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ducksGraphic designers must master many visual disciplines in order to create work that will make an impact. Designers are students of form, composition, color, type, contrast, imagery, and pattern. A good designer knows how subtle effects of font choice, or image size, or color balance will impact their designs. Designers will labor over font sizes, experiment with layout, and get up close and personal with print proofs, scrutinizing with a loop for any flaw. Once, as a pre-press production artist, an art director asked me to have high res copy printed at 110% and then shrink it back down on a particular office copier in order to achieve just the right amount of softness on the type–and that was just for a caption on a two page spread layout! I was not happy, but he was a great designer.

Designers, the best ones, will go to great lengths to achieve their goals. They are painstaking in the disciplines of graphic design.

But designers, who are also business owners, rarely apply that same kind of diligence to business disciplines. And neglecting these disciplines will eventually have serious negative effects on their creative work. After all, desperate cash flow situations, impossible schedules, frustrated clients, burning the candle at both ends–these will all put so much pressure on an artist that focusing on design becomes almost impossible.
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HeART strivingThe HeART of Design Business is a five-part series that addresses the tensions artists feel when they face the creativity-sapping realities of running a business. Part one dealt with matters of money and finances, part two with measuring time, part three with marketing, part four with managing growth, and in this final installment we’ll get to the heart of hearts—our deepest motives for doing what we do, and the ways in which our hearts can betray us.

What gets you up out of bed in the morning? What fuels your day (besides coffee)? What keeps you going day after day, week after week, year after year? Obviously there are the necessities: we work for food, clothing, and to pay our mortgages. But necessities are not the only thing that motivates us. We want more out of our work. We want our work to be interesting; we want it to be successful; we want it to be satisfying; and we want it to be meaningful.
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HeART grwothThe HeART of Design Business is a five part series that addresses the tensions artists feel when they face the creativity sapping realities of running a business. Part one dealt with matters of money and finances, part two with measuring time, part three with marketing. In part four we’ll talk about managing growth and the tensions that come from hiring and firing employees.

Many of the pains we feel in running a design practice can be traced back to the lack of profitability. The first three parts of this series dealt with the problems and pressures that result from unprofitability.

But what happens when you turn things around and start to grow? Business growth can lead to a whole new set of problems and anxieties. And if the tensions of money, time, and marketing were not enough, adding more employees into the mix might just stomp out whatever creative life you had left.

The decision to hire is a crossroads every successful design practice will face. But if you’re not prepared for the changes that inevitably follow such a decision, you’ll be in for some serious heartache.
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Heart-salesThe HeART of Design Business is a five-part series addressing the inner tensions artists feel as they face the creativity-sapping realities of running a business. Part one dealt with matters of money and finances, part two with measuring time, and in this third installment we’ll dig deep as we face the universally despised tasks of marketing, sales, and new business development.

Most owners of professional design practices would prefer to work on almost any other facet of their business than sales and lead generation—even the finances! Knocking on doors, as it were, is the last thing they want to do. But without a viable pipeline of opportunities, the business will eventually falter.

Outside of professional sales people, very few business owners relish the hunt for new business. And for artists, this effort is not just unpleasant, it drains all the creative energy right out of their souls. New business acquisition (or, more to the point, the lack thereof) is universally stressful.
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HeART timeIn Part One of this five-part series on the HeART of Design Business, I considered how a negative view of money, and of commercial enterprise in general, can demotivate a designer from the business aspects of their work. Our resistance to evaluating balance sheets and tracking our cash flow rises when we suspect that matters of finance are somehow tainting or corrupting the purity of our artistic expressions.

But money is not the only business matter that can challenge the artistic sensibilities of the graphic artist. Here in part two of this series I’ll address the limiting factor of time. Does your creativity falter when you are aware that the minutes assigned to your task are unrelentingly ticking by?
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coins HeARTWhen you, as an owner of a design practice, face business realities like finances, schedules, sales, and employee turnover—does the creative part of your soul start to shrivel? Does it feel like all the creativity gets sucked out of the room? As an artist or designer, you live with an uneasy tension between your creative side—the work of your heart—and the necessary encumbrances of business. The struggle is not so much about business capability as it is an inner conflict. The artist within strives against the business matters without. This inner tension between matters of money, time, marketing, and management can stunt and stifle the creative heart.

Are you tired of simply living in an uneasy détente with the business side of your work?
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raise ratesWhat’s your ideal hourly rate? I bet it’s higher that you’re charging today, right? You should start charging that ideal future rate today.

Before I explain why and how first let me say that I strongly advise my clients against charging by the hour at all. For a variety of reasons, this is a self-defeating practice. (Engage me in the comments if you’re interested in why.) But whether you charge by the hour or just use an hourly rate as a benchmark for quoting your projects (as you should), you might want to consider starting the process of increasing your rates today.
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platesIf you don’t have time to read this post (or finish reading it since you’ve already started) you really should finish this one. When I consult design firms I use a methodology I call the 5M Assessment. It evaluates the firm, or the freelance practice, from five vital perspectives Money, Measurement, Marketing, Management and Motivation. The first two relate to managing finances and keeping track of time.

It’s remarkable what you can learn about a firm by simply processing their balance sheets and income statements. Add the data of how many employees they’ve had on staff and the overall health of the firm becomes clear.
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blogjuiceHOW Design published another of my articles. This one was about ineffective design firm blogs. What should be a compelling demonstration of a design firm’s valuable expertise tends to shift downward to Facebook like updates, which are fine as far as they go, but useless or juiceless when it comes to sales and marketing. But used properly a firm’s blog will generate results and be fairly easy to maintain.

pathCan you relate to this common story? While moonlighting as a freelance designer, burning the midnight oil, sacrificing weekends, you dreamt of one day freelancing full time. Then it happened. You picked up a couple good clients and it seemed like it was time to make the leap. You quit your day job and set up shop. But soon you discovered that running a one man operation is hard work: administration, communication, scheduling, billing, and the dreaded sales and marketing. You began to wonder if finding a business partner, or hiring a couple employees would help? Unfortunately making that step made you even busier. Not only were all the original tasks needing attention, but now you also had to manage those employees and work through every decision with your business partner. And the pressure on sales was greater than ever.

At some point along the way you began to reflect on how you got here. And what ever happened to designing? It had gotten to the point where if you do any design at all, it had to happen at night and on the weekends–wasn’t that the problem you were trying to fix in the first place?

Too often freelance designers stumble into their careers rather than charting out a deliberate professional path. And having set off on an uncharted path they often don’t end up where they expected. And it can be very difficult to adjust such a course after the fact.

So if you’re in the early stages of making these kinds of decisions, you might want to consider a few things before launching off. [click to continue…]