Being a more confident designer – An interview with Col Gray

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What does starting a design business, building a personal brand, and increasing your prices all have in common? Confidence.

In this weeks episode Ian interviews Col Gray, the founder of Dundee based graphic design studio Pixels Ink to discuss how confidence has played a pivotal role in developing his personal brand, and taking his design business to the next level.

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Col Gray Interview Transcription


Ian Paget: One thing I really like about what you do is that you’ve done a really good job of injecting your own personality into everything that you’re doing, so with Pixels Ink and I know the Rock Your Brand thing, I’ve seen it in a number of places. I think you’ve got a really unique brand, and I think it’s an extension of you. I think you’ve done a really great job of doing that. I find personal branding is one of those areas that designers really struggle with, so I’ve got a couple of questions around that topic. First thing, how did Pixels Ink start, and how did you go about developing that personal brand for yourself as part of that?


Col Grey: Okay. Pixels Ink as a name started in 2004-ish, I think. I was working for a company in the design department, and that company went into liquidation, and so I started to think about, well, what am I going to do if I can’t get a job. I might need to work for myself, so I needed to come up with a name for the company. At the time, and this is true, at the time the film Monsters, Inc. was out at the cinema. I’m a big animation fan. I did animation for my degree at university, and so I thought, “Oh, Pixels Inc., Pixels Incorporated. Then I thought, “Oh, no, Pixels Ink. I could change the C to a K, and that describes exactly what I do. I do website stuff and I do print stuff.

It didn’t come straight away. I had things like Pixel 8 with the number 8. That was a big thing back in the early 2000s, having a number 8 in there, and so I didn’t need to use it for a couple years. It was sort of 2000-and-, end of 2005 when I actually started freelancing, I suppose, setting up my own little studio of one, me, Pixels Ink, and just started trading off of that.

The Rock Your Brand thing didn’t come around till a couple of years ago. But you talk about personal brand, and the personal branding thing is a weird one, because I was running Pixels Ink since 2005, and I joined up with another company in 2009 who were a web design company based out in Norfolk. I was in Dundee in Scotland. We kind of met through a mutual client, and I joined their team. I kept trading as Pixels Ink up here in Scotland, but I became part of their limited company and career space, and worked with them for four years. Then that partnership dissolved, and I went back to trading on my own.

It was when I went back, up till that point, I’d been I suppose presenting myself to clients that way I thought business people should present themselves to clients, like a smart shirt and… I always wore jeans. I didn’t really wear trousers or that, but I just had this feeling that I wasn’t being myself.

At the time, I’m a bit of a baldy. I don’t have much hair. I don’t have any hair. It would be around the sides if I grew it. But I had a little goatee at the time, and just one day I just thought, “I’ve always wanted to grow a really long beard.” Me being me and not being so sure of myself, I actually polled my clients and said, “Do you think people would not work with me if I had a long beard?” It sounds ridiculous now. I laugh at it myself, but that’s how much I thought other people felt about working with people, they treated them on a how they look basis.

My clients being the clients that I had, were like, “Don’t be an idiot. You do good work and you’ve got a great personality. Just be you.” It kind of gave me permission to finally not go to work thinking, “This is how people expect me to look.” I just started to grow a beard. That just, I don’t know… I don’t know if it just gave me more confidence. I’ve always really worn baseball caps and trucker caps. As the beard grew, and I always wore a red baseball cap for work, and I would turn up to networking events, and it just got to the point where I would walk in, and people would recognise who I was even though I didn’t know them, because I had this sort of look, the baseball cap and the big, long beard. It just kind of evolved.

I suppose it was part this full in a way, but it took on a life of its own, and now I’m stuck with it. If I shave my beard off, I’m kind of destroying my brand a little bit, but it wasn’t anything, it wasn’t super planned out.


Ian Paget: It feels like there was a lot of soul searching in there. When we talk about personal branding, it’s not just about your logo. It’s everything else around that.


Col Grey: It has to be.


Ian Paget: Yeah. I think you kind of found who you are and started to discover who you are and more about yourself, and you let that come out.


Col Grey: Yeah. One of the things that was pointed out to me was that in order to get noticed, you have to have an opinion, and I’ve always been very scared of having an opinion. I’m not a confrontational person. I like to stay in the shadows a little bit, but then no one notices you, so you have to have an opinion. I’m still actually working on that to this day, and that’s where the Rock Your Brand thing came in.

That was where I was like, you know what? I like all kinds of music but metal and rock are my big thing. I DJ’d for 20 years, which explains my deafness. I go to heavy metal festivals. I work at one of the heavy metal festivals, so the rock thing is a big part of it. I thought, I’d love to bring that in in some way, and so I started a Facebook group, and I decided to call it Rock Your Brand. It was just for, not designers, business owners, who want to learn a little bit more about design and branding, so they could go away and do bits themselves.

