Business is a process of adapting, seeing what works and evolving. Since starting out in business 3 years ago, I tried and tested different processes. In the last 12 months I’ve reworked many if my actual processes *alongside* beliefs and mindset work too.
Let’s start with the 5 key changes I made last year.
(This post contains affiliate links for products I use and enjoy!)
1. I ditched milestone payments in favour of monthly payments.
I list this one first as it’s changed the game for me. For the first 2 years of business I relied on milestone invoicing – this meant that I would invoice a % of the outstanding balance upon reaching a certain stage in the project. (For example, 50% downpayment, 25% at concept delivery and 25% at handover.) I’m not sure where this idea came from (? Maybe my old agency did this?)
Working this way means that it is really difficult to forecast and plan for incoming revenue. You can expect projects to hit certain milestones on certain dates, but it’s not guaranteed and if the projects runs over schedule or you don’t hear back from a client for a while, then you’re left without payment. Sometimes this means project payments can extend out wayyyyy into the future and you don’t know when you’ll receive.
Enter, monthly payments! Honestly, I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner! Now, I invoice the client 50% as before and subsequent payments are automatically invoiced at a set date, month on month. This means you can plan exactly what you’ll be earning each month and it also encourages clients to stay engaged with your timelines and processes.
If you want to take it a step further, auto-draft the payments month on month. This means the payments are taken automatically. This is a beautiful thing as it means less admin for you, less admin for the client and guaranteed deposits on specific dates!
2. Integrated Dubsado
Overall Dubsado has streamlined a bunch of processes for me! I used to invoice manually using an Indesign document. (That meant doing the maths myself AND then inputting the information into the document too.)
I used to send out call booking links using Calendly. I’d then send contracts for signatures via HelloSign. Dubsado handles all of this *for* you, in one neat place, and saves each document within a client portal. Invoices can also be raised automatically if you choose to set it up that way based on the cost of the project and it will work out the sums for you based on the payment terms. It also has the option to sent automatic call reminders and has a place to store all of your canned emails that you can dip into when you need them. If you’re into automations and workflows, you can have Dubs send emails and trigger actions based on certain requirements too. I use the client portal with every project to save proposals and invoices and clients can login at any time to view them.
So I used to find this really difficult and always believed that it made most sense to deliver 2-3 concepts to the client. Some of this was down to how I’d been ‘raised’ as a designer in agency but some of it, I believe, also stemmed from my lack of self worth or belief in my abilities. It was as though I always needed to deliver extra concepts “just in case” the client didn’t like the first one.
There’s also an element of people pleasing thrown in – giving clients lots of options often adds that wow factor. The obvious benefit to presenting one concept only is that it streamlines the process but the main reason it works is that our job as the designer is to present the option that solves the problem. So by confidently presenting one solution, we’re taking the reigns as the creative director, expert and decision maker. Sharing more than one concept can mean that we’re asked to Frankenstein ideas. By crafting one idea that works, we’re channeling our energies in a more focused way.
4. Reduce reliance on questionnaires
The classic route into strategy for many independent designers is to start with a one-size-fits all questionnaire. Again, the way I’ve been raised as a designer tells me this isn’t right. No two clients are the same. However, for most designers starting out a questionnaire is a good gateway into more immersive brand strategy experiences. I prefer to get into conversation with my clients and craft questions that make sense for their business – questionnaire answers can often be lacklustre, rushed and vague.
Whereas a workshop or strategy session allows you to reallllly do your job! I also feel weird about clients doing too much homework. I still dip into questionnaire territory, I will offer this option for clients with smaller budgets, where an element of brand thinking is required to move them forward in business. I have also sent questions to clients under the premise of ‘prompts’ to allow them to think about things before we get on the call, but I don’t frame this as a questionnaire, per se.
5. Talking budgets and numbers on the first call
This has really changed the way I create proposals. I used to have a chat with the client and then say “okay I’ll get back to you with a price.” This means that neither of you leave the call any wiser about what to expect moving forwards or, how to create scope based on the budget! It can be intimidating and scary to talk numbers on the first call – this requires some practice and inner money work if you find it really uncomfortable.
Sometimes you’ll waste time creating a proposal that is too expensive for the client – but you didn’t know because you didn’t ask. Or you’ll spend hours too-ing and fro-ing over the number, fearing that it will be too high and then creating a package packed full of scope. By talking numbers on the call, it means you can jump straight into the proposal with a solid starting point, without as many question marks so you craft an offer that *suits* the budget and remains profitable.
To work through some of my money blocks, and to help me get comfortable with asking.for.money; I enjoyed and now recommend these books:
Chillpreneur: The New Rules for Creating Success, Freedom, and Abundance on Your Terms
The Money is Coming: Your guide to manifesting more money