Choosing the Right Client with Peter Nowell
Now we're gonna welcome peter knoll and I'm so excited to have him and like I told you guys peter and I met through makeshift society so so I was looking for I was telling you I like reading the makeshift society mailing list and peter had said he was looking for a designer and I sent him a note and we ended up having a cup of coffee and tea on really enjoying each other so let's welcome peter I think they're coming yeah all right, so I'm going to read your bio ready to it okay, so everyone this is peter knoll peter began his design business creating concepts and user interfaces for mobile aps and web platforms has worked gradually expanded to include more traditional forms of graphic design such as logos and brand identities, books and a wide variety of print and fabricated physical items. Peter's clients have come from a variety of industries everything from technology to film and video to food and beverage and he has developed long term working relationships with most of them. In hi...
s spare time you may find peter writing articles about design software in sketch which I think is on medium um traveling in far off lands which I want to know where those lands are and or drinking juice or beer in sunny his valley did I miss anything that's that's, that's awesome awesome so so the reason I wanted to bring in peter talk with you guys today is because peter is kind of in a career transition and he's really thinking through you know, his experience and freelance and kind of what he wants to do next and he's been ah full time employee has been full time employed at in a corporate environment before and he's also worked for himself and you know, we just we got to talking and I realize that that pier was making very conscious choices in his career path that that I really admire and I wanted him to be able to share a little bit about that um and kind of what his decision making is and why he's doing those kinds of things so so I have some specific questions are you ready? Let's go for it okay, so I would like to know because I made a big deal about you being specific about you choosing what kind of projects do you choose so it it varies based on what I already have at the moment I love having a breadth of types of projects that I'm working on for different types of clients so I enjoy we're working on a twelve foot long wooden menu for one client at the same time this I'm designing an app for another or coding a website and sometimes just jumping day today is enough to just keep my mind stimulated so um part of it is not getting too much into a rut. I'm just working on one thing and and a good deal of it is is just trying to vet who I want to be working with. I think everything comes down when it comes to client management, everything comes down to what your priorities are, so your priority might be I just want to learn a lot or I need to make a lot of money right now or I maybe you are you're a stay at home mom and you've got a you know, take care of the kids and so flexibility is your biggest priority. Um when I started my biggest priority, I just knew there is this deep urge to create I just wanted to make a lot of cool stuff. Yeah, and that was that was my biggest priority. So I said yes to everything. And, um, and making a lot of money on every project was the first thing to go out the window that's that's different for me. Now I have different priorities. I'm learning a still a big one. I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I think that that that's really common, I think when I first started in my career to I was like, I just want to make stuff I am so excited tio that someone is going to like let me do this or that I'm going to be able teo, you know, experiment with wood or menus or whatever and then like someone else is going to pay to have this thing made like this is so cool right? And then the more you kind of get into it, the more you're like, ok, it's not I'm not casting a wide net anymore, but I'm narrowing down whatever this focuses on I'm so glad that you brought up priorities because I don't think I brabourne his once except for in prioritizing work but what the priorities are to you is is really important so you know, at first you were you were casting a wide net and that was your priority and you know, when we talked you said now your priority is is really learning and challenging yourself, which is different so you know, so I'm gonna extrapolating here, but but, you know, maybe if another client came to you and said I want another wouldn't menu you'd say I don't want to do that anymore because that's not growth for me or learning that's a skill set I have already mastered and there's something else that I'm looking for most likely yeah, but you never know you never know, not deciding I e not dictated that for you, but but yeah so great and the next question which is kind of one of the sort of organizing principles of of this section is where do you look for work? So we've talked about this, and I, um I have to just be completely honest that ice I have spent very little time, um, going out and searching for any work and it's certainly an important thing to do when you're starting, um, a lot of the work that I I have had in the last few years has been for a consistent clients, and a lot of those clients have been referrals from I'd say probably three quarters of them from one good friend in particular, who was consulting with start ups and small businesses, business strategy and leadership consulting and it's so useful I can't I can't emphasize enough how useful it is to have a small network of people in other fields who are introducing you to their clients and who you're looping in with your clients. It goes a long way, just one of them obviously, just one person can fill your portfolio in my case within six months. Yeah, yeah, and I think, you know, there are a lot of people who, who, um, this where you going to find work it's a big source of anxiety, you know, but I think that your experience