile projects (like you will see on my web site: then you know that the "big guys" have trust in your freelancer and that you can too. If you see lots of "low end" assignments that's a clear indication that either the freelancer is just very good or they are just starting out. If they are just starting out... be careful. The files they send you could have problems that could end up being very expensive for you in the long run. You don't have to worry about that when we work together.

Bottom line.... I'm the guy you want to work with. My prices are fair and reasonable, I'm totally professional and with my marketing background, MY DESIGNS ARE DESIGNED TO SELL.

Call me now, let's talk about your assignment and I'll give you a quote on the spot!

Monday, October 12, 2009

I'll get back to you....

We've heard it before...

"I'll get back to you on that project... your quote sounds reasonable"

"I'll send you the files, then you can give me a quote"

"We're looking at 2 other designers... I'll let you know either way"

Then nothing. Nada.

Do you call them back or do you just wait and wait and then decided... oh well, I don't have that assignment.

There are some artists that make it a point to get the person's name, company, e-mail and phone number BEFORE they listen to the project and then give a quote.

Personally, I feel that if I give the person who is calling for a quote all the info they need to know so that they can come to an informed decision about who to hire, they will call me back and give me the project.

I make it a point to instill confidence that when I take their project ( and I don't take a project unless I feel I can hit a home run for them) that it will be done at the highest level professionalism... that it will SELL.

I also feel that "tracking down" someone who isn't motivated to use my services to help them, isn't someone that I want to do business with. If they were price shopping for the cheapest designer, then they are not really serious about succeeding.

I want to work with people that understand that to make it in this tough economy they need someone like me who can really help them... that I offer more than just a "pretty picture"... that there's marketing thinking behind the designs. That spending a little more they get a lot more.

Bottom line: Don't spend time tracking down people who are poor prospects.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bad News/Good News

Well folks it's been a busy, busy summer for me... between work and going to Burning Man ( but now that the dust has settled, I'm back to discuss the subject of how bad news could really be good news.

I recently completed 75% of a major web site when I got a call to "stop work". It seems that there was a change of command and the new group of folks wanted a chance to review what was being done.

Now one way of looking at it is: BAD NEWS.

Are the new group of people looking to replace me with someone they know?
Are the new people happy with the work I did?
Are there any problems or issues that I don't know about?

Yes... all these questions popped into my head... but then I stopped and said to myself...

"Hold on! This could turn out to be good news.. in fact it could be great news! I remembered that the Chinese ideogram for "crisis" is made up of two characters signifying "danger" and "opportunity".

Since I know that everyone loved and approved my work to date, it could be that if the new people in charge wanted some major changes made to their site, I would be able to charge my AA (Author's alteration) fees that were spelled out in detail in my signed agreement with them... and that's good news.

Or if they want to take it from the top with an entirely new design, there would be additional opportunities to earn more money.... yes more good news!

Bottom line: A successful freelancer has to make sure that all parties are aware of any additional fees that might occur AFTER approvals are given. As long as everything is done correctly from the start and no one is surprised, you will continue to have a good working relationship with your clients... which will lead to more opportunities for you to make more money in the future.

Friday, August 7, 2009

You are your clients partner

All successful freelancers know that their clients are really their partners. There's no them and me, it's us.

What's good for your clients is good for you. Help them grow and you will grow with them. This means more projects, more profits.

I just finished a project for a brand new client... and guess what... more business will be following because I've helped my client in such a way that he feels that I'm already one of his trusted "inner circle". Of course it starts with doing a great job... if you don't deliver the "goods" then you will never get another project.

But what I did was save his butt (that's my job)... I created several pieces in record time and didn't charge rush. Some of you might be thinking... that's crazy... you stayed up until 12:30 in the morning and didn't charge extra?

Well folks, that's what being a freelancer is all about... working when other "salaried" people won't or can't work. My client was thrilled by how great his project came out and the fact that he didn't get raked over the coals when he was in a position where the assignment and timing were very critical.

Bottom line... don't go for a one project "killing"... go for the long haul. Become your clients partner and you too can be a successful freelancer.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Being more profitable

You've heard the expression "time is money" well as a freelancer that is the absolute truth. Working with your client efficiently will free you up for more projects or more leisure time... (win-win).

