Losing Big Freelance Graphic Design Clients

Man with head in hands on a couchI recently wrote about not putting all your freelance eggs in one basket as well as working a part-time job while freelancing, and now I feel like it’s time to for me to come clean. Don’t worry, I’m not on the lamb and there’s not a warrant out for my arrest, but I am guilty of putting all of my freelance eggs in one basket. Michelle Goodman wrote in her fantastic book, My So Called Freelance Life, about how it is dangerous relying on one big client for all of your work and income, because there will come a day when that client will fold, disappear or not need your services anymore. This happened to me a week ago, and in my defense, I knew it was coming. I saw the signs. This particular client had a few freelance writers and photographers (one of them being me) on staff working and had recently started cutting the creative staff due to monetary reasons. My safety was clearly in jeopardy, but I soldiered on hoping for the best because I liked the work I was doing, it was steady and allowed me to work with other smaller clients without putting me in the poor house. Bad thing was this client had a lot they wanted done and took up a lot of my time, even though I was able to set my own hours. This gig had more or less turned into a demanding part-time job. While I’ve been freelancing for a little over a year, I’ve had various clients come and go, but this client had consistently stuck around and had continually fed me work. As I said before, I knew this gig would probably be coming to an end soon so I’d been busting my butt marketing my services and had started focusing more on networking. When the axe dropped last week, I wasn’t terribly surprised, but I was still a little bummed.

Conclusion

If most of your work is coming from one main client, this will probably happen to you at some point in your freelancing career. Clients like this are great to help you get your freelancing legs but nothing is ever definite in the freelance world, always be looking for new clients and maintaining  healthy client relationships. Now that I’m no longer with the aforementioned client, I’ve managed to pull in two new clients and two potential clients over the past week. I’m also marketing myself more actively and feel much more productive and creative. I’m not discounting my professional relationship with this company, but maybe it was the right time to start taking larger strides to better my freelancing graphic design business.

This has happened to the best of us, but never fear, there are always more client fish in the sea. Continue to market yourself, maintain a positive client relationship with the lost client (you never know if they’ll want to use your services again, maybe just not on such an exclusive basis) and keep your chin up. For me, I think this was the kick in the pants I needed to really get myself out there and start promoting my business like crazy. I’m looking at the situation from a positive perspective, and I’m hopefully for the future.

Missing Missy: A Graphic Designers Responsibility

Graphic designers are often thought of a resilient hard working individuals that at the drop of a hat can switch gears and work on multiple projects at one time. For the most part this is true, and we are happy to accommodate our clients needs, unless the project is completely ridiculous. A good friend, also in a creative field, forwarded me this e-mail exchange between a graphic designer and his coworker regarding a poor lost cat. Clearly this would take first priority over all other work related projects. I dare you to hold back the tears while reading about the tragic tale of Missing Missy.


Hi
I opened the screen door yesterday and my cat got out and has been missing since then so I was wondering if you are not to busy you could make a poster for me. It has to be A4 and I will photocopy it and put it around my suburb this afternoon.

This is the only photo of her I have she answers to the name Missy and is black and white and about 8 months old. missing on Harper street and my phone number.
Thanks Shan.

Missing Missy 1

From:David Thorne
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 9.26am
To: Shannon Walkley
Subject: Re: Poster

Dear Shannon,
That is shocking news.
Although I have two clients expecting completed work this afternoon, I will, of course, drop everything and do whatever it takes to facilitate the speedy return of Missy.
Regards, David.

From: Shannon Walkley
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 9.37am
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Poster
yeah ok thanks. I know you dont like cats but I am really worried about mine. I have to leave at 1pm today.

From: David Thorne
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 10.17am
To: Shannon Walkley
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Poster
Dear Shannon,
I never said I don’t like cats. Attached poster as requested.
Regards, David.

Missing Missy poster

From: Shannon Walkley
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 10.24am
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Poster
yeah thats not what I was looking for at all. it looks like a movie and how come the photo of Missy is so small?

