13 Signs you’re a freelance slacker (and how to step up your game)

Admit it.

There have been nights you’ve gone to bed without brushing your teeth.

Some days you skip washing your hair. (I’ve just discovered dry shampoo and I’m embarrassed to say I use it, but hey, this mini-mohawk is temperamental so desperate measures are required when I’m in a hurry).

Other times, you ventured out wearing the same underwear cos you’ve fallen behind with the laundry. Eww, I know, but whatareya gonna do? Go commando?

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Come on admit it, we’ve all been there at least once, especially back in our college days!

Now I can only speak for myself, but I’m going to assume none of the above is because you’re naturally lazy (or naturally unhygienic, lol). You’re just busy.

I get it.

Your inbox is bursting at the seams. Clients are chasing you. Deadlines are looming. That last logo took twice as long as you’d planned, and you’ve got another one due first thing tomorrow. Your design mojo has suddenly gone MIA. You told your friends you’d catch up for dinner tonight but you’ve already pushed that client’s logo back twice… what’s a designer to do?!

<insert mini meltdown here!>

Seriously though, no matter how stressful things get running the freelance gauntlet, you’ve got to go that extra mile and make it happen. A sleepless night or a disgruntled friend is nowhere near as bad as when you lose your top client because you didn’t look after them properly.

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Your clients are the lifeblood of your business. You can’t slack off on them.

Don’t let bad habits creep into your design business, don’t let client-apathy enter your mindset or your clients will smell it a mile off… just like your morning breath after a night without brushing your teeth! (and I say ‘ewwww’ again!).

Here are 13 signs that you might be a slacker:

1. You always opt for email instead of picking up the phone.

I’ve read plenty of designer blogs that disagree with me on this and that’s totally okay, but in my business we’re so obsessed with 100% client satisfaction that we’re always looking for little ways add personal touch points throughout projects, and even afterwards with tech support.

I say to my crew that if it’s easier to just pick up the phone and ring, then do it. Clients love the human contact and you’ll be amazed how far a phone call goes towards building long-term loyalty and a bond that’s hard to break.

Solution: I’m not suggesting you ditch email altogether, but every 5 or 10 emails or so, why not just pick up the phone and have a chat instead? They’ll be reminded you’re a person, and you’ll be reminded that they’re more than just a project brief.

But just make sure you follow-up every phone call with an email confirmation on what was agreed, just to be safe!

(Read more: When a new client calls you, don’t freak out. Do this.)

2. You don’t care about results.

How many newspaper ads never produce a single call? Banner ads with no clicks? Websites with no conversions? How much hard earned money has been spent by hopeful clients on ‘pretty’ designs that do nothing to generate them a return?

Solution: Care about getting your clients a result. If you design websites, immerse yourself in conversion optimisation, SEO and traffic techniques. Learn about effective copywriting, calls to action and ads that sell. If you don’t know how to get results, learn.

“A bad website is like a grumpy salesperson.” Jakob Nielsen.

3. You don’t follow-up after a project is complete.

Do you have calendar reminders set to follow-up with clients after you deliver their project? If you do, good for you. If you actually follow through on those, even better! Give yourself a big on the back and buy yourself something pretty. 🙂

With all website projects we deliver, we have autoset reminders at 30 days, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months and 12 months with different conversation starters and discussion points mapped out for each contact. Even if you’re a one man (or woman) band you could do the same on your calendar too.

There’s nothing worse than a client feeling like you don’t care after they go live. Once you bank their cheque, they more than likely will feel all alone and it’s scary out there in webland for a client that has no idea what to expect.

Solution: Work follow-ups into your project plan and schedule them in your diary the minute you finish the project. When the reminders pop up, call them. If you stay in touch with regular follow-ups, I guarantee you’ll get more work or awesome new referrals. Make the time. It’s worth it.

4. You don’t send out Holiday cards (and/or gifts).

When I first started out 10 years ago, I put so much time and effort into spreading the Holiday cheer by sending gifts to my clients. I loved doing it too.

Once I hand made individual 12 page Christmas books as cards and sent them out gift wrapped with a Jack Canfield gratitude journal. Another time I baked cookies and bagged them up with gorgeous packaging saying ‘Baked by Bianca especially for you. Enjoy! xx’.

