The Client’s Guide to Print

Print is my favorite media to work with and, as such, I love to help my clients manage the printing process. Transforming a piece from a digital PDF to a printed product that you can hold in your hand is a reasonably simple process if you’ve done the requisite planning to make the magic happen.

However, since so few people have had the privilege to work so closely with printers, the process can seem a bit daunting from the outside. To help mitigate some of your printing anxiety, here is a quick run-down of what you can expect when you decide to slap your design on to paper.

Step 1: Paper and finishing

Before you even get started throwing images and fonts at your designer, you need to consider the end product. Since print is obviously a physical medium, you’ll need to spend time thinking about what the end product will look like and what function it needs to serve.

Paper is one of my personal favorite places to start. Each type of paper, or stock, is unique in its own way and changing the paper can dramatically change the way your piece looks and the way its recipients respond to it.

For example, an elegant gala with a vintage 1920’s theme might use an uncoated, off-white stock, whereas a brochure for an industrial company would likely use a shiny, clean white stock. Each stock has advantages and disadvantages in terms of printability, longevity, and cost. There are literally thousands of stock options so it’s important to review your vision first and make sure your paper fits into it.

Finishing is also incredibly important to your project and must be among the first things considered. If your piece will mail, are you putting it in an envelope or mailing it by itself? What type of postage will you use? Is it small enough to mail flat rate or will you be charged an additional fee at the post office? All of these aspects are hugely important to consider as you don’t want to get saddled with unexpected costs at the end of your project and you definitely want to be certain it can get to its intended audience without any issues.

Finishing can also include details like folds, custom die cuts, and even foil or embossing. All of these features add exciting dynamic aspects to your piece but need to be incorporated in the very beginning to avoid confusion and extra costs down the line.

Step 2: Design for print

Now that you have all the groundwork laid, your designer will take the helm for a while. Designing for print is much the same as designing for web in principle but includes many unique challenges as well.

During the review process, your designer may point out any potential issues with fonts sizes, image resolution, or issues that may arise as a result of the piece’s layout. Be sure to remain flexible during the process but never be afraid to share your opinions honestly – not every request can be accommodated but we can always find a way to compromise.

For more insight into the designer’s side of the print process, check out our article here.

Step 3: Estimates

When the design is about 80% complete or when you’ve received your first mostly-complete draft, it’s time to get the process started with the printer. If your piece is especially complicated or if you’re sticking to an absolute budget, I would recommend scooting this up to Step 1.5 – make sure that you’re comfortable paying for the final product before you get started designing.

Most projects, however, can wait until you’ve got your design nailed down before reaching out for a quote. If the designer has worked with printers before, they may have a recommendation on who you can contact based on your project’s needs but, if not, feel free to reach out on your own.

You’ll need to know some basic information about your project in order to get a quote such as size, any folds or cuts, any binding, mailing, or fulfillment work that needs to be done, the type of paper, the colors of ink, and the quantity. We established most of this in Step 1 but if you have any questions, your printer or your designer are perfectly equipped to answer them.

You can ask for a few different quotes if you’re trying to see what’s in your budget but you can also always ask your sales representative where their price breaks are. A printer should never charge you for a quote.

Once the design side of the project is completely finished, you may need to return to the printer for a final, updated quote if the type of paper, the quantity, etc. has changed. The printer will need a 100% accurate quote with your seal of approval on it before they will start working on your job.

Step 4: Payment

Most print shops do not ask for a deposit upfront – and they should never ask for payment in full before the job is printed – but most do require that you fill out a credit application so they are guaranteed to get paid upon delivery. These are simple forms that your sales person will email over to you but that must be completed before they will start printing.

This process is usually only required for new clients so subsequent projects will skip right over this step.

Step 5: Final files and proofs

Now things are getting really exciting! You or your designer will send over a print-ready PDF (or the native files if the printer requests it) and you’ll be ready to receive your first proof.

Proofs come in two forms – digital or hardcopy. A digital proof is just a PDF of your project that gives you one last chance to check spelling, layout, images, etc. I would strongly recommend that both you and your designer review this proof as both of you will be looking for different things and the more eyes you have on it, the better. The printer will likely send you this type of proof by default unless you specifically request a hardcopy.

