business lessons

5 questions to ask a designer before hiring one

what to ask before you hire a designer

 

If you’re like many people, your first place to go for advice when you need to hire someone is to your friends, colleagues, or peers. While you may get some great recommendations, your research should not stop there.

I’m often surprised when I get an inquiry from a business owner who was referred to me by a friend or one of my former clients who has not first visited my website to check out my portfolio. There are many graphic designers out there, each with a different viewpoint, meaning there is someone for everyone. However, beyond determining their design skill level, you should consider things like how they communicate, what their rates are, and how well they stick to timelines.

When you make the investment in design for your business, it’s important to ask lots of questions to make sure someone is the right fit for you and your brand. Start with these five questions to determine if a graphic designer is a good fit for you:

 

How would you describe your design style?

Above all else, I find this question to be of utmost importance. Someone may say she specializes in your niche, such as web design for restaurant owners, but if you look at her portfolio and see that all those restaurants are bright and colorful while you want something moody and sleek, it could be an issue. It’s true that some designers work well in a variety of styles, but if you’re working with an individual {as opposed to a design firm that would have many styles on staff}, I strongly recommend seeing if that designer’s work resonates with you in style.

You may not be sure exactly what aesthetic is right for your brand, or be able to articulate what style you want, and that is totally fine! But, you should look at the designer’s work that you are considering and get a good, excited feeling about the work they’ve already done.

 

What is your preferred communication style like?

You will have to go through lots of back and forth while working with a designer, and it makes a great difference if you are on the same page from the start about how to share information. Many designers have specific business hours during which they answer emails, they may or may not accept texts, or they may request all communication stay on a platform like Basecamp or Asana.

If you’re someone who thrives on sending Facebook messages at midnight on a Saturday, you should make sure you find a designer who is okay with that. Or, if you’re someone who takes a week to answer an email, talk to your designer about that and brainstorm the best way to keep in touch. Be open with how you best communicate, and you’ll have a more effective working relationship.

 

On what timeline would you be able to complete this project?

Some designers book as they find work that is a good fit and can start a project quickly. Others book several months out and will require you to reserve a spot in advance. Can you wait a little while to work with the designer who is the best fit to design your logo & branding? Do you have a specific launch date goal for your new website? Answer all these questions up front so you know what timeframe you are proposing to your designer, and whether you have any flexibility or not.

If you need something in a hurry (like a logo with a week or a business card design yesterday 😉 ) be prepared that a rush fee may apply. You might also ask how well a designer is able to stick to timelines and if staying on track is a priority in projects.

 

What will my responsibilities include as the client?

This is another scenario where defining expectations will help the project run more smoothly. Many designers will ask you to fill out a questionnaire to get the project started. You will likely need to give feedback on design rounds and share your thoughts. A good designer will do everything she can to get to know and understand your brand, and you should expect to help her do so.

Designers are not mind readers, so they will need at least some input from you along the way. If you’re someone who considers yourself “very busy” and you don’t want to have to answer questions throughout the project, you’ll want to let your designer know that, or, even better, delegate a person on your team to be a point person for project communication. Conversely, if you’re someone who tends to be quite eager and wants to be kept in the loop daily about the progress, you’ll want to make sure you find a designer with that communication style.

 

What are your rates?

It’s important that you work with someone who fits your budget. Rates usually reflect the designer’s expertise and experience, and you can find rates anywhere from $50 for a logo in an Etsy shop up to a $10,000 {or more!} branding suite. Design is definitely a worthy investment in your business, and you tend to get what you pay for, but staying realistic about what you can afford is the responsible thing to do as a business owner.

 

 

The overarching lesson here is that clear communication and honesty are the cornerstones of a good designer/client experience. Both sides should state expectations and remain upfront about what they need to do their best work. What have you found helpful to ask a designer before working with him or her?

 

 

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Is running your own business right for you?

traits of good business owners

 

There are so many ways to work these days. One can work from an office or home, freelance, consult, work part time, work seasonally, work remotely, and the list goes on.

The internet and social media have this sneaky way of making it seem like it should be the ultimate goal for everybody to work for themselves, with slow, coffee-drinking mornings, phone calls in yoga pants, and reading business books on the beach. Sure, these things are possible if you own your own business, but not only does it not mean that every day is serene, it is not necessarily the right fit for everyone.

