Ideal Design Clients – Birds of a Feather

Originally published in LinkedIn by Scott E. Pond on January 10, 2015


As designers, one of our main goals—aside from creating the best designs we can—is to acquire clients worthy of our works and worthy of us both as designers and as individuals. Without clients and the perks they bring (money, fame, raving fans, all-access-pass to the Playbunny mansion, and additional exposure), we are just operating in a vacuum, creating projects for a fun hobby and remaining mostly unrecognized and under-appreciated.

Throughout the years, I’ve had a lot of fantastic clients… and quite a few who turned out to be not so fantastic.

With each experience, a picture began to solidify in my mind, that of the Ideal Design Client.

Those of you who have clients know what I am talking about. There are some clients who are a complete joy to work with, some who you wish had never contacted you in the first place, and everyone else in between.

One of the key characteristics that makes a great client is the commonality of vision.

By vision, first I’m talking about compatible artistic vision. There are multiple aspects to this. One is the style of the artwork and creative output. A client who prefers manga style art may not be satisfied by an artist who specializes in golden age comic style art, whereas a client who loves realism in their art would potentially love an artist who specializes in photorealistic compositions. No content creator can be everything to every client. Some of us specialize in a narrow band of styles and mediums, while others have a more expansive set of skills. While you may love to experiment in different genres and styles, the time to do that is not when you are lining up a potential client or offering to do a project for them. Most clients don’t appreciate being a guinea pig for your artistic creation. Save your exploration of your creativity to your spare time; only offer your clients that which will best represent you and your abilities.

Along the vein of commonality is the compatibility of passion and vision. This is where the purpose and desired output of the client’s project and your belief and support in the project hit the pavement either in phase or are diametrically opposed. For you to effectively work with a client, and vice versa, there has to be a mutual passion and belief in the project goals, vision, and overall scope. I’m not telling you that you have to adhere to and follow the political, religious, cultural, or philosophical of the client and the project. Rather, I’m telling you that you do need to be able to support the message of the project even if you don’t believe in it yourself.

Your mutual passion and vision directly translates into your level of effort, creativity, and attention to detail. If you don’t have it, then your own passion about your art and the quality of the art itself will suffer. Every project you do should be one that you’d be proud of including in your portfolio… or at least in the portfolio of the genre you are working in.

Finally, in the realm of commonality, is the overall compatibility of personality. Now, I’m not talking about you becoming best friends with your clients, though in many cases a strong bond of friendship will form out of your collaboration or you many start your collaboration on the basis of a pre-existing friendship. In most cases, what I’m saying is that your relationship with your ideal client must be built upon a solid foundation of trust, mutual respect, and common or mutually beneficial goals. While the working situation may be challenging and stressful at times, the interaction should ultimately be positive with both parties seeing a true benefit in the collaboration, whether it’s on a one-shot project or over the course of a long relationship.

Without these elements, this merger of interests will ultimately turn out to be negative, lopsided, stressful, toxic, or just downright confusing.

Without naming names, I had a client a while ago who started out as an ideal personality match but who degenerated into a nightmare of a client. At first, this client approached me after hearing good things about me and seeing some of my work. After an initial back and forth to establish priorities and goals, we agreed to begin working on a project together. Over the course of the project, the client began to be more and more irascible, increasing demands beyond the point of reason, and requiring change after change beyond the scope of the original agreed upon project.

At first, I was very accommodating and receptive, but as the project scope progressed beyond twice and was approaching three times the agreed level of effort, it began to be obvious that we were heading down the path of personality and vision conflict. The breaking point came when a third complete restart of the original design was demanded and the client indicated I was being extremely unreasonable in not wanting to cater to the request. After a few awkward and almost terse emails—along with hurt feelings on both parts—we eventually agreed that the collaboration was not going to work out and we terminated the contract.

This comes to a key point.

Go ahead and repeat after me: “It is okay to terminate a working relationship with a client who is incompatible in some way.”


Yes, it is true!

Regardless of the area of contention, if you don’t feel the client is someone you can continue to work with, then it is not only okay to break off the collaboration, it is often downright necessary. Not only for you and your clients, but for your reputations and ultimate piece of mind.

Always remember that there are other clients out there. Never forget that. So long as you yourself are not the cause of client issues—a possibility that you must be willing to consider and do some honest self-evaluation to determine—then it is better to just yank off that band-aid in one swift painful yank.

At that point, it becomes a question of WHEN do you break off the relationship, not IF. In some cases, you can finish up the project and then go your separate ways amicably. However, in others, like in my situation, it’s best to cut ties sooner than later so that neither of you waste any more time and efforts than is necessary.

What do you look for in an Ideal Design Client?

What works and what doesn't work for you?

Hitting the Creative Hurdle – Face the Fear, Move On

Imagine it.

You are starting a new project, one using skills you have never quite done before.

You're excited. This is something new. It doesn't seem so hard because it's SIMILAR to stuff you've done before, but not exactly the same. You think that it is completely in your wheelhouse. It's something you've wanted to do, wanted to try, for a while now, but just never found the time or opportunity to do so.