Hardcopy proofs are usually reserved for more complicated projects or higher quantities. Some printers charge to create a press proof for you while others will do it as a complimentary service – be sure to ask your salesman in advance if you would prefer this type of proof. Many printers also offer the option to see your piece get printed in real time at a ‘press check’. While this applies largely to offset pieces, your printer should be able to accommodate something if you are worried about the way the piece will print.

Step 6: Printing

Now that everything is in the hands of the printer, people start to get excited to see their final product and start asking “when will it be ready?”. While there is no exact answer to this question, there are certain industry standard expectations based on the quantity and complexity of your piece.

Always start by asking your salesman what their timeline looks like and let them know if you have a deadline you need to meet. However, some basic guidelines include 2 – 3 days for small digital pieces in small quantities like business cards and postcards, 3 – 5 days for larger digital jobs and some small-run offset jobs, and 5 – 10+ days for anything with higher quantities, custom cuts, embossing, foil, binding, or mailings. Again, these times can vary hugely depending on the printer and the project.

Step 7: The final product

Finally, the printer will send you an email or give you a call to tell you that the glorious moment has finally come – your project is finished!

Most larger printers offer local delivery on their company-owned trucks or they will ship your pieces to you for an extra fee. Additionally, if you want to avoid the shipping costs all together, you can see if they’ll allow you to come by the shop and pick up your pieces yourself.

Make sure to inspect any boxes when you receive your shipment and check to make sure that your piece is the right size and on the right stock, all of the pages are in-register, and that nothing funky happened during binding and shipping.

And that’s it! Get ready to enjoy your fabulous new print piece and the fruit of all of your hard labor!


Got more questions? Feel free to contact us and get all the info you need to make your next project an absolute success!

How to Thrive in Your Home Office

Header image: It’s very difficult to avoid distractions when there is no one to hold you accountable. Even worse, it’s almost impossible to ward off the occasional bouts of sleepiness when your coworkers are snoring under your desk.



As a freelancer, I do a good deal of my work from home. Sometimes I’ll work on-site in a client’s office, occasionally I’ll go to a coffee shop, and if the weather is nice then I’ll set up camp outside (let’s be honest though – in Houston that’s limited to about three days a year). However, most days you’ll find me in my lovely home office.

Over the years, I’ve sought out a lot of advice about how to successfully manage your time and keep yourself on-task when working from home. Some of these suggestions have been incredibly helpful and have been integrated into my daily routine, while others seemed a bit over the mark for my personal taste (I’m not dressing in business formal every day to sit in my home office – nice try).

Below are my top 6 tips for making your home office a more productive space whether you’re a full-timer like myself or just need the occasional moment of focus in your own home.

Make time to do what you love.

Obviously, paying jobs are a huge portion of – well… your job. That doesn’t mean, however, that you need to keep your nose to the grind stone for 8+ hours straight each day. One of the best parts of working from your home office is that you can allot time to do something that you really love doing in addition to your existing work.

For example, I like to get any difficult tasks that I’m not necessarily looking forward to out of the way first thing each day when I’m the most focused. This frees up a lot of my time in the afternoons so that – instead of trying to find excuses to put off that thing I didn’t want to do – I can dive right in to a fun side project as a reward for getting the rough stuff done earlier.

Even if you don’t adhere to a schedule like this, it is absolutely essential to make some time for yourself each day.

Find a schedule that works for you.

I hate mornings so waking up early and getting right to the grind was one of my least favorite things about my office job. Now I choose to work starting at about 9:00 a.m. on a fairly regular basis. This gives me time for a morning walk with my dogs and plenty of opportunity to shake off the last vestiges of sleep before I have to be a responsible business person.

If you love mornings then by all means – wake up at 5:00 a.m. and have at it! If you’re more efficient in the evenings then set up your day so you can work more when the sun goes down. Whatever schedule feels more natural for you, go for it! The goal here is to find a way to be efficient and you certainly can’t do that if your schedule doesn’t match your lifestyle.

Don’t be afraid to take breaks.

Breaks are looked down upon when you work for a big company because it makes you look lazy. However, the fact is that no one can effectively do anything for eight solid hours and they shouldn’t be expected to.

