I have a confession to make: right now, as of this writing, I only have seven clients. One of those clients has been working with me since I first started out as a lowly desktop publisher back in 1996. One of those clients just hired me at the end of December for a single project. One hired me back in August for a single project that’s just now finishing up, but another hired me for a single project in 1999 and has been with me ever since, so you never know.
The thing is, I never wanted to have so many clients that I needed a CRM and invoicing software just to keep track of them. My needs are, in all honesty, pretty modest — though that’s a confession for another post — and I like having a lot of free time to do whatever I like, whether it’s play Facebook games or participate in NaNoWriMo, make art or read books. It’s that quiet time that gives me the energy and space to incubate my client projects and create something unique, or at least as good as I can manage, for every project.
This small list of clients means that when someone asks to have something changed today, pretty please, I can usually accommodate them. It means I can send out handmade holiday cards, and write something thoughtful and sincere in each one. It means every one of my clients is a person to me, and many of them start as or become friends. It means sometimes I can take a whole day off to go visit someone in their office so we can brainstorm their next big idea together.
I do want to do a little big of expansion this year, and some of that has to do with expanding my own skills. That free time I mentioned above has helped me develop my illustration style on the side, so I can offer some new services. I read marketing blogs as much for the advice I can give to my clients when we’re building their sites as for my own business. What I aim to do is find a balance between money stress and work stress, so that each client gets the best of me, and knows that they’re on a very short list of people who can say that.
Some designers do a wonderful job putting out a site in short time, for a wide variety of clients, and I even sometimes envy them, but that’s not who I am. Every website, every logo, every cartoon requires thought and creativity, trial and error, and time to burble through the creative distillery in my brain until it comes out as refined as I can manage.
With a list the size of mine, each client gets individual attention from me, and while I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I get tired of hand-holding, most of the time I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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Comment by Laura — February 11, 2010 @ 3:30 pm
Great honest post, Amy. Sometimes it's customer service and that you make your clients feel special that really counts.
And as a small business, you have to do what you're comfortable with. Everyone's lifestyle is different. And it shouldn't be molded to fit everyone else. 🙂
Comment by Amy — February 11, 2010 @ 4:06 pm
@Laura – Thank you! It's not just customer service, but not overloading the creative part of me with either too many projects, or too much admin stuff. Which I guess is a part of the service, haha.
I'm sorting out how much "biggification" I want to get into this year, and I thought my process might be helpful for others struggling with this same issue.
Comment by Holly — February 11, 2010 @ 5:22 pm
I love this post. It's so you. 🙂 And in fairness, I would argue that you have a unique thing go on with graphic design. People come to you because really want a certain kind of high art thing, and you do that really well. Most people are smart enough to realize that it isn't cheap or fast to make a website based off of real life watercolors, for instance. And you're certainly very upfront about how you work and how long things will take, which I also suspect people appreciate.
Comment by Amy — February 11, 2010 @ 7:14 pm
@Holly – Hah, thank you! Not all of my designs have that "high art" feel of which you speak, but I know what you mean. I learned through experience to be very upfront about everything. It saves me so much trouble later! 😉