Penne For Your Thoughts.



By Branding & DesignNo Comments

My wife and I have been married for a long time and frequently, I get that exasperated look from her. When I politely ask what’s wrong, she rolls her eyes and tells me that I didn’t take out the garbage (or something like that). Apparently, I should have read her mind. And now I duck for cover.

Being a mind reader.

So what does my marital discord have to do with a creative agency? Well, both require clear communication – and one of the biggest complaints we hear from new clients, about their former graphic designer, is that they often missed their changes or didn’t change the layout exactly as requested. But as we know, marketers and designers cannot read each other’s minds. Although over time, a great designer seems able to.

You make the call.

As with anything a little complex, talking about it on the phone is the best way to get your point across. Sure it takes time, but at the end of the conversation, both people are on the same page. The good ol’ fashioned phone is still the best way to communicate with a designer, but if he or she is difficult to reach, then try other ways to communicate what you want done. Like you, good designers can busy too, so keep trying.

A+ for penmanship.

If you’re writing out your changes, remember there’s a reason our teachers taught us to write neatly. Some designers are great at deciphering chicken scratch, but many fail miserably. A good design agency will ask for typed out changes, but a great one will ask you to use the easy-to-use ‘sticky note’ tool right in the PDF itself.

All at once.

And all those changes are best supplied all at once, in a single email, to your designer. It can help eliminate the excuse that they lost your emails in some kind of inbox abyss.

Be patient.

Your designer wants to see your project done right. Sharing and collaborating with you along the way is the best way to achieve it. And while some designers put a limit on the number of changes, at our creative agency, we believe it takes what it takes, and handcuffing you to a pre-set amount of changes is counter-productive. The entire process, like a good marriage, requires patience and good communication.

Now, excuse me. Apparently I need to take out the garbage. Again.

Squeeze your design budget

By TipsNo Comments

1. Stop paying a premium for rush!

In the 21 years I’ve managed Synergy Design, we’ve never once charged a client a rush fee, I just don’t believe in it. A solid agency should have the bandwidth to handle urgent projects and have some buffer built into their studio.

On the other hand, if you tell your designer it’s urgent every time, they’ll quickly learn that it’s not. If you want to be a great client, be honest about your deadlines. Build trust with your agency by giving them time when you have it and you’ll be in great shape to call in a favour when you’re in deep [email protected]*# because the content was due last week.

2. Multiple layouts = Mucho dinero

Designers generally pour their heart and soul into the first layout, so requesting additional designs (of diminishing quality) may not get you far.

And since you’re likely paying for each one, maybe you should ask to see the first layout first – you may not need a second or even a third. However, if you work with an agency with several designers, then requesting multiple layouts typically means you’ll get multiple designers. Well worth the investment.

3. Whoa, hang on, you’re not ready for design

A huge part of the design process is managing incoming assets. If you drip feed your agency with copy today, logos tomorrow, and the photos next week, it can add significant project management time.

Oh, and try to provide copy that’s been edited. Why? Well, designers are happy to make minor edits on the fly, but often they’re making major edits typically because they’re working with draft copy. So, save your dinero by editing and proof-reading the copy before sending it for design.

4. Uh oh, did you go past 3 revisions?

The industry standard of capping edits to just 3 rounds is older than my grandpa’s Cadillac. I can’t recall when a project was wrapped up in 5 rounds, let alone 3. Designers know this and will often use “extra revisions” as a chance to pad the bill.

However, a good agency will have plenty of work on hand and won’t be desperate to squeeze every dollar out of you. They recognize that every client is different, so handcuffing them to a pre-determined amount of changes impedes the relationship. Try negotiating at least 5 rounds of revisions with your designer, you’re going to need them. Uh, better make it 6, and read more about edits and changes here.

5. Scope creep

On the other hand, unforeseen major changes in a project or scope beyond what was quoted, will happen.

This often occurs gradually, and most designers will let it go, but when it gets out of hand both parties should be honest and work out a compromise on additional fees. There’s that trust thing again. I’m starting to see a pattern here.

6. Flat fee

And finally, ask your designer or creative agency about flat fee, per project pricing instead of hourly or retainer. It can often be difficult for inexperienced designers to know how long a project will take, and their invoice could be a big surprise. Like the state of Texas big. Of course, a seasoned agency will have designed a project like yours before, so they’ll have the confidence to quote you a flat fee, no surprises, and no hidden fees. Read more about that here because hey, I could use the backlink.

Ok, is that enough to get you started?

I have other thoughts on how to squeeze more from that creative budget of yours. Something about using templates, repurposing content, and even becoming exclusive with a creative partner you can trust. Honestly, that last part is the best way to squeeze your budget. But we’ll address that another time, I’ve got to go and squeeze my wife now… Her budget I mean, her budget.

Getting Fresh Ideas from your Graphic Designer

By Branding & DesignNo Comments

I talk with several marketers throughout my day, some clients, some prospective clients. Naturally I’m looking to find out what’s happening in their world and how our creative agency can help them. And I’m quite pleased to hear good things about their current creative partners (be it a freelance graphic designer or a design agency). Many have built solid relationships and are quite happy to stay with their provider.

But when I dig deeper, I find that creative complacency has kicked in and they’re really not happy at all. Some marketers reveal that they’re frustrated with their graphic designer because they’re not getting fresh new ideas. I hear this a lot, and wonder why.