Breaks are one of the best tools for increasing efficiency, in my opinion. I know that may sound a little counter-intuitive but sometimes the mind just gets tired and needs a little break to refocus and re-energize.

For example, I know that my attention lags about every two hours so I make certain to get up, walk around a little, refill my tea, and just take a second to clear my mind. This is another great bonus that my dogs coworkers offer – they get a fun little run outside every few hours and I get a chance to relax for a bit.

When you find your attention wavering, consider taking a small break to give yourself a moment of rest.

Make a plan for the future.

I never call my day finished until I’ve come up with a plan for the next day. Often times, I will plan out my whole week as best I can on Monday just so I don’t have to worry about scrambling around from day to day. I find this is particularly useful when setting goals for looming projects and establishing a social media schedule.

When you create a plan for your day, you avoid a lot of the dread and procrastination that can come with scheduling.

Establish a set work space in your home.

This is the one that I think really trips people up when they’re first starting out. Part of getting in the mindset to work and avoiding distractions (lookin’ at you, my beautiful Netflix-enabled HDTV) is setting up a designated work environment within your house. I personally have my own special office that I use for absolutely nothing but work. That way, when I sit down at my desk, I am already in the zone and ready to do my job.

If you don’t have a room in your house that you can make into an office, try to sit somewhere that you don’t normally hang out when you’re relaxing in the evening. Avoid your TV and your cozy living room couch and perhaps settle for a dining room table. Once you establish a designated work area, you’ll find that it’s a lot easier to focus when your butt hits the “work chair”.

Wear what you can work effectively in.

I had to include this last one because people are always telling me that you need to dress the part – if you’re doing work, dress in work clothes. Of all the advice I have received, this is the one I get most often that I disagree with the most fiercely.

Why? Because “business” clothes are often just downright uncomfortable. I will never choose a stuffy jacket and slacks over some sweet yoga pants and a t-shirt.

Don’t get me wrong here – this tip is just like all the others. You absolutely must find something that works for you personally. If you find that you need that polo to focus on your work then you wear that collar proudly, my friend. If you get the most done when you’re in pajamas then don those PJs and get to it! The point here is that you can’t let others tell you how to dress in your own home because, when it comes right down to it, they don’t have to wear the clothes – you do.

Showering is always a good idea regardless though. Don’t stop showering.

Learning to Listen

Header image: logo design is about 10% design skill, 30% design knowledge, and 60% listening to what your client is (and isn’t) telling you. Our logo design process for Redfish was a good example of giving your client more to talk about if they don’t really have a distinct idea in mind.


I am not a very good listener. I am guilty of forgetting what someone has just told me and realizing with shame that I wasn’t really paying attention to what they had to say. It’s a terrible habit and I don’t really know when it became so commonplace for me to mentally withdraw from conversation. I do, however, know the moment I realized that I had some very serious work to do on my listening skills.

Long story short, I was working on a large case-bound book for a local organization to celebrate a milestone. They kept giving me ideas for what they wanted to see and I kept dismissing them for what ‘I knew’ they really wanted. In the end, I finally opened my ears and we got the finished piece, which they adored, on-press just in time but that feeling of having absolutely no idea what to do about my client’s displeasure has stuck with me ever since.

Admittedly, all of us fall into the habit of being poor listeners from time to time – we’re all busy and we’re all consumed with our own thoughts. However, I have recently found listening to be one of the most valuable skills a person can learn. People who listen well not only do their jobs better but people tend to like them much more. And so, without further blabbering, I present my top three tips to help you improve your listening prowess.

Give up trying to be so interesting.

I don’t mean that you need to dull yourself down or diminish your accomplishments – far from it! When the moment is right, use your fascinating life and talents to add meaning and depth to the conversation but – and here’s the kicker – don’t start preparing your speech while your conversational partner is still talking.

This is a mistake that so many of us make – we get so focused on what we’re going to say next that we completely tune the other person out. Others often pick up on this and soon the conversation just becomes two (or more) people politely enduring the chatter of others until they get the opportunity to talk about themselves again.

To avoid this, I have been attempting to make myself approach conversation a little more organically. Instead of trying to prepare something interesting to say as the other person is speaking, I try to take away little bullet points from what they’re saying. Maybe their daughter just turned 5 years old or perhaps they just got an advanced degree – maybe they even just went shopping and really like the new shirt they’re wearing. It doesn’t have to be big, just meaningful.

