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.