Email Like A Business
 
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Answering emails once a day or at selected hours has massively led to an increase in productivity for many of my peers.

 

Which is totally awesome. What's not awesome about it is the 500 auto responses many of them send out a day informing their email correspondents that they will not be getting to the email right away. Why do people feel that this message is necessary? I'll be honest - in most cases when I got it, I wasn't expecting an answer within 24-48 hours in the first place. Usually I'm only emailing designer peers with something super random or not time sensitive.

I can appreciate that sometimes messages are needed to heed off annoying clients. But here's the deal. Instead of coming up with systems to warn people that you don't answer emails all within a few hours, and that it might take 24 - let's ask these questions:

Do my clients and peers expect me to answer an email right away?

If yes, then...

Why do my clients and peers expect me to answer an email right away?

It's probably because you set the expectation. Or, more likely, they actually don't and you answered the first question wrong. 

It's time we all start emailing like businesses.

Business have busy inboxes because presumably they're serving multiple clients and well - managing a business.

Businesses don't respond to every customer call, email, Facebook message right away. (In fact, the bigger the business the harder it is to get in touch with them. Talked to your bank lately? I haven't.)

Businesses don't get bad reviews for answering emails promptly within 24 hours, unless they deal with emergency services which last time I checked design is not.

Businesses might set hours or schedules for internal tasks and the public never needs to know (because honestly, they probably don't care). 

And meanwhile, here's a little secret info about clients...

Unless a client is told to expect otherwise, most people are happy with their emails answered within a day (or two when they aren't in an active project). What might make an otherwise positive review less positive - getting auto response emails to every message they send informing them that email is not that important on your list of priorities, and will be dealt with later. This message tells them these things:

They aren't the priority

You value your time over the money they paid you (likely true - but not something you say to them)

You might not even be busy, but you've set this rule so you aren't going to answer.

So how about we all get back to acting like real businesses - and make it a little harder (albeit not very hard) to get in touch with us.

Tl;DR. Can we all skip telling the world and clients about our cool new "check email once a day" system, and let them assume we're busy like normal businesses are. Answering within 24 (even 48) hours is GREAT customer service.

Jo
Added Value
 
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A thought experiment in ways to add value to a design project.

 

I believe that the best design projects would ideally include all of these value points, but as cost reduces, there is usually less value provided (fewer of the bullets are addressed).

Branding

  • design something aesthetically pleasing
  • design a system that suits all sizes and use cases (logo variations)
  • provide a color palette with Pantone, RGB, and CMYK values
  • add image styles (mood board/example photos)
  • add strategy behind the design - position it towards the target audience
  • craft brand visuals that accompany a brand voice
  • when redesigning, don't undo the existing brand recognition
  • add collateral designs (incorporate the brand into everything else printed and digital)
  • complete the project on a faster timeline
  • use your connections to increase the brand's exposure

Website

  • design something aesthetically pleasing
  • design something that drives action
  • design something that drives specific action that the client needs
  • set the website up for SEO
  • research and strategically implement SEO keywords based on past analytics
  • start measuring progress and refining based on analytics
  • teach clients how to manage their websites
  • add unique stylistic aspects to the website

TL;DR. There are a lot of ways we can add value as designers. Add ideas below!

JoComment
Minimalism & Creative Entrepreneurs
 
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If you haven't been sleeping under a rock lately, you've probably seen something about this minimalism trend that's going around.

So let's talk about it a little...

 

Most often portrayed through one of two stereotypes - the hippie/digital nomad who gives away all their possessions and lives out of a van with their partner traveling the globe and the capsule wardrobe wearing trend-setter who lives in a white, sparsely decorated loft in NYC, SF or LA and talks about their minimal "aesthetic". Either way, it seems a bit appealing but in a slightly crazy, unreasonable, and only for social media stars kind of way.

Over the past few years I've learned a lot about minimalism from both stereotypical sides of the equation, and a little from Mpls friends who fit somewhere neatly in between. I'll call it the practical middle of the minimalism spectrum. However, all of these people/resources have the same thing in common: they're creative entrepreneurs.

First, let's back up and examine this "category" of people (yep, I'm going to be that person for a second).

