Archive: Sep 2015

  1. What’s the Most Productive Way to Schedule Your Work Flow?

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    I’m having a great work week right now. I’m snapping necks and cashing cheques. I’m getting shit done. 

    We all love weeks like this, weeks where we’re so crazy productive, where we manage to tick off whole projects ahead of time, where we naturally wake up early and dive straight back into the mix every day with no down time.

    I’m in that week right now.

    Yesterday I sent a client three emails, all going through the work I had done that day. I ended up sending three because that’s how many scheduled days work I’d got through. Every time I thought I was done, I just kept going.

    So today when I sat down to write an article I decided that I needed to get the secret of this amazing work flow out of me and posted up on the Design Range for all you lovely people.

    Initially I started writing about the virtues of concentrating on a single project and then just steaming through it. Surely that was the secret? But the more I thought about it, the more I realised I’d just been lucky, but I’ll come back to that.

    First let me tell you about the two strategies I have for scheduling my work flow; stacking and spreading.

    Stacking

    Stacking is what I’ve been doing this week, and what I was initially going to concentrate this entire article on. When you stack your projects you put one before the other, like pages in a book; you can’t move onto the next page until you’re done with this one.

    In terms of work flow this means that once you start a project, you don’t do anything else until that project is done, wrapped up and invoiced.

    When it works, it’s amazing. Stacking means you get to fully concentrate on just one thing giving it 100% of your attention with no distractions. It’s like running downhill; the further you travel, the faster you go, until you’re at a point where you can’t even stop.

    I never work as quickly and efficiently as when I’m stacking my work well; my productivity literally triples.

    The down side to stacking is that you’re not 100% in charge of your work flow. There’s no project that doesn’t need constant input from the client, or sometimes even from other designers that you might be collaborating with.

    Having to stop for client feedback, or for assets you need them to provide can absolutely kill your rhythm and all that momentum you gathered is just gone in an instant. Even worse, the client feedback can sometimes put you on a tangent to where you expected the project to go, and suddenly that clear vision you were steaming towards is no longer the goal, and you need to start over.

    Spreading

    Spreading is how I normally work, and how I imagine a lot of you guys work as well. You spread your time out amongst several projects that you’re working on simultaneously.

    When you send off for feedback from a client on one project, you immediately switch and start working on another, making sure that you have absolutely no downtime, even if that first client takes a couple of days to get back to you.

    Whilst making sure you’re not wasting a single second of your time is nice, spreading doesn’t make for the most productive workflow as you’re constantly stopping and starting with various projects. It’s difficult to get any traction, and whilst you are steadily making progress across several fronts, it’s not particularly quick as it takes an hour or two each time you switch just to reacquaint yourself with the nuances of each project.

    Spreading also isn’t the ideal way to wow a client. Rather than you blasting a project and the client seeing it come to life before their eyes, instead they’re treated to very incremental updates over weeks and months (although if you’re waiting on their feedback, it’s nothing they can complain about).

    Engineering a Stack

    The reason my week has been going so well isn’t to do with me or my workflow at all. It was because this week I’ve had amazing clients.

    This week I’ve been lucky.

    As soon as I’ve fired off an email asking for feedback, I’ve had an answer within minuets. My momentum hasn’t had a chance to dip at all. My clients have allowed me to stack efficiently.

    But what if it wasn’t down to luck though? What if there was a way to engineer a stack? A way to make sure your clients hit you up with feedback right away, and guarantee that you have all the content and assets you need from them?

    Client Deadlines

    As designers we’re used to having to work to deadlines. Moments set in time by which all work must be completed lest Satan himself be loosed from his fiery pit to wreak havoc upon the earth… or at least that’s what my clients tell me.

    deadlines can work both ways

    But deadlines can work both ways. What if you set your client deadlines? Gave them time limits on getting feedback to you, or providing that copy that you desperately need?

    I’m not saying that if they miss one of your deadlines you bill them, but how about you keep a tally and add that to the deadline they’ve set for you? If a client knew that every time they slacked off on getting you what you needed it was going to push their project back (which it is anyway!) I’m sure they’d soon pull their socks up and crack on with things!

