As someone who has been in the business of design for more than 20 years, Tonia Reid from Greenhouse Creative has certainly seen her fair share of clients.
Originally working as a Mac operator and desktop publisher, Tonia then moved into more of the traditional graphic design work such as posters, flyers and advertisements. But it wasn’t until she discovered the world of branding that she knew she had found ‘home’.
“Brand and brand strategy is where my heart is, because I want the work I do to have meaning. I like to understand a brand and the brand marketing strategy at a foundational level so that I can make good design choices that contribute to achieving business goals. .
“It felt like the work I was doing in the past wasn’t as significant as it could be.”
So it’s understandable that as Tonia’s design business has grown and evolved over time, she has fine-tuned it into something that is not only more closely aligned to her passion for brand, but also produces results which are impactful for her clients. Or as she mentions numerous times on her website, ‘design with purpose’.
“Everything I do - from lines to colours and everything in between - has purpose. There is a reason for the choices I make, especially when considering the goals of my clients and their business.”
Design isn’t just about looking ‘good’
While it’s obvious design has to look good, Tonia says this is only half of the story. Which is why the heading on her website states ‘More than a pretty typeface’.
“Almost daily and definitely weekly, I hear people reference graphic design as the craft of making something look good. Often along the lines of “could I send this to and get you to pretty it up?” ’ So I feel passionate about explaining why the craft is a mixture of art and science: Yes, it has to look good, but more importantly it has to inspire the desired action of the viewer.”
It also helps that Tonia has an extra string to her design bow, in the form of psychology studies. This has enabled her to tie together the psychology of human behaviour and purchasing decisions to give her a greater understanding of how graphic design can influence choices - further reinforcing her cause for designing with intent.
How to track the impact of design
Thankfully for Tonia and established client relationships, she is able to get plenty of validation through the work she does. She has also been able to measure tangible results, after adding extra services to her offering.
“Now that I conceptualise, create and deliver digital brand marketing campaigns for my clients, I have pretty good reason to look at the sales data myself - and of course report the impact of our campaigns back to the clients too.
“I had a website redesign go live recently, and we hadn’t promoted it or said anything about it on social media or through emails yet. But within seven days of the new design being live, my client received as many sales dollar wise as she usually gets in a normal month. I was able to track that and while it definitely provided me with a sense of pride and satisfaction, most importantly it clearly showed the value of my services to my client.”
However Tonia understands it isn’t always possible for graphic designers to have access to the data they would need to demonstrate impact.
“I know it can be difficult for a designer to ask their clients for access to their sales figures and other financial insights. It’s confidential information that a business owner would happily give to an accountant or coach, but not traditionally to a designer.”
It’s important to make clients understand how crucial it is for designers to work alongside a business to help them achieve their goals - whether that is through brand identity , a website redesign or something else. And Tonia says that using data is critical to that.
“At a core level, as humans, we need to feel like what we do has meaning and purpose. It’s incredibly beneficial to your confidence as a designer to know that the work you do has made a difference. This has the flow on effect of proving impact to your business owners, who may have otherwise undervalued the worth of their investment in you.”
Pitching the value of design to businesses
When it comes to ‘selling’ her value, Tonia says she is more in the business of educating.
With her business coming 100% from word of mouth or referral agency since day one, most clients coming to her are those who are already clued-up on the benefits of her services and are on-board from the get-go. But she has worked with a few in the past who just don’t get it.
“It’s a catch 22 in that those who understand brand marketing are often savvy enough to do it themselves, whereas those who really could benefit from a meaningful brand strategy possibly don’t see the value. And that’s only because they don’t understand it yet. So a big part of my role is sharing my knowledge and the reasons behind my design choices and recommendations, in plain english. It requires a lot of patience at times and a lot of silent wishing that certain clients would simply let me do my job, but I understand that if a client doesn’t understand why I’m doing what I’m doing that they probably won’t be happy to continue to pay their bill! Ultimately, I tend to focus my efforts on those who trust me. Some still don’t understand branding, but they are happy to let me do my job.”
She also mentions that it should be a red flag if someone doesn’t value your time or expertise, as they are probably not a good fit for you.
Building successful relationships with clients
While there are a few ‘bad eggs’ in the world of graphic design clients, Tonia knows there are plenty of opportunities for freelance graphic designers to make an impact on a variety of businesses.
For her, it’s those who already have their business off the ground and are looking to scale, and know they only get one chance to do it well, who will know the importance of a good graphic designer. And for her, developing good relationships with a handful of clients is what fits best for her.
“I love those symbiotic relationships where you are benefiting each other’s businesses and become almost a part of each others’ families. We help each other to grow towards our personal versions of success.”
How freelancers can showcase their impact
In the past, Tonia was focused on having a good looking portfolio and showing it off. But now she is more about ensuring her marketing finds the balance between visuals and communicating the impact she has made as a graphic designer, through data and case studies. But she understands it can be a challenge for designers who are predominantly visual.
“My advice is that when you’re asking for a testimonial, make sure you go further than just asking how nice you were to work with. Ask for data, facts and figures to show your worth, real life customer feedback and tangible results from projects to illustrate your value.”
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