The first question I ask anyone who wants to start her own business is, “Why?” Not in a, “Why the heck would you want to do that?” way, but rather, “Why does this career path call to you?” You may have an idealistic picture of what it’s like having your own business in mind. While the perk of freedom to choose your own schedule, clients, and lifestyle is wonderful, the life of a business owner isn’t a good fit for everyone. If you are in it to make a quick buck and take the easy route, this life is not for you.

There are a few personal attributes that I feel are vital if you’re going to pursue the entrepreneurial path. Of course, there is more than one way to operate a business, but the truth is, having these traits will make it a much better and logical fit to be a business owner. 

 

Self-motivation

The biggest challenge you may face is finding the drive to get things done and stay productive. Especially if you are working from a home office, the call of Netflix, social media, or your bed can be an issue. There is no boss holding you accountable, and your success is reliant on your taking charge. If you respond to an internal drive to set goals and accomplish things, then this career will work well for you.

This is not to say that if you are more motivated by external expectations and deadline that you are not a good worker. Everyone is motivated differently, and that’s great! We need all kinds of people in the world, and a work setting with a boss and lots of coworkers to collaborate with could be awesome for you. There are tons of companies out there looking for your style.

 

Independence

You must be confident in making decisions for yourself and working alone. Hopefully, you will be able to find a network of business peers, collaborate with others on projects, and perhaps hire some staff eventually, but, especially at first, you will be working by yourself. If you work better talking everything through with other people or looking to others to make final calls, then a job working on a face-to-face team might be a better fit for you than solopreneurship.

Some people assume you need to be extremely extroverted to have your own business: always introducing yourself to prospective clients, making cold calls, and attending endless networking events. Other people assume you are probably an introvert if you want your own business, working alone and away from an office full of people. The truth is, I’ve seen both styles find success. As long as you have the confidence to make decisions and take a direction on your own, your own business can work for you.

Take the time to understand how you operate, and leverage those skills in a direction that suits you. No single, ideal business mold here!

 

Humility

You’re going to make mistakes. Recognizing when you need help or advice is essential. Nobody knows it all, no matter how long they’ve been doing something. You should always be learning and seeking new experiences. You’ll want to position yourself as an expert in your field, but nobody wants to work with a know-it-all.

Finding the right resources for you (and your clients) when you don’t have the answer will be an invaluable skill, as will admitting when you were wrong. The key is to acknowledge it, and then offer the ways you can make it better or find solutions. No one expects you to be perfect, but having the grace to admit when you need advice or when you let something slip and a client notices will take you much further than arrogance will. 

 

If you’ve started your own business, what traits do you think are essential of a business owner?

 

P.S. Are you a designer?

Are you looking for guidance specific to starting a design business? I’d love to share my experiences with you! Check out my ebook, Design Boss, for a resource full of advice and guidance specific to a design business.

 

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6 ways to make your brand more professional

If you’re building a brand, you no doubt want your customers and clients to think you have it all together and can successfully deliver your product or service. Your brand’s personality may be more serious, quirky, feminine, bold, and so on, but no matter your style, you probably don’t want to be considered an amateur.

Acting professional inspires confidence in your customers and clients, makes them willing to pay you more, and creates a better working environment for you. Your clients will trust you to get things done and delivered. There are a million and one ways to organize your business and develop the brand personality that works for you, and I’m not here to discuss whether pink is an acceptable brand color or if it’s ok to have tattoos as a business owner. But, I have a few surefire ways to share that anyone could apply to building a professional business.

how to make your brand more professional | Dotted Design Studio

 

Create consistency in your visuals.

Building brand consistency is one of the best ways to step up your game. Develop your visual brand style, which includes selecting designated fonts, colors, and styles. Then, apply it everywhere: blog post graphics, social media posts, newsletters, emails, documents (like contracts or quotes), website, business cards — you name it.

Creating this consistency means that as soon as someone sees your visuals, they will associate it with you brand. People love what is familiar, and they will grow to expect your style and connect it with your content. Plus, how neat is it to have a totally coordinated website and collateral? No Microsoft Word documents in Times New Roman around here, please. (read this post on consistency for more!)

 

Use correct grammar (please!).

Nothing irks me more or lowers my opinion of a company than seeing poor or totally incorrect grammar in emails, social media posts, or collateral. This does not mean that all your writing needs to formal or formulaic. Let your personality shine through, but (I beg you) do not do things like use an apostrophe in plural words or misuse their/there/they’re.