    Client deadlines should be something that’s discussed up front during the contract stage. Here you can outline exactly what you need from the client to be at your most effective.

    Bill by Time Blocks

    For some clients, time alone isn’t enough motivation to shake them out of apathy, some of them need an extra nudge, and nothing works better for getting people moving like the knowledge that they’re wasting their own money.

    Instead of billing by the hour, try billing for the hour. It’s a subtle change, but it’s effects are huge.

    When a client hires you, you tell them that you’re going to dedicate a set block of time to their project. You’re going to bill a set amount for that block of time and do as much work in it as you can.

    The client is paying for your time. If you’re spending that time having to wait on them for feedback, or images, or copy, then you’re still spending that time, and the client should pay for it.

    This way you put the ball firmly in their court. The longer they spend dragging their feet, the more it’s going to cost them overall.

    Although this admittedly doesn’t absolutely guarantee you a perfect stacking work flow, it at least means that you’re getting paid for your down time and it also allows you to block out your work weeks in advance with a steady income.

    A word of warning though, (and I’m going to tackle this a bit more in a later article, so for now I’ll be brief) as glorious as this approach sounds, it can actually be a bit counter productive. Think of this – the poorer your work flow, the slower you work. The slower you work, the more a client pays. The better your work flow, the faster you work. The faster you work, the less a client pays.

    In essence, you’re being paid less for being more productive… just a little something to bear in mind.

     

  2. Coping with Design Deadlines: How the Professionals Do It

    Comments Off on Coping with Design Deadlines: How the Professionals Do It 3 min read

    Working in the design industry you’ll be no stranger to deadlines and you’ll have, no doubt, ran afoul of one or two over the years.

    It’s a familiar experience to us all: Getting near to the end of a working day with a sizeable chunk of an important brief still to be finished; it’s enough to make anyone descend into the depths of panic. There’s no need though, seriously.

    Stop, take a deep breath and read these 5 deadline-busting tips from some very talented professional designers, including Hunting Town’s very own Alexander Singleton.

    Just Get Started

    This may sound obvious, however just making a start on something can help straighten everything out in your mind and break down that sense of forboding when you’re facing a gigantic workload.

    Alex from Hunting Town says: ‘ The solution I find most helpful when I have a mountainous workload sat on my desk with crushing deadlines is just getting started, I don’t give myself a list of goals, I just get started with the very first thing I see.’  

    ‘I find very quickly that once I’ve begun a task sheer enthusiasm for the work that I do carries me through.’

    Break It Down

    If the idea of not having a plan of action causes you more stress than calm, then it may be a good idea to break everything down before you press on with your tasks.

    Martin from Arena Creative says: ‘Break down the tasks and set time against the project, that way you’ll know if you have enough time to deliver the work before the deadline arrives.’

    Emma, also from Arena, backs this up and goes on to say: ‘Have a plan and set mini deadlines i.e. get pages 1-3 done by 3pm, and pages 5-6 done by 4:30pm and so on. It’s so much easier to handle pressure if it’s in bitesize chunks’.

    Manage Client Expectations (and your own)

    Taking on more work than you can physically handle is a huge mistake. It means you’re far more likely to miss deadlines which will inevitably lead to clients not coming back to you again; just like that, bang goes your income and your reputation!

    Freelancer Stuart Crawford, a.k.a Inkbot Design, says: ‘If a potential client is looking for design work and their deadline is too tight, I’ll be upfront and let them know I can’t help and that they need to plan better.

    ‘I tend to let my clients know a rough estimate of when the work will be completed. I then make sure I get in there a few days before they expect it so they are delighted with me being ahead of schedule.’

    The folks at Arena creative also take this straight-talking approach with their own clients and they find that their clients ‘give them plenty of notice, form an orderly queue and are always happy to wait their turn.’

    Take Care Of Yourself

    The client shouldn’t always come first; in order to produce work to the highest standards and get it in on time, you need to be in good working order yourself.

    Dan from Clock Creative contributed these important tips to help you stay fresh and alert throughout a busy day:

    Make sure you take regular breaks! You’ll find you’re far more efficient when you’re feeling fresh.

    ‘Don’t stare at a project too long; get a fresh pair of eyes involved as often as possible to give live feedback during work.

