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November 08 2013


Building A Successful Product: Start Small And Listen


Developing a product is one thing, bringing it to market is another. In this article, Rachel explains how to start with a new product, develop and support it over time. Interested in learning more? Rachel will be hosting a full-day Smashing workshop on “Shipping Your Product” in Berlin, and she has contributed a chapter on customer support to the brand new upcoming Smashing Book #4 (to be released in late November). —Ed.

“The goal of a startup is to find the sweet-spot where minimum product and viable product meet — get people to fall in love with you. Over time, you listen to your customers, make improvements and raise the bar on what viable means — making it more expensive for competitors to jump in.”

John Radoff

If you are launching a bootstrapped product, then your aim should be to ship something that people are happy to give you money for as quickly as possible. This means launching with the minimum that will make your product something that people would be happy to buy. You can then begin to develop additional features based on what customers actually want and need, rather than on what you think they want and need.

In this article, based on my own experience, I’ll describe how it is possible to launch with a really small product and grow from those small beginnings by listening to your customers.

How To Decide On Must-Have Features For Launch

You might be starting small, but you need to draw that list of features that will make up your small but perfectly formed product offering, something that people would be happy to pay for because it brings them value as is. To get your product to launch, I suggest that you consider two main things:

  • Who is my target customer?
  • What problem(s) will my product solve?

For my own product, our target market was design agencies and freelancers. It’s a CMS, but we were not interested in making it a website-building tool or in appealing to non-coders. The customers we had in mind were the sort of people we were already working with: small agencies and designers who know how to write HTML and CSS, who don’t need a website-building tool and who want to manage content. This was an audience we knew well and importantly where people knew us. I would always recommend that if you are developing a product you target a market you already are well known in; it will make it far easier to spread the word, and for people to have trust in you. We also intended to appeal to people who develop relatively small-scale websites. We were not creating a Drupal competitor. So, our ideal customer is a designer, either freelance or in an agency, who knows HTML and CSS and has to develop smallish websites.

We wanted to solve two problems with the product. First, we wanted it to be really quick and easy to deploy. A small website doesn’t justify days of creating a theme or template. Secondly, we wanted to provide a solution that does not add any unwanted markup, CSS or JavaScript to the website. The designer should have control over everything the CMS outputs.

That was it. As we started to develop, a million ideas came to mind. We thought of so many features and possibilities, but we kept that simple use case and that ideal customer in mind and ruthlessly trimmed features until we had something that felt complete yet was about as small as it could be. That initial version of Perch took about four weekends to write — we were still a consultancy working with clients at the time. We spent about the same amount of time building the marketing website and the infrastructure to deliver the product.

Launching With Confidence

With your product developed, you should launch with confidence. You might have had a million features listed that you wish your product had, but your customers don’t know that. If your ideal customer exists and has the problems that you’ve identified and your product solves them, then you should be able to sell it to them. An advantage of getting to launch quickly is that you can test whether all of those things are true before spending any more time.

According to John Radoff, you have to take your time to listen to your customers, make improvements and raise the bar on what viable really means.
According to John Radoff, you have to take your time to listen to your customers, make improvements and raise the bar on what viable really means. (Image credits)

Don’t be apologetic about the small feature set. Market and sell the product as it is now, making sure that you are accurate in presenting the scope of the product and what problems it will solve. Assuming that people do buy and start to use it, you’ll soon start to get suggestions and requests for features, and you will probably be surprised by some of them. Some of the things you have already identified will likely come up as requests; but in my experience, customers will have needs that you didn’t even know exist, and they will be very happy to tell you about them.

We heard no outcry from customers who felt shortchanged by our tiny product, because we were selling something that does what it says on the tin; our marketing and sales were aligned with the product itself. We found, however, that those initial customers were delighted as we started to add new features based on their feedback, and many people who use the product today and have developed a large number of websites using it were among that first group of customers.

Listen To The People Who Are Willing To Pay For Your Product

I opened this article saying that getting to the point where people will pay for your product is important. There will be no end of people who are keen to tell you exactly what you should build them for free. Getting to launch means that you can start to hear feature requests and ideas from your paying customers. Requests from people who are happy to pay for your product are far more valuable than requests from people who are not. Paying for a product changes a person’s relationship to it and to the company behind it. The person becomes a customer and feels reasonable for asking for the service and features that they would expect as a paying customer.

Doing The Things That Will Make The Most Difference To The Most People

If you successfully launch with a tiny feature set, then you will quickly start to get feature requests. This is great! But it can feel overwhelming. How do you even start to provide all of these new features, and how do you explain to customers why their pet feature will not be immediately added?

Prioritize the feature that solves a more general problem and is useful to enough people to warrant the investment of time required to develop it.
Prioritize the feature that solves a more general problem and is useful to enough people to warrant the investment of time required to develop it. (Image credits)

We have always been very clear to our customers that we prioritize those features that would benefit the largest number of users. We collate requests that people post in our suggestions forum, email to us, tweet or tell us in person. We also look for the hidden feature demands that can be found in what people are trying to do with the product. Sometimes we can see someone doing something very complicated to get around the fact that something is not possible out of the box. If we see a number of customers doing that, we can infer that a feature is needed there. The things that would help the most people soon rise to the top. We have always found that as soon as we have picked off the most requested feature, another comes along as the new top request!

Getting Good Use Cases

To add a feature to your product, you need to be able to define a general use case for it. You can’t add a feature as you might for a bespoke build for a client; the feature must solve a more general problem to become useful to enough people to warrant the investment of time required to develop it. We often ask our customers to explain the use case for a feature they are asking for. We want to know the general problem they are trying to solve, rather than how they think their particular problem should be solved.

We often find that by exploring the use case a little with the customer — and in the forums, other customers with similar requirements often pitch in — we start to open a narrow solution into something more generally useful. Once we do that, then the feature becomes far more likely to be one we consider.

That being said, every so often a customer asks for a feature that doesn’t compromise the core use case and is fairly specific but very quick to develop. In that case, we do enjoy being able to quickly pop it into the next dot release and letting them know it is there. One of the best things about working on your own product is being able to delight people and do those unexpected things that help people out.

Looking After The Happy, Silent Majority

We’ve built a product based on speaking with and listening to our customers, but remember that the customers you hear from are probably the minority. If statistics are a part of your customer-support system, then look at how many of your customers ever come to you for support. In our case, it’s about 25%. We hear from only 25% of our customers. So, 75% are quite happy with how our product works — happy enough, at least, not to feel the need to ask us anything or suggest a feature.

Keeping that ideal customer in mind also really helps here. We have on occasion told people before purchase that we were not sure the product was a good fit for them, but they bought a copy anyway. They then spent a lot of time declaring the deficiencies they saw in the product — for example, complaining that it doesn’t come with themes or that they are being asked to write HTML. While these customers can be frustrating, you just have to step back and remember that they are not your ideal customer. The product isn’t really for them, so resist the temptation to add things for people who are not your target audience.

Even within your core audience, a few noisy people can make you feel as if all of your customers are asking for a particular feature. If that feature would take the product in a new direction or change a workflow, then getting opinions from the silent majority would be especially worthwhile. We have found that posting on our blog, talking on our podcast and mentioning a possible feature on Twitter does cause people we never see in the support forum to talk to us. If your usage statistics or sales data are broken down by user, then you can always use that to identify customers who you never hear from but are very active. Customers who like your product will generally be happy that you have asked them for feedback.

Twitter may also be a useful platform to collect short feedback from customers.
Twitter may also be a useful platform to collect short feedback from customers. (Image credits)

When asking customers for feedback, ask specific questions, rather than just what they think of your product. If you are proposing a major change, explaining the change and asking whether they foresee any issues in how they use the product can be enlightening.

Protecting Your Core Use Case

Clearly understanding your core use case — the initial problems your product is intended to solve — is vital to deciding which features to add to the product. We are over four years from launch, and yet the basic way people use our product has not changed — despite it being well into version two and far more full-featured than the tiny product we brought to market.

If a feature will complicate that basic use case, there would need to be a very good reason to add it. Sometimes we find another way to solve the same issue, which is where those general use cases from customers come in handy. You need to be happy to tell customers, however, that the feature they are asking for wouldn’t fit the product, and recognize that some of those customers might go elsewhere. Pleasing everyone is impossible, and your ideal customers wouldn’t want you to try.

New Features Rarely Spike Our Sales

It took me a long while to learn that adding new features is not a huge marketing win in itself. We’ve added some huge and much-requested features to Perch over the years. Many of those features took as long to build as developing the initial product did. However, launching a new feature has never made a blip in our sales figures. Our graph moves upwards at a fairly steady rate, with no evidence that any period of growth was caused by a particular feature.

That is not to say that adding features is not important. As mentioned, existing customers appreciate new features: They can see that the product is actively being developed and is evolving to meet their needs. However, pinning your hope of acquiring new customers on some new headline feature is not realistic in my experience. Instead, focus on marketing activities and on finding new customers and users, in addition to developing new features.


Starting small and focused, with a clear idea of who your ideal customer is and of the core problems that your product solves, is a great way to get a new product to market. For bootstrappers, it not only means bringing in much needed cashflow quickly, but also means that any new features you develop will be useful to your audience.

As your product matures, keeping your ideal customers in mind and speaking with them will help to ensure that you continue to serve your target market, rather than attempt to please everyone. By adding features deliberately and thoughtfully, you will delight existing customers and make the product useful to a wider market, while staying true to your goals.

Interested in learning more? Rachel will be hosting a full-day Smashing workshop on “Shipping Your Product” in Berlin, and she has contributed a chapter on customer support to the Smashing Book #4 (to be released in late November).

(al, vf, il)

Front page image credits: Dave Gray.

© Rachel Andrew for Smashing Magazine, 2013.

September 17 2013

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August 22 2013


Designing For Digital Products


In digital culture, we are beginning to think of our output as products and of our clients as users. “Products” might be websites, apps or communities, and they might be created by startups, agencies or a couple of people at a hackathon. This shift mainly means that we have gotten serious about asking how to better serve users, which reflects a significant change in the designer’s skill set.

Designers will use the same tools they have always used, but they are now responsible for more than just the interface. Conducting usability studies, planning design strategically over the course of a product’s lifespan, facilitating communication and — above all — “shipping” are frequent requests. Whether or not a designer calls him or herself a product designer is beside the point; to remain relevant, they need to master these new user-centered values and processes.

Forget The Job Title

Designers have in the past distinguished themselves by job title, but existing titles have become inaccurate. Job expectations are no longer confined to singular tasks. Labels like user experience designer, user interface designer, interaction designer, product designer and so on may describe a person’s interests better than another, but most designers do a little of all of this, as “hybrids” (be it designer and coder, user experience and user interface designer, or designer and entrepreneur).

This trend is clearly reflected in the variety of open jobs posted. No one knows exactly who they’re looking for, so they pick the label that sounds best. Here are a few examples from the Smashing Job Board and Dribbble:

Cat Lover Job Posting on Dribbble
Wordpress Happiness Engineer Job Posting
SupercalifragilisticIxDadocious Interaction Designer Job Posting
Hiring companies are choosing creative descriptions to draw attention to their posts.

On the flip side, people who do the hiring understand that anyone can choose a title they like the sound of and slap that on their portfolio or business card, and that doesn’t change a designer’s level of experience or resourcefulness. The new product design world, on the other hand, is about being effective as a designer, a task rooted in real products and real people (think living portfolios and networks of people). Authenticity is getting harder to manufacture.

In high-profile opportunities, designers are expected to know UX, UI, front-end code, even how to write strategic business plans. Let’s look at a few of the requirements from a product designer job listing on Evernote (emphasis mine):


  • Be a thoughtful voice for our users. You are constantly thinking about new and improved use cases and features that will appeal to our users.
  • Work in small multidisciplinary product teams to help build products that are beneficial to our company and our users.
  • Develop high level user stories, prototypes, design mockups, specs, and production assets.
  • Define innovative user experiences that result in improved user productivity.
  • Be equally comfortable working the details of your designs at a pixel level.
  • Maintain a high level of visual fidelity across products.
  • Be nimble. You will be working to define requirements while simultaneously designing for those requirements.

Requirements and Skills:

  • Experience designing engaging user experiences for desktop, web, or mobile apps.
  • Proficiency with the common suite of desktop applications used to create the wide variety of materials required to take a solution from concept through code.
  • Ability to think about a problem from multiple angles to come up with the best design.
  • Unique drive to continue pushing products forward and innovating.
  • Proven track-record for shipping high quality experiences.
  • Excellent presentation skills and attention to detail.
  • Articulate and passionate verbal communicator.
  • A strong sense of design theory and typography are critical.
  • Ability to prototype designs in lo-fidelity and hi-fidelity as required.
  • At least 3-5 years of relevant product design experience working on major product releases.
  • A complete portfolio that shows breadth and depth of work.
  • Experience working closely with other designers, product managers and developers.
  • B.S./B.A. in related field or equivalent experience.

Please include your online portfolio on your resume or cover letter for consideration.

Individually, the requirements appear vague, but as a sum total, the message is clear: Design is no longer a “service” so much as it is a core offering in the “idea economy”:

“The service economy is going… going… soon to be gone like its predecessors in the manufacturing/industrial economy and the agricultural economy. […] The primary product of the Idea Economy is ideas. You and I can and must produce ideas just as those who prospered in previous economies had to produce crops, manufactured goods, and most recently, services.”

– Rob Brazell, founder of and author of The Idea Economy

These changes in culture represent a shift in the way we value design. Designers are expected to use whatever resources they have available to build upon and sell good ideas.

It’s never been easier to “sell” design ideas to non-designers. The growing support infrastructure for designers as entrepreneurs over the last few years has had a huge impact on the culture of design, particularly with the creation of The Designer Fund, a key investor in designer-led startups, and the abundance of role models of successful designer-entrepreneurs.

Designer Founders
A plethora of designer-founders are changing the way designers are being perceived.

Having been on the hiring end of product teams, I can confidently say, yes, the portfolio is important. Yes, experience is important. Yes, an intricate mastery of our craft (typography, grids, layout, etc.) will get a designer noticed. But in addition to these skills, you can be sure that employers are looking for big-picture thinking that will directly add value to their team and their product.

Usability Testing

“The real audience were the people out there in the real world who were going to be stuck with whatever it was I was designing. […] The more you can be their advocate, the better the design will be. That’s not just the goal of identity design, but design period.”

– Michael Bierut, in an interview with designboom

Everyone has intuition or experiences that shape their judgment in interaction design, including developers, product managers and other members of the team. And why shouldn’t they? We are all users, after all. The designer no longer lays claim to be the sole advocate of a user’s experience, and their opinion has become less relevant without evidence to back it up.

I think this has happened for a few good reasons:

  1. User testing has never been more accessible.
  2. Perfectionism is less valued than it used to be.
  3. More people recognize good design as more than a veneer.

Regarding the first point, a plethora of articles (such as those on Design Staff) have made it impossibly easy to do what used to be the siloed and specialized skills of human factors and user-centered design. It’s often as simple as following a set of instructions. The up-front cost, given tools like Silverback ($70) and options like (from $100 for three participants), can be as minimal as paying a staff member — such as a designer — to write the testing criteria. Moreover, businesses understand that the payoff for conducting a simple study, with even just five participants, is huge compared to the risk of not talking directly to users early on.

Nielsen's Why You Only Need to Test With Five Users
Nielsen’s diagram depicts a diminishing amount of useful feedback after testing with just five users. (Image: Jakob Nielsen)

Paul Graham of Y Combinator talks about early testing in his essay “Do Things That Don’t Scale”:

“In software, especially, it usually works best to get something in front of users as soon as it has a quantum of utility, and then see what they do with it. Perfectionism is often an excuse for procrastination, and in any case your initial model of users is always inaccurate, even if you’re one of them. The feedback you get from engaging directly with your earliest users will be the best you ever get.”

