97 Habits Of Insanely Profitable Designers

insanely productive designers

If you want to be insanely profitable doing what you love (that’s design by the way) then you need to find a happy balance between art and commerce. Basically, you need a head for business and a mind for design.

On the surface, profitable designers aren’t that different to unprofitable ones; the one real difference is that insanely profitable designers have developed specific habits that allow them to succeed.

8 years ago I was financially stressed, I couldn’t pay all my bills on time, I had nightmare clients; some who wouldn’t pay me on time, I couldn’t find good staff, I was working 16 hour days and my business was sucking all my time and every last ounce of energy I had… but for very little return.

Are you feeling the same way right now?

If you want to create a business and life you love, these 97 habits will be the key to your liberation… and your profits.

Remember you don’t become a freelancer just to create a job for yourself, you freelance to create a lifestyle. Don’t be the technician buried in the trenches, become the entrepreneur. Start with these 97 habits and you’ll transform your business and your life…

Mindset / Daily Rituals

1. Spend 20 minutes visualising each morning before you get out of bed to get the answers you need for the day. This could be about your big dreams, little goals, a client problem, a new product, a new blog… whatever. Just use the first 20 minutes of the day to meditate and you’ll be blown away by the difference it makes to every aspect of your business.

2. Be grateful. Keep a gratitude journal. Be excited you’re able to design for a living.

3. Keep a diary of all your wins, big and small so you can reflect on how far you’ve come (especially handy to turn to on those really tough days for a quick pick-me-up!)

4. Create a list of your favorite design blogs and visit them daily. Make time each morning to read through them whilst you have brekkie and your morning coffee.

5. Be sure to take decent breaks to stay inspired. Go overseas once a year if you can, it’ll open your eyes up to looking at your business with an eagle-eye view you’ve never experienced before. It also feeds your creativity!

6. Possess flexibility and stubbornness in equal measures.

7. Bite off more than you can chew and then chew like CRAZY!

8. Don’t sweat the small stuff like those ‘special’ clients that show up every now and again. If you hit a road bump, ask yourself “Am I going to care about this in 5 years time?” and if the answer is ‘no’ then just get on with it and don’t let it upset you.

9. Learn to ride the emotional rollercoaster of business. It’s tough but just go with it. Ride the tiger… tame the tiger! Tomorrow’s a new day.

10. Embrace failure. Every failure takes you one step closer to achieving your goals. Besides, it’s only a true failure if you don’t learn from it.

11. Perseverance (and getting stuff done) really is the key to success. Never give up!

12. Develop a fearless entrepreneurial spirit. It’ll help you jump on opportunities in good and bad times.

13. Always temper your positivity with a touch of realism… but not too much or you’ll never try anything new!

14. Be a giver. That’s it. Just give more. We give free websites to charities, not for any kudos and not as a marketing tactic, just because it makes us feel good. Cleanse your soul on a regular basis.

15. Find your happy place… and go live there! For me, I wanted to be near the ocean and islands because it inspires me and I feel free. Sure, it took 5 long years to get everything to a position where we could make the move but now we live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. My business (and my creativity) has skyrocketed since my move and life will never be the same.

Finances

16.  Understand that ‘profit’ is not a rude word. You’re in business to make money. If you find yourself doing favours all the time, feel guilty for increasing your rates, or do spec work, stop it right now and start putting profit as your #1 objective.

17.  Understand that time is money. Period.

18.  Find an amazing accountant and hire the most organized bookkeeper you can find; they will transform your business and life (not to mention stress levels!)

19.  Know your true costs to the cent. I mean every bum on every seat and for every hour they sit in that seat, including yours!

20.  Know your desired profit margins. Is it 30% or 50% or something in between?

21.  Measure overall project profitability at the end of every job. Tip: use a CRM software to do this properly. Before we developed our own I used to use Streamtime but there’s also Basecamp and I love Wrike.

22.  You don’t play (design) unless they (the client) pay. That means NO spec work!

23.  Keep an eagle eye on the dollars being invoiced, daily!

24.  Work hard on controlling your cash flow. It will make or break you.

Marketing

25.  Form strategic alliances with business coaches, marketing consultants, event managers, business advisory centres, copywriters, SEO companies and the like for a steady flow of inbound leads. How? Network. Go to events. Find the people who are already talking to your target market, befriend them, impress them with your know-how, offer them cash for referrals, wine ‘em and dine ‘em and watch the new business flow in.

26.  Don’t spread yourself too thin when it comes to your social media accounts, just do what you can and do it well. (Rule of thumb: if you notice you’ve started doing things half-baked then you need to pull it back to basics.)

