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Without these skills, your design business will struggle.It sounds so easy. You’re good at designing, so why not start freelancing or start your own design business?
For the record, my definition of a freelancer is someone who does design work on the side while working another job in or possibly not in the design space. If you design things for clients on your own, and it’s your only source of income, meaning you don’t have an employer elsewhere, you are not freelancing; you are running a design business.
But regardless of whether you call yourself a freelancer or a design business owner. Working for yourself requires a different skill set than simply being a good designer.
You could have the most amazing portfolio of design work. You could be a wiz in Photoshop or Illustrator or InDesign, or maybe WordPress, Webflow or whatever tool you use. It doesn’t matter what skills you have as a designer. If you want your business to succeed, you have to run it like a business. And to do that, you need business skills.
There are numerous business skills that will help you get ahead. Most of them, such as file management, you can learn along the way.
However, there are five essential skills you need to succeed. Skills that the most successful designers use, be it freelancer or owner of a design business. They know the importance of these skills, and they know the success or failure of their business depends on their ability to master them. If you don’t possess these skills, you need to develop them ASAP if you want to ensure your endeavour's success.
So what are these all-important skills I’m talking about?
- Communication skills.
- Building Relationships.
- Thinking Strategically.
- Time Management skills.
- Money Management skills.
Without good communications skills, your business is doomed to failure. The ability to communicate properly is one of the most important skills you can have as a business owner.
Every client you talk to, every design proposal you write, every pitch or presentation you make will succeed or fail based on your communication skills.
Not only are good communication skills required to articulate and understand ideas. But clear communication can also save you and the client time and money.
- The better you are at communicating, the more comfortable clients will be working with you.
- The better you are at communicating, the more professional you will appear to people.
- The better you are at communicating, the easier it will be to build and foster relationships with your client.
Plus, good communication skills can help you when dealing with different personalities or when discussing difficult topics.
Many designers are introverts. Myself included. But being an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t have good communication skills. You might have to work harder at it than an extravert does, but that’s easily accomplished.
Improving your communications skills will help you stand out from other designers who lack this skill. Not only will you be seen by your clients as a good designer, but also as a strategic partner and problem solver.
How to Improve your communications skills.
- Use a tool such as Grammarly to check your written communication.
- Reading books such as Dale Carnegie's How To Win Friends and Influence People.
- Join ToastMasters or hire a speech coach.
- Record your conversations and play them back, listening for areas you can improve on. (you need a client’s permission to record them)
Improving your communications skills will go a long way to ensuring your business’s success.
2 Building Relationships.
Have you heard the saying, it’s not what you know, but who you know?
Relationships are one of the key elements to any business’s success, even more so for service-based businesses like yours. The most successful designers out there know the importance of building relationships. Not just with clients but with everyone they meet, including fellow designers.
Every person you meet is an opportunity to start a relationship. Why is this important? Because every connection you make can lead to referrals, new clients, new projects, friendships, maybe partnerships and who knows what else.
If you’re a people-person, this should be fairly easy for you. But even if talking to people comes naturally to you, you have to learn to do it with purpose. Stay professional while you build your rapport. Building relationships takes time. But the payoff is enormous.
My Podcast Branding business grew to what it is today because of the relationships I’ve made in the podcasting space. You never know when one of the many relationships you’ve nurtured will lead to a new client or project. So keep building them.
Even when a relationship isn’t working out, it should still be nurtured as you back away. That means being cordial and considerate, even while turning down a client. You don’t want to burn any bridges because if you think good word of mouth spreads, let me tell you, bad word of mouth spreads so much faster.
How do you build relationships?
- Do it slowly by making small connections with people.
- Try to remember small details about a person and bring them up in conversation.
- Ask about their kids or their recent holiday.
- Keep in touch with your clients, even when you have no active projects with them.
- Attend networking events and meet new people.
- Read How To Win Friends and Influence People.
It may sound scary, but building relationships is a skill every good business owner needs to master.
3 Thinking Strategically
Being able to think strategically can transform an average freelancer into an extremely successful business owner.
Thinking strategically is the ability to envision the future and plan accordingly.
- It will help you spot trends.
- It will help you understand how your client is different from their competition.
- It will help you contemplate ideas and directions your clients may not consider.
Thinking strategically will help you with your business and the work you do for your clients.
