Making mistakes in anything that you are doing is a prerequisite to learning. Starting my own graphic design business was not easy, sometimes overwhelming and I am not afraid to admit that I’ve made mistakes along the way but learning from these mistakes has made me even more of the excellent designer that I am today. I am grateful as well as eager to share the knowledge and wisdom that I have assessed along the way. Without further ado, let’s check out these 6 common but crucial mistakes that graphic designers make and tips to correcting them.

Doing startups is all about making mistakes. -Biz Stone

1. Not Using a Graphic Design Services Agreement

As an independent graphic designer, you are contracting our your services. You are no longer working for an employer. You are your own employer! Using a contract is one of the first things that most independent graphic designers learn but deplorably, some of us opt to learn it the hard way. We know what we should do but for some reason, we partner with a particular client and think it is someone that we can trust and work with without the use of, aid and protection of a contractual agreement. When you do not use an agreement, it leave room for assumption, misunderstanding and false expectations. Without this crucial document, you may inadvertently bite off more than you intend or are getting paid for. I am here to personally tell you that using a services agreement makes the communication and understanding between client and designer that much easier. If you’ve never used a contract with your services, start using one right away! Don’t be afraid to start asking your clients to sign agreements simply because you’ve failed to do so in the past. You want to conduct business with people who are business minded and understand the importance of using an agreement. If you experience someone that has an issue with signing a contract, this is often a red flag of the type of person you do not want to do business with anyway. I am not afraid to cut ties from someone for this reason alone. Using a GDSA is a must and is non-negotiable. USE THE CONTRACT!

Tax time. Calculator on top of a stack of bills with a clock behind

2. Not charging what you are worth

Are you pricing your projects for what they are truly worth? Pricing has always been and probably will always be one of the more complex things to figure out in your business. I have talked to many designers who simply charge way to little because they think this will attract more clients. While the notion of attracting more clients may be true, you will also attract more of the wrong type of clients. Pricing your services too low makes you appear inexperienced and ultimately it devalues not only your work but the entire industry. I don’t know about you all but I love to do business with people who appreciate, understand and know that by partnering with me, they are ultimately investing in the future marketing of their business or organization. If you are too cheap, you’ll most likely attract individuals who are looking for quick, cheap and low quality graphic design or even worse you may attract some who want quick, cheap and HIGH quality graphic design. I advise all graphic designers to think of their services as investments. You are providing visual communication designs and material that will appeal to your client’s intended target audience which will ultimately result in them getting more customers, more exposure and more revenue! When pricing, here are a few of the main criteria that you should take into account.

Quality of your work
  • Only you know the honest true answer to this question, what quality of graphic design are you offering?
  • The turn around time
    • You have to take into account the amount of time a project will take to complete.
    • If it is a rush job that will put you under more pressure you should definitely charge an additional fee. Clients need to understand that they aren’t your only client and you are prioritizing their design project to honor a tight turn around time.
 Complexity
  • How complex is the project? If a project is very complex then of course this will take more time and effort to complete. It is also important for clients to understand that graphic designers don’t simply design beautiful visuals with a click of a few buttons. Don’t be afraid to tell a client that what they are asking for a little more complex and may take you a little longer to complete. Assure them that it can be done but it will take some time.
 Budget
  • What is the client’s budget? You have to take into account what the client’s budget really is. Can you execute what the client is asking you to do on the budget given? If you feel that a client’s budget is enough, then don’t be hesitant to tell them that. I try to make it a habit of not just telling a client, no but informing them what I can do for their particular budget (unless it is some ridiculous budget. It is then not worth your time and you do have to walk away from some budgets.
  • The number of revisions and concepts are also an important factor. How many revisions will be included? I believe at least one revision included with every project is fair. If you have a concrete creative process, you should have already asked your client a series of questions so that you have a clear cut direction of what they need but I do feel a client should not be stuck with your first initial design (especially if they do not like it) which is why I include at least one revision within my pricing. Any revisions after that should result in an additional fee (be sure to include this in your graphic design services agreement). However, if you are including more than one revision in your initial pricing, be sure to take that into account.
  • How many concepts would the client like to see? Of course we all practice safe design and use a concept (if you aren’t using a concept then we have a bigger issue!) but again, just like with revisions, if you client would like to see more than one concept, then you should price accordingly. That is ultimately more work, time and effort for the designer.
Poor Communication and Customer Service

I don’t feel like I should have to chase the designer to get what I’ve paid for.-Clients I’ve gained simply by great communication

