Billable Hours vs Flat Fee

Time

If you’re unsure about how your graphic designer or creative agency charges you, then this article is for you.

We often hear how tough it is trying to figure out what a graphic designer or branding agency charges. If you’ve ever asked them what it will cost, the typical answer you probably heard was, “well, that depends on how many hours I’ll need, and how many extra hours on the weekend or how fast you need it done” – Arrggh!! Why can’t they just tell me what it will cost? You have a project, it needs to get done, people are breathing down your neck, and now you have to dance ever so delicately around the price issue. To top it off, he cites $x amount per hour, but how in the hell are you going to know how many hours he’ll take?

Well, the solution is simple. Flat fee.

An established graphic design company will have enough experience to know how long your project will take, and will have the experience to get it done within that time frame. That’s why they’ll have the confidence to tell you exactly what it will cost. No surprises, no hidden fees. If they say it’ll be $500, it’ll be $500. No hourly rate, no premium rate, and certainly no mystery as to what the final bill will be. Now isn’t that better?

‘Course sometimes design work takes longer, but a good design company will have plenty of work on hand, and won’t be so desperate to recoup every single dime out of you. And if they’re faster than expected, they should pass that savings on to you. Yes, you read that correctly.

But beware of changing direction on them. If you suddenly and without warning change the parameters – or worse, supply all new copy, watch out! You could find yourself in Gouge Central, paying way more than you ever intended. But if you already work with a great design company, you’ll know they’ll communicate with you, and will rework the fee so it’s fair for both parties.

So if your graphic designer stings you with big bill, maybe suggest a flat fee for your next project. If he balks at the idea, then maybe start looking for a creative partner that understands your world, and your challenges.

Greg Carmichael is the Managing Director of Synergy Design, an accomplished graphic design and marketing-support company near Toronto. He leads a talented team of designers that produce visually effective marketing collateral for print and online, and ensures that their clients have a great experience in working with them.

GC2013Connect with Greg on Linked-In
ca.linkedin.com/in/gregcarmichaelsynergydesign/

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Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

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

Being a mind reader.

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

Make the call.

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

A+ for penmanship.

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

All at once.

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

Be patient.

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

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

GC2013Greg Carmichael is the Managing Director of Synergy Design, an accomplished graphic design and marketing-support company near Toronto. He leads a talented team of designers that produce visually effective marketing collateral for print and online, and ensures that their clients have a great experience in working with them.

Connect with Greg on Linked-In
ca.linkedin.com/in/gregcarmichaelsynergydesign/

Hey, Listen Up.

Ever have a project come back from your graphic designer and find it’s no where near what you had in mind? I’m guessing the answer is a resounding yes!

Well, you’re not alone and we’ve heard all about this from many prospects over the years. The number one issue these marketers tell us (in working with their previous freelance designer or a design agency), is a lack of listening skills. And when pressed about what they did to fix the issue, the answers and excuses they heard varied. Designers are very opinionated and are quick to defend themselves …

  • “I thought this would be better and way cool”
  • “We didn’t have enough time”
  • “There was no direction”
  • “You didn’t supply a creative brief”
  • “The creative brief was confusing”
  • “I can’t read your mind”
  • “But we’re the experts”

As a marketer, those probably sound familiar, and I’m betting it’s caused you plenty of lost opportunity waiting for things to be redesigned. So do you simply fire your designer? Well, not yet as I’m sure they usually do a great job, but here are some things designers should be asking you. At the onset …

  • Are they asking what the project’s purpose is?
  • Do they ask for a sample of a previous piece?
  • Is timeline or expectations addressed?
  • Have they asked for a creative brief?
  • Do they ask for all the details up front, requesting logos, photos, branding guidelines?
  • Are they asking questions to gain understanding?
  • Do they paraphrase what you just told them?

A good designer or design agency should be listening, and should deliver back what you’ve asked for. An even better designer should be providing you alternatives, perhaps one layout matching your brief, and another that they’d like you to consider.

However, let’s be reasonable. A designer will occasionally miss the mark, but if they want to grow the relationship, they should be listening more.

As for me, I’ve been practicing ‘active listening’ with my wife for some time now, and she says I’m a much better husband for it. Now if only I’d put my clothes in the damn hamper already!

Greg Carmichael is the Managing Director of Synergy Design, an accomplished graphic design and marketing-support company near Toronto. He leads a talented team of designers that produce visually effective marketing collateral for print and online, and ensures that their clients have a great experience in working with them.

