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Which personality do you use most often?Let me ask you a question. Does being a designer, either graphic, web, UX, UI or whatever, qualify you to run your own design business? Some people may say yes. After all, are there any differences between designing something for an employer or an employer's clients and designing something for your own clients? Not really. I'll concede that the design skills you use are the same in both instances.
However, just because the design skills are the same doesn't qualify a designer to run their own design business.
Does education play into it? Is someone who attended design school somehow more qualified to run their own design business than someone who learned their skills on their own? The school-taught designer may have some business credits under their belt. But arguably, educational background or lack thereof doesn't qualify or disqualify a designer from running their own business.
No, in my opinion, and I do understand that my opinion may be wrong, but it's still my opinion. Is that what differentiates a designer who is qualified to run their own design business and one who isn't is their personality. Or, more accurately, personalities.
Last week, I told you there were two roles to running a design business: a designer and a business owner. That's a very simplified approach, and it worked for last week's episode. But the truth of the matter is, there are way more than just two roles to running a successful design business. To do it right, you need to have many personalities. And I'm not just talking about the obvious ones.
- Layout artist
- Colour picker
- Photo retoucher
- Art director
and so on and so on.
Being a designer means you should be somewhat proficient or have a working knowledge of some if not all of these skills.
I'm not an illustrator. But that doesn't mean I can't draw. I can; I'm just not that good at it. My drawing skills are marginal at best. But they've gotten me out of several pinches over the years. Skills like these are something every designer needs to be acquainted with, regardless of whether they are working for someone else or self-employed.
When I say that a design business owner has to have many personalities, I'm thinking much deeper. In most situations, a self-employed or freelance designer will develop a much deeper relationship with their clients than someone employed as a designer. That relationship is deeper because it's their client.
When I used to work at the print shop, I worked with many regular clients. Most of them I got along with exceptionally well. But regardless of how well we worked together, they weren't my clients. They were the print shop's clients. When I left the print shop to start my own full-time design business, almost all of the clients I worked with remained there and were assigned a new designer to work with them. Only a handful of clients followed me to my new business. And you know what? The relationship we had formed at the print shop grew exponentially once they were MY CLIENTS.
Why did our relationship grow? It's because I was invested in those clients in a way that I never was at the print shop.
For one thing, when I was at the print shop, if something went wrong with a client's project, I might get some of the blame. But it's the print shop's reputation that took the major hit. And if something went right, for example, if a design won an award which happened on several occasions. The designer would get a mention, but the print shop got most of the recognition and glory.
Once I was on my own, and they became my clients, I was much more invested in them because anything that went wrong reflected directly on me, which could affect my business. And anything that went right meant more recognition for me.
But I'm starting to drift back towards the design part of the job. And once again, that part can be done by any designer. The business side, however, that side requires something special. It requires the designer to put their many personalities to use, building and strengthening the relationships with their clients.
You're probably wondering what the heck I'm talking about. So let me describe some of the many personalities a design business owner must-have.
Just like how a practicing psychologist is trained to assess and diagnose problems in thinking, feeling and behaviour to help people overcome or manage their problems. A freelance designer must do the same with their clients. It's your job to assess and diagnose and find a way to overcome the problems your clients are facing.
In many cases, the problems your clients think they are facing may not be the actual problem. You must use your psychology skills to weed through and decipher everything the client tells you to figure out the root of the real problem. Only then can you offer them the proper solution.
Many designers will give a client what they want. It would be best if you strived to do better by giving the client not what they want but what they need. Your psychologist personality can help you with that.
A mediator's job is to facilitate a conversation between two or more people to help them resolve a dispute. A mediator is trained to establish and maintain a safe, confidential, communicative process and help participants reach an agreement independently.
If you've ever had to present a proposal to a committee, I can almost guarantee that your mediator personality was front and centre.
As a mediator, your job is to ensure that all involved parties agree on how a project proceeds. This may involve getting clients to compromises on specific aspects of a project and convincing them to let go of particular ideas. Without this agreement between all parties, any design project will struggle.
It's your job as the designer to ensure that everyone is satisfied. Your mediator personality can help you with that.
As the mediator, a negotiator's job is to communicate with clients to negotiate and establish sales. All while building positive relationships in the process.
