Primed and ready for action

You need to make time if you want to attract the best clients – and you’ll be better equipped to meet their needs, says Liz Birkbeck

Designers only slip into a state of frustration and unhappiness when their creative output and visual needs aren’t being supported. This malaise can be partly solved by a cool studio environment, filled with an array of Apple Computer products for them to play with, along with the most creative briefs to work on.

The needs that can’t be met and supported are usually based around time – not having enough of it being the general consensus. We all know we have to service clients, to allow businesses to function, but making financial decisions, such as taking on another designer or sacking a client to ease the workload and free up time, doesn’t feel like a viable solution.

Time management is crucial, if a consultancy is to complete a project before deadline; seemingly a slight movement of those familiar goalposts can inherently shift the schedule. Those spare four days you had saved to work on that self-promotional project can just disappear.

One idealistic formula for perfect time management is to be incredibly exacting about which clients you choose to work with. If you could only work with the most compatible clients, there would probably be more time for you to finish that website you’ve been planning for six months.

If time was plentiful, you would be more methodical and measured about your client research, know more about new printing techniques, paper and animation. You’d also have more time to cast an experienced eye over student portfolios, to find emerging talent, and see that French art house movie that you haven’t got round to seeing yet.

There are some alternative options for creating more time, like working longer hours, staying late at the office and getting up early – most of which aren’t conducive to a healthy lifestyle. The creation of false deadlines is also a firm favourite. But the only productive solution, to create more time for yourselves, is to invest in processes and working practices – spending and using time to actually create.

Trade organisations offer formal education with courses such as Time Management, Resources, The Client Perspective and Financial Management, all of which are out there, waiting to be used. But the courses can be expensive (you only get what you pay for) and, even then, it’s not that feasible to close the studio for a week, to allow a full team to benefit from the knowledge and experience of those that have gone before – though it is definitely worthwhile for those that do.

To rely on your designer charm and wit to drive the business forward is naive. Skills are undervalued and should be taken very seriously. Some courses are also worth repeating – it’s simple to complete a training module, put it into practice for a few months, then let your joyriding ways gradually creep back into the business. If you want to be taken seriously and impress clients with your professionalism, make sure everyone in your team knows how to behave and how to implement formal procedures. It’s important for everyone to have the necessary skills.

The solution hangs on design consultancies continuing to push forward and being prepared to take risks, where necessary. When the next prestigious project walks through the door, how great would it be to have all the necessary help waiting in the wings, just salivating to be taken on board by you? Communicating with others and giving time is critical too and can sew some valuable reputation seeds. You never know where your contacts might end up.

So does all this equate to financial stability? Not necessarily, but if designers are happy, time is well managed and experience continues to grow, then you should be on the right track to increase turnover and growth. Reputation and quality will increase the level of your profile. If the client-designer experience is positive, the client is more likely to come back and is more likely to pass your name on to another potential prospect.

Running a design group yourself is extremely rewarding and fulfilling. The hard parts don’t necessarily get any easier, you just learn to take the ups and downs in your stride. Hard work, commitment and passion are the main requirements, the issues just have to be addressed and dealt with. Keep moving forward and making progress and time will take care of itself.

Liz Birkbeck is managing director of Bubble Media

Model for a perfect client:

• Client comes on recommendation from a good source

• You both have the same goals and a similar personality

• Client is willing to let you formalise the brief

• Design buyer is open-minded and willing to listen

• Buyer suggests no more than two rounds of amendments to the work

• The client trusts you implicitly to come up with the right creative solution

• The buyer has design knowledge, but is not a designer

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