Until now.

You've got all your supplies needed, plus some you think you MIGHT need if you change it up a little or hit any snags. You are in your favorite creative space, in your favorite creative clothes, with your favorite creative snack and drink by your side. You've done everything in your power to set yourself up for success, for the best foot forward in this new project.

You. Are. Ready. To. Go!


You begin and at first things seem to be going just right.

And then it all falls apart and your screw it up big time.

Oh, crap.

We've all been here. At first we're very excited about this new project and then it feels like we're worthless, that we can't do anything right because we SCREWED UP THE PROJECT.

We hit our Creative Hurdle.

And it seems like it's way above our ability to jump over.

At this moment, we feel defeated; with the clay shattered at our feet, a drawn shape that is just not right, a sewn edge that skews too far off the desired seam, an accidentally deleted photo editing layer... no matter what it is, there is no easy way to fix it.

How do you respond?

As creatives, this can be a huge thing or a relatively minor thing. For those crusty creatives out there, we often have the experience to chalk it up to the learning curve, dust off our knees, and get back at it.

But that might only be a few of us.

On the other side of the response spectrum, is the fear, the disappointment, and feeling of lacking somehow.

Failure to do something right, to master a similar skill right out of the gate, has a potentially huge impact on many of us creative types. It starts with that feeling in the stomach that we MAY have done something wrong on this new project. A sinking feeling, followed by that initial churn of nausea. This is followed by a large gamut of feelings as we realize that yes, we truly messed it up. Anger. Shock. Disappointment. Sadness.

All of these feeling run through us at this moment as we see that the project has been ruined by what we have done, or haven't done, and that there is no way to truly fix the problem other than by starting over.

For some of us, we hit the crippling hurdle point.

That moment when our self doubt and disappointment override everything and actually make us want to quit doing this project, to shut down and just stop everything associated with it. This is the critical point where if we give in and listen to this doubts and that sad tiny little voice, we may actually give up.

Logic has no grasp on us at this moment. All we see is our failure doing something right the first time and we hear this tiny voice whispering that we are worthless, stupid, and unskilled and that we shouldn't have even been to arrogant as to think we could do something like this project.

Some give in to that voice, unfortunately.

But that is the wrong move. Think about it. You are doing something for the first time. It doesn't matter that you've done something similar to it before. This is a brand new application of skills. You shouldn't expect that you should be able to do this new project perfectly, without any error. You should expect mistakes and outright failure. Why? Because you are learning a new set of skills and applying them in a new manner. Every step, whether you know it or not, is forging new pathways through your neurons. Forging new trails through your grey matter.

Frankly you have to start somewhere. What better place to start than by making mistakes you can actually learn from!? That's the best way to build new skills: on the ashes of mistakes.

The worst thing you can do is quit.

Don't quit. Instead pick yourself back up, brush off your knees, and start over again.

Embrace the learning curve and step over that hurdle.

What kind of failures have your encountered and what have you done to forge ahead anew?

Personal Branding – Are You Invisible?

Originally published on LinkedIn by Scott E. Pond on February 10, 2015


Creatives! Heed me and answer this question!


What are you doing to get your personal brand out there?

Life is about taking risks. At least, that’s what THEY say (you know, the infamous “they” who are always goading us to do something outside of our comfort zone... or downright stupid... or sometimes, maybe, downright brilliant). THEY say a lot of motivational things lauding the benefits of hard work, taking risk, and focus. And like most overused motivational statements, we can poke them full of holes.

Let's take a look at one of those prime cliché examples:

Nothing Ventured Equals Nothing Gained.


Wow, really?... so if I do nothing, then I gain nothing? Earth shattering. Obvious. And as such, pretty worthless.

Let's break it down a little bit and change it up. For any cause and effect statement to be truly valid, a simple litmus test is to reverse the condition, like this:

Something Ventured Equals Something Gain.


Is this statement actually a obvious truism? No, not really. There are major logic holes here.

In this regard, just because you put yourself out there--just because you actually bust your butt making an effort-- does it mean you will actually achieve your dreams and desires or benefits? Of course not. In fact, given the amount of failed initiatives and businesses every year (heck, every day) the chances of actually making it big seem pretty darn slim.

So let's tweak the statement, expand it, and reword it further to explore the meaning:

If you don’t put yourself out there you most likely will not succeed.


Ok, that's closer to a truism... but not quite. Notice that I said “most likely”.

For some reason (fates, the uneven hand of Dog, injustice, luck, or what have you) there are people who apparently do not have to lift a finger to actually make a name for themselves. It's these outliers who skew the results and make us have to use that pesky "most likely".

[But let’s forget about those outliers. THOSE people were given a lucky golden lottery ticket at birth and their numbers just came up… over and over again. To heck with them; they are just skewing the data. Let's instead concentrate on the rest of us... the Average Folks.]

For us Average Folks, let's flip the statement and replace that "most likely" with a more black and white approach:

You will NOT succeed if you don’t make an effort.


There we go... now THAT is a truism I can sink my teeth into.