From: David Thorne
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 10.28am
To: Shannon Walkley
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Poster

Dear Shannon,
It’s a design thing. The cat is lost in the negative space.
Regards, David.

From: Shannon Walkley
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 10.33am
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Poster
Thats just stupid. Can you do it properly please? I am extremely emotional over this and was up all night in tears. you seem to think it is funny. Can you make the photo bigger please and fix the text and do it in colour please. Thanks.

From: David Thorne
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 10.46am
To: Shannon Walkley
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Poster
Dear Shannon,
Having worked with designers for a few years now, I would have assumed you understood, despite our vague suggestions otherwise, we do not welcome constructive criticism. I don’t come downstairs and tell you how to send text messages, log onto Facebook and look out of the window. I have amended and attached the poster as per your instructions.
Regards, David.

Missing Missy movie poster

From: Shannon Walkley
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 10.59am
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Poster
This is worse than the other one. can you make it so it shows the whole photo of Missy and delete the stupid text that says missing missy off it? I just want it to say Lost.

From: David Thorne
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 11.14am
To: Shannon Walkley
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Poster

Missing Missy Lost Poster

From: Shannon Walkley
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 11.21am
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Poster
yeah can you do the poster or not? I just want a photo and the word lost and the telephone number and when and where she was lost and her name. Not like a movie poster or anything stupid. I have to leave early today. If it was your cat I would help you. Thanks.

From: David Thorne
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 11.32am
To: Shannon Walkley
Subject: Awww
Dear Shannon,
I don’t have a cat. I once agreed to look after a friend’s cat for a week but after he dropped it off at my apartment and explained the concept of kitty litter. I have attached the amended version of your poster as per your detailed instructions.
Regards, David.

Missing Missy orange cat

From: Shannon Walkley
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 11.47am
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Awww
Thats not my cat. where did you get that picture from? That cat is orange. I gave you a photo of my cat.

From: David Thorne
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 11.58am
To: Shannon Walkley
Subject: Re: Re: Awww

I know, but that one is cute. As Missy has quite possibly met any one of several violent ends, it is possible you might get a better cat out of this. If anybody calls and says “I haven’t seen your orange cat but I did find a black and white one with its hind legs run over by a car, do you want it?” you can politely decline and save yourself a costly veterinarian bill.
Regards, David.

From: Shannon Walkley
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 12.07pm
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Awww
Please just use the photo I gave you.

From: David Thorne
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 12.22pm
To: Shannon Walkley
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Awww

Missing Missy reward

From: Shannon Walkley
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 12.34pm
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Awww
I didnt say there was a reward. I dont have $2000 dollars. What did you even put that there for? Apart from that it is perfect can you please remove the reward bit. Thanks Shan.

From: David Thorne
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 12.42pm
To: Shannon Walkley
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Awww

Missing Missy no reward

From: Shannon Walkley
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 12.51pm
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Awww
Can you just please take the reward bit off altogether? I have to leave in ten minutes and I still have to make photocopies of it.

From: David Thorne
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 12.56pm
To: Shannon Walkley
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Awww

Missing Missy red hat

From: Shannon Walkley
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 1.03pm
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Awww
Fine. That will have to do.

Designing for Family and Friends

Computer frustration | Laura Earley Graphic DesignOur family and friends are a source of support, love, and when you’re first starting out on your freelancing journey, our first clients. Family and friends are naturally the first people we look for work because we already have an established relationship with them and there’s a level of trust that already exists, or so we think.