So how do you work more efficiently? By thinking ahead.

For example, I'm working on a major web site now and my processes is to get an approval on the home page before I show an interior page.

Now my client was expecting one interior page, but I noticed that there were actually 3 different major interior pages (one for one type of chart (30 pages), one for another type of chart (30 pages) and one for basic information (10 pages) so I presented all 3 in 2 different versions.

All my client had to do was pick which background they liked best and which navigation structure they liked best.

Sure, I spent more time doing the work, but in the long run it was more efficient to do so and it made my client feel better seeing the differences before I went into the entire site.

Bottom line... sometimes it pays to spend more time to make the project go faster... then it becomes more profitable!

Monday, June 29, 2009

You've got the job.. now what?

OK, so you have a new client and a new assignment now. What do you do?

Well the "knee jerk" response is usually... do a great job!

WRONG. That's not enough.

You want your client to come back to you and only you. To do that you should also be educating your client about all the "extras" you are handling to make their project really fly.

Now as a designer you might be doing things all the time that are second nature to you. BUT for other designers not as experienced, if they miss these things there could be production problems.

For example... all the photos your client sent. You checked them to see if they were high res or low res, you checked to see if they were RGB or CMYK and then made the correct mode change for the medium they were sent for. You might have removed clipping paths. That Illustrator file... you got rid of hidden layers that could print. How about all those Photoshop files where you discard color profiles that could screw things up.

How about talking to the printer. When you did an animated banner.. all the work involved to make sure the banners didn't exceed the max sizes demanded by Google or other companies.

Bottom line... doing a great design job is important.. but just as important is educating your client to all the extra benefits there are when they work with you. That you are giving them more than just a great design, you are giving them files that will the printers will love. That they won't be spending more money getting corrections done at the printer. Or that your web files will work across all browsers. When your clients trust you, you will get more business.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Are you serious about being a full time freelancer?

I was reading in the NY Times magazine section this past Sunday about freelancers.

What struck me was how so many people are freelancing because they've been laid off and how, if they could, they would prefer to have a "real" full time job.

Well... if you want to be a successful freelancer... it's a full time job.

What are the traits of a successful freelancer you might ask...

First... you have to be disciplined.
I start my day working promptly at the same time every day. My clients know that when they call me I can respond to their requests right away.

Next... you have to promote yourself via phone and internet every single day.

You have to put yourself in your client's place and treat your clients how YOU want to be treated... no surprises, bring projects in on budget, be easy to work with.

You have to commit yourself and buy the necessary software to keep up with the industry.

Don't look at this as something to "tide you over" until something "better" comes along.... freelancing is a great way of making a living and a wonderful lifestyle.... if you can take the occasional stress of a "feast and famine" work schedule.

Bottom line... Being a freelancer is a profession that demands creativity and people skills. You can be the best designer in the world, but if you are difficult to work with, no one will give you the time of day or more importantly a second job. Be professional. Act professional. Deliver the highest caliber work and you will succeed. Remember... your job is to help people. They have a problem, you have the solution.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Why some businesses and freelancers FAIL

I got a call yesterday. The fellow had a great product that wasn't selling. He wanted to know how much it would cost for 3 banner ads and to redo his home page on the web. Since 2 of the banner sizes were similar and because I felt sorry for him I quoted a very low ball price.. $250 per animated banner.

"That's $750 for 3... I can get it done for $125 bucks!" he tells me.

Now, while he's telling me that he can buy it cheaper, I'm looking at his web site and I'm not surprised he can buy the services he wants for $125. His web site is not SELLING. It's not professional looking... I guess he paid $125 for his web site too.

I explained to him that he will be spending a lot of money in the future on his advertising... and if he's running the same banner ads over and over again, then he should be getting more bang for his buck with banner advertising that WORKS... that drives clicks to his site.

"But I can spend $125 on it" I keep hearing him say...

BUT what HE wasn't hearing was that he wasn't giving his business a chance to succeed.

He wasn't spending his money where it really counts... in smart design combined with PROVEN marketing strategies designed to SELL at the very beginning.

