Design Agency Tactics for Freelance

Episode #3: Design Agency Marketing Tactics for Freelance Designers

Networking is really powerful, but it doesn’t have to be like handing out business cards. Networking in today’s age takes a lot of different forms. If you have an idea of your type of ideal client, you can be much more calculated with how you’re spending your marketing hours.

But having an idea of who you are for, and sometimes even more importantly, who you are not for, is a really powerful way to target your marketing efforts. Welcome to Earning by Design, a podcast dedicated to guiding graphic designers and creative freelancers towards building successful businesses from their passions. I’m your host, Lauren Gonzalez, with over 14 years in the design industry, including both in-house corporate and freelance design roles.

I’m here to share insights and strategies to help you thrive in your design business. I’m super thrilled to have Sam Chlebowski with me today, co-founder of Motion.io, and a mastermind in creating scalable business systems. Sam’s journey includes transforming brighter vision from a startup to a powerhouse with nearly 5,000 clients, leading to its successful acquisition in 2020.

And today he’s here to share his insights on building efficient systems that drive business growth, a topic crucial for entrepreneurs and designers, all about getting clients and being more systematic in this. So get ready for an awesome episode, packed with actionable strategies and inspiring stories from Sam’s rich experience. And I’m really excited too, we’re going to be talking about the subject of clients, marketing, sales, and running an agency.

So he has had a lot of experience in that, and he’s gone on to create a really cool software as well, which I’ll also talk about, but yeah, it’s going to be a fun conversation. So thanks so much for joining me, Sam, and I’ll bring you on. Hello.

How are you? Hey, Lauren, I am doing great. It is a wonderful day here in Denver, Colorado, where I am located. It’s like 60 and sunny, so I can’t ask for anything better.

Yeah, I have to take the dog out for a walk after this. Oh, fun. Great.

Well, it’s so great to have you. That’s actually pretty warm for this time of year. It is.

It is. The weather’s been super nice recently. I was just down in Austin.

I was visiting my brother. He lives down there. He is actually, he does YouTube full-time, like cooking stuff.

But I was down there visiting him and it rained the entire time. It was like 50 and raining where I come back here and it’s beautiful and sunny. So excited to be back.

Wow, that’s amazing. Well, welcome back to Colorado. Awesome.

So I would love to hear an overview of what got you to the point you are now. And just a background story of your life as working in web design and your agency and now Motion.io. Yeah, so let’s run it back to 2011 when I was just a strapping young lad looking to have a career at some point. And I didn’t know really what I wanted to do at all when I went into college.

I initially went in as just like general studies. I thought originally I wanted to be a lawyer. Even back then in like high school, I was really interested in politics.

I was really interested in law. And I quickly learned from speaking with some people, some family friends who were lawyers, that it was not what I wanted to do. So I kind of went into college with like no plan, nothing.

And what happened is I kind of took an advertising class on a whim and just to fulfill some general like undergraduate credits and immediately was like, whoa, this is really cool. Like you can study this. First of all, we just watch YouTube videos of great ads in class for like our hour-long class.

We analyze them. We break down the messaging, the imagery. We’re looking at all of this type of stuff.

And so I went to apply at the University of Colorado, the School of Advertising and really liked it my entire time there. What I kind of stumbled into during my time at school is I took some classes just out of pure curiosity on web development and design. At that time, they had a small school that you could kind of like add on to your degree where they would teach you design.

They teach you kind of the basics of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, how to use Photoshop, Illustrator, things like that. And very quickly, I found that that’s what I really loved. I didn’t like so much the strategic areas of advertising.

Well, I like it and there’s tremendous value of that. That still informs a lot of what I do here today at Motion.io. With that, I really found that I loved creating things. I loved building things on a computer and it goes back even early on.

It was always like shooting movies with my brothers in the backyards. We lived in a very small town like rural Pennsylvania and we were always out there with like a video camera making these silly little movies together. Me, my three brothers, my cousins.

And that love of creating really came back in full force during my time in college. So one of the things that I was fortunate to have and I’ll tell this to anybody. I don’t believe necessarily that everybody needs to go to college or even that the things that you learn in college are going to be necessary for your career.

What was necessary for me and what was one of the most helpful things that I learned is I made some really great friends. One of them went on to go work at Apple as a developer. My very good friend, he was in my wedding and he taught me some additional stuff even outside of what I was learning in class about web development.

So I had started in college basically to make some extra money because, you know, you’re broke college student. I wanted to be able to go snowboarding all the time. I wanted to be able to go to trips in the mountains with my friends.

Didn’t have money to do that. So I started building websites for family and friends kind of just on the side. It was a really great thing for me.

Gave me some extra income to go do fun stuff and taught me some of the basics of working with clients and running a business. I say business in air quotes because it was never really formalized. After I got out of school, I had this idea that I was going to go work for a large advertising agency.

I had a couple of internships up at that point and I quickly discovered that nobody really wanted to hire me. It was just incredibly hard to get my foot in the door with those large agencies. And it’s interesting because there’s a ton of advertising agencies where I went to school in Boulder.