For designers, a bit of time spent writing surveys and scenarios, creating a testing environment (however simple), making prototypes, interviewing users, gathering data and then analyzing that data are all experiences that will feed directly back into the designs. This is not about being a perfectionist, but rather about nimbly applying appropriate tools to inform good work. Design, as a utilitarian vocation, will thrive on this, and the wider acceptance of user testing in the product world will mark the transition of good design from being a veneer or ethos to being a very real part of the product.

Design For The Minimum Viable Product

Founders often believe that getting users and investments means being in the right place at the right time, which nearly always means now. Designers and developers are expected to keep up with this pace. If a good idea is on the table, they’d better build and release, or else someone else will beat them to the punch.

Minimum Viable Product User Experience Design
Sketch notes for minimum viable product UX (Image: Dean Meyers | Large view).

This manic environment can pose a particular kind of hardship for designers; we care about the utility of our designs, and we may even see the larger business case for launching early, but we also carry an inherent respect for the subtleties of our craft that create the larger experience and that take time (often a lot of time) to develop.

Timelines, however, rarely shift for perfection, especially in product design (and, really, they don’t need to). Does this mean that designers — if they really care — should work all hours to perfect the interface and experience before the big launch? No.

Designing for the minimum viable product (MVP) means designing with a strategy. It means knowing up front that the website will not be built responsively, but that it should be designed as if it were. It means accepting that the user experience can’t live up to MailChimp’s at first launch, but still designing with that ideal in mind. It means realizing the difference between a minimum viable product and a minimum delightful product, as well as which works for your target audience.

“You’d never find the magnetic click [from an Apple power cable] on an engineer’s list of MVP features or user stories. It’s really easy in minimal viable products to actually design the delight out of them.”

– Andy Budd, in an interview with Inside Intercom

A big challenge of MVP design lies in sacrificing your darlings for the benefit of an early release. A bigger challenge lies in knowing where to follow up and prioritize design improvements for the next release. Luckily, user testing should help with this, but a level of intuition — or awareness — is still needed to determine which piece of the puzzle should fall into place next in order to gain a clearer picture.

I like to think of good MVP design as holding on to your dreams and showing up to work every day; having a vision, but also having the practicality to break your vision into small goals.

Lastly, MVP design doesn’t mean releasing work early to be done with it. It means returning to good but difficult-to-execute ideas that arose in early planning, learning from users, and having the discipline to keep iterating. It means seeing a project through from its messy beginnings to its final finesse.

Communication And Facilitation

Building fast, smart and targeted necessitates a good understanding of different facets of production. Knowing what makes a product tick, the implications of how and why something is being developed in a certain way, and how best to communicate the user’s needs will put the designer in a position to design well. There is no end to the questions designers can ask; any question is relevant.

Now more than ever, design means taking off the headphones and coming out from behind the computer screen in order to talk to people, expose problems and offer solutions. As a team member who tends to see a project holistically, the designer has more opportunities to make connections between people and establish decision points to keep a project on track.

This role shouldn’t be confused with a project or product manager, because design is still a designer’s main deliverable. However, it is worth noting that the designer who communicates well will take a more central role on the team, and more often than not this is the expectation rather than the exception.

“Design is all about relationships. Unfortunately, many designers don’t fully appreciate this. Some of the best design work I’ve ever done was drinking coffee or beers with engineers, marketing people, and business development hustlers. And I wholeheartedly mean design work.”

– Daniel Burka, in The Pastry Box Project

Surviving in a digital industry means learning hard skills all the time, but communication will be a valuable soft skill for the entirety of a designer’s career. It’s worth working on.

Getting It Done

Adam Davidson of NPR recently published an article titled “What’s an Idea Worth?” in the New York Times, writing:

“During the past few decades […] global trade and technology have made it all but impossible for any industry to make much profit in mass production of any sort. (Companies like G.E., Nike and Apple learned early on that the real money was in the creative ideas that can transform simple physical products far beyond their generic or commodity value.)”

The emphasis on “transform” is mine, because transformation is a lot like good design: It is active. Good design actively contributes to the execution of an idea.

Davidson goes on to present a compelling argument for nixing the billable hour, explaining that such a payment structure incentivizes long, boring or redundant tasks and reduces professionals to “interchangeable containers of finite, measurable units that could be traded for money.” Granted, he is talking about accountants, but this easily applies to design as well. Are we not more than the time we spend doing something? Is time-spent how we value the success of good design?

The culture of “shipping” is becoming increasingly important to designers. (Image: Busy Building Things)

In product design, the answer, of course, is no. However, it is not just the idea that matters either. A product begins with an idea, but it is ultimately evaluated by what is released into the world.

If you are a designer who has ever had to mock up every page of a website just because a client insists, then the reason for this shift becomes clear: It is much better to test work in a living prototype, so that it can be played with, iterated on and further developed.

“At the end of the day, is an iPhone and an Android not the same idea, just executed differently? Execution is what really differentiates products or companies, not ideas.”

– Ross Popoff-Walker, in Ideas Do Not Matter: Here’s Why

The penultimate value of a product is in the creative execution of the idea. In other words, what have you released lately?

The Real Value Of Design

“The war is over. Design has won a place on the team. We can lay down arms, fuck around in text editors, and stop fighting the battles of yesteryear. If you’re still fighting it at your company, quit and move to SF or NYC. The future is here, and it’s hiring.”

– Joshua Seiden, in “Designers Shouldn’t Code” Is the Wrong Answer to the Right Question

An army of designers, especially recent graduates, will still work in client services (and will gain valuable experience there), but this shift towards product design has far-reaching implications for all designers and the skills they are expected to contribute when they are hired.

The users, the product and the team are now integral parts of the design brief. Fortunately, it is no longer the value of design that we are fighting to get recognized, but the value of the product, and this means we have more resources at our disposal. Design doesn’t have to do it alone, but designers do need to recognize and learn the processes necessary for success in this new environment.

(al) (il)

© Cassie McDaniel for Smashing Magazine, 2013.

June 20 2013


Email Templates For Web Designers And Developers (PDF, ODT, TXT)


You know how it goes: you are facing a difficult situation with a client, and you aren’t quite sure how to respond to it to navigate the conversation into a meaningful direction. This is where email templates can come in handy. This article features email templates for communicating with clients, superiors, teammates and the like. You can easily customize them. They balance firmness and tact, professionalism and friendliness.

Please note, though, that these templates are subjective. They’ve been created to the best of my ability, with the help and input of dozens of designers and developers. Once you load the templates into your email program, remember to format them first, OK? Use the “Paste as plain text” command and you’ll be fine.

Here is a short overview of all templates:

The Dreaded Price Email

First, try to defer talking about price until you have all of the details. I do this all of the time with prospective clients of mine. Tell them that you’ll send an accurate estimate once they share some thoughts on what they’re looking for. And if they budge, go ahead and send it. Be done with it.

[Subject:] Answer to your question on my rates

[Client’s name],

My rate varies, depending on the project and its scope. Generally, though, my rate is [$X] for [work Y], just so that you have a ballpark idea.

If you send me more details about the kind of work you have in mind, I can send you a more accurate estimate. For now, though, let’s get back to where we were, regarding [matter Z], and we can discuss pricing when more information is available.

[Your name]
[contact details, website]

Questions About The Design Brief

Trust me, iron out any questions you have before the project starts. The client will appreciate your initiative and your willingness to approach them when help is really needed. Swallowing a bit of pride and asking is always better than wallowing in confusion and causing problems down the road.

[Subject:] Some questions about the design brief

[Client’s name],

I appreciate your quick provision of the design brief. It’s really allowed me to get a good idea of where you want this project to go. I’m excited to start working on the project!

I have just a few questions to clear up before we go full steam ahead.

  • [question X]
  • [question Y]
  • [question Z]

If you could get back to me with your input by [date and/or time], that’d be great. If you also have things you’d like to discuss, please reach out.

It’s always best that we’re on the same page.

[Your name]
[contact details, website]

Sending The Final Plan To A New Client

To give a new client a good impression of you from the outset, make it clear that doing a professional quality work and work ethic is important to you. Send out this email along with the project plan.

[Subject:] Would love your input. Project plan attached.

[Client’s name],

To start, thanks for your vote of trust. I’ll be working hard to make sure you love your decision to work with me — that’s a promise.

I’ve attached the final project plan here, for your input. Below are its main points, in case you don’t have time right away to read the full plan.

  • The total estimated cost is [$X].
  • The estimated time is [Y].
  • [other important point]
  • [other important point]

If you could send me your comments by [date and/or time], I’d appreciate it.

Should you have things you’d like to discuss, please feel free to reach out. If a meeting is needed, I’m OK with that as well.

Thanks again for your business, and I look forward to getting to the work!

[Your name]
[contact details, website]

The Cost In The Final Plan Is Damned Far From Your Initial Estimate

You’ll almost always have to submit an initial estimate to the client. If all goes well, that estimate will be reflected in the final plan, without much change. But for those times when a drastic departure is needed, take heart.

[Subject:] Final project plan, based on recent info

[Client’s name],

Two things here.

First, thanks for providing the full details on the project you’d like us to work on together. I’ve prepared the project plan based on the information you’ve given.

The plan is attached here, for your evaluation.

Secondly, I’d like to inform you of the revised estimate, reflected in the plan.

Very briefly, the project will now take [time X], at a cost of [$Y].

I’m aware this is far from the previous estimates I talked about with you. I’ve given these figures a lot of thought, and I believe they’re fair, considering the work to be done on both of our ends.

To close, please send me your feedback on the plan by [date and/or time].

Then, we can work out an arrangement that’s a win for both of us.

[Your name]
[contact details, website]

Scope Is Creeping But Can Be Accommodated

I’ve yet to see a large project that doesn’t have scope creep, one way or another. Still, it’s important to manage the creep, quickly and proactively. Otherwise, the project will bloat, bringing a completely new set of problems.

[Subject:] A quick note on your new requirements

[Client’s name],

Thanks for providing input on the project — I appreciate your direction!

Regarding the changes we talked about, I’m happy to tell you that they can be accommodated. But because they aren’t a part of our initial agreement, they’ve caused shifts in the plan for this project.

That revised plan is attached, showing the new timelines and associated costs.

I’d appreciate feedback regarding the attachment by [date and/or time], so that the design work can get back to its usual speed.

[Your name]
[contact details, website]

You Won’t Be Able To Deliver The Design On Time

First things first, problems like this happen sooner or later. What’s important is that you apologize, not try to shirk responsibility, and fix the situation fast. If you do these three actions, you’ll be fine most of the time.

[Subject:] Important notice, and an apology

[Client’s name],

I’m sure this isn’t the type of email you expected to get from me. Still, I’d like to deal with the facts as they are and get a solution in place, ASAP.

So, here goes. I’m sorry, but the design won’t be delivered on time. There are a couple reasons for this, but rest assured, I take full responsibility.

  • [reason A]
  • [reason B]
  • [reason C]

To get the project back on track, I’ve done [action X], [action Y] and [action Z].

I’m also taking steps to ensure that we don’t go through this headache again.

Anyway, if you’d like to discuss the effects of this issue, feel free to reach out.

[Your name]
[contact details, website]

Dealing With Late Payment

Thankfully, I’ve not had to send these emails often, and usually my clients have only forgotten to deal with an invoice out of busyness. But if you’re in the unfortunate position of having to collect a very late payment, read on!

[Subject:] Your payment for [work X]

[Client’s name],

I recently sent you an invoice dated [date], for [services rendered]. The total cost reflected in the invoice is [$X].

While I’ve worked up to standard and delivered on time, the compensation still hasn’t arrived. According to our agreement, the payment terms are below.

[Insert relevant details here, preferably in bold for emphasis.]

According to these terms, the payment ball is clearly in your court. If you’re going through difficulties, please let me know, and we’ll work to reach a solution together.

Otherwise, I’ll be expecting your payment by [date X], and will be contacting you on [date Y] if any issues still remain.

[Your name]
[contact details, website]

Discussing Other Aspects Of The Website

Design is rarely the only thing a client has to consider. As the one with the knowledge, you would do well to bring related aspects of website performance and usability to the client’s attention. As a result, you might earn not only their respect, but perhaps even higher compensation.

[Subject:] Wanted to bring these to your attention

[Client’s name],

As you may know, design isn’t the only thing that matters on your website. So, I feel it’s my responsibility to bring your attention to related issues that you may need to consider.

  • [first consideration (such as website performance)]
  • [second consideration (such as usability or functionality)]
  • [yet another consideration]

The factors above will all have an impact on your website and its users. They’re important because of [reason X, reason Y and reason Z].

I’m bringing these things to your attention now so that we can act on them promptly. If you’d like to talk about what I’ve shared here, please let me know!

[Your name]
[contact details, website]

Justifying The Need For Extra Hours

As mentioned, problems and changes always come up, whatever the project. Here is yet another template for such instances, this one an email to soften the client’s heart on the subject of extra hours.

[Subject:] Important project update

[Client’s name],

I just wanted to tell you about some important changes to the project.

From my most recent check of what still needs to get done, I’ve come to the realization that extra hours are needed, for these reasons:

  • [first reason and why it matters]
  • [second reason and why it matters]
  • [third reason and so on]

I know this is a surprise, and I would have liked to have avoided this. But my responsibility is to keep you in the loop, especially about any changes such as these.

If you’d like to discuss the new hours, please do reach out. Or we can meet at [date and/or time]. If then doesn’t work, let me know when is most convenient for you.

[Your name]
[contact details, website]

No Need For Extra Hours

On rare occasions you will tell the client that you need extra time, only to realize later that in fact you don’t. Be honest and promptly share the good news with them.

[Subject:] Some good news for you

[Client’s name],

I recently sent you a [revised plan, email, etc.], indicating the need for [X] extra hours. The reasons for those hours were [A, B and C].

On a happier note, I’d like to share with you that those hours are no longer needed. They’ll no longer be billed, and the invoice will reflect that.

To be clear, the total project cost is now [$Y].

Everything else remains as is. If you’d like formal documentation to indicate this change, please let me know and I’ll prepare it.

Thank you,
[Your name]
[contact details, website]

Declining A Project

Oh, it’s a happy day when you have too many projects to accept a new one. If it ever does happen, a polite decline will stand as proof of your professionalism and will leave a good impression on the inquirer, who may need you in future.

[Subject:] Sorry I cannot take on your project

[Client’s name],

Thanks for your [inquiry or offer to hire me].

Unfortunately, I have a lot on my plate right now. I won’t be able to take you up on your offer. I wouldn’t want to accept and then commit at anything less than 100%.

For now, I’d like to focus on current projects, but I expect to have a free period open by [date X]. Would this work for you?

[Your name]
[contact details, website]

Stopping Work Because Of Delinquent Payment

All projects come with a payment risk. You could ask for a deposit up front to mitigate the risk, but sometimes you have to stop work altogether and accept the reality. Still, tell your client so that they’re clear that you haven’t shirked any responsibilities of your own.

[Subject:] Will have to stop work until dues are paid

[Client’s name],

This is a situation I would have preferred to avoid, but we both have to deal with the facts as they are. Due to delinquent payment, work on the project will have to stop, according to the terms of our agreement.

For the sake of our relationship, I’ll just assume that the invoice fell through the cracks. I’m sending a copy later today, and look forward to your payment by [date X].

I’ll also send a reminder by [date Y] if the issue remains.

