The past year has brought me some amazing business experiences, as well as some less-than-desirable ones. Navigating all this – as a human being, and not just a graphic designer – has got me seriously thinking about my core principles and how they inform the work that I do.
I think it’s important to share this, so let’s dive in.
This is the core guiding principle behind what I do in my work.
From the outset, I knew I wanted my business to be as close to carbon-neutral as possible, and I run virtually paper-free. All my backups are digital, I use one handwritten notebook every 6 months, and I don’t print anything (unless it’s a client’s print-based product). I work from home or hire a coworking desk so that I’m not responsible for an office full of power bills, I haven’t printed physical business cards in nearly 5 years, and I use public transit where I can.
Environment aside, I operate on principles of mutual respect with my clients. I quote fairly and honestly using mathematics, and can break client quotes down component-by-component with reasoning if asked (besides what’s already issued in your PDF). I haven’t raised my rates in 3 years, and like to approach relationships from the outset using a good-faith attitude and clear communication. All late fees and express rates if things become squashed are clearly written in your contract, and you can avoid them easily through adequate and considerate communication with me.
Just this week, I sent off some flyers to a client who discovered that there was a render error I hadn’t picked up in one of the photos. Because it was the right thing to do, I immediately reissued them a new, fixed, express-post batch of 750 flyers at my own expense. It meant I actually lost about $80 doing that job – a consequence I had to wear – and one I would still wear if it happened again.
Also, a friend recently told me – half-jokingly – that my business is “considered ethical under a Marxist framework because I don’t exploit anyone else for their labour”. I laughed at that, but I suppose it’s true, too. If I ever use someone else’s services, I expect them to invoice me fairly for their time and I gladly and promptly pay for their efforts.
I was working from home before it was cool. No, but really. Flexibility has always been super important to me, as someone who struggled greatly with their mental health in their late teens and early twenties. Often, school and university left me feeling completely exhausted and it was easier for me to keep up (and flourish) by doing the work online in my own time. That mindset has followed me right through to nearly-30, and I now know that a huge amount of jobs can be done just as well – if not better – remotely. When COVID hit in March 2020, everyone else I knew started to operate the same way and this is now a commonly accepted fact.
At the start of 2023, I spent 4 months in Europe doing the exact same work I usually do from my home in Canberra. Had I not told my clients I was actually in Dublin, they wouldn’t have known any different.
In fact, I think remote work has some serious benefits. It promotes trust and shifts the focus from time-spent to results-achieved. It cuts commutes down, which is great for the environment and for mental health (see above). And to be honest, if you have to stand behind your employee to make sure they’re doing their work, the odds are they aren’t focusing in the office any better than they are at home. Adding remote work into the equation often shows you who you can trust and who has integrity.
And it’s not just flexibility from my side. I often have clients with unexpected events popping up in their lives – especially if those clients have kids – and I’m more than happy to delay projects without penalty provided the communication is clear and I’m notified as soon as possible. It all ties into the ethics above – if you respect my time and simply give me enough notice so that I can source some other work to fill in the gaps, I’m happy to reschedule, postpone, or slow down your work as much as you like. Late fees only apply if you’ve held me to a deadline yet not supplied me with the information I need to be able to complete your job. They’re there to protect my income and other bookings from lack of client diligence – simple as that.
I am a no-BS designer, with a caveat: don’t be cruel.
I won’t lie to you if I genuinely think you could benefit from a different approach. In return, I expect you to tell me if you don’t like work I’ve produced; that’s part of the gig and absolutely necessary for me to give you an end product you love. But if that honesty, at any point, turns into disrespect or abuse – that is not acceptable.
I have, in the past, had to cancel (and at times report) projects for several reasons including:
- Suspecting a client may be using their designs to facilitate criminal activity
- Reading a potential retainer contract and finding it full of discriminatory language
- Being verbally abused and having my reasonable suggestions to further progress rejected
- Being yelled at or hung up on while prompting late content from clients
It’s really important that you know – if you do any of the above, your project is likely to be cancelled and you won’t get your deposit back. I wrote about this in my previous article, “Hey Clients, we need to talk…”.
On the flipside, the majority of my client experiences have been AH-MA-ZING and I usually have awesome results, like…
- A client telling me I’ve helped their dreams come true
- Business relationships turning into genuine friendships, and having clients with whom I go out for coffee
- Clients telling me their annual reports are their “best-ever” and how pleased they are
- Clients telling me my coaching has helped their children thrive at university
- Being personally thanked for my work by a very prominent Australian political figure.
It’s amazing what mutual respect can do, and to be honest, that’s part of the reason I show so much of my personality on my website. If you’re turned off by my approach or don’t like the way I think, speak or talk, then… don’t work with me! We both need to be happy, and a friendly relationship based on mutual good faith is the only way to go. Also, I’m an educated and record-breaking design professional with three university majors and a HD in statistics, so don’t treat me like an idiot. The undervaluing, underestimation, and exploitation of creatives – be it designers, artists, musicians or actors – really grinds my gears.
What do you think? If you had to list your 3 most important business principles, what would they be?
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