BlogMarketing and Productivity Insights
I have been in the advertising and design business for over 30 years. Most of it as a sole-practitioner or working with a business partner. During that time I have had many prospective clients come across my door, and I have had many that I have entered into long-term working relationships with. I have enjoyed working with most all of them and have enjoyed their company as friends. Most have taken care of paying invoices on time, and for that, I consider myself lucky.
From time-to-time, I have come across some business people who don’t seem to work under the same ethical guidelines that you and I work with. These people will take advantage of you. Probably not from any malicious standpoint, they just feel they are special and should get a deal.
To help you as you continue on your business journey, here are a few business types you should look out for on your journey, especially as a designer.
The prospects to watch out for
The I need a deal — “If you do this logo for cheap, then you will be my guy on all the other projects.” Nobody wants to pass up on a job, but a lot of times we grab the work like we are buying a lottery ticket at the corner Jiffy Mart. The odds are 1 in 175 million, but we are willing to chance it in hopes of being the one. These clients usually pay off the same way. It is rare that your new “client” will pay you the going rate for future work. You have proven that you will give away your work and it will always be valued that way. When they are ready to pay going wages, they almost always go to a larger agency.
Early in my career, I was freelancing for someone who had a one-person marketing firm. Her client was a real estate company that needed a new logo. She talked me into doing the mockups for $25, yes you read that right, $25. She promised me that once she sold it, I could charge more for the final layout. She sold it alright and went straight to the printer who finished the artwork for free. That logo is still in use 20 years later.
The Logo Cage Match — “I used a service where I had 20 designers design my logo for free. I chose one and paid him $40.” Sure, you can get good logos from these types of services. A hundred other companies might have the same logo but that doesn’t matter, it will only cost you $40. These potential clients do not value what you do and the services you bring them. Don’t be surprised when they ask you to lower your fees because they can get a website produced on Fiverr.com for $5 or they could do it themselves using Wix.
In my experience, the upside of the Logo Cage Match client is that you may work with someone who feels they got burned when they had their logo designed. They are now looking for a designer who can help them improve their brand in spite of their logo.
The Phantom (client edition) — There is always a client who has to have it now, to meet a deadline and if you don’t get it done they will find someone else, and there will be hell to pay. Oh, did he mention that he doesn’t want to pay a rush fee? That is a pretty typical scenario; the phantom is the one who makes the demand and then disappears. Need approval for a photo or text change? The phantom can’t be bothered. Do you need FTP access to his original web site? The phantom is nowhere to be found. Of course, you still need to make that deadline.
The designers to watch out for
In all fairness, there are designers that you the client should be looking out for as well.
The Side Gigger — Is your prospective designer working for you as a side gig? They are working somewhere else from 8-5, so what could the problem with that? First off they are working somewhere else from 8-5, and your job will be worked on later in the evening. I don’t know about you, but most business decisions are made between 8-5.
Before I come down too hard on the Side Gig, I have to admit that is what I did the first few years of my career. It worked for my clients and me. You need to decide if you are comfortable with the decreased attention to your project.
The Learn on the Job — Fake it till you make is an unspoken business practice, and that’s true in design and advertising as anywhere else. Technology is ever-changing, so your designer is bound to be behind the technology curve on some things. Just make sure the designer you choose is not learning it ALL on your project. Here is a helpful hint, if you got a really good deal on the project, you might be the guinea pig.
The Phantom (designer edition) — The meeting started off with a bang, you and your designer got along great, and you liked his designs. You set some deadlines, and your designer heads off into the night to create your website or brochure and… nothing. One week goes by then two. You call and can’t get him on the phone. Your deadline passes, and eventually, you get him on the phone. What was the excuse? His dog was sick; maybe he had another job that took longer than he thought. Maybe he wasn’t as fast as he thought, couldn’t make the deadline and was too embarrassed to admit it and hoped you would go away.
So how do you deal with these types of clients or designers? Communication. Talk to your prospective client or designer and get to know them. Do you have a gut feeling about them one way or another? Trust it, a lot of time your gut is usually right. Do they have expectations that you are not comfortable with? It’s better to back out now. Define the scope and deliverables of the project and get it in writing in a signed contract. My answer may sound simplistic, and it could be a whole other article on that subject alone. Think about it, if I had told that first client that yes I will do the comp for $25, but I would get $500 if it was sold and got it in writing then maybe I wouldn’t have felt a need to lead off a blog post about it decades later.
