Drawn to Business
Starting your own firm or freelance business? Have your own small business, but looking for a boost? We here at Go Media, your favorite Cleveland design firm, are here to help by providing you with 14 fundamental questions that will have a big impact on how you grow your own company or freelance business.
Whether your focus is creative in nature like ours or whether you are a small business of any kind, we believe that answering these questions will give you some much needed inspiration. While some of these questions may seem obvious, we implore you to take time to answer them fully and honestly.
These questions were taken from our Drawn to Business Design Firm Business Plan Workbook. For the full list of 75 questions, head to our Arsenal and purchase the full workbook. Although design-focused, the workbook will assist any small business owner looking for encouragement to start making positive changes in their company.
Let’s dive in.
- Visualize your ideal firm. What does it look like and how does it operate?
- How will you know when you need to hire a new staff member?
- What do you look for in a new employee? What traits will they have? How will you know a great employee when you see them? How will you assess their character? What does the hiring process look like? Will it look different for each role you’re hiring for?
- When you are hiring, where are you looking for candidates? Will you have any assistance finding candidates? What is the process candidates will go through before they walk through your doors for an interview?
- What is your plan to utilize interns? How many interns are you looking for at any given time? Who will be in charge of your interns/internship program? What value do you hope your interns add to your business? What value will you bring to their experience?
- What kind of systems, policies and traditions would you like to see in your company? For example, what kind of monthly metrics will you run? What will your billing structure look like? Will you throw a killer Christmas party every year?
- What kind of perks do you offer in addition to salary for your staff? What kinds of benefits will you offer (bonuses, profit sharing, medical, life insurance, paid vacations, company holidays, personal days, free PB& J?)
- For creative firms: What is your policy on employee freelancing? Do you allow it?
- How do you plan on keeping your best employees? List all the ways you can show your employees they are appreciated – both monetarily and otherwise.
- When the time comes when you have to fire or let go of an employee how will you handle it? What does a worst case scenario look like? How would you handle it? Best case? What practices would you put into place to guard yourself again many negative experiences?
- What do your employees love about working for your company or what will they love about working for you? What are your strengths as a manager?
- What do your employees dislike about working for your company? What are your downfalls as a manager? How can you improve these things?
- What are some companies you admire for their culture? How can you borrow their ideas?
- What has been the hardest part about growing your company? What are your current pain points? How can you improve?
Go Media is a Cleveland Creative Agency that specializes in web design, graphic design, print, logo design, and web marketing. We’d love to provide you with any and all of these services to help you grow your small business. Contact us for a complimentary review of your brand and to discuss how we can discuss your website, branding, logo, packaging design or other graphic design needs.
Advice from Bill and Wilson, Founders of Go Media
There is no perfect recipe for growing a thriving design firm. But through our share of failures, we have learned what works more often than not. Here are some lessons we have learned since Go Media’s inception in 1997.
1.Don’t quit your day job.
- Keep it for a reliable source of revenue in the early days. Use this to set up your home office, portfolio, business structure, books, your company website, and marketing materials. Then, when you need extra hours for sleep, then you can quit that day job and take on your design work full time.
“I worked a lot of what I refer to as “survival jobs” on my road to freelancing. For two summers I was a Basement Waterproofing Technician. By “technician”, I guess they meant “do you know which way to point a shovel”? We’d start our days at 5am and dig houses down to the footer. The days were long and grueling, often into the night. It was common to only work on design over the weekend. I began to seek jobs that would allow me more flexibility. I signed up for temp work through a staffing agency. I soon learned “temp work” was abundant because it was often shit nobody else wanted to do. I’ll never forget power-washing industrial oil tanks from the inside wearing a yellow rubber suit and having to wipe my goggles every minute as oily water would laminate them. Temp work turned out to be a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of so many industries in Northeast Ohio, ala “Dirty Jobs”. It also allowed me to set my own schedule and decline jobs when I was busy designing.” – Wilson
2.Build a passionate team.
- You need to make sure you’re finding and hiring the very best employees. If you’ve got some bad energy, get rid of it.
“What’s the old saying? “Fire fast and hire slow”. I would start with that. I used to hang onto bad employees way too long. These days I can see more clearly when someone isn’t a fit and I’m quick with the trigger to get them out of my company. As for the hiring slowly part… I actually have another saying that fits with my current hiring methodology: “Try before you buy”. These days I hire interns almost exclusively. There is nothing quite like having a potential employee working in-house for three months to get a real sense of who they are. Interviews are fine… but let me watch you working. Let me get to know your personality.” – Bill
3. Track your metrics!
- Consider what the key measurable components of your business are and start tracking those metrics on a spreadsheet on a regular basis.
“I’ve learned how important metrics really are. You must have data to understand what’s happening with your business. Once you have data to show you the reality of your business (not just the feeling of what you THINK is happening) you will realize immediately how you need to fix your business. Metrics are at the core of our business. Give me stats and I will better understand what’s working and what’s not. Whenever we have some new activity I immediately ask myself: “how can I track this.” I’ll give you a few examples of metrics we track on a monthly basis: per-employee-profitability, per-project-profitability, employee billable %, # Sales leads, Sales close %, Site visitors, Hours networking. In total we probably have about 50 metrics for our company.” – Bill
“SYSTEMS are so important! You must stay organized. Fortunately, since those days, the advent of SaaS (software as a service) AKA Web Apps came into being. FreshBooks, Quickbooks Online, Basecamp, Podio, Trello, Salesforce, you name it – even Google Apps for Business can be transformational. There are so many web apps you can leverage to keep your business information in order. Use them.” – Wilson
4. Decide on your own unique self promotion strategy and stick to it.
- Get away from your desk! Knock on doors, host events, network, find a marketing vehicle, be creative.
