Give Your Work Away: When Working for Free Makes Sense

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Never, ever work for free.

Except sometimes.

There are some limited opportunities that come along for each of us and those opportunities require us as designers to work without the expectation of monetary payment, to use our valuable skills in a way that won’t generate a single penny. What am I talking about? Volunteer work. Charity work. Work for organizations who simply don’t have the funds to pay a designer, but are doing meaningful work and making a big difference. Here’s how I pick and choose who to donate my time to each year:

Do they have a mission I can really stand behind? I’ve had a lot of non profits come to me in need of design work that doesn’t cost them anything. Unfortunately for them, in order for me to be willing to give away my services, I have to really, really believe in what they are doing. I recently created an ad for Haitian Families First, a non profit in Haiti that works to keep families together in a country plighted with the illiteracy, political turmoil and an earthquake that destroyed lives and livelihoods. In meeting with one of the founders, I couldn’t help but become totally passionate about their mission and I was excited to create their ad, at absolutely no cost. When you’re doing work for a cause that moves you, it becomes less about the money and more about doing the right thing (and feeling good about it).

Do I have the time to work on this project while working on paying work? It is really easy to just say “yes, yes, yes!” to everyone who comes along with a heartfelt story about those they are helping, but it’s also totally unrealistic to do so. Before jumping on board, I try to make sure I find out what the project really entails. How much time will they need from me? How picky are they going to be? How flexible are they with the timeline? I have to keep in mind that I am running a business and as much as I may want to help feed all of the hungry children and rescue all of the orphaned pets, it’s just not plausible for me to help everyone do everything. I only take on projects when I have some time in my schedule or know I’ll be able to meet their deadline while meeting those of my paying clients as well. Balance is key.

Have I said “yes” too much this year? I try to limit the number of volunteer design projects I do each year to 5 or less. My reasoning for this is that I don’t want to get pegged as the g0-to “free designer” for every organization. By limiting volunteer work to a small handful projects every year, it forces me be choosey about what I take on so that I know I’m doing work for those causes I am most passionate about while letting people know that this is not all I do (it can’t be).

Do they actually need me to do the work for free? There are a lot of non profits out there who have extremely big budgets each year, funded by hefty grants, intense fundraising efforts and wealthy annual donors. Not every non profit needs marketing work to be done for free, and sometimes they’ll ask for free work regardless of that fact. Saying yes to the organizations who truly need it is really what it’s all about. I’m not partial to giving back to those who don’t really need me to, so I tend to stick with smaller organizations and those who aren’t heard from day in and day out. Now, that’s not to say I don’t love working with bigger non profits. I do. In fact they are some of my favorite clients because, while I am being paid, the projects are still very meaningful and still make a difference. But for donation work, I try to stick with the little guys.

Doing free work for a company vs. donating your time and services to those who are trying to make the world a better place are two very different things, and I highly encourage the latter. Money isn’t everything when it comes to helping the community, locally or globally. The feeling I get when I am able to help out an organization that is making a positive impact on the world nourishes my soul and gets me even more excited about what I do for a living. If you are looking for ways to use your skills to give back, check out AIGA’s Design for Good movement. Get involved in your community. Talk to people who are already making a difference and see how you can help them. Start something on your own and get other designers involved.

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September 6, 2012  |  Business Tips  |  No Comments
Business Tips from an Orphaned Cat

Business Tips from an Orphaned Cat

Sometimes I find inspiration in the oddest places. Last weekend, I was visiting my mother in Baltimore. I was on my way to my car to grab some luggage and noticed a small, striped feline reclining in a pile of very dirty looking dirt. There’s dirt and then there’s dirt and this little guy was laying in dirt. When he noticed that I was looking in his direction, he rolled over on his back and attempted to look as cute as possible. Sweet as a strawberry in June and filthy as a coal miner, this little guy was totally alone in the world as his owners had up and moved without him. An animal lover through and through, I couldn’t possibly let him stay put, and decided it was up to me to turn his life around. He’s now temporarily reclining in our laundry room as he adjusts to his new environment, hundreds of miles from that pile of very dirty looking dirt.

On the long drive home, with a feline companion in the passenger’s seat (in a carrier, of course. Safety first!) I got to thinking about this cat and how his struggles could be applied to what I do day to day. There are so many instances when I get down on myself or totally overwhelmed by needy clients, too much work, not enough time, etc. Sometimes looking at all that negativity in a different light can help change my perspective. Believe it or not, this dusty little cat was quite talkative on the drive back to the ‘Burgh and gave me some tips to help run my business, and my life, a little bit better. Lucky for you, I’m willing to share.

