Qualifying Leads & Turning them into Clients: An Interview with Emily Cohen
Finding potential logo design leads can be a challenge, but once they contact you how do you convert them to clients? How do you know if they will be good to work work with? What should you send them? On this weeks episode Ian talks with Emily Cohen to learn more about qualifying clients, then creating proposals and contracts to convert your prospects into clients. Emily is a brutally honest consultant who provides strategic business advice to creative firms, and is the author of the book Brutally Honest.
Resources & Books Mentioned
- Blog: Where to Find High Quality Logo Design Clients
- Book: The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber Amazon UK | Amazon US
- Book: Brutally Honest by Emily Cohen (available for pre-order here)
Ian Paget: I understand that once you’ve actually got a telephone call from a client, or an email, you would aim to qualify the client. Can you talk through how you would go about doing that?
Emily Cohen: Sure, absolutely. People call it qualification. Other people call it vetting. However you want to call it, it’s basically to understand that when you talk to people, those are your leads. Those leads, only some of them will turn into prospects. The prospects are the ones that are possibly calling you for new business. Even within the prospects, imagine it being a funnel. There are even more fewer than those prospects that will turn into clients. Look at them in three ways. One is if they’re qualified to work with you. In order words, do they fit your business model? Did they qualify you? Did they look at your website and do the due diligence to make sure that you are the right firm, because a lot of clients just come to you willy-nilly, and they might not have gone to your website. They might not know what they’re doing, or whatever. It’s qualifying to make sure they’ve done their due diligence, but also qualifying to see if the project fits your studio. It’s not only the client, but the project.
To me, qualification is about asking some really good, solid questions, and not to be afraid of questions. A lot of designers, when they first meet with prospects, they’re always asking questions that designers really care about, which is, what’s their strategy? Who’s their target audience? Those questions are nice to know, and it makes you look smart by asking those questions, but those are not the kinds of questions that help you decide if that’s the client you want to work for. You have to intersperse more important questions to help you qualify the prospect and turn it into a client. Asking some questions that really help you define that, so, obviously, one of the biggest questions is what their budget is. A lot of people look at things like how cool the project is. If it’s something, designers like to look at projects like, “This will be a great project for my team,” or “It really is so much fun,” or they’re a big name.
That’s not the only way to look at a client, though certainly those are important things, because you want to do work that you love, and you want to work for clients that have some clout, but it might be other things like, does it fit your positioning? What’s the scope of engagement? Some people like to work on long-term projects. Other people like to work on shorter-term projects. What’s the future potential? Are you looking for a client that’s going to be there for the long-term? How many stakeholders? That’s also a really good question, and I think that’s one of the questions that you should really ask up front. Really to understand that and to be advisory, so if you’re, say, working for an NGO or a non-profit and they just say, “It’ll be me as the stakeholder,” you know that’s not true, because with NGOs and non-profit’s, there’s the board. There’s the Directors and the Board of Advisors. Really, asking questions to say, “What about the Board of Advisors?”
Also, aggravation factor, what I call aggravation factor. It’s the personal fit. Reading those kinds of aggravation factors is really important. How much, what are the red flags that are showing up, loud and clear? I also think designers have a tendency not to look at those, because they just are so excited that they want to work with them that they, I don’t know how to say it, but they either ignore or don’t really put enough weight on those red flags. Obviously, schedule expectations. You want to ask some really good questions, and that’s the qualification process.
Ian Paget: You mentioned, then, about red flags that you might potentially notice. Can you talk through some of those that you might want to look out for?
Emily Cohen: Yeah, red flags are definitely different for each one of us. What drives me crazy or what drives you crazy might be completely different things. You have to identify what drives you crazy. My running joke is, for me, because I’m a New Yorker, anybody that talks slow drives me crazy. It’s my red flag, because I don’t really have time for. I want somebody to get right to the point. To me, that would drive me crazy, and it would make my work much longer, because I’d be on the phone forever and in meetings longer. For you, there might be other red flags. Some of the general, big red flags that are always consistent is the number of stakeholders. Obviously, I just mentioned that. The more stakeholders, the more that’s a big red flag. Other stakeholders might be they keep you on the phone too long, or they don’t respect your time. They constantly reschedule. They’re late to meetings or late to calls, or they don’t pay attention to meetings or they are distracted during the meetings, or they’re not prepared.