Then, when it’s your turn to speak say something related to one of your bullet points to engage with your conversational partner or, if you don’t have anything to add, ask them to expand on something they’ve already said! This brings me to my next point –

Ask questions.

People love talking about themselves and I certainly don’t mean that at all as a negative attribute – it’s just a fact. And, this is also the greatest conversational tool out there.

Because everyone likes to talk about themselves, the people in their lives, their hobbies, woes, triumphs, and even ho-hum moments, you have endless conversational prompts that you can grab on to. Ask about their children, their spouse, their job, their pets – whatever! Asking questions not only shows your interest in the person but it also makes you stop thinking so much about your role in the conversation and focus more on the other party.

Make it fun.

As I’ve said before, even if you’re doing your best to listen well, we all experience lapses from time to time. I often feel my attention straying after about an hour of fierce networking so I employ my favorite listening method – I make it game.

In this game, I try to remember as much as possible about the person with the intent of bringing up those same points the next time I see them. If I’m in a large group setting, my goal is three facts (and a name!) from at least 15 people. In smaller settings, I increase the number of facts and tidbits I’d like to remember. This little game has given me a way to measure my listening skill overtime by how well I remember someone’s name and personal little details next time I meet them. I feel an immediate sense of satisfaction when I remember pieces of these people’s lives and they often feel better connected to me in return.

However you decide to enjoy listening, remember that it’s all just to help you get in the habit of doing it more naturally. Some of us (me) need more practice than others so giving yourself a little mental challenge can be a great way to encourage better communication.

As I get better, I am delighted by the way people respond when I remember things about their lives and express an interest in them and I feel like I am able to form a genuine connection much more quickly. Just a little bit of effort and focus can really make a difference in the way those around you perceive you and the way that you perceive yourself.

Good luck out there!

The Printer’s Guide to Design – Starters

Header image: Getting your piece set up correctly from the beginning makes all the difference in the world. If you’ve got your sizing, pagination, layout, folding schemes, colors, etc. all in place before you send it over to the printer, the odds of your work coming off the press looking perfect increase exponentially. Here, we’ve got a six-page brochure set up for print in Adobe InDesign.



Print – frequently utilized but seldom understood.

Despite the on-going misconception that print is a dead medium, print and paper sales continue to grow year after year. People may be less inclined to pick up a newspaper than they used to be but when even tech giants like Google and Amazon use mailers and print media, you know they’ve gotta be on to something.

So let’s put that debate aside for the time being and get into the nitty gritty – you’ve got the funds and you’ve got a great idea but how do you translate it over to paper? Where do you start?

Well first off, get yourself a great designer [insert obligatory self promotion here] and then just skip the rest of this article because any good print-maker should know all of this by heart.

However, if you’re new to print media or if you’re just looking for ways to make your local prepress technician happy, then get your mock-ups ready and read on to get my checklist on getting that perfect piece into print.

1. Choose the right program

This one might seem ridiculously simple but you would be surprised at how many issues print shops run into because someone made an 8.5×11″ poster in Photoshop at 72 dpi and then wants to blow it up to 24×36″ – yikes. You can actually count the pixels on the finished product when that happens.

I use primarily the Adobe Creative Suite so each project usually involves InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, or a combination of the three. With these and all design software, it is crucial to know your vision before you even start on a project. If it’s going to be text-heavy, use InDesign. If you’re making a logo, it absolutely must be done in Illustrator or another vector program. If you put raster images in Illustrator, you end up with needlessly huge files sizes and text in Photoshop loses any vector aspects when you save it as an image.

Know the specialties and weaknesses of each of your programs and choose the appropriate one from the very beginning. And seriously, stop laying out 8-page brochures in Photoshop.

2. Think about folds

If your project does anything other than cut to finished size and lie flat, you absolutely need to think about folding schemes from the very beginning.

For example, if you’re designing a self-mailer (if it dumps right into the mail with no envelope) you have to be very careful about the placement of your mail panel. If you design your piece and neglect this portion until the very end, it will cause problems on-press and at the post office. God forbid you put your final fold at the top of your mail piece instead of the bottom.