GC2013Connect with Greg on Linked-In
ca.linkedin.com/in/gregcarmichaelsynergydesign/

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Earn Trust – Start Small

Hummingbird Croppedjpg
Trust Me.
“Yeah right”, I said to the car salesman as he got up and walked into the back. I presumed he was taking my counter-offer to the sales manager, and not just humouring me. You see, I recently sold my beloved coupe in exchange for something more, uhm, appropriate – and have had to trust a few sales people in my vulnerable state. So I’ve seen first hand that trust has to be earned. Which leads me to my point.

Trust.
There are several businesses that rely on this one simple word to win (and keep) new business, but I think none as much as the design business. Hiring a graphic designer is a risky proposition, let alone engaging the services of a high priced agency. And since design is subjective, what if you don’t like what they came up with? What then? Do you still have to pay?

Well, the short answer is probably, but we can talk about agency kill fees another time – and what to do if you’re in that position – but this post is about trusting that your designer will give you what you want in the first place. So how do you do that?

Start small.

Ever hear of the term monkey’s paw? Well on a ship, that refers to a tightly knotted rope ball that’s tossed down to the dockworker. This small rope then of course guides down the heavier chain that eventually winches the massive ship in close to port.

This is a great analogy in the design world, so maybe it’s best to start your designer off with something small, a low risk kind of thing. Learn how they handle themselves, how they interact with you, and see what kind of design they send back. Small projects that are ideal for a prospective new designer would include a sell sheet, postcard, invitation, banner ad or a short white paper maybe.

If all goes well and you like what they did, maybe now is the time to trust them with a larger project. And continue working with them, building the relationship as you go. But don’t forget that trust works both ways. A good graphic designer will want positive feedback, but a great design partner wants both – what worked and what didn’t, and will want to know how they can improve the next time. So build trust. Small risk now, big rewards later.

Now, let’s talk about that under coating.

Greg Carmichael is the Managing Director of Synergy Design, an accomplished graphic design and marketing-support company near Toronto. He leads a talented team of designers that produce visually effective marketing collateral for print and online, and ensures that their clients have a great experience in working with them.

GC2013Connect with Greg on Linked-In
ca.linkedin.com/in/gregcarmichaelsynergydesign/

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Lessons Learned 2013

CoffeeAs we wrap up another great year of designing marketing material and content for clients, I figured I’d share my reflections on the year. But you know, it was recommended that I not do that, and just stick to business. After all, the intent of this blog was to bring insights from our studio, so that our clients and prospective clients, could learn a thing or two about working with a graphic designer or studio like ours. So it should be all business.

Oh how wrong they were. And it’s funny how the biggest lesson of the year, has nothing to do with business at all.

And that lesson was about people.
Not the design pieces they wanted done, nor the deadlines they were up against – but about what was important to them. Half the time it wasn’t about business at all. And that was fine by me. I learned about clients that we’re getting married, those about to have babies (awesome) and which vendor partner was moving on and moving up. Did we get our work done? We sure did, but we had way more fun doing it ’cause we knew and trusted each other a lot more than ever before.

We also got back to basics.
I know, I know, how cliché. But we knew once we closed out the year, that our studio would be turning 15 and we wondered how we got there so fast. So we took all of 2013 to slow down and tried to figure that out. And to our surprise, it was about helping people. Everyone we could, regardless of how small a project. I’ve had so many coffee meetings this year that my wife bought me Starbucks shares for Christmas. I’m a little jittery and edgy, but that’s a cool new trait I kind of like.

The end result?
Well, we’re elated to welcome over a dozen new clients this year, and looking forward to getting to know each and everyone one of them. As it turns out, some of the smallest projects of the year were some of our favourites – because of the people we met in the process.

So what does this all have to do with you, reading this blog looking for insight on how to work with your designer? Well, I’d suggest getting to know that designer a bit better and see what’s important to them. Have lunch with them and ask about their family and other interests.  As a result, you’ll have a much better experience working with them and probably better results in the work they produce. Designers tend to work a little bit harder for people they like.

So finally, a big thank you to our clients and partners. We thoroughly enjoyed working with each and every one of you, and are looking forward to a great 2014!

PS: Anyone that wants to have a coffee with me, ask away. I’d love to get out of the studio for 20 minutes. But you’re buying. Starbucks stock is down.

Greg Carmichael is the Managing Director of Synergy Design, an accomplished graphic design and marketing-support company near Toronto. He leads a talented team of designers that produce visually effective marketing collateral for print and online, and ensures that their clients have a great experience in working with them.

