What I Have Learned From Clients

I’ve been self-employed for 18 years now, and I truly love being self- employed. What I love about it, though, may really surprise you.Key to Success It’s not just the freedom to work when and where I want to work. Or even the chance to work on a variety of projects. Or even how much I learn about my client’s products and services as I am helping them choose the best solution for their needs. Although all of those factors weigh in, there is something way more powerful about the work that I do with my clients.

What I love most about being self-employed is helping my clients figure out what they REALLY want and seeing their delight when the solution exceeds their expectations!

Having worked with big Fortune 100 companies and teeny-tiny startups, with mid-level managers and C-level executives, I have seen over and over that MOST clients have no idea what they really want.

That may seem shocking, but when clients contact me they THINK they know what they want. They ask for it directly. Then, I begin to ask them intelligent questions on how they want their idea implemented, and I really listen. I connect the dots and make sure I am understanding them correctly. That is often where the disconnect is revealed, if there is one (or more). Yes, professional butts have been saved. Repeatedly.

If they had hired a less-experienced person, then they would have gotten only what they requested, and would find out later that it was money wasted (for design and materials implementation). Heads would have rolled.

Some of my clients have been shocked when, upon realizing a disconnect so large it didn’t make sense for them to hire me, I suggested they use another vendor. I am not sure why this surprises clients. Why wouldn’t I do that? I am building long-term relationships with my clients! Steering them in the wrong direction just so I can make money would be short-sighted. Making sure my clients are successful is a win-win that helps everyone.

In addition, I pride myself in being professional, skilled, resourceful, reliable, and a huge asset to the clients who hire me. Creating a long-term, positive relationship with them is also a reason why they speak so highly of me. You can read some of their testimonials here. When you do, ask yourself: do we feel this good about the creative person we hire?

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Why do Solopreneurs Need a Professionally Designed Website?

You might be wondering, if you have a small business, whether having a professionally designed website makes sense.

The days of giving people your business card only or directing them solely to your LinkedIn account are over. If you are a professional providing products and/or services, you definitely need a website!

However, I will never tell you that having a website, alone, will be all that you need to be successful with your business. Websites are not the only way to market or communicate to potential clients, but they are a VERY IMPORTANT piece in the overall marketing and communications puzzle that benefits small businesses.

Here’s what a professionally designed website WILL do for you:

1. Establish a fabulous first impression of you and your products/services.
Most people are very good at their niche, and that doesn’t really include design and illustration. While you can easily create your own site, having a professionally created site will easily make a better impression on your potential customers, convince them you are worthy of consideration, and earn you more money in the first years of your business. Plus, a second pair of eyes formatting your content makes all the difference!

2. Make you more easy to find through online search. People cannot hire you if they don’t know about you. A regularly updated website will catch the attention of the search engines and make it easier for those who want to hire you, to find you.

3. Expand your reach globally. If you are only networking in person, your ability to reach potential customers is limited. Depending on what you offer, expanding your search across your region, state or country could be what makes your business flourish. For the companies that can truly offer and sell products or services globally, there is really no other way to successfully do so. A website is a must!

4. Allow potential customers to learn a little bit more about you and your products/services before they contact you or buy from you. We already know that people buy from who they feel comfortable with, and your site helps customers safely determine if they want to do business with you. When it’s your site, you can prioritize the information that is shared based on the customer base you want to attract.

5. Provide an easy way for customers to self-select. The truth is, we cannot be everything to everyone, and we wouldn’t want to, either. Some customers will immediately like you and want to know more. Others may decide they want to keep looking. Your own website saves you a lot of time dealing with people who are not your ideal clients so you can devote your time to those who are. The clients who want to work with you will naturally self-select after seeing your professionally designed site.

6. Provides a portal for sharing the content you want to deliver, the way you want to deliver it. This is a little bit like what was mentioned in number 3 above, with a twist. Most businesses choose to market using either public speaking, writing, and/or networking. Even if you enjoy networking, your own website allows you to share your exclusive articles, audios, and/or videos with potential clients. A website professional can help you deliver that exclusive content in a secure and professional way.