“Rave flyers were something that really worked for us. The rave scene was a very reciprocity minded culture, a lot like the hippie festivals of Jerry Garcia days. It was a great big colorful family, it was all love and everyone knew each other. It was full of counterculture people and they celebrated zany creativity. Bill’s an immensely talented illustrator. I did some wild stuff in 3D and prided myself in typography and type treatments. We were able to tag our designs with a logo and contact info reaching out to anyone who might also need a flyer. A typical show might have anywhere from 5,000 to 100,000 flyers printed. That’s a lot of exposure! Our flyers were zany, but conceptualized well enough (before we really understood advertising), to spread allover the place. We had stark raving fans! We soon were being hired to design flyers for ravers in California, Texas, New York, PA, Florida and Canada. There also happened to be civilized business owners among the glow-sticks and baggy pants who hired us for whatever they had going on.” – Wilson
5. Build a strong sales team.
- If you can’t do that yet, set aside an allocation of time and resources for proactive sales. Have a measurable, repeatable sales process that runs regardless of how busy you get because the last thing you want is the feast or famine lifestyle of the designer who only sells when she’s not designing!
“When the phone would ring, that was our reason to celebrate. An opportunity might be on the other end. Sometimes those calls would carry on for an hour and they might happen several times a day. It’s hard to get paid for the time you spend selling, we had to produce. So we’d count our blessings and catch up on the time spent not producing by working late to stay on track. We’d work until 2 am if we had to.” – Wilson
6. Say goodbye to busters.
- Keep an eye out for red flags and understand that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“In my early years when we were more desperate for cash, I would let a jerk of a customer push me around. This would result in many wasted hours, feeling stressed and feeling mad. These days we have a no-jerk policy. If a customer is mean, insulting, demeaning or extremely annoying to work with – we don’t. We ‘fire’ them. Fortunately, we’ve gotten very good at recognizing this in advance so we usually avoid these individuals before a project even begins. But on the rare occasion that we need to sever a relationship – we do it quickly and as nicely as possible. Life is too precious to spend it dealing with jerks. And the life energy a jerk will sap from your soul is better spent finding your next client.” – Bill
7. Be frugal.
- The one thing that can put you out of business is running out of money! Protect it carefully!
“Watch your money. Be frugal! Don’t rack up a bunch of debt. Keep your business as lean as possible and prove that you can SELL before you go buying fancy equipment and moving into a fancy office.” – Bill
8. Learn from your mistakes and move on.
- Bounce back from mistakes and don’t be afraid to take risks. Each challenge is an opportunity for growth.
“As for an early mistake of ours, it didn’t take long to learn the hard way that some people will hustle ya or some people just don’t have the means to pay for what they want when you need paid. We adopted a policy of 50% down for projects under $2K and 25% increments above that total. Collect printing costs in advance because there’s no un-printing those sheets of paper.” – Wilson
9. Don’t go it alone.
- Having a partner is a great way to grow your company. Find someone who demonstrates equal responsibility and motivation, as well as a complimentary skill set.
“The year Bill Beachy reached out to merge our freelance studios, he was working at Starbucks and I was working for a civil engineering company. I moved into his apartment to cut expenses and work from one place. Combining efforts was a turning point to where we are today. We still had to strap ourselves onto a roller coaster to make it. Maybe that’s the lesson of the story, find someone else crazy enough to try and launch a business with you. It took a lot of supporting each other to get through the famine, feast, famine of starting this thing.” – Wilson
10. Enjoy the ride!
- Celebrate every success and consider every misstep a valuable lesson learned.
“Having fun is important when times get tough. The best way to have fun is to stop and simply focus on the task you are doing now! For a moment, don’t worry about the future or the past. Let yourself enjoy all the aspects and challenges of running your own firm. Slow down and breathe and fall in love again with the day-to-day work. Don’t treat it like a means to an end, but enjoy the process itself.” – Bill
For more ways to grow your design firm and the tools to do so, pick up Bill’s book, Drawn to Business, the ultimate guide to growing a thriving design firm.
with Example Invoices from your friends here at Go Media
Invoicing for graphic design work is just one of the many processes we have to sort out when starting our own business.
It’s Time to Get Paid What You’re Worth.
Our Graphic Designer’s Pricing Guide Tool Kit is chock-full of resources to show you what we’ve learned about pricing and billing since opening our now million dollar company over a decade ago.
For $25, you’ll get access to 5 highly acclaimed advice documents from Go Media, Cleveland’s best website design company, including expert advice for freelancers and small business owners. We also hook you up with William Beachy’s eBook, Drawn to Business, which includes invaluable information on how to maintain competitive pricing while also ensuring profitability.
It’s time to do this right, once and for all.
Massive Drawn to Business Price Drop: Build A Million Dollar Business for Less with this Must-Have Resource
Massive Drawn to Business Price Drop
As many of you know, we are incredibly proud of the content inside our newest eBook, Drawn to Business.
Drawn to Business is a transparent look inside our business, a complete guide on the way to build a design studio the Go Media way. It’s chock-full of tips, tricks, techniques and best practices straight from the founder of Go Media himself, William Beachy, plus more than a dozen contributors from other companies.
We came to realize that our initial pricing proved to be a barrier for some folks.
Because of that, we decided we needed to do something drastic.
Permanent Price Drop
We want any and everyone to benefit from the extraordinary insight inside this resource, so we’ve drastically reduced prices on all Drawn to Business products up to 60% off. (Yes, for good).
Discounted items include our Plus Package, eBook, Paperback, Supplemental PDF content, Bonus Video Content and Business Plan Workbook.
Plus Package – now $59.99 (
eBook – now $19.99 (
Paperback – now $34.99 (
Supplemental PDF Content – now $15 (
Bonus Video Content – now $15 (
Business Plan Workbook – now $15 (
Enjoy and please share your thoughts on Drawn to Business below!
Battle Burnout: Tips for Designers, Managers, Entrepreneurs
This is an excerpt from Go Media President William Beachy’s book, Drawn to Business. Drawn to Business is the best reference for those looking to start their own million dollar business.
Building a business requires massive amounts of focus and energy. It’s perfectly natural to have moments where you feel absolutely fried. You won’t feel motivated to lift a single finger. Finding ways to motivate yourself are key in business and in life. Here is a list of motivators I’ve used to keep myself productive:
8 Secrets to Battling Burnout
1. Start with the low fruit. It’s always easiest to start with simple tasks and build up to larger ones. So as you look over your list of everything you need to do, pick something simple to get the ball rolling.