It’s a blatant and inconvenient truth that for most of us the potential level of return on investment in a venture is only as good as the amount of blood, sweat, and tears we are willing to invest. It doesn’t matter in most of our cases how talented or diverse we are in our skills (unless we receive that illusive Golden Ticket). What matters is that we bust our butts, put ourselves out there, and continue to do so, day in and day out.

But that statement is focusing on the negative... don't we want to take a more positive approach? Of course we do.

So let's change it, flip it to the positive, and refine it again:

Continuous visible effort gives the best change for success.


Okay, now this is something from which we can get some value.

Success is not measured in a few short strokes of your pencil or a few clicks on the keyboard... success is achievable only by sustained effort and visibility.

THAT’s a key point: Visibility and Effort.

Go ahead and enunciate it with me: Vis-A-Bil-Ity! EFF-Ort!

That's it! You have to get out there--you have to make yourself get noticed--if you ever really want to achieve your dreams. THAT is the core of personal branding. The passive and shy person is unnoticed in the grand scheme of things. Sure, can a laid-back and quiet person be counted on to be reliable and steadfast? Absolutely. Will they be the leaders and innovators? Most likely not. They are likely to remain unnoticed.

They need to work to be noticed.

In other words...

Their EFFORTS must be VISIBLE!

To achieve any level of success, one must consistently be visible to potential fans and clients. One must be more than a one-hit-wonder (or its equivalent).

So how does one gain visibility?

To find and consistently sustain success, fame, and glory, one must continually put him- or herself out there and make a name for themselves.

For those building a brand and business, this visibility will mean the difference between success and failure. Especially in the realm of creatives, the amount of content you put out, the more likely you will be noticed. The more likely you are noticed, the more likely you will be in your fan's, client's, and patron's minds when they are looking for that next diversion to push back the encroaching boredom.

In the end, consistent, periodic, and valuable content is king. Without the constant reminder of you and what you have to offer, the quick-moving social media landscape will sweep up your fan- and client-base and will carry them on to the next one-hit wonder, leaving you with nothing but dust bunnies in their wake.

But how do we do that?

Bottom line? Create as much as you can, and not just your sellable products.

As creatives, we need to create more and give away more. Yes, I said "give away more". People respond to the “free” content, especially if it is interesting and strikes a cord. The free-bees draw them in (like honey, *chuckle*) and they come to want the “real” products as both a way of showing appreciation and because they like the both the free content and your real products.

We need to create BOTH the free-bees and our “real” content on a consistent and reliable schedule to keep them coming back and to keep us relevant in their lives.

But what are these so-called "free-bees"?

The "free-bees" are peripheral things that you give to your fans and clients to keep them coming back while they are waiting for your "products" OR the things that provide you with additional avenues of visibility to pull additional future clients/fans into your area of influence and keep them coming back time and again.

Common "free-bees" are:

  • Blog posts: writing about your experiences, opinions, or your passions is a means of building a relationship with your fans and clients. These can be mini-tutorials on how you go about your process, a running series of essays on various aspects of your industry or related industry, or commentary/reviews of topics that are related to you or your fans common interests.
  • Social media platforms: Twitter, FaceBook, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, etc., etc., etc. ... the playing field of social media outlets are a varied and fertile ground for building a sustainable audience. Each platform has its own niche usage... exploring how your brand fits in with continuous use of these platforms allow you to build an audience that can discover in turn your products through their interaction with you.
  • Podcasts and Vodcasts (Video Podcasts): Similar to blog posts, creating your own podcast or vidcast gives your fans and clients a means of connecting with your, your brand, and your common core interests. Combine this with another social media platform such as YouTube and promote during guestspots and interviews on other platforms and you should start to see an uptick in your audience.
  • Promotional/Give Away Items: aside from just time (like the items above), give away items often also require an investment of an actual monetary nature. Creative business cards, bookmarks, postcards, flyers fall into the lower end of the spectrum of give aways, where are tee-shirts, bags, and "free-service" coupons fall into the higher end of the promotion spectrum. In many cases, give aways may not demonstrably increase your client-bases; always ensure you are keeping track of analytics to determine if your promotional efforts give you any additional traction.

There are many many other things you can do to get your image and products out there. The most important thing is to get yourself out there without every output being "buy my stuff/services!"

Keep yourself and your product in their minds, make them feel as though you are part of their entertainment/education/interest pool, and they will come to think of you the next time they need something you just so happen to provide.

What are you doing to provide your potential fans and clients with a reason to come back and visit you again and again?

What are you doing to achieve a sustainable level of output and how has it paid off for you?

Creative Services – What’s it Worth to You?

Originally published on LinkedIn by Scott E. Pond on January, 8 2015

One of the most common client expectations is great design services for cheap. This is not entirely unreasonable… we all want value for minimal expenditure. For some reason though, many folks will equate your passion for your art and creativity to you being willing to create something for free. Friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers–everyone seems to think your art should be given for free or for what equates to pocket change. Or, even more interesting, they try to convince you that you should do their project for free “to improve your portfolio”.

Read more “Creative Services – What’s it Worth to You?”