You have Crispin Porter Bogusky. You have some smaller shops that are kind of independent run that focus on working with startups and things like that. Didn’t hear back from really any of them.

One day, I think it was spring break because I was frantically looking for a job. I’m like, how am I going to pay rent after I’m no longer in school? I don’t know. I know I want to stay here in Colorado, but how do I make that work? I was, believe it or not, at this time, Craigslist was still a decent place to find a job.

It was much different than it was today. Apply to an ad looking for web designers for a small company that was doing websites for mental health therapists. I walk in.

It’s an office. There are, at that time, just two people in there, the CEO and then one other designer. And I started immediately building websites, working with clients.

And we were, at that point, doing about 25 websites per month. It was then the day of my end-of-year review, we’ll call it. And the CEO, who’s now my co-founder at Motion.io and who was my boss there, he comes to me and he says, hey, Sam, I know I hired you to build websites, but I know you also have this other interest in marketing and doing some of our design work there, running some of our strategic initiatives there.

And I said, yeah. I mean, that sounds amazing. That’s the perfect intersection of these two things that I really found that I love doing and were really fulfilling to me.

So he offers me a job as our marketing coordinator. The company’s name is Brighter Vision. And 15 minutes go by.

I’m like, yeah, I’m going to accept this. This sounds great. Sounds like a perfect opportunity.

15 minutes goes by and he comes back in. And at that time, we had been working with one other person who was remote, who was running kind of our sales processes at Brighter Vision. And he said, I know I just offered you this marketing role.

And I know you probably never envisioned doing sales, but this is a really good opportunity. We’re a fast-growing company. I really need someone to do sales for us.

And I know how you work with clients. I know how you speak with clients that you have a good presentation. You’re able to get the message across clearly.

I think you could be decent at sales. Is this something you would be open to? And at that time, I was a little bit hesitant. I’m like, what does this mean exactly? But it was also early in my career.

And I was really hungry to make an impact. And I said, yes. So I eventually went on to take over our sales for Brighter Vision and kind of the onboarding process because at that time, taking on sales meant, yes, sales, but then also onboarding and customer support.

So kind of a multifaceted role. My official title, which I still have not let my co-founder live down, was Director of Customer Happiness. I thought it was really silly at the time.

It did make sense in hindsight, but I eventually got a title swap. But from there, we ended up growing Brighter Vision pretty substantially. We brought on additional salespeople.

We, at the end, had 30 full-time employees. We were doing roughly 300 to 350 websites a month. And with that, I was also then finally got to circle back around after about two years of doing sales to running all of our marketing, doing a lot of our designing, a lot of the things that I wanted to do when he offered me that role two years prior.

So really got this whole view of an entire business, an entire agency from the very earliest days where we had just a handful of clients doing a handful of new sites per month to doing 300 sites per month. From there, that business was actually acquired in 2020. And I left shortly after.

Kind of found that the corporate space, because we were acquired by a much larger company, just wasn’t for me. I wanted to work with smaller businesses. So went back to work for another startup for about a year.

And during that year, Perry and I, my co-founder, were kind of talking like, what were some of the biggest challenges that we had as we were growing Brighter Vision? The thing that keeps coming back to us, because we would get coffee, we’d get lunch, and just kind of talk about this. We knew we were interested in working together again, bringing on another co-founder who we knew was kind of in a similar space. He actually built and did marketing for funeral homes, believe it or not.

So a very sort of niche service provider for funeral homes, sort of niche marketing and web design agency for therapists, on the other hand. And we got to talking and we said, one of the biggest things that we struggled with at nearly every step of the way was getting the information that we needed from clients. So that kind of initial onboarding work, and then enabling them to be engaged, to be excited, to feel like they were informed and had a direct impact in the work that we were doing for them.

What we had ended up doing at Brighter Vision is we built our own sort of internal client portal. It was built within WordPress. So a client could kind of log in, see their project status, upload things, scheduled calls with us.

And we sort of said, it would be great if this was a tool that we didn’t have to custom develop. And Motion.io was born from there. And we’ve been working full time on Motion.io for about a year and a half now.

And it’s been really challenging work, but also some of the most exciting work I’ve ever done, kind of having this whole picture of building a software product from scratch. And things fully circle back around because now I am also our, in addition to our VP of marketing, because we’re such a small team, I do all of our design work. I do client calls.

I do all of our marketing initiatives. And sorry if that was long-winded. That is kind of the full story though, going all the way back to the beginning.

Oh, I love that. I think it’s really fascinating to hear that background because how it relates to where you got to. And I can’t believe you started in law.

That’s amazing. And how you just by chance were able to get into this world of marketing through the advertising class. That’s absolutely fascinating.

And I think that something that a lot of just the bigger picture of being able to work with sales and marketing is so, so invaluable. I would love to understand from your perspective of when you were at the agency, what was your biggest success for… Obviously, you were on the sales end, but you dealt with marketing as well. So what helped you to get the clients in? What was the most successful thing that helped you grow and get more clients and get those coming in? Yeah.