27.  Start your own blog… like yesterday! I’ve got 5000 current & future web clients subscribed to Web123’s blog right now, and my brand new blog specifically for designers is already at 400!

28.  Make building your email list a top priority. I know that doesn’t sound very designery, but here’s where it can become so: design (and write) an eBook, a video course or a kit but just create something that you can offer in exchange for an email address.

29.  Once you have a marketing list, send out weekly educational newsletters with quick tips and links to your blog. It never ceases to amaze me the amount of inbound leads we get that say “I’ve been getting your newsletters for over a year now and I love them… so I’m not even getting other quotes, I’m ready to buy now.” No joke.

30.  Be confident. Don’t be afraid to just be you, warts and all. And don’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20. Everyone’s unique. There’s only one of you and trust me, people want to hear what you have to say.

31.  Get proactive on Twitter, it’s like networking on steroids.

32.  Learn how to market yourself properly on Facebook. Facebook is lead city for me!

33.  Don’t just focus on new marketing mediums, go old school and get in front of people. It’ll make you stand out from the clutter.
(Read : How I got my first 20 Clients in Under 48 Hours)

34.  Find out who’s already talking to the people you want to target and work out how to work together to leverage off their list. (Make sure it’s mutually beneficial of course.)

35.  Guest blog on other blogs in your niche. I apply the 3:1 rule for maximum results. I aim to write 3 guest posts for every 1 of my own blogs each week.

36.  Look after the people that send you business. Show them you appreciate it otherwise they might stop. Consider a referral program, it works great for us. We keep our referral program simple; we don’t want to muck around with gifts and postage, so we stick to cold hard cash. You refer a website client to me, you get a payment as soon as the client pays their invoice. You refer a ProPartner designer client to me, you get a cash bonus too. Cash referral payments are easy to transfer online, fast, and always appreciated! And, if you think about how much it costs to FIND and convert new business, it makes financial sense.

37.  Surprise your existing clients when they least expect it (with good things of course!)

38.  Zig when they zag. Analyse what your design competitors are doing and do the complete opposite. When I moved into web I realised my competitors were charging for support, CMS software upgrades, email accounts, bandwidth, re-designs, mobile site designs, everything! Clients would never know what they’d be up for until a year or two later when they added up all the extra costs and almost died. I was morally opposed to this way of doing business, so it was a no brainer that my business model would include a fixed pricing structure that would incorporate all these things for one low monthly cost. It wasn’t easy finding a price that was cost effective for the client AND was profitable for my business, but we did it. This fixed price service is now our main point of difference and wins us a LOT of new business. It’s our purple cow.

39.  Invest in an amazing (and SEO savvy) copywriter for all your own website and marketing copy. They’re so worth it!

40.  If you can’t afford to hire inhouse specialists yet, get your talented possie of expert copywriters, marketers, illustrators, branding, SEO & PPC specialists together and work hard at creating strong relationships. Together you can profit more.

41.  Create valuable content that helps your clients solve a problem and makes you look like a guru who seriously knows their stuff.

42.  When you get an inbound enquiry from your site, drop everything, and call them straight away, hopefully whilst they’re still on the site. If you can’t, delegate to someone who can. Your chance of conversion, with all things being equal of course, will increase immensely.

43.  Set a goal to make 20/50/100 personal connections per day, whatever you can manage and stick to it. Whether it’s tweets, blog or forum comments, emails, Facebook comments, you get the picture. Just set a number and stick to it.

44.  Focus. Try and pick your niche market then team that with what you love doing most and just focus on that. I was so busy trying everything and getting pulled in so many different directions that when I shifted my focus to just one big major project, it was a major turning point for our business.

45.  Make customer service your number one priority. Sounds corny but we aim for 100% client satisfaction, every time. No less. And work hard to enforce it across your team.

46.  Always go the extra mile, always. When you walk in our front door, you’ll see this quote printed really big on our wall: “There are no traffic jams along the extra mile” – Roger Staubach

47.  Help, don’t sell. Your clients don’t really just want gorgeous designs, they want results. They want more leads, more sales, more phone calls and ultimately, more money. So help them get it. Which leads to…

48.  Make ‘getting results for clients’ the mantra for every project you do. That’s what you’re getting paid for. To quote Henrik Fiskar: “If design isn’t profitable, then it’s art.” (click to tweet)

49.  Never forget that it’s your clients that put food on your table so never disrespect them. If you don’t like them, sack ‘em and spend more time with those you do.