GC2013Connect with Greg on Linked-In
ca.linkedin.com/in/gregcarmichaelsynergydesign/

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The Go-to-Guy

NeighbourI was at a cocktail party a few days ago – ok, ok, it was beers in plastic cups watching football – but that’s beside the point.  In between the action, we were talking about who had a drywall guy, who had a mechanic, a plumber, etc. – not because we aren’t handy, but because we often need to hire a pro, and we trust in each other to refer us to someone good. Nothing new there, but in the deluge of social media, it’s refreshing to see that word-of-mouth (in person), is still the most effective form of marketing.

Enter the Go-To-Guy

Take my old next-door neighbor. He knows someone for everything and anything, and admittedly, it’s a little annoying. Most conversations over the fence invariably end up with a name; “Oh, you should talk to John Smith, he’ll get you squared away.” Squared away? Who talks like that? But let me tell you, when I desperately needed an electrician, and fast, I knew exactly where to go.

Get to the point Greg

Well ok then… so in business, when the pressure is on and you desperately need to find someone for something because the sales team is breathing down your neck and the presentation is this afternoon, but you’re still online, looking, desperately for the guy with the thing, with fourteen browser windows open, and still no luck – you’re in a jam now.

If only you had a go-to-guy, you’d be squared away

So what does all this have to do with a graphic designer or a design company? Well it may not, but marketers have never been so overwhelmed with responsibility and as budgets shrink, so does the time and resources to get it all done. The partners they choose to work with, designers included, should always be listening and should be there for more than just the creative. If that means finding someone to print 5,000 balloons right now, or get a new trade show banner this afternoon, or hire a photographer for tomorrow, then so be it. That’s a true partner. A real go-to-guy.

In our business, we call this marketing support, and our network of referring partners have helped dozens of clients over the years. So if you’re in a jam, and need a guy, ask away. Here’s some people we know:

  • Photographers
  • Writers
  • Web designers
  • Interior designer
  • Corporate video
  • Mailing and Fulfillment
  • Keynote speaker / motivational coach
  • Insurance (business and personal)
  • Corporate Services (HR, I.T. and Accounting)
  • I.T.
  • Accountant
  • Real estate
  • Investments
  • Foreign exchange
  • Immigration
  • Legal

So if your freelancer or design agency is a true partner, helping you when the pressure is on, then hang on to them – that’s rare. But if they’re only going through the motions, then maybe they’re not doing enough.

And finally, can you ask my go to-guy to return my rake?

Greg Carmichael is the Managing Director of Synergy Design, an accomplished graphic design and marketing-support company near Toronto. He leads a talented team of designers that produce visually effective marketing collateral for print and online, and ensures that their clients have a great experience in working with them.

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Connect with Greg on Linked-In
ca.linkedin.com/in/gregcarmichaelsynergydesign/

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The Creative Process

ProcessMarketing managers that I meet for the first time are often curious to know what our creative process looks like, or simply ‘how’ we work. I’m thinking they want to avoid previous bad experiences with their freelancer or design agency. In any case, you asked, so here’s the creative process that most design agencies follow, or at least should follow. Oh, the designers at our studio will tell you that ours has a bit of an OCD component to it, but that’s a whole other story.

Some say that relationship selling is dead, but it’s no mystery that clients become repeat clients because of the great experiences they have. Naturally it’s fitting for the designer to build rapport and trust over time. As a new client, you may expect some bumps in the road as the designer learns how you work and more importantly, finds out what you like and don’t like when it comes to design. Sadly, a lot of designers believe it’s all about them and rarely adapt to the clients way of working.

The creative process starts with the initial presentation of the project. Ideally, you’ll send a creative brief or at least have a chat with the designer to see what the objectives are, what kind of marketing piece you’re after, and what problem it will solve. This is generally a lead-gen objective, so the design agency should learn the history of what you’ve have done in this area. What’s worked and what’s failed. And try to get all the parts of the project up front, be it logos, photos and final copy. Naturally, expectations and timeline should be discussed, so this initial step is absolutely vital in meeting what you have in mind. If the designer isn’t having these discussions up front with you, then this could be why they occasionally miss the mark.

Next step is finding out what your competitors are doing. The design agency should do a bit of poking around to ensure that what they’re going to create, makes you stand apart from them. And certainly shouldn’t be copying them – believe me, it happens.

Collaboration. Not sure how solo freelance designers do it, but in studios like ours, we have the benefit of three designers that will collaborate and brainstorm before they start anything. Three heads are surely better than one, and when things get heated, I know they’re on to something great.

Sketch and focus. Yes, even in 2013, great designers still put pencil to paper and sketch out their ideas before touching a mouse or keyboard. From there, they typically see which path to take and will narrow in on a handful of ideas.  From there, it’s on to InDesign, Photoshop, and a whole host of other apps that really allow those ideas to come to life. The designer will explore the balance of white space and readability, and will look at various images, fonts and colour to present the right tone.