Another time I made a set of three home made relishes and jams and packaged them in gift boxes for Christmas. It cost me next to nothing, really only the cost of the jars (luckily I had a packaging client who looked after me on price).

Haha, it might seem a bit corny, but my clients loved it nonetheless.

Admittedly, I don’t go to that extreme these days, (it’s much more difficult on the wallet with 2,000 clients!) but we always have fun creating a cool card at least. And it doesn’t cost much to be creative, as you well know my designery friend!

Solution: Chop chop, the Holidays are almost here! You better get a move along. Start brainstorming tonight what you could do for clients. There are so many ideas around and if money’s tight, maybe just gift your favourite 30 clients with a nice big home made gingerbread cookie you whipped up in the kitchen. 🙂

5. You don’t stay in touch regularly.

I’ll keep this one brief. If you’re not blogging and doing email marketing on a regular basis, you should be. Best case scenario you can fit it in weekly; worst case scenario, do it once a month.

I always get emails back from clients with every weekly campaign I send out. I get a real kick out it actually. Once I even got 8 website enquiries from people on my list within 3 hours of sending out a campaign. Another time, about 150 website conversions in 2 days. So staying in regular contact is good for business!

Solution: If you’re not already building a list on your website, start now. Also begin thinking about how you could help your target audience.

What are the top 20 questions you always get asked from prospective new clients? There’s 20 blog titles right there. Research what’s going to work for you and how to start building your audience list. The options are endless so don’t let your research overwhelm you. The most important thing is to start.

6. You forget to say ‘thank you’.

When you finish each project, do you make the time to call your client and say ‘thank you’? Do you send them a thank you card with a handwritten note? What about a bottle of wine, or my favourite… a book on something relevant to what you worked on together?

Whenever I used to launch a client website, I’d send a copy of Content Rules by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman with a handwritten thank you card. When you think about it, if a client spends $5,000 with you on a website, you can surely afford to send them a book worth $15 right? Don’t get too busy that you forget who puts the food on your table. It will pay you back tenfold.

Solution: Create a sliding scale of thank you touches you can implement for different clients with different spends. It doesn’t need to take any longer than 5 minutes. For example:

  • Under $500 might get a personal, heartfelt email.

  • $500 – $1,000 perhaps a phone call and a card in the mail.

  • $1,000 – $2,000 maybe a bottle of wine or box of goodies with a card.

  • $2,000 + perhaps a really good book, hamper or specific gift relevant to their interests etc

Then just make it part of your project wrap up process. When you schedule your follow-ups, you arrange the corresponding ‘thank you’ as well.

7. You don’t take the time to build rapport.

Are you guilty of not taking time to get to know your clients?

Solution: Next time you’re talking to them ask them where their favourite coffee shops are, where their kids go to school, what sports they play, where they like to have drinks after work. You’ll be amazed how far this goes to building strong relationships and a level of loyalty that’ll be hard to break later. And if you’ve got a terrible memory, type it in your client database so you can be reminded next time they call.

8. You don’t ask the right questions before commencing work.

Are you sure that you’re asking clients the right questions before you put one pixel to work? If you design websites, here’s a blog I wrote recently about the top 10 questions you should ask your design client.

Solution: Have a planner prepared for each type of project, have your questions ready. If they don’t produce the answers straight up, dig deeper. Make suggestions. Be bold. Be a counsellor, be an advisor. Be an educator. Have fun! You’ll get so many more design ideas the deeper you dig, it’s worth it.

9. You never go the extra mile.

“There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.” – Roger Staubach. I absolutely love this quote. So much so it’s the first thing you see when you walk in our office. But seriously, ask yourself, are you doing the bare minimum just to get job out the door?

Solution: Perhaps it’s time you took a trip down the extra mile? You can do this by doing all or even just some of the things I’ve listed above. The extra mile superhighway is the road less travelled but it’s the road to bountiful bank accounts and endless clients. It’s a great road my designery friend!