Whether you’ve got a tri-fold, a gate fold, a letterfold, or whatever, you need to consider the layout and final orientation of all the art from the very beginning.

3. Make it the right size

Again, this one seems very simple but I guarantee you that print shops get files that are incorrectly sized each and every day.

As soon as you create a new document, you set the page size and orientation. This defines everything you do going forward so you must be certain that you type in the correct dimensions from the beginning or you will suffer for it in the end.

One of the most common errors printers see is a mail piece that doesn’t fit in its envelope. Sounds silly, right? It happens all the time – people get excited about their beautiful 5×7″ invitation and completely forget that they ordered A6 envelopes (4.75×6.5″). If you’re making a 12×18″ poster, then don’t create your art on an 8.5×11″ sheet; it won’t scale properly and it just costs everyone time, frustration, and ultimately money.

Most paper size errors are at least fixable but why not just get it right from the beginning?

4. Make it bleed

This tip always sounds so gruesome but it’s not as bad as you think. “Bleed” is an extra bit of artwork – usually .125″ on each side – that gives the person cutting down your print job a little bit of slack when they’re trimming your piece to size.

Print shops almost never run something at finished size because that’s just not very efficient and it would be nearly impossible to get images to go all the way to the edge of the paper that way. Instead, printers run several of each piece up on a larger sheet of paper and then trim them down to final size. This allows them to run jobs in a cost-effective way that also results in better-looking pieces.

Because of this, you need to build bleed into your files. On the set up screen for programs like InDesign and Illustrator, there is a bleed option just after you type in your document size. From there, all you need to do is make sure your images go all the way to the bleed line but keep any text or crucial elements at least .125″ away from the edge of the paper – remember that the bleed will be trimmed off so don’t put anything pertinent in there.

5. Think about color

Color is one of the easiest aspects of document set up because for the most part, the design software takes care of all of this for you. However, don’t get too wild with your colors and pay attention to the types of colors you’re adding in.

For example, avoid using RGB swatches for print pieces. Print uses the CMYK color spectrum so, while the colors can be easily converted from one to the other, they never look quite the same. You don’t want to select the perfect color only to be very disappointed by its CMYK counterpart.

Also avoid using too many spot colors. They slow the process down and confuse your prepress technician. They’re alright for logos and such but can cause issues down the road so keep them to a minimum if possible.

Lastly, use 4-color text very sparingly. If you’ve got 8-point text that is 60% cyan, 60% magenta, 60% yellow, and 100% black, your poor pressman has to try to get all of those tiny dots perfectly aligned on press, which is simply not going to happen. Make all small text 100% black if at all possible.

And stop using the ‘Registration’ color swatch. Period.

6. It’s all about images

Photos and illustrations are probably the most important and yet most overlooked aspect of any print piece. Invest the time and money into getting good images. Color-correct them so that no one in your photos looks orange or green and keep them from getting too dark or too washed out. And, above all, check the resolution of each and every photo you use.

Nothing says ‘I know nothing about print design’ quite like an ugly, pixelated image. One of the reasons I love InDesign so much is because of its handy ‘Links’ panel, where it will give you a host of details about each image, including its actual and effective resolutions. I check this panel relentlessly as I design because nothing spoils a piece like a fuzzy image.

Invest the time in finding good images for your pieces, whether you cruise through stock photo sites or go out and snap a few of your own. It is worth it.


There you have it! There’s always more to learn and more ways to improve but these basic tips should at least get you started on the right foot. Still think you need some assistance? I know someone who can help with that.

How to Invest in the Right Things

Header image: Our recent social media post featured a work-in-progress commission for someone that really loves Mumford & Sons. In their song Awake My Soul, they sing the line found on the image – a line that I believe has resonated with many people in the years since the song’s release.



Where you invest your love…

I actually sat down today to write a post about the five biggest printing mistakes designers make, but I suppose you’ll just have to wait with bated breath for that one until next week (in the meantime though, please Google ‘how to add bleed to your print files’).

But as so often happens in life, I got too caught up in humming this song as I drew the piece in the header and my thoughts drifted so far away from print mayhem that I find myself uninspired to rant about the topic today. So instead, as I bravely (or feebly, somedays) work toward a life bursting with fulfilling moments, I thought I would share the tips that I have gathered so far in my limited experience about how to make the things you love – whatever they may be – a bigger part of your life.