It wasn’t a sales platform. I’m not the best salesman in the world, but being able to do something and go to work every day knowing that I had this thing called Rock Your Brand, it was so great. It makes my day to still be doing it, and so it kind of runs hand in hand with Pixels Ink, but it’s starting to digress a little bit, where Rock Your Brand is, I suppose, you talk about personal brand. The Rock Your Brand is more me as an individual, and the Pixels Ink is the more corporate brand, the agency, the design studio part of it all, because the Rock Your Brand is definitely me. Anyone that’s watched my YouTube videos will know that I sign off at the end with the old devil horns hand signal.


Ian Paget: You’re making me think of, you might know Lee as well, but a guy called Lee Jackson…


Col Grey: I do know him.


Ian Paget: Lee, he wears a cap. He’s got a beard. He goes to any networking events wearing a hoodie and jeans, just himself. He shared a video a year ago or a couple of years ago, of one of his first sales videos. So Lee does a lot of web design work.


Col Grey: Yeah, yeah.


Ian Paget: He did this video where he shaved. He wore a shirt and tie and suit, and he’s got this shiny bald head and literally did this sales pitch, where it was like Mr. Business Man like, “You want to buy a website.” The thing is, now that I know Lee and I’ve spent a bit of time with him and seen what he’s doing, that is completely and utterly ridiculous.

I’m a business owner. You’re a business owner. I think what you need to come to realise is that the average business owner is people like us that are, say, they’ve got a full-time job but they’ve got this dream to do this thing, and they’re saving up all their money. They want to create a business, so at the beginning they might just hack it all together with what they can get. But then there’s going to become a point where they want to invest in it. People want to work with people like them.


Col Grey: That’s it.


Ian Paget: I think if your personal brand is helping you or attracting a specific type of person that…


Col Grey: It’s not attracting people with pentagrams etched into their foreheads or anything like that. I think what it is doing is, when people see my content, when they eventually speak to me, I’m the same person. I act exactly the same way, but, like you said, with Lee’s thing, I don’t have any video stuff of where I was, but on my Facebook page, if you scroll all the way back to 2011, I think it is, I think I was taking part in November and really very cleverly decided that would be a good day to get new staff photos done. I’ve got this terrible little kind of seven-day old moustache and shaved bald head, no hat, and so exactly the description that you gave of Lee is me sitting at this desk. It’s me but it’s not me.


Ian Paget: Yeah, but it’s not you. It’s not your personality. One thing I’m going to add, I’m just going to say to the audience, me and Col, we haven’t met in person yet, but we’ve spoken a million times online in chats like this, but we, because we’re both in the UK and we go to a number of networking events, we share common friends. I’ve been to events and people know Col. They had mentioned him, because they’re like, I’m a graphic designer. They tend to go, “Do you know such-and-such?” Your name comes up.

One time I sat next to a lady, and she had the Rock Your Brand sticker on on her laptop. She was an ordinary kind of professional businesswoman. I mentioned it. She’s like, “Oh, I love it. I love Col.” She just totally sang your praises. You kind of think that if you’re going to be talking about rocking your brand and stuff like that, you’re just going to get loads of heavy metal clients and stuff like that. But I think what you obviously got across to her and the other people that I know that know you, they see your passion for what you do, and they just remember you. You’re very distinct of what you look like, and because you do have that Rock Your Brand, it really is an extension of you and it’s unforgettable.

Yeah, I think you’re right. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. It’s like when I say Rock Your Brand, it isn’t air guitars and being loud. When I say the term “Rock Your Brand,” what I want is… and you said the word “passion,” but for me it’s about giving my clients confidence to go out and rock their brand, because so… You know the same in working with people who come to you, who are looking to re-brand, especially rebrands, they’re embarrassed by what they have at that moment in time. Not everyone, but some people are embarrassed, and so I feel it’s my job to give them the confidence to go out there and feel like they’re a lead guitar or vocalist on stage and they can play their brand to people.

That was sort of, sounds really cheesy, and it probably is cheesy, but that’s why you can have someone sitting in a conference who looks kind of, for want of a better word, “normal” with a Rock Your Brand sticker on their laptop case, because it’s not about being brash and in your face.  It’s just having that inner confidence to be proud of what’s been created and what you’ve helped someone create. It just fits with me and it’s natural.

I think that’s the thing to be said really, is that if you’re developing a personal brand, and even the word “develop” sounds a bit like it’s manufactured, and you do to an extent, but it should be manufactured in the way that you’re just consistently being yourself. Because if you manufacture something where you develop it as a tactic or like a mask, you’re going to tire really quickly. Because you’re going to have to keep that mask up every time you’re dealing with clients or you’re networking, and if it’s not really natural you, that’s going to become really hard, especially around the pressures of… We know what it’s like being a designer. You’ve got all those stresses, and so the only way to maintain your personal brand is to make sure that it’s genuinely you.

I hazard to use the word “authentic,” because the word “authentic” now is becoming a marketing tactic. Just be you. That’s all I could say to it. Just be you and just have more confidence in being you. That’s, again, confidence comes into it a lot, especially with us as designers with pricing and everything else. The more confidence you can put into you, the stronger your personal brand will appear to your audience, and they will interact with you on a different level. That’s how I’ve experienced it anyway. I don’t know if it’s the same for others.


