design in recession

I have been fielding quite a few emails from friends and colleagues who are finding it increasingly difficult to stay afloat in this treacherous economy. We are all independent designers and although we specialize in different things we all share the same lament...is it ever going to get better?

I hope so...but until it does I figured I would keep it real & share a bit about what I've done to keep my own abnormally large head above water:

#1. I review my personal finances every few months. That means I actually open my credit card statements to check if they've increased my interest rates again. If they have, I transfer the balances. I am always bouncing balances back and forth...it can save a lot of money. There's a big difference between 3.99% and 19.00%. Just make sure to read the fine print. It's also important to realize that although this has very little to do with your business...as a small company what I do personally always affects what I do professionally so acknowledging the overlap is a good thing.

#2. Embrace delayed gratification. I learned this important lesson from a friend who managed to keep a very tight budget and seemed quite happy doing so. She would allot a certain amount of money for certain things and then stick to it. For example, she would put away ten dollars for a haircut every month and she knew she could either go and get a $10 haircut or she could wait 3 months and get a $30 dollar haircut. The ability to wait is key and if you are anything like me waiting often proves how little I needed or wanted something.

#3. Be fair. Don't try to collect more from longtime customers or overcharge new customers to compensate. BE FAIR. This is a hard time for all of us and treating your clients well ensures that not only will they return but they will refer.

#4. Stick to your guns. Eventually, things will start to turn around and if you dramatically drop your prices you will find it difficult to return from that. I work primarily with small businesses. I am obsessive about transparency and see to it that my clients know exactly what I'm doing and how much it will cost. I don't low ball myself or take on jobs that I know are not right for me. I talk to my clients, I get to know them and I encourage them to reveal their budgets so I can be more open about what is possible. I'm not coy by nature so that approach doesn't work for me in business.

#5. No job is too small. This is mostly true, but of course there are exceptions to everything. I will do just about anything relating to my field. I will even address wedding invitations. I have nice handwriting and it's something different than the lovely albeit pricey calligraphy. I offer my clients interesting alternatives and that way I'm being more fully creative. I have learned that creativity is necessary in every aspect of what I do, from finances to the project itself. What I do is solve problems.

#6. Use this time to review your overhead. I have been tempted many times to go and get outside studio space, and I have come close, but I never felt that what I wanted to do would support that endeavor. I often tell my clients when asked, that I work from home for them. The lower overhead is split down the middle...a lower price for them and an increased profit for me. All those years spent in banking were not wasted. Also, take a look at your tools. do you need three computer screens...if not, sell them. Do you really need the most expensive phone with the most expensive plan? Take stock of what you need to effectively do your job...everything else is just superfluous.

#7. Realize that there is no shame in your game. If you need part-time work...go get it. I am always doing side things to supplement my main gig. If you need to scale back then do so. If you can no longer continue to work for free for that friend of yours...tell them it's over. Truth, while not always popular in business, is the only way to go. Don' try and run the business you wish you had...learn to effectively run what you have right this minute.

#8. Keep track of your goals. Just because we cannot implement every change does not mean we should stop hoping for it. Now is as good a time as any to revamp your website or redesign your promotional material. Keep things fresh. Keep an inspiration log. Whether you are getting regular jobs or not it is vital to keep your creativity and love for what you do going strong. Make plans. Write them down.

#9. Be proactive. I am not an extrovert by any means, but I will be whatever I have to be to book jobs. If that means engaging in small talk for an hour I will do it. It's tough right now. Everyone wants to take their time, to collect a bunch of quotes, to negotiate you so far down you are barely making money. All that bumping and bruising takes its toll and sometimes you think...I'll just stay warm under the blankets today. Resist it. Don't hide. Face it. Even if that means learning something new...like web design in my case. There's something about being active that helps us keep sane.

#10. Share. This is a good time to reveal to others what you have been doing to succeed. I have benefited from the generosity of others in my field and I hope I can do the same. It's no secret, the economy sucks for most of us, but there is safety in numbers. If you don't have time to take on a certain project...refer it to a friend. If a client wants something that just isn't your style, refer it to a friend who may love to do it. Share your resources and worries. It will come back to you. Promise.

for more on the subject check out this article. many of the ideas are the same.


Anonymous said...

Great advice for individuals and small businesses. Thanks for sharing!

Dariela said...

I read it all. Thanks France, I agree with all this and you gave me some ideas and reminded me of some others!

rae events said...

this is probably by far the most inspiring post i have read on any blog. thank you for your honesty, advice and perspective. i will keep this information for years to come. best to you.