Examples:

Wrong: “Pineapple’s are the best.”
Right: “Pineapples are the best.”

Wrong: “I’m glad to be apart of this community.”
Right: “I’m glad to be a part of this community.”

And, it’s totally fine if you aren’t sure about some of these grammar usage items. Get in touch with a copywriter or hire an editor to check on these things for you. There is a lot that spell check simply can’t catch.

 

Feature strong writing and photography on your website.

This is related to both 1 and 2 above, but what will truly make you look legitimate and professional is great writing and consistent photography style. In writing, avoid things like using an exclamation mark at the end of every sentence, using a passive or wishy-washy style (“I think I could maybe help you, if you want”), or writing excessively long and unclear sentences. In photography, don’t use selfies with duck faces. If you don’t have the funds to invest in a professional shoot, borrow or rent a nice camera, and enlist the help of a friend or use the timer function. A uniform photo style will go a long way in your site’s cohesion and up-level your brand.

 

Create a thoughtful client experience.

As you work with more and more clients, you’ll develop a process that works well for you. Share this up front with your new clients! Thorough communication, a clearly outlined process, and clear expectations make everyone feel more comfortable and leads to happy clients. Give them an outline, a timeline, or a reference guide when they begin working with you, and they will both know what to expect and have a great first experience. You’ll demonstrate that yes, you’ve done this before, and are a total pro in your field.

 

Use a pro URL and email address (no @gmail addresses).

Nothing screams “amateur” like asking people to email designcompany@gmail.com. Invest the few dollars a month it takes to set up email{at}yourdomain{dot}com. If you can’t be bothered to invest in this, why should your clients bother to invest in you? It will take you from hobbyist to real business owner.

 

Support and share the work of others.

If all you ever talk about is yourself, people will find you selfish and dull after awhile. Same goes for business. If all you ever talk about is your latest ebook or blog post, you may not seem like a team player. Share a blog post from a fellow business owner, refer a client to someone else’s services that you don’t offer, or let your community know about a helpful product or app you’ve recently discovered. That good karma will hopefully help someone else share what you’re doing as well, and those connections will only help your business grow. It’s said over and over, but is oh-so true: community over competition.

 

What steps have you taken to make sure you appear professional? What do you struggle most with? I’d love to hear!

 

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how to know if you need a custom website.

When you’re considering your new or redesigned website, the variety of options can seem endless. Squarespace or WordPress? Infinite scroll or multiple pages? Custom or template? Web designer or web developer?

A website can be a huge investment, but choosing the option that makes the most sense for you based on the stage of you business can make it much more approachable. The best thing about a website is that it is never permanent. True, this can also be the stressful part — you never feel like you’re done! — but it can also put your mind at ease that if something isn’t working, you can always change it.

custom-web-design

The biggest piece of advice I can impart upon you is to get a good grasp on the purpose of your website. There is a wide variety of options because there is an endless number of goals for sites. Knowing the functionalities you absolutely need will help inform your decision. Not everyone needs a huge, complicated site; not everyone can get by with a simple one. Everyone does want a site that functions well and looks great, but there is more than one way to get there. (psst: check out my post on planning for your website design here if you need a starting place!)

Before we begin, I do want to mention a bit of jargon that will help you out. A web designer is someone who is an expert at designing the look, layout, and visuals of your website. A web developer is the technical person who actually builds your site’s back end that makes it work using code. Two totally different skill sets and services! Sometimes individuals offer both services, but I personally prefer to be an expert at web design only, rather than stretching myself thin trying to keep up with the latest in two fields. You will need both services when designing a new website, so if you are going the custom route, make sure you either hire both or find a business that can offer you both services.

And now: what kind of website is right for you? My tips for each stage of your business:

 

For the new business:

The biggest factor for you is likely budget. You are working your tail off to get up and running, and you may not have the thousands it takes to build a totally custom site. If you are a service-based business, a blogger, a brick and mortar store, or something similar, you can likely start out with either something like Squarespace that easily lets you build your own site, or using a theme to build it in WordPress. (If you’re an e-commerce site, see below!) I liken this to buying something off the rack and making it look fabulous with how you style the item.