Ian Paget: Yeah. With personal branding, one thing I would say is I think it’s good that you’re being you, and I try to do the same with what I’m doing, with Logo Geek. I am a big nerd. I always have been a big nerd. I was a bit nervous about doing that at the beginning, because I thought people wouldn’t necessarily need that. But what I would say is it really makes you stand out, because there’s so many other graphic designers out there.

If everyone is doing the same thing of trying to target the stereotypical business owner, it’s boring, and you don’t stand out. I think when you are, especially when you’re sole practitioner, you’re working for yourself, adding that element of you in there and making it distinctly you, don’t go out there and try and be the next Aaron Draplin or the next Col Gray. Find what’s makes you you, and I think you need to do a little bit of soul searching with it, like you have and like I have.

Growing up I used to get bullied a little bit for being completely dorky, but now I’m just embracing it, because it’s me. When I go to networking events, I wear my dinosaur shirts and my UFO shirts and my normal glasses, and I just embrace that I am a geek. A few other people I know that have a personal brand, I’ve got a friend who’s very bubbly and enthusiastic and kind of… How would I describe it? Quite buzzy with her personality.

She puts it into everything that she does, and it’s like bright and sparkly and colourful, but still professional. When she does video content, she gets that element of her personality in, and any social pace, any content she puts on her website, it’s got that edge to it, but it’s still professional.


Col Grey: Yeah, you can still remain professional with it.


Ian Paget: Yeah, you’re still professional but it is just you. I think because it is such a competitive landscape, there are hundreds of thousands of graphic designers out there, if you want to stand out, you do need to do something different. I think the best way of doing that is to be uniquely you.

A question I wanted to ask around this, and I don’t know if you’ll have any advice, because I know what you’ve shared so far is your own personal story. Do you have any advice for designers that are wanting to develop their personal brand?


Col Grey: I think it’s pretty much what I said before in that you’ve got to put yourself out there. I know you said yourself, Ian, about being the nerd and stuff, you kind of shy away from it a little bit, but you have to own it. If you own it, then it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, because there’s… As a designer, there’s so many clients out there. You’re never going to work with everyone anyway, so you almost have to… Bringing out your personality and developing a personal brand will actually push the wrong people away and bring the right ones in. It works a bit like pricing, I suppose. It’s like, oh, I don’t really align with their personality. Well, that’s fine because it means that the ones that do, you’re probably going to have a much better relationship working with them.

All of the clients that I work with right now, I just have such a good time. Design can be a struggle, and if we’re going to struggle, then should we not be struggling in a way that we feel comfortable and not having to be something that we’re not so that it kind of lessens that a little bit. I don’t have any real specific ways to develop a personal brand. I know that there’s lots of people out there who that’s their business, is helping people develop personal brands. But I think there’s some things you could do which are more based around sort of how you put content out there and the more technical aspects of it. But I think it has to organically grow, and I think it takes time.

A little bit hippie sounding, but you have to find yourself, and you’ll find yourself through your work, and you’ll find yourself just through the interactions that you have with clients and the ones that work and the ones that don’t. I’m not saying it will take as long as it took me, like 15 years, to decide to be me finally, but it does take a little bit of time. Just be comfortable with that. Don’t rush it. If you rush it, it will seem manufactured. Just it will come. It will come. I suppose that’s my advice is, just let it happen naturally.


Ian Paget: I agree with you. From my own personal experience with Logo Geek, I went through a whole phase where I thought, I’m not sure this is the right name. Just so that you know, I originally registered the domain because it was free. That was the primary reason. I just thought, that’s a cool domain. I’m just going to grab that and use that. I’ve gone through many phases where I’m thinking, I don’t think this could actually work as a proper business, but I’ve persisted with it.

I think from a personal level, I’ve come to accept who I am. I’ve always been the guy that loves going to Comic-Con and watching movies and comic books. I collect toys. I am a big geek and I love logo design. It works really well for the podcast and the community. I’ve been shaping everything around that. That’s come through time. It’s not just the case of creating a brand from scratch.

It’s kind of soul searching within you, accepting who you are and embracing who you are and injecting that into your identity and letting it evolve.


Col Grey: Yeah. It sounds fluffy but it’s not really. We have to kind of do what we can, because we struggle to get work as it is, and I just feel… I can’t imagine Logo Geek being called anything else. I can’t. It’s like when you have your favourite film and there’s a certain actor in it, you can’t imagine anyone else being that character. Just everything you said there around Logo Geek, about your past-times, your hobbies and just your love of logos, it’s a perfect domain and a perfect name for the business. But we all go through the doubt stage of is this pigeonholing me? Am I being a caricature of myself in a way, but, as you said, it can kind of come around full circle, and you go, no, this is the right thing for me.