Get rid of the fleas. Fleas suck. Do you ever feel like you have people in your life who just can’t help but bring you down? It might be a client or even a loved one. It seems like every time you talk to them, they have something negative to say about you or your business or your work and you’re always left feeling less than. And those people always seem to pop up when you least expect it. Once you think you’ve gotten away from their stronghold, there they are again with more opinions and judgments and “critiques”.  I know I’ve let people like that into my life, and I also know that I could be much happier without them. They’re irritating and the only way to get some relief is to scratch them out. Getting rid of people who would much rather tear you down than build you up can only make the path to success easier. Kick those people to the curb and don’t let their insecurities and nasty opinions impact you or distract you from your goals.

Sometimes you’ve got to eat a bug to get by. Times are tough. I talk to or read about designers all the time who find that it’s impossible to find clients; the wells are dried up and there’s no money to be spent on design and marketing services. But designers: you’re wrong. There are clients waiting for you, they just might not be exactly what you’re hoping for. We all have hopes of bagging a dream client (or several), one who has an unlimited budget and a passion for the ultra-creative design work we’d all like to create. Unfortunately, finding that type of client is challenging, especially in times of economic hardship. Until everything has totally turned around and our economy is on the up and up, keep your eyes peeled for clients in unexpected places and don’t be as quick to turn people away. Sometimes you have to put up with a little more than you’d like and take on projects that aren’t as creatively stimulating. It is a matter of survival and to happens to us all; it’s okay.  Working for that client or on a particular type of project doesn’t have to be a permanent thing. Keep searching for bigger and better and hustle, hustle, hustle until you make it. Because you WILL make it.

Cuddles can only help. Okay, not literally. I don’t advise cuddling with your clients, but attracting flies with honey will never go out of style. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there (see what I did there?) and competition is steep. Make sure your clients or potential clients know you actually care about them and what they are trying to achieve. Take the time to listen to what they are saying and really hear it. Stay on top of communication and be as awesome and accommodating as you possibly can. Being nice might just be your edge over your competitors, so make sure to keep up a positive attitude even when things are tough.

Life can change in an instant. When we wake up each morning, we expect that the day will go similarly to the one previous. If yesterday was hard, well, today probably will be as well. But it only takes a single moment for everything to change, and that moment is never something we can be 100% prepared for. Keep your eyes and ears open and take on every opportunity head on. Yesterday, I may not have a single new project come in, but tomorrow I could have 10 land in my inbox. Yesterday, you may have felt stuck or lost or unsure of yourself, but tomorrow you might meet someone who will turn your attitude around and show you that you’re on the right path. Let yourself experience change positively. Embrace it. Know that every change in life leads to yet another…and another…and another. Some will be good and some will be bad, but you can’t get to the next without going through the last.

Trusting humans is scary, but necessary. There are some really bad people in the world, but we can’t look at everyone as an enemy. Sometimes it can be tempting to think that way, especially when it comes to business. We’re all fighting for the same thing, so our natural instinct is to believe that people are out for blood and sabotage is eminent. However, putting a little faith in people can pay off in big ways. Trust that new clients aren’t trying to swindle you. Have faith that a friend and fellow designer isn’t trying to steal your clientele. Obviously if there’s a gut instinct screaming “Don’t do it!” or “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger! Danger!”, consider listening. I’d put money on the fact that for the most part, the people we come across on a day to day basis are way more encouraging and helpful and genuine than we give them credit for.

I am amazed by all of the things this kitten has shown me in such a short time, and he did it without even realizing he was being helpful. Sometimes it pays off to really observe the world around us and apply the lessons we learn from unsuspecting places to our own lives, our own businesses. Take time to slow down a bit, get out there and really observe. You never know what you might find.

Update: 9/11/2012

Life is too short to do what you don’t love. Yesterday, I had to put our newly beloved pet down. I didn’t expect or anticipate this outcome at all and walking into the vet, I had no idea we would be down a pet by the time I would leave. This cat taught me a lot about life, nevermind business, in a very short time. His final lesson was that life is really short. We hear this all the time, but the quickness and finality of death doesn’t tell you, it shows you. Life can end suddenly and completely unexpectedly. Live every day to its fullest. Grasp every second, feel it, accept it. Make sure that what you’re spending your time doing is what’s really important to you and don’t waste you’re time doing what you have no passion for.

Rest in peace, little friend. You loved us as fully as we loved you and I thank you for everything you taught me so quickly.