[Your name]
[contact details, website]

The Client Refuses To Sign A Contract

Contracts, whether written in legalese or plain language, protect you. For this reason, a client’s refusal to sign one should throw up a red flag, and you should make it clear that you won’t work without the right measures in place.

[Subject:] Clarification

[Client’s name],

This is just a quick note about the contract I presented to you. You’ve stated that it’s unnecessary, but I really can’t overemphasize that it is necessary.

A contract clarifies our shared responsibilities and is an important safeguard for both of us. It’s an assurance that we’ll both comply with what’s expected of us, within the bounds of our professional relationship.

For these reasons, I really would never work without one. Not only is a contract standard practice, but it’s also demanded by common business sensibilities.

I hope you’ll understand. Should you wish to discontinue work because of the contract requirement, please inform me.

[Your name]
[contact details, website]

Funds Needed For Materials

Some designs require third-party resources, such as stock photography or original artwork. Most contracts have a clause that the client will pay for these materials, but reminding the client of as much via email is always prudent.

[Subject:] Materials needed for the design

[Client’s name],

I’m sending you this as a record of my request for materials. Specifically, the design requires the following items:

  • [first item (such as a stock photograph, with link)]
  • [second item (such as artwork, with link)]

These materials will be used for [insert intended use].

The total price for such materials is [$X], which breaks down as [$Y] for the first item, and [$Z] for the second item.

According to our agreement, the funds for such materials will come from you.

Please reply with your approval, and send the payment over by [date X].

[Your name]
[contact details, website]

Rates Are Going Up

Regularly increasing your rates is a normal part of business. This protects your margins and offsets inflation and higher taxes. Still, higher rates could mean disgruntled clients, so soften them to the idea early on.

[Subject:] I’ll be raising my rates

[Client’s name],

Because your business is extremely important to me, I’d like to personally explain the reasons for my raised rates.

  • [reason X]
  • [reason Y]
  • [reason Z]

As you’re aware, increases like these are an unavoidable part of business. That being said, I believe the new rate reflects the accompanying increase in my skills. For example, I’ve recently [insert latest big achievement].

If you have questions or clarifications, please let me know. I’d be happy to talk through any concerns you may have.

Thanks for your time,
[Your name]
[contact details, website]

Request For Testimonial

Testimonials are some of the most powerful marketing materials out there. The best can allay apprehensions, reinforce credibility and solidify your reputation. So, actively gather them when the opportunities present themselves. Don’t let your good work go unnoticed!

[Subject:] Can I get your approval for this quote?

[Client’s name],

Hope I haven’t caught you at a bad time.

I’m sure you know how important testimonials are for securing new clients. And because I want to make things super-easy for you, I’ve prepared a template for you. You’re free to edit it as you like, of course.

[Insert pre-written testimonial.]

If this testimonial is OK, can I get your approval to feature it on my website? Also, if you could send a photo by [date and/or time], I’d really appreciate it.

[Your name]
[contact details, website]

Request For Case Study

In addition to testimonials or social networking, case studies are another form of marketing. If you put effort into making great case studies, you’ll greatly reduce apprehensions about your services on the part of potential clients.

[Subject:] Can I feature you as a case study on my website?

[Client’s name],

The subject line pretty much says everything, but I’d like to ask again. Can I feature you as a case study? I think our project had a lot of highlights, and I’m eager to get the word out about our work together.

Specifically, I plan to dig into these main aspects:

  • [first main aspect to highlight in case study]
  • [second main aspect to highlight]
  • [third aspect and so on]

If being featured is OK with you, can we chat over coffee on [date and/or time]? Or if that doesn’t work, I’m free on [date X].

I look forward to meeting you!

[Your name]
[contact details, website]

Request For Referral

If you do good work, referrals will come automatically. But it never hurts to be proactive and ask whether your clients know people whom you could help. At least you’ll get the benefit of their introduction, which will alleviate any anxiety on the part of the prospective client.

[Subject:] Know any people I could help?

[Client’s name],

As you probably know, referrals are an important source of customers. So, I’d like to check in and ask: do you know people I could help with my skills?

If you do, I’ve written an introductory email that you can send them.

Introductory email: Hi, [friend’s name]. I’m introducing you to [your name]. [He/she] is the designer who did my website, and [he/she] is great: solid design skills, good work ethic and very responsive. I think you’d get some benefit from getting in touch with [him/her]. Contact details: [your email address, phone number, website].

Thanks for your help with this, [client name].

[Your name]
[contact details, website]

Download The Templates For Free


Thanks to the dozens of designers who have provided input and help. Also, a big debt of gratitude to the editors of Smashing Magazine for providing the platform to share this with the world.

Download the Set for Free

This set of templates is completely free to use for commercial or personal use. Go ahead and share this with anyone whom you think it’ll help. But please don’t sell it or claim it as your own. Putting this together was hard work!

(Credits of image on front page: Sarah Joy)

(al) (ea)

© Bea Kylene Jumarang for Smashing Magazine, 2013.

April 10 2013


How To Sell The Value Of Mobile To Clients


As Web designers and developers, we see the value in supporting mobile devices every day. We’re well-versed in tactics and techniques for adapting our work to mobile. Our challenge is to be equally well-versed in selling our clients on that value as being something in which they need to invest precious budget dollars.

The Mobile Imperative

I’ve been describing what I call the “mobile imperative” for a few years now when talking to clients or advocating support for mobile devices in Web design projects. The mobile user experience is not an add-on. It’s now a major part of the Web as we know it, and our clients’ content and tools will appear on an increasing number of devices, screens and contexts.

As the distinction between the Web on desktop and mobile continues to blur, supporting mobile is increasingly something we do as part of every website design or build. It should become second nature to us, but there are still additional costs: design enhancements at multiple breakpoints, testing across a wide gamut of devices, defining and maintaining media queries with associated CSS or JavaScript, perhaps even a distinct mobile-oriented website. To those who are less informed, these may be seen as unnecessary enhancements. The traditional websites that they’ve been acquainted with for the past 20 years may be all that they interact with or deem necessary.

Some clients come to us requesting mobile support. They know they need it; they know its value. They come with reasonable budgets in hand for a traditional website, but additional funds to support the extra effort that mobile requires didn’t make it into this year’s marketing allotment, and their scope checklist has already been pared down. We don’t want to turn them away, but we have an obligation to ourselves and to our business to bill all of our clients on the same terms.

Our responsibility as Web professionals is to educate and inform our clients, to impart upon them the value and necessity of supporting mobile and, for those worthwhile clients and projects we don’t wish to turn away, to craft a solution that can achieve their goals within a realistic budget.

Start By Listening

Even the simplest of websites don’t conform to a one-size-fits-all solution. We’re trying to deliver a website to our clients that will hold up for a few years’ time, that should work on today’s devices and those we haven’t yet seen.

Any recommendation we make to our clients, whether it be to have a responsive website, to have separate mobile and desktop websites, or not to worry about mobile at all, should be based on an understanding of our client’s needs. More often than not, supposedly fixed variables such as budget, scope and timeline can and do change. Must-haves become secondary goals in light of other considerations. The project that the client brings to you is not necessarily the project that the client actually needs.

Listen to your client’s needs and constraints, and really seek to understand the nature of their business and their situation. This should help shape your recommendation. If you listen carefully, you should also be able to determine how best to make the case for incorporating mobile support into their website project.

My experience is that clients typically come with something in hand that they’re hoping to achieve, or they exhibit distinct values that we can speak to. I’m going to look at how to make the case for mobile to clients who fall into one of four likely categories: data-driven, competitor-driven, cost-driven and socially conscious.

The Data-Driven Client

When trying to convince someone of anything, data and statistics are your clearest and most objective tool. Fortunately, the Web is an incredibly measurable medium, and a ton of data exists on usage behavior and adoption rates.

Here are a few recent stats I’ve been citing:

The evidence is clear: The shift to mobile is well underway. As important as the Web is to any business or institution, mobile is the Web and is just as important. If data and numbers would make the case for your client, show up with enough studies to overwhelm them with mobile’s impact.

According to Pew Internet, in 2012, 55% of mobile-phone owners went online. 17% of all mobile-phone owners went online mostly via their phone. We’ve poured blood, sweat and tears into supporting IE 6 for fewer users than that.

The Competitor-Driven Client

Has your client come to you with a lot of competitors’ websites in hand? You’re in luck. You have a client who’s establishing a standard among other websites as a measurement of success.

Your job is to set a standard that your client should aspire to. Do your research on mobile-friendly competitor websites and try to compile data and examples that you can use to highlight the benefits of a more intuitive, engaging user experience.

If you come up short finding a direct competitor, find an industry of similar complexity or with a similar target audience or comparable demographics. Find examples, and have your client try them out on your mobile devices. Encourage your client to empathize with users who will encounter and interact with their website and make decisions accordingly. Explain to them that mobile users are growing less patient and that a frustrating mobile experience could hurt their perception of the brand, and show how an optimized mobile experience will make it easier for new and existing customers to forge deeper relationships with their business, resulting in more purchases or revenue.

And if your client is really competitive and not just keen to check out the competition, then encourage them to spend the time needed to really optimize performance. Aim higher than just to have the best-looking website. Design and build the fastest-loading, easiest-to-use website there is.

Two websites, one industry: On the left, Vascore (designed by Jodi Vautrin and coded by my firm, Clearbold) uses responsive techniques to adapt the design to mobile screens. Another firm’s website, on the right, falls short.

The Cost-Driven Client

In many small businesses, any spending on marketing comes straight out of the owner’s pocket. Those dollars are hard to part with. Marketing teams at larger companies might be seeing their budgets cut based on other shifts in their industry or business, or they might not get to apply for more funds until they’ve put together next year’s budget.

Empathizing with your clients and putting yourself in their shoes are important. They’ve come to you for a reason. They’re not trying to gouge you; they’re seeking access to the services you provide within their own reality or constraints.

If they’re in a position to free up more funds, help them to justify that or to present the case to their superiors. Emphasize that increasing their up-front investment in a sustainable, future-friendly website will decrease the likelihood that it will need to be redesigned or reworked in a year. Remember that the goal of responsive Web design is not to create five different designs at five different dimensions. The goal is to establish a fluid, flexible design system that will adapt to different contexts. Those contexts may be screens on mobile devices and desktop monitors. In a year or two, those contexts might be embedded screens in refrigerators, TVs or Google Glass. Future-friendly responsive design seeks to anticipate the unknown and reduce the need for additional work every time something new hits the market.

If cost truly is a factor, what sort of constraints can you impose on the design process to keep things in check? What sort of tools can you leverage to minimize effort, while still addressing your client’s unique needs and positioning? Responsive front-end frameworks, such as Zurb Foundation and Twitter Bootstrap, are a great option in this scenario. Zurb Foundation 4, recently released, has shifted to a mobile-first approach and emphasizes performance.

One of our clients approached us with a budget in hand and some content to build an intranet for a hospital department. The website would feature simple navigation, a staff directory, news postings, a calendar and highlighted stories, and it needed to support iPhones and iPads, which had been adopted by the physicians in that department. We turned to Zurb Foundation to streamline development and design.

We found this project a great opportunity to upend the traditional design and development process. With the content provided, we skipped wireframes and comps and whipped up a complete prototype of the website using Zurb Foundation, which we presented to the client. With their approval, we applied design elements to enhance the user experience — typography, colors, photography — all within the grid-based structure provided by Foundation. Sticking to Foundation’s grid and leveraging ready-built components kept us on schedule and on budget. The launch met with rave reviews.

Relying on a framework may run contrary to our idea of work as craft, but we should be willing to acknowledge cases where using one to deliver a mobile-friendly website in the face of other constraints is a solid win.

A responsive framework such as Zurb Foundation defines columns that float side by side on large screens…

… and that reflow into a single column for small screen dimensions. We’ve shared a streamlined demo on our website.

The Socially Conscious Client

If your client appreciates your efforts in building websites that are accessible to those with physical impairments, consider that Internet access is fast becoming a basic right and necessity in modern society. An Android smartphone offered by a cellular carrier may be the closest we get to universal broadband Internet access.

The mission of the Web Standards Project, founded in 1998, includes “delivering sites that are accessible to more people and more types of Internet devices.” On 1 March 2013, in a post titled “Our Work Here Is Done,” it said that “the web as an open, accessible, and universal community is largely the reality.” By relying on semantic, standards-based HTML markup and leveraging ARIA roles and best practices, we can be confident that the content we put online can be accessed with assistive technologies. Good markup is good citizenship, and accessibility means ensuring that everyone has equal access to the Web.

But enabling software to parse the content on a website and enabling users to interact with a website on small screens are two different things. When we look at the migration of content and tasks onto the Web — job postings and applications, breaking news and weather alerts, healthcare records, social networks — accessibility is about more than screen readers. It’s about access to the Internet, and for more and more people, the Internet is a small screen. We need not only to support interactions on mobile screens, but to ensure content parity. Supporting mobile, too, is often done by stripping out content. But omitting content to fit a smaller screen is not equal access — it turns mobile users into second-class citizens.

According to Pew Internet, 17% of all US mobile-phone owners “go online mostly on [a] cell phone.” Among young adults and non-whites, that number is even higher, as it is among those with an annual household income lower than $50,000 and those who have not graduated college. In developing countries and on other continents, mobile phones may be the general population’s only means of accessing the Internet. Investing in semantic markup and a mobile-first approach ensures they can access your client’s content, too.

Ignoring mobile not only means ignoring a significant segment of society, but risks limiting the ability of many to find work, to find information or to enjoy equal access to what are becoming essential rights. If your client is sensitive to these sorts of issues, then this valuable insight should resonate with them. In some industries and with some types of information, such as job postings and healthcare data, ignoring mobile could one day constitute discrimination.

Mobile Is An Opportunity

If you’ve been doing this for a while, like I have, then you’ll know that the growth of the Web has been painful at times, with browser wars, table-based layouts and Flash. Mobile offers some kind of a “reset” button. It gives us a chance to do things right from the outset. Future-friendly, mobile first — these aren’t trite buzzwords. They represent a shift towards building websites that are accessible and intuitive for users, while being sustainable and profitable for our clients. We have the opportunity and incentive now to create websites that are platform-agnostic, that allow content to reflow and shift to fit different contexts and that can adapt to dramatic shifts in user behavior over time.

At the same time, we have more work to do. Quality assurance across multiple devices, better up-front planning, and coding for multiple design breakpoints all add layers of time and effort to a standard website build. Every project offers a chance to try a new tool or technique, and we’re still finding our way to best practices. However, as Elliot Jay Stocks puts it, “once you overcome that initial struggle of adapting to a new process, designing and building responsive sites needn’t take any longer, or cost any more money.” It’s just a matter of finding and adapting a new design process and using it efficiently.

The key in all client interactions is to understand the goal before focusing on the specifications, to listen, and to present a solution to the client that addresses their needs. That solution, and how you present it, should instill confidence that their investment in your work is sound.

At this stage, mobile is always on the table for us. More often than not, by adjusting the scope and expectations, by seeking out options that fit the budget and requirements, by informing and educating our clients in alignment with their values, we can find victories big and small in our projects and do our part to move the Web forward.

(al) (vf)

© Mark Reeves for Smashing Magazine, 2013.

April 01 2013


Marry Your Client to Win the Game – Get Your Gold Client VIDEO Series

How nice would it be to see your web design client return to you.

How nice would it be to hear your web design client say wonderful things about you.

It would be very nice, I can only agree with you…but I am sure you’re not doing your best to make it happen.

What do I suggest?

I suggest you to do more than what you would normally do.

What is it?

Well, as the title of this article says – Marry Your Client.
What happens then? Keep on reading!

Marrying your client is actually about how much of a difference that extra mile can make.

And by the way I am not on my own.
Ask anyone, who is successful and they will tell you – going that extra mile made the difference.

