Before the handshake.

Agreement

When you first launch yourself into a career as a freelancer, no matter what industry, you are more than likely full of motivation, enthusiasm and energy. A great way to begin your new career. However, the mission to find great clients isn’t always as easy as you might [naively] think. One thing I’ve learnt (and believe me, it’s been the hard way), is that saying YES to every job is definitely the wrong thing to do.

We have a thing called ‘a gut instinct’, we have this for a reason. It’s something that might get our ‘fight or flight’ mechanism fuelled and ready to kick off – listen to that, try to understand why you have that feeling and don’t ignore it.

This is the one thing that may save you from a lot of stress and financial angst. I know this sounds all very doom and gloom, but believe me, there are clients out there who really don’t have a clue about the number of hours it can take to produce a good design and therefore will question your credibility all the way through a project. Usually because they have Word or Publisher and they could do it so much quicker – that being the case why did they come to you in the first place.

The best way to avoid this difficult and stressful scenario is to be confident in your abilities, be honest about your rates and don’t compromise what you expect from your client. Have a process, a checklist and a routine.Show every potential client the same respect from the start and also ensure that they know you expect the same respect in return. Be professional, they are not your friend, they are your means of making a living. By all means be friendly and maybe even have a laugh to put everyone at ease, but make sure your potential new client sees that you know your stuff and appreciates your expertise. Throw a bit of jargon in there, it may not mean anything to them or it may impress them – either way you are putting yourself in a position of authority on your subject – which is hopefully why they came to you in the first place.

Before you commit to any job from any client here’s a few tips that might help you clinch that all important deal or at the very least ensure you make the right decision:

  1. When a new client contacts you, arrange a first meeting. Make sure you are very clear that there is no charge for this and that there is no obligation on either party to agree to anything going forward at this stage. This is where you both allow your gut instinct to do it’s magic. Don’t on any account, ignore this!
  2. Keep your meeting to an hour and be strict about that. From then on, if you take on this client, every hour spent with them should be billed for. (Put it this way, you wouldn’t expect a solicitor to offer a freebie every time you have a meeting with them – your client can’t expect that of you either.)
  3. During this initial discussion, make sure you have as much information about the job as possible. Set yourself a guideline of questioning that you are comfortable with and allows you to go away with confidence at the end of the meeting, knowing that you are armed with all the information you require to write a comprehensive brief.
  4. Let them see that you are making a checklist and don’t avoid the issue of budget. Without the knowledge of how much they can spend, you have no idea how much of the job you can achieve.

