A Professional Mindset
There are two types of people in the design industry. Technicians, those that do a job that they are told to do, and professionals, those that do a job that they tell themselves to do.
A professional is someone you seek when you have a problem that needs to solved in the best, most effective way possible. You aren’t a professional unless you have a process. A process is what you guide the client through when you’re working with them. It’s your means to solving the problems presented to you. It’s how you do the work that you do, when you do it, why you’re doing it, and how you conclude the work with the client.
Why would you hire a professional? Professionals are expensive, so shouldn’t you save money and go for the cheapest option to cut costs for your business?
Professionals are people who position themselves as an expert at what they do. They are an investment. A professional focusses their attention on solving the problems presented to them by the client, and can also discover new problems that the client may have that they were unaware of. For a professional, the conversation is never focussed on money. Likewise, if a client approaches you and begins the conversation with the budget, this is a red flag and they are not the type of client you should be working with, as I mentioned before.
To consider yourself a professional, you need to have a process. Establishing yours is essential to becoming a professional and positioning yourself as an investment to future clients.
As a professional, you need to be approached by clients, not the other way around. If you chase clients, you are chasing the ones that you would otherwise wouldn’t work with. They are doing you the favour of being their client, because of this, there is no sense of obligation on their part because you offered your service to them, they didn’t approach you.
The clients who will want to work with you will understand you, your process, and your values. They will know because of your case studies, and your writing. All of which is displayed on your website.
Case studies are the best way for you to find new clients. They will be the ones who approach you because you have displayed your problem solving abilities in various scenarios though your case studies. This is how you position yourself as an expert in your field. This is how you attract clients. At all time, you need to be good at what you do.
You have all these clients coming to you asking to work with you. How do you filter down to th good ones and how do you know which ones to say yes to? The best clients will position you as an investment and recognise your ability to solve problems. You filter these clients with your questionnaire/contact form. The questions you ask on this form are crucial to filtering the ones you want to work with, and the ones who are wasting your time.
A contact form should not be ‘Name/Email/Message’. These questions aren’t enough to distinguish the clients who are serious about their work and the ones who aren’t ready for your services. This is where you ask serious questions about their intentions, their brand, the target market, what are they building, why they think you are the best person to help them. That question is an opportunity for the client to iterate that you they understand your values and your process, and are willing to come under it.
Now it’s down to business. It’s time for the actual work. You’ve had the initial conversation over email, the client sent you the brief, what they want from this project, what you are going to solve, how much your charging, when you expect the payment, the amount of time it will take to complete the project, what files/deliverables they need to send to you before you begin and what you need to sent to them when the work is complete. Ask them for any pre existing brand requirements, assets and guidelines to follow before you begin.
This is your responsibility, this is your work, so you can’t blame the client for not being aware of these discrepancies. You are an expert in your area, and they are an expert in theirs. Refer to them when you need to get information that you may have overlooked initially.
You have handed them the agreement to sign, and you make them aware that you will be paid, in half the final amount, before the work begins. Professionals get paid to work.
When you complete the final piece of work is complete, inform the client. Let them know that the work is done, show them a preview, but never send the final deliverables before you get paid the final half that your owed. The client will pay really fast, this approach cuts out any ‘delay’ that they may have with paying you. It’s a sure-fire way to get paid.
When you get paid, you can’t just box everything into the final email and leave You still have to present your work to the client. Why you made the choices you did, the problems you solved and the obstacles you overcame. You need to present your objective problem solving decisions to the client.
Maintain the professional relationship at all times, you never know what they may say to another potential client or who they may send to you to avail of your services. Good news travels slow, but bad news travels far.
A Professional is responsible for every aspect project, even the things that go wrong. It’s always your fault. You set the expectations and responsibilities, this is your domain, you know what you are talking about because you are an expert in your field. If something comes up that you didn’t foresee, take responsibility for it. A novice shuns responsibility and blames others, a professional assumes and seeks responsibility.
This can be hard, because you risk looking like you don’t now what you are talking about. While in fact, by taking responsibility, you maintain professionalism by understand that there is a problem that needs to be addressed and you show competence that you can address it, even if it was caused by you.
Professionalism is not just a mindset, it’s a way of living, its how you present yourself and articulate your work. Establishing yourself as a professional allows you to charge more for your service, but you can’t call yourself a professional in name, but without acting like it. You assume the responsibility of a professional, something that not everyone can do when they first start off, it takes yours to hone your process and define your professionalism.
What you can do is practice. Practice your work, get good at what you do, write case studies about personal projects, imaginary clients. Anything that reflects real world problems that can be solved with your work. It takes a mature decision to start now.
Do you want to be a fiverr.com artist, lost in obscurity and originality, undercutting the next artist in a bid to be paid €5 for your cheap service? Or do you want to be an independent creator running your own business, capable of solving real problems for real clients, under your own professional terms where you charge what your worth?
It’s your decision.