I was on a conference call the other day with one of the organizations where I volunteer. I was asked to be on this conference call and help with their project because I was one of the few people with any marketing experience they knew. I just assumed that most people in this organization know what I do. I’ve been around awhile, and I have created and maintained multiple websites and other marketing projects.
The call started and the host, the one who invited me, made introductions. When he came to me, he introduced me as the ‘Computer Guy.’ “Shawn can do anything with a computer!”
A few people on the call knew me but most didn’t. These people had no idea why I was there and what I could offer them. The appropriate answer should have been, “Shawn can help us promote the event on social media” or “Shawn can write copy and produce flyers that may get people to sign up.” They could have even just said, “Shawn has over 30 years of marketing and advertising experience.” Instead I am the computer guy, the Minecraft expert for all they know.
Now was it my friend’s fault for introducing me as the computer expert? Probably not. I should have done a better job explaining what I do to my friends and colleagues. Something simple that they can remember.
In years past I tried to be a jack-of-all-trades designer. I promoted myself as a designer, writer, web designer, print advertiser, radio and tv advertiser and who knows what else. I could do all those things, but my friends and business associates had no clue how to recommend me. It was all just too much information, and I didn’t seem focused. I decided I needed to simplify.
The main thing I was going to stop promoting was print, and that was hard. It is my first love. I still miss the days of using tape, boards and an X-ACTO knife to put an ad together. Email and the internet changed how we look at print and how we use it. It’s still around but not as important to my clients.
One thing I have noticed over the years is that fewer and fewer people know anything about designing print projects leaving a select few of us with the skills and knowledge. It reminded me of the late 1990’s when companies freaked out about their legacy computer systems and how they would react to the change in the century, Y2K as it was known. Some of these programs were written decades earlier, and when they needed to make the Y2K updates, scores of retirees went back to work as highly paid programmer/consultants. They were the only ones who could make the changes and meet that December 31, 1999 deadline. Maybe one day print will do the same for me. A boy can dream, can’t he?
But I digress.
I realized that what I was good at, what I enjoyed doing and what businesses need are web and brand experts. I adopted the tagline Web, Brand and Grow. I help companies build their website and their brand so they can grow their business. Something simple I could tell my friends and associates and they could become my evangelists.
What about you? Do your friends and associates know what you do best? Do they know the specific work you want?
Business people tend to have an elevator speech ready to so they can explain what they do. If you go online and search for ‘elevator speech,’ you will find you can get into the weeds quick with specific words and phrases and how it should be written. It can be a little much. The phrase ‘Elevator Speech’ comes from the idea that you should be able to tell someone what you do in the time it takes you to ride in an elevator, 30-60 seconds. Once the doors open, they are gone.
Here are a few things that you should do:
- Review your offerings and decide where you make the most money
- Find out what your clients really want
- Create a short, simple phrase you can tell people about what you do
- And then tell your friends, so you don’t become “the computer expert.”
Let me be clear. I am not telling you to stop doing everything you are currently doing, just focus on the ones that bring you more clients, more money, and more joy. I may not be promoting print, but if a Y2K of print shows up, you can bet I am going to cash in on that.
In the meantime, I am going to continue to create websites, building brands and helping businesses grow.
Writing does not come naturally to me. But I was reading the blog post “10 Reasons Why All Designers Should Start Writing More” by Alana Brajdic, and it reminded me of my own journey as a reluctant writer.
I knew I always wanted to be a designer. Having a father who was a designer helped me decide early. I also knew what I was getting into. When I was a junior in high school, I received the Auburn University class catalog. I saw that I only needed three quarters (now semesters) of English and no math. Sold! I was all in on design.
When I graduated college and was looking for my first job, I interviewed with an industrial business. A friend’s father ran the business and was looking for a designer, marketer, writer, the whole package. Today, this would be a great job. Back then it was terrifying. Writing? I was going to have to write? I backed out before they could offer me a job but I asked if I could send a friend to them. He got the job, and I believe may still be with the company that bought them out.
I never regretted that decision. It was not the time for me to write.
