Business Mistakes Graphic Designers Make

Hey, welcome back, pros. I’m Adrian Boysel and today I want to talk to you about something that’s important – something that can be a casualty event for your graphic design or web design business. As business owners, we are always looking for ways to improve our business and avoid making costly business mistakes. In the graphic design world, there are a few big mistakes that can be easily avoided. In this article, we will discuss some of the most common business mistakes made by graphic designers, and tips on how to avoid them. So pay attention! It could save your business from disaster.

We All Make Business Mistakes

Business Mistakes Graphic Designers MakeThis is something you really need to be paying attention to – something you need to know. It’s not something you’ll learn from business school or graphic design school until you actually go through it firsthand. My career spans over 15 years. I’ve been doing this for a living for over a decade and working for myself means making business mistakes. I’ve learned a lot of important lessons along the way, but one of the most important lessons is to avoid getting sued or having clients come after you, or having bad projects just come on and fall on your lap. This can cause your business a lot of stress and ultimately end your business, so I want to talk to you guys about three business mistakes I made. Then, I’m going to give you tips to avoid these big business mistakes.

Learning from My Business Mistakes

So, in 2017 I was working on an app project for some friends of mine. They were friends at the time, and they had this big vision – this grandiose idea to create an app in the fitness industry. As part of this app, they were going to create a bunch of content and release this app out to the massive audience that they supposedly had. They said they were going to blow this thing up and make millions and millions of dollars, but they just needed somebody to build the app.

Of course, being the guy that I am, who loved doing creative work and app design, I agreed to take on the project. I took them through the process, helped them develop the branding and strategy for the app, and ultimately came up with a great concept and idea. But there are two sides to every coin; as much as there needs to be an app and great overall design and look and feel, there also needs to be an effective business strategy. There needed to be content for this app, too, which is important to consider when trying to avoid these three business mistakes. There were a number of problems and challenges that I experienced through this project and process that I’ve now learned from. Now, I want to share this knowledge with you, our readers.

Mistake #1: Not Having a Proper Contract

Business Mistakes Graphic Designers MakeThe first mistake was not having a proper contract. I created a contract that I thought was phenomenal at the time, and I even had an attorney review it. The contract had terms and conditions that every client signed, and it was very clearly stated on my invoices what my expectations were and who was responsible for the payments and all those types of things. Something you need to make sure is in every single contract, aside from the scope of work.

Now, the scope of work is really important. What are you responsible for delivering? This is the key, but there’s also a flip side to that coin. What is your client responsible for delivering? This mistake I made; I did not itemize and create a specific list for what the client was responsible for delivering. Payments: what’s the payment schedule? Content: what was the content schedule? When were they going to get it to me? And how much time did they have to do it? I based my timeline on how long it was going to take to develop the app solely on my side, without accounting for delays on my client’s side.

Why It Matters

Now, if you’re like me and you’ve been doing this for an extended period of time, we know that one of the biggest issues that we run into as creatives is waiting for content from clients. A lot of clients have this expectation that we’ll cut them a break and we are responsible, as a creative agency, to supply the content.

Well, the truth is, whether they’re a gym owner, a plumber, a contractor, a lawyer, whatever you are – they are the expert in their field, right? They are the experts in their field, just like you are the expert at building an app or designing a logo. They are the experts in their area and are responsible for coming up with content. If they’re not going to provide that content, you need to find out upfront what that expectation is so you can get it from them, or go have somebody else do it for you. You can hire an expert who knows this topic.

So this is an area that I left out in my contract. I did not hold these guys responsible for the content that they told me they were going to get me. They told me: “We’re going to get you all this content. It’s all going to be handled.” It never happened. That was their responsibility, but it was my fault because I did not put that in the contract. So, that’s lesson number one in learning from business mistakes. Make sure you cover the scope of work that you are responsible for, and what the client is responsible for.

Mistake #2: Not Documenting Client Communications

Business Mistakes Graphic Designers MakeThe second mistake that graphic designers make is not documenting their client communication. I’m the kind of person who hates emails, which may not be you. Some of you guys who are like me probably understand that it’s a tedious process. It’s a difficult form of communication because there’s a lot of context that is missing. Communication includes your body language and the tone of voice, right? I can’t get across what I’m trying to say the same way on an email as I can in person. So, I like to pick up the phone and call people.