10. Your work is mediocre and that’s perfectly okay with you.

I’ve actually asked a design partner to leave my ProPartner program because they didn’t care about the quality of their work, and to be honest, it ranged from mediocre to awful. After many difficult conversations and heaps of friendly pointers and advice, it was clear they had no intention of improving. I just couldn’t sit back and let them deliver such poor website designs to clients. It goes against everything I believe in. That’s why I had to ask them to ship up or ship out and find another web platform. Unfortunately for them, they chose to remain mediocre, so I asked them to ship out. 🙁

Solution: I’m the first to admit that it’s not viable to aim for award-winning quality with every design project, but when you don’t care it shows. You can see it all over the web, websites that were built like they came out of a sausage factory. Hey, I’m all for creating a fast and efficient building process but I’ll never agree with that saying ‘good enough is good enough’, cos it just isn’t!

Here’s another tip. Take a look around at what your competitors are doing, how do you stack up? If your work is a bit dusty, perhaps it’s time to brush up on your design skills or join some forums to get feedback and critiques before you show clients. Just allow a few extra days in your timeline so you can put some extra pizzazz on it. Don’t worry the more you get used to doing great work, the faster it becomes.

11. Constantly missing deadlines and pushing projects out.

Are you constantly pressed for time, watching the clock and getting sweaty palms because of your looming deadlines with clients? Or are your work days calm, organised and in check? If you’re constantly running around chasing your tail and find yourself always pushing deadlines back with clients, you could be a slacker!

Solution: Get organised or get help. Schedule projects so that you have a bit of leeway up your sleeve if things do go astray with other projects. If you have clients who always call up wanting jobs turned around immediately and it’s constantly disrupting your workflow, charge a rush surcharge for the inconvenience. Tell them, sure, but fast is gonna be expensive!

If you’re already super organised and it’s just that you have too much new work, congratulations! You’re in the enviable position of getting some help or even better, putting your rates up! If you want to stay solo then increase your rates to scale back the work you take on. Pay rise for you, woo hoo! Problem solved and slacker habit averted!

12. You don’t return phone calls the same day.

If you’re like me, most of your clients will be small business owners that face the same struggles we all do. They’re super busy wearing tons of different hats, doing 20 different things at once and are incredibly time poor. I think 95% of us small business owners live each day just a single notch below total chaos.

So when they call to talk to you, understand and appreciate they probably set aside special time that day to work on the project. If you don’t call them back until the next day or even worse, 2 or even 3 days later, their frown lines will start to appear and they’ll be thinking to themselves “What a slacker!”

Solution: Call them back as quickly as you can after they call. It’s not rocket science I know but you’d be surprised how many people sit on tasks like call backs until it becomes awkward. That’s the easiest way to alienate your clients. I know it’s a juggle when you’re designing and you don’t want to mess with your mojo, but even if you say you can only talk for 5 minutes to keep your other commitments on track, try to call them back ASAP.

13. You’re about as passionate as my can of dry shampoo.

Passion breeds success. If you’ve lost yours then you need to go find what floats your boat and get passionate again because your clients and prospects can just tell. It’s like a sixth sense. People are drawn to passionate people, we’re all wanting someone to follow, someone to help us solve our problems and help us become happier. Be that person.

How can you not be passionate about design anyway, right? I feel so lucky that I picked a profession that doesn’t feel like work. I feel blessed for being led down this road.  And to think my Dad told me I had to drop my Art subject in school because there was, and I quote, “no money in art”.  Pfffttttt, what do parents know, huh?

Solution: If you’re finding your passion is waning, it’s time to ask yourself some tough questions. What’s draining your passion? Where are the holes? Is it the lack of profits? The wrong type of clients? The long hours? Or is design just not your thing?

My hairdresser used to be a lawyer. No joke. She just always had a passion for hair and never truly followed her dream. It wasn’t until much later in life that she bought a salon and did her training in her 40s. It’s never too late.

Look at the ‘why’ and take steps to do more of what you love to get inspired again. I could go on but I think perhaps I’ll leave that for another post because I’m sure you’ve got some follow-up phone calls to schedule and Christmas pressies to make. 🙂

So what’s the verdict? Slacker or not?