A lot of clients say, “I want to send you all this material.” If they don’t send it to you as promised by when they were going to promise it, then you know that when you actually work with them, they’re going to do the same thing. Just understanding those personality quirks, are they a generally nice person? Is it somebody that you connect with and you would like? If there’s any sign of them being an asshole or a person that’s not nice, then you really should pay attention, or they value budget or anything else, or they mention money all the time. That’s a big red flag. I think you just have to pay attention to whatever red flags you think are important, and literally count them. How many red flags are there in this project? For every red flag, you increase the project fee.
Ian Paget: Yeah, I know from personal experience, I’ve had situations where there was one guy. He wanted to get a hold of me, and he literally called my phone about ten times within an hour. I’m like, “If this guy is like this now, what’s he going to be like when he’s paid me some money?” I think, like you said, how they are during the sales process is how they’re going to be to work with. If they’re no fun during the sales process, then you don’t want to be working with those people.
Emily Cohen: That’s a perfect example. There are clients that just want to pick up the phone, and they want you to be there, no matter what.
Ian Paget: Yeah, that guy was aggressive. He was very aggressive with his approach, just to get in touch. I just felt very uncomfortable, so I politely turned that client away. That leads me on to another question. Since we’re on red flags, if we do have a client that we don’t want to work with, how do you recommend that we turn down those clients that are not a good fit for us?
Emily Cohen: That’s a really good question. I think that’s very hard for designers, because designers are people pleasers. They’re so afraid of not being liked. I have a tendency, whenever I have a question or a difficult situation, I much prefer, as much as possible, to be truthful and honest. My mom and my dad made me, when I was growing up, they only had one philosophy, which is honesty is always the best policy. I’ve learned to really live and breathe by that, because I think if you tell the clients and prospects the truth, you’ll be surprised how much they’ll appreciate that truth. You have to soften the blow a little bit, so you don’t have to be brutally honest, which is a lot my style, but just be a little bit more gentle in how you say it, but say it in a direct way.
The only thing I would say is, when you turn down work, never mention schedule like you don’t have the time to do it right now, because what will happen is, that just postpones the inevitable. They might say, “We’ll wait. We’ll wait for when you’re free.” If you’re going to use the schedule excuse, make sure you’re willing to work with them again in the future. Otherwise, they might come back. Typically, I would say things like, again, going back to the truth. “Unfortunately, that budget doesn’t seem quite within our range. Your budget’s a little bit low.” You can also say, and this might sound painful, but you can say, “That might be better suited to a freelancer or to a student.” You can frame their fee based in context. Give them some sense of, their budget is ridiculous, and they should work with a student.
You could also, some of it might be that right now, one of my favourite excuses is to simply say that the kind of project that is, we already have a lot of those kinds of projects in-house, and we’re looking for a little bit more diversity, so this type of project is not quite fitting your current business model, or you only take a certain number of those at any given point. Again, I think it’s based on the truth, but framing it in a nice way.
Ian Paget: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I tend to agree with that, because I know in the past, when I’ve not wanted to work with someone, I’ve literally said, “Unfortunately, I don’t have any availability for the next three or four months,” and then they come back.
Emily Cohen: Yeah, exactly, and you’re like, “Damn.”
Ian Paget: You just don’t want to work with them. It feels very awkward that you have to make an excuse again. I think you are right. It is best to be honest in a nice way, if that’s possible.
Emily Cohen: You’ll find also, you’ll be, I’m always amazed, also, sometimes how clients will work with you. For one of the, if there’s too many stakeholders, I’d much prefer to say, “I typically find that projects with any more than three stakeholders requires a lot more revisions, a lot more work, and your budget doesn’t allow for that.” They might say, “Maybe we can reduce the number of stakeholders.” Sometimes there’s conversations which educate the client. If you’ve built the love, I talk a lot about that, too. If you built the love, in other words, they love you already and they want to work with you and you’ve come through referrals. People have recommended you, or they know you’re an expert and you have the right positioning, clients will try to accommodate your needs at the beginning of a relationship. Then you frame that relationship in a much, you start it off on a much better foot.
