Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Why a logo should cost more than $100.

You see it everywhere. Logos advertised for $99, designers promising unlimited concepts for under $200, and you’ve had some potential clients quickly disappear when you gave them (what you considered) a cheap quote.

After almost 20 years of working in the advertising and design industry on some of the world’s most recognized brands, it amazes me to see what I actually consider the HARDEST and most time consuming of creative projects cheapened in the eyes of the general public and made readily available by designers wearing blinders to what realistic and acceptable fees should be for this type of work.

Of course, I know I will get the usual comments of “what is acceptable is what people are willing to charge” but creating a logo for a new company, product or service should not come with a measly $100 price tag.

Here is my reasoning…

To design the correct look and feel of a company, you must first RESEARCH the company. Who are they catering to? What’s the target audience? What is the look they want to convey? Do they want 3 concepts or do they want 10? Is it a simple solution or will you have to go back to the drawing board 20 times? Studying and learning about your client’s business and their objectives takes time. I’m going to give this part of the project a very modest one day worth of work. One day to visit my client’s business, to research their competition’s websites, to examine their target audience, and to find examples of logos created for similar clients. If I am to charge an industry average of $50/hour, working one day from 9:00am – 5:00pm (with one hour for lunch), I am billing for 7 hours. This is a $350 fee.

Part 2 is the concept stage. I always give at least 3 concepts. Whether you use a marker or you go straight to the computer, it doesn’t really matter how you begin, you are looking at an empty page or screen. Can you simply splash it quickly and spew out creativity? Sometimes you can. If you are creating the logo for a dog walking service, you might start with a dog. But what happens when your client is a law firm or a company that manufactures sheet metal? The first rule of thumb is to avoid the first things that pop into your head.

Creating a great logo is like sipping cognac or smoking a fine cigar. You want to do it slowly. You must appreciate the craftsmanship and the process. I like to come up with something to start, and then I walk away. I do something else. I then come back later with fresh eyes and look at it again. Repeat this until you have something you believe the client will fall in love with that best represents their objective. Then do it two more times for the next concepts. All of this takes time.

Of course, I like to give myself about 2 weeks to go back and forth to the drawing board. But for arguments sake, let’s factor in one day per concept. One day to create and polish one design. So, 3 days in total. Once again, using the 7 hours at $50/hour, this stage would create a fee of $1,050.

Stage 3 is presentation. Are you sending your ideas as a PDF through email or are you meeting with the client? If you are meeting with the client, factor in some additional charges for travel time and presentation.

Stage 4. Everybody’s favourite. The revision stage. Very rarely will you nail something that the client quickly approves. I’ve had it happen several times over the years but typically, there are going to be revisions.

The client showed it to 8 friends and they all had opinions. The client’s spouse wants to see it in orange, then in yellow, then in blue. They love the icon but want you to play around with the font. They love the font but want you to tweak the icon. The logo is great but they wanted something more feminine. The logo is feminine but they were thinking something more cartoon-like. The list goes on.

Truthfully, most clients have no idea what they want and will beat even the greatest concept into the ground because they are indecisive. A decisive client is one that you should bend over backwards for and cater to their every whim because they are few and far between. They are the difference between loving what you do and wishing you could flee to cut the neighbour's grass for a living.

3 more days of revisions and back and forths (again, I’m being modest).

Add another $1,050 to the quote.

Taking all these factors into consideration, you have a quick estimation of what a logo design should cost from an intermediate designer for any small, start-up client.

The quote, taking all of my points into consideration is at $2,450.

This does not take into consideration all the other variables associated with logo design work. Will the logo be prominent on the side of a downtown skyscraper? Will the client want to buy the exclusive rights? Etc. etc. etc.

How you charge and what you charge is up to you. But by taking the time from concept to completion into consideration, the amount you paid for your education, computer and software, your phone conversations, travel, amount of revisions you will most likely encounter, be honest with yourself, how much is it worth?

Remember when you were young, and you practiced your signature over and over and over again until you hit that eureka moment and finally came up with something that defined you? Was it easy? It wasn’t. This is what you are doing for your client.

And it’s worth a hell of a lot more than $100.

Until next time, keep dreaming.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Something has been missing.

Recently, I did something I never imagined would ever happen again.

I started to paint.

It took me a while to figure out what drove me to pick up a paintbrush after 20 years. It seems that something has been missing from my career for quite some time. It’s not a lack of creativity, I get to be creative designing and thinking up stuff every single day. It’s an underlying force much more powerful than the desire to “create things”. A force so powerful, that it predates my modern, technological brain and goes right back to the beginning. It’s all thanks to my sense of smell.