Block out the noise with these apps:
Anti-Social: blocks social media sites which take you away from what you need to be doing
StayFocused: an extension by Google Chrome which increases your productivity by limiting the time that you can spend on time-wasting websites
2. Make checklists. I’m not sure why exactly, but checklists have always been a motivator for me. Perhaps it’s because I can see a well-defined list of the things I need to get done. Or perhaps it’s the visceral satisfaction of crossing items off my list after I’m done. Whatever it is, I believe in lists.
Try Teux Deux: a straight-forward and simple to-do app
Lift App: employs coaching, community and data to help get things done
Any.do: a task list app available on Google Play and the Apple App store
Wunderlist: an easy way to manage and share your to-do lists
2Do: allows for color coding of tasks, scheduling, notifications and tags
Todosit: enables you to access your tasks anywhere as well as collaborate on shared tasks
3. Break down your large to-do items into smaller tasks. Sometimes when I’m having a difficult time getting started on a particular project, it’s because the project is large with lots of work required to finish it. The size of the project alone is what’s intimidating. “Well, I know I’ll never be able to finish that project today—so why start? That won’t be very rewarding.” But any large project can be broken down into smaller steps – baby steps. Focus on one of the baby steps and give yourself a reward when you’ve finished it.
4. Make a game out of it. This works particularly well when faced with boring repetitive work. How many widgets can you design in an hour?
5. Make a story out of it. If the context of your project is boring, then you need to use your imagination! Imagine for a moment that your logo design project is not for the local private school, but for a covert military organization. This shift in perspective can really boost your enthusiasm. Also, it can push your design to a higher standard.
6. Find Inspiration. Read a book, talk to other entrepreneurs, or browse the web. Do whatever it takes to reignite the fire in your belly. When illustrating was the focus of my business, I would drive to the local comic book shop to get inspired. These days it’s a good business biography that inspires me the most.
7. Do Nothing. When nothing else is working, I will turn to this technique. Now, I know this might seem contrary to what you’re hoping to accomplish, but let me explain. Sometimes if I’m having a really hard time focusing and working hard, I just don’t. I just stop. I’ll take a nap, watch TV, go for a walk or browse the web. In my experience, if I just let myself take a little break, my motivation will come back on its own. It’s only when I try to force myself to work hard when I’m not in the mood that I feel really bad.
8. Set a time limit. Before you try the “Do Nothing” technique, try giving yourself a short-term goal. Like: work hard for one hour. Sometimes you just need to get the ball rolling and before you know it, three hours will have passed. So, pick something manageable—maybe even break it down to 15 minutes. I’m going to sit and write my book for 15 minutes (yes, I’m using this technique right now)!
Rescue Time: tracks time spent on applications and websites, gives you detailed reports about your day
Toggl: tracks time, showing you what you spent your day on and for how long you worked on each task
ATracker: for iPhone and iPad – tracks your time and reports via pie chart, bar chart and data export
Eternity Time Log: for iPhone and iPad – tracks and times your daily tasks with a simple start and stop feature
What tricks and tools do you use to keep yourself on track?
Hey Go Media Faithful! Here’s another excerpt from my book, Drawn to Business, about the number one myth I’ve found in the hiring process. For more of my insights and actual tools to help you start your own million dollar company, pick up the book as well as its supplemental materials, now available on the Arsenal.
When to Hire Employees
Simply put, your staff IS your company. And your relative success or failure is frequently a result of the quality of your people. If you think you can hire mediocre people and train them to be great, well, think again. Particularly when you’re small and getting started, the impact of your staff is amplified. A very small business is really more about its people and less about its systems. You need to make sure you’re finding and hiring the very best employees.
Here’s What I Had To Overcome
The Myth: more employees equals more profits.
I had this idea stuck in my head for most of my life; the more employees I have, the more money I make. Even before I was seeing any real return on the hours I was working in my business, I was anxiously trying to hire on employees. The thought was that an employee was like a little engine, churning out profits. The more little engines you have running, the more profit is pouring out onto your company floor. Well, this is a fun idea, but what if your engines produce $1 per hour in profits and what if your engines require $2 worth of gas each hour to run? Now your little money engines aren’t churning out profits, they’re burning money at a rate of $1/hour.
It’s important to blow up the myth in your head that staff will somehow magically make you money. Having an employee is not inherently good or bad for your company’s profits. They may make you lots of money, or they may cost you lots of money. The only real guarantee is that you have to pay them either way. So, before you run out and start expanding your staff…
Get out your calculators
Do the Math: hire what you can afford. Don’t be tempted by that high-priced gun. When Go Media first got started, we wanted to hire the very best employees, so we did. We paid them what they asked for. Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford the quality of employees that we hired. We never did the math. We assumed that because they were good designers, somehow their value added to what our firm would produce: the extra income necessary to pay their salary. We had a problem. We weren’t charging our customers enough hourly to cover the employee’s hourly wage. After six months, we were broke and forced to lay off our newfangled employee.
So when DO you hire?
When do you hire? A good rule of thumb for hiring is when you have enough money coming in that you can afford to pay that new employee EVEN IF THAT NEW EMPLOYEE DOES NOT CONTRIBUTE ONE PENNY TO YOUR INCOME. If you have any doubt whatsoever about your ability to afford a new employee, you probably shouldn’t be hiring them.
Before you start to scale up your business you need to ask:
- “Is this system humming? Am I dialed in? Are we churning out rock-solid profits every month?” Or, are you hoping to fix your system by bringing in more people? Are you bringing on people hoping THEY will be the ones who start bringing in the money? If this is your perspective, then you shouldn’t be hiring.
- Another question you can ask yourself when considering whether or not to hire someone is: “Is there historical precedence for their job?” In other words, are you getting regular requests for the job they’re going to do? If there isn’t a proven track record of demand, then I would look to an alternate option to hiring a new employee. Build the demand first, line up the work, and THEN hire a new employee.