“The man who does more than he is paid for, will soon be paid for more than he does.” ~Napoleon

Marry Your Client To Win The Game

Believe me – it works!

Even Freelance Switch Writes About It.
And their readers are totally supporting this idea.


Question: “Do You Take That Extra Mile?”

March 09 2013


Wet Your Pants To Impress Your Client – Get Your Gold Client VIDEO Series

I still cannot believe how many freelance web designers take so much for granted.
Even something as important as first impression.

No, I’m not referring to looking good and impressing people when you go out.

First impression is when you interact with a potential client for the first time.
So many of you do not stress enough about it.

But you should.
You really should even wet your pants if that is what it takes.

Today I will give you another easily actionable step to get your gold client.

I know – “Wet Your Pants” probably sounds too confusing for you.
But it is reality and it can make a massive difference.

”You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Wet Your Pants To Impress Your Client

Question: ”So, Are You a Slow Ass, Or Not?”

December 18 2012


How to get clients (and make your dreams come true)

This guest article was written by Adam Clark of Bottlerocket and our interactive developer at Brian Hoff Design. Give him a warm “hello” on Twitter while you’re at it.

Ok, so I don’t really know how to make all your dreams come true. Neither do I know much about getting clients. However, I have had some success in the later and I think it’s directly attributable to three things. But, before we get to those things, a little background.

Most of the designers and developers I talk to would love to freelance, but few of them actually do it. This is true for a number of reasons, but I think the biggest is a fear of the unknown. And those unknowns seem to be mostly related to clients and money.

Getting clients is not an exact science. I can’t tell you that every time you do x and y, you will get z. But you can create an environment that fosters growth and attracts clients.

It’s like growing a garden. You have to be constantly planting, watering, weeding and nurturing in the present in order to reap a blossoming client roster in the future.

What that means is that it will take time. We tend to think of it more like sod. Just roll it out and we’re done. But it takes a lot more to get clients than hanging an “open for business” sign on the door.

After three years as a business owner and freelancer, it has only been this year that my business has really taken off. And that’s directly attributable to all the watering and planting I did in the first two years.

Three Things

As I mentioned above, I think there are three things that account for my success this year. I think they can help you as well.

Be good at what you do. It seems obvious, but I’m shocked how many times I see freelancers put out subpar work and then wonder why the floodgates of success have yet to open. I know this, because I used to be that person. I didn’t work hard. I didn’t know much about what I was doing. I was a hack. And most of my projects ended in stress and frustration. That’s a sure recipe for failure.

In order to get clients, you have to have value to offer. It takes time to figure out what this is, but you will never build a steady stream of clients unless you’re good at what you do.

Get a mentor. When I started out on my own, I found a great mentor (Adam Houston) who coached me through the process. He gave me advice on what to charge, how to manage all the ins and outs of running a business and helped me get my first clients. This is critical. I don’t think Bottlerocket would exist today if it weren’t for him.

Finding a mentor can be scary, but one of the greatest things about the web industry is how willing people are to help each other. Reach out to people. Ask for help. I guarantee you will find someone willing to coach you.

Go to conferences/meetups. This third step could be called “Investing in relationships,” but I find one of the easiest ways to do that is to attend conferences and meetups.

Sometimes conferences can seem like a waste of time, but it completely depends on what you expect to get out of it. I never go to a conference expecting to learn a new skill or trick. Sometimes that happens, but if so, it’s just a bonus. Let’s be honest, most of what you hear in a keynote from a famous speaker can be found on that speaker’s blog, in a past talk or in an article he or she’s already written. If my only goal was to “learn new things,” I would rarely attend conferences.

I go to conferences and meetups to meet people. And not for networking. I’m never trying to make contacts for some future gig. I’m just genuinely interested in meeting the people I interact with on Twitter and whose blogs I read on a daily basis.

But building and investing in relationships pays off in a huge way. First, you’re more visible to your industry peers. Second, people work with people they like. There’s a lot of psychology behind this that I don’t really understand (here’s an interesting book on the topic), but the fact remains, people are much more likely to hire someone they’re friends with than someone they’re not. So the more you put yourself out there and meet people and develop friendships, the more chances you have of working on fun and existing projects with those people.

At least 40 percent of the work I’ve done this year has come from relationships I built during 2010 and 2011.

In Sum

Doing good work, finding a mentor and investing in relationships have a residual effect. It’s like a snowball that gets bigger and bigger as it rolls down a hill. There are, of course, many other things you can do to get clients, but these three are what have been responsible for the majority of my business’s growth.

Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut. If you go out and plant a bunch of seeds today, you won’t wake up to a lush garden tomorrow. But if you do the watering, planting and cultivating (quality, mentoring, relationships), over time you will reap the reward of a steady stream of clients.

August 27 2012


Passive Income Strategies For Web Designers // Freelancing Experiments


Finding ways to earn passive income is a growing concern among many freelance designers. I’ve always loved client work, but I have to admit that the pressure of juggling multiple bosses and constant deadlines eventually started to wear me down.

As a result, in the past couple of years I’ve been focusing more and more on personal projects, and thinking about ways to make money from them. I’ve sold themes and templates and written an eBook, and I’m now focusing on launching my own job board for designers.

In a previous article for Smashing Magazine, I compared various ways to sell software products online. What I’ll do in this article is not just compare ways in which freelance designers can earn passive income, but speak about my own experience in exploring these avenues.

And, yes, that will include telling you how much money I’ve made!

Disclaimer: This post is about my own personal experience. Just because I have, for example, never made much money from ads does not mean you can’t. So, please take this as a “Here’s what I did,” not as a “Here’s what you should do.”


I was lucky enough to join ThemeForest (the biggest themes and template marketplace on the Web) in January 2009, shortly after it launched. ThemeForest seemed like the perfect way for an unknown, inexperienced designer to make money: no need for a fancy degree or years of experience — just design something cool and the market will reward you. In fact, that’s exactly what happened. Top designers now gross six-figure annual incomes solely from selling themes, and some do so despite being relative unknowns in the rest of the design world.

So, what was the result of my own venture into theme-making?

Overall, it was very positive. First, it helped me launch my design career, because my first couple of freelance clients were all people who contacted me after seeing my templates. It was also lucrative: in June 2010, my best month ever, I made $1,248. For a year after that, having not even launched new themes, my existing ones still made me around $200 a month, with minimal effort on my part.

The high point of my ThemeForest career.
The high point of my ThemeForest career.

Altogether, I’ve earned around $12,675 from ThemeForest in two and a half years; nothing to scoff at, especially because I completely stopped supporting my themes about a year ago. So, if selling themes is so great, why did I design the last one more than two years ago? There are a couple reasons for this, the main one being that the market drastically changed, and customer expectations changed with it.

Designing a good-looking theme isn’t enough anymore. If you want your theme to be competitive, you need to support shortcodes, build a custom back end and design multiple layouts, not to mention provide excellent support and build a documentation website.

In other words, in the span of a couple years, building themes went from something that you could do on the side to being a full-time job. Because I didn’t want to become a WordPress guru and spend all of my time creating themes, I decided to put theme design aside.

My most successful theme.
My most successful theme.

Theme design, then, is one of the best ways a designer can earn passive income, but it’s also one of the hardest. By the way, another important factor to consider is that theme design makes sense only if you’re in it for the long run and can reinvest the time you spend on a theme into subsequent ones (by reusing bits of code, streamlining the process, building a mailing list, etc.).


  • Very lucrative if you’re successful.
  • No need for experience or education, as long as you have the right skills.
  • No need to be famous or have a big following.


  • Requires a lot of HTML and CSS coding, and probably familiarity with WordPress or another CMS.
  • Providing good support is time-consuming.
  • You will probably need to launch more than one theme before the venture becomes more profitable than regular freelance work.

Icons And Vectors

Note: I have never released any icon packs, brushes or vector resources, so I asked Vincent Le Moign of Webalys for his thoughts on this market.

“I started to create passive income by accident. In 10 years of freelancing, I’ve created a small stock of vector graphic elements that I’ve been using repeatedly for interface design. At first, it was just a few Illustrator files, where I pasted GUI elements, such as buttons and icons, to reuse in future projects.

“In June 2010, I decided to make it comprehensive and consistent, and then release it for free. Inspired by Web application frameworks such as Ruby on Rails, the User Interface Design Framework was based on the concept of modularity, productivity and fast wireframing.”

Statistics from the launch of the User Interface Design Framework.
Statistics from the launch of the User Interface Design Framework. Large preview.

“It took me a few weeks to create it, without making any money on it, but the feedback was impressive: in two months, 52 000 unique visitors, more than 1000 tweets, dozen of blog posts. Even the godfather of Web design, Jeffrey Zeldman, reviewed it. I was high on a cloud!

“Looking at it now, I have no idea why I invested so much time doing it — probably because of passion, and I felt the urge to fill a gap: this kind of tool was missing. I didn’t make any conscious plan, but this is how my new career started. Seeing this steady traffic, I thought I could build a premium version on top of it. A few month later, I launched a commercial pack filled with 750 vector icons. Then the magic happened.”

The Minicons icon pack.
The Minicons icon pack.

“Money started to add up in my PayPal account. I remember checking my inbox compulsively to see if the latest emails announced sales. It wasn’t a lot of sales yet, just a few hundreds dollars, but it showed me the way: that making a living from passive income was possible. In the past two years, the sales gradually went up and reached the point where I could stop working for customers and spend 100% of my time on my own products. In 2011, I launched one more resource: a vintage vector ornaments pack, which was successful, too. Having two different products guaranteed a more regular income flow.

“I currently earn a few thousands dollars each month from sales. My income is the same as what it was when I was a freelancer, but I have the satisfaction of developing my own products. But designing quality content is not enough to make sales. I actually spend most of my time on other tasks:

  • Creating the sales pages, writing the text, polishing the product websites.
  • Setting up the e-commerce solution. In two years I’ve wasted a lot of time building the sales process. I switched e-commerce solutions four times until I found the perfect one (DPD — almost unknown but highly recommended).
  • Advertising and promoting. I spent a lot of time and money finding the best sources of traffic.
  • Improving marketing and SEO, and setting up and learning how to use products such as MailChimp, Google Analytics, GetClicky, SEOmoz, Curebit.
  • Optimizing the conversion rate by setting up A/B tests with Google Optimizer.
  • To be honest, I don’t provide a lot of support (a few minutes a day), but I commit to responding as soon as possible. And I spent a lot of time writing the documentation (with screenshots) to avoid answering the same questions over and over again.

“So if you’re considering creating premium resources, the answer is yes, you can live off of it. But your creativity and designs skills are not the keys elements of success. You’ll need to invest a lot of time in learning and practicing all areas of business: marketing, promotion, copywriting, SEO, analytics, etc.

“Actually, this is the beauty of launching your own products: you will become a better designer not by creating better graphics, but because you will have a full view of the business and will master a full range of skills. You will see your customer with new eyes and focus on the efficiency of your designs more than their outer beauty. And believe me, your customer will love that and will pay you more if you increase their sales.

“On the downside, the market is becoming highly competitive. The same shift that is taking place with templates is happening in my market. Competition is becoming fierce, and not a week goes by without a few more icon packs getting released. I mean, which designer hasn’t launched their own set by now?

“I’ve counted more than 50 competitors who sell icons, and the number and quality is improving constantly.”

A sample of the Vectorian vector pack.
A sample of the Vectorian vector pack.

“Also, the growing trend of discounted bundles (like on Dealotto and MightyDeals), where you get a ton of resources for a few bucks, risks drying up the market. I’m still not sure if this will convince more designers to add these resources in their workflow, thus expanding the market, or stop them from buying these packs at the current prices.

“This tougher competition has forced me to spend months this year doubling the number of my icons, from 750 to 1500, and adding variations for different software, such as PowerPoint and Keynote. Also, I’ve improved my other product, the vector ornaments, and paid another freelancer to fix a few problems. And I recently paid a great calligrapher to create a logo for Vectorian and improve the branding. Expenses and time investment are going up.

“Another problem: I don’t think my designs are as creative or as good as before. I’m so focused on creating the content, marketing it and thinking like a business owner that I sometimes have less passion for design and less creativity.”


  • You already have the skills to create the content.
  • If you use marketplaces such as iStockphoto and GraphicRiver, you don’t need to build a website or promote your products.
  • Almost no support is required (if you write good documentation).
  • You will expand your skills and become more business-oriented.
  • You don’t need to write in English (this was a big advantage for me because I’m French and a poor English writer).


  • It’s time-consuming.
  • The expectations of quality and quantity are rising. And more and more free content is becoming available.
  • The market is competitive; you need not only great content, but great marketing.


I can still remember when Carbon first accepted one of my websites into its advertising network. I was overjoyed! At last, I would be able to dip into the river of money that flows into Internet advertising! Of course, I didn’t expect to earn a salary from ads alone, but I thought it might be a nice supplement — say, a couple of hundred dollars a month.

If you’ve ever run any kind of ads on a website, you know what’s coming: my first payment must’ve been for something like $5. So, yes, Internet ads are no fun — unless you bring in a massive amount of traffic (or if you plaster your website with a massive number of ads).

My first ever ad spot.
My first ever ad spot.

Since then, I’ve joined Fusion Ads for my blog and joined Yoggrt for The Toolbox (both ad networks belong to BuySellAds). To give you some numbers, The Toolbox gets about 20,000 uniques a month, which is not huge but still decent. This converts to $30 to 60 per month. My blog is a little more successful (probably due to the higher click-through rate), and I’ve succeeded in pulling in $100 or $200 in extremely good months when a couple of my posts went viral. But the average has been around $50 to $100.

Altogether, the total from advertising comes in at around $600 over six months. So, as far as I’m concerned, ads are a good way to pay for a meal to celebrate the weekend, but not much more unless you decide to become a full-time blogger.


  • Does not require any work.
  • Joining a respected ad network will give your website cachet.


  • Pays for a meal, if you’re lucky.
  • Did I mention that you probably won’t earn anything?


Writing an eBook (or plain old book) might seem relatively easy. After all, we all know how to write, right? In fact, I’d say that actually writing the book is not the hardest part. Sure, developing a good writing style takes years of practice, but the truth is that people will forgive clumsy writing if you have something valuable to say. No, the real work in writing eBooks is in what comes before and after the writing.

Before writing the first word, you need to come up with a good topic and, more importantly, develop the skills necessary to make you an authority on the topic. Simply compiling existing knowledge might work for a blog post, but it won’t fly when you ask people to hand out their hard-earned cash.

Consider writing an eBook only if you have a couple of years of experience under your belt and feel ready to distill it into a book. And please don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s over once you’re done writing. That’s actually when the real battle begins: selling your book.

My eBook’s landing page.
My eBook’s landing page.

How will people find out about your book? What reason will they have to buy it? Why should they buy yours instead of competing books? These are the kinds of questions you’ll have to face.

If you want to rest your chances on a personal website, take a page from Jarrod Drysdale’s book (pun intended), Bootstrapping Design. Drysdale not only set up a website for his book, but also used a mailing list before and after the launch to promote it by sending out sample chapters and asking his audience various questions. I did my best to promote my eBook by setting up a landing page, writing guest posts about it and holding giveaways.

Another good strategy is to target a niche. This is what I did by focusing specifically on user interface design for startups, and Matthew Butterick also did it with his Typography for Lawyers book.

Last but not least, I strongly recommend partnering up with websites such as AppSumo and Hyperink to open up distributions channels for your book and to create new revenue streams.

Sales started strong but have slowed to a couple per week.
Sales started strong but have slowed to a couple per week.

