Archive: Nov 2012

  1. Is a Graphic Design Degree Worthwhile?

    47 Comments 11 min read

    To the vast majority of people out there degrees are a huge expense and with 2012 having one of the highest rates of unemployment in graduates ever, they’re really not any kind of guarantee of finding work. For graphic design this is especially true as the United States Department for Education has dictated that the majority of graphic design courses are ineligible for federal funding, as they are “of poor value, with low loan repayment rates and low earnings after graduation”. So with that said, are they really necessary? In an industry of freelancers and design agencies, just how vital is a degree in graphic design?

    I’m incredibly proud of my accomplishments and my abilities as a designer, but I often ask myself “would I be more successful or more talented if I’d have opted for a degree from the start?”

    Now from the off I think it’s fair to point that not I (nor any designer really) can give a totally unbiased answer to the question of whether or not a degree in graphic design is worthwhile, as they would have either decided to obtain a degree or not to, and would no doubt want to support their decision. In my case I don’t have a degree in graphic design (although I do have a degree in history – which is still classed as an arts degree!) and am 100% self taught. I’m incredibly proud of my accomplishments and my abilities as a designer, but I often ask myself “would I be more successful or more talented if I’d have opted for a degree from the start?”. With that said, I will do my best to show off both sides of the argument in as clear and as unbiased way as I possibly can, not because it’s the only way to make this article genuinely useful – but to find out if I made the right call?

    Ok, so with the absolute best intentions of being as unbiased as possible, I just want to share a couple of the first links that cropped up when I Googled the phrase “is a graphic design degree worthwhile?”. The first one I looked at was a Yahoo Answer which came back with quotes like

    A better use of time and money would be to buy some equipment and teach yourself as you will be in control of everything you learn and also in control of your finances” and “I chose to study at university and ended up teaching myself everything I know as the course didn’t offer the levels of information I required“.

    The second link I followed up was from Apt Lab and threw out lines like this “In other words, graphic design is no more a growth industry than any other, finding a job will be difficult, and your course work might not be as relevant as you were told“.

    This is on page one of Google.

    So far I’m feeling pretty good about my decision, but we all know that negative stereotypes rise above good ones and that we can’t trust the few that speak out to be the voices of the many that are satisfied and unheard. So true to my word I have dug a little deeper and come up with some solid arguments for gaining a degree in graphic design to go alongside the argument for teaching yourself.

    What you gain from a graphic design degree

    Probably the most important thing you get out of a Graphic Design course (and pretty much any course for that matter) is knowledge. Actually having the know how to get the job done is a huge plus. It may seem obvious to the point of being ridiculous but graphic design has become an industry rife with amateurs who have got hold of a copy of Photoshop and now expect to be paid for anything they churn out. Being a graphic designer requires a working and in depth knowledge of a vast array of skills, and undergoing a design course is a sure fire way to learn them.

    Another attribute of the graphic design course that very much goes hand in hand with knowledge is experience. At some point you will make mistakes, and when you do, it is far far better to be torn to shreds be a lecturer than it is by a paying client who is up against a deadline. Some things are just unforeseen, and whilst it’s true that the sooner you make mistakes the sooner you learn the solutions, an academic environment surely helps to soften the blow.

    Design courses have you tackle a wide array of projects, all needing different styles and solutions and having that kind of variety in your portfolio is really beneficial

    I’ve said before that one of the greatest assets any designer has in their arsenal is their portfolio, and design degrees are great for getting yours started off. More often than not design courses have you tackle a wide array of projects, all needing different styles and solutions and having that kind of variety in your portfolio is really beneficial when you’re first starting out. In some cases I’ve seen newly qualified designers present projects they did for huge brands like Coca Cola or Nike, and whilst these projects are ‘fake’, they’re fake in a very obvious way that doesn’t make it seem like you’re trying to get one over on a client, but still look very professional and show the type of work you’re capable of at the top level of design.

    Designers with a degree start out in their careers with one more thing than those who are self taught, and that’s a design degree. It can be especially true for those looking for jobs in design agencies that a formal qualification in the position your applying for carries a lot of mileage and a few agencies even list it as a requirement for application. Whilst these are in the minority, what almost all graphic design agencies do state is that you need professional experience in order to apply (obviously they want to remove the amateurs I mentioned earlier), and guess what? A graphic design degree totally counts.