All in all what I’ve found is that more employees do not necessarily mean more profits. Employees are a liability. Whether you’re busy or not, you need to pay them. Wait to hire more employees until the evidence and need is overwhelming.
How about you? What have you found to be the biggest myth in your hiring process? What hurdles have you faced? Join the conversation in the comments below!
For more hiring tips, including Supplemental Materials like “How to Hire the Rockstar Staff of Your Dreams,” head over to the Arsenal, where you can pick up all of our bonus content!
Building a Sales Team You Can Trust:
One of the best part of our jobs here at Go Media is connecting with fellow creatives. Recently, Jeff Gapinski, Co-Founder and Creative Director at Huemor Design in Farmingdale, New York, reached out us. Jeff had some great feedback about Drawn to Business, as well as some questions about developing a killer sales team.
We thought we’d share the exchange with all of you. Enjoy and please feel free to continue the conversation with us in the comments below!
Lead Your Sales Team to Success
First and foremost, I would like to thank you for the time and effort you took to put together the book “Drawn to Business”. I honestly wish I would have had the book when I started out, it would have made my journey to this point a bit easier, but none-the-less there was still insight to be gained from the read, even though we’re slightly beyond start-up stage.
I often found myself going YES YES THAT’S EXACTLY HOW I FEEL throughout the book, which was extremely reassuring because:
1. It made me feel like I’m not crazy
2. I’m not alone
3. I have to be doing something right if I’m following the same path
That being said, I do have a question that perhaps you could shed some further light on. Towards the end of the book you discuss always having an active sales team, and I have to say, in terms of my business, it’s definitely a weakness of mine. We’ve been lucky enough to always be busy from the start, but it’s a huge fear of mine that the work will run out, and when it does, we won’t be prepared. My question specifically is, who did you seek for your sales roles? Did you find individuals with a background in sales for our industry, or did you find someone with a knack for sales and show them the ropes? I’m finding it especially difficult to find qualified individuals I feel are worthy of being the “face” of my brand that aren’t myself, or my business partner. Problem is, we both wear a lot of hats, and it’s especially difficult to actively pursue new leads on top of our 100 other tasks.
Hey Jeff! Thanks for the feedback. I’d be happy to shed some light on the latest and greatest insights I have on using and developing a sales team. Let me start by saying I was also terrible at developing and properly using a sales team. It’s only been in the last two years that I’ve gotten it right. 2013 saw a 75% growth in design services – directly attributable to our new sales team and how I used them.
You should be afraid of running out of work! That’s healthy. It’s easier now, while you are busy, to ramp up your sales efforts than it will be if you run out of work. Being out of work and trying to spur sales is a stressful place. Make this a priority now! Use your strong cashflow to get marketing and people in place to push sales.
Find a good salesperson, not necessarily someone who knows the design industry. At the end of the day, sales is about communication, relationships, being competitive/self-motivated and having a knack for closing. None of these traits are specific to the design industry. Go Media’s top sales person didn’t have a background in design. We had to teach her. Of course, it’s a bonus if you can find someone with that knowledge base, but it’s not necessary. I would recommend finding someone with sales experience. Ask to see their track record and talk to their previous managers. And of course, all new employees need to be a cultural fit for your company.
Turn your salesperson into a clone of yourself. I completely hear your concern about your salesperson not being “worthy of being the face of your company.” So, here’s the solution: MAKE THEM WORTHY! You don’t hire a salesperson, give them a little dull sword and throw them into the lion’s den! You have to spend a long time training them. By the time they go sell for you on their own, they should have a full suit of armour, battle ax and mace! I think the best way to do this is to have them mirror you. Take them on sales calls with you. CC them on all your client e-mails. Have them on the phone with you. The salesperson needs to learn your “pitch.” They need to learn your personality, style, company culture, company story, anecdotal business stories, jokes – everything. Your salesperson is going to become a mini-you, a clone. This doesn’t happen overnight, but we’re starting from the premise that your sales pitch is working. So, you want to teach them what’s working. Did you see the movie The Wolf of Wallstreet? He became successful because he taught other sales people his pitch – he gave them a script!
So, how does this look in the real world for your sales team? The salesperson starts as an assistant to you. They take notes in the sales meetings. They listen and learn. They write the proposals – which you review. Bit by bit you let them do more and more of the sales work. Every step of the way you read what they write and listen to how they talk. You give feedback on what’s good and what needs modified. And of course, you teach them about the design industry. Once you’re confident in them, you start letting them lead the sales meeting and you simply sit and listen. Eventually they start going out on sales calls without you.
Over time a good salesperson will shed some of your personality and infuse their own. They will learn ways to get sales that you didn’t even think of. The education will go back and forth between you and your sales team. But your sales team needs to learn the rules before they can start breaking them. In the past I failed at building a sales team because I “put them on an island” and expected them to just sell without my help. That was completely wrong. Now I hold their hand, put words in their mouth and teach them all I know. The results have been dramatic.
Not chasing down all your leads is leaving money on the table! The owner of a company will ALWAYS be wearing many hats. I also have a hard time chasing down leads. This is exactly why you need a person (or two or three) that are only wearing one hat – the SALES hat. This way, when you are out networking and someone offhand mentions a slight interest in your design services – a lead that you might otherwise let pass you by, now you have someone to pass that lead along to – a hungry salesperson!
Don’t forget about developing your existing customers! Chasing down new leads is important, but even more important is developing the customers you already have. If you’re too busy to chase new leads (and wearing your many hats), then you’re probably not developing your current customers fully. How often do you call to check in? How often do you ask them what upcoming needs they have? How often do you pitch them on new services? Are you being a proactive salesperson or a responsive salesperson? If you only send proposals when your customers ask for them – you’re leaving money on the table. This is where your dedicated sales team shines. This is exactly the kind of work that you don’t have time for, but a dedicated sales team does.
One question we get asked with great frequency is simple, yet profound: “How do I make money as a graphic designer?”
Jeff did a fantastic post about this very topic in September of 2012 called, “Side Income Strategies for Designers.” Check it out. Awesome, creative tips there.
