After 30+ years of doing work for clients, I’ve learned to classify the 3 types of client work: ‘maintenance’ work, the ‘one-shot’ product, and the ‘speculative’ effort. A client, especially a good one, CAN be all three, but sorting out the job type classifications can help us as creative professionals sort out the dreaded revenue and cash flow management we all end up dealing with:
- Maintenance Work: This type of work entails what must be done for the client to maintain his/her daily life. For realtors, this would include real estate brochures, updating listing data on print and web, social media posts; anything that would be day-to-day operations that is necessary for that client to be in business in the area they are in. For auto dealers, this used to be print advertising but is now updating web information, email lists, and social media, as well as the collaboration with co-op advertising as per auto manufacturers. For attorneys, it is maintaining anything that they must have going, all of the time, to function in their economic environment.
To be effective in this mode of ‘marketing’ – if we choose to even call it this – the service professional must be fast, efficient, accurate, and affordable to the client. While it seems that these services require less skill, nothing is further from the truth: the service deliverer must constantly be on the lookout of how to provide a service most competitively to the increasingly discriminating client. Don’t ever assume that the client isn’t always on the lookout for a better, cheaper widget.
On the billing end, maintenance marketing is bread-and-butter to the design or web professional. They represent predictive revenue for those annoying events that happen to us such as actual bills or expenses. It also provides us the best shot at proactively increasing the work we do through opportunity communication (that which happens naturally during the course of the work).
In designing your “client portfolio” at least 30-40% of your service array should derive from revenue sources from which you know you will have recurring work. If you are fortunate enough to have a client who understands the speed of money, you will be able to charge slightly (10-20%) more for your services if you are delivering the value proposition to the business owner that enables them to make money faster and without the headache of backtracking mistakes. This goes especially for taking the time to proofread documents yourself before the client gets them.
2. The ‘One Shot’ Product: This work includes items such as identity design, letterheads and collaterals that have simply presented a need, and website design for clients who don’t already have a website. Yes, you can turn these clients into ‘maintenance’ clients by doing good work, but many upper-level firms will already have internal marketing departments that are proficient in taking that logo and integrating it into the rest of the company. As a designer, logo work usually enriches your portfolio more than your revenue. Increasingly, logos have become ‘cheap’ and there is a genericizing of the print/web visual world. You and your clients will be well served if you become a designer who provides authentic value through design that is meaningful and original.
Sites such as Upwork (upwork.com) and 99Designs (99designs.com) tend to exploit the cheaper work and actually can drain your time as a designer; therefore I do not recommend these as a rule, unless you are doing fine and you’re just bored. It is better for you to pinpoint firms that are doing well in your local area, a.k.a. your favorite restaurant, a special pet store, or a salon that has particularly good service. One on one communication, the all-powerful and overlooked personal letter, or dropping off a business card or collateral of some kind will probably get you further than hours pilfering through cheap, drive-through design online.
This being said, design work has become cheaper, or rather, what entrepreneurs are willing to pay has become difficult. Social media and ignorance have caused this; there is nothing worse than a logo you are stuck with that was ‘cheap’ and looked great for a week, until you tried to put it on a sign. Any designer worth his/her salt will have different levels of logo design that can meet most client budgets, producing far better work than having 50 starving artists bid on it, each vying for their share of $50.
I’d recommend keeping the ‘one-shot’ client work down to 20-25% of your revenue portfolio.
3. The ‘Speculative’ Effort is sometimes already a client. Whether they are or not, what you will hear them say is “We’ve been thinking about trying some Facebook advertising,” or “We had a meeting and our staff wants us to look into spending some money on radio,” – whether this client has an effective image already or not will largely play into whether the speculative job will pan out. Even more important is the ‘big M’ – the degree to which the entire organization is brought into the marketing campaign, and how effectively the business delivers the product or service it promises through its advertising. You can’t blame the creative for that failure. By definition, speculative work would mostly be ‘little m’ or an effort that is a task in- and of- itself.
Speculative jobs are some of my favorites, in spite of the inherent risk of failure. They are my Mission Impossible, in which there is usually a less-than-perfect budget, a whole host of reasons why the effort won’t work, and there’s usually a (deservedly) jaded client in the mix as well. One of the most unpopular things that I’ve been boneheaded enough to do is to advise the client NOT to do the speculative effort, thus cutting my own paycheck off at the proverbial nuts. If things aren’t lined up which give enough evidence that the effort has a fair shot, then it’s in your own best interest to be up-front with the client and say, “I do not believe that will work because of __________ (without being offensive).” For example “The right mix of x and y isn’t here for the effort to have a good shot at success.” Who knows? You may pick up the other part of the work that you feel is missing if the client is truly dedicated to the speculative effort.
