There have been nights you’ve gone to bed without brushing your teeth.
Some days you skip washing your hair. (I’ve just discovered dry shampoo and I’m embarrassed to say I use it, but hey, this mini-mohawk is temperamental so desperate measures are required when I’m in a hurry).
Other times, you ventured out wearing the same underwear cos you’ve fallen behind with the laundry. Eww, I know, but whatareya gonna do? Go commando?
Come on admit it, we’ve all been there at least once, especially back in our college days!
Now I can only speak for myself, but I’m going to assume none of the above is because you’re naturally lazy (or naturally unhygienic, lol). You’re just busy.
I get it.
Your inbox is bursting at the seams. Clients are chasing you. Deadlines are looming. That last logo took twice as long as you’d planned, and you’ve got another one due first thing tomorrow. Your design mojo has suddenly gone MIA. You told your friends you’d catch up for dinner tonight but you’ve already pushed that client’s logo back twice… what’s a designer to do?!
<insert mini meltdown here!>
Seriously though, no matter how stressful things get running the freelance gauntlet, you’ve got to go that extra mile and make it happen. A sleepless night or a disgruntled friend is nowhere near as bad as when you lose your top client because you didn’t look after them properly.
Your clients are the lifeblood of your business. You can’t slack off on them.
Don’t let bad habits creep into your design business, don’t let client-apathy enter your mindset or your clients will smell it a mile off… just like your morning breath after a night without brushing your teeth! (and I say ‘ewwww’ again!).
Here are 13 signs that you might be a slacker:
1. You always opt for email instead of picking up the phone.
I’ve read plenty of designer blogs that disagree with me on this and that’s totally okay, but in my business we’re so obsessed with 100% client satisfaction that we’re always looking for little ways add personal touch points throughout projects, and even afterwards with tech support.
I say to my crew that if it’s easier to just pick up the phone and ring, then do it. Clients love the human contact and you’ll be amazed how far a phone call goes towards building long-term loyalty and a bond that’s hard to break.
Solution: I’m not suggesting you ditch email altogether, but every 5 or 10 emails or so, why not just pick up the phone and have a chat instead? They’ll be reminded you’re a person, and you’ll be reminded that they’re more than just a project brief.
But just make sure you follow-up every phone call with an email confirmation on what was agreed, just to be safe!
2. You don’t care about results.
How many newspaper ads never produce a single call? Banner ads with no clicks? Websites with no conversions? How much hard earned money has been spent by hopeful clients on ‘pretty’ designs that do nothing to generate them a return?
Solution: Care about getting your clients a result. If you design websites, immerse yourself in conversion optimisation, SEO and traffic techniques. Learn about effective copywriting, calls to action and ads that sell. If you don’t know how to get results, learn.
“A bad website is like a grumpy salesperson.” Jakob Nielsen.
3. You don’t follow-up after a project is complete.
Do you have calendar reminders set to follow-up with clients after you deliver their project? If you do, good for you. If you actually follow through on those, even better! Give yourself a big on the back and buy yourself something pretty. :)
With all website projects we deliver, we have autoset reminders at 30 days, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months and 12 months with different conversation starters and discussion points mapped out for each contact. Even if you’re a one man (or woman) band you could do the same on your calendar too.
There’s nothing worse than a client feeling like you don’t care after they go live. Once you bank their cheque, they more than likely will feel all alone and it’s scary out there in webland for a client that has no idea what to expect.
Solution: Work follow-ups into your project plan and schedule them in your diary the minute you finish the project. When the reminders pop up, call them. If you stay in touch with regular follow-ups, I guarantee you’ll get more work or awesome new referrals. Make the time. It’s worth it.
4. You don’t send out Holiday cards (and/or gifts).
When I first started out 10 years ago, I put so much time and effort into spreading the Holiday cheer to my clients. I loved doing it too.
Once I hand made individual 12 page Christmas books as cards and sent them out gift wrapped with a Jack Canfield gratitude journal. Another time I baked cookies and bagged them up with gorgeous packaging saying ‘Baked by Bianca especially for you. Enjoy! xx’.
Another time I made a set of three home made relishes and jams and packaged them in gift boxes for Christmas. It cost me next to nothing, really only the cost of the jars (luckily I had a packaging client who looked after me on price).
Haha, it might seem a bit corny, but my clients loved it nonetheless.