Writing an eBook turned out to be great for me. I had a great launch, making about $8,000 in the first two weeks alone. Since then, sales have slowed considerably, but I did manage to make another $6,000 in the four months since the launch. In my case, the key to earning more was partnering up with AppSumo and Dealotto, which both brought in a couple of thousand dollars in extra revenue after the initial boost from the launch faded away.


  • Almost no support needed.
  • No technical skills required.


  • You need to have something to say.
  • A lot of promotion is required.
  • The market is competitive and crowded.
  • Sales will quickly dry out after launch.

Software As A Service

Building a business requires a ton of work and commitment, but unlike freelance design or, say, mowing lawns, building a software-based service of some kind takes away the 1:1 relationship between your efforts and your income. Some services charge only once, as is the case with job boards such as Authentic Jobs and my own Folyo. But, of course, the cash cow of passive income is subscription services because they enable you to anticipate your cash flow and build a steady income stream.

The obvious challenge in building a software service is that it requires technical skill, which you might not have if you’ve got a design background. It’s not the end of the world, though. You could find a cofounder, outsource the project or even learn the skills yourself. And you don’t need to go all out right away. When I speak with non-technical founders, I often notice that a preliminary version of their idea could very well have been achieved with a simple WordPress blog.

If you explore a little deeper, you’ll realize that opportunities for monetization are everywhere. For example, WordPress has numerous membership subscription plugins. Even MailChimp lets you charge for newsletter subscriptions. By thinking outside the box and combining existing services, even a moderately technical person can get a minimum viable product out the door.

I launched Folyo (a website that helps startups find great, vetted freelance designers) about a year ago:

Folyo, a private job board for freelance design projects.
Folyo, a private job board for freelance design projects.

For the first couple months, I ran it as a simple newsletter of job offers, with a Wufoo form for submitting projects. There was no back end, no database and no user accounts! This was enough to validate the concept and to motivate me to build a real app. So, I found a Ruby on Rails developer through a Hacker News jobs thread and paid him about $3,000 to create a working app (a process I cover in more detail on my blog).

Meanwhile, I had been learning Ruby on Rails myself, so I’ve since taken on part of the development myself, outsourcing the remainder to a friend in exchange for some design work. Was it worth it? While I have no doubt I would be earning more if I was focusing on freelance work rather than Folyo, I’m still very happy that I decided to launch my own project.

I currently make about $1,000 a month from Folyo, which is good enough for one person with minimal costs after one year. More importantly, each day spent working on Folyo makes it a little better and increases the website’s value (unlike with client work, where working on one project doesn’t help you with the next).

Of course, when I’m working on Folyo, I do very little actual designing. In fact, my time breaks down something like this:

  • Email and support: 20%
  • Blogging: 20%
  • Coding: 40%
  • Miscellaneous tasks: 10%
  • Design: 10%

So, if you’re thinking of launching your own service, consider that it probably means spending much less time designing.


  • Theoretically, it can be lucrative and even get you bought out by Google or Facebook.
  • The work is very motivating.
  • You have the freedom to build anything you want.


  • You will need to step way outside of your comfort zone.
  • The chance of failure is high.
  • At the end of the day, relatively little designing is involved.

Lessons Learned

What did I learn from all this? And what would I do differently if I could start over? Well, one thing I realized is the importance of building a network. You need to find a way to get connected, whether it’s by becoming a famous designer, writing a blog, building a Twitter following or, ideally, doing all that and more.

Of course, a lot of great designers focus simply on doing a great job and don’t concern themselves too much with the rest. But maybe these designers went to a great art school and kept in touch with their classmates. Or maybe they attend design meetups regularly. One way or another, you can bet that most successful designers maintain a network, even if they don’t realize it.

Blogs and Twitter are simply the digital equivalent of this. Making it entirely on your own is very hard, so the earlier you start cultivating these relationships, the better.

Related to this, have a strong identity. Try to stand out from the crowd, and make sure people know who you are. You can achieve this by cultivating your own style, being involved in high-profile or viral projects or, what I think is the best way, launching your own projects.

Visual Idiot’s humor at work.
Visual Idiot’s humor at work.

If you want to see how it’s done, look no further than Visual Idiot, who converted his great design skills and weird sense of humor into a job at GoSquared, despite no one on the Internet even knowing his real name.

This may sound obvious, but the reality is that projects that help build your network or identity are not often the most lucrative ones (actually, they usually don’t make you any money). So, it’s tempting to take that high-paying contract to design a pharmaceutical company’s intranet, rather than spend a couple days building a silly JavaScript that replaces stuff with pictures of cats.

But guess what? Nobody outside of Big Pharma will ever see that intranet’s beautifully crafted pixels, but that cat website might go viral and lead to thousands of people suddenly becoming aware of your existence.

To summarize, the main lesson I’ve learned over the last couple of years is to have a long-term view and invest in yourself, not chase a quick buck.

The plan is rather simple, then: build a network, cultivate a strong identity to ensure the network knows who you are, and then come up with a product you can market to it.

Of course, each step usually takes a couple years. I said it was simple; I didn’t say it was easy!

(al) (il)

© Sacha G for Smashing Magazine, 2012.

April 30 2012


Why Does Google+ Bring More Business To People Than Facebook?

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Google+, sometimes abbreviated as Google Plus or G+, is a social network developed and maintained by the tech giant Google. The network was released in beta to the public 9 months ago, by the end of June 2011. The full release came in September. While the network was supposed to be a strong opponent for Facebook, it was never even close to it. The fact that many people use it today is entirely based on curiosity and mostly on Google’s name and powerful brand and not because it brings something new to the business. Or is it…?

Google estimates the social network will have around 400 million users by the end of this year, while Facebook approaches a billion. Twitter only has around 100 million users while LinkedIn with 30 million users more than the micro-blogging platform.

But while Google’s last addition to its huge portfolio doesn’t bring many new things to the table, it is a powerful tool and it is arrogant to ignore it as it incorporates great features. Actually, after closely studying and researching behaviors there, it seems Google+ can actually be an influence on your business and bring you more clients than initially expected. This might be because of the more professional look and feel G+ has in comparison with Facebook, or just because some features are better developed. While G+ will probably never reach Facebook’s success, the truth is that it doesn’t even need to – quite frankly, their niches are different.

1. Communicating with targeted potential customers

Google+ incorporates a service called ‘circles’ which allows users to define the feeds displayed on their home screen and who can see them. Privacy settings also allow users to hide the list of members in their Circles. Everything is done quick through a drag-and-drop interface. Specific content can be sent out to targeted groups or individuals instead of everybody in your network. This means that the content you deliver will only reach the people you want to.

Image by Magnet 4 Marketing dot Net.

G+ Circles mostly replaces the typical “Friends” list you have on Facebook and allows you to define your own groups. The default Circles are Friends, Family, Acquaintances and Following. A definition of the “Following” circle would be “People who don’t know you personally, but whose posts you find interesting“, according to Google. Quite like Twitter I would say.

This function makes the platform valuable because it allows everybody interested in your services, posts or updates to follow you and stay in touch.

2. Easily reaching prospects

If you have a company, then you are also in need of clients. They are the ones bringing in the profit and allowing us to continue. If something is crucial, then reaching out to them is it. Moreover, the need to communicate with prospects and potential clients is very important, as it might as well be the difference between landing a huge project or failing miserably at maintaining your company on the lifeline.

The platform allows G+ users to connect with these people and more others, including influencers and people in their respective industry. This happens first because of what described above – everybody can follow everybody’s updates without needing a friend request to be accepted. This element is quite similar to the one on Twitter, where you can follow everybody you are interested with and interact with their content. You might ask yourself why use G+ when there is Twitter. Well, firstly, G+ does much more than just allowing you to follow people. And secondly, the user’s database is to be four times bigger on G+ than on Twitter by the end of this year, according to estimates.

Image by CubaGallery.

G+ also allows you to share information with only the right people, instead of sharing it with everybody who follows you. This is something Twitter does not allow you to.

Finding people on Google+ is also really easy thanks to the powerful search function. But more about this later.

3. The professional environment

Maybe the main difference between G+ and its bitter rival Facebook is the professional and business-like environment. Although possible for them to register, 15-year-old high-school drama queens simply don’t find G+ interesting. The same with Justin Bieber male fans from all over the world. Google Plus is clearly for people interested in doing business. In this matter it is quite similar to Twitter and LinkedIn. It just attracts the right crowd.

Basically this means on G+ you will in most cases find only people whom you have something in common with, have a company, are part of the same industry or share the same interests. And this will only get better with more and more people registering and being active on their G+ accounts.

4. +1 and the search function

Google added a +1 button few months after the beta release of the service and this only improves the experience. A +1 is similar to the “Like” on Facebook. But while the “Like” doesn’t mean much more than an ego-booster, a +1 helps the user much more beyond personal fulfillment. The more +1 an update gets, the higher the chance to be found through a Google search will be. And with Google still being the most powerful search engine in the world (and will remain like that for many years to come), this is a strong feature nobody else can offer. Linking the two services was probably the smartest move of Google+.

Image by west.m.

Users can get a lot of exposure thanks to the +1 buttons, which are available in everything that can be shared on the platform, including images. And while the feature is already incredible, bear in mind that Google Plus is still in its early development phase and improvements are likely to come.

5. The showcase features

Although Facebook allows you to do this as well, the capability of turning your G+ profile into a showcase portfolio is really well developed. Google Plus not only allows you to make it a visual portfolio, but also to make it in a written format like a classic CV. Again, some similarities can be drawn with another service – LinkedIn. You can say G+ gets the better out of two worlds.

Not only the pictures can be used in order to create a visual impact, but the “About” section is much more complex than on other platforms. It contains a big range of materials, links and details about where you’ve lived and how can you be contacted.

6. Google+ Hangouts

A strong feature Facebook and the other social networking platforms lack is the video chatting capabilities. Well, just for your information, even the US President used G+ Hangouts for a press conference several months ago. This allows you to communicate with up to 10 people on your network instead of asking them to call you or contact you on Skype or other service. You have everything under the same roof and gives Google a strong advantage over its competitors.

Bottom line

Google Plus has always been an underdog to Facebook and, in the beginning, even to Twitter and LinkedIn. But it seems people found the good in it and start using their accounts much more often. And while individuals still try to get a grip of it, companies and freelancers already use it to its full potential and land clients and projects through it.

Until next time, what is your experience with G+? Why it is exactly you use Google+ instead of letting go of it like many others do? Have you ever landed a gig on Google Plus?

February 20 2012


How to Overcome the Bad Moments of Your Career Like a Boss

There are lots of web design resources out there and learning all the skills you need is not a problem anymore – everybody can do it. But some of us (or better said, most of us) encounter the same logistical problems now and then during our freelance careers. Being able to create high quality websites is not enough anymore. Freelancing is a total challenge as you also need to be able to manage yourself, your work and your problems.

Even if most people consider the motivational articles a waste of time, they actually offer solutions to problems more important than color theory, typography or web usability. The inner problems can stop freelancers from finding the right balance between work and personal life and, at some point in time, can even force them to retire or change careers.

The issue with having bad moods or difficulty getting into a working mood is that it seriously affects your results. It can make you miss deadlines, deliver poor-quality products and even break agreements before being done with them. If you are interested in being efficient, then this article is targeting you. If you don’t know how to be, then pay attention to this advice

Lack of motivation

Most of us have a goal in life. It can be a job you always dreamed of having or something that will bring you lots of money. It’s totally up to you. When you’re still going after the goal, you motivated are most of the time . However, when there is nothing more to achieve (or no more goals to achieve), lack of motivation appears very often and damages your work. Working in the same position for a long time may also be another why you lack motivation.

Let’s face it, few of us would work if we didn’t need it to survive. Sometimes it just gets boring to work, it’s highly unlikely that it you aren’t nodding your head in agreement yet. The good news is that there are many ways ways to cure a lack of motivation.

Image by DonnaGrayson.

Steve Jobs said it himself: “Stay hungry, stay foolish!” By always wanting more, there is always enough motivation. Regardless of where you are right now, always wish for more. This way you will always work in order to achieve that goal you set for yourself. You also need to find a balance between work and personal life. Having too much free time can affect your productivity while spending too much time at work can damage the relationships with your family and friends – and maybe even more importantly, your health.

Lack of clients

If you work freelance, you are most probably delivering the work and finding clients. This can be overwhelming and with no work there is no money. It is something every freelancer is afraid of, especially the ones who are inexperienced.

Some solutions could be saving money for back-up. Lack of clients might be something all of us will encounter sometime and it is very good to have some savings. Not having clients is worse than getting fired from your 9-to-5 job, because if you get fired there, you are probably entitled to some kind of financial aid; there is no such thing while you freelance (it might, however, depend on the country). Therefore always be wise and have some money for the rough periods.

Another good way of solving this problem is maintaining contact with several clients. Having your income come from only one client is dangerous, but working with more at the same time is likely to feed you for some months to come.

As I always say, when you deliver a project make sure to check on the client once or twice afterwards. Make sure you maintain a good relationship with your former clients, otherwise there is no chance you will ever get hired by them again. However, if you convince them you are more than just “the guy who designs websites”, they will even further recommend you to their clients.

Family issues

Let’s face it, none of us are working machines. We provide good results based on external factors (skills) and internal ones (inner behaviour, trust, confidence, motivation etc). Both are important. If we have problems at home, how will we be able to focus on work? Our relatives and friends have a huge influence on us and one of them being sick or going through other difficulties is surely going to damage your motivation and self-belief. Any issue you have at home will affect your work life more or less.

I know it is something very difficult to work with, but making a clear difference between personal life and work will solve these issues in the end. However, this is not something you will achieve very easily. It might as well be the most difficult problem you will encounter during your freelance career. While clients and motivation come and go, family problems usually just come and will only disappear after long periods of time.

Image by auroneurotica photo.

Talking to your family about your work might help. Letting them understand what you do and why you spend so much time on even small projects, but also telling them that their behaviour affects yours and the monthly income will probably solve the problems you have. By trying to show you are the busy boss you will not solve too much – but you will do it by talking. Communication is important in today’s reality.

Fights with bosses

Although not all of us have a boss on paper, all of us have one, even freelancers. If the client is the one paying  you, he is most definitely your boss. You probably won’t last long at an agency if you’re always arguing with your boss. Bosses are usually disregarded by employees, but having a good relationship with them will help you along the way. Web design agencies work usually as a team and having a weak link in your team will decrease the chances of success.

Sometimes it might be just too difficult to agree with your boss. Most of the time in this case it is easier to just try following their advice – even if it is something you do not agree with. In the end, you can always hold them responsible for your poor work if they just push ideas down your throat.

I, however, prefer to use dialogue. I always prefer to communicate before making any major decision. And most of the time there is a reason behind someone being my boss – so I respect that. Remaining frustrated is never going to solve your disputes with your bosses, so try to free yourself and follow his advice. And let’s face it, it’s never nice to have a boss who wants to take revenge on you for something.

Difficult clients

We all encounter, at some point in time, the so-called “client from hell”. People who only know the basics at best and think they know better than us  – this is when we start calling them clients from hell – when they think they know better.

Image by Filippo Venturi.

It is very difficult to work with them because they will do everything to convince you they know better. And while they pay, there is not very much you can do other than try to discuss things with them. Some of them can even get aggressive and instead of just giving some feedback, actually force you to do something. It is very difficult to maintain a good relationship with this kind of client. Although some say communication works, I doubt it. These people are not willing to listen. They just want a product, know how they want it to be and that’s it.

In my opinion not dealing with this type of client at all is the way to go. When you feel one of your potential clients might be a difficult one to work with, just avoid him. It might sound weird – we are all designers and look for work, but we need to avoid these guys. Well yes, it is weird and it shouldn’t be like that, but think that some of them don’t even pay. Some of then will knock your moral down to the ground. After working with two or three of those, you will need a break. It is not worth it. Drop them and move on!

