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I attempt to use this space to provide help & advice for aspiring designers and small business owners.

Rather than keep up a traditional blog, I wanted somewhere I could answer any questions I've been asked and share anything that has helped me since becoming freelance.

On negative client experiences
On eliminating options
On getting booked out
On finding the right designer

How to handle a negative client experience

DEC 14, 2020

I'll begin by saying that upwards of 95% of my client projects turn out to be wonderfully positive experiences; even if there happens to be any minor conflict throughout the process, it can usually always be solved with a quick discussion and often can push the designs to be something even better, however not everything will be positive and it's important to set boundaries and stick to them from the very beginning of your design process to best avoid a negative situation turning into something even worse. Here's my story:

A client who had booked with me earlier this year came back to me after reading through my contract and brought up that they didn't want me to share the designs I would work on for them, mostly due to their industry being quite competitive. It's a huge deal for me to be able to share the designs I work on for many reasons, but the main two are that:

01 I worked for a long time at a design studio where I was unable to keep any of the work for my own portfolio, as it was essentially created under the studio, so when I left I had no real work to begin with. Passion projects were a godsend, of course, but I always felt sad that some of the work that I was most proud of could never be shared as my own, and..

02 I wouldn't be where I am today without being able to share the projects that I have worked on for the wonderful clients I have worked with. I grew a career from nothing and by sharing client work and having the support of my clients (recommending me & cheering me on amongst other things, as I do them) I have managed to grow a business that I am extremely proud of. Being able to share the design process & final works of the projects I work on is important to me and a project dealbreaker, which is why it's outlined very clearly in my contract.

I informed the client at this early stage that I completely understood her stance on privacy, but that I was not happy to proceed and clearly stated my reasons. I also mentioned that to work under complete confidentiality can tend to incur a higher rate on a project and that my rates didn't reflect that. I said I would more than happily refund the deposit and recommend another branding specialist who may be able to accommodate the request. The client came back and said that after considering my reasons, they could understand and still wanted to proceed, so the contract was signed.

Out of respect, I didn't share any of the work in progress and after work was completed, the client was very happy with the outcome (as was I, another reason I love to share the designs I work on) and I asked then if I'd be able to share the final designs. The client informed me that they needed to trademark the name and asked if I could hold off until that had happened to which I agreed. In the meantime, they regularly got in touch with me asking for advice on how to use their branding and for help with the copy for their upcoming website redesign (something I don't generally offer as a service but I'm more than happy to help my clients if I have available time, as I do with the majority of clients whom I have a good working relationship with) so I happily obliged.

This weekend, the client's business launched; it was a rebrand so they already had a substantial amount of followers in place (over 100k compared to my 3k) and is renowned and known as a business. I was excited for the client to launch their new branding, so I could share my support for them with the designs.

I reached out to express my congratulations and ask if they would be happy for me to now post the designs, to which the client replied that they were no longer comfortable with me sharing them, again due to the industry being competitive (I can't put words into their mouth, but can only take this to mean that they wouldn't want a competitor finding and using me themselves, which saddens me because the large majority of my clients are happy to recommend my services when asked) regardless of our previous correspondence discussing and agreeing on the matter.

I reminded the client that we had discussed this previously and that I had continuously made them aware that I wouldn't have been happy to proceed, so it felt unreasonable that they had suddenly changed their mind, completely disregarding the contract and our spoken agreement. The client told me that it would hurt their business if I went ahead to share the designs but begrudgingly ended with but go ahead then, to which I replied I wouldn't be comfortable sharing them across social media without their respectful consent, regardless of the contract, but that I was extremely saddened and disappointed by the change in circumstances.

I am one of many small businesses and I rely on the support of my clients. My audience, compared to this particular clients', is very small, and not being able to share designs that I work on would heavily affect my engagement and in turn, my business. I laid out the terms from the beginning and it was unfair for the client to suddenly change their mind once work had been completed and I'd respectfully waited months to be able to share them.

Please, please have respect for your designer as a business. We are there to help you grow and reach your goals, but we'd also love for that support to be reciprocated, to become a partnership of two businesses helping one another, not competing or hindering one another. Thankfully, this is a rare occurrence for me, with the large majority of my clients being extremely supportive and a joy to work with (as well as becoming good friends) but it does tend to be the negative experiences that we recall.