Your negotiator skills will come in especially handy when pitching larger projects. A client may love your ideas, but not so much the price tag associated with those ideas.
As a negotiator, it's your job to show the client why your proposal is worth the investment on their part. And should the price of a project remain a deciding factor, your negotiating skills will allow you to cut back on details of your proposal in a way that still satisfies the client's needs and, more importantly, meet the client's budget.
Your negotiator personality can help you with that.
A salesperson's job is to find prospective clients, identify their challenges and needs, and ultimately find them a solution. Any time you correspond with a potential new client, it's your salesperson personality that's talking. This personality's job is to build trust and ultimately convince a potential client of the benefits of working with you.
This personality is the one that should be front and center any time you are out networking or any time someone asks what you do for a living or inquires about your business and services. The more adept you are with your salesperson personality, the more successful your design business will be.
You usually think of a babysitter as someone in charge of taking care of someone else's child or children. Their responsibilities include making sure the children are safe, getting the care and attention they deserve, and adhering to their parent's standards.
Think of the assets a client bestows you as their children. Because in a way, they are. Their logo, their images, their brand assets and styling, are all entrusted to you. You are responsible for ensuring they are taken care of, kept safe, get the attention they deserver, and adhere to the client's standards.
In some cases, you are the one who developed those standards. But often enough, you will be entrusted with your client's “children” and expected to take care of them. Your babysitter personality better be up to the task.
A researcher's job is to collect, organize, analyze, and interpret data and opinions, explore issues, solve problems and predict trends. Sound familiar?
If you've ever held a discovery meeting with a client or have investigated a client's target market and competition, you were using your researcher personality.
Nurturing this personality is crucial to your growth as a designer and as a business owner. The more you can learn about your clients, their strengths and weaknesses, the markets they're in, the hurdles and challenges they face, the competition they're up against, the benefits they offer and how they can differentiate themselves, the better equipped you will be to do your job.
Not to mention the higher prices you'll be able to charge.
It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.” Think of research as that first 45 minutes. The better you do it, the easier the rest of your tasks will be. That's where your researcher's personality comes in.
A teacher is someone who instructs. Their job is to ensure someone knows the outcome of whatever it is they are teaching. An educator, on the other hand, is someone who gives intellectual, moral and social instructions.
In other words, an educator not only wants you to know the outcome, but they also want you to understand the reasons for the outcome. It's the difference between telling a client their idea won't work and explaining why a different approach might be a better option.
The more you can educate a client in how design works, the better they will become as clients. Not only that, but the more you educate your clients, the higher they'll regard and trust your opinions.
Don't teach them; educate them if you want to build a deep and lasting relationship with your clients. They'll thank you, or should I say your educator personality, for the knowledge.
Many more personalities.
I could go on and on. There are so many personalities involved with running a design business. Some days you may have to be a coach and some days a councillor. You regularly need to be a tactician to keep on track of your ever-evolving schedule. And at times, you become an advisor or consultant to your clients. And if you're lucky, a confidant.
Now, of course, you don't actually switch between one personality and another. they should all be present in some capacity in every client dealing you have. They're what make you who you are.
Your goal should be to nurture each one of these personalities to become the best, most rounded design business owner you can be.
With all of these personalities behind you, you become a force to be reckoned with. And clients will be begging to work with you.
I started by saying that what qualifies a designer to run their own business are these many personalities. And I hinted that designers who work for someone else might lack these personalities and therefore not make good design business owners. But that's not true. I believe everyone has these and many more personalities within them. It's only a matter of accessing and nurturing them.
Just like a muscle, if you don't use it, it will atrophy. So will these personalities.
If you work at an agency and someone else deals with the clients while you do the design work, you'll have little chance to practice your selling skills. You'll probably never get an opportunity to negotiate with a client or mediate a committee. I want you to be aware that these are skills you will need should you ever want to become a freelancer. And if you are not used to using these skills, you may have a difficult time at the start.
But just like a muscle, the more you work it, the stronger it becomes. And it's the same for running a design business. The more you work at it, the better you'll become.
After all, you have to start somewhere. And that's where your optimist personality comes in.
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 email@example.com