For those of you just getting into this line of business, you sadly missed a time where the art department of an ad agency (or design studio) had the warm, welcoming smell of various art supplies all mixed together in one room. Pencils, magic markers, thinners, paint, hot wax machines, glue…the smell of the creative department was unlike no other found in the workplace. There’s a reason I skipped the party of going away to University to attend 4 years at a local prestigious art college. It has always been an ingrained sense in me that was also a driving force behind my entering a career in the field of art. The smell of an art studio has always made me feel like I am in my proper element.

By the 2000s, this smell was replaced. I don’t know by what but if I were to guess, I would say it was by a hint of electricity. The smell of the creative department was no longer unique. Does it really smell any different than the IT or accounting department? The acrid, burning smell of a room full of computers, photocopiers and fax machines took over the sweet smell of rubber eraser dust and India ink. With today’s technology, this smell of supplied power to a room full of machines has also been nearly extinguished. If you are sitting in a creative office environment at this moment, please close your eyes and take it all in. What do you smell? Does it smell like a room full of creativity?

My 4 year old is in Junior Kindergarten. I love taking her to class every day. When the door opens, I can instantly smell (and almost taste) the paste and paint. I’m sure you know what I’m referring to. Many of us fondly remember it. Smells are so powerful they can unlock our deepest memories.

Finally realizing what was missing, I ended up at the nearest art supply store where this smell still exists. I dropped my credit card and walked out with a huge canvas, various sizes of paintbrushes, and dozens of different paint colours.

I quickly got home and set everything up.

Staring at the bright white emptiness in front of me, I pushed a pin into the first tube of paint to break the seal, and squeezed a large dollop onto the fresh, clean palette.

The aroma hit me instantly and I found my happy place once again.

I don’t plan to ever forget it.

Until next time, keep dreaming.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

There will always be haters.

It has been a VERY long time since I’ve written anything in this blog.

I haven’t really had a second.

2010 has been an incredibly busy (and successful year) for me but as you have hopefully learned from reading my posts, one should never let a series of successful months go to their head (as a freelancer) because it can all come to a screeching halt tomorrow.

To make a lot of hay when the sun has been shining, I’ve had to move sharing some words to the bottom of my priority list.

This is only one of the reasons I stopped writing.

Another is that sometimes, I simply don’t feel like it.

See, I never began writing for any of you, I have always written for me, and then made these words public.

With that said, because I make it public, a lot of great stuff happens.

I end up making top blog lists like this one.

My words end up in published books like this one or this one.

And this gets me a LOT of mail. Mostly great response and words of encouragement.

But every year there are always one or two emails that are completely negative.

Not just negative but downright nasty.

When I complain about the state of the industry, I get a hater screaming at me to stop whining.

When I write that I’m having a great time, or year, or success, I get a hater calling me a “smug bastard”.

As I did recently when I posted something I wrote titled “An ode to freelance”.

It was late at night, and I couldn’t believe how alive and free I felt to do this job for a living.

I figured many of you could relate. After all, there are MANY worse jobs than creating something in a design program late at night with a glass of spirits in hand.

I had no demanding boss breathing down my neck.

There was no dumb-ass co-worker asking me how to fix the fax machine that they jammed for the 3rd time.

I wasn’t watching the clock mid-afternoon to count down the minutes.

And I wasn’t stuck in a 2 hour traffic jam to get home.

If I sounded smug, it’s because when it comes to working from home, on my own, Sometimes I AM.

Freelancing rules. Everything (when it is going well) is amazing.

Right now, because times are good, I feel like the luckiest guy on the planet.

So I jotted down my thoughts at that moment.

There was no need (Mr. Hater) for your anonymous attack.

I write for me. I write what I’m feeling, when I’m feeling it.

Belittling me for that post was like slapping somebody for smiling to themselves because they are having a good day.

For those that enjoy my posts. I thank you for I am glad and honoured. You make my writing and sharing it worthwhile.

For all the haters to my thoughts and words, I have a very thick skin.

Call me whatever you want.

I’ve worked in one of the meanest industries for nearly 20 years.

One that chews people up and spits them out, sometimes as fast as they came.

On my own, playing by my own rules, for almost half of it.

Your words didn’t hurt (which I know was your goal).

You simply annoyed like a fly buzzing in one’s ear.

Sometimes, I whistle while I work.

If you don’t like listening to it, I have an easy solution.

