RECAP | B-Side: Taking Care of Business

Karl Sakas led AIGA Raleigh’s fourth B-Side course, Taking Care of Business: Procedures, Paperwork & Project Management, on Wednesday June 15. His presentation provided a thorough overview of procedures and tips for managing paperwork, clients and contracts. He started and ended the session with his number one piece of advice: Be Intentional, Not Reactive. 

If you missed Karl’s session, read our recap below!

Begin with the ending in mind

“Ask yourself: What type of business do you want?”

First, determine how you want your business to grow. This goal will determine your business model.

  • High growth: You are interesting in growing your business as fast as possible
    • Sell business in 3-10 years
    • Growth is more important than work-life balance
    • Grow 30-100% a year
    • Hire a team
    • Full-time job
  • Lifestyle: You want to be part-time or full-time freelancer. Interesting in quality of life.
    • Quality of life comes before growth
    • Not planning to sell
    • Priority is to reduce stress
    • Part-time or full-time


“Because clients can’t always see what you’re doing, clients have the tendency to undervalue design.”

Three pricing models: Most designers start with an hourly rate and move towards value-based pricing as they become more experienced.

  • Hourly: aka Time and Materials
    • Easy to estimate
    • Penalizes efficiency and expertise
  • Milestone: aka Fixed Bid
    • Rewards efficiency
    • Harder to price and enforce
  • Value-Based: aka Performance
    • Rewards results
    • Can be hard to sell and measure

Creating estimates

  • Start by value anchoring: Ask client about the potential business impact of your design.
    • Ask about competitors and business goals to help with pricing
  • Sum the line items: Add 20-35% for project management and client communication.
    • Time/cost for each task
    • Don’t forget to count emails, meetings etc.
    • Include revisions
  • Give clients 2-3 options
    • Multiple options show client your pricing is fair
    • Provides a cost-benefit analysis for client
    • Present basic, advanced, deluxe versions
  • Cut scope, not rate


  • Hire a lawyer for template feedback: helpful when issues arise or if you’re sued
  • Important parts of a contract to note: Venue, IP transfer, “Work for Hire”
    • Venue: noted in contract where law applies. Important for remote work. 
    • Intellectual Property transfer: client does not own what you made until they paid in full
    • Work for hire clause: relinquishing any claim of copyright to your work.
      • Need to get paid A LOT for it to be worth it
  • It’s important to write a contract for every project, especially for friends and family.
  • Contracts are about the process and the result. They are always worth writing. 


Terms and Conditions

Terms and conditions are items to include in your contract with the client. They provide solutions for coming issues surrounding design work and client relationships.

  • Require payment on your delivery of work, not happiness of client.
    • Your money is due when you send the deliverable, not when they are happy with it.
    • You can control meeting deadlines, but not their emotions or opinions.
    • Add incorporating feedback into next step and payment cycle.
  • Try Net 15, not “due on receipt”
    • Add “Payment due in 15 days” to invoices.
    • Karl recommends taking credit cards for security of getting paid immediately.
  • Include a clause in your contract that states all work is paused until past due payments are made. 
  • Not sure what else to add? Think: What tends to go wrong?
    • To help guide additional T&Cs
    • Ex. Long delays on feedback. Require a time limit to provide feedback on designs.


Put it in writing

  • Karl stressed the power of email recaps when working with clients.
    • Use email to recap meetings and phone calls
    • These emails act as mini-contracts and help create a paper trail for agreements
  • Change orders: updates to the scope of projects
    • Email confirmations work for these agreements
  • Create a statement of work for each client
    • Outlines scope, deliverables and timeline for project
  • Include a list of sales exclusions in your statement of work.
    • Things you previously discussed with the client that didn’t make it into final scope
    • This will eliminate any confusion about deliverables later on.

Client Onboarding

“We train our clients to be our clients.”

  • Client experience
    • Warmth and competence
      • Finding a balance
      • Minimize client surprises
    • Deliverables and emotions
      • Finding a balance
    • Help clients “manage up”
  • Boundaries
    • Using policies
    • Setting and enforcing boundaries
      • Ex. Work hours. Don’t accept calls or emails after hours
    • Scope management. Avoid scope creep. 
  • Logistics
    • Provide checklists
    • Schedule kickoffs
    • Maintain communications with client
    • Set up expectations for billing

The iron triangle of project management: Budget, timeline, scope. Changing one variable impacts the others. 


Client Questionnaires

“The questions you are before a project starts demonstrates to your clients that you know what you’re doing.” 

Pre-Kickoff Survey Sample Questions

  • How do you define success at launch? After?
    • Make sure there are not competing definitions of sucess
  • How many hours/week can you dedicate?
  • Prior experience with designers?
  • Do you have an existing approval workflow?
  • Do you prefer phone, email, or in-person?


Creative Brief

It’s a good idea to include a creative brief to outline the goals and expectations for every project. Here are some items to include in the brief:

  • Background
  • Objective
  • Target Audience
  • Key point to convey
  • Deliverables?
  • Why audience should act
  • Schedule and other constraints


Change Orders

Change orders are necessary when the client decides they want something that’s not in scope. Karl share his 7 magic words to kill scope creep: “Would you like an estimate for that?”

  • Strategically free is ok: “This isn’t included but since you’re long-time client…”
  • Secretly free is not good.


Additional resources from Karl:

Our next B-Side session, Self-Promotion: Marketing your Business & Finding New Clients/Customers, is July 20th. Register here! See you there!


Chelsea Brown

About the Author: Chelsea Brown is a UX/UI Designer on the marketing team at Republic Wireless with a focus in editorial content. She looks at each project as an opportunity to tell a story and enhance the reader’s experience through design. On her days off, she enjoys running, Jane Austen novels and day trips to the beach.

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By Chelsea Brown
Published June 28, 2016