Graphic designers are supposed to be full of great new ideas, aren’t they?

Well, yes, but a good designer should be maintaining your brand and keeping the visuals consistent across the various channels. As you know, your credibility is at stake and having a repetitive look and feel helps with brand recognition. But a great creative partner will often introduce new ideas to freshen up the brand experience to attract more prospects.

So if you’re not getting fresh ideas from your freelance graphic designer or design firm, then maybe try these ideas:

  • Simply tell them you’re looking for something new – and why.
  • Share your vision and have a collaborative discussion.
  • Allow your designer some freedom (but not too much).
  • Avoid asking for ‘outside the box’, but rather give direction and provide samples of what may work for your piece.
  • Tell your creative partner the problem you’re trying to solve or tell them the purpose of the piece.
  • Try introducing new content or new messaging.
  • Maybe provide a different amount of copy – less is more, right?
  • Let them change the dimensions or shape of the piece.
  • Allow the introduction of a new font, breaking free of the corporate guidelines – just once.
  • Ditto for colour. You’d be surprised how a complimentary colour can shake things up.
  • Let your creative agency in on the budget and see if there’s room to try additional ideas.

And be brave. What you get back may be way off – or off the wall, but there could be some gold in there. Perhaps their way is better, perhaps not, but work with them by providing feedback. What you think works and what you think doesn’t. And go another round, or two, or three. It may take some time, but they’ll get there and you may just be happy with that fresh new idea.

Finding a new graphic designer, and planning the first date

By Branding & DesignNo Comments

Having to part company with your current graphic designer and then hire a new one can be quite an ordeal, striking fear into the most seasoned of Marketers. And I get it, I too have had to (sadly) let a designer go and hire new talent, even the odd freelancer on rare occasion.

It’s difficult to get past the comfort you enjoy with your current designer. She knows your company, your brand, and even those weird little quirks you have. It’s so easy to work with her as she ‘gets’ you – but deep down you know it’s time to move on.

The thought of having to start all over with a new designer, thinking he’ll never understand your ways is a giant, mammoth hurdle you’d rather not face – but you know, you’re not alone. Just about every Marketer faces this moment at one point in their working life.

Yet, hiring a new designer can be worth the effort, and I’m here to help by sharing what some of our clients did when they hired our design agency.

Ask for a referral.

Start first by asking a trusted colleague for a referral. If they work with a great agency, they may be willing to share them with you. Some Marketers love their designers and will jump at the chance to help them win a new client. If they have a bad designer on the other hand, you’ll likely hear about that too. Uhm, so don’t hire that one.

And naturally, try social. There are many great designers out there, so tap into your network. If you’re a b2b Marketer, try reaching out on LinkedIn. Creative agencies lurk there too, but the key is getting a referral from a 1st connection. Obviously, FB and Instagram will be great too, but designers who invest time on LinkedIn are likely more business-minded and may be a better fit for your company. 

If you want to inflict self-pain however, hire one through Upwork, Fiverr or 99designs. Like online dating, you may have to go through a dozen creeps to find a good one. It’s a time suck having to constantly explain your brand and repeating your instructions, so we suggest finding a design partner through referral.

The vetting process.

If you get a referral, then most of the work is already done, so there’s only a few simple steps left.

  • Start by checking out their website and social presence.
  • Does their portfolio match the calibre of work you need done?
  • Do they have any relevant samples remotely close to your collateral?
  • Have they been in business for at least a couple of years?
  • Do they list their clients by name?
  • Do they have real testimonials or recommendations on LinkedIn?
  • Are they at least someone you’d invite to dinner?

The first date.

You make the first move. Get that colleague to connect you and make the first phone call, email or text. Don’t wait for them to initiate, they’re just as busy as you are. Well, you at least hope they are. If they respond quickly, then you’re off to a good start.

But many designers won’t even respond, and many will put up roadblocks. They may tell you that they’re on vacation, or can’t talk to you until next week, and certainly don’t have room to take on new work until the last week of the month. That could be a sign that working with them will be difficult.

And that’s not a good thing if it’s an agency either. Sure, a busy agency is a sign of a good agency, but if they don’t have bandwidth to take on new clients and grow their own business, what makes them think they can help grow yours?

However, if that designer responds by saying “sure let’s talk”, then you may have landed a good one. They should sound excited to work with you, but not desperate. And they should ask just as many questions of you, that you ask of them. Remember, you’re being vetted too. 

Then start small.

Never, ever award a new designer a big project at the beginning. Start them off with something small, low risk and see how they perform. And more importantly, see how easy it is to work together. It may be rocky as you get to know one another, but push through the first one and see how it goes.

Then wait for stakeholder feedback on the creative. If it performs favourably, then move to the next project. And the next. Take it slow and you may get to third base.

And maybe check back with that referring colleague to see if his first experiences were just as positive as yours. Don’t forget to thank them for finding you a great agency. 

Ok, Dad, thanks for the advice.

One of my readers said my posts sound a bit like her father’s advice. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing she said, but I guess it just come from years of experience, and hearing stories from Marketers just like you. Many love their creative agency and many don’t, so find a good one, you deserve it. Your mother and I just want you to be happy.