    What’s true also, and what may be the most interesting fact to a lot of you reading this, is that designers with a degree are generally able to bring in a higher starting salary in graphic design. In general terms a graphic designer with a degree can expect to start off their careers with a salary of around £18,000 ($28,600) where as the average beginners income for those without a degree in the industry is in the area of £14,000 ($22,200). Wheather this is due to designers with a degree being shepherded into agencies rather than turning their hand to freelance work, I’m not certain, but the % gap in pay is substantial and should be something you definitely bear in mind.

    What you gain from not having a graphic design degree

    Those without degree’s more often having to take the freelance route and so gain a better understanding of the business side of the industry

    Whilst it’s true that designers with a degree seem to earn more than those that don’t right out of the gate, it certainly isn’t the case for more seasoned creatives. Designers with a degree seem to earn a respectable average of £22,000 ($35,000) once they become a little more established in their industry, however those that are self taught often earn in the range of £27,000 ($43,000). Now again, this could be due to those without degree’s more often having to take the freelance route and so gain a better understanding of the business side of the industry, I can’t be sure, but it’s certainly interesting isn’t it?

    A prevalent advantage of those without a degree is that they obtain what’s often referred to as a ‘real industry knowledge’. Since they have no lecturers to trust the word of, they learn from real life examples which in more cases than not, are their own. Thrown in at the deep end, a self taught designer knows from the very beginning that clients have deadlines, and that those deadlines are often not within the 6-8 weeks an undergraduate may be given to complete a similar project.

    A student of design may see the fact that it isn’t on their syllabus as a misguided indication that these skills are either unneeded or unimportant

    Whilst a degree course may offer an outline of how to set up your design portfolio, it offers very little by way of business advice for those wishing to begin a freelance career. It can be argued that such business knowledge has no place on a design course and that students should undergo additional tutelage if they wish to obtain it. But that doesn’t really help you out when your tax is due, you need to file several client invoices in order to get paid and you’re still not sure if you need to copyright your proofs? When you start out under your own steam, finding the answers to these questions seem as much a part of becoming a graphic designer as understanding typography, where as a student of design may see the fact that it isn’t on their syllabus as a misguided indication that these skills are either unneeded or unimportant.

    One other thing that a self taught designer gains over that of an undergraduate is real solid client interaction. Dealing with clients is as much business skill as any other and is vastly important if you want to make it as a designer in any capacity (after all how can you understand and create what they want if you don’t know how to deal with them?). Whilst you may have to deal with the pernickety criticisms of a stuffy old lecturer when studying for a degree, at least they will be concise and accurate in telling you where you’re going wrong. Ask any designer and they’ll tell you the tale of that client who requested alterations so cryptic that even Indiana Jones couldn’t fathom what they were after. It may sound like hell (-and it is!) but it’s a part of being a designer that you just can’t be taught.

    The last, and perhaps most obvious advantage to being self taught is a freedom from student loans. Degrees cost a huge amount of money today, and whilst it is certainly true that this is an investment in your future, if it’s an investment you don’t need to make, then it’s not a great one.

    What employers look for

    As I mentioned earlier, what an employer (or client) will look for when deciding to hire you is experience. Nobody wants to take a gamble on you when it comes to their business no matter how winning your smile is. Whether you can prove experience through a degree or client references, it will always pale in comparison to the experience shown in your portfolio. Any employer wants the best person for the job, and if the job is graphic design then it stands to reason that the best person for the job is the one with the best graphic designs. True, there are a whole host of other factors that enter into a decision like that, such as your personality or style, and when things come down to the line a degree or some real world experience can certainly help to turn the tide in your favour.

    What you need (in either case)

    Hopefully by now I’ve made it clear that you need a killer portfolio for whatever direction you want to take. You’re only as good as your worst example so keep on improving it and never let up. Having a degree, definitely sets you up in this respect, as you can’t help but finish with at least a few examples you’re happy with. However, don’t think that you can just skip this step if your going it alone, you won’t get far without some decent work behind you, so check out these articles on ‘how to get started in graphic design with no risk‘ and ‘how to get started as an illustrator‘ for some ideas.

    When that question rolls around do you want to be able to step up and go the extra mile or crawl under your drawing table and let some other designer take the job?

    You also need to go the extra mile and learn some skills that might be new to you. As I said in an early video defining graphic design, there is no longer any set job description and successful designers are constantly learning new skills and adapting as clients and employers expect more and more of them. It may not be something you’re taught, or even want to know, but at some point a client will simply expect you to be able to build them a website because “that’s the kind of thing you do, isn’t it?”. It may not be a market you’re aiming to get into, but when that question rolls around do you want to be able to step up and go the extra mile or crawl under your drawing table and let some other designer take the job?

