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How are you going to take your design business to the next level?“What got you here won’t get you there.” I’ve heard this phrase a few times over the past couple of weeks, and it got me thinking about my life, my design career and my business.
This is not about Marshall Goldsmith’s book of the same title. Although I hear it’s a great book. It’s about the phrase itself and how it applies to you and your design business.
At its core, “What got you here won’t get you there” is such a simple statement, and yet it holds so much truth. You can only get so far in life if you stick with the status quo. To advance and grow further, you need to expand yourself and do things you’ve never done before. Otherwise, you’ll never be more successful than you are right now.
Are you ok with that? To never be more successful than you are right now? I know I’m not.
Thinking back over my career, I can pinpoint specific times when pushing myself, learning new things, or just taking a leap propelled me to bigger and better things.
I started working in the design department of a commercial printer straight out of college. I was one of several designers, all of which had attended the same design program I had, but graduated many years before me. Most had been working at that printer ever since.
Being the new guy, I was at the bottom of the hierarchy. My education had gotten me where I was, but it alone wouldn’t propel me any further. That was up to me.
While the other designers were satisfied grinding away, day after day doing the same work, I wasn’t. I didn’t want to be doing the same thing day in day out. And without even realizing it, I started following the “what got you here won’t get you there” principal.
I read books, subscribed to magazines, attended conferences and training seminars—all to better myself. Soon, the “new guy” was teaching all the veteran designers new ways to do things.
As the years went by, I kept expanding my skills and my knowledge until I was the go-to person in the design department. But was I satisfied? No, I wanted more.
In the early 90s, I heard about this new thing called the World Wide Web. It was amazing. It had these pages built by programmers that you could visit with a computer to get all kinds of information.
An article I read in one of my design magazines said the World Wide Web was a new frontier for graphic designers, and I was keen to conquer it. My graphic design skills had gotten me to where I was, but they wouldn’t be enough for me to tackle this new avenue of design. I needed to learn how to design websites.
At the start, computer programers ruled the WWW, but they made very clunky, and frankly ugly websites. Without realizing it, they were leaving the door wide open for graphic designers to build aesthetically pleasing websites that people preferred. Sites that not only easy to use but pleasant to look at and easy to use.
I wanted to do that, but learning how to program would be a long and tedious road. Luckily there was this new software by Adobe called PageMill that allowed people like me to design websites without coding using a WYSIWYG interface. They later released Adobe SiteMill, then Adobe GoLive. I used these tools to build good looking websites.
Before I knew it, I started a side gig designing websites from home while still working at the print shop. It was the best of both worlds. I got to design print stuff during the day and web stuff in the evenings. However, my web clients weren’t as happy. They didn’t relish the idea of dealing with me at the print shop for their printed material and then waiting until evening to discuss their website.
If I wanted to rectify this problem, I needed to make some changes. What got you here won’t get you there.
I didn’t know how to be an entrepreneur. But I knew it’s what I needed to do if I wanted to take my career to the next level. So I left the print shop and started offering both print and web design under my own business.
Now I’m not going to continue through my entire history. But suffice it to say, there are many times since starting my business that I needed to leap to “get me there.”
At some point, I stopped creating “pretty websites” and started offering “strategic websites.”
I stopped trying to do everything myself and began hiring freelancers and contractors to help with projects. This opened up a whole new world for me and allowed me to grow my business. I no longer had to turn down work I wasn’t capable of or comfortable doing. Instead, I could continue to offer excellent services to my clients by farming out those parts I couldn’t handle myself.
I grew my team to include programmers, illustrators, photographers, designers, copywriters, translators, etc.
Then at some point, I realized that charging an hourly rate for my services was not a sustainable model for growth. The only way to make more money that way was to either work longer hours, which didn’t sound great. Or substantially raise my hourly rate, which wouldn’t go over very well in my small town.
What got you here won’t get you there.
So I changed my pricing strategy and started billing by the project and then later using value-based pricing.
Over the years, I implemented discovery meetings, brand strategy sessions, a client onboarding process and started using contracts. All of these things helped me grow my design business.
At each stage, everything I had done up to that point was not enough to get me to the next point. I had to take a leap and move beyond what I was currently doing.
Are you happy with your career right now, today? Can you imagine continuing as you are right now, for the rest of your working life until retirement? If you’re like me, the answer is no. You probably want bigger and better things in your future as well. What got you here won’t get you there.
Where do you imagine yourself in one year, two years, five years, ten years from now? What steps do you need to take today, tomorrow, next week, next month, to propel your design business to that next level?
A good business person, heck, a good person in general, should never be satisfied with there current situation. They should always be striving for more. To better themselves, to grow their business, to accomplish bigger and better things.
So what’s stopping you from reaching that next level? Remember, what got you here won’t get you there.
Questions of the Week
Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.
This week’s question comes from Ryan
How do you handle written content on your client projects. I was wondering if you hire that out to another company, if you write it, or do you require the client to write their own content?
I'm having a hard time with content for my clients websites and thought your perspective would be helpful in my decision.
To find out what I told Ryan you’ll have to listen to the podcast.
Thank you to Wireframe for supporting this episode of the podcast.
Check out the new season of Wireframe by Adobe – Wireframe is a podcast all about how UX can help technology fit into our lives.
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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