All you have to do is click here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ode to Freelance

Dark room.
Silent house.
The only light illuminates off the monitor.
Sipping a glass of smoky, peaty, Islay single malt...on the rocks.
Cat contently purring in my lap.
Getting paid to play in Photoshop and InDesign for one of the world's largest brands.
Some people hate their jobs.
I pity them.

Monday, July 26, 2010

How to answer a call for spec.

Recent posting (of course, name of artist and single have been changed)...

Joanne Smith's Cover Art Contest.

Calling all design-savvy Joanne Smith fans. The cover art of "A room full of Boondoggle," Joanne's newest and hottest single, is in your hands!
If you have a great vision of what the single’s cover art should look like, we want to see it. The best design (chosen by Joanne herself) will become the official cover art, featured on iTunes and Joanne's personal website. This is your chance to showcase your talent - show us what you've got! Winners will be announced on August 15, 2010.

My reply...

Dear Joanne,

I have a friend that has a similar offer for you.
He would like you to come over and sleep with him.
He's going to try and get it on with over 100 women.
Whomever is the best in bed will be taken out for a cheap dinner.

The difference between my offer and yours is that I'm telling you flat out that you will be getting screwed before you consider it.

Be sure to let me know if you are interested.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My best rejection letter EVER!

I just read what I believe is the best rejection email/letter I have ever received.

"All the quotes were competitive but I have decided to work with someone else.
I wish you continued success.
By the way, I am never too busy for your referrals!"


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A change is coming.

The business of advertising, marketing, and design is once again about to change.
In order to move forward and get bigger and better clients, we will need to offer much more than what we have been up to this point.
Everybody is creating logos, print, and web designs. And they are offering it cheap. This business went from being a profession where you needed a decent traditional art school education and some work experience, to a profession where you simply need a copy of Creative Suite and a computer.
It's almost as if everyone (and their brother) said "I don't know what I want to do for a living, hmmmm...well, I like creating stuff, I should be a designer".

I was quite angry about this transition, I even wrote articles and this blog all about it.
Recently, a friend of mine said to me...
"stop writing and complaining about what was, and become the expert on what will be".
She's right.

Times are changing once again. If you are a design professional, you will need to get on the next wave. We all will.
Stay in the land of static websites, brochures, and logos and expect to work for small change for start-ups that don't have a clue in regards to their budgets or marketing needs.
It is inevitable that they will be needing much more.

Bigger and better clients want bigger and better marketing opportunities.
And there are many coming. Technology is changing quickly. Those that can figure out what these are will make the next jump successfully.

Of course, there will always be a place for mediocrity. Some clients want it, and there will always be designers willing to offer it.
But companies will need to harness the new technology in order to compete, and the general public won't be able to supply their marketing needs by simply hanging out a shingle and calling themselves a "designer".

It's coming.
And I've been studying really hard.
Now I am spending some time finding the right people to put a solid team together to offer these services.

I was a surfer growing up. I spent many summers hanging 10 in a foreign country.
I feel like I have been patiently sitting on my board in the water for the last few years, waiting for this giant wave to roll in.
I now see it in the distance.
Many of the inexperienced will be swallowed up by it.
For the rest of us that are ready, the time to ride it to prosperity is fast approaching.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Meetings, spec work, and a failure to close the deal.

The first quarter of 2010 is almost over and work has been quite steady. A lot of ongoing projects, some new ones for a few upscale clients, freelance agency work (working as an art director), and I’ve had several meetings with potential clients and agencies for (hopefully) more work to come.

Many freelancers despise face-to-face meetings, consider it a waste of time, and I fully understand why. I have traveled across the city and spent hours with a potential client only to have them give me unrealistic budget expectations or end the meeting with the words “we are shopping around”. This can leave a bad taste in your mouth. Especially when you know your rates are far from the cheapest out there.

I however, have always welcomed meetings for they allow me the opportunity to sell my services face-to-face, educate the client, and hopefully close the deal right there on the spot. If you are good at your presentation skills, and can effectively show a potential client why they should use your services, you will hopefully win many more contracts than you lose.

Meetings also allow you the opportunity to see the client’s place of business first-hand, and you can quickly size them up to determine if yours will be a positive working relationship. It’s really no different than a first date. Many of my best clients were those where we clicked immediately upon our first handshake.

I would love to tell you that all of the meetings you will have as a freelancer will end with positive results. But unfortunately, this is far from reality.

This rest of this story is about one that I had last week, which I was really hoping would have turned out far differently than it did.

I met with one medium-sized company that would have been a great client. The type of ongoing work every freelancer typically dreams about. They found me online and invited me to pitch for their business.