Where you invest your love, you invest your life

1. Make your passion marketable

This may seem a little easier for some interests than others. If you love working with cars and getting grease on your hands then it seems quite obvious that you need to devote yourself to doing just that – become a mechanic, a tech, a one-make specialist, etc. But what about our more abstract passions? Our green-thumbs, book nerds, introverts, adventurers, and whoever else, whose path to daily personal happiness lies in a talent that seems, for lack of a better term, useless in an office.

Artists, for example, fall into this rather ambiguous grey-area where you could end up getting very famous and painting an Obama portrait, or you could end up nearly-homeless in your shabby loft, sitting idly with your three cats and wondering why no one will acknowledge your art for the masterpiece it so clearly is. I myself had no idea that art was a legitimately marketable skill until I’d spent four years and more money than is proper to mention in polite company on a degree that had very little to do with my passion.

The moral is this – if you love to do something, there is a way to sell it. Maybe you need to refine your talent first to make it sellable – so be it! Take courses and become incredible at it. Maybe you need to find the right audience – many crafting talents especially have found a home on the internet on sites such as Etsy. Or maybe you take it slowly at first and make a hobby out of it, showcasing your abilities to friends and family. You’d be surprised at how much interest you can garner in something just through word-of-mouth.

Whichever path you choose, incorporate more of your passion into your daily life and find a way to at least supplement your 9-to-5 with it; investing more of yourself into this passion will help you not only hone your skills, but will also allow at least a piece of your income to be something that you can truly be proud of. We all have to work to make a living so why not spend some of those working hours in joyous self-fulfillment?

2. Learn to invest in people

This has to be one of the most difficult lessons that I’ve had to learn throughout my life. Many people will course through our inner and outer circles as we traverse life’s highway and there are few skills quite as important as learning which people to cling to and which to let drift away.

I can’t of course tell you which person to ditch and which to keep, but I often find myself asking two simple questions when in doubt: do they make you better in some way and do they care about you as much as you do for them?

Drop the people that never call you first, that always demand too much of your time with their selfish rantings, and that seem to drain the life out of you with each interaction.

Instead, invest yourself in those few people that buoy you up, that believe you can be better and encourage you, and that are there when you need them. Invest in real friends and genuine colleagues and stop wasting your time on people with no interest in being good to you.

3. Make that one purchase that will really change your life

An article with ‘investing’ in the title would be a little bit of a let-down if I didn’t include at least one money tip, don’t you think?

Now, I’m not suggesting that you go out and buy the new Corvette, or spend a bundle on some impulse electronic, but don’t be afraid to buy that thing you’ve always wanted and that will help you in your quest for happiness. Think of it this way – in a year, will you still be glad you purchased it? Will it make your life better in some way, no matter how small, each day?

For me, my big purchase was the computer I’m currently typing on; man, I love this thing. Not only is the solid-state hard drive impressive and the graphics card top-of-the-line, but it enables to me live my dream each and every day (see point 1). It was a very big one-time expense but over a year and a half later, it’s still one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.

Maybe some of you are thinking that the new 72″ flat screen OLED TV that you saw at Best Buy would help you find your zen – and you may be right! My husband bought his dream TV almost two years ago and still finds happiness in it daily. Your dream purchase doesn’t necessarily have to be ultra-practical but make it something that matters deeply to you.

Whether you buy a camera, a really nice new set of knitting needles, a new backpack for your climbing adventures, or maybe just that book you’ve been wanting to read for a while, don’t be afraid to invest money in your own happiness.


Above all, remember that each day we are given only so many hours and so many minutes to carve out our time in this world. Invest in your passion, your family, friends, and colleagues, and occasionally in Target, Best Buy, or Bass Pro Shops. Invest in what you love and you will grow to love your life as well.

The Power of Reciprocity

Header image: Isn’t it amazing how a simple note can really change your mood? We featured this one on our Instagram because we have have a weakness for print – but there are literally thousands of ways to give back to the people you value.



Noun – the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.

We’ve all had that friend – or perhaps occasionally been that friend – who always takes more from the relationship than they give.