Your website is obviously very important, but it won’t be the sole way for your business type that people interact with you (or you don’t need any out-of-the-ordinary functionality). You may meet people in person, connect on social media, or benefit from referrals. People will get information from your website and develop their initial impressions, but their interaction with you as the service provider or your space as the shop owner will be the deciding factor. A site that is easy for you to update and can adapt as your business grows is key here, and a totally custom site doesn’t always work well for that.

The bones and structure will be there already for you in these options (and won’t require any coding skills!), and you can simply make it your own with font, color, and graphic choices. You’ll have to put in the time to make it great, but it can be an excellent way to help you understand your business more deeply. Keep it simple, clean, and easy to understand, and it will be a great place to start. If you opt for building it yourself, I do recommend at least investing in some visual branding. A designer can help you get a solid, professional look down, and you can use those guidelines as you build your site, or simply have them help you design a few key graphics rather than the entire site.

 

 

For the business looking to take it to the next level:

You’ve likely learned a thing or two since you started. You may have refined your offerings or expanded your team. Now, you’re ready to make your website look more professional.

A great option at this stage is working with a designer and developer to customize a theme. The bones are already there in the structure for the designer and in the code for the developer, but then you take it to the next level to make it work for your needs. With those customizations, you can make your site look more like you want it to and less like a cookie cutter option. Using that custom code will take you beyond what you are able to change yourself in a drag and drop template.

Because you aren’t starting completely from scratch, it is less work for your designer/developer, and therefore a more modest investment than a totally custom site would be. I liken this stage to buying something off the rack, but then taking it to an excellent tailor to make it fit just right. It is work to make the necessary changes, but you are able to pick and choose what areas need the work.

Another consideration is if you are expanding your site’s power by offering e-courses, a downloads page, or anything else that requires more action, doing a theme customization for your site will allow you to have more control over how each aspect looks and is displayed. It will feel custom without as much work.

 

 

For the e-commerce site/advanced business:

For you, your website is absolutely everything. From first impressions to user experience, your customers’ feelings about your website will either make them buy or run away. You also want to feel unique and make your customers want to come back.

A custom site is often the best option for you. You want stunning visuals that draw in your customers. You want clean, efficient code so that your pages load quickly and display properly. You want your site to be responsive so it looks awesome at every screen size. Investing in the help of website pros will make all these dreams come true for your website. This option is like commissioning a master seamstress to make you a dress from scratch — no modifying an existing one.

If you go the custom route, it can also be beneficial to invest in copywriting services and your own photography. Design will make or break the experience on your site, but even the most beautiful website can’t do a thing if the information isn’t there once they start reading. I’m a huge believer in content first, and then building a site that best displays and delivers that content.

 

How do you feel about your website? Did you build it yourself or did you invest in some professionals? I’d love to hear about your experience and how you made your decision!

 

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the importance of finding the right clients.

Find the Right Clients | Dotted Design

When you’re first starting out, it is so easy to get excited about any inquiry to work with you that comes your way. You are eager for the experience of working with clients, and you’re pumped there is someone (anyone!) willing to pay you. While I do agree that it can be great to work with a variety of people and businesses when you’re starting out, I can’t stress enough how important it is to narrow in and work with the clients that are the right fit for you.

For some, this can mean a specific niche. Maybe you love creative businesses like photographers, shop owners, florists, and so on. Perhaps you are really good at working with traditional businesses like lawyers, bankers, or accountants. Feeling connected to your work will not only motivate you to get it done, but it will help produce successful outcomes.

For others, it may mean finding clients with the right personality and working style. Meeting deadlines, participating in discussions, and allowing creative freedom are examples of styles that may be important to you in your client relationships. Or perhaps you have a fluid schedule and need to find clients who are not on tight deadlines. Whatever it may be, finding clients whose working styles jive with yours is invaluable.

How do you discover what is important in choosing your clients? Look back at your last several clients (or think about ideal clients) and ask:

  1. What types of projects did I enjoy the most? Maybe you felt very inspired while photographing products for the first time instead of people. Maybe you loved designing a lead magnet PDF for a new online business. Find the ones that made you feel most successful and identify what they all had in common.
  2. Which projects caused me the most stress? In those difficult projects, was it the client’s demands that were stressful, or was it the actual work that was stressful? For example, you may have been designing for a restaurant (dream client type!) but the owner was nasty in her emails. Or, maybe you were designing a logo for a pet shop and the owner was very nice, but you had trouble finding the right inspiration to meet their wishes. Discover what it is that causes you to view a project negatively.