We thought we’d take a different slant on the post this time, with wisdom coming from Go Media President William Beachy’s book, Drawn to Business. While Jeff went into side strategies, we’ll discuss strategies directly related to your growing business.
If you haven’t been introduced yet to the greatness that is Drawn to Business, it’s a nuts and bolts guide to how Bill built Cleveland Graphic Design Firm Go Media from the ground up. In it Bill outlines a 15 year journey, including years of struggle and growing pains, all bringing him to create the best agency in Cleveland web design, custom branding and print.
If you haven’t picked it up yet, what are you waiting for? It unlocks all the mysteries of our success.
The Profitability Equation.
First, let’s agree to this. You’re agreeing you actually want to be profitable, right?
As Bill notes, “If you don’t accept the perspective of “YOU DESERVE TO BE PROFITABLE,” then you’ll probably give it away. Now that we’ve gotten that straightened out, let’s go.
1. Figure out how to be profitable.
First, you have to do a budget.
What does it cost you to be in business? For this equation, let’s assume we’re dealing with a one-month time-frame. Most of your expenses are billed monthly, so this should cover most things. Your budget will include things like electricity, internet service, phone line, advertising, your salary (yes, you get to decide what to pay yourself), heat, and office supplies. That’s your monthly operating expense. That’s what you have to earn to break even.
Next we get to decide on the profit you want to make. You simply add how much you want the company to profit to the operating expenses. This is the total that you need to bring in each month.
Now, how do you figure out how much to charge to accomplish that goal? Simple, you need to figure out how many hours you can bill your clients each month. A safe bet is about four hours a day per employee. This may not seem like much, but remember all the things you have to do each day—answer phone calls, write estimates/proposals, design advertising, deal with freelancers, invoice customers, email files to the printer, etc. At the end of the day, you’ll see that four hours a day of billable time is a reasonable goal. Now we multiply that times five to get 20 hours a week times 4.3 (average weeks in a month) to get 86 billable hours per month.
The last step is to divide the total you need to earn by the billable hours you can work.
Simply writing out a math equation on a piece of paper won’t make you profitable. Writing down a salary of $90K in this equation will not make it come true. But this is a handy little way to think through what you’re charging, how many hours you’re working, and if you’re not profitable— why.
2. Write up your business plan.
Writing a plan is a great way to get your brain to start thinking about all aspects of your business. If you don’t write a business plan, it might not occur to you to consider how much money you have to pay to Social Security as part of your payroll and you might not consider what will happen if your company scales up quickly. Maybe your office is only big enough for two employees. What happens if you suddenly need to grow in year two? You should be thinking about where you expect your business to go, and develop plans for that.
BUT—and here’s the important part, a business will rarely go as planned, so it’s important to not get tunnel vision. When things start to go in directions you weren’t expecting, you need to be agile and flexible. You need to be able to identify opportunities and run with them. Also, you need to recognize quickly when something isn’t working and make a dramatic change if necessary, and quickly. I suggest writing the plan because it’s an important learning tool. By mapping it out, you’re setting goals and expectations. These are benchmarks that will allow you to make comparisons. You should invest real energy on it.
3. Pay yourself as little as possible.
Obviously, your payroll as owner is an expense to the company. It must be budgeted just like anything else. If you pay yourself too much, you’ll soon find yourself broke. So, for the benefit of the business, it’s important that you pay yourself as little as possible. At Go Media there have been many years where the partners paid their employees more than we paid ourselves. Occasionally when we’ve fallen on extremely hard times, the partners have skipped payroll.
4. Do not quit your day job.
If you have a day job and are considering starting a design firm —DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB. Hold onto that day job as long as possible. That’s income. That’s your first client! They might be a bad low-paying client, but they’re still your only source of income. Go to your day job, then work on your business at night. Spend as much income from your day job as possible on your business. When you start landing clients, do that work at night and on the weekends. You should only quit your day job when you’re so slammed with work from your business that it justifies quitting.
Oh, and if you feel like you don’t have the energy to work on your own business after you’ve worked a full day at your regular job, you might seriously consider how committed you are to building your own company. Starting a new business requires well more than eight hours a day.
5. Stay in business.
It doesn’t have to be pretty or comfortable. You don’t need a fancy office or a catering service to bring you lunch. Staying in business means you have electric for your computer and a working phone line. If your idea of being in business means that you have fancy desks, embroidered shirts and a big neon sign, you need to adjust your expectations because things may get tough— very tough. And when they take away your neon sign, If you think you need it to be in business, then you’ll probably quit.
6. Avoid borrowing at all costs.
As outlined, frugality is key to survival in the early years of your business. You want to make it as difficult as possible to spend.
Borrowing does three things. First, it takes pressure off you to sell! If your rent payment is coming up and you have no money in the bank, guess what—you are going to feel a ton of pressure to go sell something. That’s a very good thing! Second, borrowing money makes it easier to spend. As mentioned previously, frugality is key to survival in the early years of your business. You want to make it as difficult as possible to spend. Third, borrowing money puts you in a worse financial position and saddles you with interest payments as well as possible emotional debts. Owing money to your family can be a terrible burden to carry.
“But Bill!” You say. “It does take some money to start a business. If I don’t already have it, how do I get it?”
7. Buy only on need, not want.
It’s simple. Only buy equipment based on need, not excitement. If possible, hold off on buying equipment until you can justify its purchase in the cost of the project.
One word on technology, I’ve always been quick to make investments in technology and equipment. If some technology or equipment can make your company run more efficiently, I recommend making the investment. If you’re uncertain about the ROI of some new technology or equipment, you can easily do a quick cost vs. benefit analysis. Generally, a design firm’s wages are by far the largest expense. Anything you can do to maximize the efficiency of your staff is typically going to be a winner. I do like to hold off on buying equipment until I’ve landed a project that justifies the purchase.
8. Get slammed. Then raise your rates.
Work hard until you’re slammed, raise your rates, repeat. This is what I did over the first few years of my business. My logo design pricing for instance, went from $300 to $500 to $900. But I was holding steadfastly to my flat rate, upfront pricing system. Admittedly it was becoming more difficult. A customer would ask for a logo design, I would quote $900 and they would say: “$900?!? But I already did a sketch. I just need you to refine this letter ‘C’ I made. It should be very simple. Really? $900? That doesn’t seem fair.” In this scenario it would have only taken me a couple of hours to do what the client was asking for; that wasn’t fair. A flat rate system just didn’t seem to account for the variables in design projects. One price didn’t fit all cases.
