How to Have Less Graphic Design Clients and Make More Money

Episode #5: How to Have Less Clients and Make More Money

Even though we were the slaves of our own business, we couldn’t really enjoy life. The business really owned us. We were not running and owning the business anymore.

And that is a scary place to get to because you feel that, well, I just have to keep going. I just have to keep going because there’s no way out at this point. We had built up the business, we had the clients coming in, we had the exposure, we had the skills to do it, but we were running ourselves into this grind where we could never even see that we would have a day off anymore.

And that was scary. That was a very scary situation. 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. My journey was not without its challenges, including finding well-paying clients and struggling and managing an overwhelming workload for minimal return.

But through perseverance and strategic planning, I was able to transform those obstacles into a six-figure design business that allows me to work from home, set my own hours, and select projects that truly resonate with me. So whether you’re embarking on your design career or you’re already an experienced designer, Earning by Design is your companion to help you stay competitive in the fast-paced world of graphic design. Hello.

Today, I am going to be talking in episode five, we’re going to be talking today about how to have less clients but make more money. Now, this is a funny, interesting thing because most people who, when they’re starting out, they think they need more and more and more clients. That was my mindset.

I just need to get more clients to make more money. And I had this goal of making $7,000 a month, $10,000 a month. But no matter how hard I worked, I could never get to that point for a long time, until I really, really changed some structure and things in my business, which I’m going to be telling you about.

So to illustrate the point of how this thinking that you have to have a lot of clients in order to make money is wrong, I’m going to take you back to a long time ago, back in 2017. So this was when I started to get an influx of clients. Now, I’m going to get into other episodes.

I’ll talk about how I started, how I got clients coming in and those types of things about structuring your business for attraction of clients. But right now with this episode, we’re going to be really focused about how to get less clients for making more money. So when I was getting more money, more clients coming in, in 2017, there was, I was out there working in getting blogs, people were finding me through Google.

I had referrals. I was in a lot of the communities for my ideal clients were, and I was getting an influx of clients. It was going great.

So I was like, yeah, I’m working all the time. I should be making lots of money. But at the end of the month, it was like relatively pennies.

I was making about three to 4,000. Finally, it got up to about four to 5,000, but still it was so not, not working very well. I was, I was always glued to my computer.

I had, even when I had up to 10 clients, it was a mess. I was just, then instead of it being more enjoyable, yeah, maybe I was making a little more money, but I was not enjoying life. So I don’t want that for you.

I want you to understand the mistake that I made at this point and how you can avoid it through my own silly story, which I’m going to tell you. So back in 2017, when I had these clients coming in, things were, the prices I was charging. This is what we’re going to be, I’m going to be making you see is pricing is so important.

For a logo, I was charging about $150. For a package design and a label, $100, $200. So where I would work about 15 hours on one of these projects, I would be making, if you look at the divide that, it’s about $15 an hour.

I think that’s even less if I calculate. So if $150 divided by, I was making $10 an hour. Now that doesn’t cover administrative fees, all the time you spend on back and forth emails, all the revisions, the phone calls, the meetings, the computer, the programs, all your equipment, your Wacom tablet if you use that.

You have to think with that big picture of not just the time spent, and even if it was the time spent, $10 an hour is horrific. And especially I was living in Los Angeles, not a good picture. So then what, I just kept going like this.

I got more and more clients. And I was run into this horrific situation where I had created this business so that I could work from home and be with my child, who was at that point about six months old. And yet I was not able to really even come up for breath.

It was working from 9am, sometimes even earlier, until the 10pm and into the wee hours of the morning sometimes. I had deadlines that were ridiculous. I would say to a client that I could get it done within a three day turnaround because I was such a people pleaser.

I wanted everybody to be happy with me. I thought that I had to just get this intense, everyone happy with me and my business would grow. Now just as a plug here, it is important to really focus on customer service, especially at those beginning days of your business.

But, and obviously from there on out, you should always be very customer or client focused. Those kinds of businesses definitely grow. However, when you are doing it at the detriment of your life, when you are, you have to get sick and you still have to work, when you are having to maybe have going through some really bad situations, but you still have to work, that is a trap.

And I was in this trap. I didn’t know how to get out of it. It was so upsetting.

I couldn’t go on vacations, thinking I would maybe take Christmas day off if I could. And I just, today, now, this last year, I took two weeks off at Christmas. It was the first time I ever did that.

And I, that’s what I want to continue this story and explain to you why it’s so crucial. Because I love my business now. I love it.