Family members, in particular, can be challenging to work with even before the design process begins. Here’s a scenario outlining 4 issues that might arise with working with your family and friends:

Price

Your Uncle Bob needs a website for his lawn care business. It’s going to be a pretty extensive e-commerce website where clients can come and schedule lawn care appointments and pay for said appointments all within a few clicks. A shopping cart will be required as well as video integration. This project could easily be priced in the thousands, you relay this information to your uncle in the form of a formal estimate via e-mail. You’re professional and mean business and you want your Uncle Bob to know this, after all, he’s a business owner too! Uncle Bob’s not having it. You’re estimate is far to high and since he’s family he feels he’s entitled to a discount. Uncle Bob drives a Mercedes, he’s got more lawn care equipment than a Home Depot and his home, where you’ve enjoyed so many family holiday get-togethers, is bigger than your whole apartment building. Long story short, Uncle Bob’s got the dough to fund this website project no matter what you charge. Unfortunately when you’re backed into a corner regarding bringing down your rates by a family member it’s much harder to stick to your guns and justify why you’re charging what you’re charging, and much easier to cave. You end up caving and bring down your cost, and halfheartedly start the project on a sour note…and without a contract.

Revisions

Uncle Bob has signed off on the wireframes, you’ve designed the Photoshop mockup and sent off the proof to him. Uncle Bob loves it but wants a few small changes. You complete these, send it back, he wants more revisions. You complete these once again, and of course he wants more changes but this time he wants major design changes done. You’re contract, which you waived for good old Uncle Bob, clearly states after 2 rounds of changes your hourly rate of X will be charged. You explain this to Uncle Bob, but of course he doesn’t want to pay extra and since he didn’t sign your contact, he’s not obligated to. Here begins the endless cycle of changes and the down fall of your mental health.

Payment

After months of developing the site and waiting on Uncle Bob hand and foot, the site is launched and it’s time to collect your well deserved payment. You invoice Uncle Bob, giving him a solid 30 days to pay you for your design. Day 31 rolls around and you’re Paypal account is empty. In your contract, it states that a fee will be charged to all late payments beyond 30 days of when the invoice was sent. Again, since you didn’t have Uncle Bob sign a contract, he’s not obligated to pay this fee. You inform Uncle Bob that you’re still awaiting payment, and he assures you the checks in the mail. Three months later you finally get handed a check at a family reunion.

Conclusion

The fictitious scenario I described above is an extremely negative case of working with a family member. I’ve been lucky enough to have positive experiences working with friends and family, but the potential for disaster in these cases are high. I’ve heard horror stories of people working with family that resulted in a huge dispute over the design work, severing the relationship. Treating a family member like any other client is difficult, but usually the best course of action. Stick to your guns regarding your rates and if you do discount your rates for a family member, make sure to include a note in the estimate or invoice letting them know that they’re getting a significant discount and that next time you’ll be charging full price. Have them sign something, whether it be your contract or an edited down version highlighting only the most important points.

Never hesitate to working with you family and friends, but know the risks involved! If the process goes south, there will be many cold shoulders and icy glares at your next family get-together.

Why Logo Design Contests Don’t Work

Running Track with numbers When I see the words “logo design contest” I literally cringe. Logo design contests are a great way for students and those designers new to the field of graphic design to build up a portfolio, but in the grand scheme of things, these contests ultimately devalue our industry even more than it already is. The idea of a logo contest looks like a win win in the eyes of a client. What’s wrong with keeping ones options open and having the pick of the litter when in the market for a logo? What’s wrong with this thinking is that most professional graphic designers may have participated in design contests of this nature in the past, but are sensible enough now to see that these contests rarely work out in favor of the designer or the client. Since seasoned, professional designers don’t participate in these contests, the client is not getting the best design possible. Clients inevitably pay for a bad design and will probably seek the services of a professional graphic designer to redesign the contest logo.

Logo design process is taken way too lightly. A logo is the face of a company and should not be designed in 5 minutes in the hopes of “winning” a $100. Logos take time to cultivate and grow into the vision a client has. Why not pay a qualified graphic designer x amount of dollars to create 2 or 3 solid logo concepts to choose from, rather than 30 mediocre designs, not one of which the client will even end up using but still end up having to shell out a chunk of money for? The logic of these contests is what I have a real issue with. There’s no room to revise and craft a logo into a design the client (and designer) will be happy with.