 

For me, I’ve learned that I work best with clients who have a respect for design and understand its value to their business, not just because someone told them they should get a new logo. I also look for clients who have a deep understanding of their business and the goals they have for it, and who are active participants in the process but don’t try to act like the creative director. If someone comes to me and has short, two-word answers in their questionnaire or refuses to give inspiration examples, I know they won’t be invested enough in the process. Conversely, if someone says they have their new logo all sketched out and know exactly what they want, they just need me to make it in Illustrator because they don’t have the program, I run the other way — I don’t work well as a puppet. I want to work with clients who want to use my expertise, not just my software.

Ultimately, I think the key is learning to say no to those clients that are not a good fit. Take notice of those red flags early on and weigh whether a client will be worth it. If someone is demanding and curt in your first email exchange, things are not going to get better. You deserve respect in every situation.

And, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to the right clients! That is why it is so wonderful that there are many people out there — a terrible fit for one person might be a dream client for another. Find what works for you, not who you think you should be working with.

Bottom line? Go with your gut. You can often tell early on if a client is going to be a good fit or not. Don’t be swayed by the money you’ll make or the prestige a client will supposedly bring. No nightmare client is worth it! Finding the clients that you work best with will truly make your business soar.

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PS Are you a designer?

Check out my ebook all about starting your own design business, including a whole section on finding and working with clients. See more here!

 

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Introducing the Learning Library!

Learning Library | Dotted Design

 

I’m so excited to share this project I’ve been cooking up for you! When I was starting out, I had lots of questions about where to start with my business. I looked to lots of blogs for answers, and now that I’ve been full time in my business for awhile, I want to share some of that knowledge with you.

The completely free Learning Library will be a resource center for all kinds of tips and tricks when it comes to design for your brand (especially great when you’re not ready to invest in a designer yet!), worksheets and planning guides for your business, and free downloadable print items like calendars, cards, and art prints. I’ve taken all the questions I am frequently asked and put them into one resource center.

I chose the name “Library” because libraries are one of my favorite places. I love that they are for everyone, and you can find information on any topic. I love being able to borrow books, especially in subject areas that I’m simply exploring and don’t want to invest in a purchase yet. My goal is to make the Dotted Learning Library a great resource for you and your business that you’ll want to visit again and again.

I’ll add new content at the end of each month, and I hope to collaborate with some other awesome biz owners to contribute items. I can’t wait to see how it grows! If there’s something you’d like to see, I’d love to consider your suggestion – get it touch!

All you have to do to access it is sign up in the box below. You’ll get an email with the password, and I’ll have your info so that I can let you know any time new content is added. I hope you find something useful!

 

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5 questions before starting your website design.

before you design your website | dotted design

 

 

The prospect of having a new or redesigned website can be exhilarating. You daydream about the visuals, how well it will function and attract clients, and the new people it will reach. But, how do you get from point A to point B when you’re ready for that site now?

I see so many small businesses try to dive into website design before they are truly ready. For most people, your website is your most powerful tool in getting people to hire you or purchase your product. Why would you want to rush something so big?

Whether you are just starting out and going the DIY route, or looking to expand and hire a pro, the same process can shape your approach. Ask these 5 questions before you embark on a web design project!