Speculative jobs can round out your work between 15%-20% but they may have wide swings throughout billing cycles. If you are getting speculative work, or it’s more than a healthy part of your portfolio, then you may be either new or you are spread a little thin. To further understand the speculative classification, a new menu for a restaurant isn’t a speculative job, it’s a ‘one-shot’. A restaurant who for the first time wants to try Waitlist through Yelp and wants you to advertise that through social media, without giving you any other levity throughout the organization to brand the restaurant is a speculative job.
If you poke the bushes, you’ll find that just about every business owner wants to do marketing that increases revenue, usually within a certain budget and with an envisioned outcome. A speculative client can become a maintenance client in the blink of an eye with extraordinary effort and designer diligence. Be on the lookout to convert your one-shot client to a maintenance client; your one-shot to a speculative; and your maintenance client into a permanent business partner and cornerstone revenue builder.
I love to mentor designers and marketing people, especially the young ones, and see them do well. We all hate billing, but we all love to be able to eat and pay rent. The struggle is real. Look a little further down the line for articles related to client billings, collections, and how to get paid AND have happy clients.
I’ve designed over 100 logos in my life; mostly for entrepreneurs. I’ve modified hundreds of logos when ownership decided they were dated or needed an upgrade. I’m not a logo scientist, but I do believe I’m an empath for the feeling logos evoke. Typography, color trends, and imagery have a language all their own.
Let’s be real. When a client comes to you for identity design, what is she really asking for? She isn’t asking for a design that momentarily shocks the market, wins an award, or has a plethora of features that blow up her checkbook. Identity products like logos are a careful balance of language, art, and budgetary restrictions that can hit later down the line. The client is asking not for a logo, but that effect on their business that they desire from that logo.
A person drives to the hardware store not for a hammer, but in order to put a picture up on his wall, and even more concisely, to put a hole in said wall. We must as professionals read through the service request and distill down what it is that the client is truly asking us for. If the client’s main way of exposing his business is his vehicle, then the logo you produce must be reproducible in outdoor applications. It should also look perfect in just black and white because there will be a myriad of internal items such as invoices that will sport that logo every single day.
I realize I’m a geek, but I have always felt that identity design, from an accounting standpoint, should be amortizable as intellectual property. The life of a logo (in my humble opinion) is generally 3-7 years, with the best of them getting remakes about every 5 years. That means that a logo that costs you $500 has a depreciation rate of approximately $500/1825 days, or .27 a day. If you divide also by the multiplicity of times the logo is used, the number becomes infinitesimally cheap.
The average logo for a small business or entrepreneurial startup, in my experience, takes 8 to 13 hours of processing time on a designer’s part to fully refine it. If I don’t put that time in, the logo is proverbially premature, half-baked, or not ready for ‘primetime’. In this market, there are many “plug-in” logos which we marketing folks used to affectionately call donuts. The design is premade, and you simply plug in the name and slogan. Etsy is literally filled with such logos, and the free market of web and design has opened many doorways for startups seeking a fast, cheap solution.
I’m not knocking these products since they allow us to move quickly into some other marketing gadgetry that actually may bring the client revenue if cost parameters need to be extremely low. Such logos generally are thought out and refined by their makers; therefore they are potentially better than ill-conceived custom designs. National launches clearly are not using this category of logo, since their competitive environments will tolerate nothing short of genius, but the local service industries (real estate, hair salons, and consultants) can now get along fine for a finite period with one of these easy to access design products.
The point of this article is to take apart the concept of identity design and place it in its rightful classification: a ‘hammer’ of sorts to accomplish a hole on the wall. Logos are extremely important in the feeling and confidence emitted to the consumer. They are not exactly the same as branding, but a component of branding. Branding is an all-encompassing feat of magic; a logo or identity design is an important slice of that pie.
In choosing a designer or marketer to implement your outcome, choose wisely. It is best to retain an experienced person with the business acumen to understand what it is you are asking for; that is, your hammer to accomplish your hole in the wall. To clarify, interview a few people and assess whether there is a true understanding of your business and what it needs to “say” to bring sustainable goodwill for your service or product.