They call you up late at night asking you to solve their problems for them but then can’t seem to make time for you when you need them. They drink all the beer in your fridge but never seem to have anything to offer when you go to their house. They call themselves a friend but you’re left wondering if they even know the first thing about you.

Sooner or later, the friendship suffers because no one wants to feel like they’re constantly being drained by the people around them. Eventually, you just get tired of giving so much and receiving so little.

As with most things, I find that this lesson can also be applied to the business world.

Clients and partners come to you looking for a service and expecting to receive something worth their time, capital, and energy in return. You – of course – deliver an exemplary product and then go about your merry way. For most of us, that’s the end of the interaction.

But, doesn’t this sound very similar to our part-time friendships? The real trouble with many of these false friends is that they are both reactive instead of proactive and they lose themselves in the security of a relationship that they never bother to properly maintain.

And, as with these uneven friendships, when your business is reactive to the needs of its clients and you allow the relationship to suffer, your clients end up feeling rather like you’ve only come by to drink all of their Bud Light.

So how do we ensure that our clients know how much we value them? Well, as with any human interaction, there are thousands of ways to go about it but – because that would be one hell of a blog post – I’ve decided to just bump that number down to my top 5. So here it is, my top 5 ways of reciprocating the faithfulness and attention that my clients give me.

Be proactive

There’s nothing that makes you feel valued like receiving a random text from a friend who is just checking in on you. Knowing that someone is thinking about you even when you’re not staring them in the face is such a nice feeling – so why should the business world be any different?

Ok, maybe don’t text your clients to tell them that you’re thinking about them – a little too much – but occasionally send an email asking how their quarter is going, make sure their new offices are working out for them, or checking on the latest contract they acquired.

You don’t even need to try to sell them anything in these messages – just putting yourself in front of them and humanizing your company is a great way of subtly saying that you value them.

Find excuses to tell others how awesome your clients are

I love talking about my clients. Design is, at its center, a very intimate endeavor because you need to get to know the core of a client’s vision and dreams for their business. Because of this, I develop a very sincere passion for each company I work with – their success becomes my success.

Because of this bond I feel with them, I cannot stop myself from praising their works and proudly shouting about their accomplishments in face-to-face conversations and social media.

Sometimes, word of my enthusiastic rantings will get back to my client who appreciates the hype and my loyalty – but most times, I’m happy to talk about them just because I know that I can only do what I love to do because of their faith in me. If you’re not excited about your friendships, then you’re friends with the wrong people.

Send them something ‘real’ just because

In spite of what all modern media seemingly wants us to believe, print and paper still have a very real impact in our lives each and every day.

Say what you want about the digital age but aren’t you just tired of receiving so many emails? Don’t you secretly (or, in my case, very obviously) love getting something permanent that you can hold and be proud of?

Send your clients something meaningful with a note inside that just reminds them of your gratitude. Thank you notes or Christmas cards are great ways of giving something special, something that took a little bit of extra time on your part, to show your gratitude.

Offer them something special for their loyalty

Everybody loves a discount and your clients are no exception.

I personally offer a referral discount for my clients – you refer someone to me, they get a nice discount on their first project and you get a discount as well. My clients can refer as many folks as they like and continue to accrue discounts because I think this is a system that benefits everyone.

You can offer a discount for every tenth project, send them a free gift after their first purchase, or do a punch-card discount when they accumulate rewards for loyalty. Whatever route you take, it gives people an incentive to keep coming back.

Always reciprocate

Give your clients as much (or more!) as they give you. They trust you with their brand, their company, and their passion. In return, trust them to be an ambassador for you, to do the right thing for you, and to come through on their promises.

You won’t always be rewarded for your faith – that’s simply the nature of the world we live in. Sometimes you will spend all of your energy on a client that will give you almost nothing in return. Sometimes, you end up with a false friend that doesn’t have your best interest at heart.

But, as a business, you can never be that friend. When a client needs you, give them your full attention. Commit to the people you choose to do business with and remember that each of us is looking for someone to treat us fairly and kindly. If someone is good to you,  be even better to them. Always reciprocate kindness.

And buy your own beer.

Getting Started

Header image: my first round of Antares logos, which some may recognize and which were retired after only a few short months of use when I finally took the hint because I got tired of people saying, “oh, it’s some kind of fox?”


