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Being your own client

No brief, changing our minds all the time, can’t articulate what we want, unhappy with the results…

Sound familiar? It’s funny isn’t it. Designers love moaning about bad clients but, when it comes down to it, we’re our own worst clients.

Many freelance designers will agree, I’m sure, that setting up the marketing and branding for your design business, in which I include designing your own website, is incredibly difficult. It’s why you see so many designers who have holding page sites. Or you arrive at a vastly complex site, jam-packed full of out-of-date content that’s totally irrelevant to the state of that business today.

We designers either never finish our websites — we cannot make final decisions about the copy or design — or we get something out there and then just forget about it, exactly what we bang onto our own clients about avoiding all the time. The truth is that we’re terrible clients.

So what is the best way to go about branding and marketing your own design business? I’ve put together some tips below. Although these are written from my perspective as a freelance designer, I’m sure they apply to other roles. I’d welcome your thoughts and other ideas you might have in the comments at the bottom of this page.

Appoint yourself as a client

Write a brief. Allocate your own business time in the working day. Set and aim to hit deadlines. Not only is this great experience at account management but you’ll also generate the documentation you need (brief sheet, project timesheet etc) to run projects in the future. If you move a task to tomorrow it will remain there. And tomorrow never comes. So get your own projects booked in as a proper project. I use Basecamp if that helps.

Take your (allocated) time

Allocate time to work on your own branding. Just a small amount will suffice. Perhaps work on it, as I did, for just a couple of hours every day for a few weeks. Use this to build an iterative design process you can roll out to other clients in the future.

Allocate time for marketing and promoting your business. Set aside a small amount of time a week for following up leads from last week. Set aside some time to write a blog (mine’s Wednesdays), or contact a couple of local businesses every week, showing off your wares. If a task is a regular fixture in the diary you’ll find it becomes part of your day-to-day routine. Don’t say to yourself, I’ll do this on Saturday, or worse, next week. You’ll end up never doing it. Believe me. I’ve been there. As with your accounts and your billing, be on top of the game.

Learn new skills

You’ve set up documents and a working practice. So now why not set up your branding and website as a template for future clients. I used the time I allocated to building this website to also learn how to set up a basic site in Perch. I will be using the templates I’ve coded for my future clients. I also wanted to learn SASS and catch up with the latest developments in front end design — it had been a while! So, I dove into Andy Clarke’s Rock Hammer and got my hands dirty.

Have savings

You cannot start a new business without money. Unless you’ve got the advantage of living at home with your parents rent free, the rest of us have cash burners like mortgages, rent, thirsty cars, hungry kids and crappy heating. Life eats money. So if you are going to start a new business, make sure you’ve got at least six months of savings to run your household while you set things up.

Six months will give you the peace of mind to take your time, get things right but also is short enough a time period to focus the mind to getting things done.

Focus

If you’re working at home, make sure you’ve got a private area in which you can shut yourself away from the outside world. If you’re constantly distracted by children / pets / spouses / the fridge then devise a system that breaks these habits. A firmly shut door is a start. Also consider turning off email and other notification services like Twitter for much of the day. (This advice is coming from the man who currently has a 5 month old Jack Russell sitting on his lap.)

If you work from home, you will always get people saying this to you: “If I worked at home, I would just watch television all day — the distraction would be too great”. My answer would be “Have you seen daytime television? I’d rather break rocks in a chain gang”.

Get it out there

I believe our cousins over the sea say “just ship it”. It’s often better to break a larger project down into small chunks and roll them out one at a time, rather than expect to finish everything off before launching a new business. You might think it’s incredibly important to get everything absolutely 100% right but, remember, no one has seen your branding before. Only you. The website isn’t chiselled in stone tablets. You can edit copy on a website. Those business cards only cost £80. You can order more. And we’ve already established that you are the worst client in the world. So get over it.

Get it out there into the real world, make sure people know you are there and trust in your abilities. Good luck!

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