    The main thing you need though is hard hard work. Graphic design is an incredibly competitive industry and you need to make sure you’re at the absolute top of the pile. It really doesn’t matter if you have a degree or not- if you’re serious about becoming a designer then you need to resign yourself to the fact that you will never stop learning. Be it business skill, design techniques or just keeping on top of the latest trends, there is always something new to learn.

    Conclusions

    So what’s the right answer? Is a graphic design degree really worthwhile? Well by now you should realise that there isn’t a simple right or wrong answer. Both paths have their advantages and their drawbacks, and a lot of the decision will come down to what environment you think you’ll thrive in the best? Both options require a lot of self motivation and require you to be able to seek out knowledge that isn’t necessarily related to design. It seems that the majority of professional designers in the world today are just as split in their decision as 53% have degree’s in design where 47% don’t. With numbers that close I think we can at least be sure that having a degree is no more a free pass to a successful career then being self taught, and that what truly carries weight is your ability as a designer.

    Personally I’m of the decision that I made a good call in not opting to follow a degree in graphic design. However, I don’t want to make the sweeping statement that you shouldn’t have a degree at all. As I said earlier, I have a degree is history, and I truly believe that the skills and the work ethic I obtained in achieving that degree were absolutely instrumental in getting me to where I am today. I feel that my degree was a critical stage in my professional development and whilst the actual subject of my studies may not be (totally) relevant to the work I’m doing today, the actual method of studying, self motivation, forward planning and research are skills that I use every single day as a graphic designer and as a business owner.

    If you have any questions about whether or not to undertake a graphic design course, please do ask me in the comments below and I’ll do my best to offer up any help I can. If you’ve taken a course in graphic design, I’d love to hear about your experiences and if you thought the course was worth it in the long run. Likewise, if you’re a self made designer I want to hear your opinions of whether or not you think a degree might have speeded up your career. Let me know in the comments below.

    Photo Credit to Dave Makes
  2. How To Make $300/hr Doing What You Love.

    Leave a Comment 3 min read

    My fiancee and I went for a stroll around Sydney’s busy shopping district yesterday and stopped to listen to these guys busking in the street:

    We stood there for half an hour, bopping to the music and watched at least 30 people put $10 into their guitar case and pick up a CD.

    My fiancee decided that she also wanted to buy a CD, but we didn’t have any cash on us, so she “Liked” them on Facebook to stay in touch.

    She was about a 1200th “Like” they had yesterday. Today they had more than 2000.

    You could look at it as a financial success story, but I think it goes much deeper than that.

    Busking is not a new thing; artists have been doing it for decades.

    But what isnew is an ability for artists to capture attention of an inspired, smartphone-wielding, social-media-savvy crowd make a direct, ongoing connection with them. And then have that crowd spread their art and ideas, exponentially, to other people.

    These kids didn’t just sell a few thousand dollars worth of CDs yesterday.

    (And, by the way, I think it’s awesome that they have an income which allows them to focus on their art instead of flipping burgers at McDonalds to make a living).

    They set up direct communication channels with a few thousand people. And that is worth much more than the money they made.

    What’s also crucial is the direction in which these relationships were formed: the initiative to make a connection came from the crowd to the artists, not the other way around

    What’s also crucial is the direction in which these relationships were formed: the initiative to make a connection came from the crowd to the artists, not the other way around. These boys didn’t have to “do marketing”, door-knocking, spamming or pitching. The crowd reached out and said “I like you – you can send me communication and I’ll also check in on how you’re doing”.

    In the past, artists who wanted exposure, communication with crowds and ability to market themselves had to hunt for, and rely on, agents and record labels. Fatcat producers often made a killing just from having the right connections while artists did the real work – and often didn’t get paid as much for their talent.

    Do these kids need an agent? Well, perhaps they do – but if their aim is to make a reasonable living while doing what they love, they can do without one, as well. An agent is no longer a necessity, but a choice.


    And that is a possibility that is only starting to emerge as a real alternative to today’s artists – and is driven by the growth and acceptance of social media.

    Many freelancers and artists today are worrying about their ability to make a living. I think it’s the producers and agents who should be worried. The world is changing to give power back to the creators of art and eliminate the middlemen.

    More specifically, the power is coming back to artists who produce art that moves people and who are savvy about the digital online marketplace.