Make no mistake – I am fully aware that this post will go largely ignored by the overwhelming majority of people out there. Since I am fresh out of the box, the only people likely to see this are my ever-faithful cheerleaders: my parents (hi guys!).

But, despite that, here we are. One day, this archival post may prove useful to someone just starting out who is inspired by my work, wit, and success (one can dream, right?). So I’d like to take a minute to look back over the last year of my journey, when this whole endeavor started out as a vague fog in the back of my mind and has slowly grown into something real and almost-tangible.

It takes a lot of time to rearrange the puzzle pieces of your life to accommodate a dream that you never even thought possible so don’t let slow progress deter you. At the end of the day, patience and exactness really pay off when you’re fumbling your way through those first couple of months.

So here it is, my top three tips for those poor souls that are furiously Googling how to branch out on their own for the first time, feeling lost, a little afraid, and really, really excited.

Get yourself a good lawyer.

In all seriousness, this was one of the biggest steps for me, not only in terms of legal viability but also for my own peace of mind. I got a recommendation from a local business relation of mine and decided to take the leap into becoming a ‘real’ company.

Don’t get me wrong, those guys and gals are not cheap. Expect to pay a good deal of your hard-earned – and very often meager – income for their time, advice, and services. However, I have found that the amount I invested in my lawyer was well worth it in the end because I no longer wake up in the middle of the night fretting about the looming potential of losing my dream to some legal nightmare.

I especially recommend a lawyer to help you get your business ‘on the books’ with your state, such as becoming an LLC, corporation, or any of the other wonderfully confusing entities that you can classifying yourself as.

At least do yourself a favor and have them look over any contracts you use (or write them for you if – heaven forbid – you’re not already using some sort of legal shield).

Get your finances in order.

This is a pretty broad to-do so I’ll try to just touch on the highlights. One of the biggest fears that a lot of new start-ups have is just earning enough money to stay afloat financially.

However, try not to be daunted by the yearly salary number and just take it a week at a time – how much do you need to earn each week to stay at your current level of income? When you break it down this way, it’s much easier to set realistic goals and I think you’ll find that the dollar amount is surprisingly low.

Next, keep track of literally everything that you buy for your business. New computer? New desk? A small business class at your local community college? Keep track of all of it using an organizational system that makes sense for you and that will be easy to reference. One of my biggest expenses each month is the software I use but lovely Adobe makes it very easy to keep track of the amount of money you spend with them. If you work from home, you may be able to even mark down things like electricity usage as an expense for your business.

Remember how I said you need to keep it all organized? It’s always the right time to invest more in your business and get some serious accounting software. I use QuickBooks myself and, while I’m not advocating them specifically, they do have some excellent features that I found to be essential for my business. First is the ability to keep track of all those expenses we just talked about. Second is the ability to generate quotes through them, which I can then magically turn into invoices. These invoices allow people to pay with a credit through a big ‘ol button right there in the email and I cannot get over the simple beauty of that. Finally, QuickBooks organizes everything for me – income, expenses, tax write-offs, etc. – in a fancy quarterly statement that I can plug into my tax documents and move on with my life. I cannot stress how important it is to keep track of and stay organized with your money.

And, if all else fails, I’ve got a lovely CPA that I call from time to time with questions that likely seem silly to a veteran but are things that newbies have never even thought of until someone casually mentions it at a luncheon and you have to awkwardly giggle and pretend you know what they’re talking about. We’ve all been there and your CPA understands.

Get in the right mindset.

I know the prospect of launching off the edge into worlds unknown is incredibly daunting – so much so that many people fear that they could never do it. I know this may seem like a cliche piece of advice but at some point you’re going to need to take the leap and decide to believe in yourself and your capabilities. I’m not saying it has to be today or next week but at some point, all of the planning and thinking and budgeting and seminars will all fall away and you’ll have to rely on your own personal capabilities.

Don’t let this scare you. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. If you’re anything like me, I spend a stupid amount of time thinking about my business – how can I market, expand, keep the fabulous customer I already have, and thrive in an ever more competitive world. Keep your mind in the right place and remember the reason you started on this journey to begin with.

It’s not an easy road by any means but every mistake is a chance to learn and every challenge is a chance to grow. Seize these chances and get out there! Go live your dream.