Sometimes, even if you’ve tried to turn down the client and they’re willing to change, you might give them the chance, but understanding putting those things in, saying, “This is what we agreed on. We agreed on two stakeholders.” If they all of a sudden come, another stakeholder comes in, you can say, “Remember, the reason why I turned it down originally was because I didn’t want to work with all of these stakeholders.” We have to go back to these two stakeholders. There’s a lot of education that happens also during that time.
Ian Paget: That sounds like fantastic advice, so thank you. We spoke about the bad side and getting rid of clients that we don’t necessarily want to work with and qualify them. I think we need to go down the positive route. In the event that the call went well and the client’s a good fit, I understand that what you would do next is create a proposal.
Emily Cohen: Yes.
Ian Paget: Can you talk through, for the listeners, what a proposal is, and why you feel it’s needed?
Emily Cohen: First of all, I don’t care what you call things. There’s a lot of different words for things, proposal, estimate, statement of work. I don’t care. There’s lots of different words for things. I think, for me, what a proposal is, it could be any one of those words, but it basically is a document that outlines, first of all, let me just start with saying the proposal usually comes after you’ve built the love. It’s very rarely a document that sells the client on your capabilities in terms of, are you fit for them, and showing them your work. You should have done that before the proposal even was sent, unless it’s an RFP or Request For Proposal. A proposal, for me, is once you’ve qualified the client and they’ve fallen in love with you, it’s simply a document that outlines the parameters of the project, so the scope of work, what components you’re going to do for them, what the deliverables are, what the scope of work is in terms of the type of phases and the number of concepts, number of revisions, and the fee.
It’s not a contract. That’s the other thing. I think proposals, a lot of times, come with the legal terms and conditions attached to them, and that is never a good thing, because that always stops the conversation cold. I typically separate proposals and contracts. I first get them to fall in love with me. Then I write the proposal. Once they’ve negotiated the proposal and they’re happy with everything, then what happens is, then you send the letter of agreement, and it’s much easier negotiation, your terms and conditions, because they’ve already agreed to work with you. More than likely, they’ve rejected all of your other competitors. The contract comes to them, and they’re happy to just talk to you about it. It doesn’t become a big battleground. When you attach your terms and conditions to a proposal, it stops the conversation cold because a lot of other designers do not do that, and then the client will also focus on the terms and conditions and not the scope of work.
To me, that was a long answer to a very short question. A proposal is to outline the scope of work, the expectations, and to frame your fees. To tell them what they’re going to get for the price you’re charging, to demonstrate the value of why that fee is what it is.
Ian Paget: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I know you went into it fairly high-level there, but my next question is, what would you typically include in a proposal?
Emily Cohen: It depends. Again, it really depends on the relationship. Typically, there’s a few different sections. The first one is an overview of just a one sentence statement about what the project is, integrated communication system, a website, whatever. It’s just a big picture overview to soften the, to introduce the proposal. Then you have a more detailed, what I call project components section. You might give details about, if this is an integrated marketing communications program, it includes, and then under the project components, it might include a logo, a brochure. That would say 8-12 page brochure plus cover. It would give rough specs or rough expectations of what the pieces are that you’ll be doing for the project. If it’s a website, you would talk about roughly how big a site it is, and the complexity of the site, or if it’s a WordPress site versus a SquareSpace site versus a much more back-end rich site. Then you’d have project components section.
My favourite section is objective section, is the project objective sections. That is just a bulleted list of all of the stuff that you heard them say at the client meeting, to sound smart, and to sound like you listened. It’s maybe 8 to 10 bullets of things that the project goals or objectives are, like, “This branding needs to reposition the brand to be more exciting” and whatever. It might be that we want to corral various opinions across different users. It might be to, I don’t know, increase brand awareness. You would just write down some of the key objectives. A lot of those can be a little bit generic, but as much as you can be specific to what they said in the meetings, it just is a way for you to sound smart and to sound like you listened to the client. That’s the project objectives.
