The studio that never was and a new look KLC

Well, hello!

It’s been a while, eh? I know, I know. It’s that old cobbler’s kids idiom, I’ve been so busy working on wonderful things for my lovely clients that I neglected my own shiz. BUT! I’m back, baby!

First though, a story.

A couple of years ago I started thinking that I wanted to start a brand new studio, close down KLC and start completely from scratch. I’d started to think that I needed to move away from having my name be part of the studio name, that if I ever decided to bring in permanent staff members it’d be confusing for clients to work with someone that wasn’t me. I also had itchy feet. I’ve been working under “Kim Lawler Creative” for around 7 years now, and I was pretty much ready for a big change in the way I presented the studio. There was also a niggling little thought in the back of my head that if I ever wanted to sell the studio at some point, having my name in there would make that pretty impossible – I have no idea why I was even thinking this, I’ve got 100% no plans to sell KLC.

I spent some time figuring out a new studio name, buying a domain, registering all my social media accounts, I even went so far as to commission some custom lettering for the logo! Then… I did nothing. Zilch. Nada. I tried to start designing the new site about this time last year and wasn’t into it. I sat on it for a further 12 months before finally (FINALLY) figuring out that this wasn’t what I wanted.

I didn’t want to move away from having my personality being a big part of my business, and I realised that a lot of the people I admire (who work in big teams!) still stick with their own name as their studio name. Part of the fun of running my business for me is that I can be entirely myself, I don’t have to tone down my potty mouth, or monitor what I say on social media. Starting a new studio would, if anything, force me to reign in the very thing that sets my current studio apart from others – me!

A little over a week ago, in the short time between turning the bedside lamp out and falling asleep, I decided that really all I wanted to do (needed to do) was rebrand Kim Lawler Creative, refocus a few of my offerings, update my portfolio, and just get my shit in a row. After I figured that out it took me around 3 days to completely redo my website and branding.

Whaaatttt? I know.

From 2 years to 3 days.

So! What can you expect from me now? Wellll, I’m gonna be back blogging, and I’m going to be making some videos about running a small creative business. I’d love to know what you’d like me to cover (leave a comment below!), I have some ideas already but I want to make this as relevant as possible for you guys. I’ve also rejigged my services a little, and have plans for some other à la carte style services which I’ll be adding later this year. The main thing is, I’m really excited about my business again and can’t wait to share more awesome shit with you!

Oh, and the studio that never was? RIP.

(awesome brush lettering by Letters by Julia)

Don’t build your business with someone else’s product!

Hey pals!

I wanted to talk about a pretty worrying trend that I keep seeing in various guises, from social media to online marketplaces, and it’s even in the world of web design. People are building their entire businesses on the back of someone else’s product.

I don’t mean that they’re using someone else’s product to promote, improve, or grow their businesses, I mean they’re basing their entire business model on something that someone else controls. This is really, really fucking scary. Especially when you see what can happen when that product changes, it’s life ruining!

I’m going to talk about 3 scenarios where I’ve seen this happen lately, and the fallout that can occur when each of these platforms changes.

THE PRODUCT BUSINESS

My product based business, Finest Imaginary, happily runs on a few different online outlets. I have wholesale contracts with a few shops, and I sell at markets throughout the holiday season. Whenever I’m promoting my business online I’ll always, always direct people to my own website (which is hosted on Shopify, a tool I used to grow my business – if Shopify up and closed tomorrow, I’d be able to move my store to another ecommerce platform and still use my URL). I’ve spread my business around a bit, not too thinly, but enough so that I don’t rely fully on one marketplace more than another.

Earlier this year one of the marketplaces that I’ve sold through for quite a few years decided to make some rather drastic changes to their business model, removing many businesses from the site and shifting things around in product categories (which in turn meant that certain products were no longer getting the exposure that they once were!). There were a number of people who had built successful six-figure businesses on this platform, and they suddenly found themselves up shit creek without a marketplace! It’s sad, and frustrating, and my heart went out to those who were affected, but the business who built the platform have the right to do whatever they want with their product (whether it’s morally right or wrong is a whole other story…).

It’s easy to become complacent when your business is thriving on a marketplace, whether it’s Etsy or similar, but is it sensible to rely on someone else’s product for the main source of your income? Fuck no.