So I have a lot of things to share here. And some things that I’ve learned, some things that I did well, things that I could have done better. The first thing that I think is really important for anybody who is a freelancer, even if you’re just one person, you have your business working alone.

I think it’s before you even get into marketing, it’s really key, in my opinion, to pay attention to if you are a solo owner operator, you are a freelancer working on your business, you are now a salesperson, whether you like it or not. Sales can often have this negative connotation to it. It doesn’t have to.

The way that I love to think about sales and that I would encourage any other business owner, any other freelancer agency out there to think about sales is you are just providing a service and you are telling somebody about a service that they know they already need. If you can reframe your mind to know that, okay, yes, I have to do sales now and I am a salesperson as a part of running this business, I think it can really inform a lot of your marketing strategy. And it could be my own bias and my own background, which is why I think that way.

But it’s something that I saw firsthand as a really valuable mindset to have. Because if you come in and you say, I just want to do marketing, don’t want to do sales, you overlook this whole process that happens after somebody raises their hand, somebody submits a lead form, somebody sends you an email. If you aren’t in the mindset of, yes, I am a salesperson now, it can be so easy to overlook those other things.

All of that said, some of the best things that I think everybody should be doing to get clients is number one, pay attention to your referral process. Referrals were one of our biggest drivers of new clients at Brighter Vision. And a lot of times you hear somebody say, oh, I’m all referral based or all of my new business comes from referrals.

I’ve interviewed now on my podcast that I do 50 different business owners thus far. I believe we’re at episode 55, but some of those are solo episodes. And a question that’s come up a lot, and I have asked a number of our guests who are designers, they’re freelancers, they have an agency.

I asked, what do you do for client referrals? Because that’s something that I wish I would have known sooner is that anybody who says they’re referral based, they have a process for that. They have a way that they are, first of all, creating happy clients that want to refer people in the first place. And that’s the way that you do that is primarily through your client experience.

But then the second part of that is they have a way to capture those referrals. So something that I would recommend is build a referral step into your process of working with clients. One of my favorite things to do is when a project wraps up, send an email saying, hey, client, I love working with you.

I think that this project turned out amazing. If you share that sentiment, it would mean the world to me if you referred others to me. Here’s an email address or a form where you can send these referrals to and even better offer some kind of incentive to encourage them to give you that referral.

One of the things that we had done previously at our agency is we actually had a form on within our emails that clients could fill out. They would enter their email address, the email address of the person that they were referring, and it would auto populate this template that allowed them to just click send and it would send that email to their referral. So the email came from our client versus coming from our agency.

And that was something that was really effective because when you’re giving a referral, you don’t really want that referral to come from some unknown company you’ve never heard about. Instead, it was coming from their friend, their colleague that was interested in sending that business our way. Great.

Okay, well, that makes sense. And I think that the referral is an amazing process. But a lot of what I hear a lot of designers ask is, well, how do you get those clients coming in to begin with? What is that process? Because it’s kind of the chicken or the egg circumstance otherwise where, okay, we got the referral system in place, but a lot of people struggle with getting those initial clients or getting that build up.

So what do you say on that? Yeah, and that’s a very good point. So I will take a step back here. And maybe for somebody who is kind of in the earlier stages for their agency, there’s a couple of things I think that are really helpful to do.

And the number one is going to be networking. Networking is really powerful, but it doesn’t have to be like handing out business cards. Networking in today’s age takes a lot of different forms.

And I think that the first thing that you can really do to network yourself is once you launch your business, you just need to tell people about it. Look through all of the people you know. Think about the family and friends you know that have businesses or work in small businesses and just let them know about your business.

Say, hey, by the way, I’ve launched this new business. Here’s my website. If you ever need design services, if you ever need website development, I’d love to chat and get connected.

So that’s number one is start that networking piece as early as you can. It can start slow, even just with family and friends, because your network is oftentimes a lot wider than you think it is initially. Also, with getting the word out and doing some of that early networking, there is a totally free way to network on social media platforms.

And that is simply engaging on other people’s posts. Engaging commenting is a big one, too, especially on platforms like LinkedIn, because if you’ve set up your LinkedIn profile and you have your business name, your business website on that, just commenting, offering a useful piece of advice on content that is relevant to you or your business can be a great way to just build some of that initial exposure to your business and the services that you’re offering. And it can be a little bit uncomfortable at first.

I think it’s really easy to feel like you are fake or your business is made up in those early days before you have a lot of clients or a consistent stream of revenue coming in. But becoming confident and getting a little bit comfortable with things that make you or may have made you uncomfortable is going to be key in those early days, because ultimately, if you don’t tell people about your business and that you have this business in the first place, nobody’s ever going to find out about you. Nobody’s ever going to come through the door.

Absolutely. Very well said. Now, in terms of the, I know you had the mental health, were your target audience, is that right? The mental health practitioners.