I will be sharing the project on my portfolio, as the signed contract states I am able to, but I won't be sharing the designs across my social media without further consent from the client (which I don't imagine I'll be able to obtain), however I will also no longer be working with this client moving forward and have recommended they find another designer to help with any further work. Boundaries are important, and saying no when your boundaries have been pushed is more than ok. Thanks to having a contract in place, and being respectful throughout, I feel as if there wasn't anything I could've done differently and if nothing else, it is an experience I am able to learn from.

I wanted to share my story so that those at the beginning of their freelance journeys know that negative experiences will always happen in any business, that it's ok to insist upon certain rules and boundaries that you feel strongly about, as long as they are made clear from the get-go and that contracts are incredibly important. It can feel tough to experience at the time, but you can turn the negative into a positive to grow as a business in the future.

I stopped offering my clients an option and here's what happened

MARCH 18, 2020

After 8 years at a design studio, fresh out of art school, I’d learned so much about the business side of design. Discovering how to work on a brief for someone else instead of working a brief I’d created myself was a huge and very important learning curve that took time for me to get the hang of. Yet there was always one thing about the design process that I never fully understood. It’s something that appears to be common practice in the industry, amongst studios as well as freelance designers; offering up multiple options when sharing concepts with the client.

Logically it makes sense, of course, that we want to alleviate any sort of negative reaction; we’re hardwired as humans to please (well, the majority of us). Most of us have a deep-rooted fear of failure no matter how confident we appear, so the easiest way to combat that would be to give the client alternative options to the one we would personally recommend, to avoid any backlash that may come if they don’t like the solution we’ve suggested. However, there are flaws with this way of thinking and I could never fully get on board with the concept.

Our job, as designers, isn’t just to create something attractive, but also something with heart behind it, something that emotes feelings and desires in the client’s audience, design that means something. From the very beginning of a project, there’s a natural journey we take ourselves on that leads us to the solution of the client’s problem; we put passion and hard work into getting from A to B and usually we just know when we’ve hit it on the mark. Sometimes the first concept I put together is the one, other times I’ll work tirelessly for hours on a project before getting to the design that works, but we know when we get there.

Then why would we half-heartedly throw together alternative options JUST to ensure the client doesn’t dislike the one that we pored over? We give the client options to alleviate the fear that they won't like it but in turn, we are handing over our power as designers and we’re giving them a control that they didn’t ask for. The client wants us to care, to do our research and to provide the correct solution, the logo design and visual identity that will work for them, and they pay us so they don’t have to do the work themselves.

How many times have you sent over multiple options to the client and they’ve chosen the concept you least favour? The one that didn’t have a story, or the work behind it? The one that was simply thrown together so that they had options? So, why not take those options away from them and simply deliver the one that works?

When I first started working as a freelancer, I continued to offer my client’s options; it was so deep-rooted in my work philosophy that I didn’t even consider changing it, even when my gut warned me against it. I soon tired of putting my all into one solution to then whip together a variety of options afterwards, just to ensure there was a fall-back. One day, I bit the bullet and I threw the other options out of the window. I went with my heart and I sent my client ONE solution, the design I had naturally progressed to and worked tirelssly for and you know what happened?

The client loved it.

There were no revisions, no uncertainty, it was exactly what they’d hoped for. And since that day, I’ve continued to only ever send one option to my clients. I showcase that option well and in a variety of ways, explaining my process and sharing mockups, and it works.

Of course, I still get that small pocket of anxiety when I send over concepts, but I never send anything that I don’t have full confidence in and 95% of projects now require less work and produce happier clients. On the rare occasion a client hasn’t been entirely satisfied, they’ve been able to express why and have been elated once I’ve taken a look back through the process and figured out where communication went wrong. From my experience, the client doesn’t want to choose, they want us to do the choosing for them.

And that’s essentially our job as designers, to offer a solution and not a choice.

How I went from zero clients to booking out months in advance

JULY 20, 2019

Since before I'd even graduated, I knew I'd love to one day work as a freelance designer. Art school taught me a multitude of sins things, my first junior design role taught me even more, but the thought of failure held me back from pursuing my dream.