In Conclusion

Logo design contests aren’t going anywhere soon because there are always going to be graphic designers willing to participate in them. As a graphic designer who is very much opposed to these contests, I feel like it’s my duty to speak out against them because they are never in the best interest of the designer or client. I’ve received requests from (what I thought) were legit clients looking for one designer for the job, asking me to participate in these contests. I generally just decline the offer, thanking them for their time, but recently I’ve been e-mailing these clients back trying to make a solid case against these contests. I urge you to do the same when faced with the option of participating in a logo design contest. Logo design contests fall into the same realm as spec work, and that’s just unfair to you and your clients. I encourage graphic designers to find clients that will hire them based on their portfolio, not how cheaply and quickly they can churn out an inferior design that they might be paid for.

Freelance Dilemma of Putting Your Eggs in One Basket

Freelancing Eggs in a basketWhen you first start freelancing, it will be tempting to put all of your proverbial freelance eggs into one basket. The temptation to find a client that will consistently feed you work is what we all want as freelance graphic designers, web developers and writers. I encourage this wholeheartedly but don’t rely on just one client as your main source of income, no matter how tasty the deal. This will set you up for failure every time, just take it from Michelle Goodman, the successful freelance writer and writer of the fantastic book My So-Called Freelance Life. In this book she explains how she worked for one company for an extended period of time when all of the sudden, that company folded, leaving her high and dry with no clients or income. She saw this as an opportunity and only excelled from there, finding new clients and building her business the smart way. Having a handful of clients to rely on for your income is a safe way to run your business.

I’ll be honest, this happened to me recently. At first I was afraid. This client wasn’t the only one I had but they did provide me with consistent income and I’d gotten comfortable, too comfortable. Since I lost this client, I’ve really been hustling and have more leads now than ever before. I do believe that this happening was a blessing in disguise.

In Conclusion:

Always have a backup plan. Having a handful of clients is always better than having just one so if one client falls off the face of the planet, you’re not totally screwed (for lack of a better word). I also suggest keeping your name in various temp agency databases. Aquent and Artisan are good places to start but they are two of the larger job placement agencies that cater to creative professionals, meaning lots and lots of competition. There may be smaller, more local job placement agencies in your city that could be more beneficial in getting you work quickly. Bottom line, always have many alternatives available when business is slow or dwindling, this is the safest way to go!

The New Freelance Client High

Black Silhouette JumpingFinding clients is crucial to our success as freelance graphic designers, especially those first few clients. Having a strong portfolio, savvy marketing skills and providing great customer service is the way to snag your first client. Presenting these qualities to potential clients will ensure a few bites about your graphic design services. After negotiating cost with a potential client and getting a signed contract in your hands, finally it’s time to celebrate! You just acquired a new client! Here’s where I experience what I like to call, the new client high. Even-though I have been freelancing for nearly a year now, I still experience this feeling. There are pros and cons that come along with this new sense of euphoria.

The best pro is that once you have  snagged that new client, the future seems so bright and is a real confidence booster. This boost of confidence is important when you’re first starting out as a freelance designer. This is the time when I find myself to be the most productive. I’m quick to get things in order to and start working on the new project asap. Here’s where the largest con of the new client high emerges, becoming a pushover.

When you first begin working with a new client, it will be tempting to bend over backwards and wait on them hand and foot. If you stick within the parameters of your estimate and contract then this is no problem. However if your client starts piling on more work than discussed and being much more demanding than you planned for, this is unacceptable. Great customer service is one thing, but being taken advantage of due to your eagerness is another. Don’t be so easy to please that you stray from your contracts guidelines and in the end make yourself miserable.

In Conclusion:

The new freelance client high is something all freelance graphic designers experience. Finding new clients and becoming a successful freelancer is exhilarating, no doubt about it, but don’t let that feeling make you lose your business head.