Ian Paget: Just to expand on what you said about pigeonholing yourself, it’s another thing that I’ve also been thinking about as well, because with Logo Geek, it really limits you to logo design and branding identity, but I can always create another side project and start on something else.


Col Grey: Yeah.


Ian Paget: There’s always room for that manoeuvre. Don’t ever feel like you’re pigeonholing yourself into something because you created a brand. You can change it and shift, you’re creating an identity around you. If what you created isn’t quite working, just change it and let it grow and evolve in the way that Pixels Ink has.


Col Grey: Yeah, it’s one of the benefits of the personal brand is that you take the personal brand with you to new ventures. So, it would be Ian from Logo Geek is now doing this as well. You become, like you said, “Col from Pixels Ink has rocked your brand,” or “Col from Pixels Ink did this,” or “Col from Rock Your Brand.”

The noticeable thing is that people are saying “Col from” and “Ian from,” so that means that the personal brand, the personal element, is the strong, active part that’s being named first in front of an agency name or a Facebook group name or something like that. If you can get to that point.

I’ve kind of toyed with, I’ve got my own name as the main name, and I’ve toyed with kind of setting that up as a more consultation side of things. But then I thought, you know what? I just like the Rock Your Brand stuff, and I’d kind of like that to be, if I’m going to do brand strategy, then maybe that’s the Rock Your Brand arm, and then the design element is the Pixels Ink arm, and my name just floats between both.

There’s the conversation in the Logo Geek Community that happens now and again when people are starting out, they’re like, “Should I call my business my name, or should I give it a name like a company?” I don’t think there’s a right and wrong there. I suppose it depends on what your long-term goals are, but I think starting off, there’s nothing wrong with starting off with your own name, because it is going to be you that people are dealing with, and you build up the equity in your name. Then you can take that equity with you into whatever you build further down the line, and it will be worth something. It will be worth a lot by that point. If you don’t build the equity in yourself, where does that equity come from?


Ian Paget: One question that I’ve been keen to ask you is about self-development and investing in yourself. I read in an interview that you did that you regret not investing in yourself in terms of coaching and development. You mentioned in that same thing that it was only after nine years of running your business that you changed that. Would you mind giving some background to that, like what types of things was you struggling with, and how did coaching and training and stuff like that help you work through that?


Col Grey: I think I was struggling because I was working all the hours, but I couldn’t seem to break through a level of income, and I knew part of it was around how much I was charging, but I couldn’t raise my prices. I wasn’t comfortable with it. But it really started to get to the stage where I was getting really stressed at how many jobs I was having to do to bring in enough money to just cover the bills and stuff like that.

It just happened that I went to a networking event, and there was a lady sitting next to me. I can’t remember what event it was actually, what networking event it was, but she stood up and did her elevator pitch. I was sitting next to her, and every single thing she said, I was sitting, going, “That’s me. That’s me. I need that. That’s me. That’s me.” So, as I write, okay, she’s just described everything and I need help. I said, “Right. Can I…” She’d offered a free half-hour of consultation or whatever it was, and I said, “I’d like to take you up on that.” So, we chatted. It all sounded perfect, what she could help me out with.

It was a lot of money that she was charging, but I just thought to myself, “I’ve got that amount of money, and if I give all of that money away, I’m going to have to act on the teachings that Laura shows me, because I’ll have to, because I have no safety net.” So, I was putting myself out on the line, because I was like, “I need to make a change. If I do not change something, I’m probably going to get a job in Tesco or just… I need to get out of this game because I won’t be able to cope anymore.”

People often ask, “Well, what was it that Laura taught you?” She taught me a few things, but the biggest thing was to be confident in myself, to listen when people say, you are good at something, because it’s very easy to bat that away almost like, it’s like an ego thing. You’re like, “No, no, I’m not good in that,” but you have to sometimes take that on and go, you know what? I am good at this specific thing, or that thing.

So, what Laura did was Laura helped me build up my confidence enough that I actually moved out of the office that I was in, which wasn’t the greatest. I moved down into a new built office in Dundee, which is made out of shipping containers. It was really cool. I couldn’t afford it, but Laura was like, “If you move in there, you will feel so much better, and you will start to bring in better work. I promise you it will work,” and it worked. Part of me didn’t believe it at first, but I was like, you know what? If I don’t change something, it’s not going to work.

That was my first kind of foray into spending money with buying Pantone books or inkjet paper or things for the business. This was the first time I spent money on me. I learned from that point that if I need to improve myself, I’m going to have to invest in myself. Since then, that was 2013, so it’s been seven years now, every year I’ve actually spent more and more money on training myself in different ways. It might be joining a membership which is specific for a certain thing.

Last year was the biggest one I spent in one go, and that was going to Marty Neumeier’s Level C for the brand specialist thing, which I know you’ve done as well, Ian. That will be the first time that we meet in person this year, when we’re both doing Level 2, which I’m excited about and I’m very nervous about at the same time, not meeting you, the Level 2 course.