After 7 years working at a design agency [and two children], I found myself at a point in life where I didn't have much of a choice. I was nearing the end of maternity leave and my eldest child was close to starting school. The design studio I worked at was a 40 minute drive each way meaning I'd barely be able to spend much time there after the school run (and then having to leave early for pick-up). It felt like the right time to go for it, though I had little confidence and not a clue if I'd succeed.

It's now been 3 years since I started a new journey setting up on my own and I've learnt so much about running a business; you can know the ins and outs of everything design-related, but starting a business will teach you more than you ever thought possible. I've learned about the importance of building solid foundations with clients, marketing and promotion, networking online when physical networking just isn't a possibility (thanks, kids!) and thanks to all of the above, I'm finally booking jobs in at least a month in advance and earning a constant wage working on projects that I really love. Here's how I went from zero clients to booking out:

1. Find your niché.

When I started out as a freelance designer, I didn't know how to limit what I could offer my clients. As designers, we are able to offer a variety of different skillsets; we can design leaflets, advertisements, posters, focus on print and artworking or we can design websites, social media graphics and everything digital. We can design logos, build brand identities or we can stick to lettering, creating illustrations or inventing typefaces. To grow, you need to appeal to your dream client and to do that you must narrow down your niché. What is it exactly that you're best at and what do you enjoy the most about being a designer?

I finally realised that my talent lies in designing logos and brand identities for small (mostly female-run) businesses, so I got to work on targeting my website and the packages I offer to those particular clients. I filled my portfolio with brand identities I'd worked on as well as conceptual projects for when clients were scarce and I put together a branding package that included everything a small business would require for their identity when setting up a business. If you only showcase the kind of work you want to be working on, you'll find those are the types of projects you start bringing in.

2. Grow an audience.

It's no easy feat to build your own audience via social media. As I'd been running a blog previous to setting up my design business, I had a small audience to begin with. If you're not able to physically network, you need to get good at digital networking. Focus on 1 or 2 social media networks (I mostly post on Instagram and Facebook, occasionally Dribbble) and make sure you regularly post about what you're working on, showcase your designs and interact with your audience. Follow like-minded folks (designers that are doing the same thing as you) and talk each other up.

Join appropriate Facebook groups, such as 'Small businesses in [your location]' and other small business networks. Groups such as Societygal and The Creative Gal Gang are a great place to make friends with other designers, share your work and comment on others. The number one rule is to interact in these groups; don't just spam your work as no one will be interested, but if you offer help and advice, commenting on as many threads as you can, other group members will remember you and eventually start coming to you or recommending you to others they know looking for a designer. Interacting in Facebook groups has been a complete game-changer for me with getting enquiries from potential clients.

3. Convert enquiries into bookings.

Now you're starting to get enquiries coming in, you need to convert them into bookings (lots to think about before you even get to designing, isn't there?). When I first started out, I'd reply to any enquiry by simply firing off a few sentences outlining my rates and time and time again I wouldn't get any replies. After reading an article (one I wish I'd bookmarked), I realised why my enquiries weren't converting into booking clients.

If I were on the receiving end of this email, would I really want to invest £XXX in something that I don't really know much about? How could I know how much time and effort goes into designing a brand identity behind the scenes? How could I be sure I'd be happy with my investment? I couldn't. All of those potential clients were seeing was a price without knowing what it would actually get them.

So, one evening I wrote down each stage I go through from the start to the finish of any project I work on, from the intial discussion to creating a moodboard and strategy for the brand, to the design process and any deliverables my clients can expect to receive. I took it one step further and started to attach any moodboard/strategy documents and brand concept presentations I'd created for previous clients so that potential clients would be able to see exactly what they would be getting in return for their investment. It took about an hour to write, revise and perfect, but now I am able to simply paste into any email when receiving an enquiry.

Since making the above changes, I now tend to book around 85% of enquiries as opposed to the 15-20% of bookings I was making before. I continue to market and promote any projects I finish working on and I slow down only when I'm booked a month or two in advance. I also start to consider increasing my rates when I'm booked 2-3 months in advance and as demand grows for my services.