I didn't get the assignment.

There will always be someone willing to do the project for less. If you are competing on price and not on quality, service and results, then you will be working 24/7 and will be out of business in one year.

My market, as well as yours, should be geared to people who are SERIOUS about their business succeeding and who know that quality and experience will cost a little more BUT WILL BE CHEAPER in the end because they will SELL MORE.

Bottom line: To be a successful freelancer, you have to convince your prospective clients that if they are SERIOUS about wanting their company to succeed, they have to take a swing at it with their best shot... and that's YOU not the inexperienced person who can do it for pennies.... because CHEAP is EXPENSIVE in the long run.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Your phone call....

It's hard to get in to see people these days. The way you present yourself on the phone is very important to being a successful freelancer.

What you have to communicate quickly is several important points:

1- You can help the person.
2- You can help the person.
3- You can help the person.

People aren't calling you because they think you are the best designer in the world. They are calling you because they have a problem and they are hoping you are the person that can solve that problem.

No matter who calls you, their problem is the same: they need to SELL a service or product. How you are going to do it is the solution to their problem... it could be a sell sheet, or a logo that communicates a deeper meaning, it could be an ad, a flash banner or a new web site maybe a postcard.

You should be nimble and you should be able to offer lot's of different graphic design answers... not just the ones that they are looking for.

Imagine going to a car dealer and telling them that your problem is that you need to be moving large boxes across town every day. If they only sell race cars, they will be only recommending a race car to you.

As a successful freelancer you have to have skills in a wide area so that you have different revenue streams... that's your "toolbox" to help your clients.

Bottom line: your job is to SELL your clients service or product. The more design areas that you are skilled in the better chance you have of helping your client and making a better living.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Holding your client's hand

We've all run across this kind of client... they need a lot of hand holding. You know what I mean. You have to explain why you used the color maroon instead of teal or why you set your text at 9.5 and not 10 point.

Sometimes there's no "real" answer... you just did it because you felt it just looked good.

So, you finish your clients project, and now you are spending 2 hours going over every little detail.

Is all this hand holding worth it? Did you charge enough to include 2 hours of back and forth over tiny details that don't have anything to do with the impact of the design?

I'm sure that there are folks that would disagree with me on this one, but I say "It's worth it".

Here's is an opportunity to have a great relationship with your new client. Answer all the questions, give your client all the time they need to feel comfortable about working with you and your working style.

After a few projects your client will develop a trust in you and your designs and that means less time going over "details". Or you can figure out a way BEFORE you do the assignment on how to cut down on the "debriefing" segment of the project. Every client has a different way to work with you.

Bottom line: to be a successful freelancer figure it's important to establish a firm working relationship and trust with your client. Your job is twofold... help them sell their product or service and secondly, make them feel comfortable working with you. In the long run you will get more work and that will make you a successful freelancer.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How I got another assignment

Just picked up some more work today... almost lost a logo project, but a win-win for my new client and me just happened.

He called me to do a new logo... I gave him a quote and I got the feeling that he was interested, but the cost was an issue. But I couldn't do better on my price.

Now I love to do logos, I've done them for Tropicana, Johnson and Johnson, Xerox, Ocean Spray as well as hundreds of small companies that no one has ever heard of. I have a real knack for them and they are fun for me to do... but they take a lot of time. When you look at how much time it takes and how much I earn on a logo (except for the "big boy" companies) I make less on logos then anything else I do.

But back to getting the project. When I went to his web site later on, I saw the logo that he wanted me to redesign and I said to myself.... "Hey, he has a pretty good logo, it's just not taken to the next level of design and professionalism." It was like one of my first stages when I'm developing a concept for a logo... it's got something going for it, but it's not right just yet. It needs more style, more finesse... it needs to go to the next level of creative design.

So I e-mailed him right back and said that I could save him money on his logo if we took his current logo and just upgraded it. "The benefit of this is that not only will you save money, but your current customers who are familiar with your logo will recognize it as your company, PLUS it would look a lot more elegant and professional."

I got the assignment.

Bottom line:
To be a successful freelancer you have to remember that your job is to help people. Play fair, quote reasonable prices and it will come back to you in assignments and trust. When your clients win, you win. Everyone is happy.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Generating Work.... making more money.