  1. What is the single main purpose of my site? Sure, you want people to sign up for your newsletter, follow your social accounts, comment on your blog, etc. But, if a visitor could only take one action, what would you want that to be? View your services and hire you? See your new arrivals and purchase that product? Whatever it may be, make sure that action is front and center. This purpose should be on your mind as you develop each page and consider the site’s navigation. Make it possible from every page and not something a potential customer has to search and search for.
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  2. What is my brand’s personality? Before you build the site, you need to understand your brand’s values and point of view. This includes designing your brand’s visual identity, which is items like your logo, brand colors & fonts, and style. Your brand identity is your base, and the site is built up from this style foundation.If you are redesigning your site, you might instead ask, what about the personality of my current site isn’t working or do I want to change? Having a grasp on these concepts will also make it easier for you to find a web designer that matches the style and aesthetic you want to achieve in your website. (See this post for more on defining your brand!)
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  3. What content do I need to prepare? This one is a biggie. Before the web design can begin, you first need to consider what pages you require and how they will connect. Then, you must have all your copy written or updated, photos taken, videos recorded, and any other content that will be part of your site.Many people get eager and want to work on the design and layout before these pieces are all ready, which requires patience. I know you’re excited, but designing a site without having the copy ready is like trying to bake cookies without the flour. Sure, you can mix up the rest of the ingredients in preparation, but nothing will come together into batter form until the flour is added. Plus, seeing the copy and photography will help the designer get a better sense of your overall brand style and then reflect that in the design.
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  4. What outside accounts will I need? Beyond the site itself, you’ll need to consider what outside accounts you want to set up, like your mail server (MailChimp, Infusionsoft, etc.), social media, etc. People will most likely find these on your website somewhere, so you’ll want to be able to consider how to incorporate opt-in boxes or links to these important accounts. They are usually a way for someone to stay connected to you after they leave your website – oh so important!
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  5. What are some examples of websites that inspire me? When you are ready to work on your website, start paying closer attention to the websites you visit. What makes you want to stay on a site? What makes it easy to navigate? What makes you yell ackkk!! and close the tab? You’ll start to see patterns in the styles and layouts that you love, which will help in determining the direction of your own site. Using several inspiration examples will help you stay away from straight up copying another site and instead use the bring the best elements together that will be uniquely yours.Make sure you are also staying away from anything that feels extremely trendy. While there may be a new standard in functionality that you want to be sure to incorporate, make sure you are singing your own song when it comes to your visuals. If you start to see everyone’s homepage display a marble background with pink flowers on top, perhaps you should try a photo that won’t blend into that crowd quite so easily. A great test is if your photo is pinned onto a Pinterest board, would anything distinguish it from all the other visual noise?

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Though this process requires more thought and planning, it will help you immensely down the road in the web design stage. Staying thoughtful and purposeful will help your business grow in the long run, and who wouldn’t want that?

PS If you’re a designer, check out my ebook on starting your own design business, which has more details on how to gather this information from your clients!

Are you embarking on your own web design journey? Download this free Web Planning Worksheet to get started!

 

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5 design resolutions to make this year.

5 design resolutions to make | Dotted Design

Ah, the feel a fresh new year. It seems like everyone is making goals, getting healthy, and getting their hustle on in their businesses.

Whether or not you subscribe to the tradition of resolution making, January is still a great time to reset and evaluate what you are doing in your business. No matter what you do, implementing great design can only take you further.

When setting your goals, there are lots of ways that design can elevate your brand, product, and documents. I challenge you to make these 5 design resolutions this year:

  1. Strive for consistency. Nothing says “I’m a stellar business” like consistent design. Give your clients a beautifully branded experience. Bring a cohesive look to everything from your social media post graphics to your proposal docs, invoices, emails, packaging, and more. You want someone to see your graphic on Pinterest and instantly know it is yours! A cohesive look in all your output will do just that.
  2. Stick to a defined color palette. Not only will this help build the cohesiveness mentioned above, it will help you feel intentional about what you are putting out into the world and bring a professional look to your materials. Color has a huge effect people (see this post on color here!) and you can easily use that to your advantage with a carefully selected color palette.
  3. Use pro typography. Want to look silly? Choose a font that is hard to read, juvenile, or trendy. Everyone knows not to use Comic Sans, but it’s just as important not to use a font that has the wrong personality for your brand. (See this typography post here for reference!) Instead, make readability a priority (not just something pretty) and use those carefully selected fonts in everything you put out. Surprise, surprise: this ties back to the consistency tip above!
  4. Make your design your own. No one likes a copycat. You may love the branding that someone else developed, but making a mediocre copy will only make you look silly and unprofessional. For one, how can you stand out in the crowd if you look just like someone else? Plus, you want something that truly reflects the heart of your business, which by definition is unlike anything somebody else could offer. Making it yours will make it both timeless and unique.
  5. Hire a professional when needed! Make this the year you stop struggling with DIY design and hire a fab designer for those projects that are out of your ability range. You may be able to put together a blog post graphic, but think how lovely it would be to have your logo looking awesome, get your website into shape, or spruce up all those digital downloads or lead magnets that you offer. Not only will you look oh-so professional and serious about your business, you’ll get back all those hours you spend tinkering around with Photoshop to use in something more productive for your business.Maybe this is the year you hire a copywriter, photographer, biz coach, or assistant as well! Make good investments and you’ll see them come back to your business many times over. Do what you do best, and delegate the rest.

