Workflow: and other ramblingsthornysarus (930 pencils) | Wed, 2006-04-05 19:30
So many times we creative types get caught up in discussing the nuts and bolts of design, troubleshooting, figuring out what works and what doesn't, and we tend to skip the mundane, day-to-day stuff. After all, discussing billing, project management, gantt charts, etc. doesn't make for lively conversation. At least in my opinion, it doesn't. My accountant may beg to differ, but I digress.
I recently had an interesting discussion concerning workflow with another designer and I thought I'd continue it here on CB. By "workflow," I mean how projects are handled from start to finish. Now... I have to say that I've been freelancing (exclusively) for over 10 years and my workflow is a direct result of trial-and-error. And while your mileage may vary, I know what works for me. So, I thought I'd share and get your thoughts on the matter.
For the sake of discussion I'll present a small project from a new client and describe how we'd go about tackling it. Let's say that ACME, Inc. is needing a letter-fold brochure for a mass mailing. Bob Client is our contact and he works with ACME's marketing team. They usually use Designer X at Holier-Than-Thou Design Agency for these things, but they are too busy to take the project, blah, blah, blah.
This is the most difficult part of the job for me. I've never been much of a businessman, and to tell the truth, I've sold myself short on many occasion just to get the job. That said, I have learned from my mistakes and that's why I've elaborated as such on the consultation portion of the workflow. I'll also note that it is important to get this right because we want repeat clientele and the initial consultation does indeed set precedence for future projects and client/relations. ...But, you don't want to be an ass about it either. It's a fine line, indeed. :)
Most of my work comes in through referral and I usually get either a phone call or an e-mail generated from the "New Project" link on my web site. In either case, I promptly contact the client to make their acquaintance and schedule either a meeting or (preferably) phone call to discuss the project in detail. Most of the time, they want to know two things at this time: 1. That you are capable of producing something outstanding within the time alloted, and 2. How much will it cost.
It's at this time that I wish I had a recording that they could listen to because my response is always the same. "We have the capability of developing anything that you need in-house. We can work with your existing printer or recommend a few outstanding printers if necessary. As for the cost, I'd like to schedule a time that you and I could discuss the project in-depth, decide what you needs are, what originals are available for composition, how much time we should allot to the project, and most importantly, what your budget allows."
"What? You haven't thought of assigning a budget to this project?..." How unusual. :)
I continue: "A budget tell us exactly what we have to work with. Are we doing a custom photo shoot, are we using stock photography or even photography at all? If you need 10,000 brochures and your printing budget only allows for a 2-color run, then we'll design the piece so that it looks like it's supposed to be printed in 2-color... maybe a cool, old, block-printing style of design. Whatever the case, the bottom line is the more money you're willing to throw at this thing, the more options we have to work with."
"At this time, I'd like to help you determine a suitable budget by getting some specifications for your piece and set up a time to discuss the actual design at a later date. That way, we'll know what we have to work with and you'll have a good idea of what it's going to cost."
Let's determine your printing costs first. You want this full color, both sides? "Sure." 8.5x11 landscape, letter-fold, 4-over-4, and this will be mailed? "Yes." Ok... We'll need to contact your mailing house to get their specs for indicia, etc. so we'll need their contact info. Now... Do you have a printer in-mind? "We usually use [url=http://www.fedex.com/us/officeprint/main/index.html]CrappyPrint[/url] down the street, but go ahead and get a few quotes for us from your guys." Cool. Will-do.
Now for content. What elements absolutely have to be included in this piece? "Well... We need to show our full line of ACME Widgets with accompanying text, a bit about the company and how they can place an order." Of course, you'll want the ACME, Inc. Logo in there... "Oh, yeah. Gotta have that." Ok... And all of the above is available in high-resolution/vector format, right? "Oh sure. You can just grab them off the web site." [insert brief sermon on file format, resolution, and the wind-velocity of unladen swallows here].
Ok, Great. Sounds like we have what we need to get the ball rolling. I'll email you with the printing quotes by this time tomorrow. In the meantime, I'll set up the project in our [url=http://www.basecamphq.com/]Online Project Management System[/url] and you can upload the files we'll need there. You look over the quotes, read through our [url=http://e-zign.com/policyterms.htm]Policy and Terms of Service[/url]. I'll look over the files and we'll touch base tomorrow to discuss scheduling, deadlines, budget and design direction in depth.
Once a schedule, budget and design direction is determined, it's just simple execution. I mean, that's what we do, right? But I will include the following:
Project Management: We use (and highly recommend) [url=http://www.basecamphq.com/]Basecamp[/url] for project management. File transfers, scheduling, project correspondence, to-do lists, RSS feeds whenever something changes and proofing, it's all in there. Our clients were hesitant at first, but have come to love the interface, the convenience, and the ability to check on their projects from anywhere they have an internet connection. A few of our clients have reported that they have become spoiled by it, citing what a pain it was working with another designer who "just sent everything through e-mail." That's what we like to hear. :)
Time Tracking & Invoicing: We currently use [url=http://www.iggsoftware.com/ibiz/index.html]iBiz[/url], and have been very pleased with the product. It works as advertised and has served us well. However, we may be switching to another app if they don't do something drastic concerning the way iBiz handles invoices in the next version.
After each project is complete, I always follow-up at the appropriate time to discuss what sort of feedback they received, if the piece served them well, what would they have done differently, and if they had another project looming on the horizon.
I'll share something else that I do... I subscribe to RSS feeds in my client's industry. Occasionally, I'll send a brief e-mail to my contact including a link to new developments, emerging technologies in their field, interesting tidbits, etc. Sort of a "Have you seen this," or "Look at what Brand X is Doing." This illustrates that I'm keeping up with their industry (and their competition), that I have an interest in their success and keeps me in the forefront of their mind, especially when it's time to consider a designer for the next project.
Hope this serves you all in your day-to-day business and I look forward to hearing what you have to say.
[url=http://e-zign.com]e-zign design group[/url]
Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.