is pretty common. Um and yeah, so I just want to emphasize to you guys like I hope you all exchange your contact information with each other today um and start really building that network for yourself if you don't already have it and investing in it you know, meaning you're not always taking from the network but you're contributing to it that's why I like something like makeshift society but there's other groups and organizations that you can you can participate in but you know that you're going to invest in the community and then you know, you're also going to draw from the community but I do think that's hugely important yeah so um how can you tell if a client is going to be right for you? Um so the first answer is that you can't make it and so what about six questions that you're asking about what about the formula? So you know, um I've have found in so many ways that that client management for the client relationships are a lot like romantic relationships you just you have tio figure it out as you go you have to pay very close attention to what your interactions are like with them you need to work on something together even if it's not a big one and you need to just set expectations upfront and qualify them based on if they're meeting your priorities and those expectations I mean there are a lot of expectations you need to set like scheduling uh maybe stylistic preferences uh deliver bulls and what's it was an ok time to call you for me after seven pm is not okay yeah unless it's an emergency yes oh yeah we're going to talk a little bit about communication later and that's definitely one of the things I want to emphasize is setting boundaries with your clients and sticking to them you know you don't want to if you don't want to have a late night email thing going on with your clients don't ever email them late at night because if you do if you start doing that they're going toe they're going toe expect that from you, right? And that may be fine with you maybe on your phone all the time until the and do it in school or you know it may be something more like what peter's saying where it's like I'm off at seven o'clock, you know, like that's it like I have, you know, my work life in my personal life and those things are very separate based on my priorities right now, yeah, exactly exactly right now if you're my friend sharon was here earlier and, you know, we were sort of we're establishing these ground rules, but the truth is there's also this sort of hunger element, right like are you really busy with work so you don't really need to hustle isn't a project that you really really care about, you know are you feeling super empathetic to your client's needs and and understand why they're e mailing you at eleven at night because you're just in it like you guys are launching tomorrow and it's like ryan, right? This is okay you know, but understanding you have a choice in that on being strategic about it and you will always clients will always want you to make concessions and when you know what your priorities are like the top one or two priorities that's when you know when to walk away yeah, definitely okay, so, um have you ever had to break up with a client? Yes, as a matter of fact number times um was that like, um I cement or sci fi mentors walking me through it so when you use the term break up it sounds very heavy and emotionally just, um sometimes but then they're different reasons that you might, uh, break up or just part ways yes. So once again, like a romantic relationship, sometimes you just need to realize that you can either burn bridges or you can learn when to when to walk away. I want to say goodbye when the time is right and one of the cases that I've encountered a few times is that I've grown a client that who have become the value that I bring the skills that I have made just like the rate that I'm charging it has it has outgrown that client and they cannot meet me there and that's when it's time to amicably uh part ways there's so many reasons you might you might hate a client you might have us all these emotionally charged reasons to break things off but there are all of these very, very objective ones all of these factual one's very legitimate ones and when you can focus on those it makes all the difference yeah I think you're right I think you're absolutely right to take up from the emotional place to the objective most it's like I'm a business you're a business you know this just isn't working anymore because I understand you know I have goals for my business and you know I want to keep my business healthy and functional and you know that we're just not aligned in that anymore and you also had a couple of things to do like if you were going to part ways you know ways to kind of let your client down easily or right yeah so so the most important thing um is a first start by writing down a list of all the reasons that you want to get rid of them on and then she's the effective ones yeah make a slam book getting around and then choose the objective ones, and there might be more than one that is so smart. I love that choose the ones that there's no emotional charge and that no one can argue with. You have to you have you guys have to part ways, and then when you're ready to do it to it as a friend, where you are, you are approaching them, you're on their side, and I'm not sure how this is going to come out, but I think these are some of the words that I might use it. It might sat in u two to admit this to them. It might be bummed when you say that, but you've realized that based on undeniable fact, a and objective fact see our b that you that you can no longer support them in the way that they deserve it's about it's about them, it's about you being like you deserve this, and I know that I need to go this other direction or there's this scheduling thing, and I just we can't get past it or you want me to be full time and it's just not the right course for me, so we need to figure this out um, a tactic or strategy that I always use is to make it a