A quick search on Google revealed "entrepreneur" to mean: A person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so. Adding creative in to the mix just means they're working within the creative industries like advertising, architecture, art, crafts, design, fashion, film, music, marketing, performing arts, photography, publishing, software, social media, TV, etc. In my profession, it's the term I'm unequivocally tied to, and one I'm really tired of hearing - even though it's obviously the most accurate description. Whether we are freelancers or business owners, we all took on a financially risky lifestyle in order to pursue a creative passion. Also, freelancers are essentially "self" businesses. So I'm counting them as well.

Now here's what I think is fun/fascinating/hilarious/worth discussing.

While there are many minimalists, and many entrepreneurs - why are we seeing such a massive overlap in these spaces?

Here are my thoughts on why creative entrepreneurs favor minimalism:

  • We want to have flexibility in working location.
  • Our creative minds need taming, and decluttering our spaces helps declutter our minds.
  • We want to live meaningful lives on our own terms (hence entrepreneurship).
  • Frugal mindsets (necessity while taking financial risks in business)

I could expound upon my thoughts, but I'd rather just talk about it with other creatives.

TL;DR. If you want to talk minimalism, drop me a line and let's video chat.

Jo
Validation vs Innovation
 
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I've found myself walking a fine line lately...

 

It's the line of "industry etiquette" between what my community deems acceptable, and my crazy ideas for the future of my business. Basically, the line every disruptor has crossed before they inevitably broke the norm and pissed off everyone in their industry. Which brought up the question a few days ago...

Why am I seeking validation and respect from my peers rather than finding innovative, even disruptive ways to serve my audience?

Insecurity? Desire for community as well? Either way, I've decided that it's time for me to stop. Insecurity is the death of innovation. And I'm working on building a community of supportive peers around me that agree.

Here are the things I have heard about the small business design industry from my design peers (and sometimes even parroted in the past) that I currently find myself at odds with more and more frequently:

  • Charging low prices or offering free work hurts the industry and other designers by setting unrealistic expectations with clients.
  • If you charge low prices it means you're a shitty designer. Fiverr designers and Etsy sellers are rarely good to work with or provide the right designs or files. They are constantly ripping off small businesses.
  • "Charge what you're worth" which is a lot.
  • As a designer for small businesses you should never make less than $50/hour, and usually should make upwards of $100. This translates to charging your clients those amounts for hourly work (even if completed in less time).

Here are a few things I also know:

  • I am a GREAT designer. And I am usually the last to state this (actually, I've never even said this outloud). What it boils down to is that I can make beautiful designs and strategy for small businesses. Not fortune 500s. I'm good at MY specific passion, thank goodness because that's what matters.
  • Everyone questions everyone's motives and information when it comes to the internet - as they should. People often don't tell the truth on the internet. I'm not lying... or am I? I'm not, for the record, I AM a good designer.
  • Online success stories in my industry are formulaic - person takes a huge financial risk to start a business, person is an early adopter of a marketing strategy for their niche audience, person books a lot of client work or makes a lot of sales, person becomes an educator and teaches others how to replicate their success (but never as successfully).
  • Blogs success stories have a different, yet still formulaic trend. Person has passion, person shares passion online, money magically follows via ads and sponsorships, person's content gets even better, person becomes mini-celebrity and lands a tv show or movie, person MAYBE teaches people how to replicate success (but again, never as successfully).
  • Logos and websites aren't worth very much to a new small business. It's all about strategy and implementation. A brand design won't make the business; it's the other way around. Your DIY logo has a mistake? Get a new one on Etsy, only 10 people have seen it anyways, and you haven't printed your business cards yet.

 

Keeping all those things in mind, I'm going to take action. I'm going to forget the things I have heard, and embrace the things I know and am learning. And you’ll be the first to see what happens.

I’m going to follow a non-traditional, somewhat minimalist “business” plan. and I'm going to focus on disrupting in two ways.

  1. Providing free value to an underserved audience. Small business owners are taught so that they can be sold to, or they're being sold something that will be taught. I’m not going to do this. I’m going to stop selling things that I can teach and be a resource first, business second.

  2. If I can’t teach something within reason (like how to develop an eye for design), or if people prefer a service over a lesson, I’ll find the most innovative, cost-effective way to develop products, while still producing a quality result. I’m going to only develop products and services that people want and need, and hopefully charge only what the user feels is fair for the value it provided them.

First, I'll have to reevaluate every aspect of my business as it relates to this direction. I had better pick this up in another post.

 

TL;DR. I'm going to cross the line, piss people off if necessary, and try to innovate. Let's see what happens.

 

Jo