7. If your site includes a blog (highly recommended), it opens the door for communicating with potential JV partners and clients. It’s not just potential clients who will find you, but also potential joint venture partners who offer complimentary services. When you can help a company offer more than they can do themselves, it’s a win-win proposition that will increase your profitability.

How else might a professionally designed site make a difference for your small business? Take a moment to share your comments below…

Monarch Inspiration

Creative entrepreneurs know that inspiration can be sparked by big ideas or profoundly simple realizations. The spark of inspiration can be lit by being in nature or while communing with your adoring pet. Sometimes it’s other people who light the spark, and sometimes it’s their personal story. This past week, I was hugely inspired by Seattle Fashion Designer Luly Yang‘s story.

Chances are very good that you’ve already seen Luly’s now-famous monarch butterfly dress somewhere in social media in the past few years. I had admired the dress every time I saw it, but eventually began to wonder about who created it and the inspiration behind the dress.

I decided to research the dress and it’s maker, and found tons of pictures online but very little verifiable information. Eventually, I saw the name “Luly Yang” in one of the window photos and found the site for this Seattle fashion designer.

Luly Yang is now a well-established fashion designer in Seattle, whose iconic robin’s egg blue storefront windows inspire everyone who sees their elegant dressings. But that wasn’t always the case.

Turns out that Luly was born in Taiwan and introduced to the arts and fine garment creation by her mother and grandmother. Her family includes many creatives including artists, architects and designers. She graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Graphic Design, then worked 10 years as an architectural graphic designer. (Full bio here.)

Reading that Luly had started her career as a graphic artist caught my attention. How does someone go from creating 2 dimensional graphics to designing stunning couture gowns? When people shift careers like that, it fascinates me!

There must have been a creative spark in her to also work with fashion because Luly entered a paper dress contest in the year 2000. The  idea was for contestants to design and construct a unique dress using only the paper provided. From this creative challenge, she designed and made the first monach butterfly dress in paper (see right). Think about that…how often do you see a blank piece of paper and see a beautiful dress? While that dress is stunning to behold, it is not really ‘wearable’.  So, Luly eventually recreated the design in fabric (including silk taffeta, black ostrich feathers, and Swarovski crystals), as shown in the storefront photo at top. Neither the paper dress nor the fabric version is for sale, but serves as a fantastic icon for Luly’s brand.

Luly has been quoted as saying the Monarch Butterfly Dress represents her metamorphosis from graphics to fashion design. What a transformation it has been! While you can still clearly see the graphic influence in her couture gowns, she is regularly sited among the top business inspirations in Seattle and awarded for her exquisite designs.

Reading Luly’s story inspired me on many levels: that she started out in a field similar to mine, how she made a successful career transition, as well as finally knowing the story behind the beautiful butterfly dress. What has creatively inspired you recently?

Embracing the Power of Nice

Have you always believed the adage that “nice guys finish last”? If so, you might enjoy reading this book and it may even change your mind.

Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval are CEO and President, respectively, of the the Kaplan Thaler Group in NYC. In 2006, these advertising execs published a book entitled, The Power Of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness.

As a person who is often told I am “too nice”, I took notice of this book when I saw the authors discussing the book in a YouTube video. When I found the book at my local library, I decided to read it for myself.

One of the first things I realized when I started Barry-Jansson & Associates in 1994 is that business is personal and true success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Businesses grow because of people (inside through employees and outside through customers). Therefore, operating with kindness and respect, and following the golden rule is more important to your business success than you may realize. In an age where competition seems cutthroat and egos want to be in control, it may be tempting to get in line with this behavior, but it won’t help your business.