Yep. So what role did that play in making it easier or harder or better or worse? Or what role did that play in your company being able to reach 350 clients a month? I mean, that’s a huge level. So if you were to have been saying you’re doing web design for all of anybody, any business anywhere, do you feel like that would have been harder or do you think that it was to your advantage that you had a specific target audience? Listening to a podcast is fantastic, but sometimes we need a more straightforward way to access information.

That’s exactly why I put together some free downloadable resources for you, including a free pricing guide with a free pricing list, how to get clients guide and how to manage your time better. These are packed with quick reference information and actionable steps that you can start using right away to enhance your own design business skills. Make sure to visit forthecreatives.com and get your free copies today.

So this is another piece of advice that I think my suggestions here may differ from somebody else. I think in your earliest days, it is 100% okay to be a generalist when you’re just getting up and going and you are trying to build a business. You are trying to become an entrepreneur.

I think it is generally unwise to pick a niche out of a hat or even pick a niche that you necessarily know that you want to work with until you’ve done some validation there. The way you can validate that business and the way you could validate your niche is just taking on a variety of projects. The reason why I encourage people to do this is you will oftentimes come across opportunities that you don’t expect.

That was the case for what we did at that agency where this was slightly before I came on board. But prior to that, they had been building websites for all types of businesses. It was just general small businesses in Colorado.

There was a mobile dog washing company we built a website for. There were lawyers, jewelers. It kind of ran the gamut of all these types of small businesses.

What happened is the founder of that agency, who is now my co-founder at Motion.io, realized that after building a website for his mother-in-law’s practice, that the industry as a whole was really outdated in terms of web design. This was 2015 and none of the websites had on-page SEO. None of them were mobile responsive.

None of them even had logos on them. It was using really outdated and kind of corny stock imagery, by and large. That was an opportunity that we recognized because we were working with a bunch of different people.

We didn’t jump into it too soon. That said, I think that once you identify opportunities like that, going all in on a niche, as we did, can be really powerful because what it allows you to do is supercharge some of your existing efforts and your existing marketing efforts. In the example of networking, you can go from networking with anybody to seeking out groups of clinicians online, introducing yourself, offering some valuable advice on marketing, and you can become more targeted over time.

What that’s going to allow you to do is spend less time overall on your marketing efforts. If you have an idea of your type of ideal client, you can be much more calculated with how you’re spending your marketing hours each week. It is something that I recommend, not as a blanket statement of you need a niche, but rather look for opportunities in those early days.

Take on projects you may not, or you normally wouldn’t, or you might not in the future, just to see. Because the only way you’re really going to surface these kinds of opportunities is by getting that experience and getting that exposure to different industries and different types of businesses with different types of needs. Great, great.

Yeah, I think I can see that, how it rolled out. But the fact that you were able to pinpoint it and jump on it is something that I think it’s a quality and it’s a skill that’s really important for people to be able to detect instead of continuing to go on with just doing everything. So that was good that you were able to spot that.

And one thing that I would add to that is when you are looking at choosing a niche, it doesn’t always have to be that specific. You could, for example, be working with… There’s all different types of ways to structure a niche. You could work with an entire category of businesses.

So for example, let’s say… Just to kind of illustrate this point, you could be working with any small businesses like in your area at first, and then you could narrow it down further. For example, real estate agents in your area, or you could kind of keep it higher level. You can also structure a niche like businesses who have a specific need.

So for example, small businesses that want to improve their conversion rates on their website. And you can specialize in offering that as like your service. If you’re a small business that wants to improve your website conversions, market yourself as that.

You don’t have to go ultra specific. But having an idea of who you are for, and sometimes even more importantly, who you are not for, is a really powerful way to target your marketing efforts so you are more calculated, you’re spending less time overall, and you go from throwing spaghetti at the wall to see if it sticks, to making a nice spaghetti bolognese. That’s a good way of putting it.

And there’s something that you brought up in one of your solo episodes about the transition you had to make in Motion.io when you were building it. And you had to transition from what you thought it was going to be to what you knew it needed to be. And the fear that went with that and the mindset to jump over that hurdle, which can be very, very hard.

And I think for designers who are trying a bunch of things and they really think that they know what they want, to transition into being more marketing tactical, as opposed to just design tactical, is a transition that I think it would be interesting to hear your insight. And just as an entrepreneur, what is that like? And what advice would you have to designers to adjust their mindset on that? Yeah, it’s a great question. Pivoting is hard.

It’s really hard to narrow your focus or change your focus on your business. Because in some ways, I think the human brain is wired to resist change, where we get this idea of what it’s going to be like, and what we thought our businesses were, or what our services or product was. And it can be a real mental hurdle that you have to climb over to get over that.

But what I will say is that a lot of times there are really good reasons to narrow down, to become more specific, to change your direction. Either it’s going to give you a more targeted approach for your marketing. Maybe it’s that you are actually providing a service that you know people want.

And it feels like you are doing less hand-to-hand combat, we call it sometimes, to close new deals and to find new clients. And you can transition to this place where clients are coming to you effortlessly. For example, like with Motion.io, when we had set… What we had set out to build initially was a project management software.