    By the way, you can check out these guys here: Everything After Facebook Page

    This is a guest post by Steven McConnell. He is a professional family photographer from I Love My Family Photography and he is based in Sydney, Australia.
    Photo credit to byronv2 and Steven McConnell

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  3. How Helping Out a Charity Can Help You

    2 Comments 5 min read

    Promoting your design business can be tough at the best of times. Personally I really hate approaching people and telling them about Hunting Town and the services I offer. It feels like cold calling, like I’m bothering them, like I’m pretty much saying “HEY! YEAH YOU! STOP THAT – STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND COME GIVE ME SOME MONEY!” (click to tweet this). Basically I feel like a dick.

    Now it can be totally argued that this is my hang up. That a lot of people out there probably wouldn’t know where to turn for a graphic designer or illustrator and would more than likely be grateful for having that kind of information presented to them. I get that. A lot of it is probably down to confidence issues on my part, and that’s a problem I’ll tackle in another blog post. But I know I’m not alone here, so here’s some advice that’s helping me get over the hump of self promotion.

    Think about the charity people you see in the streets. Not the ones with cardboard signs and dogs. The ones with logo emblazoned red raincoats and clipboards. The ones that jump out in front of you from nowhere and blurt out rhetorical questions like “do you agree with killing babies?”. I fucking hate those guys; asking for money right out of the blue without so much as a “how are you?”

    But that’s the point.

    I think they’re a dick. They think they’re a dick, and they certainly know that I think they’re a dick

    I think they’re a dick. They think they’re a dick, and they certainly know that I think they’re a dick. But that’s ok. It’s ok because I’d never tell them they’re a dick. I’d never tell them they’re a dick because I really don’t agree with killing babies. It’s all for a good cause. They can pretty much do what they want because no matter what, they will always have the higher ground. They could kick me in the nuts and steal my wallet and they’d still come out as the nice guy because they’re the ones who stand out in the street all day, in the cold and in the often rain, intentionally being a dick in order to try and help some babies that they’ll never even meet.

    They are indisputably nice people.

    Now this is an extreme case and I’m probably being a bit over the top, but if we take this back to the self promotion of your business, it’s clear that a bit of charity could do wonders for helping you stop feeling guilty for being the dick that you’re probably not actually being. If that makes sense?

    Let me give you an example that I was involved in recently.

    My fiancée has recently started up a cupcake business called My Fair Cupcake, and obviously Hunting Town has been handling the branding. Because cupcakes really need to be delivered locally I found that a lot of the techniques that I had used to promote Hunting Town were useless as they were on a global scale and had attracted clients from as far afield as the US and Thailand. It was clear that the kind of customers that we needed for My Fair Cupcake would have to be local, from maybe two or three towns away at the most. We needed to get the message out to people directly.

    COME HERE AT THIS TIME AND EAT THESE!

    The solution we came up with was to arrange a cupcake tasting that people could come to, try the cupcakes and learn about the brand. Again though, this meant going up to people and saying “COME HERE AT THIS TIME AND EAT THESE!”, so here’s what we did. We contacted a local charity and stated that the cupcake tasting had a recommended donation of £3 to this charity.

    Now this totally changed the dynamic of what we were proposing to people. Instead of saying “come and check out my business” we were saying “come and eat cupcakes and help this charity out”. Because we were doing a good thing for this charity we became ‘indisputably nice people’ and could therefore push the tasting as hard as we possibly could without any guilty feelings or remorse.

    As it turned out the tasting was a huge success, people had a a great time, we got to talk about our business and we raised a tonne of money for this charity. It was totally win, win, win, win.

    So how do I apply this to my design business? Well you could design a t-shirt or poster and have all the profits go to charity. Because of the promotion of your charity product, people would no doubt learn about the other products you sell which would drive up sales. You could do some good old fashioned pro-bono work for a charity. If you try and push your work through design blogs and journals, they’re more likely to publish it if they can be seen to be promoting a good cause at the same time. There are a tonne of clever ways that you can leverage your services through charity and really give a huge boost to your promotion. I have a few plans for Hunting Town in the pipeline right now!

    Now I know that to some of you, this could seem a little selfish. Riding on the back of a good cause to try and make more money in the long run doesn’t seem right somehow? I get you. But think of it this way- if you can earn a charity some money or no money which is better? We don’t all have the time or the resources to run our businesses and give to charity, so if we can combine the two surely that’s better than doing nothing? That’s my take on it anyway, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

    As always, if you have any opinions on this, or if you have any cool ideas that you think could work please let me know in the comments below!

    Photo Credit to damo1977

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  4. How to Increase Trade Show ROI with Style and Design

    Leave a Comment 3 min read

    As fun as they can be, no business goes to a trade show just to hang out. It’s an investment – and you want to see a return on that investment.