Across 10 chapters in this small book, the authors share real-life examples where being nice or choosing kindness over other options made a big difference. It reminds us that the nice stories are rarely on the nightly news and often not shared in the work environment. With so many positive stories, the book is very uplifting, and many chapters end with suggested exercises to practice ways of being nicer. For example, getting out of the habit of gossiping, looking for things you can appreciate about even the most difficult people, finding the courage to be honest. I have enjoyed reading this book and am even more convinced that being nice is very good for business.

Listen to Linda and Robin explain it in their own words:

Have you read this book, or do you have examples where being nice helped your business? Share your thought and stories below…

Case Study: Annette Pedersen

Reaching a Wider Audience
When Annette Pedersen decided to become certified in The Emotion Code, an energy healing modality, she knew it would be necessary to reach out to a wider audience. In order to attain her certification, Annette would need to provide at least 40 pro-bono sessions ~ in person, locally, and by phone. For Annette to connect with that many prospective clients, she needed a way for them to learn about her and decide if The Emotion Code would work for them.

A Healing Solution
It was clear that a website could help Annette reach more people. While she had previously created free sites for herself in the past, Annette hadn’t been entirely happy with the results, and didn’t know where to begin with a new site. I had met Annette through social media, and was honored when she contacted Barry-Jansson & Associates to help her figure out the best solution that would be very cost-effective while she’s getting certified and building her business, but would allow her to grow a bigger site when the time was right.

After Annette contacted me, I interviewed her about all her preferences for the new site including color, layout, sidebar and blog features. She wanted something professional looking that would be easy for her to update. I recommended a free site that she would later be able to migrate when the time was right, that would connect to a branded Facebook business page. We also brainstormed site names and options. I took notes as Annette shared her preferences. Then, Annette sent me photos to use in the header and content of the site.

I searched template options that would work best, established the new site location, created the banner graphic using the colors Annette preferred. Some of the photos required photo editing including brightening and cropping. I created a profile image for the site as well as for the site’s favicon (that little image that shows up in the browser tab / navigation bar), for Annette’s blog icon, and for her new Facebook page. When I created the Facebook page, I adapted the existing site header to work as the new cover image.

By the way, the sweet calico kitty in Annette’s site header is very important, not only because Annette is able to help humans and animals. The kitty’s name is Dot, and she always sits with (or ON) Annette during The Emotion Code phone sessions! (Many animal healers report that they often have certain animals in the house who want to “help out” when they work.) Dot enjoys being Annette’s energy helper, so it made a lot of sense to include her in the header image.

Setting Her Up for Success
Based on our interview, I was able to guess many of the finer details, but I knew that Annette would have final say once the site was completed. I presented the completed site and FB page to Annette, and she was thrilled. Now all she had to do was add content!

To that end, I spent some time coaching Annette on creating new blog posts, adding new pages, tweaking her sidebars, and adding photos. Now she was free to move forward on her own. Annette reports that the site and FB page are working wonders for her connecting with potential clients. Coordinating her site and social media allows Annette to share healing success stories, and a way for potential clients to contact her easily.

What do you think? Visit Annette’s new site and click here to visit her Facebook page.

Get the Most from Creative Professionals, Part 5

This article is a continuation of the discussion from Get the Most from Creative Professionals, Part 4. The first post in the series is here.

Managing the project
Once you have briefed the creative, signed the contract, and paid your up-front fee, it is time to step back and let the creative person do their job. They should keep the project on track and meet your deadline without your provocation. If you hired the right person, you should now be able to fully focus your energies on your other projects and leave the professional to do their job. If you have to hand-hold or constantly check on the progress, you are either micro-managing (who, you?) or you have not hired a professional.

At the same time, the professional creative will always keep you informed about project changes, and will not contact you unless additional information is required or they have hit a snag. Let them do their job. That’s why you hired a professional in the first place.

If you are feeling the urge to constantly check in, you are disturbing the process for a professional and frazzling the nerves of a newbie. Put your faith in the professional, and if the deadline slips, it’s time to hire someone else!