    ‘Don’t drink too much caffeine – beating a deadline is about planning and staying fresh, not overdosing on stimulants.’

    if it doesn't get done today, nobody will die

    Emma from Arena also adds:

    ‘Have a drawer full of snacks and food for when you don’t even have time to make it to the office kitchen. Also, remember to pee. Deadlines = water infections. True fact.’

    Use Technology

    There’s certainly no shame in getting technology involved when you’ve got large workloads to keep track of. We’re all human after all, and things occasionally get forgotten.

    Stuart at Inkbot suggests: ‘Get a GTD app, such as Omnifocus or Todoist. I input EVERYTHING I need to get done, and then there’s no excuse for forgetting something or falling behind schedule.’

    These sorts of apps and software act as handy places to dump all the important stuff from your mind so you can focus on the creativity and, most importantly, keep hold of that all-important enthusiasm!

  3. How to Break into a New Field

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    Professionals in the creative industries, by and large, like a challenge. We see something that inspires us and we want to play with it, test it out, break it and remake it again. We like new things. It’s not uncommon for people in our line of work to learn a whole host of skills (full stack designers anyone?), sometimes completely by accident. I know videographers that have accidentally become marketing experts and sound engineers that have wandered into web design.

    But what about when it’s not an accident? What about when you want to switch to something new? Craig Gunter from Inca graphic recently hit me up, asking me pretty much this; “How can I break into a field in which I have never worked?”.

    So many of the creative skills we try so hard to define bleed into each other, and we live and work seeing them constantly on the peripheries of our vision. As with all things, sometimes the grass on the other side of the fence looks a little greener, but before you go plunging yourself into the glitter gilded world of whatever it is that’s sparked your interest, ask yourself this question…

    Do you really want to?

    One of the most effective marketing strategies you can employ is to promote yourself as a specialist, which is kinda the opposite of what this article is talking about, so the first thing you need to do is ask yourself is if this is something you really want to do?

    “Those aren’t good enough reasons to exert energy, time and potentially money trying to push into a new field”

    It’s a toss up I know. On the one hand it’s nice to be able to take any creative job that comes your way, and speaking personally I really hate hitting the boundaries of my creative abilities. But those aren’t good enough reasons to exert energy, time and potentially money trying to push into a new field. You need to be certain that this new field is one of two things:

    1. A dead cert – the industry is moving in this direction and if you’re not on board you’re going to be left behind. It will benefit your career no end, and letting this pass you by is just leaving money on the table.
    2. A true passion – this is something you could do, or even are already doing for free in your spare time. You have an undying passion for this field of the creative industry and it will literally change your life if you can incorporate it into your business. Jobs you’re passionate about are effortless, and when work is effortless making money is a happy by-product.

    Use what you know

    If you are moving into a new field, leverage what you already have. You have a reputation for producing a certain type of work for a certain type of client, so don’t change that, just change the product. You want to keep as much of your business unchanged as possible. This is an addition to your skill set, not the start of a new path.

    “You always want new clients to think they’ve landed in just the right place when they come to your website for the first time”

    Say you’re a wedding photographer and you want to move into illustration. Don’t start trying to pitch for book covers; instead offer bespoke wedding invites. It’s something that sits nicely with what you already do, and in time, once you’ve gained a reputation and an impressive portfolio, you can start to take risks and mix things up. Remember, you always want new clients to think they’ve landed in just the right place when they come to your website for the first time. Sending conflicting or mix messages about the kind of work that you do and the kinds of clients that you want to work with can really hinder that first impression.

    The Portfolio Piece

    When it comes down to brass tax though we all know what’s at the root of this question. The elusive ‘portfolio piece’. That shining beacon in that dark that will usher wave upon wave of clients to your shores, all desperate for your amazing new service. Well, perhaps that’s a little dramatic, but it is true that no client in their right mind is going to hire you to do a job when they have no idea if you can even do it. Your portfolio says “this is what I do” and if there isn’t an example from the field you want to work in up there, then you’re going to struggle.