50.  If you can’t sack ‘em, add a loading tax. That’s all I’ll say on that. ;)

51.  Be a counselor to your clients. They want your expert opinion, so give it to them honestly, even if it’s difficult at the time. They’ll respect you more in the long run.

52.  Create products and services that are a perfect fit for your target market. Don’t try fit a square peg in a round hole… ask prospects and clients what they really want and figure out a way to give it to them, at a price they can afford. Example: when I created a budget website product, I had to create a budget logo product to match. But you don’t get the budget logo price unless you pay for the website at the same time.

53.  Don’t wait until a product is perfect before you launch it (and that’s coming from a recovering-perfectionist!). “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” – Reid Hoffman 

54.  Work out the products/services you currently offer that make you the most profit… and if they’re also the services your clients want, you’ve got it made!

55.  If your most popular services are your least profitable (and if you’re unsure, refer to all my notes under Finance!)… then find a way to turn that around. Is it time for a price hike or do you cut unprofitable services altogether? (We stopped offering social media management because it just wasn’t profitable enough at the price-point our clients were prepared to pay.)

56.  Offer mind-blowing, knee-trembling, town-talking incredible value. Then shout it from the rooftops that that’s your USP.

Staying Creative

57.  Spend 1-hour per day learning something new, whether it’s reading blogs, doing courses, watching webinars, reading books, talking to peers etc. It’s just 4% of your day so make it a habit and your bottom line will thank you for it.

58.  Make sure your creative life doesn’t finish when you close the door at 5pm (or 11pm!). Get creative with the food you cook, your clothes, your pantry cupboard, your walk-in robe, your kids etc. Make creativity your passion, your hobby, and your life. It’s not a job, it’s a calling.

59.  Get outside your comfort zone, that’s where the magic happens.

60.  Don’t rest on your laurels. Just because your clients are still accepting your work, doesn’t mean it hasn’t gotten a bit stale. You may not realise you’ve gone stale, but your peers will! Seriously, pushing those design boundaries will mean BIG things to your business.

61.  Showcase, discuss and get feedback on your work online on places like Dribble, Behance Network, TheLoop, Deviant Art, How Design, Creattica, Forrst, ColourLovers etc and this is just a handful.

62.  Push yourself. Make every design job your best. You need to impress yourself just as much as your client!

63.  Switch off (sometimes) and get physical!

64.  Make your space a beautiful, calm and relaxing place to work that you love and that feeds your creativity.

65.  Feed your brain with art and pop culture. The best creatives draw inspiration from the works of other creative people… no, it’s not stealing! ;-)

66.  Network with fellow designers. Don’t get stuck in your bubble, especially if you work from home like I now do. Join the conversation in different design communities. If you’re regional like I am there’s always Facebook groups, LinkedIn Groups, forums, blogs…. there’s a brave new world out there!

67.  Watch less TV… Get off the computer too!

68.  Do more stuff with your hands. It’ll get your creative juices flowing.

Systems / Tools / Time

69.  Understand that your time is limited and precious.

70.  Don’t have meetings with every inbound lead just because they ask for one. Uncover their needs on the phone, send them a proposal then if you get the green light, get a deposit in the bank and THEN meet face-to-face.

71.  Don’t reinvent the wheel. Create standardized processes wherever you can.

72.  Create amazing quote proposal templates that are the perfect sales combination between copy and visuals and streamline this process so you can create proposals fast. The quicker you deliver the quote, the higher the conversion rate. Plus the less time you waste on it, the better!

73.  Template as much of the admin as you can! I have oodles of pre-written emails for things like ‘Here’s your home page concept’ with a form that asks them precise questions for their feedback. We also have emails for ‘Thanks for payment’, ‘Your staging site is live, now it’s time for content’, and ‘Congratulations, you’re live, what’s next?’ I probably have over 50 of these pre-written templates now. It saves us so much time and ensures a consistent message across all staff.

74.  Log every minute on every project. How will you know you quoted enough if you don’t track your time?

75.  Have an action plan/implementation plan for all your recurring ‘complex’ jobs (like an eCommerce website project, etc). It should outline all the tasks required and how fast they need to be turned around in order to remain profitable.

76.  Always track the progress of your projects against your action plan. This is your benchmark, and the only way to know if you’re winning or losing!

