Yesterday, my wife, two kids and I got our family pictures taken.
And, of course, I filled my life with all sorts of things that kept me from getting my hair cut until the very day of the photos: a huge risk.
So, since this was no ordinary haircut (after all, this haircut will live eternally in our family photos), I decided to skip the usual $8 haircut salon I go to and find a nice barbershop.
Now, I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but there are thousands of places you can get your hair cut for less than $10, but very few places you can get a high-quality, photo-ready haircut.
But I found one (pictured above).
It was awesome. It had old-fashioned barber’s chairs, I got a flat-bladed neck shave and a back massage, and the vibe of the place was just top-notch.
I’ll definitely go back even though I paid almost four times the amount as usual to get my haircut.
I was fascinated that this barber shop (in a matter of 24 hours) has caused me to:
- Pay 4 times what I regularly pay for a haircut.
- Tip the barber more than I ever tip a hair stylist.
- Tell a few people I work with about the place and encourage them to get their hair cut there.
- Blog about my experience to thousands of people.
- Become a customer who plans to return time and time again.
And why am I telling you about my procrastination and subsequent high-ticket haircut?
Because I think many of the reasons I bought the haircut and also plan to return can be applied to our freelance design businesses.
Allow me to explain. Here are a few lessons I learned from my new barber about finding, impressing, and keeping clients.
When I sat down in the weathered leather barber chair (that was probably older than I was), the first thing I asked him as he sprayed my hair with water was, “So what’s the difference between the haircut I get at [a cheap hair salon] and the one you’re giving me today?”
His response was golden.
He continued to (with lots of passion by the way) tell me all about the difference between cosmetologists and barbers.
I never knew there was a difference.
“Cosmetologists,” he said, “do all sorts of work. They paint nails, they perm hair, they give pedicures. And, even though barbers used to do all of that sort of thing and more (did you know barbers used to perform dental surgery!?), now we focus exclusively on cutting hair.”
He then went on to explain to me that he was likely far more passionate about my haircut than any cosmetologist since most cosmetologists have a passion for manicures, pedicures, hair-dying, etc.
It was obvious he was very passionate about barbering.
Lesson #1: Be entirely passionate and dedicated to what you do. Narrow your focus and become really great at the one thing you love the most.
As designers, it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing print design, web design, logo design, etc etc. I found out early in my design career that I really don’t like doing logo design.
I never see eye to eye with a client on it and, frankly, I don’t feel like I am a very good logo designer. But I can carry my weight when it comes to web design, social media design, etc. So I choose to be passionate and focused on that.
Be dedicated and focused like my new barber.
Back to the story:
My barber continued, “Not only that, but you’ll notice that when you go to a cheap salon, they use guards on their buzzers, right?”
I had to admit he was right.
“That creates a real cookie-cutter approach to your haircut and leaves lines and strange tapers that you don’t want.”
Again, I had to agree. Usually, I have to wait days or even weeks before I feel like my haircut is normal-looking again. I was relieved to think I may not have to worry about that today.
“Instead,” he went on, “I use a free-hand style with my buzzers that allows me to taper your hair according to the shape of your head. It’s completely custom and looks great from the moment you walk out of the shop.”
(He was right, it did look great.)
Lesson #2: Don’t be afraid to tell people why you’re better and why your competition doesn’t measure up.
One of the most difficult things about being a creative professional is that there are millions of other people out there who do the “same thing we do.”
Many times our competition offers the same service (seemingly) as we do for cheaper and more quickly.
But, you have something your competition doesn’t have (at least you should): quality.
Don’t be afraid to tell your clients and potential clients why you’re better than the competition. To be able to do that, you must first actually be better than your competition too.
Back to the story:
We continued to talk (the guy wouldn’t stop talking about barbering…and I mean that in a good way) and he told me how he ended up where he is and what he wanted to do with his life.
His ultimate dream? Open a barber shop of his own one day and cut hair for the rest of his life.
This guy was more passionate about cutting hair than any human being I had ever met in my entire life. He told me the history of barbering, he told me why my cowlicks always stick up when I get a haircut and how he would fix it, he told me how to handle my (gasp, they’re coming) widow’s peaks, and much much more.
Knowing that he had a passion for the work he was doing allowed me to rest easy knowing I would have a great hair cut.
Usually I watch closely as my hair stylist cuts so I can stop them if they do something strange.
After my new barber let his passion shine through, I allowed myself to relax, sit back, enjoy the process, and trust that whatever he did would be better than I could do.
Lesson #3: Let your passion shine through and you’ll see more trust and less micromanagement from your clients.
Sometimes our clients don’t understand that we know way more than they do about design.
It’s common to be micromanaged by your clients.
And now, I blame myself for any moment I’ve been micromanaged.
To avoid micromanaging from your client and to feel more trusted by your client, show more passion.
The more passion you show, the more they can trust you and the more leeway you get as a designer to do what you feel is best.
Back to the story:
My haircut was almost finished.
And in that moment, he started shamelessly plugging his services to me.
He told me that most of his business comes from word of mouth. (Sound familiar?)
He said that at the end of each haircut, he sends his customers away with two business cards: one for the client, and one for the client to give to a friend.
He was confident I would be needing two cards as well since he was sure I would want to recommend his services to people I know.
Again, he would prove to be right. This was one smart barber.
At the end of the haircut, he lathered up my face and neck, gave me a shave, applied aftershave, brushed the hair off my face and head, and (get this) gave me a back massage.
As promised, at the end of the session, he gave me two cards and again encouraged me to keep on and send the other to a friend.
I think it’s obvious if I took him up on his offer (and then some).
Lesson #4: Give your client a great experience and don’t be ashamed to ask for referrals.
The easiest way to feel comfortable asking for referrals from your current design clients is to ensure, first, that they have a fantastic, over-the-top experience working with you.
Once they are completely impressed with your work, it will be natural for them to recommend you to other people seeking your services.
And you can have no shame in asking them to promote your business to other people.
But it all starts with a positive experience.
My barber, the businessman.
Turns out, my barber isn’t even really a barber.
He’s a businessman.
I mean, he doesn’t know it. All he knows is that he LOVES to cut hair.
Which leaves me with lesson #5.
Lesson #5: Be a designer first, business person second.
If you do as my barber has and love what you do FIRST, naturally the sales will follow.
Be passionate about what you do, narrow your focus, don’t be afraid to tell people why you’re better and why your competition doesn’t measure up, let your passion shine through, and always give your client a great experience and you’ll be well on the road to owning your own barber shop running a successful design business.
If you think other designers can benefit from my barber story, please do me a favor and tweet, like, share, pin, or post this article and help me spread the word.
And as always, if I’ve left something out, please add it in the comments. I’d love to hear what you have to say.