10 Mistakes Designers Make When Growing Their Practices


In design school designers are taught design but not how to run a practice. They often start their practices with no business knowledge and no idea what skills and systems are required. Many have been successful in building a good practice by learning the basics on their own. Often however their practice reaches a plateau and they are not able to grow their revenue. The following is a list of common mistakes these designers make. Even one of these mistakes will interfere with the success and growth of a practice.

1.  They have no written business plan.
Most designers have thought about how they want to run their practice. The ideas are in their heads but rarely written down. Because these plans float around in their heads they are subject to change frequently and goals are nebulous. Having a written business plan is the first step in having a successful practice. (If the designer is an associate in a design firm, it is very helpful to work as though he/she has his/her own business. The associate can write a plan for what he/she are going to contribute to the firm during the year and work the plan.)

2.  They have no marketing plan.
A marketing plan is part of a business plan and should be written down too. Whether the designer is in a firm of his/her own or working for someone else the designer needs to have clients of his/her own. How does the designer plan to attract them? What will he/she do during the year and on a weekly basis to develop the practice? How will the designer know what type of marketing works for him/her? By having a marketing plan and following it the designer will know exactly how he/she wants to market him/herself and will be able to track what is effective for him/her and what is not.

3.  They don't use the marketing plan (if they have one) and/or only do business development when their practice is slow.
Erratic marketing will not provide a steady flow of clients that an designer needs to have a growing practice. If the designer is working in a design firm that steady flow can lead to a million dollar plus book of business which makes the designer attractive to other firms and to his/her own firm. Erratic marketing means the designer cannot track his/her success rate in one particular type of marketing because he/she hasn't done it enough to have valid data. There is a chance the designer will continue to do marketing that is not effective because there is no data to indicate that a change is needed.

4.  They give up networking after only one or two tries.
Establishing a relationship takes time. If the designer meets someone who seems like a good referral source or potential client, he/she will need to follow up frequently to insure that he/she is top of mind with the prospect or referral source. Networking means meeting people and working to establish a relationship. That relationship may take several meetings, phone calls and emails to establish. Sometimes a person an designer met years ago shows up when he/she least expects it because over the years he/she has stayed in touch. It is important to stay connected with people.

5.  They believe they must do everything themselves.
Early on in a practice startup funds have to be managed carefully. This often means doing everything by him/herself. Later designers continue to feel they must do everything themselves rather than hiring anyone to do the work for them. The more non design work a designer does i.e. typing documents, fixing computers and loading and learning new software, the less time he/she has for design work, practice strategy and marketing. In their practices designers need to do the work only they can do and delegate the rest.

6.  They allow frequent interruptions from people, phones email etc.
Design work, marketing and practice strategy takes time and concentration. To do it successfully a designer needs a block of time that is uninterrupted. Every interruption slows the work down for the time the interruption takes plus the 10 minutes it takes the designer to get back to the place he/she was before the interruption. Interruptions are often stressful and may impact an designers’ health.

7.  They do not differentiate themselves from other designers.
It is important for the designer to be able to articulate his/her uniqueness. What does he/she offer that other designers with the same specialty do not offer? With so many designers in a geographical area and practice area, competition for business is keen. To insure that clients choose the designer over others, he/she must differentiate him/herself. Potential clients are looking for a reason to hire someone. It is up to the designer to give them the reason!

8.  They do not send out their bills regularly.
Cash flow is important in a design practice and when bills are not sent out, funds do not come in. This is a problem because it may prevent the designer from paying the necessary fees for a client case, buying some necessary equipment or software, and/or paying employees or themselves. Clients don't like it either because it means they will get a very large bill rather than several smaller ones. In addition if a very long period goes by the client may have forgotten the details of the matter the designer worked on and question the time billed or the entire bill.

9.  They don't use their bills as a marketing tool.
A bill must be clear and understandable. Bills with only one entry with no detail are the ones clients are likely to question. Additionally there are events that the designer may choose to write off such as phone calls or emails. Showing the client these items on the bill with the normal fee and then reduced fee, lets the client know that he/she has been treated fairly.

10.  They don't cross market or refer to others.
To maximize their time designers should use their time on the phone with clients to cross market (discuss other services offered). Clients are often unaware of these services. Designers can also refer work to other designers or professionals if the client has needs that the designer cannot satisfy him/herself. If an designer wants to receive referrals, then he/she must also give referrals. Talking to the client about all his/her design needs can often yield leads for the designer him/herself and other designers.
By Alvah Parker
Photography by  Abdone
Alvah Parker is a Practice Advisor (The Attorneys' Coach) and a Career Changers' Coach as well as publisher of Parker's Points, an email tip list and Road to Success, an ezine. Subscribe now to these free monthly publications at her website http://www.asparker.com/samples.html and receive a values assessment as a gift. Work becomes more meaningful and enjoyable when you work from your values.


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