We teach clients the skills to do our job, and you should too

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July 19, 2016
We teach clients the skills to do our job, and you should too.
There are two types of design clients in the design world: Those with more money than time, and those with more time than money. The former usually prefer to take a hands-off approach. They’re happy to hire out all tasks to you, large or small, and then pay the bill when it comes. It’s smooth sailing. It’s the latter type of clients that can be trouble. These bootstrapping clients are hard-pressed to dig up the funds to send run-of-the-mill projects to a design team. They’re able to invest in beautiful branding, but from there on out they try to skate by with a DIY approach to save money. They drop their logo file into a haphazard Word document to DIY their mail flyers. They fiddle for hours to create new web banners in Paint. They use the wrong fonts, swap out their colors willy-nilly, and probably drop in some pixelated clip art while they’re at it. And that sucks for you big time: Your beautiful work is squandered.

Instead, teach your clients how to do your job.

If you know your bootstrapping clients are going to start revving up their DIY engines, why not do what you can to ensure they find success – and your work doesn’t end up next to crappy clip art? Why not give them tools they can use to create successful flyers, social media graphics, signage, or what have you – without having to rely on you? Get them set up with their proper fonts, brand colors, and logo files all in one place (there are a few easy-to-use online options out there, like Canva or Visage). Create templates they can use again and again. And then teach your client how to handle their own design projects – without hiring out the job to you. [pullquote]Teach your client how to handle their own design projects – without hiring out the job to you[/pullquote] (Yes, really!) I’m not saying to do all this for free. Charge your hourly rate to get them all set up and on their way. Or charge a flat fee. Or build it into your pricing structure. It doesn’t matter how you do it. In the end, the empowerment and education you provide your clients will come back to you. Let me give an example:

Case study in empowerment

A cash-strapped client hit us up one Friday evening. Was there any way we could put together a Facebook ad for an event happening on Sunday — ASAP? Um, no, not on that timeline… But this was the perfect time for them to use the templates we’d set up for them on an online design program just one week earlier. We encouraged them to go for it. They were able to open up their online account and use the on-brand photos, fonts, and colors we’d already prepared for precisely this type of occasion. And when the ad came out, you know what? It was PRETTY DANG GOOD for someone with no design background. Would we have adjusted the layout? Yes. Would our text spacing have been more even? Yes. Would our composition have been cleaner? Yes. But how we would have done it differently is not the point. The point is that it was entirely on-brand for our client. It was a successful ad that, under circumstances where we hadn’t been willing to teach our clients to spread their own wings, could easily have been a bunch of word art thrown together on a rainbow background in Paint. That first successful ad proved to our client that they can create successful designs on their own time. Since then, they’ve run more campaigns on their own — totaling hours of work they wouldn’t be able to afford to hire us to do — and generated more business each time.

You’re not obsolete, far from it

There’s one BIG, exasperated question that we’re asked again and again by our family, friends, and other design firms: “Why do you teach your clients how to do what they pay you to do? You’re going to put yourselves out of business!” Here’s the honest answer: That’s not the case at all. We’re not cutting off business by empowering clients. In fact, we’re generating more. How? It’s simple enough to anyone, after spending time in our studio or speaking with our clients: Trust. We walk the walk when we say that we want to empower small businesses to succeed through high-quality design. [pullquote]Clients love and trust the transparency this empowerment provides[/pullquote] Yes, it would be awesome if all small businesses could hire us to handle their ongoing needs after we work with them to create original branding or launch their new website. But we know that lots of small businesses don’t have the budget for that kind of ongoing investment – especially if they’re just starting out. Getting clients set up to use a simple, online design program and teaching them to do our job proves we’ve got their back when they need it. We’re able to demonstrate that we’ve got the foresight to set them up for success and want to see them get there. And clients love and trust the transparency this empowerment provides. So when the time comes for a big project? When their business has grown steadily and they can afford to hire us? When they find they have more money than time? They know who to partner with. And they know right where to find us. This model of trust and empowerment shouldn’t be the exception in the world of design for small businesses. It should be the norm: really helping small-budget clients succeed is not only the right thing to do, it benefits their business and yours as your reputation for honest commitment grows. And when they’ve reached the point of success where they shift into having more money than time, they’ll be turning to you without a second thought.

Avery Wagner

Avery Enderle Wagner is Marketing and Content Director at Hoot Design Co. Find her @averyenderle, hidden away in the library, or side-eyeing the snack bar.

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