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August 31, 2012  |  Business Tips, Staying Sane  |  2 Comments
The Distraction Vortex: How I Avoid It

The Distraction Vortex: How I Avoid It

As the owner of a small business, managing your time can be hard. Really hard. Those of us that work at home are surrounded by a million time-sucking temptations on a daily (no, make that hourly) basis. For me, my cats scratch and meow pitifully at my office door. I get sleepy and daydream about going across the hall to take a short two hour nap. I look out my window and think “well, I’m a little slow today so why not go shopping?” Add twitter and facebook and a constant stream of email to the mix and it’s really easy to accomplish nothing in a day. And then a week. And then a month. I’ve been there, and eventually I’ve snapped out of it, but in the meantime I’ve lost countless opportunities, not to mention money.

Here are some tricks I use to stay focused and to get the maximum bang out of every minute of my day.

1. Get a good night’s sleep and eat well. There is nothing harder than being a kickass designer when you’re sleepy. In fact, there’s nothing harder than being a kickass anything when all you want to do is curl up and take a nap. Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the best things you can do (along with keeping your body fueled with healthy, whole foods) goes a long way in keeping your energy levels up throughout the day. One of my new favorite websites is sleepyti.me, where you can put in the time you want to get up and it will spit out the time you should get to bed based on 90-minute sleep cycles. (You can also do the inverse, ie tell it what time you want to go to bed, and it will tell you what time to get up). A lot of us will get a good night’s sleep and then avoid eating in such a way that our body stays fueled throughout the day. My body responds well to a high protein, high [healthy] fat diet, so that’s what I stick to. Used to having that mid-afternoon slump where all you really want is sugar? Find a healthy source of protein and get to snackin’. Nuts and jerky are great options. They’ll put some pep in your step and keep you satisfied until dinner.

2. Make a list. I am crazy for lists. I like to make a weekly master list containing all of the things I would like to accomplish. I usually do this late Sunday evening or first thing Monday morning. Once that master weekly list is made, I refer to it each morning and decide what tasks to accomplish that day. Crossing each item off as I complete it gives me some primal sense of accomplishment and makes me feel good. Ridiculous or not, it keeps me going.

3. Dabble in your distractions. It’s perfectly healthy to allow some distractions to seep their way in. Sometimes we need to step away from our work in order to be more productive (a little counter intuitive, I know). If the weather is lovely and you want to be outside, go take a walk. If you feel the urge to go shopping, shop for things you’ve been meaning to buy for the business (books? new office chair? organization items?) Watch a half hour of tv while eating your energizing lunch. A few minutes of feel-good activities won’t kill you or your business, just make sure to budget for the time.

4. Organize your time effectively. Other distractions, like Twitter, Facebook and e-mail, are necessities for running your business. While they can be complete time-sucks, they don’t have to be. Plan out a time each day to focus your efforts on social media (helloooo! that’s marketing!) and email (hellooooo! that’s client/vendor communications!). Instead of arbitrarily hopping online, pick two 30-minute windows for each activity per day and use those bits of time to get online and do what you need to do. Obviously if something major is happening and you need to make an exception, it’s not a problem. And maybe an hour a day isn’t enough or is too much. Figure out what works for YOU and your business and rock with it.

5. Set daily effort goals on each project. Sometimes, we tend to get caught up in one project and then find it difficult to switch gears to another. That’s an emotional response. I want to work on one project, despite the fact that I have another one that needs my attention. Instead of giving in to emotions, I give myself time restrictions. “Today I will dedicate 3 hours to this poster and 3 hours to this brochure.” This helps me stay focused, because I know what I want to accomplish in those 3 hours, so I keep myself moving rather than dilly dallying with tasks outside of what I need to concentrate on.

Designers: How else do you stay focused on your work? What kind of distractions do you find yourself coming up against routinely?

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January 10, 2012  |  Business Tips, Staying Sane  |  3 Comments
The Anti-Stack: 4 Tools To Get Us Organized in 2012

The Anti-Stack: 4 Tools To Get Us Organized in 2012

Do you ever walk into your office and immediately feel compelled to turn around and walk right back out because your desk is covered in a million papers, file folders, books and God knows what else? I have. In fact, I have been feeling that urge quite frequently lately.

I took the last two weeks of December to decompress, unwind and enjoy the relaxation that comes with spending time with loved ones. In the back of my mind I was thinking about work and how I’d achieve my goals for 2012, but for the most part, I tried to focus on rejuvenation. This morning when I walked into my office feeling calm and excited to get back to work, I was greeted by my stack. What, pray tell, is my stack? Well, it’s the same as your stack. (I’ll bet you $50 you have one sitting relatively close to you this very second). It contained: two sketchbooks, my day planner, a ton of logo sketches, a notebook, a box of envelopes, a client’s catalog, some random papers from my bank and a bunch of samples from clients who have projects that needed to be quoted. That’s a lot of stuff. In fact, it’s a lot of stuff that really doesn’t belong together, especially not in one giant stack/pile/heap/mound/mountain on the corner of my desk.