Is it sensible to rely on someone else’s product for the main source of your income? Fuck no. Click To Tweet

THE SOCIAL MEDIA PROMOTION

Here’s another one that everyone got their knickers in a twist over a few weeks ago. Instagram.

Remember over Easter when everyone was losing their shit about the algorithm changes, and posting silly images asking you to subscribe to alerts? Yeah? I’m just gonna stand here right now and call bullshit on all those antics.

I love Instagram. I’ve been focusing on it as a promotional tool for my businesses for the past few months, and have been steadily increasing my engagement and following. It’s awesome. I get a heck of a lot of referrals from it, and it’s been (probably) my most successful marketing tool to date. But here’s the thing. I don’t rely on it. I don’t put all of my energy into using Instagram as my only marketing tool, I also use Twitter, my newsletter, Pinterest, and I’ve even started experimenting with Snapchat.

When and if Instagram changes their algorithm and it starts to affect your business, then you change along with it. You evolve, you keep on your toes and you work out how to fill that gap. Don’t rely on someone else’s product for your entire business marketing, stay current and see what else is out there. Your business will have way more to worry about down the line than the changing up of a social media platform. Who knows, the next thing on the app store might be even more suited to you and your business!

THE WEBSITE CREATION TOOL

I come from a background of coding sites from scratch, before I even heard the word “Wordpress” I was creating shitty table based sites on geocities. Since then I’ve focused most of my energy on WordPress (and more recently Shopify), but have dipped my toes into Squarespace, big cartel, blogger, and Magento.

There’s a new breed of web designer around who can successfully drag-and-drop your site into existence. I mean, that’s great and all (and kudos to them for making bank on a relatively simple task), but it’s not something you couldn’t do on your own (given an afternoon and a help doc or two!). The scary thing here is that these designers have built an entire business around being able to use a drag-and-drop interface (on a product that wasn’t even available a couple of years ago!). I’ve long had these same worries about the WordPress “developers” who were using a popular framework package to make all their sites. They rely so fully on this framework that when there’s something that the framework can’t do… they’re stumped!

My advice to those who work this way is to expand, learn new skills, get dirty in the code and don’t rely on that single product that someone else made for all the income in your business. It might change next month, it might become even easier for people to use it themselves (in which case your client pool would get incredibly small!), or it might disappear altogether!

So, what do you think? Looking at your business, are you relying too heavily on someone else’s product? What would happen if that product underwent a huge change? Or closed? How would you recover? I think it’s time we started taking responsibility for our own businesses rather than blaming someone else if a change in their product fucks it up.

How I Prepare my Handmade Business for Christmas

I’ve been thinking about Christmas for months, as is the life of someone who makes and sells things for a living. The Christmas sales period (mid October to Christmas Day, and then the New Year’s sales period in January) usually accounts for around 35-40% of my product based business’s annual turnover. It’s a ridiculously busy period and I start preparing for it months in advance.

I don’t do many special products for Christmas, besides some personalised Christmas tree decorations that’ll hit the shop towards the end of this month, so the majority of my preparations are to do with keeping my business running smoothly during the Christmas period.

Here’s how I prepare for Christmas…

1/ Take Stock

The most important thing to stop me burning out and going completely insane during the weeks leading up to Christmas is to make sure I have plenty of buffer stock on hand. I’ve been making lots of my most popular designs over the past few weeks, and will continue to stock-up during the coming weeks.

It can be hard to figure out how much of any one thing to make, especially if you’ve released new products or haven’t had a festive period before, so take a look at your sales over the past year and see what was selling best. If you’ve got anything that’s going to be featured in the press during the run up to Christmas, then definitely stock up big on that product!

2/ Book fairs and markets

All of the fairs and markets I’m attending over the festive season have already been booked and paid for, my accommodation and travel has already been sorted, and I’ve got a list of dates and details in my google drive. Most festive fairs start booking during September and October, so you need to think well in advance to be in with a shot of booking them.

3/ Order packaging & other printed items

I place a big order for packaging and other printed items (return labels, business cards, promo cards) during September/October in readiness for the Christmas rush. This usually keeps me going until March or whatever, but it means I’m not having to reorder during the busy periods!

