May 10, 2017

A few thoughts on passive income

My answers to a few questions about Amazon Associates and passive income, asked by Tom May for a piece on the Shopify blog.

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April 3, 2017

What Clients Think 2017

In association with the DBA, Up to the Light conducted telephone interviews with 455 design clients to produce the What Clients Think 2017 report.

Interesting read. Here are some things that stood out.

44% of clients believe that their design agency should ask more questions.

“Asking questions is a good habit. Agencies frequently ask lots of questions at the beginning of a relationship but this is sometimes not sustained. Continued questions show interest and enthusiasm. The knowledge gained can also stimulate proactive ideas and effective client development.”

Most clients look at portfolio case studies seeking the answers to strategic questions, rather than wanting a general impression of agency flair and creativity. 57% of clients think that case studies on agency websites lack business context, and 64% want case studies to be more helpful.

Clients field an average of 17 new business approaches every day from agencies of different design disciplines, an increase on last year. 81% of clients like to “discover” a new agency rather than feel sold to, so there needs to be a shift away from credentials-based selling toward knowledge sharing.

Many clients expressed cynicism about “full service” agencies and would prefer honesty about core competencies. Some clients also thought the word “storytelling” was trite, mostly through overuse.

96% of clients don’t follow any design agency on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, but 97% of clients use LinkedIn.

70% of clients expect designers to pitch for free. (I’ll just put this here: why are designers still expected to work for free?)

Agencies that haven’t met the client face-to-face before a pitch presentation only have an 8% chance of winning the business.

On the plus side, one of the biggest client concerns was the need to stand out:

“A consequence of increased competition, ‘noisy’ markets and less attentive customers is that it becomes more challenging for brands to stand out. As ever, agency ‘creativity’ has an important role to play.”

The report’s free to download from Up to the Light.

Via DesignWeek.

March 2, 2017

Paula Scher on pro bono

“That’s why pro bono work is great. You choose to do it, and if you’re choosing to do it to grow your own work, your deal is essentially that you’re not going to collaborate. You’re going to do the job the way you think the job is gonna be done.”

Paula ScherPaula Scher, photo by John Madere

I agree. Pro bono’s a swap. You give up your fee, and the client gives up the ability to ask for changes. It’s good for both sides. The client gets free use of work that you want in your portfolio — work that persuades others to pay you.

Paula Scher on why and when it’s worth working for free.

Here’s a good example of when pro bono design pays off (in the archives).

And The Great Discontent interview with Paula Scher is an interesting read.

January 30, 2017

Bowie on design ideas

“If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth, and when you feel that your feet aren’t quite touching the bottom you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.” — David Bowie

Not specifically about design, but the similarity’s there.

Via Eric.

On a tangent, the Royal Mail is releasing David Bowie stamps showing vinyl album covers as a tribute to the late artist.

December 9, 2016

The five constraints

In one of his talks, Blair Enns of Win Without Pitching focuses on five business constraints, and bets that those who apply them are much more likely to succeed.

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January 25, 2016

On late client payments, sticking to the brief, and the value of design

Answers to a few questions from one of my recent Officehours chats.

Officehours logo

How do you handle late client payments?

It’s rare when I’m paid late because I keep the files I create (and their usage rights) until after final payment. That wasn’t always how I worked, though. Not long after I started in business an overseas client refused to pay a final invoice after I sent the design files and despite my client being happy with the work.

Months had passed when a print company involved with the project asked if I was having problems getting paid. When I said yes I was referred to a debt collection agency — the first and only time during my 11 years in business when debt collectors have been involved. A year later, my client unexpectedly got in touch to settle the bill, and afterward I then paid 30 percent of the invoice to the collection agency. Not an ideal situation, but it taught me not to send final files until after payment.

There was no animosity, but I felt uneasy when the collection agency got involved. I wondered what kind of communication was taking place, so if you’re ever dealing with debt collectors ask about their methods, if only for peace of mind.