I had many conversations with these clients about what my expectations were and what I needed from them. Unfortunately, I didn’t wrap up those phone calls with an email follow-up, so I had very little to show for myself in terms of backing up all the times that I called over and over again asking for this content and asking for these articles. Ultimately, the project was delayed because there were a lot of initial delays due to payments. It took about a year for them to get all the money together for the payments. I did not document that at all. After all, they were my friends and I trusted them.

Why It Matters

The last thing I ever expected was to have a legal battle with these guys because I thought we were friends. I thought we were going to be taking care of each other and looking out for each other, but that’s just not the case when it comes to dealing with money. So this is something that’s really important. Every single time you have some sort of issue along the way – you need to document that. Yes, you can pick up the phone and call them to say, “Hey, it’s been two weeks. I haven’t gotten your content. Where are we at with that?”

Then they say, “Oh, yeah! We’re working on it. We’ll get it done and sent over in a week.”

Perfect! Hang up the phone and write out an email that says, “Based on our conversation today on 1/22/17, you have not gotten me the content I need to proceed. You said you will get it to me by [future agreed-upon date]. I need items X, Y, and Z based on the scope of work that we talked about. Please confirm via email that you received this.” Then get a confirmation from them that the email was received and save the confirmation.

Always Have a Backup

This is absolutely critical. If you don’t do this, you’re going to have a hard time later on backing up that you made those phone calls. Just showing you made a phone call doesn’t show any proof of what the conversation entailed, so you need to back these up with emails and having good documentation. Again, with payment delays, it’s the same thing. If you have a payment delay, you need to document that. Write them to say, “Hey, we’re on delay now because of the payments or the lack of payments.” This is a super important lesson that you need to learn. Something that I’ve learned to a whole new degree now. I’ve done this in the past and I’ve learned from this from the past, but this one came to bite me recently. It’s something that I don’t want you to make the same mistake on.

Mistake #3: Allowing Clients to Delay the Project without Sending a Notice of Delay

Business Mistakes Graphic Designers MakeThe last mistake that graphic designers make is allowing these clients to delay the project without a written notice of delay, thus creating more problems or delays like late payments, not getting new content, and not communicating. Even when they don’t answer, send a notice. Just because you call them and they don’t answer doesn’t mean that it ends there, right? You need to send an email and say, “Hey, I just tried to reach you about Project ABC. Please give me a callback. I need to talk to you about X.”

Allowing these things to keep happening over and over again was a problem. I allowed these guys to have a year to make their payment, but they ultimately ended up trying to say later on down the road when it came to a legal battle that they just offered me company ownership in return for the money that they owed me – which was a flat out lie. They offered me company ownership from the very beginning, then they tried to use that against me in court.

Why It Matters

This is something that I don’t want to happen to you. These are red flags. These are not yellow flags. I repeat, these are red flags. Delays. Nonpayment. Not following through. Not communicating. Ghosting you. All these things make it difficult for you to have a healthy relationship. You need to take a hard look at these things and see if your boundaries and expectations will allow that.

Going forward, I will not allow this type of behavior from any of my clients. You should set boundaries upfront with your clients about what your expectations are. Now that we have client communication standards, we expect our clients to communicate with us just as we expect them to expect us to communicate with them. Content delivery delays, payment delays, lack of communication, contract breaches – all these things are going to get documented. They’re going to get put in writing, then they’re going to go into their CRM and into their customer file so that I can use them later on if there’s ever any kind of serious issue, like a legal battle, where you can get sued.

Final Thoughts on Making Business Mistakes

Business Mistakes Graphic Designers MakeNow, these are important lessons that I want you to take into consideration. Don’t just be Mr. Nice Guy like I am. Take this stuff seriously; this is business, not just friendship. I’ve allowed a lot of my business relationships to becoming more about friendships. This has really hurt me in the end, so these are three big lessons I wanted you to know. Make sure you keep thorough documentation, make sure you keep track of everything and make sure that you don’t allow people to run you over. This is really important, so that’s what I got for you guys today. Thank you so much for reading – we love creating this type of content that can really help people like yourself. God bless, and as always, keep looking up!