Inspired by the recent “My Top 10 Business Design Failure” presentation in the Notebook, I thought about this from my business standpoint and decided to share my own business lessons and thoughts. I’ll keep this short(ish) and bittersweet.
Working without a down payment
Not sure why designers do this, but I receive quite a few emails asking me if I obtain a down payment. The answer is yes and no. Yes, I require money upfront, but no I don’t consider this a down payment. It’s considered a retainer. If you are a busy designer, most likely you are scheduling work well in advance. In order to secure working together for a date that extends beyond a month I require a 25% retainer with an additional 25% upon the start date of the project. Never start work without payment.
Handing over files / launching before final payment is received
I’m certain I will catch a few disagreements on this one, but I make this statement out of sheer confidence: Don’t deliver files until final payment is received. I hear one too many stories about designers finishing work and receiving final payment six months later, or worse, not at all. Plus it only takes one bad experience for you to learn. You don’t walk into the grocery store and say I will pay you in full for the milk later, so why should you run your business any differently.
Attending to the “needed it yesterday” crowd
Great design and successful solutions take time to achieve (sorry clients, we don’t have these incredible ideas stored away for later). Great work evolves and transcends over rigorous thinking, designing, testing, re-thinking and more. Abiding by the “needed the website yesterday” deadline or other unrealistic deadlines often ends in bad business or let down. On a similar note, I often find that when you ask clients why they are in such a rush they aren’t really sure of why. Educate them on your process.
Too many concepts
Everyone likes options, but showing too many only creates more of a problem. Personally, I hate going to a restaurant with a menu of 100 dishes to choose from. Not only does it take me an hour to decide, but it usually results in me picking the worst one. Same goes for design work. Showing less is more.
Not billing by the hour
Here’s another point that I know will keep the comments below busy, but after making the mistake my first year of freelancing I’ve learned that billing by the hours spent makes everyone happier. Although I know this is more difficult having clients understand and conform to these terms, let me explain a bit how I go about this.
First and foremost, let the client know that you bill by the hour at the rate of $XXX.XX (manage expectations for the get-go). Most clients will want to know how much they will spend on the effort in full, so what I typically do is provide them with a starting price based on the scope of the project and what I suggest. I tell them based on this quote I am able to allocate XXX hours into that particular endeavor, however anything over will billed hourly and added onto the final invoice (also I am also able to obtain the initial payment based on this quote).
I also supply my clients with milestones documented in the signed contract — yes, that’s another mistake: not working with a signed contract — this way we are able to stay on schedule and allows the client to see how the process fits into the budget. Which leads me to my next point…
Not obtaining a budget
In the words of “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, “Everyone has their price.” Kindly let your clients know that sharing their budget saves a lot of headache and time for the both of you. It allows designers to determine how much time they can allocate to a project and enables us to advise the client on how best to use their money.
Doing what you do best
I’m not going to debate if designers should code and if coders should design, but both sides should have a solid understanding of the others medium at the least. I will however stand by the statement that you should stick to what you do best. If you’re a designer that knows how to code, but doesn’t enjoy it, then why do it? Give yourself the chance to do what you enjoy by bringing in a developer that has the same passion for what he enjoys. Trust me, the work in its entirety will show for it and you will give yourself to grow more, not to mention live a happier life and lead a happier business.
Good design and good business is about teaching
If you wanted to make things look pretty, maybe you should have been a painter. Good design and even better designers teach their clients and share your experiences with others. Educating clients add more value than a rounded corner button. Transparency goes a hell of a long way in our industry. Actually any industry for that matter (businesses take note). Teaching allows you to formulate your own opinion and point of view, which helps to become a better “salesman” (I apologize now for using that word), get more work and demonstrating confidence in your decisions.
Understanding design is a craft
In the words of Mark Boulton, “Web design is a craft. And like other crafts – letterpress printing or book-binding – they’re not generally taught in colleges or universities.” Being in this fast moving industry means you need to constantly be on top of it and both want and need to continue maturing to prosper. For those that don’t know this already, but working in the web right now is the place to be and it’s even better as a designer with the amount of work that is out there currently. Hone your skills and pay the bills folks. Don’t forget to have fun while doing it though.