77.  Create checklists or procedures for repetitive tasks to maintain quality, especially as you take on staff. It’s taken me years to develop a web building process that’s efficient and profitable, I need it followed to a tee. That’s why everything ‘non-creative’ in Web123 has a checklist or a procedure. For example, uploading content is super important and time-consuming but pretty menial. It’s easy to forget something if you don’t have a checklist. That’s why I give my junior designers an 8-page checklist to follow. When they’ve finished the upload, all my project managers compare the checklist against the site before giving the client the green light to view their site. You might think that’s overkill but sloppy mistakes at the content stage creates unhappy clients who won’t refer you more business.

78.  Always put a limit on what your costs include so if it’s a website for example, cap the number of pages or products you’ll upload, or hours you’ll spend on doing the upload but always cover your butt.

79.  As you grow, increase your personal hourly rate. I’m now $220 p/hr, my senior designer is $165 and my juniors are $100-$120. It’s okay to have varying rates based on experience and qualifications.

Management / Leadership / Growth

80.  If you want to grow big, make sure you’re okay with designing less. Most of my time these days with 20+ staff is spent managing people. Just be prepared for that.

81.  Get a business mentor. The best thing I ever did was invest in a mentor. Yes it was expensive but it’s paid me back in spades. I worked with my mentor for about 2 years and my accountant reckons it fast-tracked my business profits forward by about a decade!

82.  Don’t be afraid to hire your first staff member. There’s nothing to say can’t put them on contract and commit to just 5-10 hours per week instead of a full time week and wage.

83.  Hire your first employee when you’re at 120% workload. Then, hire your next employees when your current ones are at 120% workload. Yeah I know, evil right? ;-)

84.  Hire slow, fire fast.

85.  Only hire A-team players. Period.

86.  Hire people smarter than you and designers who design better than you.

87.  Reward those that work hard for you but remember, ‘first comes effort, then comes reward.’

88.  Lead by example. Don’t wander in at 11am every day if you want your team to be there on time. Walk the walk.

89.  Don’t do ‘love jobs’ thinking it’ll open more doors, they’ll always backfire and cost you time and money.

90.  Celebrate the wins on a regular basis. Even the little ones. (We shout drinks & nibbles every Friday for our team to celebrate the achievements of the week, and each quarter we do something on a larger scale to say ‘thanks’ and celebrate reaching our goals.)

91.  Be prepared to let go. Yes, people will make mistakes but you have to let go to grow.

92.  Be prepared to listen to all your team’s ideas and take a risk on the good ones. (My marketing gal suggested the SAAS model for my partner program and it’s the best thing we ever did!)

Planning

93.  Create a one-page business plan that gives you clarity, accountability and results. Print out your plan and stick it everywhere (even on the back of the restroom doors in your office!)

94.  Every January, after you’ve had a good rest and client work is quiet, go to your happy place and plan out your entire year’s goals. Just the habit of writing them down will bring you so much closer to achieving them. I personally like to break mine down into these 7 key areas of my life:

a)    Creative

b)    Business

c)    Family / Friends / Spouse

d)    Health, Fitness & Wellbeing

e)    In the Community

f)      Self-Development

g)    Holidays / Fun / Recreation

95.  Looking ahead, create your 5-year plan then work backwards mapping out the main quarterly milestones you need to reach to achieve your goals. Then detail it further and work in 90-Day sprints to achieve those milestones. Have a planning day away from your office just before each new quarter begins. Pro Tip: We often overestimate what we can do in a year and grossly underestimate what we can do in 5!

96.  If you employ staff, always communicate the ‘why’ to your team. Have a mission and vision but make it cool – not one of those ones you want to stuff in draw and not show anyone. When you share it with your team, it helps them realise the ‘why’ behind daily tasks, and what those daily tasks are going to achieve in the longer term. It makes them feel part of the bigger picture.

97.  Constantly look for ways to improve. In business it can be the tiniest of things but lots of those little improvements soon add up. In your personal development, aim to lift the bar every year in some way. Never sit still and rest on your laurels or you’ll go stale and your growth with stagnate… and so will your income!
This is my personal list from 10 loooong years growing from a plucky freelance graphic designer in rural Australia into a 20+ staff web design company that’s making waves all over Australasia (ok that was a self-promotion alert, *lol*).

Summing up

Do I do each of these 97 things every day? Honestly? Nope! The one thing I do without fail is practice the 20-minute meditation every morning and I’m always looking for ways to improve myself and my business.
As to the other 90-something habits, yes I do them all… some of the time! They come in and out of my daily routine as I need them. I think the important thing is to try. If you get to do half the things on this list regularly then you’re going to be a mile ahead of your competitors, and that’s exactly where you deserve to be.