4/ Pre-buy postage

My items are sent by Royal Mail large letter rate, which means I can just fix a regular postage stamp to the majority of my parcels (except the international ones, or ones weighing over a certain amount/requiring insurance). I don’t have the volume to use a business pick-up from Royal Mail, so instead I’ve started bulk buying (by the hundreds) royal mail stamps. I can then just drop them off at the post office or pop them in a post box.

5/ Release new items well in advance

Trust me, you don’t want to do a product launch in December! You’ll be rushed off your feet with orders for your current items. I’m probably going to be launching the last of my new items towards the middle of November (due to lead times). However, do use the Christmas period to highlight your newer items to your mailing list and previous customers – they might not have seen the initial launch, but will be more receptive to gift advertising at this time of year.

6/ Get on the PR wagon

I’m currently sending out product samples and emailing back to press requests like a demon! Everyone’s compiling their Christmas gift guides RIGHT NOW so it’s time to keep an eye out. Follow your favourite bloggers on twitter, keep an eye on the #journorequests hashtag & be ready to send out hi-res images and samples.

7/ Warn Relatives

Social events are pretty much off the calendar for me during November and December. My weekends are taken up with fairs, and Adam & I usually end up marathoning Netflix while packing up orders on an evening. My friends and family are pretty used to this now!

8/ Slow up on other work

I try and restrict the number of web design projects I take on during the busier times, freeing up that bit of time gives me way more headspace! If you’re able to reshuffle your work priorities like that, then do it! If not (and I’ve been there, when I had a 9-5 too), then it might be worth booking a day off here and there throughout December so that you can get everything up to date.

9/ Clean & organise my equipment

Giving my laser cutter a good clean, making sure my pliers are all in working order, and cleaning up my workspace- all these things make sure I stay organised and (usually) don’t have any bumps in the road during my making process.

10/ Give my social media a once over

This is something I do periodically anyway, but I make sure my profile images, descriptions, URLs etc. are all up to date and working correctly. If I do have any Christmas items I want to promote then I’ll make sure I’m putting them front and centre on Facebook.

11/ Give my website a once over

Similarly I’ll make sure my website’s all in good working order, and I’ll start to make some curated gift categories to make Christmas shopping even easier for my customers.

12/ Order presents and goodies for my customers

I’ve been popping sweeties in with my orders for the past few months, so to make things a little more festive I’ve ordered hundreds of tiny candy canes! I have a few other tricks up my sleeve that I’ll be popping in with customer orders, too.

13/ Get my accounts up to date

I generally do my accounts on a monthly/bi-monthly basis (or when my accountant shouts at me!). My year-end if actually at the end of October so it’s a good chance for me to make sure everything is 100% up to date with my accounts. Over the busy festive season I try and do my accounts a little more regularly so that I’m not left with a huge number of things to input during the new year!

14/ Load up on healthy food

At this time of year, where colds are rife and work is pressing, I make sure that I’m eating properly and taking some additional supplements if I feel a bit icky. Anything to ward off a cold!

15/ Take an early season break

If you can, try and take a few days off just before everything kicks-off in ernest. I’ll be popping over to New York for a week this month to recharge my batteries and make sure I’m fully rested (yeh, right, as if I’ll be resting in NYC!) before I turn into a making machine!

16/ Connect with Stockists early

Connect with your stockists in October and ask them if they want to place their Christmas wholesale orders with you. Getting those out of the way early will free up your time for buffer stock and packaging all your customer orders. They’ll be just as busy as you at this time of year, and will appreciate the chance to cross that off their list early!

Do you have any top tips for Christmas prep? I’d love to hear them!

Are you a consumer or a creator?

Guys, I am drowning in business advice posts.

Drowning.

It seems like everywhere I turn there’s a “How to brand your business authentically“, “10 reasons you should be using periscope RIGHT NOW (or your business will fail – seriously)”, “I did THIS and I lost 5 clients, don’t make my mistake” clickbait style posts.

I follow quite a lot of people in my market, that is: people who want to serve the creative community and want you to buy their products or services. One of the most successful ways of doing that is content marketing, giving away their knowledge for free and keeping you coming back for more. I mean, that’s what I do with this blog.

But jeez, I’m seeing so much more regurgitated content on blogs and over the past few months the whole thing seems to have blown up!

The thing is, every time I see a retweeted, pinned or shared blog post, I automatically think I need to head off and read it. There’s probably some piece of information in there that’s going to change my entire business. Right?