    Write a checklist
    The all important checklist.
  5. Equally, be confident about how much you charge per hour or per day, so that the potential client knows right from the beginning what to expect in terms of costs. I can’t tell you enough how important that information can be for a good working relationship with any client. (If the client is open and honest about how much money they have to spend, you’re hopefully on the right track and you are able to be realistic about what you can achieve for them.)
  6. With all the information you’ve gathered about the project, go back to your workspace and prepare a design brief for your new client. Include everything in this brief, and I mean everything that you gained from your meeting.The tiny details are the ones that can come back and bite you on the bum if you ignore them. What you think is a minor issue, may actually be very important to your client. Be-An-Active-ListenerThe art of listening is an essential skill you need to hone – make sure you consciously remind yourself of this every time you are with a client, whether it be the first time or half way through a project.
  7. When you prepare a brief, itemise everything. Make it very clear that you understand all the elements of the project that your client requires you to complete. Demonstrate your understanding of the design process by setting out the brief in a logical and organised fashion. This shows your commitment and professionalism. You want your client to read the brief and be amazed by the amount of information you were able to extract from them. If you show them at this stage that you are capable of listening and understanding what they need, then you are starting the relationship in a very positive way.
  8. The flip side of this initial brief could be that you got something wrong, maybe misinterpreted elements of their needs or missed something entirely. Make sure that you are totally transparent this, that you only human and mistakes can happen. Include a statement to this effect in the brief – 
  9. We are only human, we all make mistakes, don’t be afraid of admitting you got something wrong and stand corrected. Your client will respect you so much more for admitting a misunderstanding. This is what the brief is for, to ensure you are both on the same wavelength. Make sure your client lets you know if you’ve completely missed something. They may have an afterthought or forgot to mention something in your first meeting – remember your client is human too.
  10. When you send the brief to your client, also send your *Terms and Conditions document. This is so important. You need to ensure you have yourself covered for any difficulties that might arise along the way. If you are upfront and honest about what is required by your client as much as what they require of you, you are both in a position to make the decision that allows you both to move forward with this project, or maybe reconsider. With all your T’s an C’s on the table for them to clearly see and understand, there should be no repercussions down the line.Terms-and-Conditions-document
  11. Once your brief and T’s and C’s have been sent to your client, you wait. Allow them time to digest it, question it and hopefully, in the end, be happy with it. Give them a week, don’t be too impatient or look too needy of their business. If after a week you haven’t heard anything, a polite email or phone call to check they received it is not out of the question. After all, this is your livelihood, you need to ensure you have the work lined up in order for you to set your own budgets, organise your schedule and sustain a healthy cash flow.
  12. If there are any issues with the brief or they have any questions about your T’s & C’s, address these straight away so you can hopefully move forward quickly. If they are happy with the brief as it is, ensure you get your part-payment (**not deposit – it’s all about semantics), before you start the project. All going well, once that payment hits your account, it’s all systems go. Pat yourself on the back for getting through this first and sometimes most difficult part of the project and enjoy the creative journey ahead.

Another bit of advice I would like to offer, treat every client the same. Don’t get sucked into ‘mates rates’ or charities that have no money. Charities do have money otherwise they couldn’t exist and a true mate wouldn’t expect you to go hungry for their benefit.
By all means offer a discount if you think it’s appropriate, but never do anything for nothing.

You have skills that other people don’t have, that’s why they come to you in the first place. You worked hard to gain the knowledge you have, don’t ever underestimate that or allow yourself to feel belittled by any client. It’s up to you to make sure you are totally clear about what it is you can do for them and don’t be afraid to admit if there are skills you don’t have – we all have to use other contractors ocasionally. Insist they don’t keep any worries or issues, questions or dilemmas to themselves – if they know they can be totally honest with you, then your working relationship should be a breeze. You may aslo have to be very thick skinned when it comes to criticism. If they don’t like something, accept it and go back to the drawing board. You won’t get it right first time in most instances – relish those rare moments that you do.
Every mistake is an opportunity!
(Not sure if I just made that up or someone else did, good advice though.)

There will always be the client who thinks they know everything about what your work, if that was the case they wouldn’t need you in the first place. There will also be the ones that tell you that ‘so-and-so’ down the road said he’d do a website/logo/poster for them for £50. That’s fine, let them. If that’s the quality they are looking for, you can’t compete with that and don’t beat yourself up for not trying to. You know what expertise you have and what you can offer your client, and if they’ve seen examples of your work then it’s up to them to decide which direction they want to go. Sometimes losing a client to the bloke down the road is the best thing that can happen – the stress of dealing with such a client is never worth the financial gain (which can sometimes be very little anyway). Don’t just be driven by how much you are going to gain financially, determine what you can also gain professionally and emotionally. Creative projects should be enjoyable and rewarding. If your client understands that too, you’re potentially on a good thing.

Be clear, be honest and be patient – there is no such thing as the perfect job or the perfect client – you just have to remember to listen to your gut, let your head make the right decisions and your heart will enjoy the outcomes.

Good luck! Feel free to pick my brains about anything in this article. Only happy to share my experiences with other freelancers and sole traders.
(Keep an eye out for my new look website lauching soon.)