After ignoring the stack and sitting down to check my email, I was hit in the face by some more clutter, this time of the digital variety. After two weeks away from my desk, I had a lot of catching up to do, but again, nothing had any real order. While I love the appearance of the new Gmail, it just doesn’t function the way I’d like it to from an organizational standpoint. I am a sucker for folders, especially when I can see them all and easily click and drag emails straight into them. Better yet, if I can have fun with folders in a program that looks nice, I’m on top of the world. But have that, I did not and depressed, I was.

Before I can get to back being awesome in 2012, I have to get organized. I’m tired of having a stack. I’m tired of making two stacks out of one stack to feel like I’ve got everything in order. Searching through all these piles to find what I need uses time I could be applying to finding a new client or posting a product on Etsy. Stacks = time. Organization = less time. Which one do I choose? Organization! (enter sound of crowd cheering).

Here are some tools for de-cluttering that I’ve committed to using  in order to stay organized, streamlined and focused in 2012:


Kvarnvik Box – Ikea – Comes in various sizes

Work Sample Box I started a box filled with work samples when I first started receiving completed print projects and have faithfully put samples of every finished project within it. This is great to have around because a) it’s fun to look through your old work sometimes and, most importantly, b) you have printed samples to show future clients. If you wanted to get SUPER organized, you could get one for every client, depending on how much work they send your way, or you could easily slide manila folders inside, labeling them with client names instead. For me, having a box where everything has a place is good enough, especially for something I don’t need to go through very often.

Tip: I actually have two of these. The other box I use for inspiration that I happen upon in the mail, in magazines, or when I’m out and about.


Hang-10 Office Files Storage Bin – Scout – Comes in various patterns

Hanging Files I started using accordian file folders last year and like them, but they’re kind of a pain to store and open/close/rummage through. I thought about getting a filing cabinet but they’re expensive and (mostly) ugly. I know, I know, a file cabinet is for business management, not a runway show. But I’m a designer and I like good looking stuff. What can I say? Anyway, I picked up two of these great little storage bins and a box of hanging folders. From here on out, I’ll be storing all of the client paperwork (ie contracts, quotes, invoices, initial consult questionnaires, project samples, etc) in these folders, which will make it easy for me to retrieve information and add in additional documents. Easy = awesome.

“Crap” Receiptable Organizer – Knock Knock – Comes in multiple phrases

Receipt Organizer These are a must have for any business owner. If you plan on writing off your expenses on your taxes (you should!), then you absolutely have to keep track of your receipts. Mine pile up in my wallet for a couple months before I finally take them out, and they used to go from my wallet to a pile on my bookshelf. Bad! I have since started buying a new one of these bad boys every year, as you’re supposed to hold on to your receipts for as long as you own the business (in case of an audit…*cringe*). Organize receipts easily by labeling each tab with the types of expenses you find yourself using most. Mine include office supplies, meals & entertainment, parking, books, subscriptions, website, marketing/advertising, vendors, postage, furniture, hardware/software. The organizer linked to above is nice because it comes with a pen and note pad, which is always good to have handy.

Tip: I was told by an accountant to keep the original receipts as well as scanned copies. Why? Most modern receipts that you get from stores like OfficeMax or Target will fade over time. If you get audited in 5 years and the receipt is purple with no visible writing, you’re SOL! It might be a pain to scan them, but it could also save you down the line.

eM Client Email Client for Windows

Email Client Some people might not need this, but I do. I find that having a physical email client I can get to outside of my browser is helpful and gives me more versatility and control over how my messages are organized. eM Client is nice because it pulls directly from Gmail and it’s SUPER fast. I’ve noticed that my email actually shows up there before it shows up in the browser. It also allows the use of Gmail’s chat platform, which is great because I use that to talk to clients now and then. Unlike a lot of other email clients I’ve used, eM Client is actually well designed. It’s intuitive and a lot better looking than Outlook and the like. I’m looking forward to seeing how it serves me in coming weeks and months.

Designers: What other go-to tools should I know about? I am always eager to learn tips and tricks for staying organized (thus my addiction to Pinterest…) so if you have any tools that you think are valuable, let me know in the comments!

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January 3, 2012  |  Getting Started, Staying Sane  |  2 Comments
Gone 'Til December and a Dirty Little Word

Gone ‘Til December and a Dirty Little Word

Before you start thinking I’ve either died (I haven’t) or given up on the demands of keeping up a blog (not that either), I thought I should do a little catching up. Over the last few months, I’ve really enjoyed getting back to writing because honestly, it’s something I gave up shortly after shipping off to art school. I wrote quite often in high school, and almost went to school for journalism. I decided to follow my passion for design instead, though, and when I arrived at school I became caught up in college life, studying, painting, illustrating and doing just about everything except keeping up with my love for the written word. It seems that over the last month or two, I’ve kind of let the same thing happen all over again.