Do you have any extra habits of success you’d like to add to this list? Do you stick to them?  Let’s start up a conversation; why don’t you leave a comment on this post?

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Comments

  1. says

    WOW! This was an amazing list!
    I have a dream of owning my own freelance design company, and yesterday I was feeling really frustrated because it’s not happening for me.
    But after reading this I am inspired to get going, and keep looking forward. It takes a lot of hard work to do that. This advice is invaluable, and I am so grateful I read it to day! It is my motivation and inspiration!

    Thanks so much,
    Megan

    • says

      Hi Megan,

      Everything feels overwhelming before you start a big project. My advice is just break it down into little bite-sized tasks and get organised! As soon as you tick even just one of them off you’ll be surprised just how good it feels to be on your way to your very own freelance business! P.S. Try to avoid all the mistakes I made when I started out. Please? ☺

  2. says

    Holy moly, great list Bianca! I can’t wait to work my way through each section more thoroughly – I saw a few tips I want to implement ASAP. This article is just the boot up the bum I needed right now, thanks!

    • says

      Haha, we all need a boot up the bum from time to time. My favourite acronym is JFDI, so yes I’m all about getting it done. (if you want to know what that stands for you best Google it!). Good luck and let me know how it goes!

      Cheers,
      Bianca

  3. says

    Bianca,

    Great list, so many of these are excellent. It would be impossible to pick the BEST.

    I would add one if I can be so BOLD. It might already be there, but I might have missed it. I think “Learn to say NO”. It is a powerful word that can offer freedom. Designers are my clients and they say YES to almost anyone that comes along (big mistake).

    Gene Hammett
    Digital Agency Business Coach

    • says

      Oh yes, the big ‘no’ we’re all so afraid of! Strangely I forgot to add it here, thanks for the reminder cos I talk about it til I’m blue in the face over at my web business building program. So yes, my designy readers, SAY NO, to anything that isn’t good for you or your business. I started saying no right about the time I started getting profitable. Coincidence? ;-)

      Cheers,
      Bianca

  4. says

    If you think it was a lot to take in, try writing it! Haha, but seriously, my biggest reward will be if you take even one thing from my list to make your design business that little bit better. Let me know how you go!

    Cheers,
    Bianca

    • says

      Hey I totally agree with you. At the same time, why reinvent the wheel for no reason? If you can’t find at least 2 helpful hints in this list of 97 that’ll make you a more successful design business then I’ll eat my hat. OK, I’ll buy a hat, then I’ll eat it. :-p

      Cheers,
      Bianca

  5. says

    Just in time Bianca!

    I am in the process of building up my own freelance business and these are the pearls of wisdom I was looking for.

    I have also downloaded your ebook. Still half way through it and its awesome.

    Thank you so much :)

    • says

      Love it. It’s people, just like you, who make what I do worthwhile. If you come up against something tricky as you build your business, feel free to ask me. Please keep me posted on how you go! :)

  6. Raphael says

    This is an excellent piece. I am going to stick them everywhere in my room where I can see them even with my eyes closed until I get used to all. It came in a good time when I am re-organising my design career. Thumbs up Bianca!!!

    • says

      Hey Raphael thanks so much for the kind words. My only advice is don’t try to follow them all at once or your head might explode. Maybe choose 5 that really speak to you and try to implement it over the course of 2 weeks, then choose another 5. Slow and steady is what wins the race… of course I don’t always take my own advice, I can be pretty impatient with myself! ;-)

  7. says

    This list is amazing, thank you! I’m just starting out as a freelance designer. Making the move from a safe full time job is pretty daunting, but seeing success stories like this is a huge motivation. I especially like the tip about hiring people cleverer and more creative than you. I had always thought the opposite, as the boss you should be the best, but this actually makes a lot more sense! Now I just need to get my business going so I can be in a position to offer people work!

    • says

      The first step is the hardest Scribblink. Sometimes you’re pushed into freelancing cos you get sacked, and sometimes you’re pushed cos you hate your boss so much you’d rather risk poverty than handle another day of his crap. For me, it was more a case of I had one of those ‘aha’ moments; I knew I could do it, I wanted to run my own race and I was ready to jump in the deep end and swim like crazy!

      Cheers,
      Bianca

      P.S. Oh and I really shouldn’t take credit for the hiring cleverer people tip, Henry Ford first said ‘I want to be the dumbest person in my boardroom’, so switch boardroom for design studio then add some creativity, there you have it! :)

  8. Katie Bolinger says

    These aren’t just great ideas for designers but for sales people and publishers as well so I will be sharing with the rest of our office.

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