I just find that… because it’s scary. One thing I will say, it’s really scary thinking about spending… Because most coaches and consultants and things, they charge a lot of money and high hourly rates and stuff, so you have to be sure that you’re going to get something back off of that. I admit, I wasn’t entirely sure about that very first one. It was a leap of faith almost. But since then, I’ve looked around and I’ve always got more back because I’m improving myself. I still work for myself, but I’m building more of a sort of satellite team around me. Everyone is employed themselves, and I’m starting to grow things. It’s given me a little bit more time to do stuff.

One of the things that came out of Laura giving me the confidence was that over the course of two years build up that confidence for me to stand in front of a video camera and hit record, put myself out for judgment from other designers and stuff, and talk about design and branding to an audience. I could never have done that without personal development and paying people to help me.

You need people to talk to you and tell you what they can see from the outside, because you can’t see it. You’re so inside yourself that sometimes you can be scared to let yourself out, and so you need people to say, “Look, here’s you. Here’s a mirror. This is how good you are. This is what you can do. This is what you’re great at, and also this is what you need to get better at.” I need to go away and focus on that, and if you focus on that, that will have an impact on this, and that will get better, and that will get better.

All of it says to anyone who’s thinking about it, yes, it can be expensive, but if you do the right thing for where you’re struggling with most, it would be some of the best money you’ve ever spent.


Ian Paget: You know, Col, I really wasn’t expecting that to be the answer, because I was thinking that when you mentioned that you had that first kind of consultation, I thought maybe she would be giving you advice on how you approach your sales tactics or how you approach certain projects… or things like that.


Col Grey: Okay. She did. She did, but it didn’t fit with my personal values, if I’m honest. I’m not a salesy person. I understand that there are sales techniques and things, but there was some of the… just some of the ways… and Laura was cool with it. Laura was like, “Not all of this is going to work for you,” but I just wanted to be honest with your question and just be like, yeah, I paid a lot of money and I was told all this sales technique, but what Laura gave me was some self-belief and confidence.


Ian Paget: Yeah. I resonated with it, because that’s something that I’ve always struggled with. I know we’ve spoken about it personally, but I’m going to mention it now. I’ve been working for a company now for the last 11 years. I went part-time about three or four years ago, and I handed in my notice a couple of weeks ago, so I’ll be going full-time. I’ve been speaking to my partner about it. I’m literally, my emotions are like a yo-yo. I’ll have days where, “I’m leaving. Woo-hoo, I can work on this.” Then the next week, “Am I going to make enough money?” She’s always telling me, “Ian, you know exactly what you’re doing. You have more experience than most people I know. You can make this work.”

I do think confidence is a massive thing. I’ve had therapy to help with social anxiety. I would not be doing things like this podcast now if I hadn’t done that. I personally really push on self-development to improve speaking and stuff like that. Most of it falls down to confidence. So, it was a surprising response.

Was there anything in particular that she did to help you with that beyond just telling you that you’re good? Was there some special things that she did that people could maybe apply to be a bit more confident?


Col Grey: It’s hard to think back. It sounds terrible, but it’s hard to think back, because I can’t think of it being a specific thing. We did, I can’t remember the names of these sorts of tests, sort of the personality tests that let you see the type of kind of person you are and how you would work. So, you have things like, you have people who are commanders, so their colour would be red, and they’re the kind of people that I don’t work well with because they are quite intimidating.

One of the interesting things that came out of that sort of test of personality was that the personality test is four colours, and generally you’re stronger in one colour. I think I was strongest in something like blue or green colours, but when you’re in situations you can pull some energy I suppose from your strongest colour and put in some of your weaker colour. So, my weaker colour was red. Then you can pull some of that into red to level your red up so that when you’re dealing with a red person, you kind of are understanding a little bit and you talk on their terms.

But what Laura said was that when we did the test, so the first part of the test shows you your natural personality, and then the second set of questions are how much you can pull from your personality into it. My results were exactly the same on both. She said, “It’s unusual that nothing changes. You are who you are all the time. You don’t put on a different personality or a different way of behaving to fit the situation.”

That can be detrimental, because I could be kind of basically railroaded by a red person who’s very commandeering, probably the stereotypical businessman in a suit who will beat me down from £200 to 10 quid. Just having that information was an eyeopener to me. It didn’t change me and it didn’t change the way that I did things, but it let me see how I hadn’t seen myself in situations, and it explained a lot to me about the outcomes of situations.

That explains why I’m constantly being beaten down on price, but being able to go in, being fully conscious and aware that that could happen, I built up the confidence in my own skills so that I could go in and be like, “No, well, that’s how much…” Okay, that didn’t happen straight away. That probably took about five or six years to build that up, but in my head it was always, always there.

I think of a specific kind of exercise, knowing what type of natural personality I have really helped me then to interact with people of different personality types. I don’t know if that answers your question.