If you’ve managed to avoid all 13 signs, give yourself a huge pat on the back. You are not a design slacker… Congratulations!! You’re going great guns, clients love you and they ARE telling their friends about how awesome you are. Kudos to you!

If however, you got sweaty palms, squirmed in your chair or repeatedly scratched your nose reading the above, perhaps it’s a sign you’ve got some work to do. Don’t feel bad, we’re all human and the best part is that there’s always room for improvement.

You’ve now got the ‘how’, the rest is just implementation. Try tackling one slacker habit at a time to reduce the overwhelm though. Remember these are things I learnt over the space of 10 years, if I’d tried to fix them all at once, I’d probably have ended up in the looney bin!

Instead, I’ve got a business I love (most days) and I’m talking to you, my lovely designery friends. I’m definitely living my dream… how about you?

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  1. Excellent, post but I disagree with you in number 7, asking a client for “where their kids go to school” I don’t think thats a question to ask o our clients is personal and the client might think that you want something more out of them then just work.

  2. I have fallen behind in my reading! This makes me a education slacker as well! This article was very insightful. I have to admit. I become complacent as I near the end of my projects…especially when they run long. The excitement of a new design is outstanding where as the project close as a clients vision differs…I lose interest. In a perfect world we can choose the projects we really believe in… in the real world…some of us take the work when we can get it. That means doing the local nail salon when you are better equipped to do the local doctors office.

    1. I get where you’re coming from Michael.

      Inspiration and attention is a fickle thing! Of course we can’t all design for Apple or some cool art museum, but what we can do is hold ourselves up to our own personal standard no matter how inconsequential we think the job is. Of course, in my opinion, even the smallest design jobs are seen by a lot of people, so I want to make it great… or as great as the client allows! 😉

  3. These are all great points. I second educating yourself on everything marketing related. Too many designers don’t bother to learn about other aspects of the business, and their work performs poorly as a result.

    And big props for mentioning printed greeting cards! I would think that should be a fun one for creative people, making custom cards.

  4. Good Points. I agree staying in contact is important and setting reminders is a good way to remember to stay in contact with past clients.

  5. This is why I LOVE this blog… such useful and practical information!! Great points brought up in this article… I’m definitely guilty of a few of these, so this is a good reminder of what to keep in mind when building client relationships! Thank you, Bianca!!

  6. I think we are all at one point or another guilty of a few of the points in this post. But it’s easy to loose track of things when you are busy trying to keep everyone happy, even the difficult customers should get a call or email to see how things are going a month after you completed their project.

    I have recently sent out desk calenders to all my clients with a thank you letter, and a referral discount code if they promote me to other friends and business. and will be sending out a Christmas email to all in the next week.

    For next year I am going to set reminders every time I complete a project, so I stay in contact with that customer 30days after completion, 3 months after that and then 3 months after that. Just so I stay in the back of their minds at all times. and send them something at Christmas too.

    I also suggest if you are considering getting you clients gifts to follow them on social media and keep an eye out if they mention something that they like, e.g. make of Chocolate etc. then you know what you can purchase them if you send gifts at Christmas.

    1. Hi Matthew,

      Way to go with your self-reminder idea. You’re on the right track. Without systems and procedures we’ll never keep our head above water, and they don’t have to be cutting edge digital ways to keep track, even a simple reminder on outlook can do the trick.

      If you want a few more tips you might want to check out the blog I wrote a few weeks back: http://www.graphicdesignblender.com/97-habits-of-insanely-profitable-designers because numbers 69 to 79 focus on systems and tools.


  7. Thanks for that Bianca!

    I see myself guilty of more than one of the above! But its never too late to improve right?

    Reading your post, I just realized that if nothing else I can always send a Christmas email blast to my clients. It will make them feel special and will make me look much more professional 🙂

    Thanks again.

    1. Totally 100% correct.The ONLY time it’s too late to improve is when you’re dead… which is a long time off for us all I hope!!

      Just start small and get used to offering value and going that extra mile, it soon becomes second nature.