For more on our pricing systems, see:
A Designer’s Guide to Pricing
How to Charge For Your Graphic Design Work (& Get What You Deserve)
More than anything, remember to keep the faith. Go Media was not an overnight success. Money was terribly tight for at least the first five years. Remember that as long as you are in business, you’re being successful. And so long as you’re learning, given enough time, you’ll eventually figure it out.
For more on how to make (and save money) as a graphic designer, pick up Drawn to Business!
And check out our Graphic Designer’s Pricing Guide Tool Kit, which contains a bevy of resources to show you what we’ve learned about pricing and billing since opening our now million dollar company over a decade ago.
Hi Go Media faithful! Bill here! I’m back to talk about beating busters, a topic I discuss in my book, Drawn to Business. This week’s piece deals with one simple fact: in business, you’re going to get ripped off. Get used to the idea. Over time, luckily, you will learn how to spot what I like to call busters, or bad clients. Here is a list of the different types of busters I’ve come across over the last 15 years in business. Hopefully my bad experiences will spare you the same headache. Look out for these guys!
For more about busters, and all I’ve learned growing my own design firm, pick up Drawn to Business.
Types of Busters
1. The Promoter.
The promoter is probably my favorite type of buster simply because they’re so entertaining (and easy to spot). A promoter is full of energy, and everything with them is bigger than life! I think of a carnival barker: “Step right up! Step right up to the greatest design project on earth! Wealth and fame beyond your wildest imagination are just behind this curtain!” They feed off your emotions, pump up your ego and make outlandish promises. They also operate with a constant sense of urgency. They’ll promise you part of their “can’t-lose” business, but there are never any contracts or lawyers, just empty promises. There is always one more problem, one more project, one more step.
Fortunately, the deposit first policy works very well with promoters. They will never give a deposit, or pay a dime. But one funny thing is that they’re so damn persistent. Even after you tell them your policy…it’s likely they’ll say something such as: “Great! No problem. I’m happy to pay a deposit. I just need this one little project done before I’ll have access to cash to pay that deposit!” Don’t get sucked in! Stick with your policy!
2. The Delegating Entrepreneur.
The Delegating Entrepreneur is also deflected easily by a deposit policy. They are a little like The Promoter except the main crux of their pitch is that you will be a part owner of the company. They will also play on your emotions and hype the dream of “your” business. But here are the problems with these types of busters.
First, “The Company” is mostly just them giving you work. They don’t do much themselves other than daydream about how amazing the company is going to be, then pile up more work on you. Second, they’re not necessarily good businesspersons, they just happen to be arrogant and overconfident, so it’s easy to believe in them. Third, if “your” company ever does start to make some money, this buster will surely keep it himself or sink it into other people to build the business more—after all, he already has you working for free.
This is not to say that there aren’t good, honorable entrepreneurs out there who need a business partner. But taking on a business partner is a serious undertaking. In my experience, nine out of ten people who will quickly offer you a portion of their business in exchange for free work are busters
3. Mr. Add-On
Mr. Add-On is the first type of buster who slips past the deposit policy. He or she will pay you for the services that they have you quote. Here’s their trick. They won’t tell you everything that they need done. Then at some point during the design process, they’ll start asking for a little more. They try to play-down the amount of work something will take and try to make it seem like it’s part of the current project. You might hear something like: “Now that you’ve finished my business card, can you just slap that information onto a letterhead? That should only take a second, right?”
If the designer in your company is not the salesman, Mr. Add-On will exploit the situation by telling the salesman as little as possible, then trying to trick the designer into doing extra work for free. It’s important that your staff knows exactly what’s been paid for when dealing with this slippery buster.
4. The Slave Driver
The Slave Driver. The slave driver is similar to Mr. Add-On with one critical difference. Mr. Add-On is at least pleasant in his approach. The Slave Driver is merciless and hard to please. He may not add-on to a project, but he’s going to squeeze every ounce of effort from you that he can. The Slave Driver is incredibly picky. He’ll make you feel like you’ve made a mistake, done a poor job or misled him in some way. He’ll lay heavy guilt trips on you. The difference between a high-maintenance client and a slave-driver is that when you’re done with the project for the slavedriver you never want to work for them again.
5. The Long-Con-Artist
This type of buster has a long term plan. He’s trying to get design services for free, or for a greatly reduced rate. Here’s his plan: pay for services, get most of my work done, then act like something is wrong, set the designer up for failure, then demand their money back. This type of buster starts out all sweet and loving, but the closer you get to completing his or her project the more difficult and demanding they’ll become. At some point they’ll start shifting deadlines or making demands that are virtually impossible to accomplish. Near the end, this con-artist will start acting inappropriately upset, start claiming that you’ve somehow hurt his business. He or she will invariably ask for a refund, refuse to pay his balance or even threaten to sue you. All of this is done as a way for him or her to steal your design services for as little as possible.
I’m sure there are many other types of busters out there, but these are the most common ones I’ve come across over the years. It takes time and experience to know how to identify and deal with these sleazebuckets. Good luck and stick to your guns!
Disclaimer: Boasting Ahead!
We have to be honest with you.
We are gushing!
Our President, Bill Beachy, has just made us very proud.
So please excuse us while take a moment to tell you about what Bill’s been working on, head down, nose to the grindstone, for the past 2 years…
Introducing Drawn to Business!
Drawn to Business is a brand-new book by illustrator, designer and lifelong entrepreneur William Beachy; it’s an insiders guide into how he built and runs Go Media, our graphic design firm here in Cleveland, Ohio. Bill details his experiences working as a one-man firm from a bedroom in his father’s house and guides the reader through each lesson learned that allowed him to build Go Media into an internationally recognized 15 person firm with clients including Adobe, Progressive Insurance, Pepsi and Nike.