Ian Paget: Yeah, it does. I was just curious, because I know I experience that. I reckon that there will be a whole heap of people listening to this that would have expected the same answer from you as I did and were surprised and actually thinking, “Oh, hell, that’s me. That’s the thing that I struggle with, I just struggle with confidence.” I’m sure graphic designers, we probably all struggle from confidence, and knowing that you can get consultation to help with this… For me, it’s surprising. Considering it’s such a key area, confidence is the difference between quoting $20,000 and quoting £20. Just that alone, putting out figures, that’s a confidence thing.


Col Grey: Yeah, it’s the confidence as well as quoting at £20,000 and not letting it drop to £20.


Ian Paget: Yeah. It’s good to know there’s help out there. I’m sure that people can look into those personality types if they wanted to.

Another thing I wanted to ask you, and you mentioned it briefly then around confidence, now you create a lot of content so you’re doing videos, you’re really pushing your YouTube channel. Something I feel is worth pointing out is that you’re creating content around graphic design, but it’s not targeted at other designers. You are creating content that graphic designers might have an interest in.

You are specifically creating content that will help potential clients, assist potential clients, answer any questions the clients might have. There are a whole heap of graphic designers, myself included, I’m in the pool as well, we create content for other graphic designers.


Col Grey: Yeah.


Ian Paget: I’m wondering if you have any thought on that that you could share, because I’ve got my own thoughts on it, so I could add to your response as well, but do you think it’s a mistake creating content for other graphic designers? In terms of creating the content that you are, graphic design for clients, is that helping you get leads?


Col Grey: I definitely get leads. YouTube was 20% of my new, was 20% of my business last year, new business, new clients.


Ian Paget: Twenty percent of your inquiries are from your YouTube?


Col Grey: Not 20% of my inquiries, 20% of my business, my income.


Ian Paget: Wow.


Col Grey: I don’t know what the inquiries rate is, because we all know, you get a lot of inquiries and they’re not all kind of valuable.


Ian Paget: Is that sponsorship that you’re getting income from the video?


Col Grey: No, I’ve got no sponsors. I’ve had people ask me, but it’s not been the right fit. It’s not been right for my audience. It’s been better for the sponsor, and it’s like things like… I’ve done a couple of… They weren’t sponsored videos, so Michael’s Logo Package Express, for example, I did a video on that, which really isn’t of much use to a business audience, but I wanted to do that to highlight how good that was as a piece of software, and I knew it would be useful for designers to see, so that was slightly different.

I do do some videos which are probably a more designers, but in terms of sponsorship, I didn’t start my YouTube channel, A, to get clients or to get affiliate marketing or anything. I did it because I had an experience with a client where they came in to see me about doing some work, and I think it was a logo or something, a re-brand. I asked them just during the… I said, “Okay, yeah, well, I’ll be interested to look at that, but if you could send me a JPEG of the logo that you have, I’ll be able to give you some feedback.” They were like, “Okay, cool.” Then they went away, and then I didn’t hear from them again. I just thought, “Oh, they’ve gone to someone else.” Then I attended a networking event, and they were there, and they were actively avoiding me. I thought, it must have been a terrible meeting. They’re not speaking to me at all.

What it was was they were actually embarrassed because they didn’t know what a JPEG was. My instinct was, well, if I didn’t know what a JPEG was, I’d just go Google it and find out what it was, but people are different. This person wasn’t technically minded, so even Google wasn’t the first thing they would think of. They told me this. I was mortified that this person felt, they felt stupid. That’s what she said to me. She said, “I felt stupid. The way you just kind of said, ‘Oh, send me a JPEG,’ I felt I should have known what it was, and I didn’t, and I was embarrassed to come back to you, and I was embarrassed to say in the meeting that I didn’t know what it was.” I felt awful. I felt so bad.

At the time, I’d only just recently started blogging. I don’t like writing. I can do it but I don’t enjoy it at all. Then the other option was to do video, and I really didn’t like the thought of that, because I don’t like to get my photograph taken. But people would say, “You come across really well when you’re speaking to people. We think you’d be great on video. Why don’t you give it a go?” So, I thought, well, I need a reason to do it.

The reason to do it was, I thought, right, I’m going to use this client as an example. I’m going to create videos that help business people understand the basics of design so that when they go and work with a graphic designer, the relationship, it makes it easier for the business person, because they know a bit of what they’re talking about, and it makes it easier for the designer, because they’re now speaking to someone who has a basic knowledge of design.

A lot of the problems that come between client and designer is the not understanding of things. That’s how miscommunications happen and misunderstandings and things go a bit wonky. That’s why I didn’t… I didn’t say, right, I want to do YouTube, but I’m not going to do it for designers because there’s too many people already doing stuff for designers. It was I suppose just a little personal mission of helping business owners understand a little bit more.

The interesting thing is is that by doing that, I actually educated myself in a lot of areas, because as designers, we often do a lot of things just through muscle memory, designing, but when you have to create a video to explain to someone what it is that you’re doing, you have to do it methodically and in a specific order, and so you have to really think carefully about what you’re doing. That started me into my journey of getting a lot deeper into brand strategy and wanting to learn more about that, which then led me onto doing Marty’s Level C course. It’s a big interest of mine, and I’m moving a lot more into that.