In one way, it’s a good thing I haven’t been around much lately because it means I’m super busy. I’m in the process of working on a rather large product launch and all of the marketing efforts that go into something like that. I’ve also been doing some sub-contracting (I made the decision to go ahead and do it) and a bunch of other smaller projects. Between work, the holidays and wedding planning, I’ve been kind of crazy lately and have definitely neglected DesigningSolo, which makes me sad. Now things are starting to slow down a bit, however, which will allow me to sit down, take a breath and fit in some quality writing time each week. Expect some more great posts about running a solo design business in the coming weeks and months.

With that being said, I’ve got a bone to pick. I just put down the January issue of HOW and I was kind of shocked by their article on page 36, written by Ilise Benum. The title? Is ‘Freelancer’ a Dirty Word? The answer? Most designers think so. But why? The literal translation, in layman’s terms, is to work freely, or to work without being employed by one person/organization in particular. Some of the designers interviewed said that by using the word “freelancer,” you’re telling people you work for free, or rather that’s what they think you mean. Hmm…do you really want to do work with someone that doesn’t know what the word freelance means (and that it does NOT mean ‘Hire me and I won’t ask you to pay me!’)? Another designer responds by saying that calling yourself a freelancer makes it sound like you aren’t confident in what you do or in the fact that you’re a small business owner. Really?! Maybe it’s just me, but I honestly think that we’re all putting way too much stock in a word. Confidence is being able to talk to a client, know your stuff and come to the table with creative ideas time and time again. It’s being a great communicator, treating each client like they’re number 1, being professional at all times. It’s having the chutzpah to branch off on your own in the first place. So in case anyone was curious, here’s my official answer to HOW’s question: No. I take pride in the fact that I’m a freelancer, dirty little word be damned. It’s a word, not an identity. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

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December 11, 2011  |  Business Tips, Staying Sane  |  No Comments
Goals: Making It Happen

Goals: Making It Happen

With the end of the year just around the corner (Where did 2011 go, by the way?), many of us are starting to think about New Year’s resolutions. Everyone sets impractical and unreasonable personal goals like “I’m going to lose a massive amount of weight in 8 weeks!” or “I will be a billionaire by the end of the year.” But what about in business? As business owners, it’s important to set realistic, attainable, exciting goals that will push us a little harder and make us reach a little further.

Last year, my goal was to get my work published. Specifically, I wanted to get a logo (or more) into the next edition of the LogoLounge book series. I also said I wanted to earn more money. Instead of picking some arbitrary number out of thin air, I set a specific, achievable amount that would allow for growth without going overboard.

To reach my first goal, I took on as many logo projects as I could. I pushed myself creatively to try new things and come up with truly unique designs. In September, I got an email saying one of my logos had made it into LogoLounge Book 7. Awesome. Goal achieved!

For the second goal, I worked really hard to satisfy my existing clients and get referrals to new customers. I nurtured relationships with clients I love working with. I took on interesting projects, big and small. I’m on target to earn the amount I set out to earn and already have work in the pipeline for next year. Awesome!

This year, I have a few new goals that I want to push myself to achieve.

1. Do more networking. I do a lot of networking online, and it’s served me well, but I’d really like to start going to more networking events. I’ve always been shy and feel like they’d be really awkward, but business won’t generate itself. I have to put myself out there more, so I will be attending networking events this year!

2. Stick to my marketing plans. I am pretty good at developing marketing plans and I always START to execute them, but I seem to find a way to get so busy that I end up putting my marketing efforts on the back burner. That has to stop!

3. Keep my website up to date and make blog posts at least once per week. This is another thing I always seem to do well for awhile and then abandon. I think part of my problem is that I’ve never been totally satisfied with the functionality of my business site, but I’ve worked out the kinks and hope to launch a new site by the end of the year. I need to continually post new work and make blog entries so that my customers know what I’m up to, how I’m growing and what new services I can provide.

4. Earn more. I want to get strategic about the types of projects I go after so that I can earn the amount I’d like to earn in the next year. I’m still working on coming up with a definitive number, but I have a pretty good idea. I do know that I want to work on more publications and perhaps some off the cuff, hyper creative projects.

5. Do more web design. I’ve always been a print designer at heart because that’s what I love. However, I do want to start branching out and expanding into the world of web. Now that I have a programmer that’s excited to collaborate, I’m pumped to expand my skill set and offer web work to my clients.

What are some of your goals for the next year? Do you finally want to launch your own business? Do you want to develop a new skill? What will you do in 2012 to make yourself a better, stronger business owner?