Bonus: lack of inspiration - a whole article about it.

Bottom line

Freelancing is something very challenging and now and then you will encounter these difficulties, but the quicker you get past them, the quicker you will be able to get back to work and earn some money. As said earlier, all these motivational articles are good for you and your work process in general, although in the beginning they might seem like a waste of time. If you find yourself surrounded by all these kinds of problems, it is best to even spend some money and buy books about how to solve them – there are hundreds of them out there and they can’t do any harm.

Until next time… which of these problems do you encounter most? How do you solve them?

January 25 2012


Stand Out Among Freelancers by Communicating with Your Client

While the internet becomes more and more accessible to everyone, some freelancers rarely use these new technologies to improve their marketing or client relations. These incredible technologies allow us to communicate easier with people from all over the world and to even optimize the communication with someone who is living close to us. Throughout my short career I have learned that communicating with a client is crucial, because his directions might help you too. Moreover, if the product is not heading in the direction the client wants, communicating with him is going to make the product better and, let’s be honest, this is what every freelancer is rated on – the quality of the projects they deliver.

Communicating with clients will also increase the probability of you getting more work from them; it can also help you stand out from the crowd. Some freelancers just show up with the product, charge the money and leave – and even if they deliver a good product, the client is still not very happy with the working relationship. Well, this is because there was no communication and the client felt he was not involved. Moreover, following you client’s directions is even more important for your working relationship, but be aware and don’t become a puppet and try to make your point when you need to, as you are the expert and know the web better than your client does. Following your client’s original instructions is totally different than doing what they say. It’s called “paying attention” and “caring” about the one you work with.

Follow instructions

The client is the one who pays you, so your final product has to please them. If you don’t do this, why would they hire you again? Or tell their fellow business owners to hire you?  You don’t have to give them what you think is right, but what they think is right.

Following instructions from a client shows a simple, but important fact – that you respect him. When they’re paying you, it’s totally disrespectful to ignore their requests and do what you want to do – even if you know that your way may be the best.

When you don’t agree with a client, the only thing to do is communicate this to him. Talk to him, explain him why  you think your way is the right one, show him examples from the web and statistics, and he will probably understand. Clients almost always agree with your ideas if you show them their final product will be better because of it. Don’t just jump into modifying that grid system because you know it’s right. Explain why you’re changing it and they will probably understand you and appreciate you even more – he may even start to see you as the expert you are and may not question your decisions as much in the future.

Photo by ilco

If you are not sure about what I mean by client’s instructions, then let’s take a look at the following checklist:

  • The deadline – I can’t stress enough about how important this is. Do you respect the deadline you get from your clients? Because if you don’t, this is a huge problem. Many freelancers think that the deadlines are not mandatory and that delivering three days late is okay – well, it is a big problem. Most of your clients have a schedule and if you don’t deliver your product in time, their whole schedule will fall apart. Keep the deadline in mind, this is one of the first things you are judged for.
  • Delivery – You can’t make a good impression by delivering a project that isn’t finished and still needs work. You get paid to deliver a completed project, and that’s what you need to deliver to build your client base. Deliver the project. On time, and complete. If you don’t deliver a fully finished project, it’ll probably be your latest collaboration with the respective client.
  • Handing in something else – Well you think this doesn’t happen – but it most certainly does. You might have done it as well without realizing. Did the client ask for a pink website and, without explaining why, you delivered a red one? Well then you didn’t follow instructions. Just because you have a different idea than the client does, it doesn’t mean you can just deliver whatever you want – at the end of the day he’s paying you, not the other way around. Make sure you talk to your client about each major change you make and always inform him about the minor ones.
  • Contacting the client – You might not think this is a big problem, but if the client specifically asked you to only contact him by e-mail, don’t overlook his wish. It’s the same when we ask clients to only contact us between 8am and 4pm, and they call us at 10 at night. Annoying, right? They think the same when we do it. Moreover, if the client asks you to contact him once per week, do it, even if you don’t consider it necessary.

Showing professionalism

This is what’s going to land you the next job – being professional. By following the simple rules above you could manage to do it, but by following the ones below you will definitely impress:

  • Keeping in mind what the client requested is important even if you don’t follow it. When you want to change something, simply ask to do it, but don’t forget to acknowledge the client’s request. Saying something like “Can I maybe contact you via e-mail, although you requested to talk by phone? I would be more comfortable with e-mail.” will work better than just contacting him by e-mail out of the blue.
  • A good way for avoiding delivering something the client didn’t request is to always ask before making major changes. If they’re rejected, try to explain why you believe the changes will be beneficial to him. As said before, he will most likely accept you as the expert and go with your way of doing it.
  • It is always a great idea to set a more achievable deadline and always deliver before the expected day, this will allow more time for the client to revise the product and he will always be happy thinking that you worked more for him than you should have. Delivering before the deadline is good and will always pay off.
  • Freelancers not only deliver a project, but quite often will work as consultants as well. Don’t forget that you can always make suggestions for next time, even if you are not going to be the one who gets the job. When the client sees that your tips helped him – even if with another designer – he will remember you and might turn back to you if needed again.
Image by Ambrosio

This article is not only about why is it important to communicate with your clients. It is mostly about acting professional. Communicating properly is just one small part of showing a client you mean business, especially today when there are lots of freelancers out there who clearly lack this crucial social skill. Managing to interact with your clients throughout the development process of a project and will insure you get positive feedback and word of mouth business, which will in the end send more clients your way.

Next time you are out there landing a big design project, come back to this article and follow these simple rules. They will only bring you positive results and will make the relationship with your clients better.

How is your usual relationship with your clients? Do you communicate a lot, or do you try to do it as little as possible? How much time do you spend consulting your client?

January 17 2012


8 Things Designers Should Teach Their Clients

When starting as a designer, you might encounter some issues along the way, especially in the relationships you develop with your clients. This happens mainly because the clients quite often have the wrong  idea of what we actually do and think that “anybody can design a website”. In their opinion it is as easy as opening Photoshop and drawing something, then writing three lines of code and there you go, you have developed a website.

We all know the reality of is totally different, but until we explain this to our clients, they will not start understanding us and will not value our work any more than they currently do.

The way of improving their opinion is trying to give teach them different lessons, either by telling them directly or by letting them understand through your collaboration. However, it is more likely to help if you do it before signing a contract, because your working relationship will change and will be clear to them from the beginning. This way you can set some expectations and they will better understand who they’re collaborating with.

1. You are an artist, not a laborer

It is good to start with this one. Explain to them from the beginning that what you do is called creative work. Tell them designers need talent, skills and experience to be able to deliver highly-rated products. Like any other kind of tradesperson, designers/artists know how to do their jobs. Nobody tells doctors how to do their jobs and this is because people know that their doctor knows much more than they do about their health. It should be the same with designers. Just because clients know that blue and red make purple or what an anchor or container is, doesn’t make them experts.

Tell your clients that regardless of what they may think, design is not easy, that’s the best designers are paid to make it look easy. Explain to them that even though you accept feedback (we will talk about this a bit more down the road), you are the expert and you’ll only do what you believe is better for the final product, even if they may disagree with you.

Image by toomas

This happens mostly with freelance designers. If you work in a studio, you will most likely be left to do the job the way you want it. The situation changes for freelancers, however. Clients think that because you’re a freelancer and don’t have an office or work 9-5 Monday to Friday (which many of them do, by the way), you are not a professional. Tell your client that you have working hours like everybody else and don’t allow him to call you at 10:30 at night asking for a one final small adjustment before the flyers go to print the next morning. By setting these boundaries clients will also be more cautious and will think twice before calling you too often or outside of your office hours.

2. You are the expert, not them

This is a huge one and I tell you this because there have been many times that a client has called me and told me how to do my job. The bottom line is that you know the web better than they do and they should not doubt that. They shouldn’t come and give you lessons about social media, usability and design, because you already know those – and most likely he or she doesn’t know them better than you.

Many people think that just because they know how to open Illustrator or made a nice wedding invitation in Microsoft Word once that they are designers. Establish from the beginning who is the expert, but be careful about how you tell people this, you don’t want to sound harsh or arrogant. How you can handle your clients depends on so many things that I can’t tell you how to properly explain this to them, but here are some ideas:

  • Try to explain all the reasons behind the major decisions you make. By hearing that you did something with a clear purpose they will realize you know what you are doing.
  • Showing data or research to support things you say is very powerful. Google this and use it if you can, clients will always believe in your solution when they will see that many other people do.
  • You could also use books, design rules and principles or even academic discussions or files to show that the way you do things is industry standard (or truly ground breaking and different).
  • The power of example is very useful if you know how to use it; show your clients other important web sites using the same technique or principles. By showing him that “big players” use it, he will ask for it himself.
Image by sachyn

There might be some other stuff you could use, such as showing up on time to client meetings, dressing appropriately, being organized, writing professional and well-thought e-mails and, obviously, meeting deadlines. The most important is to be taken seriously by the client and you can’t do this if you don’t follow these simple rules.

3. Feedback is taken into consideration, impositions are not accepted

This is another important one, especially when everybody thinks they can be a designer. Feedback should always be accepted and considered, because others might have better ideas. They might also have some ideas that will improve the final results. Moreover, if the web page you make heads in a direction that the client doesn’t want, this is not really good for your reputation, so always accept feedback.

There is a clear difference between feedback and imposition. If a client starts giving you guidelines and ideas on how to do everything, you should stop him and explain that you know what you’re doing. Assure him of the fact that the final result is going to be actually better than the one he wants, because you are the expert, as mentioned above.

However, it is a really difficult to explain your clients, so take care about not being too harsh. Take some time in the beginning to listen to their questions and answer them as accurately and precisely as you can. Most of the clients will feel that their need to be involved in the project is lower once you have a talk with them about it. Explain in the beginning that you would like feedback from him up until the deadline, but you will be the one who makes the final decision.

4. Communication is crucial

It is very important to have a good relationship with your client during the project and also after it. Therefore try to maintain close contact with the client while you work together. This is also important because it is the only way you can find out what your client thinks and wants. Don’t just show up after three weeks with the final product done for delivery. Even if you respect the deadline and work within the budget, the client might still not be happy because he was not involved in the development process at all.

Image by YOdesigner

Many clients tend to be too involved in their projects so many designers try to stay away and only show up on the delivery date with the project, charge the money and leave. This is rather likely to end your relationship on neutral terms and the client will never come back to you for more work.

If you involve the client a bit, he will feel that he is part of the project and that he is the one who makes the decisions – although we know it is not like that. Explaining from the beginning or better yet specifying in the contract that you will ask for client meetings a few times is a good idea to make the client feel he will be part of the development process more than he actually is. Including clients usually means they have a great appreciation for the work you do as they see it develop from basic idea to final product.

5. Web is not print

There is a general misconception out there that web and print are very similar. Well, they’re not and we know it, but how do we explain this to our clients that are mostly familiar with print? They might want a web site that looks like a brochure – while you don’t. It is important to take the time and explain to your clients that the web is very different from print (even though I think we can all agree that until you know the difference it’s easy to understand why people think they’re almost the same) and there are different rules. We just decided upon who is the expert, so why not show you are one and educate your clients? You don’t need to read them a whole design book, just explain some basic principles and provide examples – clients will be more than happy to accept you as the expert when you show them and act like you are one.

6. “One small final change” does not exist

If you have even the smallest bit of experience you’ve heard this quote already. Another problem is that this usually comes at the last minute before the deadline and it affects the whole process, including the probability of you meeting the deadline. Even the simple process of changing a color might be complicated, because you need to go back and re-export the files, change the stylesheet and even make general design changes to complement the new set of colors.

In my opinion one the most important clauses you need to stipulate in a contract is the revision clause. Explain to the client in detail that for every change from one point in time on, he will have to pay extra. Allow them one or two revisions (depending on the size of the project) and charge money from then on. They will think twice before calling you with four hours before the deadline with a small, minor final change.

7. Set reasonable deadlines

We know that all the clients want the product as fast as possible, but some clients don’t understand the time it can take for even a simple website (for example our first lesson) and set difficult or impossible deadlines. Explain to them that a web site can’t be designed, developed and deployed in two days and don’t sign the contract if the deadline is not reasonable. It’s better to avoid these clients than work for them and not get paid, or get paid less because you didn’t deliver by their difficult deadline.

This is not easy to explain either, but you can actually come with a schedule draft and explain to the client what will you use each hour for. There is a high probability that he will understand. Another tip is to never deliver a schedule draft that you think is just enough for that kind of project. “Just enough” is never enough. Double or triple the time you think you need – the client doesn’t know how much the design phase takes anyway. Now I’m not saying to scam the clients into paying you more than you work for, but you need to make sure you have enough time for those minor, small changes and for the emergencies you might encounter.

Another good thing about setting such a deadline is that clients will always be happy to get the product earlier than expected. I always say: “Under promise, but always over deliver.” This makes clients think you worked more on their project than you should have and they will be happy to pay you at the end of the collaboration and even hire you again some time soon.

8. The contract is not just for fun

We’re not playing the designer – client game. This is serious business and the contract you sign with the client has to be respected. It is important to have a strong contract, but regardless of what kind of deal it is, always turn back to it if needed. Moreover, tell the client from the beginning that the contract is important and you want it to be respected. He will actually get a good impression about you and will see that you are serious and professional about what you do.

To give you some ideas about what should the contract include I made a list for you, as it follows:

  • Client meetings
  • Work hours
  • Contact hours
  • Milestones
  • Licensing (who owns the product at the end of the project)
  • Budget
  • Payment rules
  • Revising rule

This is not everything, but those are some of the most important clauses you want to include in a contract with a client.

Keep in mind that this tip is not about having a contract (we shouldn’t even talk about this), but about revising it together with the client. Make sure he knows what’s written there. Nobody reads contracts nowadays, especially with banks, car rentals and many, many others. Therefore keep it short and force the client into revising it by being there when he signs it.

Bottom line

Being a designer or developer is not easy and I am not saying this only because of the amount of skills you need, but because you need to work with people and they are always different. You will never have two clients or projects that are the same. Challenges and difficulties in communicating with them always appear and it’s up to you to solve them. It is not easy to stand up to someone who pays you, but it is worth doing. They will respect you more after you do it and most of them will just accept the rules. Don’t be afraid to share these lessons with your clients, only be aware of how you do it.

Have you encountered these issues with your clients? How did you solve them, or you just worked without working anything out?

June 24 2011


Smashing Cartoons: June 2011

Advertisement in Smashing Cartoons: June 2011
 in Smashing Cartoons: June 2011  in Smashing Cartoons: June 2011  in Smashing Cartoons: June 2011

We all have our favorite client stories, embarrassing design flaws and never-ending user requests which are all just a part of what we, as designers and developers, encounter very often in our daily work routine. In this new post series on Smashing Magazine, we’d like to put some of these situations into the spotlight and discuss them with you. The cartoons are all dedicated to Web design and also have a comic twist about everything happening around the Web and latest trends.

The main character of the cartoons is Fleaty, a talented, hard-working designer with big ambitions yet not that much luck when it comes to clients. Hopefully, Fleaty will put a smile on your face and maybe remind all of us of the flaws we have, and help us finally get rid of them. The creative mind behind the Smashing Cartoons is our talented illustrator Ricardo Gimenes.

We’ll be adding a new cartoon every week; the latest cartoon is presented on the Smashing Magazine’s sidebar as well as on the Smashing Cartoons page. There you will also find all previous issues of the Smashing Cartoons series for your convenience.

