Apples to Apples

This past December, I ran a poll that asked participants if they had ever worked with a freelancer, design studio or agency. It was conducted to gather more information about individuals and businesses went about deciding who they turn to – and who they weren’t turning to – for solutions to their visual communications needs.

As a follow-up that poll, in March: this time to gather more information about how individuals and businesses select creative professionals to work with. The poll asked this question: If you have worked with a freelancer, studio or agency in the past, what factor(s) influenced your decision to work with them the most? Here are some of the findings:

  • One half of the participants either hire creative professionals based on their prior experience/history with them and/or the pricing given for their services.
  • Nearly 40% of participants choose a creative professional based on the quality of their work.
  • 13% of participants specified their own reasons for choosing a creative professional for their design needs.
  • Based on poll findings, the reputation or recognition that a creative professional seems to have little influence on the individuals’ decision of whom to work with: no one specified ‘Their reputation’ as a factor in their decision-making process.

These findings support the fact that while many small and mid-size businesses may be working with larger agencies for help with their visual communications, they would benefit a great deal from working with a freelancer or design studio instead. Though the advantages are many, I’ll supply two significant reasons for doing so: the comparative abilities that many freelancers & studios possess, and the cost-effectiveness of choosing this route.

Abilities

The one great advantage of working with an agency is the large pool of in-house resources that agencies have to draw from for highly structured projects spanning specific areas of marketing, advertising and design. Unfortunately, if a client doesn’t necessarily need to draw from all of the resources an agency represents, they may still be paying for them – or at least their associated overhead costs – in one way or another. This is where freelancers and design studios exhibit a great advantage. Seasoned, experienced freelancers and creative professionals that work at or own design studios are often resourceful, well-connected individuals with a large pool of resources to draw from on an as needed basis. They may not be your ‘one-stop shop’ for all of your creative needs, but they still have the ability to find quality solutions to your communications objectives through one of their many outlets.

Pricing

A survey conducted by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (2008) concluded that large American ad agencies billed clients on average $974.00 an hour with smaller agencies (50 employees or less) still charging rates of nearly $300 per hour. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if you’re ever visited an agency in person, but at these rates, you’re not only paying the salary of the chief creative director handling your project, but a multitude of agency overhead costs as well. Considering all the additional expenditures and overhead agencies accumulate in daily business, it’s no surprise that many existing and emerging small business owners can invest in the talents these agencies have to offer. The costs involved become the key proponent of the process, rather than the value that the work can and should bring to their business.

Inversely, the hourly rates of solo practitioners/freelancers are considerably lower than the rates of creative professionals working at agencies. According to a survey conducted by HOW Magazine (2007) these groups are charging just south of $70 for their services, with the lowest average hourly rates around $27. The report also indicates that freelancers working in the Midwest (myself included) offer some of the most competitive rates in the country, charging on average $65 per hour.

Why the difference in price?, Is it because these professionals are less experienced or skilled in their craft? While there’s bound to be a bad one in every bunch, just as there is in every field, this difference in price is due largely to the fact that many freelancers choose to work from home or a smaller office, giving them the ability to keep prices low due to minimal overhead costs and passing on considerable savings to their clients. When compared to the rates given for agencies both large and small, business owners and individuals should not only be more comfortable with these rates, but can also focus on the value of the work a freelancer or studio represents, instead of the price tag associated with their services.

Given some of the advantages of working with a freelancer or design studio, why aren’t more businesses, both great and small, giving them more consideration? The value and quality of work freelancers and studios have is shared equally with their agency counterparts and the hourly fees serving as a basis for much of the work they do, along with low overhead costs indicate that they’re an affordable alternative for any sized business.

In conclusion, it makes sense to do a little research and find the right fit for your businesses’ visual communications needs before jumping right to what seems like the obvious solution. For many small businesses, the solutions to your graphic design needs can be found in working with a studio like Scott Creative, or one of the many other established, well-respected solo practitioners and graphic design studios that are bound to be in your area. We can save you both time and money while providing the value you would expect from working with a larger agency.