At that point, I was starting to hate it. I was starting to hate clients. I was starting to really, really get upset about these things and nothing, it wasn’t enjoyable anymore.

I wasn’t enjoying how things were going, how things were structured. And I would tell my husband and that I really was upset that I, I just, I feel like I’m, I’m on this constant hamster wheel, but I can’t get ahead. I can’t ever get to the point where I’m actually making some, some headway and, and getting into those debts.

It was barely even touching on the expenses. So it was a hard, it was really hard time. And I didn’t learn the lesson on what I really needed to do until years later.

So it kept going like this. I got the courage up to charge about another, I think, increase about a hundred dollars over the next year or so. My husband came on the team and he was a, is a trained photographer.

So we also started offering photography, but for photography and a listing design and everything, we were charging $300. With the amount of work that that took, we should have been charging way above 2000 and more. So it still went on like that though.

We continued to attract more clients in, and it was interesting in 2019, I started to raise prices more. So also I want to just put a point in the clients who are attracted to these prices. Now, not all of them, but a big majority of them were bad clients.

They were amateur. They were the type of clients that nowadays would go try to figure things out with AI and were not really valuing what I was offering. Now that’s not all of them.

There were some that were golden clients and are still with me today, even though I’ve raised my prices, which I am forever grateful for and I love them, but there were those ones. And that’s what you’re going to attract when you have your prices low. So I started raising prices in 2019, things got a little bit better and I started to think it was, but I just have to tell you, it was so scary.

It was so scary to go from $200 to $500. I thought nobody would ever pay me. And I, but when that first person did, it was, it was amazing.

It was so exciting. And obviously that’s still very low, but it was, it was this breath of fresh air that something was actually possible. They could pay more.

So then 2020, I started doing a lot more into marketing. I went on podcasts with my ideal clients I got, and I started to just get more and out there with the business. And I rebranded again at that point from my previous time.

I made it more like my, for the Amazon sellers. And I got, we got this massive influx where instead we were in the four to 5,000 range. Now we were in the 9,000 to $12,000 range on a monthly basis.

It was insane. So before we were, we were making about, we had about 10 clients a month and making four to $5,000. This was before I raised prices and got more influx.

And then once we raised a little bit, then we were doing nine to $12,000 a month with 10 clients still lots of work going on. It was, it was insane. So at that point I was still glued to the computer.

I barely had time for anything. I would run downstairs and have a quick meal and then run back upstairs to go keep working, keep working. It was not a lifestyle I wanted.

I had had my second kid by that point and she was always sleeping on me and glued to me. And you know, it was, it was an interesting time. I was under a lot of stress and it wasn’t what I would have wanted for somebody to go through.

So again, I learned my lesson at that point. I was very happy that we were able to get to those high amounts of money, but I was not happy about the amount of time it took to do that. And the amount of time I had to work on a daily basis, the amount of time my husband had to work, the amount of, of different projects we had going on all the client management.

When we were at some point, I think at 15 clients at the same time, all in one time. So what we did at that point is we, we just, even though we were the slaves of our own business, we couldn’t really enjoy life. The business really owned us.

Not, we were not running and owning the business anymore. And that is a scary place to get to because you feel that, well, if I just have to keep going, I just have to keep going because there’s no way out at this point. I’ve, you know, we had built up the business, we had the clients coming in, we had the exposure, we had the skills to do it, but we were running ourselves into this grind where we could never even see that we would have a day off anymore.

And that was scary. That was a very scary situation. So what happened is we were again, so afraid to make any changes because a good rule is when something’s working, don’t change it.

But I had to, we had to, it was just too stressful. So what we did is we changed two things. We started to automate and we brought Dubsado into our lives.

Now Dubsado has been amazing as a game changer for us. There’s other systems out there that also work very well, but I swear by Dubsado, it takes some time to get the setup right just as a point. But once you do it, it allows you to automate so much.

So we were able to save a lot of time because we would automate when the client would send an inquiry, it would go to our calendar to schedule a call. And then we would, they would have to fill out automated questionnaire. And once they did hire us, we could send the invoice, the project form, and the contract all in one email.

And then after they would sign, fill out the form, it would redirect to a page where they would get educated on how to work with us, what we expect. So that was really cool to have these systems starting to get in place. And the other thing we changed is the minimum level of engagement.

So instead of allowing all these dinky projects, well, they weren’t dinky projects, they were dinky prices. So instead of charging $300, we had this minimum level of engagement at that point that was nothing under a thousand. We will not take anything under a thousand.

