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fishingnet Graphic Design Blender, a newsletter dedicated to helping graphic design freelancers improve their business practices, just published one of my articles. It’s on the subject of narrow positioning–contrasting it to the more common practice of casting a wide net. In the article I give five compounding reasons why broad generalist positioning of a firm or freelancer’s capabilities is a self defeating practice. Check it out at GDB and if you’re a freelance designer you might want to subscribe to their
GDBfisingnet email newsletter. There is a real scarcity of good freelance business principles out there, and I’ve found that GDB’s content is usually very helpful, practical, and insightful.

interviewI recently published a new article on HOWDesign.com about hiring practices for design firms. As I worked on this piece I couldn’t help but reflect on the many hires I made at Newfangled. Over the fifteen years I owned the company, I walked through every stage of hiring mentioned in this article. I started out as a freelance web designer and began by hiring contractors. Then I hired a few part time employees. Then finally began to hire full time employees. I made my share of mistakes and sadly, as a result, had to fire people. Hiring is never a perfect science.
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hourglassesWhen I was transitioning from the start up phase of my web design company to managing a growing firm, I was often overwhelmed by how many things there were to do! Between doing some of the actual work (which had become an exclusively night and weekend activity), to managing employees, to hiring, to marketing, to doing the books, to evaluating and improving our systems and processes–there was barely time to breathe. Sometimes I’d come across some good business advice but along with it came the dread of adding one more task to the bottom of an ever increasing to do list. The the worst thing in those days was the feeling that I was no longer leading my firm, but rather stuck in a reactionary mode. [click to continue…]

quitting-businessAs a part of my marketing process for Rewarding Toil I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn reviewing design firm websites. Sadly, the frequency with which my research leads to 404 page is far too great. Design firms go out of business with sobering regularity. [click to continue…]

HOW-beret-toneMy latest article on agency and design firm branding has just been published on HOWDesign.com. It’s called “Agency Branding: Time to Hang Up the Beret.”

feverHow do you know if it’s time to hire a business consultant? Consultants are typically an expensive investment. How do you know when you need to make it?

As a consultant, and as someone who has hired consultants, I think just about any design firm would benefit by hiring a consultant with experience in their field. But if you need more convincing, there is a way to take your firm’s temperature to see if getting business advice is worth the cost. [click to continue…]

artisanIn my last post I made the case for how sharp, narrow positioning makes all the difference for design firm marketing and profitability. I think that most designers, when they come to understand how this works, would agree that narrow positioning is a more lucrative path. Nevertheless, most firms still seem to prefer broad positioning. I addressed the most common objection to sharp positioning, the fear of losing opportunities, in my last post.

I think there is something much deeper in most designers that creates further resistance to narrow positioning. Namely their deeply held artistic identities. [click to continue…]

“If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge,
he must use more strength,
but wisdom helps one to succeed.”

Ecclesiastes 10:10

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree
and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Abraham Lincoln

axeMany design firms business problems such as financial underperformance, difficulty finding new clients, and downward pressure on project quotes can be traced back to poor positioning. The more general or broad a firm’s positioning is (what they do, who they do it for, and the clear benefits they provide), the less impact their efforts will make, and therefore the less valuable they will be to their clients. But the sharper their positioning (the more narrow or specific their focus), the easier it becomes to find clients who will value their specific expertise and therefore pay them more for their efforts. The law of specialization functions for design firms as much as it does for doctors, lawyers, and engineers.

How sharp is your axe? When you list your experience on your website, do you cover more than one major industry? More than two, three, five, ten? When you list your capabilities, do you list one? More than two, three, five? The more items on these lists, the broader your positioning. The fewer there are, the more focused. Effectiveness in your marketing efforts and client’s willingness to pay higher fees all rise and fall along these sliding scales. [click to continue…]

cash-registerContending with cash flow can be one of the more frustrating aspects of managing your firm’s finances. But before we look at some solutions, you should first consider if what you think is a cash flow problem might actually be a profitability problem. After reassuring yourself that the ups and downs of receivables and expenses really is a matter of timing, not of lack, there are some helpful techniques that can help.

One of the main causes of genuine cash flow problems is poorly structured billing terms. Often projects are billed half up front, half on completion, or a third up front, a second third at some defined project benchmark, and the remainder on completion. There are some real problems with these two common approaches. [click to continue…]

mayo-adjThis year my wife was very ill. For about six months she did not have the muscle strength to walk up stairs or even stand for very long. She was bedridden for about six months. Toward the end of that time, when we were feeling very hopeless that local medical system could help, we decided to drive to Rochester, MN and go to the Mayo Clinic. So as not to keep you in suspense, my wife recovered over the summer and is doing much better now. But I want to share something I observed while at Mayo that reminded me of an important practice that every design firm should adopt. It was the necessary wall between control and communication. [click to continue…]