Are you a consumer or a creator?

I’m totally at risk of being hoisted by my own petard here, I want you to read my blog posts after all, but I’m also not in the market of peddling bullshit. If you’re reading something here I want it to be actually valuable to you and your business. I don’t want to waste your time.

There’s are too many blog posts for you to read. Too many.

You and I won’t read them all, and yeah, you might learn a little something from each post, but is that tiny little snippet of brand new information worth the time you spent trawling through the post? Is there something you could’ve been doing instead of learning the top ten ways to increase your instagram following? (I dunno.. like, taking some instagram photos and connecting with people on there?)

There comes a point where you’re so busy consuming blog posts that you forget to create stuff of your own. You can get so caught up with the idea of business development through learning new information, that you don’t have the time to put that in to practice.

Quit the knee-jerk

How do we get around this addiction to consume information without losing out on actual, valuable tips and advice that could benefit our business?

Firstly, let’s set aside some time for consumption, an hour or so each week to read through a consolidated list of interesting posts that we’ve collected over the past 5 working days. I don’t know about you but Fridays in my office are generally a time for sending out invoices, tidying up my inbox, and generally just putting my business “house” in order. Setting aside an hour on a Friday morning and visiting the links I’ve saved over a coffee sounds perfect! I like to use Pocket to save links that I’d like to read later, if I see a post shared somewhere then I’ll click on it, check out the blog itself (if it’s not one I’m familiar with), read the first paragraph and decide whether to save it to pocket for later.

Secondly, take notes. Don’t just idly read blog posts, your brain is pretty much as useful of a sieve at retaining information by just reading through the 500-700 words that a blog post includes. Actually use the information that you’re learning, take notes, extend the notes into how you’re going to make this work for your business. I really love to take notes during Amy Porterfield‘s podcasts, which I can have on in the background when I’m making jewellery.

Thirdly, beware the blog-xpert. That is, the blogger that professes to have a level of expertise with what they’re talking about, but not much to back it up. I sometimes used feel a bit weird when I posted about business stuff, was it really my place to be sharing this information? I blog about small creative business, I’ve run my own “side gig” since I was 21, and I quit my day job over 4 years ago. Before then I worked for 4 years as a web developer in a studio environment. I’ve tripled my income, worked with upwards of 50 clients around the world, and I still really fucking enjoy what I do. Still, all I can offer is what’s worked for me and my business. I can offer advice on what I’d do in certain situations, and I can give strategies for social platforms that’ve been working for me. It really grinds my gears when I see people peddling advice and “you must do this” type posts when they’ve only been in the game for 6 or so months. Just because you have a business and a voice doesn’t make you a fucking expert.

Finally, remember that you will not develop your business through osmosis. Reading blog posts, books, listening to podcasts and watching Youtube videos will not magically improve your business. It is way more valuable to your business if you read ONE high quality blog post a week and put into practice the things that you’ve learned than to read 15 blog posts and do nothing. Don’t confuse consuming information as actually working on your business.

PS. I went ahead and made my own brand new personal lifestyle blog, which you can follow along with over on adventurish.com – hope to see you there!

Your About Page Sucks – Let’s Fix It!

Be honest now, how long did you spend writing the About Page for your website?

An hour? Two? Not even that?

The About page is one of the first pages a new user will visit when they get to your site. It’s where they learn who they’re listening to, find out what’s in it for them, and make their all important first impression.

You need to spend time on your About page. It’s really important.

Let’s walk through what should be on your about page.

You’re a human, not a machine!

You need to engage with your audience. They’re on your site for a reason, and generally that reason is a) what you’re talking about, or b) what you’re selling.

You are the defining factor. And the last time I checked… you’re human, not a machine. So why does your about page sound like the generic description of a kitchen appliance?

Throughout your About Page you must use your personality. Talk as though you’re talking to a friend, tell jokes, be sincere, be engaging. Talk like you’re trying to take your audience out on a second date. 

Once upon a time…

… there was a girl, fresh from university, with bright eyes and a thirst for business. For months she trawled to the ends of job applications, hoping to find her place in the dark and misty world of web design. One day, she happened upon the job of Junior Web Developer, and (armed with a Macbook Pro) began her long quest of making websites for the most courageous of people – the creative entrepreneurs. 