Become Your Own Client: a Primer for Website Redesign

When it comes to working with our clients and prospects advice, we’ve probably all been guilty of not following the mantra “practice what you preach”. We get so caught up in the daily functions of our business and the needs of our clients that our own image begins to show a few cracks of its own. In such cases, it’s time we start taking a dose of our own medicine.

Take The Langton Cherubino Group for instance.  A New York firm specializing in marketing strategies and communications programs, the Langton Cerubino Group recently redesigned their website to adhere to the standards they hold so high for their clients.

“It’s hard to turn the equation around and become your own client.” (David Langton, Principal, Langton Cherubino Group)

As a design communications firm which specializes in branding and identity, the firm asks their clients a number of initial questions before developing a working solution for them. During the redesign, they turned these questions inward, essentially making themselves their client.

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What impressions do you want to make?
  • What information do you want to convey?
  • What does this project have to do in order for you to consider it a success?

By making this effort to address their own needs and target new prospects and visitors, it seems the firm has developed a great formula for a successful website design: one that is easily accessible, has a structure designed for the visitor rather than the firm, includes engaging links and content, is optimization for search engines and gives the firm the ability to add new content quickly.

After answering these questions, it was time for co-founders David Langton and Norman Cerubino to begin developing a website redesign that made the best impression of their work. To gauge the success of the project, new requirements of the website were outlined, including:

  • An easily accessible design.
  • A structure based on what their visitors are interested in seeing rather than just what the firm wants to show.
  • Various links and content that engage visitors to learn more about individual projects.
  • A search function to increase traffic to the site.
  • The ability to add new projects and content quickly.

While working towards achieving the goal they outlined, the Langton Cherubino Group treated the assignment as if it was one they took on for a paying client, conducting weekly meetings exploring the underlying details of the site redesign, conducting market studies of competitor sites, designing drafts of potential solutions and holding critiques to assess their viability. The result of all of this work culminated in a systematic solution with a form follows function approach.

Another requirement of the redesign was making the new website searchable and accessible by well-known search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo. The old website, which was built in flash and not easily recognized by key search engines, hurt their online visibility to a degree. The new website, based in HTML and includes both key words and descriptive text, has increased its recognizability with key search engines and has made the site easier to find for their visitors.

“We now have a more robust web solution.”

How Are You Incorporating Design Into Your Biz In 2010?

If you could improve on the visual communications of your company today, what area of your business would you most like to see improvements in?

From what I’ve observed so far this year, many clients and prospects of mine are ‘hitting the ground running’. If this is a trend (and I hope it is) among the majority of both large and small businesses alike, individuals are beginning to realize now – more than ever, is the time to strengthen their brand in the eye of their customer base.

Many businesses out there are making strides with great success – but there’s always room for improvement. Maybe they streamlined their business practices by trimming some of the fat; Maybe they’ve taken an entirely new approach to their day-to-day operations. For those out there that are stuck on what could be done to make improvements this year, exploring the many ways visual communications can positively influence business is certainly worth some consideration.

Over the next few weeks, I’m conducting another poll which raises the question: If you could improve on the visual communications of your company today, what area of your business would you most like to see improvements in? I know there are many things I’d like to do this new year myself, so I’m wondering what others out there plan to do this year to improve on their visual communications (if anything at all). If the poll doesn’t urge you to contact a creative professional about how you can start making some improvements, then my hope is to at the very least make you pause for a moment and consider how incorporating design into your current strategy just might be that missing piece of the puzzle.

Thanks in advance for participating and I’ll look forward to sharing some findings in a future post. For some findings from other polls I’ve conducted, check out the ‘Design Polls’ part of my blog.

The Highs & Lows of Self-Employment From a Solopreneur’s Perspective

So much has happened in this year alone it’s hard to believe that it’s been only 12 months since I took a very big, frightening leap and became a fully-fledged freelancer.