    Your goal is to increase your business by connecting with people, getting new ideas, and making leads. This is especially true if you’re going through all the hassle and expense of bringing a booth to a show, so you want to make sure that you do everything you can to stand out and catch the eye of attendees.

    Obviously you want people working your booth who look professional and have great people skills. It’s also important to think about the actual booth content, because it’s a lot easier to get attention if you’re doing something unique and dynamic and involving the crowd. But one thing that not enough businesses pay attention to is the design of the booth itself, and they’re missing an opportunity.

    A well-designed, attention-grabbing booth can help to reel people in before they hear the pitch or realize what you’re promoting

    A well-designed, attention-grabbing booth can help to reel people in before they hear the pitch or realize what you’re promoting, and can even play a major role in influencing their purchasing decisions, which means a better ROI for you. Here are several things you can do with the design of your next booth to really make the show worth it.

    Go green

    No, not environmentally green, although that’s a great way to keep your costs down. I’m talking about adding some plants, flowers, and other greenery to your booth. Trade show booths (even really well-designed ones) tend to feel very plastic, artificial, and, well, dead, so adding some live plants can make it feel like a veritable oasis that draws people in. Plus, you’re probably not going to be saving those plants for next time, so you can use them in things like giveaways and raffles to encourage people to come back.

    Let there be light

    You might feel like there’s no need for extra light since you’re inside a huge exhibition hall, but it’s not uncommon for booths to appear dark and shadow heavy. This is due to many factors, including harsh lighting, excessive signage, props, clutter, and the size and proximity of other booths. Luckily, it’s a pretty easy problem to design around – just include your own lights! It can be as easy as adding a few lamps or involve things like floor lighting and track lighting that are built in to the design to give it a sleek, unified look. However you do it, extra lighting is better than none. After all, you want your potential customers to be able to see the pitch and merchandise, right?

    Be big, bold, and simple

    Probably the most important design rule. You want your booth to have large, striking signage and images that convey in a quick and easy way who you are, what you do, and why people should choose you. Obviously, that’s easier said than done, but keeping it big (i.e. visible) and simple (i.e. able to be read or seen and comprehended in only a second or two) often wins out over trying too hard to be clever and unique. Remember, your competition is all around you, so there are lots of ways to distract potential customers. If they have to spend half a minute (or even 10 seconds) just figuring out what your business is, there’s a good chance you’ve already lost them. Saved the in-depth information for once they’re already standing at the booth.

    About the Author: Sarah Bridgewater has been writing about style and design online around topics like modular trade show displays for over 15 years. When not writing, you can find her at home with her family or at the gym training for her next marathon.
     
    Photo credit to RickChung.com
     

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  5. You’re Responsible For Everything

    Leave a Comment 3 min read

    Every time I edit a photoshoot, I begin with the “yes/maybe/no” process.

    It’s the process of sifting the wheat from the chaff, of tagging the gem photos and disposing of the rejects.

    And I notice that whenever I see a reject, I have a temptation to blame someone (or something) else for it. When a photo is amazing, I want to take all the credit.

    Most recently I photographed a family and it was one of those jobs that kept throwing curve balls at me.

    The weather was overcast, so I couldn’t light them in a way that I really like. The kids were not very interactive, so it was a challenge grabbing those amazing candid shots. The dad looked like he didn’t want to be there, which affected the overall mood of the group.

    In the end, I pulled out every trick in the book and nearly bent over backwards to make this shoot turn out – and it did. As it stands, the family will receive 52 great shots from the day.

    But the shoot also produced an unusually large amount of reject photos. And as I began to sift through them, I was tempted to complain and whinge in my head about the damn weather, the kids, the Dad..

    All those excuses about how they made my photos worse than they should have been came pouring into my head.

    You don’t have to be a family photographer to relate to this. I’m sure any creative worth his salt will know first hand about not performing as well as they know they can.

    But here’s the thing. When you find yourself at that point, you’re at a crossroads.

    To one side is a path of blaming something/someone outside yourself for the result. Yep, the weather, the blah blah..

    To the other side is a path on which you to recognise that even though those circumstances existed, you were the one responsible for allowing them get in the way.

    I Love My Family Photography | Family Photography Sydney

    Yep, the weather was crappy, but it was my choice not to move the shoot to a sunnier day. And it was also my choice not to bring strobes with me to give me flexibility in lighting.

    Sure, the kids were unenthused, but it’s also my job to know how to deal with kids more effectively than even their parents can. What skills can I learn between now and my next shoot to help me snap kids out of a bad mood?