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October 31, 2011  |  Business Tips, Getting Started  |  No Comments
Product Review: Epson WorkForce 1100

Product Review: Epson WorkForce 1100

This time last year, I had the genius idea of designing fancy holiday cards to sell on Etsy. “It’ll be great!” I told myself. “But you need a quality printer to be able to do this.” My efforts to get into the Etsy greeting card industry failed (do you KNOW how many people sell greeting cards on Etsy?? A bajillion!), but in the end, I was left with an awesome wide-format printer that I love and use all the time.

I highly recommend having your own printer. I have two—one is a scanner and printer in one, which I use to input sketches into Photoshop and print out random information. It’s older and doesn’t do a great job of printing, so I never use it for anything important. The printer I decided to invest in last year is what I use to create mockups, print out sample sheets and illustrations. It does a fantastic job, especially for the money I spent on it. Here’s how I decided to buy this model.

1. It’s an inkjet. Before you go bananas and tell me that laser printers are where it’s at, I’m going to disagree. I much prefer inkjets. Good inkjets. In my personal experience, you get truer colors and have more control over how your work prints. Laser prints, to me, look very flat and dull, where inkjets allow your print to come alive. I knew I wanted a quality inkjet printer, but I also wanted it to meet some of my other requirements.

2. The ink doesn’t run if it gets wet. This is the one huge perk of laser printers that is slowly crossing over into the inkjet world. Epson, and I believe a few other brands, have figured out an ink formula that doesn’t run if you spill something on it. And it works! I tried it and was happily surprised.

3. The ink is archival. Archival ink is really important when you’re someone like me, who prints things that need to last a really really long time. When it comes to illustrations, no one is going to pay you for a print that’s going to be faded and ugly in a year or two. I make sure to print all of my illustrations on archival paper, which helps too.

4. It’s wide(er) format. I was adamant about buying a printer that could print paper larger than 8.5”x11”. This baby prints up to 13”x19”, which is very handy for posters, catalog spreads, etc.

5. It’s fast. Most people complain that inkjets are simply too slow to be productive. Wrong. The WorkForce1100 can print at maximum speeds of 30 pages per minute (black) and 17 pages per minute (color). Want your fancy laser quality? You’ll still reach 13 pages per minute (black) and 5.5 pages per minute (color). That’s pretty speedy for something that prints perfectly every time.

6. You can duplex print (print on both sides). Unfortunately, it is a manual duplexing process, so you physically have to turn the paper over, but a handy little box pops up and shows you exactly how to do the flip. Hit “done” and it’s back to printing. Pretty easy.

7. It prints to the edges. A lot of printers refuse to print all the way to the edge of the paper, which is frustrating when you are trying to print a document that has full bleeds. Luckily, this bad boy tackles edges with no problem.

8. It’s pretty green.  The WorkForce uses 70% less power than most laser printers and is ENERGY STAR qualified. By allowing you to duplex print, you can cut down on your paper consumption. You can also buy fewer cartridges because you can buy high-capacity cartridges which last longer. Oh, and in the event that you need to throw it out in the future, it is designed to be recycled.

9. The cost. This was a big one. I didn’t really want to spend more than $150 on a printer and shockingly, I didn’t have to. I was lucky enough to get it on sale for $110, but it retails for $179.99. Epson sells it directly on their website for $129.99 with free shipping.

As I said, I’ve been using the WorkForce 1100 for about a year now. I’ve never run into a paper jam, ink stained corners, streaking ink, or other issues commonly associated with home/office printers. However, as with anything, there are a couple of cons to take into consideration.

1. It’s got a big footprint. Being that it is a wide-format printer, it’s rather large. It takes up a 2.5-3’x1.5’ space on my office floor. I don’t know that there’s any getting around sizing issues, though, with a printer that prints large documents.

2. The ink can get pricey. This is the biggest negative, for me. The ink can get really expensive. The high capacity cartridges do last me quite a long time, but if you plan on printing a LOT, make sure you think about it and do your research when it comes to pricing. The nice thing is that if you only need a blue cartridge, you can buy just the blue. They have sets you can purchase that contain all of the colors, but individuals are also available, which has helped me here and there.

If you’re in the market for a printer, make sure that you do your homework. Read product reviews, either in the form of blog posts or on retail websites. It’s better to know what to expect from anything you’re investing in than to just buy it and be really bummed that it sucks. I spent about a month searching for the best option and for me, it worked out to be the Epson WorkForce 1100. It met every single requirement I had and came in under my budget. To me, that’s a win.

