Over the years, it has been a process of elimination, but I’ve noticed that some of the things we have done over the years are so simple, and seem to be basic business sense, but they continue to give us an edge in this industry and provide Innovated Media with some selling points that separate us from other firms. Here are a few of them:
Get and Stay Organized
Web designers, graphic designers, and freelancers in any type of creative industry tend to be grossly unorganized. It’s kind of a cliche’, I know, but get organized, and more importantly, appear to be organized. I have a few talented design friends that have zero organizational skills. The desktop on their computers was horrific! If they didn’t have a way to search and find files on their computer, they’d be lost in 5 seconds. It doesn’t surprise me that they are always contacting me to see if I have work for them to do. Your clients want to know that they can count on you to deliver what you said you could deliver without being scatterbrained and forgetting small details. This is impossible to do if you don’t have good systems in place to handle new leads and proposals, invoices and receivables, and a heavy production schedule.
Return Phone Calls and Emails in a Timely Manner
If you tell a client or potential client that you’ll call them tomorrow, then do it. Take less than 12 hours to respond to an email, even if you don’t have an answer for them right away…tell them you don’t know right now and you’ll get back with them. This is huge.
Your clients need to know they can reach you personally without difficulty. It’s best to set expectations with them, however. Explain to them that you don’t take phone calls during certain hours while you are doing production work. But if they know that when they call, you are going to answer the phone, it will foster a better relationship and you’ll have a better shot at creating a long-term client, which is the goal. We tell our clients it’s best to email because no matter where I am I can check and respond to email, and I like to have a record of my conversations. This way if there are action items that come from a conversation or request for work for us to do, I won’t have to set a calendar appointment to complete the task; it’s already waiting for me in my inbox.
Check in On Your Clients Regularly
If you haven’t heard from a client in 45 days, check in on them. This is pretty self-explanatory, but I will say that most of the clients that don’t contact us regularly almost always have a project in mind or they know someone that does. Keeping in touch with clients keeps your name in front of them, and before long, they’ll realize that they can bring all of their projects to you-not just the type of stuff you’ve done for them in the past. I’ve met successful entrepreneurs that had businesses that were ready to launch, but couldn’t get their web designer to call them back. Pathetic! And yes, I got their businesses.
In addition, your clients are connected with other people and business owners that need logo designs, print materials, websites, Internet marketing, etc. I have had countless conversations with clients while checking on them (asking them how business is doing, etc.) and the conversation turned into how their brother in law or co-worker is starting a new company and needs a new website. Got ’em. Checking in on your clients should keep you more than just busy, and that’s money in your pocket. It will also keep your advertising budget way down. When most of your new projects come from referrals, you can get by and spend very little on advertising for your company. Innovated Media spends less than $300 a year on advertising, and most of that money goes to directories like Merchant Circle.
Upsell to Your Existing Clients
Because this industry is still evolving so rapidly with the onset of social media, mobile devices (iPhone, Android, iPad, etc.) and just in a general sense, you should never be finished with a client once you complete a website design or print design. Because of the way that we approach new projects, we are constantly learning new and more efficient ways to build websites and, in the process, discover some pretty nice bells and whistles that many of our existing clients could easily benefit from. Once you find a way for your clients to benefit from these upgrades, contact them and tell them about a new way that they can make their website more user-friendly, generate more leads, or incorporate something new that will give them an edge over their competitors online. It’s a much easier sell than going out to find contracts on new websites. Chances are you’ve already gained the client’s trust and have performed well enough on past projects that they will agree to your recommendation(s) to move forward with little hesitation.
For example, even though you installed a blog on your client’s website, I’m willing to bet that they aren’t using it, which is doing more harm than good by not having any content on their blog. Or, if they are blogging, there is an extremely good chance that their posts are so poorly optimized that they aren’t seeing any additional organic traffic from them. Tell them you’ll charge them a flat rate every month to blog for them (creating residual for you) if they provide you with the articles and resources that they use to add content to their blog. Or, you could offer to optimize their blog posts at the end of each month and ensure that search engines at least notice their work. This is easy work to do for a seasoned web designer, it frees up your client’s time to focus on daily operations, and it will help them in the search engines. It’s a win-win.
Work from Home if You Can
Having an office with other people that work for you sounds like fun and a good way to go, but if designing is what you enjoy, you won’t be doing very much of it. If your dream is to build an empire, then do it. But if you enjoy the production, the designing, the coding, and being in the middle of launching sites and projects, do the home thing.
There are good tax benefits available when working out of your home office; just make sure you have a good accountant or tax person that shoots straight with you regarding deductions, and especially help you determine how much you should set aside to pay quarterly or annual taxes.
It takes discipline to work out of your home, so if you aren’t a disciplined person, it’s best to find a place in your home where there isn’t a TV or other things that may distract you from getting your work done. I have gone through periods where I work at night from about 10pm – 6am. This way, I don’t get any emails, phone calls, or unexpected visits when I am trying to work. I spend the daytime taking clients to lunch, attending meetings, and playing with my son.
The biggest disadvantage of working from home is that people rarely respect your work hours. Friends and family will assume that since you work from home you are available to help them with almost anything. This is part of the reason that I work at night. People rarely need your help at 2am, and I’m awake for a portion in the daytime to help them with things like moving furniture, watching kids, jump-starting a friend’s dead car, etc. My advice is to set boundaries and enforce them. You wouldn’t ask them to leave work to help you with something that can wait for a later time, and they shouldn’t either. This has been my biggest hurdle to overcome without hurting people’s feelings. People that work for someone else and actually drive to work will not understand when you try to enforce a level of respect they had no idea they weren’t giving, so walk carefully. You don’t want to lose friendships or hurt the feelings of people that you care about.
Get a Mac
Yes, they are more expensive…and worth every penny. I’d rather work construction than run Innovated Media in a PC environment. The machines run better, last longer, the customer support is by far better than speaking to an outsourced call center in India that starts out the support call with “Ok sir please make sure the computer is plugged in and the light is green.” Additionally, you won’t have to worry about computer viruses shutting down operations. ‘Nuff said.
Well, hopefully my little list of personal experiences can help you avoid some of the mistakes that many freelancers make, and get you on the road to being a successful self-employed freelance graphic or web designer. I never intended to start a Tulsa web design or a Tulsa graphic design company. Graphic and web design was a hobby – nothing more than a “video game” that I did in my spare time for fun to relieve stress. Now it is the fastest growing thing in my life and probably the source of most of my stress!