And what we quickly found is that it was complicated for many businesses to switch to a new way of managing projects. What we found wasn’t complicated was having them switch to a new way of managing clients and managing their onboarding and their client communication. Because they didn’t have really robust systems in the first place.

They weren’t necessarily switching away from anything. They were switching away from email or Google Docs. And we said, well, great.

We will just integrate with your project management tool and make all of those connections happen, allow you to embed things like Airtable views or ClickUp forms and all of this stuff. So you can keep managing the projects there as you’d like, but you can have this really streamlined automated system for onboarding clients, for communicating with clients. And that’s just our example.

But I think that another example of this is… I spoke with a guest on the podcast recently. And one of the things that… So she runs a design business. But one of the things that kept standing out to her was that there was a huge demand for startups to bring in somebody who would operate sort of like a fractional in-house designer.

Because what she found is that startups, a lot of times, and I can vouch for this because this is the case for us, they don’t have the budget to hire somebody full-time to do that design work. So it ends up following on a co-founder or they look at even worse solutions, things like Upwork or just paying kind of contract work to get that design work done. And what she had found is that people really valued somebody who would spend 10 hours a week within their startup, creating the design assets for them.

And it would be this retainer model. But that was a big mental roadblock for her because she enjoyed designing things and doing brand strategy and brand guides from the ground up. And she was a little bit resistant of that sort of retainer work because it catches some… There can be a negative connotation around it if you run a design shop or you are a freelancer.

But at the same time, that’s the service that people were asking for. And it’s not like she hated it. She enjoyed that work as well and found over time that there was immense value in coming in and being that person that could support a team, get to know a team.

And it’s a great example of how you can be resistant to change in some ways. But if you create that list of pros and cons and see the potential benefits, you can really build a business that aligns with your mission, your purpose, and the lifestyle that you want to live. So it doesn’t necessarily all the time have to be like the sheer numbers on paper or your growth goals.

There can be other reasons for making a pivot like that lifestyle that you want to live, that flexibility that you crave. And I think that that’s a big reason why most entrepreneurs start their businesses in the first place. They want to build something.

Yes. They want to be in charge of their own destiny. Yes.

But a lot of times people get into entrepreneurship for flexibility. And if you start looking at the picture of not just your business, but also your life, it can sometimes push you in ways that you might not expect. Well put.

Yeah, I could see that. And if you are trying these different routes or you’re going in one route, how long do you feel a designer, a design business owner, a web designer, how long do you feel that they should stick with one strategy to see if it’s working or not, or fits their own lifestyle or not, or even is getting them the clients that they want? How long would you advise her from your own experience before really looking at, should I do a change or should I try something else? I don’t know if it’s necessarily a set amount of time. But what I would say is that if you are a freelancer, you’re thinking about specializing in a type of design or a type of service, or you are considering a new niche, the biggest thing for me is before you make that decision to go all in, so to speak, do some early validation.

For example, let’s say you start working with contractors and you’re doing design work, maybe websites, other stuff for contractors. So people who come into homes and remodel kitchens, stuff like that. Before you decide to go all in on that, validate it.

So let’s say you have one good client who you work with, you enjoyed the work, the project went smoothly, the client was really happy, and you think that there’s another opportunity there. Before you ever make that decision to go all in and you adjust the copy on your website, you adjust the services that you’re offering to be tailored to that specific niche, work with a couple more of those clients. Make sure, I would say two to maybe five additional clients to make sure, because once you go down a path, it can be hard to change direction again.

And I think that that can be sometimes the thing that leads to somebody exiting entrepreneurship is they’re trying to pivot too many times and they’ve went all in on something too many times that it becomes unsustainable. And so I think that doing that sort of validation and setting a goal for yourself of like, okay, if I can get this many clients in this specific industry or who are interested in this type of service, this is the point, hard cut up, I’m going all in. And I would say, give it at least six months.

Obviously, if it’s not working right away, you probably haven’t done enough validation. So maybe it’s back to the drawing board, but I would say after you do go all in and you’ve done that validation, you’ve worked with those clients or even you’ve just spoken with potential clients who might be interested in the service or the specific service that you’re providing to an industry. Give it six months.

Good, okay. And then in terms of the actual pricing and how that works into the sales process, because I know you’ve had a lot of experience in sales. What have you found to be the hard, the challenges, bringing up money? What are the successes you’ve had with it and the things that have worked and have not worked and that you would advise to designers in using the best strategies for closing the clients or getting that marketing funnel to work well once they get the client’s attention? Yeah, yeah.

To start things off, I’ll say straight up, pricing is hard. It feels like you’re always taking a risk. It can be easy to feel like you are pricing yourself too high.

The reality for most freelancers out there though is you are pricing yourself too low. And I would encourage anybody who is at an earlier stage of their business to revisit their pricing right away because when you are a business owner, you need to factor in that you have expenses that extend far past your hourly rate. You need health insurance.