Then you go into the scope of work. The scope of work is the most important section of any proposal. It has phases, so what a phase would be would be something big-picture, like research and discovery or concept development. Within each phase, there would be a detailed description of what the process and deliverables will be, and I’d like to quantify it by saying if you’re going to develop concepts, how many concepts? Up to three concepts, one concept, whatever. Then not only how many, but to what? For a concept development, you’ll say two to three concepts. You might say it’s applied to three components. It might be applied to, I don’t know, a cover and a sample spread of the brochure and an email blast, whatever. You’d be very specific about what you’re doing under each of the phases.
Not only the quantifying, but you also want to quantify revisions. How many rounds of revisions, and what type of revisions, is really important as well. Are they major, minor revisions? Are they type revisions? Are they concept revisions? Are they layout revisions? Being very specific about what the process is and what your deliverables are is what the scope of work is, and is under each phase. Then, you just simply have another section that’s usually the fee section, what the fees are. There’s a whole strategy around how do you do that. Then there’s usually just some language at the end that says what kind of big exclusions are or big assumptions are. If you’re assuming, for instance, if you’re doing this for a restaurant branding, let’s say, and you’re making the assumption for the fee that it’s based on only one location. That’s not something you want to wait in the contract for. You want to put that in the proposal, to make sure that they understand that your fee is based on only one location.
I very rarely put usage rights in the proposal, unless it’s very much framing the fee. Also, if the fee does not include printing or expenses, you might want to make sure you’re clear about that, or if it doesn’t include writing. Might want to include things that are excluded from the fee that you think the client might think are included, like writing, proofreading. Then you might also just end with something like, “Once this proposal is approved, we will issue our terms and conditions for a final sign-off.” It doesn’t include payment schedule. It doesn’t include any terms and conditions because that will be in your contract. That’s kind of the breakdown of the proposal. If the proposal is going to, if you’ve built the love, like I talked about, you might not need to have any qualifications in there, but if it’s still going to other people to look at it, then you might also include qualifications like your team bios and sample case studies, things like that.
Ian Paget: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That was perfect. Thank you for that. You mentioned about creating the proposal, and then a separate contract, which details down what you agreed or the terms and conditions. I know you briefly went into this, but can you just expand on, what is the reason why you would actually do those two as separate items? In the past, I’ve combined them together in what I would describe as a proposal. I kind of combined, and they can sign it at the back. What’s the reason why you would do those two separately?
Emily Cohen: Because the minute you put terms and conditions in, the client is going to focus on that and nothing else, and/or they’re going to send it to their lawyer. It’s going to stop the conversation cold, so you might not. It’ll decrease your chances of winning the proposal significantly. I’ve seen it time and time again. Also, many creatives do not put their terms and conditions in until after they’ve approved the proposal, because they don’t want to scare them off. What the terms and conditions do is simply scare the clients off. I’d rather wait until they agree to work with you, which is the proposal. Then, when you give them, once they’ve agreed to the proposal, they’re probably going to reject all of your competitors. They’re going to say, “We chose the right firm,” and they’re really excited about the firm that they selected, so when you submit your terms and conditions, it’s so much of an easier conversation.
It’s more of a conversation and less of a negotiation. They’re like, “We’re having some issues. Let’s talk about it.” Then you’re just having a conversation about the terms. Obviously, contracts never get approved as is. There is some back and forth. I like to have them as separate documents, almost always. Every once in a while, there will be an RFP where they require your terms and conditions. A lot of my clients push back on that, but once they do it, they realise how much that increases their win rate. I would recommend that you try it. I will tell you honestly, it’s going to work.
Ian Paget: I like the way you’ve done it because it kind of sounds like the proposal is all the nice, happy, fun, exciting stuff.
Emily Cohen: It still has fees in there, though.
Ian Paget: But it can build up a relationship with the client.
Emily Cohen: Yes.
Ian Paget: They understand exactly what you’re going to be doing for them. You can tell the client a little bit more about you. Then the contract is like, now you picked us from all those other competitors. We’re definitely going ahead. Here’s all the terms and conditions and everything like that, and you’re not going to scare them off. I think that’s really good advice. I know I definitely need to do that myself, because I have always bundled it in as one, and there have been times when I have lost the client at that point, and I’ve not known why. That’s probably the reason why. That’s really good advice.
Emily Cohen: You just said that better than I did.
Ian Paget: I understand that you work as a consultant at the moment. How did you get into that? I believe I read that you used to be a graphic designer?