This month (November) marked my first-year anniversary as a solopreneur/freelancer. All I can say is wow, what a year it’s been. So much has happened in this year alone it’s hard to believe that it’s been only 12 months since I took a very big, frightening leap and became a fully-fledged freelancer. Since last September, I’ve started my own business, became a father and have since worked harder than I think I’ve ever worked in my life up to this point – all highs. I think most people would agree this past year has had it’s highs and lows (not just talking about the stock market). For me it certainly has, but I’m a the glass is half full kinda guy. Here’s a short year in review from Scott Creative:

Relationship Building

It’s not so much about growing the list of people and businesses comprising my address book, but meeting the interesting, determined business owners and professionals that have an interest in growing their business.

Probably the most successful thing that’s happened this year has come about through my ability to build on my past relationships while forging new ones: I think they call that networking. It’s not so much about growing the list of people and businesses comprising my address book, but meeting the interesting, determined business owners and professionals that have an interest in growing their business and recognize the opportunities that working with a creative professional such as myself can afford them. The continual, steady work provided by many of these business owners and professionals – who are now clients of mine – has kept me busy this past year; a number of direct mail/marketing pieces for Ironwood Golf & Country Club, multiple website design contracts for Whettstone Business Solutions (Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, the Indian Center and Carson Wealth Management), an ongoing brochure project for Design Associates, Inc., as well as the opportunity to act as lead designer for one of the most progressive magazines in O-town: Food & Spirits Magazine. This past August, I had the opportunity to meet with a wonderful woman, Tonya Ward of Energy Rescue: a small non-profit with some big potential. This new working relationship has come to fruition over the past few months and I’m so glad to have the opportunity to be working with an organization with so much potential.

Building On the Future

Earlier this year I joined the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, which I have to say is one of the greatest investments I’ve made in my business thus far.

While I have many past relationships to thank for my ability to move onward with Scott Creative, I’ve sometimes downplayed or have been just too damn busy to remember how important it is to get out there, meet people and market the design services I’m able to offer a wide range of clients – primarily small business owners. That’s not to say I haven’t gotten around though: earlier this year I joined the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, which I have to say is one of the greatest investments I’ve made in my business thus far. The number of networking and educational opportunities supported by the chamber and offered monthly to their members is staggering: they have kept my calendar full week to week. Maybe I haven’t attended all the events that I wish I would have, but I’m glad that I was able to attend the ones I did. Meeting other local business-owners and professionals in the community has been a great experience, creating relationships that I’m sure will just continue to grow.
As I’m working on this blog now, the new, revised Scott Creative ‘Marketing Machine’ is underway as well. I’ll be releasing a newsletter each month that sheds light on pressing design-related questions, design world news, etc. for my clients and those that I’ve met along the way. If you’d like to sign up, shoot me an email and I’ll add you to the list: scottcreativedesign@gmail.com. The Scott Creative website will also be up in the following month as well, so make sure to check that out here: http://www.scottcreativedesign.com. This is all being done in an effort to increase my visibility and make it easier for clients and prospects alike to understand what Scott Creative is all about: giving the small business owner an edge in this competitive marketplace by enhancing their visual communications: in short, making your business look good for your clients and prospects.

Getting Over My Mistakes

I’m still trying to find my ‘center’: that sense of balance that should come naturally when a business is doing well.

While I like to say that overall it’s been a successful year, that’s not to say it hasn’t been one without a few speed bumps and road blocks – ones that I, as a business owner, put up. I’m still trying to find my ‘center’: that sense of balance that should come naturally when a business is doing well. I often find myself going though extremes of very productive weeks, only to follow them with very very slow weeks… and I know it’s my own doing. While it’s easy to blame it on outside forces in this economic climate that we’re treading through right now, it’s been an eye-opening experience in identifying what I’ve done that’s worked as well as what I haven’t done to grow my business.

Wrap It Up
In summary, yes – things have been tough, but there’s been plenty of bright spots this year to make this freefall into freelancing worth all the effort. And while we start closing out 2009 (I think I just threw up a little bit), I’m excited to see what 2010 has in store for all of us.