  8. I’ve enjoyed this blog for quite some time. Your team always offers good advice, and this article is no exception. Ironically, I would like to add one more list item: “You rely too heavily on spell check, and don’t proof things thoroughly.” I cringed when I saw the use of the word “you’re” in the header for #10 when the correct word was “your.” I know it seems nit-picky, but it’s important—especially in headlines—and clients and customers will notice. We’ve all made this mistake before, and it unfortunately takes credibility away from what is otherwise a very good article, and deserves to be recognized as such. Keep up the good work!

    1. Hi Jenny.

      Point taken. Thanks for reading and picking that up. I am a recovering-perfectionist so I’m having a mild melt-down now hearing that I missed it. *deep breaths* Buuuut, hey, like you said, we all make mistakes.

      (Just so you know, I don’t rely on the spell checker for blogs or client work, ever. I did read it and check it 9 times though AND I had my in-house copywriter proofread it for me too just to be on the safe side. I take a lot of pride in these posts. But it appears to have beaten the both of us! My apologies. 😉

  9. Hiya, very interesting article; I will definitely be using a few of these tips in the future. Just thought you might like to correct a small typo – in the title for number 10, the “you’re” should be “your”.

  10. Again, an inspiring post! I just got a little gift for myself yesterday, Leonie Dawson’s ‘Amazing Life + Biz’ 2014 workbooks and calendars, which I’m super excited about. Your post made me realize that on top of holiday cards, I should definitely get some gifts for my clients. As most of them are also women, with small businesses, I realized that this book will be the perfect gift. It’s something that really will have value for them. Now I swear I’m not affiliated with this particular project 😛 I’m just excited about you, Bianca, giving me the idea of gifting a book. So awesome.

    Tips #3,6 and 11 really resonate with me — to follow up, say thank you, and..up my rate, yay..! Looking forward for your next post.

    1. Oh Bhakti, I’m so happy for you and I’m so glad you were inspired! I’m actually working through Leonie’s workbooks right now too! I’ve got both as I’m in her Amazing Life & Biz Academy, she’s awesome and her workbooks are AWESOME!! I totally understand why you’re spreading the good word, she rocks!

      All the best pulling it all together, I can hear the excitement in your words! Here’s to the best year yet!

  11. All good advice. I was very gung-ho for doing all of this when I first started but after more than a year of freelancing I’m already losing my passion for it. I still love design and helping small businesses but I’m being more drained by working alone than I want to be. I recently made the decision to stop freelancing full time and get a job (freelancing on the side, still) but until I get that job do you have any advice how to turn these slacker habits around when I’ve all but lost my motivation and energy? I know once I get a job I’ll feel better in general but until then I don’t want to keep sliding downhill with my freelance.

    1. Hi Hannah, that’s no good babe, do you mind sharing what gets you down the most? Is it the solitude? Lack of work? Lack of profits? Lack of clients? Not enjoying the type of work you’re doing? The numbers side of things?

      My advice would be to identify what you don’t like and what’s draining for you, and then look at what you absolutely love about it and try and restructure things to do more of what you love.

      I found it really lonely when I was working from my parent’s lounge room so after 6 months working from home I got a serviced office with lots of other small businesses. I thrived after that.

      Perhaps you can do a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) on your current situation and mindset first before even worrying about putting things in place to not be a slacker! That would be the last thing on my mind.

      When you find your passion, it won’t feel like a chore and you’ll want to do more for clients. Hope that helps but feel free to email me if you want any further advice or have any specific questions. I’d love to help. 😉

      1. I couldn’t find your email and I wasn’t sure if I should use the form on your website for this so I’ll just write here.

        Thanks for your response, by the way! Well, here’s what I think is the problem in a nutshell.

        Part of my lack of motivation stems from the fact that I was depressed earlier this year. Though I’ve come out of it and have some of my old mojo back, I’m not at 100% energy yet. My depression was linked to several things: big life changes, loneliness, health problems, losing a job (fortunately not my fault, the company suffered a financial loss and couldn’t afford to have me any more), etc.