This is a large order, but easily achievable by a ‘woke’ professional. I don’t really look at what I do as art; in fact, it’s a skillful rendering of an intangible business product. I do look at what I produce as intellectual property. Identity outcomes are mystic alchemies of psychology, emotion, and color. I believe that the further we move away from ‘what everyone else is doing’ the closer we get to the real magic.
So go out there and get your logo, but be fully cognizant of what it is supposed to do for your business. It’s not a hammer, it’s your hole in the wall; it’s not your new suit; it’s what your appearance says to others. Draw yourself closer to the outcome and you’ll gain a sustainable asset that costs pennies compared to the rest of what you had to buy this month to stay open.
I have to admit, I’m a true dork. The very idea that I wait patiently for the next announced Pantone Color of The Year tells me that. My dream job would be naming paint colors, and even when I browse through them, my mental catalog rolls through the range of PMS codes matching those shade ranges. It’s really an illness if you want to get gritty about it.
Subjects like colors and color trending and the reasons why ‘nothing says idiot like comic sans’ are inside topics that our normal friends just do not get. The aesthetics of color, and even the particular shade of air that the sun gets when almost gone, provide inspiration and mood to a plethora of potential products and imaging services. The world is like a 24-hour tutorial for creatures like me.
No, I don’t see auras or read tea leaves. But I am sensitive to a gnat’s butt sized movement in a shade of coral or red. I can see the blues or golds in a warmer or cooler hue. If you move that font even one butterfly wing breadth, that logo won’t work.
Ok, I’m weird, but just let me wander in fields of Pantone 355 under a sky of 3545, through poppies of 199. It makes me happy and my work is better because of it. I’ll gladly gather among friends who speak Pantone.
I’m going to hit you with a blowtorch that is truly my best-kept secret for effective creative work. The mojo, the Kwan, or where the rubber meets the road is the formula above: where objective meets parameters, achieves the outcome, and ultimately produces a said goal. This is no easy task when setting finite budgeting. That is not to say it’s impossible; that is where I really live, creatively.
I’m a little bit of an odd bird in that I’m a self-taught graphic designer over many years, and my undergraduate degree is in a business discipline. It makes me a little bit of an outcast in the upper elite design circles. It’s not my niche to spend time trying to get a design award. I’ve focused all of my time and energy on achieving outcomes within budget parameters for clients.
Beware: I’m too honest for my own good, a lot of times. I’m never going to just agree with you if you ask my honest opinion. But I’ll say it nicely.
There’s A Business Idea In There Somewhere
I’m 57. I’ve been looking for a job for approximately 7 years, with no appreciable progress made towards more than one interview. One. Skype. Interview. In. Seven. Years. Shocker: Not even in person. Now, I’m no dummy. I’m skilled in design and copywriting. I’ve even written patents. My skill set, as far as it is applicable to working in my field, is nothing that my age would affect in any way. In fact, writing is one of the few job categories that is said to be affected the least by advancing age. But no one on the ‘employment planet’ has the slightest interest in me.
Why? Does it really matter why? Does it matter that I worked for myself for 30 years and that might be what makes me unhire-able? Or is it even that? It’s probably more about the bots and the keywords that control the resume search engine-ing these days, and the fact that HR isn’t generally given time by management to even read these damn things. I just wish someone would explain to me why being seasoned, mature, and skilled would instantly be a no-go for a job? I have unwittingly achieved Marvel-like greatness as the first truly Invisible Woman.
I’ve resigned myself to doing the all-inclusive ‘consulting’ and services rendered, because it is clear at this point that nothing is changing, ever. I really feel for people who just cannot move that needle no matter what they do. It’s not like we as humanoids can roll back the clock. I even look younger than I am. “It’s your work history,” they said. “It’s that your degree is different than what you’ve done for 30 years.” “Well, 57 is too old to even consider being hired, especially if you’re a woman.” Did someone say this out loud? Even if they didn’t, the statistics don’t lie.
Now that last comment chaps my ass (this is redneck for, makes me angry). I mean, really. I guess there’s this image of my elder self as peering over my half-bifocals in a disapproving glare at the millennials who can work circles around me. Maybe it’s the implication that my brain, with all its deep corrugated trenches and filmy memories, cannot learn anything new. Or maybe it’s that ‘older person’ attitude in which I could never take direction from a younger manager.