Let's face it, to be a successful freelancer, you have to make money. That's one of the things that makes a freelancer successful.

I like to think of being "successful" as a life style... sometimes (if I'm lucky) working 7 days a week. But always being around and available when my kids are/were home. Being able to take a day off or a vacation without asking the "boss".

But lets face it you have to generate income.

One of the best ways to generate income is a win-win for your client and you.

I make it a point to try to see what my clients are doing. Do they have a web site? Go to it. Do they have newsletters... check them out.

Sometimes the media that I see is terrific and that's great. But sometimes (not always) I see something that is a disaster. You know what I'm taking about, "It's not an important piece, my nephew did it in Word".

When I point out how it can be improved: the message, the design, sometimes my clients agree with me and I get a "found" assignment.

Bottom line:

It doesn't hurt to talk about it... but don't recommend something just for the sake of getting another assignment. You have to know that you will be helping them... and when you do, it pays off on two ends...

1- you are helping your client make a sale.
2- you just made a sale.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Customer changes to your design

As a successful freelancer, handling changes to your designs (and handling your clients) is of the most importance.

Sure your design is "your baby". You love your design, it's beautiful, it's perfect, you wouldn't change a thing for a million dollars... well, ok, who wouldn't make a change for a million dollars?

I don't send out a design to my client unless I did love it... and now they want to changed it!

Now most of the time, my clients love my designs and we just change some text but sometimes I'm asked to make specific changes to my design. Something like "make this bigger, that smaller, change the color...."

I'm happy to make changes because I want my client happy... but this is how I do it:

1- Before I make the changes I explain WHY I've done what I've done.

Sometimes I explain... "IF everything is important in the design, then nothing is important. That's why I made the focal point of the ad that item. Now consumers are attracted to look, then their eye automatically travels to the area to the right..... "

Since I'm a professional designer with a lot of experience, many times my clients will go along with my thinking and NOT make the change.

2- Before I make the changes, I try to understand what they are trying to ACCOMPLISH with the change. Remember, they are not the designer, you are... so what they are suggesting many not be what they want!

This happened last week. I did a major logo for a division of New York State. I presented 4 logos (promised 3). They loved #2 that featured a gold center that picked up the gold in the Great Seal of NYS.

They wanted to see logo #2 with 2 different color combinations. One with a dark blue center and another with a bright yellow center.

I understood why they wanted the dark blue center... the Great Seal of NYS has a dark blue center so they felt it would perhaps coordinate better with the dark blue.

After discussing why they wanted to see a yellow center (when we had a nice gold already) I was told that they wanted to see the logo "brighter".

AH HA!!! That was the key. Now if I gave them the yellow as they asked, it would have clashed with the Great Seal of NYS and they would not have been happy. SO instead of giving them the yellow, I gave them a clean bright WHITE. When presenting the logo, I explained my reasoning.

That was the logo that was approved.

Bottom line... Listen to your client. Try to understand what they are trying to accomplish. If you feel that what they are asking is wrong, communicate your design choices. If your clients do want the changes, that's fine, you can make make their suggestions work.

Remember: find out what they want to accomplish because what they are asking you to do may not be the solution. The difference between a designer and a successful freelance designer is being able to communicate and deliver.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Some interesting facts

Every now and then I come across some interesting facts about our field.. I love when I can throw them into the conversation. I was once talking to a client by the name of Ms Tittle.

I asked her... "do you know what the dot of an "i" is called?" "Nope" she replied. "It's called a Tittle!"

I've always wondered if her family name came from a family of typographers... like the name Smith was probably the name of the local blacksmith.

Since we are on the subject of type, have you ever wondered where the terms "upper and lower case letters" comes from? Well, when type was set by hand, the capital letters were kept in the upper case and the other letters were kept in the lower case!

I like to bring that up in casual conversations too.

Now what does this have to do with being a successful freelancer you might ask... well, I'll tell you. It has to do with coming across as a knowledgeable, friendly person to work with.