        As an introvert I thought I would thrive working alone, but I had a fantastic job at school working in an office with a multidisciplinary team and as the lead designer I got to interact with a lot of people all the time. I loved it there! But it’s open only to students so when I graduated I couldn’t stay. Going from all that energy and interaction to being stuck in a small room with the sounds of my siblings constantly banging in the background was disheartening. I get more energy on days that I’ve spent with a good friend, so I think a lot of my continuing motivational-lackage is lonliness.

        Another thing is that money doesn’t motivate me much… and yet I feel like I’m not making enough for my abilities. I’d rather do work for free, or be paid more than my current-level clients are able to pay. So I’m stuck doing “Eh” work for “Eh” amount of money and that’s also rather upsetting. I’d like my income to be a tad more predictable. That’s one thing I thought I could get used to when I started, but my personality likes patterns and predictability so maybe freelancing full-time just isn’t for me at all.

        I will try doing a SWOT analysis and see if I can’t pinpoint some specific problem areas to work on first. Like I said, I don’t want to freelance full-time any more, but I do want to improve my systems so my side-business will still be awesome.

        Anyway, any advice would be appreciated. I did click your name and discover your blog on the Web123 site so I’ll be reading some of those as well. They look great!

        Thanks again.

  12. Great post. I’m guilty of a few of these, but am consciously aware of them and striving to improve so I don’t see myself as a slacker… just not very well organised! 😛 I’m aiming to put systems in place to correct these things in the new year!
    Thanks for the straight talk and reminder.

    1. Thanks for being so honest Fathima, we all have our flaws. At least you’re aware of your strengths and weaknesses – some designer’s I know refuse to admit them! Haha

      I’m guilty of a lack of systems myself and am actually dedicating 2014 to systems. I’ve been studying some awesome ways to create systems in this day and age avoiding the old dreaded ‘Procedures Manual’… email me if you want any pointers, I’m happy to share.

  13. Good article, I have actually been slacking all week, in my mind i’m putting it down to Christmas and winding down. Most of my work is incoming through Google and Facebook, and regular clients. Next year is all about being more pro-active.

    1. Ahhh, ’tis the silly season though Darren. Enjoy it while it lasts!

      And good luck for the new year mate, cheers.


  14. Lots of great advice in this article though I admit I am always taken back when I see words that are unfamiliar to me, like ‘cos’ or ‘designery’, and then go to look them up only to not find them in any dictionary. I see it so often lately and it always makes me question in my mind if the person realizes it (I believe it’s usually done intentionally) or if in fact they believe them to be words. The problem is that the reader may never know for sure.

    1. Hi Paula, my apologies. My Aussie slang and urge to makeup words consumed me again!

      Just to explain ‘cos’ is just me shorting the word ‘because’ because I write how I speak, that’s kind of an Australian thing. I didn’t even think of it to be honest. I feel that when I write with words like this, my post is more conversational which is my style.

      And ‘designery’ I totally made up because I was trying to be a tad cheeky/funny. I have no excuses there! I’ll have a word to my fingers next time. 😉

  15. Very nice job on the current e mail blog regarding how to treat clients. Fortunately I don’t do any of those things but I felt it was well written and clear and a fun read. Thanks for taking the time.

    1. Thanks Kati! The best thing is that it’s never too late if you want to jump on the bandwagon, little improvements each day/week/month add up to big things before too long. Maybe even just try one little tweak every few months and see what you like/dislike and what works etc before you commit to doing it long-term? Of course, it’s totally up to you… you and your work could be sweet enough already! 🙂

  16. Yet another fabulous post Bianca! Well worth the read. The irony is, it’s currently 1.30am Brisbane time an it’s one of those late nights of freelancing. I have to admit I can see how these things can quickly and easily creep into your daily routine and create havoc but so far so good! Great to know I’m in the right track, even if I am guilty of forgetting to eat lunch sometimes. 😉 #adesignerslife #clientdeadlines

    1. Thanks Jodi! And you’re just down the road, I’m in Airlie Beach! And 1.30am on a Friday night?! Give yourself a pat on the back for resisting the temptation to go out partying with friends.

      I spent years doing those kinda hours and it does catch up with you after a while and you will burn out so don’t make a habit of it if you can help it! It took a week in the hospital for me to learn that little lesson the hard way! Good on you though and thanks for reading! 🙂

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