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Design is a very hard and competitive business. I know I don’t have to tell you this. You don’t only have to create stunning and creative work for your clients, you also have to find them first. If you are working in an agency or for a company, the rules are a bit different. Still, following lines will give you some advice on how you should approach your work and your clients. So, keep reading.
It’s business, but forget the money
The first rule you should know is to forget about money and focus on delivering quality. Deliver the highest quality in every situation. It does not matter if the project’s cost is 500$ or 50$, your job is to create the best design you can. Many people live in the illusion that for a little money you should get cheap and crappy product. That’s nonsense. If this is the way you work, you deserve only those pennies.
When you take a look at job boards such as Freelancer, Elance and similar ones, you will often see this mindset in action. It’s unbelievable what kind of sh*t some so-called designers are willing to post just because the number on price tag is low. Fortunately, this behavior gives you and everyone else following the opposite approach big advantage.
First, when designer deliver sh*tty design, his client will hardly hire him again, i.e. designer will kick himself of the game. This will turn in more demand you can fulfill. Second, if you strive to always do your best, no matter the price, even when your work is not selected you still have a piece to add to your portfolio. Otherwise, you could delete that crap and lose the whole time you spent on it.
So remember, it is not about the money. It is about the quality you will deliver consistently. Don’t fear the time and effort you will have to put in. Take it as an investment that will pay off later in one way or another.
Never use copy & paste
When you want to bid one some project you should always include your proposal. This is a crucial part that can play the major role in final decision of the client. In other words, good proposal can turn out to be the door to the next big project or just some money to pay your rent for the next month. Just for the sake of this fact, you should never ever use any kind of “universal” version of proposal. Every proposal has to be personal, specific and task oriented. Most people will see the difference right on the spot.
I understand that it is easy to come up with a good copy that looks appropriate for any project from re-designing a currently existing website to re-coding few HTML files. Next factor playing in favor of such a practices is how many people use them. You can find dozens of freelancer advising others to use this approach – quantity of proposals made over quality. However, you should avoid this at all cost. Remember, the image of yourself is created in the first couple seconds and it is hard, very hard, to change it later.
Read the description (really)
No, this is not a joke. You might not believe how many people will not take the time to read the description of the project and just paste in some automatic “shelf” proposal (the previous rule). This is pathetic. Don’t do this crap under any circumstances. It is part of the business to invest your time into reading through the whole description and understanding it. Think about it this way, the more professionalism will you show in the initial stage, the better your chances and your picture will be.
No matter how little are they, those details can often turn in more project from the previous clients in the future, also better paid. When client see that you are responding to his needs and pains, you are already (in most cases) in narrower group of people. The reason is simple. Most people will not spend more than a few seconds on the description part of project. They will look at the price, the time frame, quickly skim through the rest and place their bid. Who’s the next one on the line?
Forget this immediately. Do you have a ten different project to bid on? Great. Prepare a cup of tea or coffee and block the next twenty minutes. Go through all of them like your life depends on it … Well, your business does. Think about it as a practice. Every bid is a chance to learn to communicate more clear and find the underlying problems – i.e. to do the best service for your client in shortest time frame possible. Even if you get only one of those ten projects, it will move you one step ahead and increase your chances in the future.
“The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life.” –Confucius
When in doubt, ask
OK, another no-brainer. This is the first what came to my mind when a friend of mine gave me this advice, but not so fast. Do you know what is the one thing we, as people, have in common? We are often afraid to ask. When we don’t know something or are in doubt, we rather stay quiet to keep our face. We want to avoid the shame of appearing silly. The same applies to design, business and any other craft or activity imaginable. It can be a relic from school system. Were you afraid to ask the teacher in front of the class too?
I was following the same path the first half year being a freelance web designer. Do you understand all the task? Yes, sure I do. Next I thought, how should I do this or that thing? What does this mean? It is a vicious circle. In the end, you will have to admit it and ask your client anyway. So, why to prolong it and making it even worse wasting client’s and your time? It’s like removing a patch. Do it quickly in one move, without over analyzing every step. Remember, “The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life.”
“If you are able to get the job done before the deadline, you are the winner. If not, you are in trouble.”
Timing is everything
What every project include is a time frame. In the beginning, Ii saw timing as something pretty easy to solve, just coming up with some more or less guess. What an illusion. In reality, timing is one of the hardest things to do in design and business. I would say it simply: “If you are able to get the job done before the deadline, you are the winner. If not, you are in trouble.” This is the maxim your business will be all about. You will have to learn to set the right time frame and abide it.
Setting the right time frame is easier said than done. In the beginnings this was the hardest thing for me to do, along with setting the price. What’s more, it is easy to fall in the trap of competition on job boards and to come up with some insane time frame just to look better than everybody else. Sites like Freelancer are the best example. Dozens of people are bidding on projects like creating a website or redesign in one day. Sadly, they cannot offer just hours. Don’t do this.
When you will want to set appropriate time frame, use two good rules of thumb. First, count with the worst possible scenario. Second, add some additional time as a reserve. For example, if some project will take you four days, add another one day to it. Following this approach, if something will go wrong, you will have some time to fix it without looking bad. It also increases your chance to finish the project before the deadline, which can turn in more business opportunities in the future.
Design is not just a work, it is a business and you should treat it that way. If it is also your hobby, passion or love it’s even better. It will be easier to endure the tough times and face various roadblocks on the way. I hope these five advice will help you increase your chance to succeed in this beautiful craft the design and business is. Remember, enjoy the best moments, learn from the worst.
What would you advise someone just starting out?