One of the most engaging copy writing or marketing tactics is to include stories in your copy. I really had you going with that snippet, right? You were with me, walking through Mordor-like hills and battling beastly Web 2.0 demons.

I’m not saying your stories need to be totally in the style of the Grimms, but have fun with them, eh?

Recounting stories of how you’ve worked with past clients, your experience in your profession, or your own endeavours really helps your reader connect with you. It gives them a much needed window into your world, and helps you stand out from your peers.

Who the hell are you?

At some point on your About Page you’re going to have to go into a little more detail about who you are, where you came from, and what you actually do. You can mix some of this in with the other copy, or create a separate area for that information.

Having already explained that I’m a web designer, and told my reader how I got there & what I can do for them, I tell them a few more bits about me towards the end of my about page…

I’m based in Huddersfield, UK, but don’t let that put you off – we still have the internet in Yorkshire. I live with 2 crazy cats, 1 hyper golden retriever and 1 astrophysicist. I design and make things under the name of Finest Imaginary, which I work on 50/50 with Kim Lawler Creative  (or, you know, sometimes 80/20, or 100/100 when I’m stupid).

I prefer whisky to vodka, have a serious relationship with gherkins, and leave a trail of shoes around my house.

Nothing too in depth, pretty brief, but it gives my reader a little more of a connection with me. Who doesn’t leave their shoes around the house?

Take them behind the curtain

Depending on your type of business it can be cool to show a little “behind the scenes” on your about page – photos of your studio, an idea of where you create your magic, maybe even a brief “day in the life”. Take the reader on a bit of a journey into how your business looks outside of your pristine website.

On my Finest Imaginary About Page, I often swap out photos from my making desk, showing half-finished pieces and a peek at how my jewellery comes together. These photos are often the ones that end up being used in publications (they’re pretty interesting!).

Now What?

Don’t forget your calls to action! After reading your About Page you need to direct your reader to what  you want them to do – is that visit your contact page? Your social media links? Sign up to your newsletter? Make sure you’re pointing them in the right direction!

So go, rework your stale copy, make your About Page fun to read, and connect with your audience!

If you liked this, you might be interested in a little something I’ve got up my sleeve. Make sure you’re signed up for my Newsletter to be the first to know. 

The Truth about Competition

If you’re running any kind of business chances are you have competition (unless your business is so incomparably niche that you’re totally on your own… there’re very few companies making literary inspired dog hats!).

I have “competition” in both parts of my business, from people creating awesome websites for creative entrepreneurs & small business owners, to other fantastic designers making jewellery and homewares.

Some of my “competition” achieves much greater sales and success than my business, and some is where my business was a couple of years ago. (Always someone in front, always someone behind). Most of my immediate “competition” is pretty much playing in the same league as me, though.

Competition is a made up concept to create mistrust, secrecy and dirty tactics in business.

At least that’s the way I’ve come to see it.

I don’t like the word or concept of competition. I don’t like seeing fledgling businesses thinking that “competing” with other businesses is the way to make their business stand out. And I REALLY don’t like archaic idea that your competition is your enemy.

Flashback Time

*Read this with a sepia filter*

A few years ago, when I first started doing craft markets and fairs for my jewellery, there was a bit of a culture of traditional competition rising in the ranks. People were very secretive with information, especially regarding on-the-day sales and how well they were doing. People would out and out lie to their “competition” about how well they’d done on the day. It made me uneasy. I didn’t know why back then, but I do now – it’s totally skeazy and such an old-hat way of doing business. They were trying to make other businesses, who they viewed as their competition, think the following…

“If they did so well and I didn’t, does that mean that my product isn’t as good as theirs?”

“Maybe I shouldn’t have bothered coming…”

“It’s obviously not a good fit for my product…”

“I should just leave it to them”

Trying to eliminate your competition does NOT increase your chance of sales.

Lying about how well they did on the day doesn’t stand to make them any more by way of sales, all it does is remove the discussion of “damn, if neither of us did very well, what can we do to make this better for both of us?”.

In the long run it just stands to harm what could be a thriving community of small businesses.

Luckily, I see this happen a lot less nowadays. People have started having each other’s backs again, and it’s fucking awesome.