Bottom line, as a professional freelancer, you want to keep things on a professional level, but it's always nice to show your personality. Have fun. People like to work with people that give them results. But if it's between you and that other fellow who is a bit of a sour puss... who do you think they are going to call?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

People need PROFESSIONAL graphic designers NOW more than ever!

A while ago it looked like things were slowing down. But it looks like some smart people are taking advantage of the current economic situation and are getting aggressive in their marketing and that's where the successful freelancer can shine.

People aren't just interested in "pretty pictures". They want to sell their product or service.

Money being spent is tight. The way for business to grow is to grab market share from their competitors... and I tell my prospective clients... "I can help you".

They don't want an order taker... they want someone to help put together the most effective ad, web site or logo possible to increase their business.

You have to look at what their competitors are doing, listen to your client, asks questions and put yourself in the consumer's shoes... what would convince YOU to buy that product or service? Better service, buy one get one free? You have to look at all the angles.... then do some kick butt designs.

Bottom line: To be a successful freelancer you have to offer more than just pretty pictures... pretty pictures don't sell. Smart thinking does.

Monday, March 30, 2009


I just spoke to a gentleman who was interested in me doing a logo project for him. It was a very interesting project... exciting, I would say.

It turns out that he read my blog and was wondering why I would turn down an assignment.

The only time I would turn down an assignment, I told him, was if I "couldn't hit a home run".

I went on to explain that I went to the High School of Art and Design and that I went to the School of Visual Arts, that I've been drawing since I was a little kid, that I'm an artist and in ALL that time I've never done cartooning. So if he gave me an extensive brief and I agreed with everything he said and then ended his request with... "and I want it done as a cartoon" I would turn down the assignment.

This is because I know I would NOT be doing him any favors taking the assignment.

Bottom line... every assignment is important. There are no "small assignments'. All assignments need to be handled the right way and given all the time they deserve to be done right. If you can't help someone... don't take the assignment. Your reputation takes years to build... don't ruin it by taking projects where you can't help.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Going to Burning Man

What is Burning Man and what does it have to do with being a successful freelancer?

Burning Man is held once a year at the end of August in the Black Rock desert... 2.5 hours outside of Reno Nevada. You bring all your supplies in. You can't buy anything there except coffee and ice. You pack everything out and leave no trace. You get to be involved and have some great experiences.

And for me, Burning Man is a chance to get creatively recharged... you don't want to come up with the same solutions over and over, you will get stale.

You want to be fresh.

You want to come up with new ways to look at things... get peoples attention. Sitting in your studio all day isn't going to do it for you.

Here's a link to their official site:

Check out the image gallery and look at the great art installations, the art cars, the people, the desert, the dust storms.

Bottom line: Challenge yourself. Don't deliver the same solutions. Each assignment is a different chance to push the limits. Have fun with your art. And if you are interested, contact me for more info on Burning Man.

Friday, March 6, 2009

I just turned down an assignment!

In these tough economic times you might ask yourself "why did he turn down work?"

Good question.

To be a successful freelancer you must know your strengths and weaknesses.

Over the years I've went from traditional tools like the t-square and triangle to being and early adopter of using the computer for graphic design. Learning new programs and upgrading my skill sets has never been a problem for me and has helped me be the successful freelancer I am today.

But just like when when I was using magic markers to draw concepts, ads and logos... I turned down certain assignments like doing "cartoons". It wasn't what I could create at the level I was selling.

After questioning my prospective client for exactly what he wanted for his corporation, I decided that I wasn't doing anyone any favors taking on what he wanted.

Bottom line: I think I will work with this company. I made suggestions of how I could help them. If he comes back to give me his assignment I will hit a home run for him. So to be a succesfull freelancer.. help your clients by knowing your strengths and weaknesses. You will get more business and you will keep your good reputation by delivering 110% all the time.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Starting out and don't have much to show?

Your web site is one of the most important selling tools you have at your command to help you increase your business and become a successful freelancer.

Just starting out and don't have much to show? Here's what you can do:

Take an ad that you hate and show how you would do it better.

Take a logo that is bad and show how you would redesign it.

Love an ad campaign? How would you design the next ad in the series?

Show your samples side by side.