You need operating expenses for your business. There’s software that you need to subscribe to. There’s things, there’s equipment you need like computers and maybe you need some external, you know, design tools.

And when you bake all of those things in, you realize that I think a lot of folks often realize that they have priced themselves far too low for far too long. And going through that motion earlier is gonna help you in the long run. And I think that’s something important to keep in mind is when you are discussing pricing and when you are thinking about your pricing, understand that people are not just paying for your hourly labor.

They are also getting your expertise. They are getting years of experience. They are getting potentially the time that you spent in design school or taking courses, educating yourself on the latest design styles and how things have evolved over time.

Make sure you factor that in because I’m here to tell you that every other profession in the world does that. They factor in their experience. When you go to a lawyer, right? You don’t pay $25 an hour for your time.

You pay $500, $1,000 an hour because you are also paying for all of the expertise. You are paying for the years that they spent in law school. You are paying for the years that they spent working their way up to build their own practice.

I think that if you reframe your services that way, it can be really helpful for increasing your prices and charging the amount that not only you deserve, but the amount that’s going to allow you to build a sustainable business. That’s very well said. I think that the pricing is one of the most complicated points, but it’s all the mindset.

How have you seen, and just from talking to other designers and yourself working in the agency, what kind of mindsets going into these conversations with the clients or what to do when they bulk at prices? How do you overcome that or how have you overcome that? Yeah. Something to keep in mind when you are going into pricing conversations is first of all, it’s really helpful to understand the competitive landscape and how others are pricing themselves. Because if you can understand that competitive landscape, what it’s going to allow you to do is overcome objections much more quickly.

Let’s say somebody comes to you and they are, just to borrow from my previous example, a lawyer looking to redesign their website. They bulk at the price. They say, this is too expensive.

I could just build this myself. One of my favorite things to respond with, first of all, if somebody wants to DIY and they’re dead set on it, don’t push them. Probably best for the sake of your time to let them go.

But the thing that I recommend saying just before that is at least educate them on this one thing. This is the most important thing, I think, for overcoming that DIY objection is this lawyer comes to me. They say, your price is too expensive.

I want to design this myself. My response would be, well, you could totally build this website on your own, or you could 100% design this thing on your own. But what is your time worth? What are you charging for an hour of your work? Because you could be in the 40, 60, 80 hours it takes you to do this yourself.

You could be seeing clients in that time. You could be working on other aspects that will help you grow your business. And that’s something that I think I do like to inform clients of just going into those conversations if the DIY thing comes up.

Another piece about the competitive landscape is understand what your common competitors are doing and not doing for people. So for example, if you are doing something like a brand redesign for a company and they say, I could get this cheaper elsewhere. I could hire this online.

I could hire a contractor to do this for a quarter of your hourly rate. Tell them about your process. Tell them about your approach and what makes you different.

If I was a designer doing one of these sort of brand redesign projects, for example, I would tell them about the psychology of design that I use. I talk about how when we are doing their brand redesign, we’re not just going to ask them what they want or tell them or have them tell us what they want. We’re going to say, we’re going to use our experience.

We’re going to go out and do an analysis of the competitive landscape. We’re going to find out what works, what doesn’t work. We’re going to find how your product, your service, your business is uniquely situated in the market and build you a brand around that.

That’s a level of service that you are not going to get if you go with X, Y, or Z. That’s why we charge a little bit more, but you can see it in our results. Here are some testimonials that you can check out and you can see that this has done, that this has generated X number of new leads or it has expanded this brand’s reach by this amount. Having specific examples along with that idea of the competitive landscape can be really, really helpful when it comes to overcoming objections.

And by specific examples, I mean testimonials. Testimonials are a huge driver for overcoming objections because what I would say is I would send this client or this potential client that information. I would say, hey, here’s some testimonials about our work.

Here’s a little bit about our process. And by the way, if you want to speak to one of our clients firsthand, this is a past client that I’ve worked with and they’re totally fine chatting with you. That’s another thing that can be helpful if you have a client who’s willing to take a call once in a while to just share their experience with somebody.

And it’s all about evidence at the end of the day when it comes to overcoming objections. And the way that you provide that evidence is you explain your process. You talk about what you’re doing differently from competitors and then you’re backing it up.

You’re backing it up with testimonials, with reviews, with that social proof aspect. Because let’s be real, that’s what everybody wants these days when they’re looking to hire somebody, they’re looking for a product. It’s why we’re so obsessed with Yelp reviews and Amazon reviews.

We want to know that somebody else had a good experience before we dive in. Absolutely. Great.

And in thinking with the strategy to get people in and into those conversations, I just want to circle back one last time in terms of the marketing funnel. In what have you found, aside from referrals, what have you found to be the best way to set things up in place? Because there’s obviously ways, there’s social media, there’s getting people on an email list, there’s nurturing them with blog posts and content. For your agency, when you were working there, what were those funnels that were in place to really help drive the traffic inwards instead of you constantly having to go out and hunt? Yeah, yeah.