    And the grumpy Dad? It’s also my job to make sure everyone who attends my photoshoots is swept up in the excitement of it. What can I do next time to make even the most bored Dad come alive?

    If I take the first path, I take myself off the hook and get to feel a little bit better while I whinge about something. If I take the second path, I put myself completely on the hook, but get to experience power.

    When I take the second path, I get to have a say about how the next shoot turns out. With the first path, I’m at the mercy of more circumstances.

    I think one of the most important skills self-employed people can develop is learning to be wholly responsible for ALL of the results they produce.

    When you’re self-employed, there’s no big bad boss to tell you how to do things. There’s no one to keep you to account. Except you.

    And the quickest way to grow, to experience power and success is to not allow excuses and complaints get in the way of your own personal power.

    This is a guest post by Steven McConnell. He is a professional family photographer based in Sydney, Australia and you an see his work here.
    Body Photo Credit to Steven McConnell

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  6. 3 Ways to Make Tax Less of a Hassle

    Leave a Comment 5 min read

    Tax is like an Doberman. Daunting and a bit scary if you don’t really understand how to deal with it, but once you get over the basics, it’s pretty tame.

    I had a phone call today from a friend of mine who’s recently become self employed asking for a spot of advice about his taxes. He was getting ready to do his first tax return, but was just totally totally lost. Like a lot of new freelancers the whole concept of a financial year that begins and ends in April is a big enough challenge to get your head around. On top of this he hadn’t kept records of what he had earned, what was paid cash and what went into his bank account, he couldn’t even properly remember when he first started freelancing!

    I mean, lets face it, who would be buckling down to their taxes when they could be getting paid to draw a horde of Zombies attacking London?

    For creatives especially there is sometimes this notion that we don’t like businessey stuff like taxes, balancing books and invoices and to some extent, it’s true. I mean, lets face it, who would be buckling down to their taxes when they could be getting paid for busting out a sweet illustration of a horde of Zombies attacking London? Well guess what. Zombie related excuses (of any kind) just won’t cut it when the Tax man comes’a’calling.

    With that in mind I thought it might be a good idea to run through some of the simple tips I use to try and make things a whole heap easier when filing tax returns. With just a little bit of forward planning, submitting your tax return really doesn’t have to be daunting at all.

    The Best Solution

    Now before I say anything else, let me say this: I AM NOT A FINANCIAL EXPERT. The advice I’m about to give works for me, and I’m telling you in the hope that it may be of  help to you too. Obviously, every business is different and if you’re in any doubt whatsoever the best solution is always to get the advice of an accountant. Personally, I like knowing and being involved in every facet of my business, and whilst that’s still a possibility, I relish the opportunity. I’ve spent a lot of time making sure I fully understand my taxes and have even attended courses just to be sure.

    If you do want to handle your own taxes then go ahead- it’s an awesome idea, it’ll make you feel a lot more in control of your business once you know how everything is calculated. Once you’re confident you have a good understanding of how everything is calculated, then the only hump left is making sure everything is in order. Going back through all your client invoices and bank statements is a nightmare and it’s totally unnecessary if you stick to these three simple rules.

    1. Make a record right away

    This is my best tax tip by miles! If you invoice a client or buy some new supplies or anything in between, make sure you put it in a spreadsheet right away! Don’t make a note on the back of your hand, or say you’ll do it at the end of the day because you know you totally wont! If it was the choice between getting home five minuets sooner or filing an expense, I’d be out the door before you could say ‘spreadsheet’ – and that’s coming from the guy writing an entire article about taxes!

    I’m constantly out meeting clients and drinking cappuccinos in cool little independent coffee shops. It’s called a life

    “But Alex” I hear you cry, “I’m not always at my computer you know. I’m constantly out meeting clients and drinking cappuccinos in cool little independent coffee shops. It’s called a life”.

    First of all – stop bragging you dick.

    Second of all – listen up.

    What I do (and what you need to do) is this. If you have an iPhone, then bite the bullet and invest £6.99 on Numbers (if you’re packing an Android phone then try Google Docs).  When you have a debit or credit that needs to be accounted for then you can  file it right away. It doesn’t matter if you’re at a store, in the office or sat in bed because it’s all from your mobile, and both Numbers and Google Docs update to cloud servers so you can grab your spreadsheets from your computer when you need them too. It takes like thirty seconds and it gives you the added bonus of being able to accurately check how your month is going at any time you like.

    If you get into the simple habit of recording your earnings as they happen, then it’ll make your life a whole load easier later on.

