Sometimes, I reflect on how lucky I am to be able to do what I love to do – and do it on my own terms. The road to owning my own business didn’t happen overnight. There is no perfect formula, but to those starting out and looking for your first clients, here is what I would say:
Meet people. Lots of people.
When I first picked up freelance projects, I was actually looking for a job. I was meeting anyone and everyone to try to get a foot in the door. This brought me a few of my very first clients, but it also taught me an important lesson – you never know who you will meet and how you may be able to help each other. Maybe someone doesn’t have work for you right away – that’s fine – it is still worth taking the time to connect with them.
Don’t be discouraged. There are GOOD PEOPLE out there.
Sometimes, it will feel like people are trying to dull your sparkle. Realize it isn’t always about you. Keep your head up and seek out the people who are good. Let them inspire you and hold on to them as clients and/or colleagues. The good people far outweigh the bad in the long run.
And in that vein…
Do right by people.
In the same way you want clients and connections to do right by you, you should do the same. People will remember it, and respond in kind.
Do your best work.
It may seem obvious, but always strive to do your best work, regardless of the client or the budget. In a lot of ways, the work will speak for itself, and if clients are happy, they will come back or refer other clients to you. A small budget project may lead to a huge contract later. You just never know.
Utilize social media.
I have met a few wonderful clients on social media. It is a great and inexpensive way to show people who you are, and to get your name out there. Have conversations, share tips, interact… It will help keep you top of mind when that project DOES materialize.
What do you wish you had known when you first started your business?
When you decide to work with a Graphic Designer, I think it is important to have an understanding of the working relationship you are entering in to. Graphic Design is a unique business in that it is really part service, part product. While you are paying for a final piece in the end, you are also paying for everything that got you there.
Most importantly, it is crucial to understand that you are not simply paying for the final design. You are paying for the hours that were spent creating that design, as well as the expertise that the designer brings to the project.
I have had people ask me if they should have to pay for a design that they didn’t care for. The answer is – yes, you are obligated to pay the designer. He or she has worked the hours and should be compensated as such.
Many designers work a kill fee into their contracts, meaning that if you feel you are not happy with the design at some point during the project, you can pay this portion of the quoted design and stop the process. This is a fair way to be compensated for the hours, while saving the client frustration and the cost of going through the whole process.
The next thing that it is important to understand and negotiate is what will be the final product. Many designers have written into their contract that you are buying a print-ready pdf for printed materials. This ensures that what you receive will print correctly. Many clients do not have the proper software to open native files, and final pdfs simplify this. It can be a liability to hand over working files or native files, as if any changes are made, it is impossible for the designer to make guarantees once it has been handled by an external source.
That said, there are instances when native files are necessary, such as in cases of large corporate clients. If this is your situation, make sure to make this clear to the designer up front. This will often come at a higher cost, but very few designers will deny you the files if you negotiate from the beginning, and in the end you will have what you need.
Overall, understanding what you are paying for and how to negotiate will make your transactions go more smoothly and ensure you are a satisfied customer.
I’ve had a few instances where clients have been afraid to give me their opinion for fear it might hurt my feelings. To this, I usually respond, you have no idea what I went through in college – I can take it.
As a designer, it is my job to pour 100% of my effort into a design, to present it with conviction, but also to be willing to take a new direction on a dime. It is, after all, a commercial product.
If you’ve ever read “The Cheese Monkeys” by Chip Kidd, my professor was a lot like Winter. There were stories from past classes about him both taking a bite out of a project (quite literally), and throwing a piece out the window. His goal was to teach us not to get attached to our work. Design work is, after all, for the client.
We put our work up in front of the class and listened to comments from both the professors and the other students. It made us better. It made us stronger.
So next time you decide that the project isn’t going in the right direction, don’t be afraid to tell the designer. They may explain their reasoning, and you may decide they are indeed right about taking the risk. But you may decide you don’t like it and that is ok too. They won’t go home and cry. They’ll start fresh – and you may get something even better.