transition you're not breaking up. I mean, they were really high school the word no way I was waking up with us so the way that I I never use that word the way that I like to think about it and also to articulate it is that I'm transitioning out of working with them and that's the way to accomplish it. Ahs well, if you've been working with a client for an extended period of time, give it a month or two that's time for them to less hectic lee find a replacement yeah, you have an income source and you can tie up any loose ends that they'd like to finish the question sometimes comes up do I help them find a replacement? Um all right, yeah and that and that's that's entirely circumstantial and based on your values if if I do not want to er if I do not feel ok subjecting another designer to work with a client you I didn't know I struggled with and then I will not, uh seek out candidates for them but I might agree tio help that candidates that they have maybe interview them or I'm right back on them. Yeah, yeah, I think that that's sort of uh, ethical choice you know, that's one of the reasons why I wanted to talk to you today is that I think that you have some you're very clear on your ethics about how you how you want your business to be in how you show up in the world and so you have a nice life but but but yeah, that that referral thing if after you've asked the six questions and you've talked to a person cause I said always take the phone call because you never you never know what it's going to lead to write but if after you talk to a person you realize oh man like you know they're either unreasonable or you know or it's just maybe they were unkind you know and just like not not anybody that you want to help um you know I would I would not refer them I would not I would not help them but if you're like gosh, you know it's like um ah small business and they can't afford me but you know, but I really would like to get them help and I may be no like a junior designer someone to refer absolutely, you know absolutely help andi I think the same is true for when you part ways and I just break cover the war but when you when you part ways is you know, do you oh are you parting ways amicably and you know, you really want to help them see the work through and it's maybe a scheduling thing like you literally can't do the thing or you know or is it one of the reasons that your parting ways is because it's just like it's not a good healthy relationship on doesn't align with like you know that kind of people that you want to surround yourself there's sometimes there's no other way to put it a kind relationship can just be this like energy and positivity black hole and he got into that you've got to cut that tie, you know, right, especially as creatives like we our life force comes from positivity I have so much difficulty uh producing good work more or very much work if I am not in a positive place and and so when it's not positive you gotta fix it or cut it off yeah and we talked about, you know, being authentic and genuine and and that's really true, you know, if you're in a mental back bend about why this person is so your client or while you're still doing the work really self examine you know, maybe you need to keep the client and I totally get that like money's tight there, you know, the only client that you have you have riel expenses that are going on, you have to pay your rent and I get that, but if and when you can make the choice, make that for yourself, you know, and obviously try and try and fix it before you just say uh, yeah, forget about like you said you didn't like the square breaking up with you like you were really good is square and you were, like didn't like it. So it's over. So, you know, I told you that I printed out your list, but I actually didn't. But when we were talking, actually brought it. You did? Oh, my god really could deeper, you know? Yeah. So when you were talking about, isn't on your ipad that isthe yeah, um, so when you were talking about nurturing your creative himself, um uh, when you were talking about that, you need to be inspired. Yeah, um, and not only that your client hasta that you have to be inspiring your client work. But, you know, even in your bio, you were you were you say that, you know, you like to travel and drink juice things. And so I asked you about, you know, advice that you that you would give, teo, you know, yourself or your younger self, right? And you had this, like, terrible appointed. Listen, I was like, oh, carrie, I like I am so into that you asked them about. You actually asked about some very specific lessons, and I just ended up I'm going wild with all these lessons that I would tell my younger self yes oh I want todo eso you read your list man it starts with and they're in no particular order because stephen there's no it's better just do good work more will come and referrals will happen I already said this almost word for word but when a client relationships not right fix it or break up I'm so glad you mentioned the fixing part though because I just went straight to the break like um invest in yourself take classes and attend events expand your skill set and spend money doing so I think that spent and if you don't mind me interrupting you but I think the spending money part is is really important uh when you can spend it on yourself you it will pay you dividends I promise like work will come from it new ideas will come from and I think especially you know when you're first starting out and and you know money is tight it's like god should I spend four hundred dollars to you know go to this conference is this event that's a lot of four hundred dollars is a lot of money and you know should anybody spent four hundred dollars on anything no right like of course not that's a lot of money but but I think again I like zooming out of not just the cost but the benefit right? And the and the investment in yourself you're investing in yourself you guys are investing in yourself by being here which is so cool and brave