There are many people out there that are looking for designers just starting out. "Your work for me will look great in your portfolio." I'll tell everyone how great you are." "I'm just starting out too.. help me and I'll give you more work and some money in the future."

Wrong. These people will not respect what you do for them and since you are giving it away, they are not "invested" in it.

Believe me.. it's better to spend your time creating high end creative as an exercise that shows what you can do compared to established professionals.

Bottom line... build a web site to showcase your work then list your site with as many free sites that you can. The more links to you the better your chances are of being contacted. Always carry your business cards with you. You never know who you will meet. Direct them to your site and always get a fee for your services.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

It costs how much?

Every now and then I get a call from someone who, after I give them a quote, they say "I can get it done for less."

Now I've always believed that I charge a fair and reasonable fee for my services. I feel something is expensive if you are paying a price more than it's worth.

So getting back to this "I can get it done for less" mind set. As a successful freelancer you can't compete on price because you should be offering more than what your client is purchasing. You should be competing on a different level. You should be communicating that your client getting will be getting "more bang for their buck".

The "more" is experience.
Some designers will deliver projects that are more expensive to produce in the long run. No savings there.

The "more" is talent.
If an ad is not designed to sell or looks bad, who is going to buy the clients product or service? You should be communicating that you know what you are doing and that you have the "chops".

The "more" is service.
No one likes to work with someone who "loves them then leaves them." My clients stick with me and come back with more assignments because they know that I've "got their back".

The "more" is an understanding of what your client needs... it's NOT always what they want. Your job is to help them sell their product or service.

I have gotten more work from my clients by TURNING DOWN ASSIGNMENTS. I'd say... "you really don't need that." And after discussing it with them, they sometimes agree. BUT because they know that I'm not after grabbing their money. That I'm here to help them... when I say "you should be thinking of doing THIS...." they listen and I get the project because I'm helping them.

Sometimes prospective clients will play this "I can get it done for less" game and throw out a number that is so crazy I say "if your project comes in at that price, please let me know because I can use them." I have never gotten a call back telling me they got their assignment done on budget. And anyway, I do everything myself.

Bottom line: A bottle of Snapple is worth $1.25. If you pay $5.00 that's expensive for what you are getting. Charge a fair and reasonable fee for your work and give your clients MORE for their money. If they can't afford your fee, that doesn't mean your price is too high, it means their budget is too low. You will go out of business being busy with poor paying clients.

As a successful freelancer you will get more business by offering a price for a project that is fair then following through with the "more".

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Helvetica, Happy Birthday to you!

Yep, Helvetica is 52 years old. I thought I'd take a minute and salute this wonderful font. In the mid to late 60s it was the "establishment" font. It seemed that every annual report was designed in Helvetica and a lot of designers that would consider themselves as "counter culture" stayed clear of Helvetica like the plague.

But what does Helvetica have to do with being a successful freelancer?

Well, a little typography lesson is in order. We have basically 4 types of fonts.

1- Sans Serif. You know, fonts WITHOUT the little points coming out at all ends.
2- Serif. Serif fonts have those points coming out at the ends.
3- Hand draw fonts. These are fonts that look like your grandma or a cartoonist drew them.
4- Display fonts. Display fonts can be serif or sans serif or look hand drawn. But what makes them "display fonts" is that they have a special look to them and are usually used in just the headline. You've seen them, like during Halloween, the font might look scary with teeth.

So, getting back to fonts and being a successful freelancer.

The font you choose is important in communicating your idea. It's one of your weapons.

Some times you need to choose a font that is clean and to the point. HELVETICA!

Yea, it's strong. So strong we see it everywhere. Now you might say that because of that, it's lost it's power. Nope. It's timeless. Take AmericanAirlines... their logo is in Helvetica and when all the other airlines have changed their logo to keep up with the times, AmericanAirlines hasn't. Their logo is as fresh and timeless now as when it was designed in the 60s!

But when it comes to readability, have you noticed that newspapers and many books DO NOT use Helvetica. They use a SERIF font like Garamond or Times. The reason for this is that for large stretches of text, it's easier to read a serif font.