Emily Cohen: Yeah. I went to graphic design school. The joke is I know what kerning is. Yeah, I was a designer and graduated. I have a BFA in design. I actually worked as a designer of a magazine, and then I worked as a designer at Pottery Barn. Then I worked at a design studio. I did that for about six years or so, maybe a little less. What I realised is that I love design. I was very involved in the America, we have the AIGA. I was very involved in the AIGA, and I loved the design community, but I wasn’t a good designer. I’m super ambitious, and I thought, “Oh, no. I don’t want to do this the rest of my life, because I’ll never really.” I saw that there were so many other, more talented people than I was. I don’t think I even had the passion for design itself, so I really was struggling with what to do.
Now it’s called pivoting, so I had to pivot. What I basically did was ask everybody I knew, “What should I do? What do I do?” Everybody I met, everybody, my clients, the people, my peers, my colleagues, people at the AIGA, everybody was like, “You’re really a good people person. You’re great at organising and managing. You’re just a good manager. You’re super organised. You should do that.” I was like, “I don’t know what that means,” because back then, when I started my career, in design at least, there was no title of project manager at the time. There really wasn’t. It was just a bunch of designers. There really wasn’t a role of project managers. There were account managers in the agencies, but in design, there really wasn’t. I created the role. I went out and asked about seven design firms that I admired. I said, “I have all these skills. What do you think?” They’re like, “We want to hire you.” I don’t think it was because I was awesome. I think it was because they honestly had never heard of somebody doing that, and they could use it.
I became a project manager. I did that. Actually, I turned into an executive within a year. Basically, I ran a studio from five people to fifty people. I learned a lot about managing people, managing clients, managing projects, pricing, proposal writing, negotiating, pretty much everything. The word, I’m sure this is like this where you are, but in New York, and now in America, our design world is very incestuous. We all know everybody else. The word spread very quickly that there was this woman out there that knew design, but also could write a proposal or could talk to your clients. I started building up a freelance business, consulting with various design firms. My very, very first client was Lloyd Ziff. I don’t know if you know Lloyd, but he was a famous designer. He was part of the Conde Nast creative director team.
He was my very, very first client. I was honoured to work with not only an amazing designer, but somebody who was pretty famous. He gave me all his famous friends, so I ended up building a niche. I work with top-tier design firms. That doesn’t mean their size. It means the quality of the work has been recognised by their peers and by clients. Many of my clients are either top-tier designers or who have potential to be top-tier designers. I’ve been honoured to work with mostly small to midsize design firms. I typically focus on firms anywhere between one person and 30 person firms. Any bigger than that, they usually have somebody full-time doing what I do. Really, what I mostly focus on is evaluating their current state and helping them to evolve their business practices and looking at positioning and new business strategies and pricing and proposals and staffing and client and process management, and really looking at all angles of their business within context of each other.
If they have a problem, like if they call me and say, “We want to talk about pricing,” it’s very hard to talk about pricing without looking at how they do new business and how they talk about themselves and how they position themselves, so I’d like to look at their entire business within context. I just really love what I do, because I work with, designers are awesome human beings. Really, I love what I do, and I think that shows, because I love what I do, and I love who I work with. I end up becoming their friend, and their trusted advisor. I can get to yell at them, which I love to do, because some of my clients need to be yelled at once in a while.
Ian Paget: I bet. It sounds like you are really close with your clients. How do you normally actually carry out the consultations? How does that work?
Emily Cohen: I have anywhere between 10 to 30 clients at any given moment. I work a lot of times, the way my consulting works is either virtually or in person. They don’t pay me hourly. I’m not like a freelancer. I’m definitely a consultant, so I’ll come in. I have different packages and services. A lot of what I do is what’s called strategic business planning retreats. I spend a whole day with the principals of the firm that I’m working with, and help them evaluate their current business state, and develop a plan for how they can move forward and evolve their business practices and their business firm. A lot of my relationships are long-term that start with the retreat. Then I stay on for the long-term to help them grow and develop. At any given moment, I’m helping a client.
