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Eight Things to Have Figured Out Before You Meet Your Designer

September 8th, 2009 :: Michael Dougherty

I was talking with Steven Fisher about a few projects we’ve been working on.  We realized that most people who start projects haven’t fully planned out what they might need before sitting down with a designer. This, inevitably, ends in the client, the designer, or both frustrated and annoyed with the process/project. This also usually results in the client not jazzed enough about the final product to want to market it effectively or the final product not being the best it could.

Now there are a ton of reasons why this doesn’t happen, but the most consistent, from what I can see, is just lack of education on the process. To elevate that, I’ve come up with the eight things I’ve seen that clients can think about prior to starting a project. Having most of these prepared, or planned for, a client and designer might find that they both get everything they need from the project.

  1. Be realistic about your goals, budget, and intentions BEFORE you get a designer. Just because you “think” you need, or are ready for, a brochure, website, or whatever, doesn’t mean you should just jump in without thought or planning. Just showing up and expecting the designer to have all the answers about your project is a sure fire way to have this fail. As far as your budget…be realistic. Just like the time you are taking away from your clients/projects, they are doing the same. You can’t get a Porsche for the price of a Honda without something wrong with it. You get what you pay for so treat your project as an investment.
  2. Be clear about your ideas UP FRONT in your initial meeting. Before I go into this, let’s start by promising me you will remove the phrase “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it” from your lexicon immediately. If you feel that you are getting talked into, overly pressured by your boss or staff, or see that other people in your industry have the marketing piece and you aren’t sure, or feel it isn’t right for you right now, stop where you are until you know YOU are ready and it makes some amount of sense to YOU. This is your marketing piece after all.If you know you need a marketing piece, but aren’t sure what it will look like…this is the opportunity for your designer to get creative and they love that. But you need to have some idea of what you are looking for, even in the most general sense. The best way to do this is to find some examples of other companies’ materials that you like and bring them to the meeting. This will help give the designer a visual idea of what you are looking for.
  3. Listen to what the designer tells you is, and isn’t, possible based on your goals, budget, and intentions. Unless your designer is as new to the process as you are, which may be cheaper but has major downsides, the designer you higher probably knows more about how to create the best possible outcome for your project. This might mean that your idea doesn’t fit your budget, but there are some creative solutions that designers can bring to the table if you are clear, up front, about what you want to do. Do you see a pattern?
  4. Make sure you understand what you are getting before you sign. I know this might seem like common sense. You’d be surprised how many people agree to a website, brochure, and etc. then realize what they signed up for was either more, or less, than what they needed. Just be sure that when you are ready to get started that you’ve asked all the questions you needed to. That’s your time to make sure you’ve got your I’s dotted and T’s crossed…on more than just paper.
  5. Just because it seems simple…if it’s not in your agreement don’t ask. What may seem like a “simple” change to you could actually be more labor intensive than you think. Often people will ask “That seems pretty easy for you. You can just add it in quickly right?” That, my friends, is the beginnings of scope creep. When you sat down with your designer and went over your contract things should have been pretty specific as to what you’ll get. Anything beyond that is a new project or an addendum. I went over Scope Creep in a previous post, which I encourage you to read, but here is a good question for you.If you go into a grocery store and, as the cashier is ringing up all of your items, you say, “You know it seems pretty easy for you to just add this other item into my bag without paying for it,” what do you think the reaction will be?A better question is, would you accept that from one of your customers?
  6. Be involved in the process from the beginning. All too often a project gets started and the client doesn’t give much focus or attention to it until it get’s close to the end or things are running behind. In those times, clients will really start taking a hard look at what they are getting and want to make changes because they “didn’t notice that before” or “were too busy to give it some thought” (actual things said to me).This is your companies marketing pieces. You need to be invested, from the beginning, so that the project isn’t delayed by changes like this, derailed by an over zealous designer or sales person, and stays on track…before it’s too late. Ask as many questions as you like. This is your time to make sure your marketing pieces turn out the best they can.
  7. Be sure you’re 100% happy before you sign off on the design. Long after the designer is gone, the project is completed, and the last payment clears…you are left with the piece you had designed. If you were negligent on any of the steps above, you probably aren’t too happy with your piece OR you got really lucky and your designer hit a home run without much input, or feedback, from you.If you were, you had every opportunity to walk away from the project, unless you got cramped for time and backed into a corner, because sometimes clients and designers don’t see eye to eye. That’s ok if you don’t. You don’t have to accept the first designer you see because you need something.If you are unhappy with a marketing piece, and you can honestly say you weren’t involved, clear on your intentions, or didn’t understand what was going on from the beginning, let me be blunt and honest, part of that is your fault. Before you fully lay all the blame on the designer, take a look at what you could have done from the beginning and do that next time.

    If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been expressing a great sense of ownership on the clients’ part to this project. This is the marketing piece YOU are paying for after all to market YOUR company. Shouldn’t you want to be involved?

  8. Remember the marketing piece ultimately isn’t about you. Last, but not least, when working with a designer, remember who your target audience is. You aren’t buying your own services so just because you love it…doesn’t mean your clients will. It’s ok to have a different style than your clients, but if you are a Dentist and you love the designs of Horror flick posters…you can see where I’m going with this.Go to your local networking group, current valued customers, or people you explicitly trust to be brutally honest with you, and create your own mini focus group. Share the design with them and get their feedback, but make sure that you aren’t abusing the review time you and the designer agreed upon in the contract. If you do…you can’t blame the designer if the project goes beyond your expected completion date.

The list above is vague enough to fit both print and web based projects. I know, if we put our collective contractor thinking hats on that we could come up with more than eight, but here’s where I ask for your contributions. What other things do you think need to be thought of before you sit down with a designer?

Thank you for reading and, as all ways, stay wicked.

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View Comments to “Eight Things to Have Figured Out Before You Meet Your Designer”

  1. Deviah says:

    As CEO of a design firm I have to tell you this is great stuff. I intend sending this link to all my clients, existing and new. BTW, there's a typo in line 2 of Point No. 3: Change “higher” to “hire.”

  2. Deviah says:

    As CEO of a design firm I have to tell you this is great stuff. I intend sending this link to all my clients, existing and new. BTW, there's a typo in line 2 of Point No. 3: Change “higher” to “hire.”

  3. Deviah says:

    As CEO of a design firm I have to tell you this is great stuff. I intend sending this link to all my clients, existing and new. BTW, there's a typo in line 2 of Point No. 3: Change “higher” to “hire.”

  4. […] Grow Smart Business: “Eight Things to Have Figured Out Before You Meet Your Designer” […]

  5. […] of “Mike Dougherty’s Eight Things”. In other posts in this series, I’ve gone over things to have figured out before you meet your designer, things to help you choose your next marketing piece, and things to think about before you start […]

  6. lisajacksondesign says:

    Love it! I am a graphic designer.

  7. lisajacksondesign says:

    Love it! I am a graphic designer.

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