The Business Side Needs Equal Devotion
The business side of a design operation is often less appealing than crossing an eight-lane highway blindfolded, but it is a necessary element that separates successful designers from the rest of the riff raff. Some may argue design is a commodity, but strong communication and attention to detail are not, and never will be.
One of the things that blasting 99designs got me thinking about, besides my penchant for belting out hyperbolic superlatives like a methed out Walt Whitman, is what defines a professional designer from the rest of the trash crowding the scene. In other words, what makes a designer the real deal? I don’t know much about how other people do it, but I can relate a few things from my years as a freelancer.
I also don’t know if this will turn into a series of posts. (At this point, committing to a series of blog posts on anything beyond the status of my big toe feels a bit daunting. The spirit is there, but the time is not.) But I thought it was worth honing in on a few topics related to the business side of creative. Yes, I am well aware of the fact that there are tons of books about this stuff, but the few bits below have proved to be indispensable ingredients to my
Have a Formal Proposal and Contract Process
My proposal and contract process has been honed from years of feedback and trial and error. By design, it’s not that complicated. I engage the client in some sort of discovery conversation via e-mail, phone or meatspace. This provides me with enough information to craft a proposal. The proposal is largely templated, and I only edit three or four sections between projects, but clients receive a highly detailed document that feels as if it were written just for them.
Competitively, my proposal is probably one of my strongest weapons. I constantly receive strong feedback on its thoroughness and writing, and there have been several instances where the quality directly affected me winning the job.
Bill On Time and Without Apologies
It is important to bill on time, at the specified amount, without apologies. The contract should specify when these bills can be expected, the terms for them, and the amount. Clients should never be surprised on any of these fronts, because nothing jacks a relationship faster than funny business with money; if an amount is going to be higher than what was originally agreed upon, the client should know well in advance, in writing. Be good with invoices, and your business will benefit.
On the flip side, clients are pleasantly surprised when the invoice comes in under budget. Sometimes, whether the timesheet backs me up or not, I’ll shave an hour or two off of the projected time, and the last invoice will be slightly under my original estimate. It’s a cheap shot, and arguably pandering, but it makes for some feel-good e-mail hugs, so shut up.
The Little Things, Like, You Know, Communication
Every business requires meticulous and mind-numbing number juggling and detail tracking. Stay on top of this crap, because they multiply like gremlins. There is a multitude of applications to help you with this, but the central piece is always customer communication. My gmail account is tricked out like a Bentley in a Jay Z video with hundreds of contacts, routing rules and descriptive labels, but a lot of people with European cars and corner offices like expensive CRM applications to accomplish the same thing.
Designers who succeed cannot do it on skill alone. I’ve said it 9,000 times before and I’ll say it 9,000 times before I die — more often than not, being a good designer has absolutely, quantifiably nothing to do with design. It’s about immediate follow-up, proactive lead generation, relentless headhunting, and transparent diplomacy. It’s about kissing ass and still getting your way. It’s about managing expectations, exceeding those expectations, and making it look effortless.