Admittedly, I don’t go to that extreme these days, (it’s much more difficult on the wallet with 2,000 clients!) but we always have fun creating a cool card at least. And it doesn’t cost much to be creative, as you well know my designery friend!
Solution: Chop chop, the Holidays are almost here! You better get a move along. Start brainstorming tonight what you could do for clients. There are so many ideas around and if money’s tight, maybe just gift your favourite 30 clients with a nice big home made gingerbread cookie you whipped up in the kitchen. :)
5. You don’t stay in touch regularly.
I’ll keep this one brief. If you’re not blogging and doing email marketing on a regular basis, you should be. Best case scenario you can fit it in weekly; worst case scenario, do it once a month.
I always get emails back from clients with every weekly campaign I send out. I get a real kick out it actually. Once I even got 8 website enquiries from people on my list within 3 hours of sending out a campaign. Another time, about 150 website conversions in 2 days. So staying in regular contact is good for business!
Solution: If you’re not already building a list on your website, start now. Also begin thinking about how you could help your target audience.
What are the top 20 questions you always get asked from prospective new clients? There’s 20 blog titles right there. Research what’s going to work for you and how to start building your audience list. The options are endless so don’t let your research overwhelm you. The most important thing is to start.
6. You forget to say ‘thank you’.
When you finish each project, do you make the time to call your client and say ‘thank you’? Do you send them a thank you card with a handwritten note? What about a bottle of wine, or my favourite… a book on something relevant to what you worked on together?
Whenever I used to launch a client website, I’d send a copy of Content Rules by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman with a handwritten thank you card. When you think about it, if a client spends $5,000 with you on a website, you can surely afford to send them a book worth $15 right? Don’t get too busy that you forget who puts the food on your table. It will pay you back tenfold.
Solution: Create a sliding scale of thank you touches you can implement for different clients with different spends. It doesn’t need to take any longer than 5 minutes. For example:
Under $500 might get a personal, heartfelt email.
$500 – $1,000 perhaps a phone call and a card in the mail.
$1,000 – $2,000 maybe a bottle of wine or box of goodies with a card.
$2,000 + perhaps a really good book, hamper or specific gift relevant to their interests etc
Then just make it part of your project wrap up process. When you schedule your follow-ups, you arrange the corresponding ‘thank you’ as well.
7. You don’t take the time to build rapport.
Are you guilty of not taking time to get to know your clients?
Solution: Next time you’re talking to them ask them where their favourite coffee shops are, where their kids go to school, what sports they play, where they like to have drinks after work. You’ll be amazed how far this goes to building strong relationships and a level of loyalty that’ll be hard to break later. And if you’ve got a terrible memory, type it in your client database so you can be reminded next time they call.
8. You don’t ask the right questions before commencing work.
Are you sure that you’re asking clients the right questions before you put one pixel to work? If you design websites, here’s a blog I wrote recently about the top 10 questions you should ask your design client.
Solution: Have a planner prepared for each type of project, have your questions ready. If they don’t produce the answers straight up, dig deeper. Make suggestions. Be bold. Be a counsellor, be an advisor. Be an educator. Have fun! You’ll get so many more design ideas the deeper you dig, it’s worth it.
9. You never go the extra mile.
“There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.” – Roger Staubach. I absolutely love this quote. So much so it’s the first thing you see when you walk in our office. But seriously, ask yourself, are you doing the bare minimum just to get job out the door?
Solution: Perhaps it’s time you took a trip down the extra mile? You can do this by doing all or even just some of the things I’ve listed above. The extra mile superhighway is the road less travelled but it’s the road to bountiful bank accounts and endless clients. It’s a great road my designery friend!
10. Your work is mediocre and that’s perfectly okay with you.
I’ve actually asked a design partner to leave my ProPartner program because they didn’t care about the quality of their work, and to be honest, it ranged from mediocre to awful. After many difficult conversations and heaps of friendly pointers and advice, it was clear they had no intention of improving. I just couldn’t sit back and let them deliver such poor website designs to clients. It goes against everything I believe in. That’s why I had to ask them to ship up or ship out and find another web platform. Unfortunately for them, they chose to remain mediocre, so I asked them to ship out. :(
Solution: I’m the first to admit that it’s not viable to aim for award-winning quality with every design project, but when you don’t care it shows. You can see it all over the web, websites that were built like they came out of a sausage factory. Hey, I’m all for creating a fast and efficient building process but I’ll never agree with that saying ‘good enough is good enough’, cos it just isn’t!
