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.

Photo by Tom Fenner at the BBC

Seize the Moment!

AN ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS EXPERIENCE.

As one gets older, you start to recognise that experiences can only happen if you decide to seize the moment and go for it. I don’t mean ridiculous, dangerous things, like jumping out of an aeroplane (that’s my idea of hell, but I’m sure it’s someone’s idea of exhilaration and excitement), I’m talking about seeing an opportunity and acting on it, right there and then. If you’ve got your ‘business’ head on at the time, you may even consider the moment to be one that could propel you into another realm of business success. If the possibility of that is in your head, then why can’t it become a reality. You’ll never know unless you try.

People who know me, know that I am quite outspoken at times, but I’m also not one to need that ‘centre of attention’ feeling. However, sometimes without thinking too much about it, I find myself not only centre of attention, but on national television. Yep, it’s that moment of madness/excitement/opportunity (insert your own word here if you like), that can be the one to open up an experience that you’d never normally dream of considering.

Back in June 2016, I was slobbing on my sofa one Monday night with my daughter, watching the lovely Alex and Matt on The One Show. Towards the end of the show they were talking about a silly game that they were going to play with one lucky viewer the following night, with none other than the Absolutely Fabulous (clue there), Jennifer Saunders and Julia Sawalha. It was obviously all about the release of the new Ab Fab Movie and as a die hard fan from years gone by (back in the early 90’s), I felt well equipped to go for it! All the ‘viewer’ had to do was email in and say they’d like to play the game and confirm that they were free for the following two nights. I wrote a quick email, hit send and thought nothing more of it.

Hi Alex & Matt, Definitely a fan of AbFab & can definitely be in London Tues & Wed! Would love to play your AbFab game. Cheers, Cathie

theoneshow-preshow-1To cut a long story short, The One Show rang me the following morning to see if I’d like to be on the show. It wasn’t a long moment between the question and a very excited reply of YES! Various emails followed about where to be and when, what to wear and what to expect when I get there. Before I knew it I was on my way to London to be a guest on The One Show. How excited was I? Ridiculously!

I arrived early at BBC Broadcasting House in the heart of London’s West End and hung round in the local coffee shop, people watching and collecting butterflies in my stomach before heading to the studio. The next couple of hours were spent in the holding room (only celebs get to go into the Green Room) with other normal guests, discussing our purpose for being there. In comparison, my reason wasn’t quite so high brow, but a hell of a lot more fun.

The time finally came to be escorted to the studio, I was introduced to Alex and Matt (as lovely as they appear on the telly) and waited until my moment in front of the camera. My piece was to be the last 5 minutes so the wait was a killer – the butterflies had turned up there fluttering by now – industrial strength wings in action. I stood there watching Matt and Alex interview their guests, and the obvious stars of the show, Jennifer and Julia, waxing lyrical about their new movie, old episodes of Ab Fab and life in general.

My moment finally arrived. I was introduced as ‘Super Fan Cathie’ (hilarious) and was lead over to the sofa to sit myself next to Matt. Being introduced to Jennifer and Julia felt so surreal – the whole moment felt surreal. What to come was even more so. I was given an eye mask and Jennifer had to describe members of the cast of the new film and I had to guess who they were. I did myself proud, guessing most of them. But that wasn’t the shining moment. Next thing I know, Jennifer Saunders is personally inviting me to the World (yes whole wide world) Premiere of Ab Fab the Movie the following night at the Odeon in Leicester Square. Gobsmacked, speechless and ever so slightly wanting to scream with excitement, I expressed my sincere gratitude and the show was over. Credits started to roll, a little chat with my new friends (not really friends but for that moment it was nice to think so) and I asked for a few photos, which they kindly agreed to and well, that was it. It was all over. My 5 minutes of fame, my 5 minutes of excitement and a lifetime of memories and opportunities.

Needless to say, the next night at the Premiere with my good friend Jan (who had booked tickets for us to see the film at the Aylesbury Odeon on the night it was released on the following Friday), was a night to remember. In simple terms – glamour, glitter, celebrities in abundance, gorgeous ladies, equally delightful men, half the transvestite population of London who were simply fabulous and two birds from Hertfordshire.

Thanks to The One Show, I’ve got a story to dine out on for many years to come. Boring my friends with the details over and over again – not being able to get my head around it actually happening.

If I’d not bothered writing that email, it would never have happened. If you see an opportunity and think, I’ll leave it, not worth the effort, it’ll never happen to me, think again – there’s as much chance of it happening to you as it did for me. And you simply don’t know where any opportunity might lead you. The thing is, 6 months ago I was on the telly, people stopped me in Boots in my home town the next day to say, “Did I see you on the telly last night”, my kids friend’s parents saw me, blah blah blah. That was one moment, no one apart from me (and my long suffering friends) even remember that item on The One Show that night, but what it did was open up doors for me (hence this blog piece). I’ll always remember it and I’ll never regret sending that email.

An over used phrase maybe, but ‘Seize the Moment’ is definitely something I’ve done many times in my life and quite honestly, there’s always been more good than bad come out of it. Be your own marketing guru and be brave. Go on, give it a try! You may just enjoy it.

50 Must See TED Talks about Creativity and Design

There’s so much inspiration from so many clever, creative people in our world. Watch a few of these Ted Talk lectures – you never know, your next moment of creative genius may be fuelled by what you see and hear.

Enjoy and smile!

(I haven’t watched all 50, so can’t comment on the content entirely – but it’s nice to know that design is out there being discussed and not just hidden away in studios and offices, then transitioned to the public domain once a brief is complete. The process of how it gets to the final point is so important and sometimes overlooked as just the boring bit in the middle, necessary to get to the end. It’s a whole lot more and is what makes a piece of design something to smile about or not.)

Source: 50 Must See TED Talks about Creativity and Design – StumbleUpon