Download an example of my initial design brief here and feel free to amend it for your own persoanl use.  Design-Brief-Example-2017


* Feel free to amend my Terms and Conditions document to use for your own business. Another very kind designer shared this with me (who I embarrassingly can’t remember who he was) Design-Brief-Example-2017, for which I am very grateful – Sharing is caring!

** A part-payment is not refundable, however, as I recently learned from another self employed creative, a deposit is. Using the correct terminology can save you a lot of grief.

Game changer

When you find your life has all of a sudden taken an unexpected turn, it’s a bit tricky to be rational about choices and decisions. The first step to getting over this is to acknowledge when the irrational is merely a consequence of one’s situation and at that point, you need to grab it by the horns and battle the anxiety & angst head on.

One thing that I’ve learnt about myself over the last 20 years (from dealing with marriage, children, divorce, re-educating, new career, relationships, friendships…) is that you can never plan things, not really. Yes you can feel smug that you’ve got your diary filled with wonderful social events, meetings, work commitments and the odd holiday or weekend away; but when it comes to it, none of these are certain. Keeping an open mind about things not going quite to plan is a healthy way of dealing with life in general. If we’re too caught up with sticking to those diary entries, it becomes a relentless personal challenge to attempt perfection.

What’s so wrong about trying to get things right? Nothing, but sometimes it’s the getting things wrong that leads us to making better choices in the future. If we can come to terms with the mistakes that we make then we can learn from them and improve on the decision making process when faced with new challenges.

I love my work, but it’s not always as creative as I would like it to be. Recently I’ve realised that some of the work that I’ve been doing isn’t really challenging me in the way that allows me to grow my skills as a designer. It’s all about finding the balance and sometimes you have to say ‘no more’ and make that decision to change things. I did just that. I finished a job that was leading nowhere. When you look around, after three years, to find evidence of all your hard work and really can’t find it, you have to question whether your hard work is really what that business wants, despite what they  might need. Sometimes you have to deal with attitudes that are not prepared to accept that the world is changing, that they need to embrace those changes, enjoy them and reap the benefits. The penny finally dropped, I was wasting my time and energy, and my creativity was being stifled.

Time to exit. Time to move on. Time to think rationally and time to turn my life back around to a place that makes me happy and makes my kids happy. Looking after number one maybe a selfish thing to admit to, but it is necessary. My game changer moment has been a tough one, but certainly not something that I regret.

Being able to smile and laugh at life is sometimes a challenge, but one that should have a firm appointment in all our busy diaries. Have a damn good day!


 


 

New Year’s Resolutions – goodbye!

We’re 17 days into the new year and today is apparently the day when any New Year’s Resolutions go by the wayside and we all go back to how we’ve always behaved in our natural state. That is, the new exercise routine is basically recognised as boring and far too time consuming when we’d rather be doing things that we actually like. The habits that we know are not good for us drift back into our daily routine, mine being coffee & wine – life’s too short to not have a vice or two.

I guess the point of the NYRs is to make us look at our lives and assess where we think we should make a few changes and the ones that win out in the end are ones that are realistic and worthwhile. Giving up wine and coffee would probably be worthwhile to an extent, but really, is it about giving up totally and being miserable or just adjusting the habit so that it’s not so important?

When I did the H2O challenge for the RNLI last year, I drank nothing but water for 10 days. The first three days were the hardest, and it was nothing to do with the wine. It was the coffee. The headaches, lack of concentration, not having a cup in my hand – all these things added up to a habit or addiction that I didn’t really appreciate. Although I couldn’t wait for that first coffee once I finished the 10 day challenge, I certainly made changes to that habit and have managed to stick to it. My coffee consumption has decreased considerably and I actually enjoy it more because I look forward to my two cups a day (sometimes three, but not very often). As for wine, well, I think age has started to creep up on me and I basically don’t enjoy it as much as I used to. A glass or two every now and then is generally enough. Often having totally alcohol free days is such a good thing and means that I sleep better too. That’s got to be good.