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the above statement. I have gained quite a few loyal clients that chose to no longer partner with the designer they originally had simply because the designer failed to communicate properly and missed deadlines.  Although you are not anyone’s employee, you are providing a service and should treat it seriously. Once you have a client’s money in hand, you have a responsibility to follow through on what is outline in the services agreement. I have gained plenty of clients that are willing to pay me more than what they were paying the previous designer simply because I am providing them with better customer service.  Missing project deadlines is unacceptable but sometimes unforeseen problems and circumstances may arise which may result in the need to extend a project deadline. If this is the case, don’t run away from or avoid your client’s phone calls. If you know you won’t be able to meet your deadline the client should contacted immediately to discuss a new deadline. Missing deadlines is not a good thing, but missing them and not acknowledging that you missed a deadline is even worse which brings me to the next crucial mistake.

Overloading your plate

 

Many designers are so eager to make money that they can sometimes take on more than they can handle. There is not too much I can say on this matter as we all work at different speeds and have different work ethics but with that being said, only the designer knows the type of projects they are currently working on, how long it takes to complete, and how many they are able to work on at the same time. You have to take into account the type of projects that you are working on before taking on a new one. Because I specialize in identity and branding, I mostly take on branding projects. I will not take on too many branding projects at the same time because these type of projects take a lot more time and attention to a lot more details than let’s say an flyer design. If I am working on two branding projects and someone contacts me about a flyer design which doesn’t take as long, I then examine my graphic design schedule and see if I can fit that in between doing the two branding projects. If I know I can’t do it in the time frame of which the client needs it done by, I operate with integrity and let them know I can’t do it in that time and suggest another date to see if that date is okay with them. Most times, my clients are willing to wait for my services. If they can’t wait, it is okay! Allow them to go to another designer. Perhaps next time they’ll get an earlier start. Your clientele will appreciate and respect you more for your integrity and honesty. Not taking on too much of a workload also helps in correcting the above mistake in number 3, of poor customer service and missing deadlines.

Putting Quantity over Quality

It is an honest misconception to think that you should include a lot of design projects in your portfolio. Some of us somehow think the more that is included in our portfolio, the better. This is untrue and here’s why. Think of your portfolio as the impression you make on a job interview. When we are chosen for a job interview, we put forth an extra effort to make sure we are dressed appropriately, speaking in a professional manner, and ultimately putting our best in front of the potential employer. Although we are contracting our services out and we are not being hired or becoming someone’s employee, we still often have to pass what I like to refer to as the “conversion process.” We are aiming to convert potential clients to satisfied repeat clients. As graphic designers, we have to put ourselves in the position of the potential client when putting our portfolios together. Your portfolio is a chance to present your client with the type of design work they can expect from you. Your portfolio in a sense allows you to speak volumes to the client without actually speaking words from your mouth. We all know that we are in a very competitive industry, therefore you should always put only you best design work in your portfolio because you really can’t afford not to.  If you are just starting out and don’t have many design projects you may want to look entering into some free design contest (not bottom feeder sites such as fiverr.com). Even if you don’t win the contest, these are design projects that you can still include in your portfolio. You can also think of creating your own design projects. Perhaps you know of a company’s brand that needs revamping or maybe the menu design of a near by restaurant could use a face lift.  You can always take on your own little challenge of how the branding can be approved.  This is great practice for you and in the end, additional design work that can be included in your portfolio. In conclusion, your portfolio should never be about quantity. The quality of your work will always overshadow the quantity. The value of your portfolio is opening doors and opportunities.

Stop learning

It is essential  to understand that if you are seriously pursuing a career as a graphic designer that you should NEVER stop learning. With technology and software always evolving, different techniques as well as trends rapidly make their debut. I am always reading popular creative blogs and pay attention to people who are successful within the industry. Don’t be afraid to go to networking events where you can meet other people who have the same niche (or different niche!) in the design world as you do. Ask questions and email those knowledgeable individuals you may not know but you’ve heard about or have been following on social media. Partner with others who are stronger in areas where you  are weak. We should all continue learning and evolving to contribute to our industry. We live in a fast paced, technological based industry which makes it easier to reach out to people that have the same interest or career as we do.

Have you made these mistakes?

Do you observe yourself in some of these six mistakes? Don’t succumb to panic! Mistakes are the bridge to learning which conclusively gives us the opportunity to enhance and progress. If you find that you are making any the above mistakes, now you can take the proper steps to correcting them. #TipsTuesday

Let’s share what we’ve learned

What mistakes have you made? Please feel free to share them in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you even if the mistakes are not listed above.

Making mistakes is okay. It is when you start to make the same mistake over and over again that it has become a habit.

-B.Gard

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