Rearrange your view of Competition

Here’s how I like to view “competition”…

  • Competition is not the enemy, that’s number 1. Sure, they might be aiming at the same people, but there’s plenty to go around.
  • Competition increases your chance of business. Every piece of marketing they do for their business puts your industry in front of people’s eyes.
  • Competition helps you up your game. Can you imagine how complacent you’d be in your business if you didn’t have other people to look up to? It would be shit. You’d still be dragging your knuckles.
  • Competition helps you serve your audience. Your competition is you, you’d probably get on like a house on fire, what can you do together to serve your audience better?
  • Competition helps you understand your audience better. Seeing your audience interact with another business is enlightening, you can learn so much from them.
  • Wouldn’t you rather build your business based on value and awesomeness than competition? Being the best at what you do clears your field of traditional “competition” and lets you enjoy working alongside a bunch of equally successful and interesting businesses.

I’m not into woo-woo stuff, but I still believe that you’ll get so much more out of making friends rather than enemies. 

 

11 Ways to Skyrocket Pinterest for your Creative Business

This week I attended a talk about Pinterest in Manchester, hosted by the lovely & super knowledgable Lizzie Sibley from Pinterest UK. I’ve used Pinterest for a while, but I’ve always been a little lazy with it, only recently have I really started putting any proper effort and strategy in my pinning. I learned so much stuff I didn’t know about Pinterest, so I thought I’d share it with you!

1 | Follower count doesn’t mean as much as you think it does. The majority of traffic on Pinterest is engaged with the search function rather than what’s on their home feed. Instead of concentrating on how many followers you have, concentrate on how accessible and search-friendly your pins and boards are. Pinterest is not a social media platform, it’s a “visual discovery tool”.

1/3 of Millennials now use Pinterest, many using it as their primary search tool before Google! Click To Tweet

2 | Pinterest uses your board names, pin names and pin descriptions in its search. Be thorough and useful when writing your pin descriptions. Don’t be spammy with a multitude of hashtags, instead, write something meaningful and descriptive. You’re not restricted to 140 characters, so write away! Take care when writing your board descriptions, use plain English but be specific: “Casual Chic Style” would be more searchable than “Keeping it casual” and more specific than “My Style”. Always consider what people would be searching for when writing your board names.

3 | 80% of Pinterest users are using the app on their mobile or iPad, so if you’re trying to generate traffic to your website via Pinterest, then you’d better be damn sure your site’s mobile optimised (but we’ve already talked about why your website should be mobile optimised, haven’t we?).

4 | Don’t delete boards, just move them to the bottom of your profile. Some people might only follow one of your boards, so you don’t want to lose their engagement. Similarly, don’t delete pins — rearrange them, rename them, change their descriptions, and even their links.

5 | If you want to track your analytics on Pinterest (and why wouldn’t you?) then you need to register for a Business account. Don’t worry, you don’t technically need to be a business to use that service, and it’s totally free (just like Pinterest is and always will be!).

6 | Instead of just re-pinning content, be more active in pinning new things and creating new content to be shared on Pinterest. This is something I definitely need to get better at! It’s sooo easy to repin things, and even to change the description to fit with that you want to pin the image as, but it’s harder and therefore more valuable to pin brand new things.

7 | Start your “holiday boards” early — start pinning for Halloween in July and Christmas in August. Move these boards to the top of your profile during their active seasons, and to the bottom of your profile when it’s not their time to shine (remember, don’t delete them!).

8 | Make use of services such as Buffer to spread out your pins. This way you can avoid annoying your followers when you go on pinning splurges! You can also use services like this to un-annoyingly pin the same thing more than once, to different boards.

9 | Make sure that your site is Pinterest ready by using the variety of Pinterest tools available (such as the pin it button) and enabling Rich Pins on your site. If you’re using WordPress, so long as you have a decent theme and the Yoast SEO plugin installed then you should be good to go. If you’re on Shopify you’re also good to go. You simply need to follow the instructions on Pinterest to validate your site for Rich Pins.

10 | Vertical images perform much better than horizontal images, so make sure you’re creating your pinnable content with high impacting images. Using text on your images does deliver a higher pin-rate, but make sure it doesn’t look like a banner ad. List style posts & how-tos work really well when pinned on Pinterest!

Vertical images work SO MUCH better than horizontal images on Pinterest Click To Tweet

11 | Don’t just pin your own content, that’s rubbish and boring, and totally not what Pinterest is about. I kinda like the Gary Veynerchuck way of marketing on social media (jab jab jab, right hook) and I think that works really well on something like Pinterest (maybe more like 9 jabs to every hook, though!).