What are you hoping to achieve this year? Think about how great design can help make that happen!

 

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how to get organized by the end of the year.

get your business organized

It’s normal to want to start the new year with fresh goals and a renewed mindset for your work or business. However, with only a single-digit number of weeks left in the year, now is a great time to get everything organized! Start evaluating what has and hasn’t worked for you this year so that you’re ready to reset after the holiday rush.

It can be daunting to sit down and attempt to evaluate everything that’s happening in your business – where to begin? I recommend breaking it down into manageable areas and take a small chunk of time each day to tackle each category. Items to consider:

Website

Is your current site serving you the way you want it to? Things you should evaluate:

  • Purpose: A question you should be able to answer is, “What is the main thing I want people to do when they land on my site?” Of course, you likely want them to do several things, but most people will have to visit you a few times before opting-in to everything you offer. Do you want them to sign up for your newsletter? Do you want them to purchase your latest product? Do you want them to book a consultation call? Whatever it is, make sure it is front and center on your site pages.
  • Language: When was the last time you spruced up the copy on your site? Or even read through it to make sure it matches the tone of your business? Take some time to read your entire site and either punch up your copy, or make it a goal to hire a stellar copywriter to help.
  • Visuals: Just like your copy, when was the last time you updated your visuals? Could you benefit from updated photos? Do you need some updated graphics? A big thing to check is that everything on your site feels cohesive and purposeful.

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Social Media

Are you being efficient and thoughtful with your content? Things to consider:

  • Platforms: Where do you currently have accounts? Are you posting consistently on all of them? If not, it could be time to drop the ones you ignore and focus on consistent, quality posts on the others. Just because Periscope or Facebook exist doesn’t mean you have to be there. Where does your audience hang out? Where can you form meaningful connections? Place your efforts there.
  • Content: Do you have any sort of strategy, or are posting whenever something comes to mind? What is your goal for your social media presence: connecting with clients, sharing industry news, sharing your work? Establishing a purpose and a schedule, whether it’s once per day or once per hour, will make it much easier to create quality content.

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Processes

How do you handle new clients? How can you streamline your communication? Consider:

  • Client Acquisition: When someone reaches out to you about your services or product, do you have a set process? Do you have canned answers to common questions, or a media kit that further explains how you can work together? Make it simple for yourself to respond to those inquiries you get.
  • Client Onboarding: Once someone wants to work with you, is it easy for them to understand what happens next? Create items like a welcome packet, a list of resources, or project outlines for simple ways to keep your clients in the loop of what you expect and what happens next. It will give your clients a seamless experience. Happy clients = more referrals for you!
  • Client/Project Management: How do you keep track of everything you have going on? If Post-Its scattered around your desk is your current to-do list method, it’s probably time to consider new tactics or look into those systems you’ve been putting off exploring. Check out online apps like Trello, Basecamp, or Asana. Invest in an awesome planner. Make an effort now, and it will pay off in future time saved!
  • Finances: Are you good at keeping up with your accounting, or are you all over the place? Are you paying quarterly taxes, or do you need an accountant’s help? This is a pretty serious aspect of your business, so take the time to get organized or get help now so you’re not crunched come tax time!
  • Delegation: Are there any small tasks that you’d like to stop taking up your time? Maybe you need a VA to help with social media or email. Maybe you need a designer to work on branding your digital downloads or ecourse materials. Find those things that take up too much of your time and get some help. More time on your end = more client work!

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Self Care

If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t do well in your business long term, simple as that. I don’t like using the term “work-life balance” because that implies they are equal parts. Instead, strive to have enough down time that you are rejuvenated for work time. This includes:

  • Take breaks during your day. If you are squinting at your computer screen from dawn til midnight, you’re going to have some serious medical consequences. Take a walk, go to a workout class, or even read a book instead of a screen. Put it right into your daily schedule so you don’t forget. Your eyes and back will thank you! (PS If you really feel like you can’t get away, listen to a business podcast while you walk – it will at least provide some education in your walk time!)
  • Take time off during your week. I can’t tell you what the best schedule is for you, but I do know that if you are working all day long, 7 days a week, you are eventually going to burn out. It’s cool to take the traditional model of no work on Sat/Sun. Or, you can work shorter days, 6 days a week. Whatever you choose, make sure you banish that guilt of taking time away. It can be hard when all you see on Instagram is people posting about “hustle” or essentially bragging about the long days they put in, but I promise you, they are not at peak productivity if they are working 14 hour days constantly. You will feel refreshed and even more energized when you return!
  • Make education a priority. Keeping up your skills and what is new in your industry is imperative. Pledge to do something to enrich your skills over the course of the year: read a business book each month, take a Skillshare class about something you’ve wanted to learn, or subscribe to a new podcast that has tips on your industry.