I was excited. This company was exactly my target, one that wants agency-style creative but needs the art director and copywriter removed from the building to save all the overhead costs and middle-man fees. This has always been my niche and makes up my typical client base.

I quoted them on the first project – several magazine ads that were going to run nationally in a few prominent magazines.

They wanted concepts (“out of the box” thinking as they put it), mechanicals, copywriting, and they wanted different versions, An ad campaign for their various products under one (company/brand) umbrella.

I know from working with agencies what these ads should cost them.

I consulted several of my pricing guides and many of my past invoices, and presented them with fees lower than my usual rates hoping to get my foot in the door. I figured a client with a lot of ongoing work is worth some sacrifice.

After receiving my quote, they told me my price was higher than all of the other “agencies” I was competing against (none of which I had ever heard of) but they still wanted me to come in and make a live presentation. I took this as a good sign. The sign of a client willing to educate themselves and pay a little more when they are led to understand that quality (and this type of conceptual thinking) comes with a price. Either that, or they were lying about the other competitor’s quotes hoping to get me to slash my fees. Either way, with a ton of boardroom presentation experience under my belt, I was looking forward to the meeting and the chance to close the deal.

A week later, as predicted, I was in a boardroom full of executives explaining my rationale as to why they should hire me. I pointed out my vast experience of working on global brands, I pointed out my lack of unnecessary costs through overhead, and I showed examples of work I had created in the past that reflected their business and marketing needs. I even brought in two pricing guides and showed them what (according to industry standards) their ads should run them compared to my quote, which was on the bottom end of the scale.

A week later, I had heard nothing so I sent a follow up email asking for an update.

I received a reply in which I found out the sad news that I had lost the pitch.

Now, whenever you find out you have lost (be it a client pitch or a job interview) you ALWAYS want to receive an explanation as to why? This allows you the opportunity to plug any holes you may have had in your presentation.

I sent over the email asking what clinched it for the other company?

Here’s the response I received…

“One of the companies we met with brought three different ads they had created and designed for us, and they were actually really good, their price was very reasonable, and seeing their work upfront helped to reassure us that they were very capable of producing a quality product.

So, their work was good. Okay I get that. There are many other very talented people and agencies out there.

Their price was reasonable. Even though they are GIVING their services away for far-below-industry-standard prices, I understand that it’s a dog-eat-dog world and if somebody is willing to work in this industry for next to nothing, it’s their prerogative. It screws up the rates for the rest of us but once again, there’s really no stopping somebody that wants to work cheap.

But, here’s where it always gets frustrating…

They didn’t yet have the job, they didn’t have a brief, they didn’t make a single penny, yet they produced all the work.

Spec work.

No matter how well I presented, I simply could not compete with that.

For any of you designers or agencies belonging to a professional design organization, you couldn’t either.

You are not allowed to.

Now, I don’t belong to any organization but this got me thinking. By joining a professional design organization are you shooting yourself in the foot in today’s overly competitive world? Will you continuously lose projects to others that don’t follow the rules and moral codes of conduct?

I was feeling pretty down when I received that explanation/reply. It took me some time to shake off the loss. I finally sent another reply to the client whose business I just lost explaining how I could not compete with a company that was willing to create all the work on spec.

I wouldn’t want to. I’d like to fully research the company to the best of my ability, understand their business and their USP, and know that whatever I finally created was exactly on target. That it was the best work I could produce to make a full impact on the consumer and gain my client a successful ROI that (hopefully) exceeds all of their expectations.
And as I told my lost client in the last sentence of my email…

“I’d rather be honourable”.

The question I want you all to ask yourself is this…

Are you?

Until next time, keep dreaming.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How does one tell a company that their ads are horrible?

Here’s an interesting question for all the advertising professionals out there.

But first, an introductory story.

Every morning, I read the Newspaper. I have been doing this since I started carrying two paper routes for the Toronto Sunday Sun at the age of 11.

The Sunday Sun is a heavy paper. It comes in two thick pieces that had to be assembled before I began delivery. Having two routes (including an entire building), there were a ton of papers to assemble. This meant papers flying around and pages opening to stories that would instantly grab my attention. Hijacked airliners, killer Kool Aid in Jonestown, and an assortment of serial killers roaming the city had me stopping constantly to read the details. Needless to say, I got very interested in World events at a very young age. I had to eventually give up the paper route when I decided it wasn’t really fair to the customers that were constantly complaining that their paper was late. To this day, I can’t start the morning without at least reading the front section of a newspaper containing the World’s headlines and the Letters to the Editor.