How do you prevent a client from moving away from the brief?

Now and again during projects I’ll be asked to do work that’s outside the original agreement. If it’s a small job that won’t take too long I’ll say something like, “I’ll get this done for you but it wasn’t in the original scope, so I’ll need to charge for any further requests.” That way the client’s happy, and I either get paid for other add-ons, or the client then sticks to the original brief.

How do you communicate the value of design with non-design savvy clients?

The rates I set mean that the people I work with already place significant value on design. If a client’s happy to pay what I charge, they tend to understand the positive impact that good design will have on their business. You’re much more likely to struggle with this if you’re underselling yourself.

As Tara Gentile points out, “Pricing is one indication of quality. Your customers will use your prices to understand ‘how good’ what you offer is. If your price means your service appears lacking in quality, you won’t get the kind of customers you want — regardless of how ‘affordable’ your work is.”

Good design, bad design

Catch me on Officehours if you think I can help with something and you fancy a 10 minute chat. More pricing resources here.

July 8, 2015

On getting paid

It’s professional to clarify terms before a client makes an initial payment, and clients want to work with professionals.

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January 6, 2015

Outgoings in design self-employment

It’s good practice to keep track of your monthly outgoings to help determine the minimum amount you need to charge to make a profit. Here’s where most of my business funds are spent.

There are the standard utilities — mortgage, electricity, heating, phone and broadband. If working from home, you can reclaim a percentage of these bills when filing your tax return. If your studio is away from your home then the full spend is tax deductible.

Then there are the workspace basics — desk, chair, computer, software, printer/scanner, ink, paper, a lamp, a bookcase (and books), shelves, sketchpads, pens, pencils, a good external mic, headphones, external hard drive. Be sure to keep your receipts for tax deduction.

Kelli Anderson standup deskKelli Anderson's stand-up IKEA desk hack.

A few things more specific to the profession — Adobe CC, font licensing, LiveSurface and other mockup resources, MailChimp, web hosting, and domain registration (I use Namecheap). A good camera, tripod, lighting rig, and backdrop will help you shoot print work for your portfolio.

Other expenses might include travel for meetings, postage for letters and packages, classes from sites like Skillshare and CreativeLive, an accountant (unless you file your own returns), but that mostly covers it.

Related, from the archives: Reflections on design self-employment.

July 2, 2014

Creative people say no

Kevin Ashton wrote a good, short piece aimed at helping designers in business, and about choosing your work wisely. Here's a quick excerpt.

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February 7, 2014

Giving better design feedback

Sarah in marketing wants to be able to log in directly on the home page, but Tim in engineering would prefer it on its own page. Can we compromise?

“No. We cannot compromise. If you tell your barber that you like it short, but your significant other likes it long, you're gonna get a mullet.”

That was Mike Monteiro in a post about giving better design feedback. It got me wondering how you keep things "on brief" when discussing your work with clients.

DirectionsPhotos by Tom Magliery

When I send design options I'll include a page near the end with advice on how to compare ideas and keep feedback centred on the design brief. I’ll ask questions such as the following, with my own answers afterward:

  • What option will your customers be most receptive toward?
  • What idea is stronger at conveying your company as (insert words from the brief)?
  • What direction is best at helping you stand out from your competitors?
  • What design will keep your identity the freshest for longest?

What do you do to make sure you keep the client feedback focused?

December 27, 2013

We could really do with £50k

Written by John Scarrott of the Design Business Association in London.

50 pound notePhoto by worldoflard

I was chatting to one of our 'experts’ at the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards when he recounted the following story to me. I’ll tell it from the expert’s perspective.

"One of my clients, a small design agency of five people, was asked to quote on a piece of work. They’d not worked for this client before. They took the time to carefully cost the project, based on their normal charge-out rates, and the time and level of commitment required. The price came to £100k.