Please note: This is a fully independent product review that was not prompted by a printer manufacturer or seller. I was not paid or solicited to write this review. It is based off of personal experience with the product and your results may vary. Do additional, independent research to find the best printer for your needs!

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October 20, 2011  |  Getting Started, Product Reviews  |  2 Comments
Social Media in Business: Is It a Must?

Social Media in Business: Is It a Must?

I get a lot of questions concerning social media from peers, other freelancers and clients who don’t quite understand how and why it works. Before I started freelancing full time, I was pretty active in the social media scene. Some of my closest friends are people that I met on Twitter, I stay in touch with my relatives and friends I don’t see often using Facebook and I’ve always had an active career-oriented profile on LinkedIn. Being a young professional who loves technology, it was easy for me to fall into the world of social media and see clear advantages of using it in my personal life. But what about for my business? How could I harness the power of social media and use it to my advantage. Better yet, how could I use it to help me make money?

The great thing about sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and others is that they are each so different from one another. That variety is highly useful to businesses of all sizes because it creates varied marketing efforts within one realm of a total marketing plan. That means that once you decide to add social media to your marketing strategy, you can take it one step further and create sub-strategies.  Different customers and potential customers want to see different things. Some are drawn to video, some to links, some to minute-by-minute interaction. Social media is awesome at catering to all of those wants and makes it easy to get your name out there.

For my business’ social media marketing, I’ve found great success in using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, all for different reasons. Here’s what I like about each, and why I will continue to use them as a means to connect with my customers.

Facebook Facebook is an incredible tool for a lot of reasons. I like being able to go there, post messages about what I’m working on, information about clients I’m working with, things I find interesting, etc. I also use it to showcase some of my recent work and connect with people who are interested in what I’m doing. I don’t post super often on my Facebook page because I’m not a fan of bogging down people’s walls, but I try to touch base at least a few times a week. Facebook does have a great Ad program for small businesses as well, though I’ve found it’s kind of tough to use for people like me, who want to market to businesses and not consumers.

Twitter Twitter is probably my favorite social media tool. It allows for so much interaction with other companies (aka businesses I want to do work for) as well as people who I can network with. In about two years, I have built up a huge network of small business owners in Pittsburgh that I can give references to and vice versa. These are people I can contact when a. I need help or b. when my clients ask for something that I simply don’t know how to do. There have been several instances where clients need something that I can’t offer, but I happen to “know a guy (or gal)” that I can refer them to. My clients appreciate that I can offer them someone they can trust to do a good job, the person I referred them to is happy to get some work, and in the end I win with a happy client and possible referrals from the other business owner. For about the first year I was in business, most of my income came from people who saw me on twitter. They knew I was a designer in Pittsburgh with passion for what I do, and they wanted to work with me. The key to Twitter is being interactive. If you have an account but you don’t use it, start using it. It may seem worthless in the beginning, but the more you talk and connect, the better off you’ll be.

LinkedIn LinkedIn has been great for building up my network of creative professionals on a global level. As I’ve talked about in the past, being a work-from-home designer can get really lonely, but it helps when you have other creative professionals that you can contact from time to time. It’s also great for scoping out the competition, seeing what your peers are doing/what skills they’re developing, etc. I love reading through posts in the groups I belong to because they open my eyes to things I hadn’t thought about, or they act as a sounding board. To some, LinkedIn seems kind of clunky and boring. It can definitely be both of those things, but if you use it in the right way, it can also be a great tool to connect with professionals, build relationships, get ideas and find inspiration.

For me, using social media has provided me with work, an expansive network, and relationships with amazing individuals. Is it a must? For my business, absolutely. What about you? How do you use social media? Have you found it worthwhile? If so, how?

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October 14, 2011  |  Business Tips, Marketing, Staying Sane  |  2 Comments
Inspired Inspiration: Classics In LEGO by Mike Stimpson

Inspired Inspiration: Classics In LEGO by Mike Stimpson

I love Legos. I love classic photographs. But classic photos recreated and reshot using Lego people? Totally awesome and totally inspiring. Thanks to artist @paulaibey for bringing this to my attention!


V.J. Day Times Square by Mark Stimpson


Moon Landing by Mark Stimpson

Check out Mark Stimpson’s site for plenty of other really cool Lego recreations, along with a whole Star Wars themed shoot. Good stuff, my friends, good stuff.

Happy Friday from DesigningSolo!