Fleaty’s experience in June:

Making The Web A Better Place

Fleaty 11 Big in Smashing Cartoons: June 2011

Mobile First

Fleaty 12 BigC in Smashing Cartoons: June 2011

They Just Don’t Care

Fleaty 09 Big Colour in Smashing Cartoons: June 2011

Users Don’t Read, They Scan

Fleaty 10C in Smashing Cartoons: June 2011

Tell Us Your Story!

Have you experienced something similar to what Fleaty has experienced? What’s your ultimate client story? Share your story with us in the comment section below!

For previous cartoons, feel free to check our Smashing Cartoons Archive.

© Smashing Editorial for Smashing Magazine, 2011. | Permalink | Post a comment | Smashing Shop | Smashing Network | About Us
Post tags: cartoons, clients

May 25 2011


Smashing Cartoons: May 2011

Advertisement in Smashing Cartoons: May 2011
 in Smashing Cartoons: May 2011  in Smashing Cartoons: May 2011  in Smashing Cartoons: May 2011

We all have our favorite client stories, embarrassing design flaws and never-ending user requests which are all just a part of what we, as designers and developers, encounter very often in our daily work routine. In this new post series on Smashing Magazine, we’d like to put some of these situations into the spotlight and discuss them with you. The cartoons are all dedicated to Web design and also have a comic twist about everything happening around the Web and latest trends.

The main character of the cartoons is Fleaty, a talented, hard-working designer with big ambitions yet not that much luck when it comes to clients. Hopefully, Fleaty will put a smile on your face and maybe remind all of us of the flaws we have, and help us finally get rid of them. The creative mind behind the Smashing Cartoons is our talented illustrator Ricardo Gimenes.

We’ll be adding a new cartoon every week; the latest cartoon is presented on the Smashing Magazine’s sidebar as well as on the Smashing Cartoons page. There you will also find all previous issues of the Smashing Cartoons series for your convenience.

Fleaty’s experience in May:

Responsive Web Design

Fleaty 05 Big in Smashing Cartoons: May 2011

Mobile Design Strategy

Fleaty 07bigB in Smashing Cartoons: May 2011

Online Reading Experience

Fleaty 08 BigE in Smashing Cartoons: May 2011

Web Design Trends

Fleaty 04 Big2 in Smashing Cartoons: May 2011

Web Typography

Fleaty 06 BigB in Smashing Cartoons: May 2011

Tell Us Your Story!

Have you experienced something similar to what Fleaty has experienced? What’s your ultimate client story? Do your clients also want a responsive design with rich typography? Share your story with us in the comment section below!

For previous cartoons, check our Smashing Cartoons Archive.

© Smashing Editorial for Smashing Magazine, 2011. | Permalink | Post a comment | Smashing Shop | Smashing Network | About Us
Post tags: cartoon, clients

January 31 2011


A Designers Nightmare – How to smoothly handle sign-offs & revisions

Being a designer doesnʼt mean “stare at a computer”. It means networking & connecting, answering e-mails to people as well. Every designer throughout their professional career has had to deal with a multitude of different clients. Some of them are excellent to work and communicate with, others are often harder to communicate with and sometimes it takes them a while to approve our work. What is the best way to handle it?

ILL-0 (1)

When starting to work with a client itʼs often hard to figure out what type of client they will turn out to be. They respond promptly, are engaged in the project and are excited to see the beginning layout. However, sometimes they take a turn for the worse at this point. The client completely changes all their ideas, refuses to come to any sort of agreement and insists on his or her own solutions. There isnʼt a golden method for avoiding these kinds of situations. However, there are some ways of reducing the risk and appeasing the clients requests.


In order to keep the approval process as seamless as possible you should start communicating and cooperating from the beginning. The key to keeping everything streamlined is preparing a brief for the project that offers good insight into your clientʼs expectations and preferences.
A project brief doesnʼt have to be a thorough document that has taken you days to prepare. Usually a few questions by email will suffice. Your clients will already have some general preferences regarding layout and some general functionality. Failing to determine them might end up with rejection of your concept.

ILL-0 (2)

Expectations & Things to ask

One of the first things you should ask you client for is: “Are there any examples of current websites that meet your design or implementation standards?”

If the client presents you with 4 examples of sites with a dark background and baroque embellishments then showing a minimalistic layout with a white background might turn out to be pointless.
You shouldnʼt have to ask for examples specific for the project that youʼre currently working on. If itʼs a restaurant be careful about getting other restaurant examples because the client might hang on tightly to that layout and demand to receive something thatʼs nearly a copy of the example. Thatʼs plagiarism and thatʼs not good for anyone. So, be careful on what examples you share and receive.
However, knowing your clients general preferences regarding webpages while the project is still in the starting phases may save you a lot of time later.

Another option is asking “Are there any examples of current websites that DO NOT meet your design and implementation standards?”

This is an analogous situation. This way youʼll be able to filter off styles that your client doesnʼt like. It all relates back to their expectations and making sure you have the most information possible.

What layout style is preferred for this project?

Before you start working ask your client what style does he/she prefer. It would be best to present him/her with a couple of possible solutions: light, lucid, classic, flamboyant, modern, dark, ornate, etc.

Do you have any photos or elements that have to be included on your site?

Do you know the feeling when youʼre in the middle of designing a layout and… Your client sends you an e-mail which says, that you absolutely have to include a low-res photo he or she took with their daughter’s camera?
The best way to avoid surprises is to identify elements that – according to your client – have to be included on the site. If their presented solutions are bad then, you could possible squash that in the project brief stage and save a lot of back and forth later on.

What are the preferred colors? Do you have a style-guide or graphic standards manual?

Check what colors your client likes and expects in the project. Itʼs a good opportunity to get rid of “cutting edge” combinations that your client might present to you. Itʼs also a good time to check if they have brand guidelines that you will have to follow. They could change the styling and layout of your site dramatically.

What colors should I avoid?

Preferred colors are often subjective feelings. Your client wonʼt always be driven by the project’s target group. It might turn out that your client is “allergic” to red and you have just presented him or her with a layout in which red is the central color. However, depending on how big the clients business is other factors may weigh into color decisions. Certain colors have connotations that could be bad for business.

Who are the users of the site and what purpose it used for?

A good brief canʼt pass over the target group and aims of the site. This wonʼt give you a direct sight into the clientʼs preferences but you will know the projects target user base. A fairly common factor that determines the entire layout is the purpose of the site and itʼs call to actions.

Being clear about revisions & deliverables

Designing is a creative process, which makes it hard to predict everything ahead of time. However, itʼs worth making these two things very clear in the beginning:

  1. How many comps or layouts will the client get for the price you have agreed upon.
  2. How many revisions will be able for your client for the price that you have agreed upon.

When you do this your client will be more attentive and precise when reporting revisions. This way you will avoid the meaningless back and forth.

ILL-0 (3)

Describing how the client should report revisions

This isnʼt something that needs to be addressed from the very first e-mail but is something that is worth mentioning. There are clients who accept the first round of a design or make very little tweaks.
When it comes to revisions: ask your client to write down all of their remarks and send them by email. Itʼs best to ask your client to send all the revisions they have at one time. It will make communication and implementation much easier. Plus, if they send them by email, you can always refer back to them as a visual checklist.

ILL-0 (4)

A bit of Psychology

If youʼre stuck with a client who is very critical about your proposal it would be best to hold a “face to face” meeting or at least talk over the phone. People usually tend to limit needless criticism when having a direct talk.

Draw Conclusions

Is a client always right? No, not always. Remember: The client is always right, in the end when he/she pays you for your services. Every hour of your work is precious and sometimes the client keeps sending revisions over and over. Youʼll spend a lot more time that was assumed from your original scope. In such a case you will earn less on the project than you initially expected.
When a project goes like this continuing to do business with them isnʼt worth it. On the other hand if your earnings are still good despite a couple of revisions and the atmosphere and communication are friendly – itʼs good to continue your working relationship in the future.

Revisions Don’t Bite

Criticism isnʼt always the best part of the job. It doesnʼt change the fact that sometimes a couple revisions could bring the project to a better design than where it was initially headed. If the client has reasonable remarks than – despite the unpleasant situation – you might want to make the revisions.
Try not to approach your work as it is your own “child”. (Yes, I know, itʼs difficult). If you take a very personal attitude towards the design itʼs much more difficult to accept your clients criticism – even when itʼs justified.

ILL-0 (5)

Are you a screwdriver?

Itʼs good to meet your client at the halfway point. We often have our own concepts and we become sensitive to any remarks from clients. Thatʼs not a good attitude. Adopting – at least – a neutral stance towards remarks is worth the effort.
On the other hand you might have to deal with clients who treat you as a screwdriver. Just as a designer was merely a tool for fulfilling their (not always right) concepts.
When in the middle of getting approval on your initial design comps, as it often happens with many things in life, reaching a happy medium is the best solution. This more than often is handled with good communication. A good designer, of course, should defend good conceptual solutions but should also understand their clients needs.

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A Designers Nightmare – How to smoothly handle sign-offs & revisions

December 01 2010


Sorting Out and Dealing with Different Types of Clients

Psychological approach is also an effective strategy being used in business. Learning how to read the clients’ personality can give you advantage. This way, you will know how and in what way to approach them with your marketing strategies. You will be able to handle and build a good professional relationship with your clients.

In this era, the great battle is faced in the world wide web. Online offices for freelancers limits their capabilities to interact personally. Though it’s difficult to get to know a client online in a slightly personal level, it’s still an important step to make.

In this field of business, you will encounter different types of people. The ability to label or sort out the type of client is a very big leap to amplify communication with your clients and allows you to keep a good relationship.

Here are the type of personality traits that you are most likely to encounter in clients. It my push you to the edge, but remember, NEVER lose your cool.

1. The Passive-Agressive

This type of client may start out with a few words being passive, keeping the clear image of what they exactly want to themselves. And surprises you with a lot of detailed demands both minor and major changes, getting agressive only after you submit a project.

Identifying Characteristics

  • Uncooperative and keeps a one-sided communication.

Makes statements such as:

  • “I’m not quite sure what we’re looking for.”
  • “Just do something that would appeal to us generally.”
  • “You totally missed the point of what we wanted.”

How to Deal:

- Being extra patient is the way to go. Always expect for last-minute touch-ups and revisions, may help to defuse any aggressive behavior blow up. Keep your original layered design intact so that you can easily refine and modify it later (not that you wouldn’t, but it does happen).  It also helps to make sure a contract specifies a limited number of revisions.

2. The Family Friend

This is the type of client whom you have known for several years either through family interaction or personal, and this connection has landed you the job. The relationship will be tested and perhaps marred forever by what could very well be a nightmare of a project. This type of client may demand a “special price” and take advantage of your bond. Sometimes, they may even not take your services seriously.

Identifying Characteristics

  • These clients are easy to identify because… well, you know them.
  • Makes such statements as:
    • “Could you just throw something together for me?”
    • “I don’t want you to think that just because I know you I want you to cut me a deal.”
    • “You’re going to charge me what?! But we go way back!”

How to Deal

Dealing with such clients depend on how well you know them and how much you value your relationship with them. But always remember, that anyone who would take advantage of such a relationship is not truly a friend, so respond accordingly. A truthful approach could end up saving the relationship. But start off with a professional and not a personal, tone, and they may follow your lead. Of course, if you truly value the relationship, you may want to pass on the job altogether.

3. The Down-player

Like the family friend described above, this client will downplay your creative presentations. The difference: you don’t personally know this person. There is no explaination for their behavior. They feel they should get a “friend’s” pricing rate not because they want to be friends with you, but because they do not see your work as being worth that much… even if they couldn’t do it themselves. Not coming from a creative background or even having had exposure to the arts can mar someone’s appreciation of the work that you do. After years in our field, we make it look easy, and that is what the down-player sees.

Identifying Characteristics

  • Does not respond to questions in a timely fashion.
  • Makes such statements as:
    • “It’s not like it takes much effort on your part.”
    • “Couldn’t you just throw something together for me?”
    • “How hard can this really be?”

How to Deal

Play it with confidence. You know what your work demands and how well you do your job. The down-player will recognize this confidence. Don’t hold back or concede a point to the client when discussing your role in the project. Standing firm will establish the professional and respectful tone you deserve. If the client does not respond in kind, cut your losses and decline their project.

4. The Critic

This client is never fully satisfied with the work you do and will constantly pick on minor details here and there that they dislike and want changed. Do not be surprised if they ask you to change these same details over and over ad nauseam. It is not a sign of disrespect (as it is with the other clients), but simply the nature of the person. They may have been burned in some other project and are now unsatisfied with everything in their path, including your work.

Identifying Characteristics

  • Complains almost consistently about unrelated things.
  • Personal outlook comes with a scathing bite.
  • Makes such statements as:
    • “How hard is it to [fill in the blank with any rant]?”
    • “I’m really not sure about this element here. It just doesn’t pop!”
    • “I don’t think you are really getting it.”

How to Deal

Once again, patience is important (especially if you have some sadistic reason for taking on nit-picking clients). Try to detach yourself from the project as much as possible, so that the constant nit-pickery does not affect you personally. It is easy to feel hurt or get defensive when your work is repeatedly questioned, and you may begin to doubt your skill. But understand that this is not about you or your talent; it is simply a personality trait of the person you are dealing with. And once again, protect yourself in the contract.

5. The Penny-pincher

This client has similarities to the critic and under-player but is actually impressed with your work and skill set. The criticize you merely to undermine your confidence in an attempt to lower your pricing rate. Unlike some other client types, the penny-pincher understands creative people and their processes. But they are cheap and manipulative, and their scheme may have worked in their favor once or twice in the past. So, they continue to subtly abuse the people they hire in the hope of saving every last penny.

Identifying Characteristics

  • Compliments always come with a less-than-flattering qualifier.
  • Takes time to respond to questions, sometimes making you ask more than once.
  • Makes such statements as:
    • “I really like what you’ve done overall, but I’m unsure about one or two things.”
    • “You may not have gotten exactly what we’re looking for, but you’re close.”

How to Deal

Once again, it is all about confidence. Having a solid understanding of your field and being confident in your knowledge and abilities will keep this client’s manipulation in check. Standing your ground and even calling the client on some of their tactics could shift the balance of power over to you. Be prepared to walk away from the project if the disrespect and manipulation continues. There will be other projects and other clients.

6. The “I-Could-Do-This-Myself”-er

Where to begin… When this type of client offers a project out to you, they make clear to you that they know how to do what they’re hiring you to do but just too preoccupied to do it. They may be working at a firm or an entrepreneur; either way, you are there to pick up their excess load. If they’re at a firm, you could be in for an interesting situation; they were likely hired for their particular style and proposals, and now you will have to please two sets of people: the person who hired you and the people who hired him.

Identifying Characteristics

  • Will generally be (or look) hectic and rushed.
  • Communication from them often takes the form of short bursts of information.
  • Makes such statements as:
    • “I could easily handle this if my schedule weren’t so full.”
    • “Really? Not sure that’s the direction I would’ve gone in, but whatever.”
    • “Remember, you are filling my shoes, and they’re pretty big.”

How to Deal

The “I-Could-Do-This-Myself”-er will likely have recognized your talent and skill right away, which is why they hired you. They merely want you to know that this project (and thus you) is not above their ability. And though these reminders will grate on you periodically, they will let you run with your ideas, perhaps offering suggestions or feedback on the final design.

7. The Control Freak

This client desperately needs to micro-manage every little detail of the project, no matter their qualifications. No decision may be made without their explicit input and approval. This tiresome client forces himself into your workflow, heedless of either invitation or protest, and will demand access to you at whim. The concepts of boundaries and strict work processes are easily lost on the control freak, who constantly disrupts the flow. They may also believe you lack dedication or preparedness, further reinforcing their need to interfere.