and like we actually reviewed people's portfolios like they like do you know do their positioning statement of stuff which to me is all like steps forward or taking steps board and that's really cool but invest investing in yourself I think is really important maybe nobody should I spent four hundred dollars something but you know who who should is a business yeah and you are very stop giving stuff away this is there a lot of juicy ones and you stop giving stuff away for free. I'm still working on these by the way. Okay, we now will you go one level deeper on that? Yeah. Charge for your ideas ten just the ideas charge for the time you're learning how to do something. I was talking with a good friend of mine he's a writer and assaults with started line it's like sometimes you need to learn in order to accomplish a project but you are uniquely positioned to learn those things. I was recently working on a on a project for, um for big tech company I started working on these old icons and getting way into the into this format called spg and like it has all this whole animation framework with it it's like I was reading and you had to do research I guarantee there less than a dozen people in the world who already know yeah taking on a project like that level of self and so it's you are the right person to be learning it and you should feel comfortable charging for some of the time or all of the time in some cases they that it takes you learn something charge for meetings and phone calls and emails yeah charge for meetings right? Does anybody struggle without like should I be charging for this time because I'm not designing charge for meetings e a charge for transportation outside of the city that's what I do I still have people say yeah sure I'll pay it but I want you to come to my office charge over time charge for your creative services one hundred percent of the time if you do not you discount yourself and everyone else permanently to that client yeah yeah here's one for younger self get out of the city on weekends, right? No, but so you know when we were talking you were saying you're you know you should be inspired in your client work it's not just your clients job to inspire you right it's your job tio um uh maintain your creative self yeah, like, you know, jump in the ocean and like sky dive like just we'll get out there disconnect um I would tell. I would say, peter, younger peter. So you call your younger self. You have your peter? Yeah, yeah, young peter. Okay, stop thinking. I'll do it this evening. You'll be exhausted and it never works. Good. We talked about this one. Don't respond to emails after seven pm today has done drink a beer. You and your client are probably more emotional and it can wait until the morning. Good love that boundary is say no more. This is probably if I had to choose from all of thes. This would be the biggest one. You should not. This is for younger peter. Not not everyone, necessarily don't project, but you should not accept. Everything that comes across your desk is the easiest way to get over. Committed, burned out, uninspired and out of alignment with your priorities and goals. The first thing to say no to working for free and working in your free time you're valuable. If a client deserves your attention, they'll pay for it and make it fit your schedule. This is this is funny, it's. Kind of like therapeutic. Like peter. You are valuable. No, but you know, what's funny about that is is that, um I think that sometimes we forget you know that's why that's why you're going to develop this network of trusted friends and colleagues that are going to remind you of stuff because you're going to have other countervailing forces in your life that you're going to try to take you off of off of like being in your alignment with what it is that you believe about yourself in your business and how you want to conduct yourself right? And you're going to get like this and you need somebody to be like this so you know if you want right down like your manifesto or you know, put it on your put a post it note on your computer or you know, someone like I just I feel that we can grasp concepts and their true for us and then we lose them like this and I like forgot you know on do you need to be reminded yeah, yeah friends like, hey, I could use your help on this and and and actually the cases often whether it's a friend or a client you're who you're parting ways with they will likely respect you for it they will value your time more and value as a professional yeah, yeah um I have two more never ask I learned this from I should give credit I learned this one from mike montero two days no mike montero yeah, very vocal guy yeah he's a partner in meal design here in san francisco and he gave a good uh talk f you now pay me which you khun look up on the internet yeah, yeah, yeah and he's actually published a couple of books. I think he's in the resource list I put him in there about client management. Yeah, tons of resources from him never ask of a client. Do you like it? Ask if it accomplishes a specific goal if it solves the problem at hand or give them a limited number of options to pick from designed by committee never works and you should take control of situations that are headed in that direction. It's inevitable, but trying, yeah, I I love that. Do you like it? That is like that is just like solid, you know? And then that right? So I give us some example earlier of ah designer that I hired at zynga who reaches under logo and he put it in a square um there was a lot of covers. It wasn't square before and there was a lot of conversation in the office like a square like everybody got focused on that and he provided this amazing rational about that it was a containing shape and what it did and he put a story behind it but but the people's reaction at my work was whether or not they like to square which had nothing to do with did the work solved the didn't meet the goals that we had established and it absolutely did one of the goals was that that this