And I’m telling you, we lost a lot of clients. However, our income did not change. That’s the magical thing.

So you think that, oh no, you’re going to lose all these clients when you start charging more. But there’s going to be those that stick with you. There’s going to be the ones who are willing to invest that much.

And they are going to then be more professional, more invested, more interested in really, really making a difference in their business. So they’re going to cooperate better. Now, obviously there’s not all of them.

I have still run into the ones that are nasty and horrible, but that’s the very, very, very small percentage. 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. Most of these clients at that kind of price range in the thousands tend to be a lot more professional, less amateur.

So with that, in 2021, we majorly up the prices and everything went to, we went to above 2000, which was so scary. I just have to reiterate the mindset with this. It’s not like you’re just going to start raising your prices and be like, yeah, I’m excited to talk to past clients about how their next time they want to work with me, they’re going to get, it’s going to be more money.

That is not a fun conversation to have. And I want to be real realistic is the subject of money for anybody. It’s so scary.

It’s just not something you want to be talking about because it’s awkward. You’re telling somebody to pay you for what you’re doing. And it’s, it’s almost, it’s for, it’s so close to yourself that if they say no, or, or you’re scared about, are they going to not like it? Or is you want to do a really good job? It’s a lot, it’s a lot on your mind regarding talking about money.

But if you start thinking about it, instead about how you’re scamming them and you’re, you’re, you’re not good enough and all these things, and you, you reframe it and think about your business is there to help them get closer to their goals. They wouldn’t be anywhere near your business if they didn’t see the value in it. If they didn’t see that they needed design in order to get more sales in their business, or more clients, or more funding, whatever that your specific type of client needs, they need your business.

They need a designer. So that’s why you just have to approach it differently when you’re having these conversations with these past clients, when you’re raising your prices and say, you know, I’m restructuring my business. I’m offering more, I’m offering more in depth with each client.

And I really am interested, I’m really going to be interested in having you continue as a client, but I’m going to have to increase my prices. And I’m just, you know, frame it in a way that you’re there to help them. You still really care and you would appreciate always if they decide to go somewhere else, you understand, but you’ve really appreciated them being a long-term client or having been a client in the past, and you’d love to help them continue to make a difference in their business.

So you just have to reframe it from this awkward feeling about talking about it to how you’re there to help them and you’re there on their team. And the worst case thing they say is no, thank you. I’m sorry.

I have to go find someone who can do it for cheaper. And that’s okay. There will be more clients.

Now you’re going to have less clients. This is something that shocked me though, was when I started to send proposals, when I increased my prices is I, I used to get a hundred percent of the time, every single person would say yes, yes, yes to the prices. So when I started going into the thousands, 2000s and above clients started, there was a percentage that would say, I’m sorry, that’s out of my budget.

And that was hard for me to hear at first. It was really difficult, but I realized I had to keep going because I didn’t want to go back to that lifestyle of having the business run me. So in 2022, to reflect everything that we wanted from the business, we decided to be more focused.

And the thing that we loved the most was branding. So we got rid of photography for the most part. There’s still a few select long-term clients that we do photography for, but only for major amounts like 6,000 to $10,000 projects.

So, but we, we got rid of the photography. We went really big on strategy for branding and identity. And that’s, that’s what we’ve been doing.

And it was a huge change. We went into now doing some 4,000, 5,000, 6,000, 10,000 and above projects, which has been insanely different than what it used to be. Instead of having 10 clients a month, I have two to three clients a month, about 10 clients a year, instead of what used to be 50 to a hundred clients a year.

It was insane, but I’m now making more than I was then. Every year the businesses have been growing and it’s been incredible to see that. So I was like, I referenced to, I was able to, for the first time in my business, take two weeks off for the holidays.

I used to have this mindset. I had to keep going. I was an entrepreneur.

I was this hardcore hustling woman who just had to keep going no matter what, while all the rest of the world took time off. I thought they were all lazy. And then I realized, you know what? That’s not, that’s not the truth.

They’re not being lazy. They’re just rewarding themselves for all the hard work that they’ve done the whole year. And absolutely, when you have kids at home during that holiday break, I didn’t want to be working.

I hated that. They would come try and talk to me and, and be with me. And I would say, no, I have to work.

It’s so painful as a parent to do that. I’ve just been, they’ve had snow day for the past week because there’s been an ice storm in, in Vancouver, Washington and Portland, where I, where I am. And that’s been, it’s been really hard because I’ve had to keep working.