And so I commonly refer to this as you know, I know a lot of other people do as inbound marketing, right? You’re not having to cold call. You’re not having to sit there and make random dials to random businesses, dialing for dollars, as some people say. But rather those people are coming to you interested in the services that you’re offering.

So there’s a couple of key pieces within there. The first is that be very clear on the services that you offer and the value that people get from those services. Think about things holistically.

Don’t just say I offer design services or web design services. Explain why that’s valuable to somebody. And that’s going to be a key piece in getting those inbound leads.

Think about the job that folks are trying to accomplish before they hire you. There’s a fantastic book out there called the jobs to be done playbook. It’s a little bit more specific to building a product, but there’s also plenty of stuff in there that applies to service based businesses as well.

And basically, anytime anybody hires anybody, anytime anybody is looking for a product or they’re looking to hire somebody, they’re looking to accomplish a job. So what is that job that they need to do? Are they looking to generate more clients through their website? Are they looking to bring their brand into the, you know, into 2023 and update it from their branding that’s 10, 15, whatever years old. So think about that job first and educate people on that within your pricing pages and your marketing copy on your website.

So that’s kind of step one. After you have those pieces in place, I have one of the best things that we ever did for our funnel is produce educational content that we would put up on a landing page. So we would have webinars, free webinars that people could attend about marketing.

They were totally free. You didn’t have to be a client. It was for any therapist out there who wanted to improve their marketing.

I would go on those webinars. I would chat. I wouldn’t even discuss our services.

I’d pop in like a discount code at the end. But the whole entire content of the webinar was like, here are things that you can do to market your therapy practice. So the same thing could apply to designers.

Let’s say if you are building websites, educate, provide educational pieces on the most up-to-date things that business owners need on their website. Showing and providing information like that isn’t going to cost you clients because if somebody wants to DIY something, they’re going to do it themselves. You’re not going to most of the time be able to convince them away from that.

But sharing that information, making it available is a powerful way to generate those inbound referrals. So we would put up eBooks as well. Things that people could do that had nothing to do with their website.

Ways that they could network, ways that they could market themselves in various online communities, things like that. Just general tips that showed our expertise and our skill at marketing that when the time was right and they did want a website, we would be top of mind. So those are a couple of other pieces.

Some of the other things that you can explore are looking for other opinion leaders within a space. And this is again, where having a niche is really helpful. So if you work with the lawyer example again, are there people out there with podcasts, with YouTube channels that talk about the ins and outs of running a law business? Could you offer to come on there and talk about design and the importance of that or the importance of having a well-optimized website or a powerful brand identity that helps you stand out? Those collaboration opportunities were also instrumental in bringing us clients in the door because it’s that social proof piece again, where if somebody that your audience trusts has you on, they also trust you and they’re gonna be more likely to hire you.

So look for those types of opportunities as well to collaborate with podcasts, with other, with YouTube content creators, even with people on social media, go live with another thought leader that’s in your space or does something similar to you because it can really, really expand your reach and it can add a lot of fuel to the fire for existing marketing efforts that you’re doing. I think that’s a really good piece of advice that I’ve seen work as well, very well. So excellent.

And so Sam, I would really love to know and just kind of to wrap things up, I would love to know what do you see for the future of design, web design? I know that motion.io works with the whole web design and graphic designers and that whole space. So what do you see with the coming of obviously of AI and of everything that’s here and the times that we’re in right now, what do you see for the future of design and just your predictions with that? Yeah, it’s another great question. I think that with AI, it’s never gonna fully replace the need for agencies, for freelancers.

In fact, it can support a lot of the work that you do, but in my opinion, it’s never gonna fully replace. Now for some people who might have wanted to DIY a website or were bulking at a price already, maybe they’ll go and they’ll use AI for that. But there’s always going to be a large, large segment of customers in nearly every industry that’s going to want to work with a person, that’s going to want their expertise, their insights on what works well and what doesn’t.

And with that, I think that your client experience and the experience that you provide your design clients becomes even more important. Because even if you can’t compete with AI on sheer design work or design output, I personally think that you can. I think that there’s ways you can use AI but still have your own skills support like AI generated designs or mockups or whatever.

But the experience that you are providing customers, you will always be better than a robot and you always can be better than a robot. There are ways that you can use automation, that you can use AI to support your efforts. So for example, you can totally remove the need to send any manual emails or do manual follow-ups with something like Motion.io. But what that allows you to then do is spend that extra 15 minutes on a call with the client, getting to know them, getting to understand their business, explaining why you made certain decisions and educating them on the work that you are doing for them.

And if you can do that, AI can never replace you and you’re going to stand out from all of your other competitors. So that would kind of be my piece about sort of this next generation. I think that in 2023 and something that really emerged out of the pandemic is a digital experience for your clients became twice as important as it once was.

While previously, you might have been able to get by on things like just using email for everything or Google Docs for everything. I think that the time has come where clients almost expect a tailored experience. They want some kind of resource library, whether that’s in Notion, whether that’s in ClickUp, whether it’s in something like Notion.io, something that gives them timelines for their project.