    I once had a client contact me about creating a brochure. Great, I thought. I gave her a call, had a chat and arranged a meeting. Later that day though I got an email asking me if I could bring some examples of my work along, only the actual request was far more specific than that. This client wanted to see brochure examples, from a specific field in her industry, talking about a very specific topic, in a style that was similar to her own companies branding. Needless to say I ‘forgot‘ to bring my plethora of examples along to that meeting.

    So you need a good portfolio piece to get work, you need to get work in order to create a portfolio piece, but nobody will hire you without a portfolio piece. What’s the plan?

    The Coca Cola Client

    If you’ve been a designer for a few years and your name crops up anywhere on Google, then no doubt you’re inundated every year with requests from students looking to do their year in industry. Although I don’t take on interns, I do take the time to look though every portfolio that comes my way (it’s a very good way to find future freelancers), and one thing I can say after looking through literally hundreds of student portfolios, is that the majority of ‘clients’ in them are fake (and of those fake clients, at least one is almost always Coca Cola).

    “I don’t like presenting the notion that I’m having to invent jobs to fill up my portfolio”

    So that’s an idea. Grab a big name client and put a fake design together for them as a ‘pitch’ then bang that up on your portfolio. Aside from the fact that this is the de facto territory of the student designer, something about this approach just doesn’t sit well with me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some incredible design concepts put together in this fashion, but they just don’t seem to carry any weight with me. I don’t like presenting the notion that I’m having to invent jobs to fill up my portfolio. My portfolio, that speaks volumes for me as a professional to all who stumble across it.

    If you think I’m blowing smoke here (and it’s entirely possible) then feel free to give this a shot, but with the best will in the world, I’d have to place this firmly as my last resort approach.

    Assumers

    If you’re lucky you might get an assumer. An assumer is a client that thinks just because you can do one thing, that you can do something else very tenuously related, often floating on the outskirts of the creative industry. You create a logo, they assume you can screen print 400 posters by the end of the week. You photograph an event, they assume you can fix the PHP bug they’re having on their website.

    Mostly assumers are a pain in the arse, but every now and then you get one that’ll assume you can do exactly the thing you always wanted, but never could, and then it’s like snow on Christmas day.

    An assumer is exactly how I got started in web design, and now it’s a cornerstone of my business. That being said though, as magical and perfect as they are, you can’t depend on them. Taking this approach is basically wishful thinking, but do make sure you pounce on the opportunity should one arise.

    Charities

    Charities are a sneaky way of producing work for an actual client (possibly even quite a reputable one) whilst not having to actually sell them anything. Of course I’m talking about pro bono work here, but if that idea about the fake Coca Cola piece peaked your interest then I’d highly encourage you to direct your efforts in this direction. This way you get to produce a piece of work for an actual client, but not only that – this way you actually get to do something good.

    There is a bit of etiquette here though.

    Bigger charities have a budget for this kind of work and so you’re probably best avoiding them; they’ll be looking at work from a myriad of well known designers, highly established in the field that you’re still trying to scratch your way into. So your offer of free work, noble though it might be, is likely to be lost somewhere along the line.

    The better approach is to work with smaller, more local charities. Charities that could truly benefit from your work and need every penny they have going to the right places. It may not look quite as impressive as having Oxfam in your portfolio, but remember, this is your foot in the door piece we’re talking about here. Oxfam will come in due time.

    Be Honest

    I’ve kept this one till last, not just because it’s the most obvious option, but also because it’s the best. Be honest. Look for your ideal client, the person you want to walk in through your door with the perfect job. Go to them and tell them the truth.

    You’re a designer who typically works in x industry, however you’re eager to start working in y industry and you’d love to opportunity to work with them. In return for taking a chance on you, you’ll happily work for no charge (remember – you can’t ever do discounts), it may take a little longer than they’re used to, and there may be a few more rounds of revisions, but you will work to the best of your ability until they’re absolutely satisfied with the product.

    “You know you can make good on your word; in fact, you’re going to surprise this client with just how capable you are”

    It’s a solid, honest, decent pitch and what’s more it’s a good deal. You’re not starting from zero. You’re not moving from web design into baked goods. You know you can make good on your word; in fact, you’re going to surprise this client with just how capable you are. If you’re really feeling confident, then try it without the freebie part and try and get paid. People appreciate honesty and confidence, it’s a winning mix.

    honesty