Well, have you ever wondered how design firms, like ours, start, stumble, and become successful?
Want to learn how to:
- Raise money?
- Charge for your design services?
- Find the perfect business partner?
- Take the appropriate legal steps when starting your business?
- Track your company’s performance?
- Hire the best employees?
- Organize your company’s files?
- Implement effective marketing strategies?
- Land projects and stay profitable?
- Battle burnout?
- Deal with ebbs and flows?
- Retain clients?
- ….just get started???
You’re in the right place.
Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know about Business But Have Been Too Afraid To Ask
In Drawn to Business, Bill simply gives it all away.
Chock full of Bill’s anecdotes, real-world practical guidance, business principles, inspiring design and legal and accounting advice, you’ll learn to increase profits while doing the work you love.
Let’s Do This Thing!
A variety of Drawn to Business packages are available, so choose your own adventure.
1. The Pro Package: $397 – Buy Now
Includes EVERYTHING you need to transform your design business. You get a physical and digital copy of Drawn to Business plus bonus PDF content and videos, the Business Plan Workbook, 3 design-focused video tutorials, Thread’s Not Dead: The Designer’s Guide to the Apparel Industry, and all the goodies inside the Freelance Survival Kit.
2. The Plus Package: $197 – Buy Now
Includes a physical and digital copy of Drawn to Business, plus a collection of advice docs, videos, and a business plan workbook.
3. Just The Book: EBook and Paperback options
What Are You Waiting For?
Grab your copy of Drawn to Business now! Once you’ve purchased the book, leave a comment below for your chance to win a free upgrade to the Drawn to Business Pro Package! Winner will be announced on Friday, October 18! * Winner must have purchased a copy of Drawn to Business by 5:00 p.m. ET on 10/18/2013 to be qualified.
Extracting a Budget from your Client
It’s a commonly held belief that giving a vendor your budget upfront is a fool’s approach. Because of this, many clients will play dumb when you ask them for a budget. That’s fine. Don’t be a jerk. It’s still important to have a money conversation early on. You need to qualify your clients before you spend a minute working on a proposal for them. In those cases where a client doesn’t give me a budget, I’ll give them my ballpark pricing. This starts with me asking enough questions to get a general sense of their project. Then I might say something along the lines of: “OK, Bob, this sounds like a fairly typical website design: Homepage with slideshow, About, Services, Contact Us and the whole site to be responsive, correct? Great. Obviously, we’re going to need to get into the nitty-gritty details about your website in order for us to provide you with an accurate time and cost estimate. However, just so I can make sure our firm will be a good fit for you, my very rough estimation on a website like this will probably be somewhere between $15K and $30K. Does that sound reasonable to you? I just want to make sure we’re not wasting each other’s time.”
This approach works almost every time. If this ballpark is significantly more than they were expecting, they’re going to let you know. They might say something like: “Whoa. OK. Yeah, I was hoping to get a website built for about $2K.” Well, there ya go—you just got their budget! It’s funny how they will suddenly give you their budget after they said they didn’t have one. Or they might say something like: “Well, that’s a little higher than I was expecting, but I think we can get something done.” I would interpret that to mean that their budget probably starts lower than my range, but definitely is within the lower part of my range. Maybe their budget was $12K to $17K.
Of course, if they say that they’re comfortable with the range, I will proceed. If the client falls out of their chair and/or faints, I know I need to adjust the options I offer. Hopefully, I do have a solution for them if they cannot afford me. My follow-up with a client whose budget was well below my range might sound something like this: “OK Bob, I certainly understand you’re on a tight budget. Many clients don’t fully understand the work that goes into building a website. We have a few options here. I have a pre-built website template that can be customized for you at a fraction of the full cost. Or we could break your website development into phases and just scale back the project scope of the first phase so we’re within your budget. If that doesn’t work, I know a few freelancers you can talk to. How would you like to proceed?” Obviously, this is just one possible response.
You don’t want to be thinking of solutions and writing proposals in the dark. Get that financial conversation going early. It’s perfectly OK to talk money. Just make sure you do it in a very friendly way. Take the time to explain that you have website options that range from $10K to $100K, and you just need to know what’s going to be a realistic range. You’re still going to do your due diligence and present a complete solution and pricing upfront before they will have to make a decision. There will still be an opportunity for them to negotiate with you if they feel the need.
Hi Go Media faithful! Bill here! I’m back to deliver another teaser article from my book, Drawn to Business. One of the most common questions I get from young designers who are either freelancing or starting a firm is “What should I charge for my design services?” Today we’ll cover one aspect of the Go Media pricing model. I like to call it the Responsive Pricing System.
The Responsive Pricing System
When I started Go Media, it was just me. I had a set list of prices I wanted to charge, but I was frequently desperate for money. When times got lean, I dropped my prices to secure enough work to pay my rent. In effect, I had a responsive pricing system. When I was slow, my rates went down. When I was busy, they went up.
As Go Media grew and I had other members in the company selling with me, our pricing became very rigid. Under any circumstances, we charged exactly XX dollars an hour.
Here’s why we learned that being extremely rigid on your pricing can be a problem:
If your pricing is too low, you’ll soon find yourself swamped. Despite being swamped, your pricing remains low, which means the work piles up. When the work is piled up, you start falling behind. You’re not capturing the maximum amount of profit for the time you’re working. The quality of your work suffers and clients start to leave.
If your pricing is too high, then you’ll be too slow. While you’re capturing good money for the hours your staff is working on paying projects, they’re also sitting idle some portion of each day. That’s also leaving money on the table.
What you’re shooting for is to keep your staff as busy as possible while collecting as much money as possible. You accomplish this by having your price points respond to the current situation.
It works like this
If our staff is booked solid for:
- 12 weeks or more, we offer no discounts and will only sell projects that are worth $5,000 or more.
- Between 8–12 weeks then we’re willing to discount our rates by 20% and we’ll take any project worth $2,500 or more.
- Between 4–8 weeks, we’re willing to discount our rates up to 40% and will take any project worth $1,000 or more.
- Less than four weeks, we’re willing to discount our rates up to 50% and take any project worth $500 or more.