Bottom line: to be a successful freelancer, use the right tool for the right job. Typography is like cooking. You add a little of this a little of that and you create something delicious. Give me 3 fonts and I can communicate anything! Helvetica is the first font I would choose. Garamond is the second. The third might be Optima. It's what a font would look like if Helvetica and Garamond had a baby!

One more thing folks... watch your kerning! If you don't know what kerning is, learn it. You can't be a great designer without a knowledge of kerning.

Monday, February 23, 2009

How do you handle a personal opinion?

When it comes to opinions... everyone has one.

I did a design once and my client said "I don't like that color green".

Since this is a personal opinion you can't say "you are wrong.. that's a wonderful shade of green".

But here's the "rub"... it was (in my opinion) the PERFECT shade of green. It was dark enough to pop my headline out of. It evoked the "earthy" feel that I was looking for. It wouldn't print too dark. It had everything going for it except for one thing.

My client didn't like it.

Now we all know how simple it is to change a color... but we don't want to go through endless rounds of changes finding, what your client perceives as "the perfect green". IF your client has a pantone book of colors, then it's easy. "just tell me which color you like". Done. But if your client doesn't have a pantone book, you can aways make some swatches of colors that you feel would still work.

But let me tell you how I handled it.

When my client said "I don't like that color green" I remained silent and waited to see what else my client wanted to say. After a very long pause.......... my client said:

"But I think it will work".

Bottom line: Help your clients, but don't get into an ego match over personal opinions. Give your client the best that you have to offer. And let your clients work things out for themselves. You don't have to respond to every comment unless asked. Many times they are just working things out for themselves and will take advantage of your professional expertise. That's what they are paying you for.

Friday, February 13, 2009

To be a successful freelancer, don't play games

Every now and then I get a request to use a photo that a prospective client has.

Great! I say.... but tell me... where did you get this photo?

Oh.. I found it on the internet.


The last thing that you, as a freelancer, want to do is play a form of legal/illegal Russian Roulette.

Many people don't understand that just because you can grab a photo from the internet, you can't use it. First it's illegal. You can get into trouble, your client can get into trouble... then you are spending more time and money trying to get yourself out of a jam that could have been avoided for anywheres between $1 and $5 dollars!

Yes.. there are stock photo houses that will sell you great images for just a few bucks (contact me and I'll send you a few addresses).

Play it straight... don't do anyone a favor by using an illegally found image. It's bad for them and even worse for you and your reputation. I lost a few projects because of this issue, but my feeling is if they were ok with ripping someone else off they would probably not think twice about ripping me off.

And if they were NOT ok with spending an extra $5 they will probably give me a hard time when it comes to me charging them a fair and reasonable fee for my services.

Bottom line: get a good night's sleep and do everything legal. Make sure you collect and pay sales tax. Honesty is the best policy.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Production knowledge is key!

To be a successful freelancer you have to know your production values up, down, left right and upside down.

I got a call last night to do a logo... here's how it went.

Him: Hi, saw your logos, love them, I want a quote.
Me: Sure thing, tell me about your company and the name for your logo.

Him: I don't need you to design the logo for me, I'm an artist. I already designed it in pencil. I just need you to clean it up for me.
Me: Will you ever want to reproduce your logo on a T-Shirt or printed on a give-away item like an umbrella?

Him: Yea.
Me: Well, I will have to redraw your logo in a vector format, because T-Shirt houses and promotional houses do silk screening and to do that they need vector art and not pixel based bit mapped art.

Him: What?
Me: If I get a scan of your logo it's like a photo... bit mapped. Another designer might do what you want. BUT THAT'S NOT WHAT YOU NEED.
To give you a quote, I would need to see if your logo is simple or complicated to redraw.

Him: I just wanted a quote, not a graphic design lesson.
Me: You don't want to pay twice to do your logo. I want to help you by doing it the right way the first time at a fair and reasonable cost.

Him: click.

Well... as you just read, I didn't get the job.

But other times I do get the job because after I talk with people for a while they know that I know what I'm doing and that in the long run it's less expensive for them to have their project done correctly the first time around.

Bottom line... if you don't know much about print production, find out who will be printing the project and ask questions. Web design and Flash animations... I'll cover that another time.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Explaining the sliding scale

This question was posted:

Hi Rob: Can you explain how you explain sliding scale to a new client?