    2. Calculate monthly

    This isn’t strictly vital, but I find spending a few minuets at the end of every month to quickly see what my profits are is a real help. It give me a really good grasp of how my year is going and works like an early warning signal if anything isn’t quite as it should be. Almost every spreadsheet app out there has a way to automatically calculate you’re totals so more often than not, all you’ll have to do is take a quick look to make sure everything is ok, email yourself a copy (just in case) and then start a new spreadsheet for the next month. Simple.

    3. Have a place for receipts

    For a long time, my wallet was loaded with receipts for various graphic designer gizmos, train fares and computer equipment but I quickly learned that wasn’t the ideal place for them (especially since my wallet goes in my back pocket – not comfy!). It’s very easy to just have receipts live on your desk for months on end as they fall into that awful category of ‘stuff that’s totally useless, but I know I need to keep‘ so just do yourself a favour and give them a proper home. I use a little box I have on my desk so I can just throw them in there out of the way. Chances are you’ll never need them (since you’ve already catalogued them on your spreadsheet right?), but if tax gods see fit to check up on you, they’ll need to have a look at them.

    Now like I said earlier; I’m no financial guru, but if you stick by these rules you’ll find tax day a whole lot simpler. If you’ve got any of your own tips for staying on top of your taxes, then let me know in the comments below.

    Photo Credit to x_jamesmorris

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  7. Why Freelancers Can’t Make Money

    2 Comments 4 min read

    As freelancers, we have a love/hate relationship with money.

    Unlike our salaried counterparts, we have no promise of a regular pay check in our bank account every Thursday.

    But when our phone just keeps ringing and those jobs keep rolling in, the pay checks can come more often and be bigger in size than most people on salaries can dream of.

    So, how much money are you making? And is it enough? More importantly – how often do you think about it?

    I’m asking this question because I think it highlights one of the biggest traps a creative freelancer can fall into. And the trap is.. Ready?

    You can’t make money.

    That is, unless you run one of those underground fake currency printing shops – which would, strictly speaking, also be both a freelancing and a creative enterprise.

    But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

    I’m talking about the phenomenon of “making money” as it’s commonly talked about – a measure of how well you’re doing in your business.

    The idea of making money is a big lie which we got sold once upon a time. It doesn’t serve us, yet it’s one we keep living.

    Why?

    Well, money that is coming into your freelance business is not an end in itself. It’s a by-product of something.

    Steven McConnell

    Just like a car doesn’t intrinsically “make” carbon dioxide, but emits it as a by-product of burning fuel, your business – be it graphic design, photography or dance – doesn’t make money. It generates money as a by-product of creating value.

    The sole purpose of your business is to create value. And you have to have an intimate understanding of what value you create.

    So what is value?

    Well, value is relative to the crowd. And you exist to provide value to your crowd – your market. And things that are valuable are typically things that are uncommon, that have an ability to move people and that can help solve someone’s problem.

    So, for example, if you’re one of 20 graphic designers in town who are all generalists, are you creating much value?

    And is it time, then, to perhaps reposition yourself and begin to specialize in a niche?

    Let’s have a look at your day today. Let’s say you’ve already been at work for 4 hours. How many of those hours did you spend doing something which only you in this world could do, something that added to the world, that made a difference to someone else, that caused a stir, that made people stop and think?

    To really reiterate this point, I’m going to make this argument completely black and white: at any point in time you (and, by extension, your business) are either being a value drain or a generator of value.

    If you’re not “making enough money” you’re probably spending too much time being a value drain and not enough time generating enough value.

    And that’s why thinking about making money is a complete waste of your time; the act in itself doesn’t produce any value to your crowd.

    And look – I get it, this world is not as black and white as I just made it look. There are shades of grey and you do need to take care of menial work as well.

    But my point stands. Your head space is the source of your business. Where your mental energy is directed and what issues you think about will determine the future of your business.

    Thinking about making money is not valuable. Thinking about how you can use your skills to solve some problem in the world is.

    So, how are you going to spend the other 4 hours of today’s workday?

    This is a guest post by Steven McConnell. He is a professional family photographer based in Sydney, Australia and you an see his work here.
    Title Photo Credit to JMR_Photography
    Body Photo Credit to Steven McConnell

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  8. One Really Simple Way to Market to Thousands of Potential Clients

    4 Comments 6 min read

    When you get to work in the morning, whether it be in a nice office somewhere, that little coffee shop down the street or simply in your spare room, what’s the very first thing you do? Grab a coffee? Yeah, me too, but after that what do you do? I know one of the first things on my list every day is to check what emails I’ve received whilst I’ve been in the land of slumber (in fact it’s a really bad habbit of mine that I read client emails as soon as wake up whilst I’m turning my alarm off!).