So, to make a long story short, here I am at 8:30 am this week, in my regular routine of eating breakfast and reading my newspaper when I discovered on page A3 (that’s the immediate page on the left after turning the cover) the most horribly created ad in the history of the last 10 years. It practically made my eyes bleed.

Not only was it beyond ugly, there were typos, alignment issues, bitmapped images, triple spacing between some words, even the company logo was a disaster.

I flipped some more pages and two more ads immediately stuck out thanks to their poorly designed concepts and layouts.

It appears that some small businesses are still placing large scale ads in the newspaper. But they seem to be creating them themselves.

And business owners wonder why they fail?

Of course, the first thought that goes through my mind is “I really need to contact them to offer my creative services”.

Now, here’s where my question to you comes in…

How do you politely and professionally call up a company and say “Hi, your ad in the newspaper today looked like my cat threw up in its mouth?

Do you tone it down and simply make the offer of “I’d like to come in and show you how I can help improve your advertising”?

Here’s something else to consider, is it even worth it? Would a company willing to place an ad like that on page 3 even consider paying a decent wage to have it done properly?

If you have ever made a cold call like this and it’s been a positive or negative experience, I for one would love to hear it.

Please discuss.

Monday, March 01, 2010

NEVER give up.

It is the first day of March and this is technically my first real blog post of 2010.

I have just had the busiest 2 months of my freelance career.

Like many in this industry, 2009 was a waiting game. It was the equivalent of fishing on a lake with a million other fishermen and no fish to be found.

For over 6 months I pushed, and schmoozed, and made endless phone calls, and typed hundreds of emails, and sent out dozens upon dozens of proposals, the entire time waiting for something to come through. I would have killed for just one bite. I had a lot of bait out there, and it was a waiting game for a strike on one of my lines.

In the meantime, I wrote for creative outlet. I complained about the state of the industry, crowdsourcing sites, stock photography sites selling logos, cheap designers, and everything else that was disgusting me in relation to what was horribly altering this great profession. I got contacted and gave interviews based on these posts, I kept busy, and no matter what, I always kept at it. I constantly threw out new bait and wondered when and if it would eventually pay off?

At the beginning of January, I decided to join my family in Florida for a week on the beach. After all, nobody was signing any of my proposals and nothing was lined up. I had nothing but free time. I was exhausted from plugging. I needed a bit of R&R.

Miraculously, the second my airline tickets were bought and confirmed, every fishing line started screaming.

Everything I was waiting for, everything I had put in motion over 6 months in 2009, hit at once.

I marveled at all the retainers and signed proposals coming in and left for Florida that week with nothing but a sketchbook in my carry-on luggage. I had that sketchbook with me throughout the trip. Scribbling ideas and concepts on the beach, at the pool, at breakfast, and even once while deep-sea fishing.

Unlike any other point in my career, I had to create a work calendar and schedule all the projects into hours for the month.

There were some late nights. There was some head spinning. But I managed to get it all completed to the required deadlines.

This is what I have worked on in the last 6 weeks…

Ad concepts (and much more) for a software client in New York city.

Advertising (and re-branding) for a national bank (working as a senior Art Director through an ad agency).

A logo for an online music store.

A logo for an online music forum.

A logo and business cards for an interior design company.

A complete company identity/branding for another.

Ad concepts for a large consulting firm.

A direct mail piece for a Podiatrist.

A direct mail piece for a high-end fashion client.

A brochure for a security company.

A website for a poker tournament.

B2B ads/spec sheets (for new products) for a leading worldwide electronics company.


I also got called into interviews for several full-time and freelance senior positions during this period. I had to turn down several other projects that didn’t match my skill set. One of which was lead programmer for the world’s most popular online poker site. That contract would have been very lucrative.

The highlight of the entire scope of work was when I was contacted and hired by a company based on my online rants against Crowdsourcing sites.

This company originally had an online contest and received hundreds of submissions resulting in nothing that was good enough to be used. In fact, the submissions were absolute dreck. I was hired to give them an identity they could be proud of. I came through (they liked all 3 concepts) and it will be launched in the near future. There is now one company out there that understands that if you think it is expensive to hire a professional, wait until you give your project to an amateur (or in this case, hundreds of them). You WILL most often get what you pay for.

My point to this post is not to boast but to inspire. To be honest, I am right back to square one. All of the projects are practically completed and I am now back to throwing baited lines into the water.

The point is to keep plugging. Keep fishing. Don’t give up. EVER. It may seem like nothing is happening but all of your hard work is setting the wheels in motion. It may seem like everything is hopeless and redundant but eventually, you WILL get a strike on one of your lines. So keep throwing out lines.

And of course, when all else fails, book a much-needed vacation.