This was not a scheduled time off. So that, but it’s a hard thing. You want to be there for your kids and you want to yourself, if you don’t want to be in this constant hamster wheel of, of, of just making little money for every project, having to have these bad clients who don’t appreciate you.

And you want that long-term that, that, that time with yourself, being able to work towards rewards and have good clients and work less. It’s going to be all about that switch of raising the prices and you’re going to having working less, having less clients. And one thing that’s really cool is that during the day I start work around nine o’clock and I take lunch around 1130.

I go for a walk after lunch with my husband. And then we start back about one o’clock. I then go have to go pick up my daughter about two 30 as when I leave the house.

So I work about, what is that? Under five hours a day. And that’s, I’m able to get everything done and I schedule things. So I’m not doing three-day projects.

I’m doing three-month projects or month projects or six-week type projects. And that’s the mindset. I am in control of the business now.

The clients, I’m not begging at the client’s needs. I’m not being propitiative to them. I’m not trying to ask for their business.

I am being a partner in their business and they have to work with my schedule, not me work and try and get them into my world. It’s a different frame of mind and it took me a long time to get to that point. So even if you’re a year in to your business, even if you’re a few months into your business, start adapting that mindset now and it’s going to save you so much time and headaches and upsets and stress.

Not saying that you’re not going to have that even when you’re making more money and having less clients because stress obviously is going to come in and there’s different ways to manage that, which I’m still working on myself. Walks and running and painting help a lot for me, but that’s a whole other topic. My main point for you is really, really take the time and review your prices.

Review your price strategies. See what you can do to raise them a bit. You can just do it in increments.

Maybe every new client you get, just raise it a little bit more and push yourself to do that. You’re going to thank yourself in the long run when you’re not pulling your hair out and going gray early. It’s a really, really important aspect and lesson I wish I had learned way, way, way earlier.

So for that, also you can go to forthecreatives.com forward slash pricing and you can get a price guide. There you can get the price guide that will help you to see ranges of where you should be at with a beginner and a medium designer, as well as figure out what you should be making on an hourly basis so you can calculate project prices. And this is all based on your expenses and everything so that you realize your time is not just gold, but you also have a lot of other things that go around.

You’re not just being the designer. You’re also the treasury and you’re also the sales and you’re the marketing and you’re the legal. You have to put together contracts.

You have to have the project management hat on as well. You’re doing the phone calls and the meetings. There’s a lot that goes into a project.

So you just charging a hundred dollars or a few hundred dollars or even five hundred dollars or anything that is under a thousand, honestly, it’s just not worth the time. So really rethink your own level of engagement, your own pricing. And I hope that you can come to the conclusion you are worth a lot and your time is very valuable.

And also, you got to also have other things in life. You can’t just be working all the time. You want to have some time to read a book or paint.

Get away from devices at the end of the day. It’s just not fun. It’s not mentally healthy to just always be on a device.

And I really recommend this is the way to do it. Getting your life back on and in gear. Also, I was able to take time off in May of last year to go and speak at a conference for a week.

We, my family and I, we drove up to Vancouver, to Vancouver, Canada, which is about a six hour, five to six hour drive. We got to take time there after the conference and have a little mini vacation. Like I’m planning a vacation to Disneyland, but I know I can do that because I’m in control of the clients.

Again, it’s all about what, why you want to have your business. Your business is obviously there to make income, but it’s also there to give you some freedom in life, some time freedom, and you’re going to be glued to the computer if you don’t change things and you don’t adapt a mindset that you’re the one that is helping those clients. You’re not graveling at their feet to work with you and doing anything for them.

Okay. Well, thank you very much for being here and listening to this, today’s podcast. It’s been an interesting to, for me to go back and really reflect on this point and how stupid I was at the beginning and how miserable I made myself because I could blame the clients all I wanted, but it was really up to me to make the changes.

So thank you for being here. I really appreciate each and every one of you and have a really wonderful rest of your day and week. And I’ll see you guys next week or you’ll hear from me next week.

Thanks again. Bye. 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 I transformed my freelance business to earn more by working less

I used to have tons of clients with very low paying projects, making me work night and day and on weekends to barely pay my expenses. I was at a point of extreme stress and burn out, working all the time for clients who were not paying very much. But I was able to adjust 2 main key points that helped me to reduce my work hours, take vacations and have less overwhelm.

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