And to help us all even further, I’ve started a brand new Pinterest board where I’m gathering useful articles related to Pinterest use. Click here to go straight to it if you can’t see it under this post… I’ll be adding content to this board regularly, so do let me know if you have a Pinterest article you’d like me to add there!

Let me know your Pinterest links in the comments so that I can follow you!!


Should You Niche Down or Branch Out?

niche-down-branch-out

When I started my freelance web design business I was all about making bank.

I didn’t want to live on noodles and I had a mortgage to pay. I took on any scrappy bit of work that came my way, tried my hand at anything, and learnt a bunch of skills along the way. Over the past few years I’ve become a lot more selective with the work I take on, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try my hand at different things.

“Niching Down” is becoming a very popular career choice amongst web design freelancers. Choosing one particular route on which to focus their career (PDF/eBook design, websites for certain professions only, working with just one CMS or framework) and making it clear that they don’t do anything outside their realm.

How incredibly fucking boring.

For me, one of the most exciting things about being a freelance designer and developer is the ability to work on a variety of different projects. I get to work with interesting people in different fields, learn more about what they do, and build up my skills. I get to try out new CMSs, explore new technologies and future proof my career with a bevy of transferable skills.

Jack of all trades, master of none…

Are we really still banging on about that old adage?

Things are different now. Things are fluid. People expect you to have a variety of skills, especially as a freelancer, rather than just one core attribute.

I work with a lot of independent companies and one-person shops who want the whole shebang — branding, print design, web design and development. It makes it a whole lot easier for them to work with just me (and maybe another person) rather than having to hire 3 or 4 separate people.

Skills in the web design business are pretty transferable, we’re in a really good position to diversify and leverage what we know.

Don’t get me wrong, It’s awesome to specialise in stuff (I specialise in Web Design, WordPress development and Shopify), but don’t disregard new opportunities to learn and experiment — who knows, you might find you really do enjoy making interactive PDFs.

Along with specialising, you can cherry pick projects that appeal to you more and tailor your portfolio with the work you really enjoy.

But doesn’t niching down mean I can charge more?

Yes and no.

If you become the best PDF designer, then yeah, sure, you can charge more than the other PDF designers out there.

But here’s the thing…

A client comes to you wanting a PDF for a new service they’re offering. They want to use it as a free promotional tool to gain sign-ups. Sure, you say, and get underway with the project, finish it in no time (you’re the best, after all!), and the client is super happy.

However, you’ve just served your client what they asked for, rather than solved their problem.

Your client wanted a promotional tool for the new service they’re offering, they’re looking for a PDF because that’s what they think they need. It’s what everyone else in their field is doing, so it must be the thing they need too, right?

Your job is to figure out if it actually is what they need. Maybe they’d be better served with a small information website? Or a social media campaign? Maybe there are other things you could bolt on to what your client initially wants to more successfully solve their problem.

Having a broader knowledge of the different ways you can solve your client’s problem will serve them better, and they’ll pay even more for that.

Here’s what I think…

Niching down in such a strict sense closes a lot of doors, doors that hide some really interesting and exciting projects. When you niche down you get comfortable and complacent, which is a very dangerous place to be in a fast-moving business like web design (and other design fields, for that matter).

Having a broad skill set can really help to future proof your career, if you’ve devoted yourself to one CMS, or PDFs, or even a particular profession, what would you do if that CMS became obsolete? If a brand new universal document format took over? If the work there suddenly dried up?

If you enjoy the variety that freelance work provides (and I mean, who wouldn’t?) then why restrict yourself by niching down? I much prefer the idea of specialising, a route that leaves you & your business in a flexible and agile position.

How to Get Paid

how-to-get-paid

When you’re a freelancer or solo-worker, one of the most important parts of your job is controlling cash flow. Getting invoices paid can sometimes be a pain in the ass, especially when you’re working with smaller companies and new clients.

Over the past few years I’ve managed to keep a good cash flow with only a few late payments, here are my top tips for making sure that you get your invoices paid in a timely manner.

Start with a contract

As with everything related to business, you should start with a contract. My contract has a section devoted to payment terms and a payment schedule. I only contract for my web design business, it’s not a normal thing for smaller wholesale orders.