Yeah, I have nothing against people who want to start podcasts, YouTube channels, educating other designers. It’s just I don’t feel that’s a benefit to me doing that. If you want to do it, I suppose if you start doing that kind of stuff, then you’re probably in it because you could probably get AdSense money from YouTube, which isn’t huge, but you will get sponsorships if you go your channel enough. Like I say, I wasn’t really into that.

It sounds like I’m a bit of a goody two shoes, but it really wasn’t about that. It was just, I just felt so bad for that poor lady being embarrassed to come back and speak to me, that I never wanted that to happen again.


Ian Paget: Yeah. Well, you didn’t really think about it, do you, because as a designer, something like a JPEG, is just a JPEG… I just assumed everyone knows what that is, but you kind of forget that. I actually did an interview with someone that does SEOs, search engine optimisation, so people listening to this might not be familiar with what SEO is. What she started to do is she worked out a very specific niche audience, and then she started to listen to how her potential customers started to talk about stuff, so rather than using “SEO,” she started to say, be found on Google, and the whole communication to be understandable to the potential audience.


Col Grey: A smart way to do it.


Ian Paget: It’s not really a mistake, is it? You used a term and it’s probably quite rare that that would happen, but it’s good to acknowledge that people might not know what these-


Col Grey: The curse of knowledge, isn’t it? It’s the curse of knowledge.


Ian Paget: Yeah, it really is. It really is. I think it’s good to speak to the clients in the right way. I think you know Fraser as well. We’ve got a mutual friend, Fraser. He’s also Scottish. He told me a funny story a couple of weeks ago, where he’s got mates that are like car dealers, they sell cars, be like mechanic or something like that. He literally said, “If I went in and spoke to my mate and said, ‘How would you like this brand identity, brand strategy project,'” or this sort of stuff, he literally told me that they would tell him where to go.


Col Grey: Yeah.


Ian Paget: What he does instead, he would go in and go, “Oh, do you need a sign for up here to help sell those?” He literally used the language that they use and approach it all in that way. I think that’s basically what you’re doing. You’re speaking the language of them and making it a lot more easier to understand.


Col Grey: There’s a gentleman I know, Marcus Sheridan, he’s written a very good book, by the way, and called They Ask You Answer. It’s a content marketing book, but he said… He was talking specifically more about people who go on stage and do talks and stuff. The minute you try to look smart is the minute you look stupid, because especially if you’re a younger designer or something and you want to look clever, so you’re going to go and speak to these clients and a bit like Frazer said, if you go out there and you go, “Yeah, let’s look at some agile strategy for your brand identity and duh, duh,” you’ll just get a glazed look in front of you, because they don’t know what you’re talking about. You have to understand who you’re speaking to and kind of level them up.

All of my earlier videos, I did a six-part thing on colour. Colour can be the trickiest thing that I deal with with clients, is trying to get them to understand why colours look different on different papers. It can get really tricky. If you don’t explain that to clients and they’re used to working with you long distance and maybe looking at colour on screen and then suddenly they get printed stationery from you and it doesn’t look the same, they think you’ve done something wrong. You have to explain all of these things, about why that happens and why this happens.

Over three years… because I made the mistake. I think one of the first videos I did was What is a Brand. Even that was too high level. I was trying to explain what a brand was, so I started to go backwards. I think my next one was What is a Logo, and that’s one of my best performing ones. It’s one of the cringiest videos, because I read a script. I’d put hairspray on my beard so it wouldn’t move. I was perfectionism to the extreme.


Ian Paget: Yeah, but look at where you are now. You just need to remember it’s the content that matters. I think it’s good to know that you’re creating genuinely helpful content and making terminology we use easier to understand by non-designers. That was the ultimate goal.

You mentioned that about agile strategy, and it’s just reminded me of the book called Scramble, which is Marty Neumeier’s latest book on brand strategy, but what I like about this particular book from Marty is that it’s a story this time, so when people do mention these industry terms, like “agile strategy,” in the book you hear how people react. It’s a good book to hear how people talk about these industry terms. I think there will always be people that will hear buzzwords and things of that nonsense. It’s important to be able to speak in a language that clients can understand. I think you clearly do that very well. I think the best marketers do that well, actually.

I’m reading a book from Seth Godin at the moment. It’s called This is Marketing, and everything that Seth does is so clear, transparent, easy to understand. I think that’s what makes the difference between someone that’s good and someone that’s really good.


Col Grey: Yeah. Seth’s really good at short form content, just packs so much into it. I think that’s one of the things about that, if I’m going to create a video on a specific topic, I want to make sure that I have the best understanding of it myself before I say something, and I’ll often learn a lot.

To be honest, in the three years I’ve been doing it, some of the earlier videos, I actually contradict myself in newer ones, because you learn more over years. I think that’s something that you shouldn’t be afraid of. It’s like, 10 years ago, when I was designing logos, they were to the best of my ability 10 years ago. The logos that I design now are a million times better, because I now use strategy as part of the design process. Back then I didn’t.