It took years for me to start consistently booking clients but as long as you're doing what you love and what you have a passion for, stick at it and you can get there. Most of the time, I have no idea what I'm doing but hard work really does pay off and you'll soon realise that things are steadily improving, even if at times it doesn't feel like it. I now wake up everyday realising I'm living my dream job and I'll be forever grateful that I never gave up.


5 important things to consider before working with a graphic designer

SEPTEMBER 05, 2019

I did everything the way it should be; from college to art school and straight into my first job at a design studio and I learnt so much in those years. Yet the more I worked in the industry, the more I lost a little of what I loved about design. Working in the industry means designing for others and not yourself (a huge lesson I had to learn) and I found myself losing passion. Whilst on maternity with Jesse, we realised it wasn't financially feasible for me to return to my previous job and so there was the push I needed to embark upon my very own journey, my dream to work freelance and to go it alone.

Two years ago, I had completed exactly 0 freelance jobs and here I am now, regularly working with clients whose projects I am fully passionate about, mamaprenuers who've started their own small business and fellow bloggers who run wonderfully eloquent blogs, who just need a little help injecting their personalities into the look of their themes, and each project allows me free reign to explore my own creativity too.

The majority of clients I've worked with haven't worked with a designer before and aren't sure of where to begin in their hunt for one. I wanted to discuss a few things that are great to do before you decide to work with a graphic designer, things that will help you to gain what you want from the relationship and that will make your designers life a lot easier in the long run, meaning an all-round smoother experience and working partnership.

Familiarise yourself with their style and make sure you love it!

Always explore a designer's previous work before you contact them. I've had conversations in the past with clients suggesting that they wouldn't pay for the work done if they weren't entirely happy with the final product and this is a situation we all want to avoid happening. Your designer wants the outcome to be just as fantastic as you do, and the best way to eliminate any doubts is to ensure you love the work they've done before. Each designer has their own unique style and as long as you like it, it's highly unlikely you're going to dislike what they create for you. Also, don't assume a designer will leave you high and dry if you're unhappy with the work. A good designer will go above and beyond to ensure you receive something you love, design is a journey and a process and not as simple as I hate or love it, it's up to you both to communicate well and come up with a final product together.

Create a Pinterest/moodboard of designs that you like.

After agreeing a job with a client, I always ask for a little information around the style of design they like and I also recommend they create a Pinterest board to use as a moodboard. It's a fantastic way of communicating with your designer any visual ideas you might like to use as inspiration for your own project. Whether it's a logo for a hairdressing salon or the typography for a cake business, it simply helps us find what's unique about you and how to inject that into your specific design. Do you like simple and clean or busy? Do you want to use illustrations in your logo or are you leaning more towards a wordmark? A mood/Pinterest board can help us uncover the answers to those questions without bombarding and confusing you.

Make sure you know what you want.

Not every job is going to run smoothly and issues can arise when you hire a graphic designer and aren't really sure what you're hoping to gain from the relationship. I had a client who initially asked for a rebrand in the hope of improving their entire online presence and after two weeks of work, I sent over multiple concepts to be told as much as they loved them, they'd decided against a rebrand and simply wanted their initial logo updated. I had to charge for the hours I'd already worked on and though I continued to help the client improve their current branding, they were reluctant to invest anymore and so the job ended there. Put the planning in before you start and make sure you know exactly what you're hoping to gain from the job. Being unsure and miscommunicating will waste your designer's time and your money.

Trust your designer.

Remember that the first draft of designs you see isn't the final product, it's a start and a point of discussion. Don't be afraid to admit you don't like something, after all this is the time to do it. I've sent over designs looking a particular way because I've tried lots of other option and feel it's the one that works best. We know how important it is to include you in your design (and that's what we'll strive to do), just remember to trust us to know what will work for you and your business.

Ensure you're 100% into the project.

Allow yourself to be excited! Once the project starts rolling, make sure you're around to get back to your designer when they need your input. When I've put together the first initial concepts of a logo and have sent them over to a client, and then two weeks pass with no reply, it can be very frustrating. Of course, we understand you need time to mull over and discuss your options, but try not to abandon the project in your inbox.

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