"At this point the agency experienced what I would describe as a ‘slight degree of nervousness.’ It seemed like a big number to them; a lot of money. It was. In fact as a project it would be one of the biggest they had undertaken. But, they took a deep breath and sent the proposal off.

"The client came back the next day with the following news: "We’ve only got £50k in the budget." The agency rang me. Their first reaction was, "There's £50k we could have." Mine was a little different — we couldn't accept a £100k project for £50K. They were initially hesitant to accept my advice to turn away £50k. I reminded them that we had carefully worked out a financial plan for the business based on sound principles and we should stick to it.

"They contacted the client via email, thanked them but said that they couldn't do the work for the budget, concluding that it would be lovely if they could stay in touch. No counter-offer. The end.

"Actually not, as it turned out. Things did go quiet for a couple of days. But then the client picked up the phone and said they’d found some budget for the project and could pay £95k if that was acceptable to the agency. Which, of course it was."

Listening to this story, it struck me that that the agency’s relationship with the expert was key, and they'd built a positive and trusted relationship together. So I asked our expert what the key issues and turning points were. What gave the agency the confidence to know what they were doing was right?

1. The size of the number, it felt big!

A perfectly valid thought. But not a fact. The important point was that there were sound business principles behind the calculation of the price. It had been worked out. It was a genuine figure. There was no smoke and mirrors, no figure added on as fat (see 5.). They knew they'd done their numbers properly and this gave them a mindset of certainty and confidence in what they'd suggested.

2. They have a financial plan that underpins the business.

Sitting beneath the studio is a financial plan. This involves delivering income to cover overheads and make a profit. They know they need to bill at £X per hour to be profitable at the end of the year. If they have that plan and someone says "I won’t pay that" and they take what they offer, they’ll never achieve their plan. The more times they do this the further away they get from achieving their plan. They may actually lose money. I've heard tales of serial acceptors of these offers, eventually folding as businesses. This happened to one of the best creatives, a household name with books on shelves. No one wants to go the same way.

3. Imagine the atmosphere in the studio if they'd taken this job for £50k!

How are they going to feel? How will the team feel? That they're working "£100k hard" for a £50k reward. They can't pull their effort back to £50k because the client's expecting a £100k job. So they’d be stuck working their backsides off on a job that takes them further away from where they want to be. The effect on team moral is going to be bad, and they want to enjoy what they do, not suffer for it.

4. They're consistent.

They have a plan and they keep to it. They could add on some fat to the bill to negotiate but they choose not to. This instills a sense of self-worth that is important to them as an agency. It allows them to stay in rapport with their clients by being clear about where they stand.

5. They don't add margin only to cut it later.

What if they add some money on top, say 20% and then let that slide in the negotiation? How does the client know that they're supposed to stop there? If they give 20% what's to stop the client chipping further?

6. They're confident in their ability.

They know their ability and they stand by it. They know that what the client is paying for is better than they could get elsewhere. They've created a niche of expertise for themselves. This is another foundation stone for their confidence.

7. They understood the myth of "We'll just do this one."

It's always a tempting thought. Could £50k now be better than nothing? What about up-selling the client in the future? These things get questioned, but what stops them is the knowledge of what could happen. A better opportunity could come through which they can't accept because they're doing the £50k job. They know getting the client to pay more next time will be an uphill battle that in all likelihood they won't win.

Of course if you try this the next time you're asked to cut the price you might send the email and never hear from the client again.

It might be the best thing that never happened to you.

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John Scarrott is membership director of the Design Business Association. Catch him on Twitter.

October 29, 2013

Measuring design’s return on investment

How do you measure the success of a design project? That's an occasional inbox topic because companies often see design as an expense rather than an investment.

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October 20, 2013

Originality in design

Emilyn Cheong, a student at Lasalle College of the Arts in Singapore, asked me a few questions for her final year project, titled "Originality Trouble."

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David Airey
Brand identity design

Independent since 2005
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