Right now, I’m working with a designer who’s hiring, so they’re working with helping them hire and vet a candidate. I’m working with, I’m doing some leadership retreats for about six different clients. I do a lot of process workshops to look at how you manage a project from start to finish. I can help my clients, basically, I’m their virtual partner. Any time they have a challenge or they have a question, I’m there for them because I’m with them, for the most part, for the long-term.
Ian Paget: I understand that you work with agencies. Do you also work with solopreneurs and small business owners, too?
Emily Cohen: Yes. I do work with small business owners, if they do good work and are ready to grow. I do believe, and this might be something that will cause a little conflict. I don’t believe that being a one-person firm is sustainable. It’s fine if you just want to make a certain level of income, and not grow, but if you want to grow, and I’m not talking growth in terms of necessarily money, but in terms of being able to do the better work and expand your client base. You need to have staff, because to run a business has so many levels to it that you need people to help you to do that. You need people to do the design so you can get and vet business. You need people to help you. You need to spend time thinking about the vision of your business, so I think that I do have several. Actually, I have several solopreneurs who are at the stage where they’re ready to think about what’s next. How do they get beyond where they are? They stagnate. My clients are anywhere between one-person firms and 30-person firms.
Ian Paget: I actually agree with what you say about solo businesses not being sustainable. I do think that there are people out there that can still be successful doing this, but from my experience so far as a small business owner, and give some context to that. I actually work for an agency part of the week, which used to be a full-time position, but now that is just a three-day-a-week job. The rest of the time, I focus on my own business, but based on the two years I’ve been working like this now, I can see that there’s real limitations on what you can actually do on your own due to time limitations. Once you’ve actually booked out all of your time, which I frequently do, you end up needing to basically turn away work and it restricts the amount of work that you can actually do for current clients, too, unless you do start working with other designers out there. I can see how you can easily lose those clients to other people.
I just feel that, unless you get leads coming in consistently, and thankfully, I’m in that position at the moment, you can’t really keep it sustainable, as you mentioned. There’s always going to be limitations. I do believe, based on my experience so far, that in order to grow your business and fully support your clients’ needs, you do need to start employing other people to help you, as you mentioned.
Emily Cohen: I would say to you I agree with you a little bit, but I also disagree in that it’s not only. If you have lots of work coming in, it’s still not sustainable, because you’re allowing your people, the people that are reaching to you, your inbound new business to take your business to the direction that you might not want it to go. You’re allowing other people to drive the direction of your business. The reason why I say a lot of times, one-person firms are not sustainable is not really about the work. It’s more about, do you have the focus to really look at your business and keep improving it? Do you have time to do new business? Do you have time to develop winning proposals? Do you have time to develop marketing materials? Do you have time to think about your business’s future? A lot of that means that you can’t design. You have to spend more time thinking about your business.
If you want to just do great design work, then you should get a job. I really believe that you have a business. Your job, as the principal of the firm, is to focus on the business, and let other great creatives do the creative. You can be a creative director. I think a lot of times, it’s not so much that you have great referrals, because all designers really do have referral networks. It’s really about trying to get those clients, so it’s more about outbound marketing, trying to get the kind of clients that you want, not just simply bring in, get the clients that are coming to you. Not all the clients that are coming to you are qualified. If you go out to the kind of clients, then you could change the direction of your business. I agree.
I just think that, and I don’t think success and sustainability are the same thing. You still might be successful as a one-person firm, but what defines success for you might be just money or it might be that you, just happiness. That’s fine. I have a lot of clients who are one-person firms that don’t want to grow. They just are very happy where they are. They are making decent money. I’m sort of a one-person consultant. I have no desire to be crazy wealthy. I only want to work with great people, so I’m very picky about who I work with. I travel so much, I chose specifically not to have employees. I then also, as a lot of people do, have a posse of resources that I can bring in if I need help.
Ian Paget: Based on what you said here, if you are a freelancer, solopreneur or single-person business, do you have any advice for taking your business to that next level, to start building a team? One of my concerns with bringing in an extra person is that I would need to suddenly double my income to pay that person and myself. I don’t know. It just feels like a huge risk, whilst working for myself at the moment just feels comfortable, as I have full control. I have everything. Based on that, do you have any advice for myself and those people out there who might want to take that leap of faith to start employing extra people so that they can grow their business?