It was more just like, “Oh, you’re selling cameras. Okay, so your logo’s going to have something to do with a camera,” whereas now it’s not that way. That’s not how I work and design. You just, be confident and comfortable with where your knowledge is right now. Don’t try to be 10 years ahead of where you are comfortably at. This stuff takes time, and I think everyone wants shortcuts, but you can’t make them. You have to make the mistakes and learn from experiences, and it will come.


Ian Paget: Yeah. Your answer then kind of takes the whole conversation almost full circle, because at the beginning we spoke about building your own personal brand, and what the conversation led to is that it’s more about becoming you and building confidence and learning. As you learn, you progress.

It’s funny. I read a couple of blog posts and articles I wrote maybe five years ago, and I’ve just thought I’d kind of work it through my website and updating later content, and there’s some stuff I wrote about branding. I thought I knew what I was writing, but, Jesus Christ, I’m reading that now thinking, this is absolutely nonsense. I’m trying to be-


Col Grey: It was your level of knowledge at the time.


Ian Paget: Yeah. Yeah. I didn’t feel like I need to hide that. One thing I find fascinating, like podcasts, anyone can go back to my first episode, to the first season. It would be the same with your videos as well. Anyone can go back to the beginning. It’s fascinating seeing how much you’ve progressed in a relatively short space of time.


Col Grey: I find it frustrating when people delete old content. It’s like, okay, it might not be correct or whatever. You could always go back into that. It’s more difficult with video, but with blogs, for example, you could very easily link to a more updated one, say, “Here’s this, for the latest thoughts on branding.”


Ian Paget: I don’t know Col. With some of my blog content, I’m actually going through and updating it just because it’s just literally makes no sense.


Col Grey: Yeah.


Ian Paget: I think things like video, that’s “there and then”-


Col Grey: I like people to see the journey.


Ian Paget: Yeah, you can see the journey. I think something like a blog post, where it’s a question and the question is the heading, and then it provides content, and the answer is wrong.


Col Grey: You have to be careful.


Ian Paget: What I like to do is go through, find that content, rework it, and then release it as a new thing. If I’ve changed the URL, then I’ll do a 301 redirect, but something like a blog post, personally, I prefer to update that. Anything that’s of the moment with audio or video, I think it’s good to leave it there.


Col Grey: Yeah.


Ian Paget: I’m a big fan of Pat Flynn. Pat Flynn, he’s on another level now. He’s a multi-millionaire. He’s doing podcasts content on a weekly basis. He’s got his YouTube channel, and he’s doing all this stuff, and he’s got this whole massive ecosystem. It’s scaling to a ridiculous level, because he’s employing people, and he’s got special studios and sets and all this sort of stuff. You look at it and you think, “I can never match that.” I see students trying to match that level.


Col Grey: Yeah, that’s the thing, is you’re going to break yourself.


Ian Paget: Yeah. If you go back to the old videos, you can go back to Pat Flynn’s first videos, and they are horrendous. He’s got one where he’s just literally holding his phone walking down the street. He literally has no confidence whatsoever. A lot of them are sharing a screen, talking over it nervously. It’s inspiring.


Col Grey: Yeah, it’s guaranteed your first attempt at anything will be shit, and just be comfortable with that. You’ll get better the more you do. I still get really nervous every time I have to record a video. Once you get going, it’s not too bad, but I think nerves is a good thing. It shows that you care, that you care about the content you’re creating. It’s when you become blasé about it that I think that comes across. It doesn’t come across as sincere. Yeah, please don’t look at where someone is now and think that you can be there now if you’ve not done anything like that previously. It unfortunately takes time.


Ian Paget:
Yeah. I think the moral of this interview is confidence and self-development and growing at your own pace, letting things take shape.


Col Grey: Yeah. Don’t isolate yourself. I would say that as well. Don’t isolate yourself as a designer. Try to build a little accountability group of other designers and just catch up with other designers regularly, because we are probably one of the worst professions for self-doubt and postural syndrome and saying we’re not good enough, when really, it’s like I said about my first coach, you need people to look from the outside and tell you what the reality is, not what you think it is.


Ian Paget: I think that’s fantastic final words. Since we spoke for about an hour, I think we’ll wrap up now. But, Col, this has been a fantastic episode. It went in a completely different direction to what I was expecting, but I think all of the different topics, they all kind of link, and I think, yeah, definitely, the biggest thing here is confidence, and I hope that people will get a lot out of this. So, thanks.


Col Grey:
It was a pleasure. Thanks for having me on, Ian.


Thank you to the sponsor, FreshBooks


I’m incredibly thankful to FreshBooks for sponsoring this episode of the Logo Geek Podcast! FreshBooks is an online accounting tool that makes it really easy to create and send invoices, track time and manage your money. You can try it out for yourself with a free 30 day trial.

Being a more confident designer - An interview with Col Gray

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