When you hire a seasoned person, they have been in business and stayed in business because they met deadlines and satisfied their customers on a regular basis. Leave it to the professional, and if they fail to meet a deadline or fail to keep you informed about the project, then they are in breach of the contract. You can deal with that bridge, should you ever come to it, and if so you will be very glad you put it all in writing. If you hire the more experienced, seasoned professional, however, you are far less likely to ever see that bridge!

Pay Your Invoice on Time
This is the most often over-looked *tip* on how to find and keep the best creative people available for you. We all have expenses to pay, and creatives are no different. A client who routinely pays quickly and respectfully is noticed and remembered, and given preference over clients who hold off paying. There are some large corporations who believe it’s an *honor* for anyone to contract with them. I bet they scramble when they want to hire a seasoned professional who has the choice who to work for!

If a creative met your deadline, pay back the favor by making sure their invoice is processed in 30 days or less. Yes, you get brownie points for every day less than 30 that the payment is received. OK, maybe not. 😉 However, I guarantee it will get noticed, AND the next time you call with a tight deadline, you will be glad you did!

Have some comments about hiring professional creatives? Put your comment below…

Ask Questions!
If you’d like your question answered, please click on this link to submit your question via email. We look forward to helping you with your presentation and illustration questions!

Get the Most from Creative Professionals, Part 4

This article is a continuation of the discussion from Get the Most from Creative Professionals, Part 3. The first post in the series is here.

Get it in Writing!
Even if the creative professional is your sibling—or your twin, create a contract that contains all of the project specifics, including project milestones (deadlines) and the payment schedule. When in doubt, write it down. 99.9999% of the client/creative issues can be resolved at the very beginning when the contract is drafted and signed. Don’t start the project until you have signed (and agreed) to all the project specifics. You will sleep better at night knowing that you are both on the same page.

Pay Your Deposit
Most professionals will ask for a certain amount of money to start the project, usually 50% for smaller projects, and 15-25% for projects over $10,000. This ensures them that you are professional, serious about hiring them, have a legitimate budget, and intend to complete the project. Cancellation fees are standard, and usually include payment of work completed plus either a set amount or a percentage of the overall project. In some cases, it makes more sense to restructure the project and complete it than it does to cancel. Considering that creative people are professionals just like you, who also need to eat and pay their bills, then you can understand why this is now the industry practice and endorsed by the major creative trade organizations.

With the project discussed, a signed contract in hand, deposit payment made, the creative professional is ready to get the ball rolling. It’s your turn to relax or refocus your attention on other projects. You will hear from a seasoned professional only if they have questions. Know that you have set yourself up for success by taking the steps you have.

Have some comments about hiring professional creatives? Put your comment below…

Ask Questions!
If you’d like your question answered, please click on this link to submit your question via email. We look forward to helping you with your presentation and illustration questions!

Get the Most from Creative Professionals, Part 3

This article is a continuation of the discussion from Get the Most from Creative Professionals, Part 2. The first post in the series is here.

How much to pay?
Pricing is based on the experience of the professional you are hiring, the deadline, and the location in which you are hiring. New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area are among the most expensive areas to live in the U.S., so expect to pay more for these services than you would in less expensive areas. Afterall, if you want to create a long-term relationship with your creative professionals, wouldn’t you want them to be able to earn a living just as you do?

When you think about pricing, realize there is only one thing that is truly important: knowing your budget! Who cares how much the hourly rate is if the project will cost more than you have budgeted?!? Don’t be caught in the penny-wise, pound-foolish trap of asking for the hourly rate. Hourly rates are deceiving and mean NOTHING when you don’t know exactly how long the project will take that person or organization to complete. You may think something would take 50 hours to complete because that’s how long you estimate it would take YOU. A seasoned creative is likely to complete your project correctly and effectively in much less time. It is far more important to know your bottom line (budget) and work within that.

