Seasonal Holiday Graphic Design Marketing: Make Your Own Holiday Cards

Tis the season to get creative with your freelance business marketing tactics. You’re probably planning on sending out holiday cards to friends and family anyway, why not send some out to your valued clients. Chances are your small business clients are sending cards out taking the opportunity to remind their valued customers about their business, so take the opportunity to do so yourself. A package of 14 holiday cards are, at most, ten dollars. Throw a few business cards in with your cards and you have a seasonal marketing tool that your clients are sure to appreciate. Better yet, design your own holiday cards or postcards to really make an impact on your clients. Creating a custom marketing piece to send to clients can jump-start the process of starting a new project and help remind your clients of that graphic design project they’ve had on the back-burner for the last few months.


If you have the time and money, create your own custom holiday cards to send to your valued clients. If your tight on time and money, purchase a cheap (but pretty) package of prefab holiday cards, throw a few business cards in with them and send them on their way. Remember to keep your greeting cards fairly holiday unspecific. Most of your clients may celebrate Christmas, but you can never be sure. In the freelance business, you can never assume anything, so keep your holiday card as generic as possible to avoid offending a valued client.

Graphic Design in the Real World

Often times, we graphic designers will be handed a project to design with the knowledge that once that design is complete we may never lay eyes on the finished product. This especially applies for freelance graphic designers, if you aren’t handling the printing process for a client, chances are you won’t see the final piece unless it’s for a publication you can get your hands on or for a big campaign. I work with small to medium sized businesses so once I’ve designed their business card, brochure or letterhead, I send it to the company for them to print as they see fit without my involvement. I often ask for them to send a finished copy of what I’ve done with either their payment or out of the kindness or their own hearts, and most clients usually oblige me, but not always. What am I getting at here? Sometimes you don’t have to ask clients for a copy of the finished product because it will pop-up when you least expect it.

The TechStop dasher board highlight Indianapolis, IndianaHockey isn’t too popular around where I’m from, even-though the weather here tends to drop below freezing more times than I’d like to think about during the personally uninspiring graphic design season of winter. Ice hockey just isn’t a sport many Hoosiers gravitate towards. I, however, love the sport (maybe it’s all the fighting and angst) so when a beloved client of mine asked me to design a dasher board for his companies that would be displayed around the Indiana Ice hockey rink during home games, I jumped at the opportunity. He owns two companies in the Indianapolis area so he needed two designs. I created them, got the design approved and that was that. Until last night when I actually went to an Ice game, and saw the dasher boards I had designed in the real world! To be honest, I’d forgotten about this project and didn’t realize I might see them until I actually ran into my client at the game. Needless to say I was quite please with the results and very excited that my work, albeit very simple, was being seen by a large crowd of people (The photo you see here was taken with my trusty iPhone 4, but isn’t the greatest quality due to our position in the stands). The other dasher board I designed was located on the opposite side of the rink on the side we were sitting on.


Always attempt to get a copy of your work for your portfolio and be on the lookout for your designs in the real world. Be proud of your work and always remember it’s not just you admiring your design, hundreds and thousands of people might be admiring it too!

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.

Ways to Get Swindled Right Out of Graphic Design School

Graphic Design Pens and Pencils in a CupIn design school (or even high school for those of you talented enough not to need additional education) the future is bright and you’re certain that you’ll be an instant success right out of school! Right?! Wrong. Way wrong. There are people in the world looking for fresh, naive graphic design talent to take advantage of, especially in the freelance arena. Just log on to your local design listing page and look for those ads looking for a logo for $50, or for businesses looking for free graphic design that will only enhance your portfolio and give your creativity the exposure it deserves! Whatever, these people just want your creative ideas for nothing. You need a finely tuned BS-detector to weed out these types of clients, which you won’t have entering the graphic design field right out of design school.

If you hear these phrases from potential clients, you’re probably going to get swindled:

“I feel uncomfortable signing your contract.”

Red flag numero uno. A contract is a non-negotiable. A contract or design agreement, lays out the ground work for the project and lets your client know up front about payment schedules, how you accept payment, the number of revisions you’ll do before additional payment is required, etc… If a potential client is giving you the run around about signing your contract or down right refuses, run for the hills. Chances are they won’t pay on time (or at all) and will be extremely difficult to work with. The temptation to go forward with a project and work with a new client without a contract will be tempting for a freelance graphic designer right out of school, but resist the temptation! Save yourself the headache and use the time you’ll save stressing about this client to find better clients that will actually pay you.

For help understanding or crafting a design contract or agreement, check out these resources to get you started:

Outlaw Design Blog – Graphic Designer Contracts Agreements Forms and Web Designer Contracts

David Airey – Using Freelance Graphic Design Contracts

Freelance Folder – Do You Need a Contract for Freelance Work?

“You’re quote is a little too high, how about you do it for this (insert measly dollar amount here).”

If your rates are reasonable and your quote is well thought out given the project, don’t budge on price. Do your best to explain how you came up with your quote. I never go into too much detail, but I explain what is included in the quote: research, sketching, designing and X number of revisions. These factors will vary depending on the project.

“I’d do this project myself, but I don’t have time.”

This type of prospective client may have taken a web design class at their local community college 8 years ago, clearly making them an expert on subject of graphic design (in their minds). Clients like this might request a copy of your source files during or after the project is done so they can “tweak” them or make changes down the road. You wouldn’t ask a painter to leave his tools behind after he paints your house so you can touch up spots a few months later. Don’t let clients “tweak” your work.

“Payment upfront? We’ll pay you once we’re satisfied…”

…Or not at all. Many designers require a 50% deposit on all projects upfront, and for good reason. If after rounds and rounds of changes and months of work a client decides they don’t like what you’ve done and goes off the grid, at least you made a little money for your hard work and time. Normally there’s not a lot you can do in this situation, but if the amount they owe is substantial, take legal action (only pursue this option after many e-mails and phone calls to the delinquent client). You’re running a business, not a charity. This is also an instance where having a signed contract in your hands is crucial.

“Do a spec of this project, then we’ll be able to know for sure if you’re the right designer for the job.”

No spec work EVER. There’s a huge movement happening in the graphic design community to eradicate spec work completely. When I first started freelancing, I got roped into doing spec work because I thought that was a standard practice. Veteran freelance designers will be quick to tell you otherwise. Spec work devalues our industry and makes it incredibly easy for potential clients to steal your work and use it for free, or hand it off to another designer willing to work for peanuts to rework what you’ve done and claim it as their own. Yes, unfortunately these type of low life clients and graphic designers exist.

“This project is easy and shouldn’t take you anytime at all!”

I’ve heard this more times than I can count and it makes me cringe each time. There are clients out there that believe you have a magical button on your keyboard that when pressed churns out the exact design your client wants in five seconds. This is an opportunity for you to educate your potential client about you creative process. When I send a potential client a quote, I always include a note that says something like “This quote includes all research, sketching and design work…” to dispel this myth that what we designers do is “easy”.

In Conclusion:

Always be cordial and quick to explain your processes if you ever hear these phrases from a potential client. We’re professionals and sometimes we have to explain what we do in order for our clients to get on the same page, but don’t spend too much time on a client if there’s clearly no way to get through to them. I look at it this way, if I take my car in to get it worked on and the quote on the repairs is too high, I’ll generally go ahead with it after a clear explanation of what’s being done to my car. Our potential clients deserve the same courtesy.