Yeah I Can Do That

It took me two years to realize that I cannot be everyone’s designer.

I seriously laugh when I think back to all the ways that I learned this lesson. Of course at the time I was probably ripping my hair out and threatening to “never freelance again.” And here’s the thing. I’m just being honest. A lot of times, as a designer, I’m scared to talk about my frustrations and the lessons I’ve learned because I’m afraid a client will think I’m talking about them. I promise you this: I have had and currently have some of the world’s most wonderful and creative clients. Without clients like that, I’d be doodling in my sketchbook with crayons. Oh wait, I still do that.

So here’s how I learned my lesson:

I tried to be everyone’s designer.

And it sucks but it’s essential. I’m not sure what exactly makes a great project, a great client or great work but I know some things that make all those things go bad. Like:

  • You need some quick cash and you say a little prayer along the lines of, “God just give me a project so I can pay my parking tickets.”
  • Your client says something like, “My friend Joanna told me that I need a designer because I want to sell felt Kleenex box covers but I think I can do it all myself.”
  • When their first question is, “How much do you charge?”
  • When a potential client tells me that my little designs are cute.
  • When they assume you’ll work for free because they know your college roommate’s stepmom.

I’m not saying all those things have happened to me…but I’m not saying they haven’t. To avoid situations like this I’ve discovered a few tricks.

  1. Create a portfolio and site that really reflects your style. Don’t just display work that drops names. Clients who love your style will approach you.
  2. Compile a list of questions to send to potential clients to get a sense of what they’re looking for, what they’re passionate about, and an estimate of their budget.
  3. LIKE your client. Make sure you take time to meet with them, chat on the phone, and genuinely enjoy working with them.
  4. Take referrals. If someone approaches you as a referral, you can look back on the type of project you had with the referrer.

Okay I’m done acting like I know stuff. I usually don’t share so many of my thoughts here so I hope you can relate or learn at least one thing (one thing being… that I enjoy making lists.)

What about you? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from designers AND the clients.

Photo found here.

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Comments (7)

  • Couldn’t have said it better myself. Congrats on learning these lessons, even if it was the hard way.

  • Thanks Amanda! It’s always a good thing to learn lessons even if it sucks at the moment :)

  • My “Everyone’s Designer” phase started immediately when I realized people would pay for my work — high school. I can’t even believe the amount of time & effort I would put into stuff, and how little I would take as payment (and be completely content with it). I would do anything back then; anything to get my creative mojo flowing. I’d be sitting in front of my screen for hours, just LOVING it. Then I grew up, and realized that my time is worth much more. That’s what it’s all about — time. Beyond skills and creativity, understanding the value of my time is the biggest difference between Aldan the kid, and Aldan the pro.

    So with that in mind, I started saying NO.
    – Wack-ass client? NO.
    – Cheap-ass client? NO.
    – Stupid-ass project? NO.
    – Boring-ass project? NO.
    – Garbage-ass ideas? NO.
    – Unrealistic-ass expectations? NO!

    I’ve got a lot more to say on the matter, but this response has already reached epic proportions.

    Do enjoy your anti-week!
    BTW, your new place is pretty slick =P

    • Aldan- that’s very interesting. I felt that my time and work was most respected in high school. I did fine art and was hired to create paintings. Now I feel like my peers are too willing to ask for “favors” and ask for discounted work. Perhaps because when we were in highschool, the older generation was the group hiring me? Who knows. Thanks for your thoughts, though. How do you most identify crazy clients?

      And I am enjoying my anti-week :)

  • I’ve become picky as hell about the work I do — to the point where my peers don’t even bother asking. With family though, as you know, I’m obligated… no matter how incredibly lame the request.

    Can you clarify your question a bit? I don’t want to give you the wrong answer..

    and you’re definitely cheating on your anti-week! you’re not supposed to be having this conversation…

  • Yes, it’s something we do for family :)

    What I meant by my question was…how to you identify unhealthy or crazy clients prior to starting projects? Is there something that tips you off? A warning sign? etc?

    I could comment on my blog on anti-week!!! As long as I wanted to do it, I did it. But I didn’t tweet the whole time!

  • I’m a plastic surgeon, and I’m consulting a patient. We’ve gone over what they want, and I’ve explained the risks, conflicts & limitations. Are they now going to start telling me how to perform the surgery? And when / if the time comes, will I be able to put their ass to sleep so I can do my sh*t?

    My definitive warning sign, is how willing a client is to listen and trust me as an expert. People know themselves and their services inside-out. Unfortunately though, many people are incapable of perceiving themselves (or their services) through new eyes.

    My clients generally show their true colors during the planning process. While I must always be respectful; knowing this is their company I’m representing, if I feel micromanaged, then the show stops there.

    Rock on, Allie.

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