I learned this lesson the hard way when I first started my business. I used to work in banking and feel very comfortable around numbers, so I decided to handle my own quarterly taxes. I was also focused on saving money. Problem was, I kept coming up with different figures and I didn’t know which one was right. Twenty wasted hours later, I called an accountant, and she did it correctly in 1 hour. My twenty hours versus her one hour, it was actually costing me MORE to do it myself versus hiring a professional. I’ve been using that same accountant every quarter ever since, and I also have the benefit of her tax experience and advice. Lesson learned: Save money by hiring a professional and let them do their job!

Say, for example, that you have $1,500 budgeted to have a professional person design and print a promotional postcard. If you hired a cheap, inexperienced person who charges $20 an hour, you could afford to pay for a total of 75 hours. If you hired a seasoned person who charges $100 an hour, you could afford to pay them for 15 hours. Is it really to your benefit to hire the cheaper person?

A less experienced person is more likely to make a lot of errors, be learning on your dime, wasting your time with unnecessary questions and endless phone calls, stalling the project with technical problems, or worse…being unable to solve your problem while they’ve eaten up your budget. It may seem a no-brainer to you that choosing the less expensive person is the right choice, but the experienced person brings far more to the table than just their cost and is more likely to save you money and time. How? By steering you toward the less expensive options, connecting you with other seasoned professionals who will also save your time and money, knowing what to avoid and when, and by being prudent with your budget. All this is because they are building a relationship with you, with the intention of doing business with you for many years.

When you first contact the creative professional, tell them what you were thinking of doing and state your budget. A knowledgeable person will happily tell you what they can do for you within your budget, and you can decide whether that solution will work for you. Proceed with signing the contract, if it feels right to you. It’s as simple and straight forward as that!

Get it in Writing!
Even if the creative professional is your sibling—or your twin, create a contract that contains all of the project specifics, including project milestones (deadlines) and the payment schedule. When in doubt, write it down. 99.9999% of the client/creative issues can be resolved at the very beginning when the contract is drafted and signed. Don’t start the project until you have signed (and agreed) to all the project specifics. You will sleep better at night knowing that you are both on the same page.

Most professionals will ask for a certain amount of money to start the project, usually 50% for smaller projects, and 15-25% for projects over $10,000. This ensures them that you are professional, serious about hiring them, have a legitimate budget, and intend to complete the project. Cancellation fees are standard, and usually include payment of work completed plus either a set amount or a percentage of the overall project. In some cases, it makes more sense to restructure the project and complete it than it does to cancel. Considering that creative people are professionals just like you, who also need to eat and pay their bills, then you can understand why this is now the industry practice and endorsed by the major creative trade organizations.

Managing the project
Once you have briefed the creative, signed the contract, and paid your up-front fee, it is time to step back and let the creative person do their job. They should keep the project on track and meet your deadline without your provocation. If you hired the right person, you should now be able to fully focus your energies on your other projects and leave the professional to do their job. If you have to hand-hold or constantly check on the progress, you are either micro-managing (who, you?) or you have not hired a professional.

At the same time, the professional creative will always keep you informed about project changes, and will not contact you unless additional information is required or they have hit a snag. Let them do their job. That’s why you hired a professional in the first place.

If you are feeling the urge to constantly check in, you are disturbing the process for a professional and frazzling the nerves of a newbie. Put your faith in the professional, and if the deadline slips, it’s time to hire someone else!

When you hire a seasoned person, they have been in business and stayed in business because they met deadlines and satisfied their customers on a regular basis. Leave it to the professional, and if they fail to meet a deadline or fail to keep you informed about the project, then they are in breach of the contract. You can deal with that bridge, should you ever come to it, and if so you will be very glad you put it all in writing. If you hire the more experienced, seasoned professional, however, you are less likely to ever see such a bridge!

Have some comments about hiring professional creatives? Put your comment below…

Ask Questions!
If you’d like your question answered, please click on this link to submit your question via email. We look forward to helping you with your presentation and illustration questions!

Get the Most from Creative Professionals, Part 2

This article is a continuation of the discussion from Get the Most from Creative Professionals, Part 1.