Well, yes. I am stubborn, and just a tad angry, too. Not only have my children left, but the job market has left me, too. In fact, almost everything has left but the dogs. For them, I’m grateful. I’m still their most important person. (sigh)
Truth be known, I like being ignored, just about half the time. It gives me a lot of fodder to write about. It also allows me to be an underdog. The underdog status offers quite a lot of advantages, like surprising people. Surprising people is undervalued in this world. It causes people to suddenly think better of you than they did last week. I’ve always liked that.
Is there any point at all to this article? Not really. It’s thrown out there carelessly to acknowledge and empower people who may need to hear my fatalistic musings: “You won’t be getting anywhere, and things will never change, and you need to get cracking on something that will work.” Ah yes, tough love for seniors. I’ve read article after article about getting into consulting. When I was in advertising, I had a hard time getting people to pay their bills on time, and an exhaustive time selling accounts and then doubling up doing the work. Would it be any different now?
I digress. I have decided that I will heretofore become an expert at Nobody. Someone has to do it. I might even go to the thrift store and get a houndstooth tam. Maybe I will order business cards that have my name, phone number, and the title nobody typeset in stylish spread lower case so that it even looks more authentic. Maybe I will even get the dogs business cards. I’m sure they would be interviewed before me.
Colonel Sanders didn’t start officially mass-producing fried chicken until he was 65. I’m certain that being a Nobody has got to be easier to achieve than a worldwide food franchise. The worldwide web has made it oh so easy to excel as a Nobody. As a professional Nobody, I will offer training (at $19.95 per webinar) on how to be the most successful Nobody ever. I’ll even offer (drum roll) mocked-up phony Wikipedia pages to those of caught in infinite nobodydom to light up those dark moments of loathing.
And what about, instead of the Jesus Calling app, a daily, self-deprecating devotional named Nobody Called? I think I’m on to something.
Last year, a group of neighbors in Loveland began to notice that a domesticated goat was ‘running’ with a herd of elk. The goat, which I’ve named Herbert, was rumored to live on the craggy rocks of Devil’s Backbone (a local hiking landmark west of town off Highway 34). Which brings me to my point: how high have I set my ‘squad goals’? What confidence did this goat have to decide that he was one of them? Was it sheer survival, or something else? It has even been reported that when coyotes attempted to attack their goat warrior friend, his elk family defended him as if he was one of their own.
There is much to be learned from this natural phenomenon. Do we reach too low as humans, stopping in our tracks to remember who and what we are, and then readjusting ‘down’ to temper our success? Or do we (new word inserted here) goat our way to a confident life? I have envisioned this new goatdom as a measure of pride in my own too-careful life. It is time. I must find my elk tribe and walk through higher pastures with my goat beard held high! #squadgoals #longliveMotherNature #lessonsfromgoatdom
The first time I brought Muttsy home, she looked like a little miniature something, I’m just not sure what. Yes, a dog for sure, or maybe not? Somewhere in the universe, I think the family tree looks like this: dog, dog, dog, dog, cat, dog, dog, dog, dog, pig, dog, dog, dog, dog. The curly tail, the snorting flat face, and the penchant for climbing to the top of the sofa with feet tucked in is admittedly suspicious. That being said, they are the best dog-cat-pigs in the world.
They are also emotional empaths and have the ability to make their people feel the most guilt possible in a human. I think it’s the lack of blinking. Don’t ever hope to win a staredown with a pug. If they flinch, it will be just to throw you off. They are very cagey that way.
Years later, when Ella came along, she reminded me that Muttsy used to be hyperactive. This is hard to remember when you see an everyday pool of loose skin that looks like a hairy speed bump laying on the floor. I’m certain that Muttsy was ready to kill me with her remaining two teeth within one day of Ella arriving. She seemed to say “What have you done?” as she frumped her way to her too-small Walmart bed, and stuffed herself into it, legs straight out. “I was just fine here.”
Now, they are compadres, but still competitors. The belly rub is Muttsy’s gig, and it’s Ella’s job to see that she does not get that. At the end of the day, after the ball-throw and the slow, trodding walk that will never end, there is peace and snoring. Could there be anything better? I do not think so. #peaceandsnoring #puglife #mypugisbetterthanyours