Get a deposit

For my service based web design business I take a 50% deposit upon the signing of the contract. The projects I work on are generally around the £2-3k mark, so I really need that initial investment & security from the client.

I’ve never had a problem with getting this deposit from the client, it’s pretty standard practice. You can be flexible with your deposit terms if the client isn’t super comfortable with dropping the full 50% in the first instance – I’ve split the full project cost over various deliverable points of a project before (25% on contract, 25% on wireframes + design, 25% on development and the remaining payment on “go live”).

I’d also say that in the case of large wholesale orders for product based businesses (the kind where you have to heavily invest in raw materials) then definitely get a deposit! Why shouldn’t you? I’d also suggest sorting out a contract for those orders, too. Cover your damn ass!

Send out your invoices straight away

It goes without saying that the sooner you get your invoices out, the sooner you’ll get paid. You might want to send your invoice as soon as you finish up on a project or send out a contract, or you might keep a list to send out all your invoices on Friday morning (oh, is that ever a good end to a week!). Either way, make sure you’re prompt with the sending of invoices!

Be prompt with sending invoices; the sooner they're sent, the sooner they're paid! Click To Tweet

Make sure your invoicing system leaves no room for confusion

I use an accounting system that includes a really neat invoicing set-up. It alerts me when invoices are overdue, it numbers invoices appropriately (so that I can reference which invoices are outstanding), and it lets me keep track of the accounts of each client. Kashflow gives me a really quick at-a-glance look at who owes what and leaves no room for confusion between me and the client.

If you’re sending out a lot of invoices it can get quite confusing very quickly, make sure you have a system in place so you can easily see what’s what with your outstanding invoices.

Include all the key information on your invoice

Make sure that everything, EV-ER-Y-TH-IN-G, the client could possibly need to question is available on the invoice:

  • The project reference
  • A breakdown of costs (if appropriate to the project or order)
  • Your address
  • Whether you’re VAT registered
  • Your company number
  • Your payment terms
  • The payment reference
  • A purchase order (if appropriate)
  • The invoice date
  • The due date
  • Your bank details
  • Other payment options
  • Your email address and/or phone number

Make it as hard as possible for your client to claim a lack of information as a cause for late payment

Know your Net 30s from your Net 60s, and find out your client’s usual terms

My payment terms are generally Net 30 for product based orders, but a little different for my service based stuff. I ask for my deposit invoice to be paid ASAP after the contract is signed, and state that work can’t started until the deposit is in place (although to be fair I sometimes start anyway for clients who I know are good for it). My final invoice after the “go live” part of the web design process is contractually requested to be paid no more than 14 days after the invoice is sent (I sometimes change that depending on client discussion).

Make sure both you and your client are aware of the payment terms, and make sure you’ve discussed any different terms with clients. I have some wholesale customers who work on 60 day terms (ouch!), but I know they’re good customers and will pay, so I’m okay with it. Don’t let lengthy terms ruin your cash flow though, 60 days is A LONG time not to get paid for something.

Email your invoices and prompt the client the day after late payment

I send all my invoices by email. It’s 2015, people, no one needs a paper copy. Kashflow lets me send my invoices directly from the dashboard, which is super convenient and I can keep track on when I’ve emailed invoices to the clients.

If an invoice is overdue I tend to send a friendly reminder email (and another copy of the invoice) the day after the payment was due to arrive. I’m not a dick about it, things happen, people forget, it’s usually an innocent mistake and people are mortified that it’s slipped off their radar.

Don't be a dick about a day-late payment, it's usually an innocent mistake! Click To Tweet

Stand your ground

Sometimes people are wankers and don’t pay, though, even after your friendly reminder. Every attempt at contacting leads to silence, and you can try calling, sending out paper invoice, and they still don’t pay.

It’s time to bring in the contract they signed at the start of your project. It’s time for strongly worded emails and a mention of claims and lawyers. It might even be time for naming and shaming (but be careful there, don’t do anything rash that might invalidate any claims/get you in hot water).

You can start introducing interest on to the invoice once it’s gone beyond its payment date, and you can start to look at more serious routes of claiming the money that you’re owed.

Here’re some helpful links for when things go really sour:

Have you ever had to chase a late payment? Do you have any tips for making sure you get paid on time? I’d love to hear them!