They have all of their links right there. They know how to get in touch with you, know how to submit things like support tickets. But centralizing all of that and making it simple for the client is something that is going to become a even bigger expectation going forward, in my opinion.

So great, great. Well, and I definitely encourage everyone to go check out Notion.io. It’s a very, very simple to use platform that can be super helpful and effective. I’ve used it with some of my clients as well and getting feedback.

And what they’ve built is really a good, thoroughly tested support system for the design world and for agencies. So definitely take a look. And Sam, also tell us where they can find you on Instagram.

And I know the podcast Designing Growth as well is great. That can be found on Apple Podcasts and Spotify and all those places, right? I would definitely tell. Yeah.

Oh, yeah. Yeah, so on Instagram, we have two accounts. We have the Designing Growth Podcast.

That is just at Designing Growth Podcast on Instagram. We also have our Notion.io Instagram account, which is more like tutorials. We do post some podcast clips on there, but it’s more like tutorials, how to use Notion.io and kind of product updates.

If you want to connect with me personally, the place that I typically hang out and where I’m like, really kind of responding to messages is going to be LinkedIn. Just Sam Chilbowski on LinkedIn. Love to connect with you.

Send me a DM. They’re always open. If you do want to follow my Instagram, I did just make it public.

It’s really not even about work at all. It’s kind of just like personal stuff on there. It’s a funny name too.

It’s great at Grateful Meatball because I’m a big cook and I love the Grateful Dead. So I kind of mash the two things together, but feel free to follow me on there as well. Great.

You have pictures of your new baby as well there? My baby and my bulldog, my two babies. Awesome. Perfect.

Well, I’ll definitely follow you there. I haven’t at all. And I definitely, I follow emotion.io and you have great guests on the podcast and everything.

So it’s a good resource. And I’ll link to everything down below. And so that people who are watching this can also just simply click.

So great. Well, thank you so much, Sam, for being here. It’s been a really great and valuable conversation that I think if anybody who owns a design business or an agency listens to this will take away a lot of value.

So I really appreciate your time and for being here. Yeah, yeah. And thanks for having me, Lauren.

It was awesome to chat with you. And I would love to have you back on our podcast as well because it had been, I think it was like episode, like it might have even been like 28 or 30 that you were on. So I’d love to have you back on it again in the future.

Oh, I’d love to be there. Thank you. Awesome.

Okay. Bye, everyone. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Earning by Design.

If you found value today, I would be incredibly grateful if you could leave a review on your favorite podcast platform. Your feedback not only helps this podcast to grow, but it also helps to get in front of more designers who need help too. So thank you sincerely for being here.

And for more resources to help you succeed in the world of design, please visit forthecreatives.com. That’s the number four, thecreatives.com. We offer a variety of courses, programs, and free resources, all tailored to enhance your design skills and your business knowledge. Also, be sure to follow me on Instagram at forthecreatives for more updates and tips. And if you haven’t already joined my growing community of over a hundred thousand subscribers on the For The Creatives YouTube channel that has more content, all designed to fuel your creativity and your professional growth.

Until next time, keep creating, keep exploring, and continue to push the boundaries of your own creative journey. I’ll be here to guide and inspire you every step of the way.

Listen to this podcast episode on…

Learn how to market yourself as a graphic designer

Learning how to market yourself as a designer is a learning process and most creatives out of school don’t know anything but how to design. That’s why I wanted to discuss the topic of marketing with Sam Chlebowski who scaled Brighter Vision from 250 clients to over 5,000. So come join me as dive into agency marketing strategies applied to freelance designers with Motion.io’s Sam Chlebowski.

In this episode, we get into:

  • Most Successful Way to Get Clients
  • How to Start Getting Clients
  • Should You Niche?
  • Overcoming Fears as a Business Owner
  • How to Talk About Pricing
  • How to Handle a Client Balking at Prices
  • Strategy for Getting InBound Clients
  • What is the Future of Design?

Rate, Review, & Follow on Apple, Spotify or Google Podcast


Please consider rating and reviewing my show! This helps me support more people — just like you — build a graphic design business they can take pride in. Click here, scroll to the bottom, tap to rate with five stars, and select “Write a Review.” Then be sure to let me know what you loved most about the episode!

Also, if you haven’t yet, make sure to follow the podcast. I’m adding several bonus episodes, and you might miss them if you’re not following. Follow now to stay updated!

Additional notes and links mentioned in this episode

More about Sam:

Sam’s passion for helping business owners create scalable systems that allow them to generate more leads, close more deals, and run their businesses without feeling like they’re running out of breath is inspired by the impact he’s seen these systems make firsthand. Before Co-founding Motion.io in 2022, Sam led the sales, marketing, and customer success teams at Brighter Vision, helping to scale the agency from 250 to nearly 5,000 customers and an eventual acquisition in 2020.

*CONNECT WITH SAM*

Sam’s LinkedIn
Motion.io Instagram
Sam’s personal Instagram
Motion.io
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