    That’s 60 emails a week, 240 emails a month, 2880 emails every year, it adds up

    When you’re running a business and dealing with clients day in day out, you send way more emails than you think. I’ve sent 12 emails today already and it’s only 2:30. Say for instance though that this was all I sent out in a day, that’s 60 emails a week, 240 emails a month, 2880 emails every year, it adds up. Now those emails go out to a whole host of people, some to current clients, some to new clients, some to other designers and some to printers. The point is that in a year I reach thousands of different people (and possibly more through forwarded emails) in my industry just through my email. Now whilst I may not give out thousands of business cards every year, there is no reason why my company details can’t be falling into the laps of thousands through my email.

    Your Signature

    Every email client out there has an option to set up an email signature, all this basically consists of is a few lines of text that are attached to the bottom of every email you send. Businesses have been using this signature space to market their services since the dawn of time (…ish). The purpose of an email signature is to contain information about you, so the person you’re sending an email to know’s just who you are and where you’re from. This in itself can be quite an effective marketing tool as so long as your email signature is laid out in a professional manner then both you and your company will look professional in turn. Now there are loads of variations for the layout of your contact details, but generally speaking they should look something like this:

    Your Name
    Your Position
    Company Name
    Sample Street, Sample Town
    Sample City, Postal Code
    Your Phone Number | Company Phone Number
    Your Emial
    Company Website
     

    You don’t have to include all of these details but stuff like your name, company and website should really be on there if you want it to be useful.  If there are a few of you running your design company then make sure you all format your email in the same way. If each of you has your own style of signature, it’s akin to you handing out different styles of business card. Also if you’re including your email and website, then make sure they are clickable links! If your recipient has to copy and paste your website address before they can see what you’re about then that isn’t a very good signature.

    Image Use

    Now this may sounds like a great idea, but it can be a bit of a double edged sword

    Some (but not all) email clients allow you include an image in your email signature. Now this may sounds like a great idea, but it can be a bit of a double edged sword. In most email clients a recipient must click to view images before they are downloaded so there is a chance that they may not see your image at all. Worse still if you’re emailing somebody for the first time, their email client may see the image as an unknown attachment and divert your mail straight to spam just in case it’s a virus! Now that’s worse case scenario and I know a lot of successful design houses that use very clever images in their email signatures so don’t worry about it too much. One thing I will say though is don’t include any of your contact information in an image. It may be tempting to bypass the stuffy email formatting by placing all of your details cleverly in a jpeg, but if your recipient doesn’t click to view your image then all of your details are lost to them and it can look very unprofessional.

    Creative Uses

    Your signature doesn’t have to just be about the formalities, you can also use it in a variety of creative ways to help promote your business alongside your contact details.

    • You could mention any new services that your company has. This can be a great way to let any clients who aren’t signed up to your newsletter know about that new web developer your just hired.
    • Invite them to an industry event that you’re going to. Having a chance to meet this person face to face could help add solidarity to your relationship.
    • Let them know about any offers you have going on at the moment, or that they’re eligible for special rates just for receiving this email from you!
    • Mention that you offer consultations for free or at a discounted rate, this could encourage any potential clients that are wavering to go that one step further with you.
    • Include links to your social media pages like Twitter and Facebook, everybody likes to waste a bit of time right?

    How To

    Now every email client is different and the exact method of setting up your signature may change from service to service, so here I’ve focused on how to use Gmail as this is not only a great email client, but also allows you to run other email addresses through it, making it a really effective ‘hub’ for your email activity.

    1. Once you’re in your Gmail account you want to click on the little cog symbol in the top right hand corner to bring up your settings
    2. Once on the settings page, make sure you’re on the ‘General’ tab and scroll down until you see the ‘Signature’ section.
    3. Here you can choose which email address to attach each specific email signature to from the drop down box (I have hello@hutningtown for general enquires (and so doesn’t contain my personal number) and alex@huntingtown for direct client contact.
    4. In the box below you simply write in what you want your email signature to be. Gmail is particularly good in this respect as they have included all of the formatting tools that are available in their general email window, so adding links to web pages and emails is a cinch.

    So there you are (told you it was simple!), hopefully you’re already utilising your email signature in some way, but I hope this article has given you some ideas of how you could potentially improve it to try and squeeze a little more business out of all those emails you send every year. If you have any other ideas or suggestions on how to utilise an email signature, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

    Photo Credit to  TylerIngram

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