 

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October 7, 2011  |  Cool Stuff, Inspired Inspiration  |  No Comments
Money Blues: Easy to Make Financial Mistakes

Money Blues: Easy to Make Financial Mistakes

One thing I had an awful time with when I first started running my business was handling money. I had no idea what I was doing. Because I started my business out of necessity and on the fly, I didn’t really take the time to think out how I would deal with, well, anything money related. I didn’t know what I didn’t know; and then I talked to an accountant. I highly recommend you talk to a trained professional when it comes to dealing with business finances because unless you have experience or know-how to begin with, it’s easy to find yourself in hot water. I’m going to share my tricks for staying in the clear, but everyone’s financial situation is going to be different, so my biggest tip is to talk to an accountant who specializes in dealing with small businesses (even if it’s just on an initial-consultation basis).

Mistake 1: Not opening a business checking account. This was my first mistake and it might, honestly be one of the biggest. The day you decide to go into business for yourself, go to your bank and tell them that you need a business account. Most banks today have accounts designed for extra small businesses like ours and they are generally free to open with no minimum balance required. The reason this is so important is that you really want to avoid mixing your personal money and your company money. Why? Well, because it’s a heck of a lot easier to spend company money on accident. At first, your income is going to be super unpredictable and it’s going to be tempting to dip into your business money. Trust me…it will be. So do yourself a favor and don’t let temptation even be an option. Keep your personal money in its own account and company money in another.

Mistake 2: Not saving for taxes. When you work for someone else, your Federal, State and sometimes Local taxes are automatically taken out of every paycheck. When you work for yourself, it’s another story entirely and it can be super confusing if you aren’t tax savvy. There’s self-employment tax, plus your Federal and State income taxes plus whatever taxes your town makes you pay. That’s a lot of taxes to think about! I recommend taking every check you receive from a client and setting aside whatever percentage you need (based on your income tax bracket) and just put it away. For me, it’s 30%. Every check I get, 30% instantaneously disappears into the land of tax savings in my business account. In the end, I may not wind up having to use that entire 30% depending on what deductions I get, but if I need it, it’s there and it’s a huge weight off my shoulders come tax time.

Mistake 3: Not paying estimated quarterly taxes. This was the most confusing thing ever for me when I got started. I had no idea about these until I talked to an accountant. Luckily for me, because of when I started my business, I wasn’t required to pay any of these in 2010 (phew!). Starting in 2011, though, I listened to my accountant’s advice and made sure to get them in on time. This is where I *highly* recommend you talk to a tax professional because it’s really confusing and hard for someone like me to explain. Just know that you absolutely have to pay estimated quarterly taxes and if you don’t, you could be charged fees by the Feds, your state and your town. (Tip: the IRS puts out a tax calendar for small business owners every year. It’s free, and they’ll mail it right to you. They also have printable and PDF versions if that’s better for you. It’s designed nicely so that it’s easy to follow and understand. Find more information about the calendar or pre-order your 2012 copy by clicking here.)

Mistake 4: Not thinking about business expenses. I already told you that 30% of each check I receive gets set aside for taxes. Well, guess what? Another 20% gets set aside for business expenses. I know…that means 50% of what I earn is money my personal bank account never sees. It was hard to chew at first, but the chalky feeling went away when I realized how much easier and less stressful doing things this way made my life. You’re going to have bills…from supplies and stock photography to paying for client meetings at Starbucks and investing in new technology, there’s gotta be money in the bank to cover all of these costs. If you wind up paying for an office space, you will likely need to take even more out of your checks to cover rent, utilities, etc. Keep all of these expenses in mind.

Mistake 5: Not tracking expenses and not saving receipts.  There is an upside to business expenses! Depending on the type of expense and how much you spend, you get to write those purchases off of your taxable income. It’s super important to stay organized when it comes to tracking your expenses (when you purchased something, what the purchase was, where the purchase was made). You can either set up an Excel spreadsheet to input the information into or follow what I do by tracking everything in Freshbooks, which handles everything from client estimates and quoting to timesheets and expenses. After you track the purchase digitally, do yourself another favor and stash the receipt in an accordion-style coupon folder. Label each pocket to correspond with the types of purchases you make (ie Postage, Food, Parking, Books, Subscriptions, Office Supplies, etc) and pop those receipts in their category’s pocket. Record keeping is mucho important when you’re running a business, and this is one form of that. If the IRS ever comes after you with an audit, having all of these receipts might save your tail. Make sure to buy a new coupon folder every year and save all receipts for at LEAST 5 years, just to be safe.

Again, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to talk to an accountant. Each and every freelancer will have different accounting needs. Mine are pretty straightforward, but yours might not be. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to money. Even if you can’t afford to hire an accountant to go over everything with a fine-tooth comb, many are willing to at least help you get started on the right foot for free. The one I talked to gave me a very basic understanding of everything. I took notes and was able to do my taxes on my own using software designed to help small business owners go through the process. Set yourself up for success by getting your money in order. It’s not as overwhelming as you might think, and it’s way more difficult to get it all sorted out the longer you wait.

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