local could stay could uh breakthrough the cacophony like this game are was really complicated put in a square and it did up it did that but but yeah people just go right to the subjective and that's particularly true for design and this is you know, most of things were going over related to more than just design but design is problem solving and it's not about like how would you like this style it's like whether it's a logo well, do you like the logo? Who cares? Do your customers and he see this logo and think of you the way that you want to be thought out exactly in which case it solves the problem? I could give more specific examples, but I might be revealing some s specific stop the last one I I was just talking with a friend who runs a film company about this the other day and uh it's to establish as much clarity around the scope the time given the scheduling all of this stuff as you can with a client it's those expectations but it's really just having that clarity lawyers do this really well way we're going to have a one hour consultation um we will be going over this topic and this topic uh at the end of it you will have this advice you'll have this deliverable and if you would like to schedule more time it will cost this much yeah they charged by like the fifteen minutes to write yeah what is that what you value their time you also just by fifteen minute appointments chiropractors yeah yeah fifteen minutes you're in you're out you know a same time don't don't charge for fifteen minute intervals of like oh goes talking on the phone fifteen like a rodent email yeah I I always get away from that yeah totally but you're right you're right every fifteen minutes of your time is valuable that's it I mean like what what lists right I was like oh man, this is awesome um yeah I feel like you should post them online more because I really enjoyed I really enjoyed reading that so do we have coach questions from you and me okay yes so we have like an online audience e think they're they're way have a question on everybody else out in the world because I have a question for both of you what are your recommendations for integrating freelance work with a full time day job during daytime hours I have to focus on you know my job and can't work with potential or current clients is there a good way to balance this? Yeah do you want to go her? Shall I go? Um I only have like one little thing to say about because I haven't done too much of them simultaneously thinks it can get very harry we're talking about this earlier you can get harry for, uh like time management reasons only like clients you know me, I'm at work I've seen that happen a million times yeah, it can also get harry because your employer is probably going to have more more control over you and your I p and all of that then then you would interrupt you just quickly I'd be a little property so the things that you're creating writing there might be country conflict of interest causes that you wouldn't have if you were just taking on a client like ten, ninety nine contractor feel answer and you know, I the company that I used to work for full time, anything I created they owned anything you created on their computer or anything you created while you're at work during work hours outside of work hours I was um I mean, I suppose if I you know, I wrote a cookbook maybe maybe they you know, there's a tech company, maybe they wouldn't own it, but honestly they probably would yeah, and so that was a big yeah struggle yeah, so moonlighting is one of those things that is a gray area for people and you know, for the purposes of this class I want if life in freelance is what you guys want I want you to do what it takes to get there um and I value your personal life goals over over the goals of the business that you currently might work for but yes, there are some serious legal ramifications of that and you have to be really careful and you know you're going to have to decide what you're comfortable with and you're going to have to know has because who here has a full time job yeah has anybody have you ever read your employment contract I know has something a bit about not doing work outside that yet yeah right a non compete clause that's really common and I think um uh employment contract has lots of other stuff in and it actually should have a clause about about the work that you create and who actually owns that so you know if anybody is full time employed now and just kind of curious ask for your employment contract and read it like no no what's in there um so yeah so so let's say that that the legal partisan on an issue for the sake of this discussion and I'm not giving free legal advice but they say it's not an issue you know lunch breaks are really great to take quiet calls you know uh letting the person no like not lying about the fact that you have a full time job saying like, look, I'm gonna you know, I'm actually going to be doing this nights and weekends so you know, you're going to hear from me but it's going to be off business hours or whatever that isthe right? Um, you know, on dh, so I think as long as you're setting the person's expectations and you're clear on how, how, how you've waited into this gray area and you're you know, you're you're charging ahead with that, um, you know, that that's a good place to start on the other, you know, I think we're really good on question, ok? Unless you guys have anything else to add there's one thing that I could add to that just like again thinking about your priorities and why you're working for that company full time if you do wanna pursue a freelance uh, or part of your career and in freelance so perhaps it's a study income source? Well, a lot of my clients in the last few years have been, uh I've been ah consistent clients where I work with at least three days a week, and it is possible to have that as a freelancer and to take on consistent work alongside, uh, project basis engagements, yeah, definitely so I just I don't know if you'd mind staying up here I just have one