Once I entered the advertising world, I found out how much power writing gave those who could do it. The path from entry level creative to creative director at ad agencies seemed to go to copywriters more than art directors. That is understandable, art directors work with visuals and if we can’t explain what we did, then surely you can see it, right? Copywriters had the upper hand, they described things day in and day out. I guess you could say they had a way with words.
When I became my own boss, learning to write became a necessity. Whether I was writing an ad, crafting a proposal or writing a blog post, I needed to become comfortable. It took awhile, but once I found my own voice, writing became easier, but it’s still not natural. When I design, I can lose myself for hours working on a project, and it comes easy for me. When I am writing, I have to make myself do it. I push everything else aside, and I make sure that I won’t be distracted. It’s a job. Sometimes the words pour out; sometimes the blank screen mocks me.
Becoming a writer will help you be a better designer. It will help you “sell” your design work to clients and your team. It will help you become more of a partner with the copywriter you are working with, and it will help you become a creative director if that is your goal.
As a reluctant writer, it’s easy to stand on the sidelines while the real writers battle it out over how something is worded and be able to give your opinions about what really matters. It can be comical at times. The Onion posted a great story about Copy Editors battling over copy style.
Based on the Onion article, here is the last bit of advice for designers or anyone who wants to write more. The two most important “issues” out there are the Oxford Comma and Two Spaces after the Period. I write this tongue in cheek because they seem to be overly important for some people* but I will address it here.
Oxford Comma. Most every company I have worked for used the AP Stylebook which leaves out the Oxford Comma unless deemed absolutely necessary. If your company uses The Chicago Manual of Style or The University of Oxford Style Guide, then use the Oxford Comma. If you have a boss who is fanatical about it one way or another, then follow their style. Life’s too short to argue about this. I grew up not using it, so I don’t use an Oxford Comma. If you don’t know what an Oxford Comma is, it’s an extra comma before and. An example would be red, white, and blue.
Two Spaces Between Sentences. This subject is one I am passionate about. Some writers want to add two spaces between sentences instead of one. If you learned on a typewriter, you always added two spaces. The reason was that all typewriters use what is called a monospaced font. It is also called a fixed-pitch, fixed-width, or non-proportional font. What makes them unique is that each letter and character each occupy the same amount of horizontal space. An ‘I’ would have the same space as a ‘W.’ For that reason, a double space is needed to give some air between sentences. With the advent of digital fonts, typographers have already designed spacing between unique characters and the space after periods. No extra space is needed. I don’t get worked up about this because if a copywriter sends me text with two spaces I search and replace two spaces with one and move on. I am the designer after all.
I hope this encourages you to start writing. It’s like anything else, you need to put the time in to get better at it so just start writing.
*These people are my writer friends on Facebook.
My graduation from art school coincided with the publication of David Ogilvy’s book Ogilvy on Advertising. It was a must-have book at the time and has been on my shelf ever since. The advertising landscape has changed dramatically in the years since its first publication, and it has been years since I picked up the book and read it.
This morning in my inbox was an email of recommendations from Amazon Prime. Among the books listed was Ogilvy on Advertising. It got me thinking, would anyone be able to use it today?
I had always wanted to be my own boss, so the first chapters of the book appealed to me. The chapters “How to run and advertising agency” and “How to get clients” were helpful to me even though my clients would never be Rolls-Royce, Hathaway Shirts and Schweppes.
Later chapters discuss the secrets in B2B advertising, direct mail, cause advertising, research and more. There is information that is as relevant today as it was decades ago. You see, David Ogilvy was a writer and he was focused on the story, how to convince you to buy his product or sign up for his offer. As he states in the overture, “I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.” The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The way we market to individuals is different than back in Ogilvy’s days, but the information in the book still hold up and can be applied to new ways of presenting it. I fully believe that David Ogilvy would be an inbound marketing rock star if he were alive today.
My favorite part is Chapter 20 “I predict 13 changes.” Here are a few of my favorites.
- There will be a renaissance in print advertising
- The clutter of commercials on television and radio will be brought under control
- Candidates for political office will stop using dishonest advertising
Great advertising man, not so great futurist.
My recommendation is that you add this book to your reading list. Buy the book, buy a used copy if you don’t want to spend much money. If you are working at an agency, head to the office of any of the baby-boomers (yes, they still exist at agencies) and see if they have it on their shelf. Try and borrow it without being regaled with stories of the past. It’s an easy read, and there is still great information you can use.