As the layout takes shape, and depending on the size of the project, they should present you with their initial work and be sure they’re on the right track. Some designers are brave and will create the entire piece without input from their client. Yikes!

From there it’s all about working towards completion, sharing and collaborating with you along the way in a series of back-and-forths (until approved), and posted to the web, emailed or printed. Some designers say it’s 3 rounds of changes max, but for us, it takes what it takes. A good design agency recognizes that every client is different, with different needs, so handcuffing them to a preset amount of changes is counter productive to the process.

So there you have the creative process on how designers work. Most of us anyway. But take away this final thought – the design agency should follow up with you and be sure the piece actually worked. If it didn’t, they should have thick skin and accept criticism.  If it did, then hopefully they created a great experience for you and you’ll hire them again and again.

Greg Carmichael is the Managing Director of Synergy Design, an accomplished graphic design and marketing-support company near Toronto. He leads a talented team of designers that produce visually effective marketing collateral for print and online, and ensures that their clients have a great experience in working with them.

GC2013Connect with Greg on Linked-In
ca.linkedin.com/in/gregcarmichaelsynergydesign/

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Need Fresh New Ideas?

Fresh

I talk with a lot of marketing people during the day, some clients, but mostly prospective clients. Naturally, I’m looking to find out what’s happening in their world, and I’m quite pleased to hear good things about their creative partners (be it a freelancer or design agency). Many have built solid relationships and are quite happy to stay the course.

But when I dig deeper, I find that creative complacency has kicked in and they’re really not happy at all. Some of these marketers reveal that their graphic designer or agency no longer brings fresh new ideas to the table. I hear this a lot, and wonder why. Creative’s are supposed to be full of great new ideas, aren’t they?

Well, yes, but a good designer should be maintaining your brand and keeping the visuals consistent across the various channels. As you know, your credibility is at stake and having a repetitive look and feel helps with brand recognition. But a great designer will gradually introduce new ideas so that your prospects don’t get tired. We all want to look more exciting than our competitors, right?

So if you’re not getting fresh new ideas from your graphic designer or creative agency, maybe try these ideas…

  • Allow your designer some freedom. But not too much.
  • Avoid asking for ‘outside the box’, but rather give some direction and maybe provide samples.
  • Tell them the problem you’re trying to solve or tell them the purpose of the piece.
  • Share your vision and have a collaborative discussion.
  • Try introducing new content or new messaging.
  • Maybe send a different amount of copy –  less is more, right?
  • Let them change the dimensions or shape of the piece.
  • Allow the introduction of a new font, breaking free of the corporate guideline. Just once.
  • Ditto for color. You’d be surprised how a complimentary color can shake things up.
  • Let them in on the budget and see if there’s room to try a 2nd or 3rd layout.

And be brave. What you get back, may be off the wall, but there could be some gold in there. Go another round and have them scale things back, then take your new idea upstairs and sell it. Buy in is key. And if you know management won’t budge, keep trying. One of these fresh new ideas will stick. I promise.

Greg Carmichael is the Managing Director of Synergy Design, an accomplished graphic design and marketing-support company near Toronto. He leads a talented team of designers that produce visually effective marketing collateral for print and online, and ensures that their clients have a great experience in working with them.

GC2013Connect with Greg on Linked-In
ca.linkedin.com/in/gregcarmichaelsynergydesign/

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Getting My Feet Wet.

synergypeeps

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m Greg (the one on the right). I finally decided to get my feet wet and write a blog, so fingers crossed it goes well and you find value here.

So let’s start with an introduction. I’m the Managing Director of Synergy Design, a graphic design studio near Toronto – Streetsville, Mississauga to be exact. Those others in the pic above are the designers here – Rachel, Radie and Pia, but more on them later. We’re in our 15th year of providing graphic design for all sorts of marketing projects (print and online) and have a fantastic roster of clients across several industries.

As for me – well, I’m a business owner, a rabid Toronto Maple Leafs fan, an avid (but poor) golfer, and along with my wife Jo-Anne, a chauffeur to our three teenaged daughters.

This blog is ideally suited for marketing and sales professionals, and won’t be your typical graphic design blog. I won’t be writing about what cool new fonts are out there, or what colours are trending right now. But rather, I’ll try to bring some insights from our studio where you can learn how to get the most out of your graphic designer or agency, and offer up some thoughts on the process as we create sales and marketing material together.

Connect with Greg on Linked-In
ca.linkedin.com/in/gregcarmichaelsynergydesign/

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