I’m hoping that 2016 brings lots of good things; travels back to see friends and family in Australia, precious time with my wonderful children and lots of career prospects that give me job satisfaction and stability.

Wishing you all a wonderful 2016. Stay safe, be happy and love life!

 

New Year’s Resolutions – Tick (not!)

My first New Year’s Resolution (NYR) for this year was to simply not make any, yet for some ridiculous reason I found myself in the lead up to 31st December 2011, inadvertently making promises about things I would do in 2012. They are resolutions arent’ they? (Is it too weird that Firefox this very minute just sent me an email entitled “Keep your Resolutions with Firefox.”? The cyber spies are watching me!)

The list kept growing, to the point that I really don’t think I can call it a NYR list anymore, it’s just a rather enormous ‘To Do’ list. Adding to this blog at least once a week was up there at the top – already broken that one as this is the first blog for 2012 – rubbish start. Maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on myself and just attempt to write something at least once a month, or maybe I should try to stick to that and actually make the effort to be creative in a wordy way more often. This is supposed to be my design blog after all and I should really just add little bits like I would a diary. Must try harder!

Of course there are the usual obligatory promises like exercising more. I probably should delete the ‘more’ bit and just say exercise, full stop. I bought some very sturdy walking boots before the end of 2011, with all good intentions of doing what they were built for, walking. This has happened twice so far, but not just any old walking – through the woods (otherwise known as Narnia or more commonly, Ashridge) for at least a couple of hours and with the knowledge that there was a pub at the end of the trek. A girl has to have a reward for her efforts. Fortunately I have a few younger friends (you know who you are!) who generally instigate such activities and being much younger, they haven’t got to the age where one feels guilty about rewarding oneself with a glass of wine/beer/cider in the middle of the afternoon or at lunchtime on a weekend. (Why we feel guilty is another blog, another time.)

Work! Work harder, learn more and find a niche. I’m loving the work I’m doing, but I’d really like to find something that doesn’t take a lot of space to create so that I don’t have to convert my garage into a studio (as much as I’d love to, but that requires getting more work to pay for it – can you see the vicious circle, can’t you?). It has to something that calls on the skills that I already have, something that I can do from home and something that has very little overheads. Ho hum! Any ideas greatly appreciated please… (Saying that, I do have one idea that sprang to mind while working on a project for a client recently – I’ve just got to get around to doing something about it.)

Sort out my in-tray. Making a start on this job is a task in itself. I made a reasonable effort to get into it, then stupidly left it for a bit and am now struggling to pick up where I left off and as a consequence, my desk is once again covered with little [organised] piles of paper. Paperwork must be one of the most brain numbing, tedious but necessary evil of life. I must keep on top of it all otherwise life just becomes too stressful – as chaotic as life is, I do like to know where something is. If it’s in the in-tray then I know where it is, then when it’s filed away, I still know where it is and am happy that it is now in its own little paperwork home. There’s something sadly satisfying about that. As tedious a task as it is and as much as I hate doing it, it’s so so so nice to see the bottom of an empty in-tray. Shame it doesn’t last long, only as long as the next post filled with bank statements & bills.

Another brain wave had been to start writing letters again. Inspired by my ‘love letter writing’ day at Homemade London last year, I thought it would be nice to surprise a few people and actually write a few letters. Not sure how likely this one will be as I’m struggling to even find the motivation to write this blog, but it’s a nice idea. Maybe I’ll try it one wet weekend. I wouldn’t suggest watching the post too closely, this might be a resolution that is a mere pipe dream.

Whatever happens this year, I’m promising myself that I will work hard even when I don’t have a lot of work to do. Learn more about my new career and find ways to improve my skills. But, above all, I’m going to enjoy my wonderful children, partner and friends like the end of life as we know really is going to end on the 21st December 2012. Enjoy 2012 everyone! I’m certainly going to.