more topic that I wanted to talk about because you and your advice said uh remember what he said to call you out but you said don't work for free andi I think working for free is like it's really tempting you know especially when you're first starting out on do you want to fill your portfolio on you wanted you want to do cool stuff or you know you see an opportunity that, um that has some potential um and I agree theoretically you should never work for free but I do think that there are some caveats in that andi I wanted to talk about those I don't know if you mind I'm staying up here and it sounds like I agree with you yeah so so in a busy when you are going to sell your services to a business you're not going to work for free and I don't know if you guys have looked at the edgy but but the idea is a professional organization for a graphic designers and there's a very clear policy about spec work right? So sometimes in a creative industry people I want to like try before they buy right so hey, I need a local and I'm in house for designers to make a logo for me and I'm going to pay on lee the person whose work I like right that's really really common or like could we do a test shoot you know but really they're like that's you're offering your professional services at that point so s o you know in those types of scenarios absolutely not and I could not agree with you more about getting into this mindset that you are a business right and a business would never give away their stuff for free right so but I do think that there's a couple caveats within that one is uh personal projects to me that is absolutely not working for free another is pro bono work so pro bono work is work for the greater good right so if you decide that you actually want to donate five hours of your time or one day's worth of illustrations or draw something you know for a non profit they have ah a new event or you know something like that a competition maybe want to enter design competition and you know the reason that you would enter the design competition is to get exposure for your work so it's kind of like working for free and sometimes you have to pay to enter them but you might want to put that your work has been published on your resume and a design competition is a good way to get your work published eso you know, I I think that there's absolutely no evidence that are better okay with that yeah yeah and and again it comes down to so you can give away an entire project for free yeah um you can also find yourself or maybe I should just say I have found myself often for clients who pay me giving away more of my time than I should without charging them for that so I don't think that just because they're paying for some stuff like that, this doesn't apply yeah and for the clients so say you're so you're kind of donating your time and talent to a brochure for a nonprofit um it is important that they know but you're donating say two thousand dollars worth of professional services to their nonprofit doesn't matter if you write it off uh but but the biggest down side I think to not charging for your work is not related to your bank account. It's it's you're perceived value and what that's going to do to help people? You yeah, yeah and it may not even be a disrespect thing, but it made just simply be a boundaries thing like because you haven't established this contract shewell relationship or you haven't discussed like, hey, I'm going to dio three illustrations for you and then we're going to pick one and refine one there's an keep asking for illustrations, you know? And so this thing that you're doing pro bono for the greater good becomes like why did I do this? Because they are like making me crazy because I've done twelve illustrations and it's not right, so it is also very easy for work that's free tio quickly like like get out of control on and that is another one of the pitfalls s so you know, I've had some people tell me like, you should just exchange money and just even a little bit like it's one hundred dollars, right? Because that somehow changes people's perception on dh this is a very personal decision for you guys to make about about yourselves and what you believe in, but then also, you know, maybe project by project, maybe you're going to side I never worked for free on dh then you know, you're going to find out that that someone's going to tug your heartstrings or you're going to see something as a potential opportunity, but just one more super quick thing that I wanted to talk about was, um, you had said something about, like cool companies and like companies trying to sell you on working for things because it was, like, really cool sure rightly so it's going to be so cool that you get to do this for us? I mean, it will be incredible for your portfolio, right, right that sometimes that's that's legitimate, yeah, sometimes, but quite rarely on dh and when it is, you need to make sure that that's the line again with your priorities, you can't just take something on and make a lot of money with it because it's cool if you are in a real financial pickle on dh for me at this point, I am very comfortable with my portfolio where it stands, and the portfolio argument just doesn't really faze me. Yeah, yeah, what does? What does interest me is like, uh, you're gonna have a lot of creative freedom torque on this project and that, given whatever other circumstances there are, that might be a point where I'll say, sure, I'll take a little bit less on this in exchange for the creative freedom says, yeah already for me now, yeah, we're gonna learn a lot. I'm going to learn how to like, you know, uh, create a pt a bottle and go through the manufacturing process in china cools holy, like all work weekends? Yeah, that is cool. Yeah, yeah, awesome. Thank you so much, peter. This was really informative, and I appreciate that you are talking about some areas that can be emotionally charged for people and that you've been so transparent about it, so thank you, yeah, also, thank you for being with us.