Here’s another tip. Take a look around at what your competitors are doing, how do you stack up? If your work is a bit dusty, perhaps it’s time to brush up on your design skills or join some forums to get feedback and critiques before you show clients. Just allow a few extra days in your timeline so you can put some extra pizzazz on it. Don’t worry the more you get used to doing great work, the faster it becomes.
11. Constantly missing deadlines and pushing projects out.
Are you constantly pressed for time, watching the clock and getting sweaty palms because of your looming deadlines with clients? Or are your work days calm, organised and in check? If you’re constantly running around chasing your tail and find yourself always pushing deadlines back with clients, you could be a slacker!
Solution: Get organised or get help. Schedule projects so that you have a bit of leeway up your sleeve if things do go astray with other projects. If you have clients who always call up wanting jobs turned around immediately and it’s constantly disrupting your workflow, charge a rush surcharge for the inconvenience. Tell them, sure, but fast is gonna be expensive!
If you’re already super organised and it’s just that you have too much new work, congratulations! You’re in the enviable position of getting some help or even better, putting your rates up! If you want to stay solo then increase your rates to scale back the work you take on. Pay rise for you, woo hoo! Problem solved and slacker habit averted!
12. You don’t return phone calls the same day.
If you’re like me, most of your clients will be small business owners that face the same struggles we all do. They’re super busy wearing tons of different hats, doing 20 different things at once and are incredibly time poor. I think 95% of us small business owners live each day just a single notch below total chaos.
So when they call to talk to you, understand and appreciate they probably set aside special time that day to work on the project. If you don’t call them back until the next day or even worse, 2 or even 3 days later, their frown lines will start to appear and they’ll be thinking to themselves “What a slacker!”
Solution: Call them back as quickly as you can after they call. It’s not rocket science I know but you’d be surprised how many people sit on tasks like call backs until it becomes awkward. That’s the easiest way to alienate your clients. I know it’s a juggle when you’re designing and you don’t want to mess with your mojo, but even if you say you can only talk for 5 minutes to keep your other commitments on track, try to call them back ASAP.
13. You’re about as passionate as my can of dry shampoo.
Passion breeds success. If you’ve lost yours then you need to go find what floats your boat and get passionate again because your clients and prospects can just tell. It’s like a sixth sense. People are drawn to passionate people, we’re all wanting someone to follow, someone to help us solve our problems and help us become happier. Be that person.
How can you not be passionate about design anyway, right? I feel so lucky that I picked a profession that doesn’t feel like work. I feel blessed for being led down this road. And to think my Dad told me I had to drop my Art subject in school because there was, and I quote, “no money in art”. Pfffttttt, what do parents know, huh?
Solution: If you’re finding your passion is waning, it’s time to ask yourself some tough questions. What’s draining your passion? Where are the holes? Is it the lack of profits? The wrong type of clients? The long hours? Or is design just not your thing?
My hairdresser used to be a lawyer. No joke. She just always had a passion for hair and never truly followed her dream. It wasn’t until much later in life that she bought a salon and did her training in her 40s. It’s never too late.
Look at the ‘why’ and take steps to do more of what you love to get inspired again. I could go on but I think perhaps I’ll leave that for another post because I’m sure you’ve got some follow-up phone calls to schedule and Christmas pressies to make. :)
So what’s the verdict? Slacker or not?
If you’ve managed to avoid all 13 signs, give yourself a huge pat on the back. You are not a design slacker… Congratulations!! You’re going great guns, clients love you and they ARE telling their friends about how awesome you are. Kudos to you!
If however, you got sweaty palms, squirmed in your chair or repeatedly scratched your nose reading the above, perhaps it’s a sign you’ve got some work to do. Don’t feel bad, we’re all human and the best part is that there’s always room for improvement.
You’ve now got the ‘how’, the rest is just implementation. Try tackling one slacker habit at a time to reduce the overwhelm though. Remember these are things I learnt over the space of 10 years, if I’d tried to fix them all at once, I’d probably have ended up in the looney bin!
Instead, I’ve got a business I love (most days) and I’m talking to you, my lovely designery friends. I’m definitely living my dream… how about you?