Identifying Characteristics

  • Initial contact is long, detailed and one-sided, with little input sought from you.
  • Your input remains unsought as the project pushes forward.
  • Makes such statements as:
    • “This way we can keep in contact 24/7 in case you have any questions, or I do.”
    • “I really know best what is right for the project and what is not.”
    • “What do you mean, I’m distracting you? I am the only thing keeping this project on track!”

How to Deal

If you absolutely must take on this client, for whatever reason, resign yourself to the fact that you will not be steering at any point. You will have to detach yourself from the work because you will have no control at all. You will merely be constructing, not designing, so just let go and let it happen. You may want to exclude this project from your portfolio.

8. The Perfect Client

This client, widely dismissed as a myth, does in fact exist and understands the full scope and artistry of your work. They value your role and creative contributions and want you in the driver’s seat as soon as the project gets underway. They are timely with responses and payments… payments that they did not “negotiate” but rather accepted for what they are. They reflect on your suggestions and have confidence in your capabilities.

Identifying Characteristics

  • Is enthusiastic about the project and your involvement in it.
  • Communication shows awareness of and respect for your role.
  • Makes such statements as:
    • “Here’s the brief we prepared. The rest is pretty much up to you.”
    • “We like what we’ve seen and trust you’ll do great things for us.”

How to Deal

Don’t brag! Confusing confidence with recklessness will get you in trouble. It’s best to just enjoy the ride and hold on to them for as long as you possibly can!

*To Wrap it Up

Being able to identify the type of client you are dealing with will help you anticipate for the job ahead. It will also help you decide whether to accept the job in the first place. Your contract will emulate the power dynamics of the project, so the more you know about the client, the better able you will be to adjust the contract as necessary.

October 20 2010


7 Great Tips for Attracting New Clients

At various point of running our businesses as designers we need to find ways of attracting new clients. This could be because we’re having a dry period, recently after we’ve started up the business, – or because we have spare time due to loosing current projects. The reasons for needing new clients can be many and the ways to get more of them are numerous.

In this article we’ll give you some simple ideas on what you can do. There are tips here for both freelancers and business owners.

Most ways of getting new clients are logical and sound very easy to master, but actually remembering when important can be a challenge. In this article we’ll have a look at some tips that can help you succeed a bit better with this part of your business. You may have thought of some of this already, but I’m sure this also can be a valuable reminder.

Let’s have a look!

Put your focus on the local community

Picture by B S K

The internet has given us all a much bigger stage where we can work as creatives. This often leaves us overlooking some of the possibilities that can be hidden in our local area. If you need new clients – why don’t you try to have a look at local companies and offer your services in your area? Ways to do this can be talking to friends, advertising in local newspapers and magazines and attending conferences related to your niche. Many times these can be easier to get a good relationship to as they are closer, speak your language and so on.

Go meet potential clients in person when possible

If you’re working to get new clients within a reasonable distance, you should definitely consider giving them a visit. Most companies receive a lot of phone calls and emails daily, so it can be hard for you to stand out from everyone else. By meeting them in person you’ll get to hand out your business card, have a chat with them and show them your face. This counts more than most people think. Just give it a try, and you may be in for a surprise.

Use your online contacts

Picture by Chris Withers

We all have Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and more these days. But are we using social media well enough to promote our business and services? For many of us this is something we can improve upon. Something as easy as sharing our portfolio with more people, telling that we’re available for projects and so on. And it’s definitely allowed to market your business online to friends as long as you’re not overdoing it. Unless your online contacts know what you’re doing and that you’re available for projects, they wont hire you or recommend you to their friends/other contacts.

Design contests and crowd-sourcing

Taking part og design contests or crowdsourcing projects is a great way to get some experience and also get your name out there. As they’re always popular and only one winner, this is not a stable way of making an income, but if you have some spare time on your hands it can be a nice alternative. The designs you submit can be made part of your portfolio and help you attract new potential clients from all over the community.

Offering something cheap/for free

Picture by Stephen Davies

Depending on what you offer, there can be a lot of competition. One good way to have new clients give you an important first chance is by offering something cheap or for free. Then they get the chance to see what you can offer without taking too big risks. Then they will come back again later if they are happy. Examples of how to do this; offering a free amount of business-cards for client that order something, free logo design when someone’s buying a web design, free photo-retouching, contests and giveaways on your website and so on. It’s all about getting clients to notice you and using your creativity to make it happen.


Picture by Sachin Ghodke

Advertising is underestimated these days. Many seem to think that all of their money should be spent on business-cards or the website. Both are very important, but never forget that advertising can be very powerful. Ads in local newspapers (online or offline), websites that have the type of visitors you’d want as customers or maybe getting an ad in a niche magazine? It’s a great way to reach new clients and stand out a bit.

Doing your best

Last, but not least, you have to do an excellent job with the projects you’re getting. Word of mouth is many times more powerful than any other way of trying to attract new clients. Do your best to give your existing clients excellent service and end results that they just love. If this means spending an extra hour once or twice, I can assure you that it’ll be well worth it.


Picture by ilker

Getting some new clients doesn’t have to require any “magic”. Often times you’ll see that a traditional down-to-earth approach can give great results. A key is being able to remember what one can do, plus focusing on that without trying to do too much all at once. If you’re just sitting there, you’re letting luck decide what happens. By trying out some of these methods, you’re definitely raising your chance of succeeding. That’s many times what it’s all about: taking action.

We hope these tips can be a bit useful to you and wish you the best of luck!

August 26 2010


Freelancers: How to Get New Clients For Your Web Design Business

You know how important getting new clients is for your business. Getting a constant new stream of clients is often the #1 challenge for most freelancers. Unfortunately, most of the advice provided online on this topic is often filled with ambiguity and doesn’t give you clear tips and instructions you  can use to start getting web design clients NOW.

I’ll assume 2 things here:

  1. You’re a web designer and provide web-design related services
  2. You’re competent in what you do. If you can’t provide at least a decent service for your clients then this article is not for you

No worries if you never had a client before. There’s a section of this article for you as well.

How to Use Your Existing Clients to Get New Ones

Without doubt, word of mouth is one of the most powerful types of marketing in existence. Many studies have shown that people trust friends recommendations over ads and even genuine review sites.

There’s a good probability that many of your clients know someone who might need or currently needs a web design service (I’ll assume most of your clients are some type of business owners so they know other business owners as well). How can you make sure your existing clients recommend you to their friends? There are certain things you can do:

- Service Excellence

You do this by providing an excellent service your customers love. You fulfill their expectations or go way beyond them. This is an ongoing process and not a destination. You’re constantly adjusting/coming up with and testing new ideas and seeing how those ideas appeal to your clients etc.

How can you over deliver on your service? One way is to stand out. I assume you already know most of the basics on web design. What about usability? What about the science and the art of colors and copy writing? Or behavioral psychology? There are a lot of things you can learn from many other disciplines that can help you excel in this web design business.

- Customer support excellence

This is an entire process of communicating with the client till completion. Focusing on over delivering here doesn’t help as much as focusing on making the whole interaction as effortless as possible for the client.

For example:

  • Reduce the waiting time for answering his question (if it’s a common question, make a FAQ and send that FAQ once he contacts you with that question)
  • Make it easy for him to give you feedback. Give him easy-to-follow instructions so he knows how to give you suggestions on the finished design.
  • Reduce the number of times your client needs to repeat the question. If you have to redirect him to another department, you should redirect the question and not tell him to go to that department and ask the question again.

‘Customer effort’ has been found to be a pretty strong predictor of customer loyalty .

How to Get New Clients (if you’re starting from scratch)

One word comes to mind here: EXPERIMENT. First, start by going to as many websites as possible. Here are some ideas:

- Freelancing sites

oDesk, Guru, Freelancer or eLance, these are the 4 biggest freelance sites on the world wide web. Try them all. Create a simple profile and start bidding for some jobs. Bid for cheap and expensive projects…don’t just think ‘they’ll never hire me for this expensive project’ because that isn’t true. You simply don’t know…test and experiment (and in this case, testing = just bidding for the project and seeing the results). You’ll learn a lot at least.

There are also some not so obvious sites you can use to get clients…

- Internet business sites/forums

Most of your clients are probably small/medium businesses who want to establish a presence online. Why not go to them directly where they hang out?

Check out the WickedFire Design section, for example. There are many people who pitch their design services there for a price higher than many ordinary freelance sites. And guess what…people are willing to pay that price (if they get a decent service).

WickedFire is just one example of many. Try writing related: on Google to find some similar sites. Many of them have a ’services’ section where you can offer your web design services.

- Classified ads, job boards

You could try these as well. The important thing here is to experiment with different websites and see what’s working for you. For example, you might find that e-business forums are ideal for you because you realized you’re looking for a steady job and projects from the same client. Or maybe freelance sites are ideal because you want to get very diverse tasks.

- Long-term Approaches to Getting New Clients

Over time, you’ll want to increase the probability of getting new clients that will come to you. This is a long-term process and it takes time…but trust me, it pays off.

- Have a website

The most important element to having a good web design website are:

  • Good web design (duh!)
  • Good PORTFOLIO – most of your clients will first take a look at this so be sure to keep it updated regularly and feature the best projects at the top.

- Get involved in the web design community

You have various web design forums (again, experiment to see which ones are best for you). By participating on web design forums you’ll meet new people who do the same you do, learn more about the trends in web design and, guess what, many business owners go to web design forums to find people to do various web design jobs (so you should find projects to work on there as well)

- Learn how people make decisions / behavioral psychology

Why learn this? Because, ultimately, you’re dealing with people and you need to know more about them overall, on how they make decisions. You can use this knowledge to influence them (ethically!) so you get more clients and gain other advantages as well.

Some of the best books for starters are:

Influence: Science and Practice by Robert Cialdini

After you read influence, take a look at 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive by the same author

Prediction Irrational by Dan Ariely, explores some mind-blowing principles on why people behave irrationally sometimes when they buy stuff.

- Focus on the 3 most important aspects in your business

I wanted to finish this article with this concept, and although I know it doesn’t directly helps to get new clients, I feel I need to share it because it’s the most important lesson I’ve learned while having my own online business. In order to get the most out of your business, focusing on these 3 things simultaneously helps a lot (most businesses focus on 1 or 2 but not on all 3):

a) Your PRODUCT (or in this case your service) – making it better, etc.

b) Your PROMOTION - experimenting with ways of getting new clients, getting more referrals from existing clients

c) Your MONETIZATION - experimenting with different ways to make money like selling web design templates, logo creation services and so on.
There’s no magic pill to having a successful web design business and getting new clients. It mostly involves working consistently (notice I haven’t said ‘hard work’, working regularly for 10 days is better than working ‘hard’ for 1 day and then doing nothing for 9 days) and working smart.

What’s your feedback? Share it with us in articles.

August 24 2010


Can You as a Freelance Designer Compete with Bigger Companies?

We’ve talked about freelancing, – what to do and how to do it. In this article we’re gonna have a look at some of your stronger and weaker sides compared to bigger Design Companies. By reading this you’ll get an idea of how you can compete even better and which things to focus on when selling your designs and services to new clients.

One of the main things that designers think through before going freelance is the benefits compared to working in a company. Then they often think about if they’ll be able to get the same size on the paycheck and so on.

Picture by Dani Simmonds

One thing I believe should be way up on that list is to compare what you can offer to your clients when you’re freelance, compared to what a design company can do. You’ll be quite likely to struggle a little bit with getting clients to choose you if you’re new in the game and they have dealt with a bigger company in the past.

If you know some of the major differences and keep these in mind it will be easier to sell them the package you have to offer, while eliminating some of the risks that the clients are facing.

Picture by Matthijs van Heerikhuize

Now let’s have a look at some of the differences for a client. We know there are several more, and would love to hear your own tips in the comments!

By chosing bigger companies

Picture by Sigurd Decroos

A more extensive portfolio

Bigger companies have more designers and they have more extensive portfolios. This can be a challenge for you when you’ve just started up. This being said, you should focus on building up a really good portfolio for yourself. Include a good variety of your very best work, and remember to show your versatility. The power of a good portfolio should never be underestimated!

More versatility

Picture by Billy Alexander

As bigger companies have more workers, they’re also usually a lot more versatile than what you are. Don’t let this get you down though. If you’re really good at listening to the client, you will be able to compensate for this mostly. The designers also have great opportunities to get feedback from each other and work together on projects involving several products/services.

Not vulnerable to people being away

In a bigger company there’s usually someone who can step in if a designer is sick or has to be away for other reasons. When you’re a freelancer this can be a potential risk for the client. There’s not a whole lot to do about this other than having good communication with the client and look for options on how to solve things if you have to be away for a day or two.

Better prices/more extras

Picture by Sachin Ghodke

This doesn’t always have to be the case, in some cases it can actually be the opposite but we’re including it here anyway. Bigger companies can afford doing projects where they lose money if they’re part of a bigger plan. This means that sometimes they can throw in an extra product or service when negotiating with the client.

More stable

I’ve had the question from clients several times: But what do I do if you’re out of business tomorrow? Bigger companies have a more stable economy and a better economical core, where freelancers can be very vulnerable to changes. One of the ways to solve this can be to have the client pay after a project is done, or at least very late in the process. This usually makes them feel more comfortable if it’s a case to begin with.

By chosing a freelancer

Picture by Julien Tromeur

A more personal service

This is many times your strongest selling point. The fact that you are the one they will be in touch with in every stage of the process can be a great advantage. This will prevent clients from having to deal with several different designers and make sure that the chance of misunderstandings is a lot smaller. My tip is to use this actively when trying to get a deal with a new client.

Freelancers often “give more”

Picture by Maria Beliakova

This is a fact in many cases and it can be both good and bad. For the clients this is usually a good thing. As freelancers depend more on each project, they also tend to give a lot more during the process. It’s not uncommon that we give our phone numbers for clients to reach us outside of regular work hours, and meetings after hours/during weekends happens a lot more with freelancers than with regular employees in bigger companies. Obviously you should try to get your deserved time off to recharge the batteries in-between work, but this can be used as a final selling point to tip the client in your direction.

More characteristic designs

Being able to show versatility is important, and so is having a design style. Where companies have many different designers with different looks, you as a freelancer will most likely build your own look over time. This can be a great selling point for you and clients will often get very happy with this. In a market today where many designs look similar (logos, websites and so on) a look that stands out is a good thing. If you’ve made a good portfolio, clients will be very likely to fall for this point.

Better prices

Picture by Dani Simmonds

In general, freelancers are many times able to give better prices. This point was on the company side as well, but there a little bit different. Where you as a freelancer can’t give anything away for free, you are still likely to be able to get a lower price range on most things. Bigger companies have more costs to cover, and along with the other advantages from chosing a company, clients have to pay a bit more. Don’t under price your services but be aware that as long as you’re not being extremely expensive, you’re probably cheaper to use than a company.

They’re helping

Some companies/clients are actually very interested in helping out new designers and/or local ones. This can be a good reason for them to choose you. By letting them understand that you’re thinking forward and have a good plan for the future, they can be more than happy to help you out by choosing you. For many designers, starting out in the local community can be a great way to start building up a portfolio and getting some practice before stepping out into the rest of the world.


Picture by Eduardo Schäfer

Being a freelance designer can be hard, that’s no secret. Remember to read up and know what you’re dealing with and you can be in for many good surprises along the way. By knowing how to sell your services and being a serious competitor, you can land many deals from this. Never talk bad about any competitors but know what your forces are and use them in your sales pitch. If you have a client or two saying no, don’t give up! With time you will get a more extensive portfolio, good and loyal clients and a great reputation. When you get there you’ll get even more clients.

Good luck!

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