How long should it take?
Ok, if you need your project completed tomorrow morning and it’s already 5:15pm, then you probably know that your deadline is insane. Unfortunately, everyone experiences this kind of insanity every once in a while. However, if this type of deadline is more the rule than the exception at your company, it’s time to get some better time management tools. With such tight deadlines, it’s best to call someone you’ve worked with before who can hit the ground running, and you should expect to pay a premium for a rush job. It’s the cost of doing business on the bleeding edge. If you need to save money, start by planning projects well in advance to keep costs down.

However, if you have no set deadline, but don’t want to be caught in a never-ending project, either, then start with a reasonable deadline for the project. Do some research or ask your seasoned creative professional what is a reasonable deadline to design, review, tweak, and have a final review for your project before you sign on the dotted line. They will be able to guide you to less expensive options, if the timeline works for you.

If additional outside services are required, such as printing, add the outside services to the project timeline. For instance, a brochure may require photography of your product first, then design, then printing, then mailing. Allow two weeks for the design and then add the time for photography, printing, and mailing. A seasoned designer already has photography, printing, and mailing house contacts they trust, unless you have specific companies you prefer to work with. If you have such preferences, let the designer know that when you first approach them for the project.

Also, if the designer estimates that the project will take 8 hours, do not assume that those 8 hours are consecutive (i.e., 8am to 4pm). The truth is, the creative process is rarely linear. First, it’s not uncommon for the creative person familiarize themselves your project, then they will go off and do something else, while having your project in the back of their mind. Psychologists call this subconscious processing. Most creative folk will think about your project, on and off, 24 hours a day, until they have met your deadline. Lucky you, you are only paying for the time when they have resolved the creative issues and actually put the pieces of the puzzle together for you!

The person who sits down and does only what you asked them to do in a consecutive timeframe, without any other creative input (such as a copy center employee), is a production person…not a creative professional. Expect to pay this person much less, and get much less, than the person who is adding value to your project by using their creativity.

Have some comments about hiring professional creatives? Put your comment below…

Ask Questions!
If you’d like your question answered, please click on this link to submit your question via email. We look forward to helping you with your presentation and illustration questions!

Get the Most from Creative Professionals, Part 1

As an avid networker, I belong to a variety of professional organizations and their email lists. Often, questions come across these lists that highlight how little is known about working with a creative professional. These tips are designed to help you decide who is the best person to hire, and how to get the best (creative) work out of them.

What to look for when hiring creative professionals
Creative professionals do tend to be right-brain dominant, so they think and work differently than those who are left-brain dominant. As a result, the creative process is quite often is non-linear. However, a good professional will not bother you with those details, and you will never have to worry about them managing their own creative process. Successful creatives regularly meet the deadlines and address your project objectives, regardless of how they work.

If you are going to pay someone good money to create for you, it makes sense to seek out professionals who have experience and have made a living doing this for at least a few years. Yes, less experienced creatives will be eager and charge less per hour, but that’s the catch: inexperienced creatives usually take longer and make more mistakes than a seasoned pro.

Like most professions, the longer you’ve done it, the more likely…

A.) You are going to continue doing that kind of work and be available in the future

B.) You have been there, done that, and learned the hard lessons

C.) You know the smartest and fastest way to accomplish the project objectives, and…

D.) You will be mindful of meeting your client’s needs within their budget and endeavor to establish a long-term relationship (because you intend to stay in business). That makes sense, right?

So, look for the seasoned person with experience using the skills you need. You’ll save money and headaches immediately, and in the long run. Keep in mind that a creative organization, such as an agency, may have been in business a while, but their staff may be full of newbies who are stumbling through the projects. Take the time to find out how long the people you are interacting with have worked in their industry.

When you hire seasoned professionals, you are also paying for all their experience, which is ultimately less expensive than having others learn their job on your dime.

Have some comments about hiring professional creatives? Put your comment below…

Ask Questions!
If you’d like your question answered, please click on this link to submit your question via email. We look forward to helping you with your presentation and illustration questions!