Strategic thinking is what differentiates a designer who designs logos from a designer who creates brands. Any brand strategy requires strategic thinking.
Thinking strategically will help you develop goals for yourself and your business by envisioning your future. Where do you want to be 6 months, a year, five years from now? Strategic thinking is going to help make the decisions, make adjustments, and tell you what you need to do and what not to do to reach your goals.
How do you think strategically?
Regularly take time to envision your future and figure out if you’re on the right path. Make time to work on your business strategy. Instead of waiting for the next new client to show up, figure out how you’re going to get your next 10 clients.
Read books and listen to podcasts that talk about building a business. Oh wait, you’re already listening to Resourceful Designer, aren't you? If so, you’re off to a good start.
4 Time Management
As a business owner, you have nobody to answer to but yourself. Nobody is breathing down your neck, telling you to get back to work or making sure you’re getting the job done. All of that falls on you, and if you want to succeed, you need to master time management skills.
Your Time management skills or lack thereof will make or break you.
When you’re fortunate enough to have several clients with multiple projects on the go, all with varying deadlines, your success in dealing with all of it will depend on your skill at managing your time.
And Time management isn’t just about managing client projects. You also have to worry about running your business and making sure you have time for yourself. Otherwise, your stress level will increase, and burnout becomes a possibility.
Time management comes down to four things.
- Self-motivation, the ability to get going and keep yourself going
- Self-discipline, the ability to focus on the work at hand and avoid the many distractions associated with running a business, not to mention the distractions of life in general.
- Self-management is the ability to govern yourself by setting your own timelines, breaking down tasks, and delegating when needed.
- Self-care, the ability to take breaks and time off. Making sure you are eating well and staying hydrated.
If your health falters, there’s nobody to help you out. So take care of yourself.
How to improve your time management skills
- Plan your day ahead of time with to-do lists
- Prioritize your tasks by order of importance and do the most important ones first.
- Use a clock or timer to help you keep track of time.
5 Money Management Skills
The final important skill I want to talk about is money management.
Unlike employed designers who receive a weekly paycheque. Freelance and design business owners are at the whims of their clients when it comes to income.
Mastering skills 1 through 4 above should help you build your clientele to the point where you always have projects on the go. However, unless you’ve set up your business so you collect a salary, money management may not be top of mind for you.
When it comes to money skills, many freelancers are of the mindset that the money comes in, and the money goes out. They don’t give much thought to managing that flow of income.
How you budget your business earnings affects every aspect of your business. Good money management skills will help you set your rates and prices, so you remain profitable. Money management skills will help you determine which projects to take on and which are not worth it.
Money management skills will help you maintain your business by making sure the funds are there should there be a dip in your workload or should you have to purchase a new computer.
A business can generate a lot of money, but if that money isn’t managed well, it can still fail. And you don’t want your otherwise successful design business to fail because you lack the skill to manage your money.
How to learn money management.
- Separate your business money from your personal money, including bank accounts.
- Know your overhead, the cost of running your business so you know if you’re making a profit or not.
- Learn basic money management skills through books, podcasts, and budgeting apps.
- Talk to your bank or financial advisor.
Good money management skills will ensure you are rewarded for all the hard work you do.
Master these five skills to succeed.
These are the five skills that will help you succeed as a freelancer or design business owner. As I said at the beginning, there are many more skills required to run a business. But these five are essential if you’re in this for the long term.
Do you have these five skills?
Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.
Resource of the week Grammarly
I first purchased Grammarly on a whim a few years ago during some ridiculous sale they were having. It was probably one of the best purchases I've made in recent years. Not a day goes by that Grammarly doesn't help me out.
What is Grammarly? Simply put, it’s a spelling and grammar checker for your computer and web browser. But it’s so much more than that. As they say on their website, Grammarly leaves outdated spelling and grammar checkers in the dust.
Grammarly helps me whenever I fill out online forms, when I'm designing in WordPress and when I'm posting on social media. Anywhere I write, Grammarly is there to make sure I write well.
Grammarly doesn’t only correct, it teaches. It tells you if you are using repetitive words, warns of things like weak adjectives, and so much more. According to their website 85% of people using Grammarly become stronger writers. I've seen it in my writing.
It can be set for American or British spelling and is available for both Mac and Windows.
I would love to hear from you. You can send me questions and feedback using my feedback form.
I want to help you.
Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org