*Note: these are example metrics only. You will have to experiment with discount rates, minimums and time ranges that work for your particular situation.
This formalized responsive pricing system allows us to always stay busy and ensures that we’re capturing as much money as possible.
1. First, don’t share this information with your potential clients. This is for your eyes only.
2. Always present your potential clients with your full retail rates first. Only AFTER they tell you that they cannot afford your normal rates do you start to negotiate down.
3. Ask for their budget upfront. If you know what they can afford, you’ll tailor your solution to their price.
4. Follow up. The simple act of following up with clients after you’ve sent them a proposal can frequently spark a conversation that will lead to a negotiation.
5. Be enthusiastic about the project. Sometimes, if a customer knows you really want their project badly, they’ll assume that you’ll be willing to come down on price.
6. Keep your retail rates high enough that they will allow you enough profit margin to quickly grow your company.
7. Keep a system in place for knowing how far out your team is booked. This is one of the fundamental metrics that drives this system.
8. Lastly, the minimum order portion of this system does not apply to existing customers. Obviously, a current client who calls with a need, even a very small need, should be taken care of immediately.
Want to learn more about becoming the greatest design firm you can be? Buy Drawn to Business, a nuts and bolts strategy guide to building a thriving design firm!
Hi Go Media faithful! Bill here! I’m back to deliver another teaser article from my book, Drawn to Business. Today we’ll cover a topic vital to operating a thriving design firm: Customer Retention.
Take good care of your customers. Nothing will replace good service. No amount of holiday cards, phone calls, discounts or anything else will make up for poor service. When a client brings you a project, you need to treat them like royalty. Be nice and supportive. Hit your deadlines. Do amazing design work. Stay on budget. Follow through. Say thank you when they pay. Give them legendary service with a smile on your face. If you do this, you’ve at least ensured that they’ll trust you for future projects.
Make a good first impression. Take particularly good care of your customers at the beginning of the relationship. Getting off on the wrong foot can ruin a good relationship. How you perform on the very first project is absolutely critical. More specifically, your first set of proofs will establish in the mind of your customer whether they can relax and trust you to do great work, or if they’re going to have to look at everything you do with a critical eye. If you’re working with a new client, the first project is the most critical time in that relationship.
Resist the urge to over-promise. Establish reasonable expectations with your customer then out-perform those. Under-promise. Over-deliver. If you think delivering what you promise makes a good impression, just wait till you see how your customers respond when you give them a little bit more.
Be an advisor to your customers, not just an order taker. An order taker is dispensable, but an advisor is invaluable. Of course, it takes more work to be an advisor than an order taker. You certainly can’t just upsell your client on a bunch of services they don’t need. You have to get to know them, understand their business and know which services you can provide that make sense for them.
Stay in touch with your customers. Nothing else will give you as big a return on your time than doing something simple like dropping your client an e-mail or giving them a phone call. This is one of the simplest and yet most powerful ways to generate ongoing business. Just stay in touch. It’s so simple. Don’t pester, don’t annoy, just make sure you stay on your customer’s mind. Make sure they know that you’re ready and eager to help them with their design needs.
Offer cheaper rates to your best customers. For almost the entire existence of Go Media there was only one pricing model. Our prices were broken down hourly, based on service type. We charged all our customers the same amount.
To qualify, the customer has to have completed enough projects with us that we feel comfortable with the way they work. They can’t be a customer that meanders off-scope, pushes our hours over budget and then complain about additional costs. They have to be easy to work with and they have to pay their bills on time. This strategy is one I learned from a peer who works at a much larger corporation. They have great success with it.
Want to learn more about becoming the greatest design firm you can be? Buy Drawn to Business, a nuts and bolts strategy guide to building a thriving design firm!
Hey Go Media faithful! Over the next few months I’ll be posting five excerpts from my forthcoming book Draw to Business as a series of teaser articles here on the GoMediaZine. So, without further ado, here are seven tips on writing winning design proposals.
Regurgitate back exactly what your clients tell you. Writing a good proposal starts with listening. Ask lots of questions and listen carefully; your potential client is going to tell you exactly what they want to read in your proposal. Your first job is to listen and write down everything they say. Then you’re going to write that back to them in your proposal. If a client says: “We want a highly interactive website.” Your proposal should say: “Our solution for you is a highly interactive website.”
Create templates and refine your message. When you sit down to write your first proposal, think of building a template. You’re not going to want to write every proposal from scratch. Try to keep most of the sections generic enough so that you can reuse them with other clients.
Design your proposal. You can file this under the “duh” category. Your business documents are a representation of you! They should embody all the skills you have as a designer. This includes your proposals. So take the time to make sure that the design of your proposal will sell your potential client as strongly as the content within it. Your proposal is your portfolio! Make sure it looks amazing!
Customize the design for your client. For larger proposals, we will swap out the colors and images in our proposals to match the client’s brand. In some cases we invest quite a bit of time and effort to make our proposal look like THEIR proposal. It’s amazing how impactful delivering a custom designed proposal can be. The client feels like: “They just ‘get’ us.”
Give them a few exciting ideas. It’s a well-known fact that people buy on impulse. There is a lot of emotion involved in why people buy. One way to sell a client is to get them excited. This can be easily accomplished by sharing a few of your ideas with a client. This should be done in just a sentence or two. Describe something exciting you want to do with your client’s design. A clever idea can make the difference between you and your competitor.
Ask for a budget upfront. Knowing a client’s budget up-front is critical to writing a winning proposal. Ask your potential client for a budget during your very first interaction with them. If they act coy and won’t give you one, there are ways of extracting it. (These tactics and many more in the forthcoming book).
Don’t underbid the project. Another critical reason for asking for a budget is making sure that you’re not underbidding the project. Believe it or not, underbidding a project is as bad as overbidding it. When you severely underbid a project you’re communicating that you’re either an amateur or that you don’t understand the scope of the project. Both of these will scare off a customer.
Want to learn more about becoming the greatest design firm you can be? Buy Drawn to Business, a nuts and bolts strategy guide to building a thriving design firm!