For a small local accounts, I don't discuss sliding scale, I just quote a lower cost to do the project because of 2 reasons:

1- It's not worth as much to them as it's worth to a larger company.
2- They don't have the same budgets a larger national company would have.

When I work on a project for a well known, large national company, their usage of my work is greater, therefore the value of what I do is greater to them.

Large companies understand the value of a well designed promotional piece and are used to paying different fees for different usages. Photographers get different fees based on usage too.

For example, if I purchase a stock image from Getty images, if the image is going to be used in a full page magazine ad, with national exposure, Getty will charge me (my client really, since I pass the cost along plus a small research fee) a higher fee than if it's for a half page ad. On a cover of a magazine, the price goes up too.

Now imagine if you get a call to work for Xerox.

You are asked to design a promotional logo.

You will not get the job if you come in at a low, low price. You would not be credible.

Plus, the bigger the assignment, the more work will be involved dealing with layers upon layers of edits during the approval process.

Keep in mind that there is an issue of trust. How can they trust that you are at the caliber they are looking for if you tell them the logo is going to $100. How can they trust that you will deliver a super logo? Their job is important to them, they expect to spend more so that you will give them ALL the time they need to do the job right.

Bottom line: Sliding scale means that you are paying attention to the needs, wants and demands of each assignment. And remember that there is a different value in work that is seen nationally versus work on a local level.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Slow Times

Every now and then you will hit a slow patch... so what should you do?

What I do is 3 things:

1- Shake the bushes. This means I call my accounts and see if anything is happening. Don't think that just because they love you they will call you. On some occasions I've had clients say "you know, I think I might have something for you later this week." If I didn't call them, the assignment might have gone to someone else that was on their minds at that time.

2- Go online and get yourself listed on as many FREE graphic design sites that you can. That way, when someone does a search for a designer, you have a better shot of being found.

I don't register with "auction" sites where the cheapest designer gets the job. I can't compete with "Johnny" a student designer from India that will do a logo for $25. Besides, "Johnny" doesn't understand the US market so his logo is going to be inferior. The person buying the logo for $25 doesn't understand how important his logo is going to be. Penny wise and dollar foolish. I like to work with people who are serious about growing their business. I have one client, an entrepreneur who in the past 8 years has created and sold at least 3 business. Every odd year or so I get a call from him... logo, business cards, promo-material, web. He understands the need of professional marketing material. And it's paid off for him because when he sells his business, it's turn key.. right down to a fantastic logo.

3- Fine tune your web site. Just today I received feedback that the person viewing my site didn't catch on that I work on a sliding scale... so I changed the color of my text line to highlight that point even more.

Bottom line: when you are slow is the best time to invest in your future by marketing yourself.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Keeping Current

Sorry for the delay of posting a new post on how to be a successful freelance graphic designer... but I had to complete my new web site....

One of the most important things that you can do is KEEP CURRENT. My last web site was 2 years old and it lacked many of my most recent work to date. 

By creating a new site, I was able to:
  Send out a news blast to all my accounts ( a good way to keep my name in front of them.. perhaps generate some new business).
  Showcase my new work.
  Take advantage of some new tricks in web design that I've learned over the past 2 years.

Take a look at your web site.
Does it show the wide range of work that you do?
Does it communicate how you tackle projects?
Is it flexible enough so you can add new samples of your work?
Is it fast loading? 

Look at your site as though you are the prospective client: Are you communicating your work to the best of your abilities?

Bottom line... don't rest on your laurels... keep your site fresh and new to attract new business.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Health Insurance

You need it.

Don't gamble.

There are a few ways of going about getting health insurance. Some freelancers that I know get "catastrophe" insurance. It's fairly cheap... and doesn't cover much of anything unless you have a BIG problem. For example if you end up in the hospital with something terribly wrong... after a certain amount of money is spent, your insurance kicks in. 

If you join the Graphic Artists guild, you can get an insurance plan at a group rate. 

Check out this site.. it has a section on health insurance and some other articles that you will find informative about the business of freelancing.

Bottom line: If you are freelancing now and don't have insurance get it now BEFORE you need it... and then it might be too late.