Emily Cohen: Absolutely, yeah. I agree with you. It’s a risk. I think if you are not a risk-taker, you shouldn’t have a business, because part of having a business is taking the risk. One of the risks is hiring. I often tell people this, and they hate hearing this, but it works every single time. You sometimes have to hire before you can afford to. You need to hire when you can’t afford not to. What I mean by that is, you’re getting so much work and you’re turning down work or you’re not sending out messages to your prospects that you can take on the bigger projects or more work, because they know you’re just a one-person firm. The minute you hire, even if you can’t afford it, a lot of times, almost always, the work will come in. It’s amazing to me. My husband calls this my kumbaya style of consulting, but I believe in the universe. I’m not a religious person, but I believe in the universe. If you send out messages to the universe that says, “I have staff now,” the work will come, and you will not struggle in terms of making the money.
If you do, then you have to. I always recommend to people that when they hire, that they first should not have any debt. If you have any debt, you can’t hire. Also, they should roughly have about three months of income, of overhead saved. You really shouldn’t hire until you have those two things done. No debt, and at least three months of overhead. Once you do, hiring is much easier than you think. Sometimes, you might have to not, might have to lower your salary during slow months, but that’s why you have a line of credit with the banks. For the most part, almost every one of my clients who I’ve convinced to take that leap have had no problem paying salaries that they need to pay for the person, for them to hire. It just works out, because you’re sending out messages and you’re feeling more confident in who you are. You’re able to take on work and sell work and talk about your firm in such a different way that the work comes to you much faster.
Ian Paget: How do you know what roles to start out with?
Emily Cohen: A senior designer. That’s the answer.
Ian Paget: As the business owner, you would just focus on bringing in the sales and basically running the business?
Emily Cohen: Yep.
Ian Paget: It’s such a tricky one. If people are graphic designers, and I know a lot of the listeners of this podcast will be, I think they’re going to really struggle with the fact that they’re no longer actually doing the design work themselves.
Emily Cohen: Yes, but it’s making the leap to become a creative director. You’re still a designer, but you’re being less hands-on. You’re much more a creative director. I will tell you, some of my clients have had struggles with it, but they’ve embraced the creative director role quite nicely. That’s, if you want to just be a designer and do just design, a literally hands-on designer, then get a job at a company that you love. To me, having a business is not about doing hands-on work. It’s being a creative director and managing a firm and being entrepreneurial and being a risk-taker and wanting to grow and wanting what’s next. It doesn’t mean you can’t be a designer. All my clients still design still, do hands-on design, but it’s just a smaller percentage of what they do.
Ian Paget: I read a book called The E-Myth Revisited. I’m sure that’s one that you’ve read.
Emily Cohen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ian Paget: It really stresses the importance of working on your business rather than in your business.
Emily Cohen: Exactly.
Ian Paget: If you want it to be a success. I think a lot of your arguments for growing your business beyond one person reminds me of that book. I know as a solopreneur myself, it’s hard to even take holidays. I often need to plan well in advance. Even then, I still need to do a little bit of work now and again. You can’t really switch off and in those cases, I’m pretty much turning away work and losing lots of opportunity. Just based on that alone, it’s just not sustainable. What you said is very good advice.
Emily Cohen: That’s the benefit of working, because I’ve worked with so many design firms across the country, at least across the United States and Canada. I have a few clients abroad, but the benefit of that is I get to learn from my clients. All of the knowledge I know is not only just me being brilliant. It’s my client being brilliant as well. My clients teach me every day something new, and I love that about what I do. All that advice that I give, it’s a lot of it based on the trials and tribulations of my clients, and how they’ve grown. It’s been awesome.
Ian Paget: It really does sound like you know your stuff. You’ve given a lot of very good advice in this episode, so I think for anyone out there that does want to learn more about you, and how they can work with you as a consultant, I’ll be sure to add any links to your website and any books in the show notes for this episode.
Emily Cohen: If they’re ready to work with a consultant, they should look at all the different people that are out there, and pick the one that’s best for them, because we’re all slightly different.
Ian Paget: Emily, thank you so much for being a guest. It’s been really fun chatting with you.
Emily Cohen: Thank you very much. It was great talking to you.
The Logo Geek Podcast is Sponsored by FreshBooks
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