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What has been bothering you about your business this year? What do you want to streamline or improve? If nothing else, start a list of these items so you can make a plan to work on them!

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are you including these items in your contract?

Contracts \\ DottedDesign

Dealing with the logistics of a business like sending invoices and writing contracts are never the highlights of your day when you are a creative business owner. However, having a strong contract can actually make your processes smoother and avoid headaches later on.

You probably know that having a contract helps protect you legally, but it can also help ease conversations with clients since you always have a document to point back to. For example, if you’re a designer, a client might send you an email saying, Hey, while you’re designing my Facebook cover image, can you also quick do one for Twitter, Google Plus, and YouTube? Thaaaaaanks!! while you say, Wait a minute, she never mentioned those other ones before! You can either reply with a long explanation of why this is actually a lot more work, or you can simply point to your contract and say, Hey! I’m happy to help with these, but since our contract only states that I’ll provide a Facebook image, here is what the add-on cost is for the extra ones!

Unfortunately, realizing you need new clauses often results from an experience you had with a client where you didn’t have something covered, and then wished you did. I’m hoping that by sharing a few things I’ve learned might help you!

 Be specific about what deliverables/services you will provide. Like the example above, it is much better to list out which social media profile images you’ll provide rather than generically saying, “Will provide profile images for social media accounts.” Not only does it save you unanticipated work, but it helps the client understand what he/she is getting and not wonder what work you’ll actually be doing. Don’t hesitate to list out exactly what you’ll be providing by the end of the project, such as how many logo versions, how many rounds of revisions, or how many retouches to a photo you took. You’ll avoid being taken advantage of due to vagueness in your wording.

• Lay out your payment schedule. It is standard to require a deposit to begin work – this ensures that your client is serious and you will hold time in your schedule for them. A big point here is to make sure you never hand over final files before you get a final payment! What incentive does someone have to send that last cash if they already have everything you owe them? Of course, that would be pretty crappy of someone to run away without paying, but it always better to be safe than sorry. Also consider how you will handle refunds and late payments.

• The Pause Clause: I first read this idea here, and thought it was a great way to handle clients that continually push off deadlines. We’ve all had a client who stops replying to emails for weeks or constantly says their content will be ready “next week.” Scheduling overlapping projects or knowing how far out to book a future client can be like a complicated dance, and having a project drag out much longer than anticipated can really mess up those plans. And, why does it seem that a client who hasn’t gotten back to you in weeks will suddenly reply and need his/her item NOW? Remind them of this pause clause and you’ll be in control of your own workflow.

State how you wish to be contacted. This is something I added later on in my business venture, but it sets the tone right away. In my contracts, I state that all phone calls must be scheduled and that emails will be answered between 9-5pm on weekdays. Of course, I do work and send emails outside this window, but it sets the precedent immediately that a client should not expect to send an allegedly urgent email on a Sunday morning and get an immediate response. Setting boundaries for your business is so important to avoid burnout. It is always easier to relax your stated “rules” rather than try to backtrack and enforce them later on.

Discuss ownership and copyright of the work. Does your client own only the final version of what you create? Can they make changes to what you send? Do they get native files? All things to consider when handing over final files!

Your contract is a great resource and opportunity to show your client how to treat you. I find that most often, people don’t mean to be rude or try to rip you off – they simply don’t understand a process or the work that goes into creating something. Take the chance to educate them about your field of expertise and your relationship will be even better. Of course, the true point is to cover your butt, but your contract can serve as a simple way to initiate the conversation about some of the more uncomfortable things like payments and deadlines.

If you want to know more specifics and language for your contracts, check out resources like Docracy or the Freelancer’s Union.

What clauses have you added to your contract to help avoid headaches? Any great resources to share?

Disclaimer: I am not a legal professional and my advice is intended to be informational. Be sure to check with your attorney for what specifically applies to your own business and what advice to follow!

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