The magic of agglomeration advantage

Competition stimulates business is an old saying in economics. I had a D- (4- in Germany) in my Abitur in geography. But for some reason, I have not forgotten one thing: The agglomeration advantage. In retail, an agglomeration advantage is an increase in sales through spatial proximity to stores with a similar assortment or a similarly pursued pricing strategy (source: onpulson.com). A street full of restaurants and snack bars attracts the hungry. Even though each vendor is in competition, they all benefit equally.

Can it be a coincidence that some of mankind’s most significant artists lived in the same place in the same era? Names like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, or Botticelli ring bells even to the art philistine. The great masters learned with and from each other. And they were also in competition with each other. For example, Da Vinci found his personal and professional rival in the young Michelangelo. Both of them were commissioned in the early 1500s to each decorate a wall for the Florence’s Council Hall in the Palazzo della Signora with their art. The mere presence of the other will have affected and motivated them somehow. They will have benefited from it. How exciting it must have been to watch these two ambitious geniuses at work in direct comparison. 

Our environment affects us, and we affect our environment. Depending on where we move or who we meet, the place and the people influence our path. For my studies in communication design, I moved to Dusseldorf, the fashion city par excellence. As a graphic design student with a passion for illustration, it’s no surprise that I ended up creating t-shirt graphics for fashion brands like Esprit while studying. 

When it comes to clients, it’s all about trust

When a client hires freelancers, be they web designers, art directors, translators, or illustrators, they are looking for anchors for safety hooks. Usually, the client does not know the freelancer personally and wants to work with him for the first time. Of course, this involves risks for him. It’s about quality, reliability, speed, flexibility, openness to criticism, friendliness, and positivity.

Once these values and qualities have been conveyed, the subsequent price negotiation is the most minor step. What good is the most beautiful work of art to the customer if it is not delivered on time for the printing deadline? Leonardo da Vinci regularly infuriated his clients by putting them off for years or never starting or finishing orders.

Contracts or no contracts, especially when international collaboration, where litigation is complicated, building trust is crucial. The portfolio is our digital front door. Our business card. We signal here to potential clients that they are in good hands with us through the following points:

  • Clarity: What do we offer? How can we be reached?
  • Professional presentation of our services, e.g., low-resolution pictures on our homepage, does not show our exceptional attention to detail. Illuminated photos of our work, on the other hand, do.
  • About us-page: A portrait photo, a few words about us, and images of our workspace give the client additional insight and a face to the work, emails, and voice on the phone.
  • Listing of clients and agencies we have already worked with. One completed client project shows that we can reliably bring projects to completion.
  • Recognition: Whether internationally won awards, online interviews, or local newspaper reports. Every recognition testifies to our professionalism and seriousness.
  • Testimonials: Words that are worth their weight in gold. Quotes from customers about a successful collaboration are the ultimate confidence builders.

Other ways to build trust:

  • A blog or vlog with additional behind-the-scenes insights and creative processes.
  • Behavior on social media: how and what do we write under our posts? How do we formulate comments and answer questions?

„We need to tell a story!“

Whether it’s an insurance company, a manufacturer of gasket rings, or a designer of handmade jewelry, when it comes to marketing, the topic of storytelling quickly comes up: “What story can we tell about our product or service?“ The answer is that we don’t need to find a story. We already have one: our own.

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“Do you have a second?” questions are a lie

Every one of us knows these questions and has certainly used them before. “Can you print that out for me real quick?”, “Will you take a short break with me?”, “Can you write him back just briefly?”. Whenever someone asks us to do something like that, we know it will never be quick, short, or brief. Both sides know that even writing a “short” email takes time and that printing something out can lead to complications, for example, when the printer cartridge is empty again.

But that is not all. “Do you have a second?” is a distraction vortex. If we are pulled out of our work, we lose our flow. Just as we lose momentum when a slow truck moves into the passing lane in front of us. We have to work our way back into it later, which takes time and energy. We always lose significantly more than “one second.” 

In their well worth reading book “Make Time,” Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky write about how minor distractions create much larger holes in our day. They call these events time craters and explain how to prevent them and protect ourselves from them.

Quick hack to organize emails: using keywords

To have important emails quickly at hand later, we can include keywords that we can then enter into the search. For example, in price negotiations, we often send several versions of the offer until we have agreed on a fee and the rights of use with the customer. Keywords such as “clientname-finalestimate” help here. Other possibilities are “projectnamehiresfiles” if the print data has been sent or “database” if the contact is to be entered in the database later.

These keywords can stand below the signature in light gray or in white font if they should not be visible to the contact.

Emails are risk-minimizers

From my experience as an illustrator, most communication with clients is via email. And that’s a good thing. The written record, starting with the inquiry, the individual process steps, and the data transfer, gives both sides the necessary security for smooth cooperation.

It forces us to think in a structured way and quickly shows which points are still open or incorrect. Especially at the beginning, all basic conditions must be clearly formulated, such as illustration style, scope, rights of use, and deadline. Even before it goes into pricing, establishing these points is crucial for the client and us. They are our location coordinates to keep track of where we are and where we are going during our journey together.

Emails are our joint diary on this trip. A documentation of our collaboration. The client and the freelancer keep each other updated and agree on our next steps.

Phone calls and Zoom meetings are great for quickly exchanging information or discussing more complex issues. However, most misunderstandings and mistakes hide here. Discussed points are forgotten, and things are understood differently. That is simply human. Therefore, we take notes during every call and announce that we will send the customer a short email with the discussed points after the conversation. In it, we ask for a quick confirmation that everything has been recorded correctly.

We secure ourselves and our work steps. At the same time, we also give the customer security. This is so important for cooperation. He feels transparently kept up to date and can devote himself to other tasks with complete peace of mind.

The designer is a chimera

He is an artist, craftsman, and salesman in one, and all three “beings” feed on one essence: creativity.

The artist in him has learned to ignite the creative fire. However, the designer’s task is now to tame and focus on this fire. Only in this way can he aim laser-precisely at his customer’s problem and solve it.

The craftsman in him has the task of using skills to turn the inner world of the designer inside out. He is constantly improving his skills and looking for new possibilities to accomplish this. He experiments, changes, fails, frustrates, and keeps trying.

The salesman in him has the task of presenting the work of his two colleagues to the world. He looks for creative ways and opportunities to reach people who will benefit from the work.

A designer can only consist of these three beings. If he lacks even one, he is not a designer anymore. He transforms himself, for example, into a free and independent artist, an art dealer, or a master craftsman in his own business. However, all of them make a living from creativity, just as the designer does.

Specialists vs. All-rounders. And the winner is…

In the creative industry, the term graphic designer describes an all-rounder. His portfolio is full of different works from various fields. He designs logos, posters, brochures and offers illustrations and web design on the side. At first glance, the everyday life of a graphic designer is diverse and therefore exciting. He acts like a Swiss army knife. But something fundamental missing distinguishes him from an expert – a recognizable, individual signature in his work. Even if he masters his craft and reaches customers with his service, he dances on a razor’s edge. Because he doesn’t specialize in a niche, it’s difficult for him to develop his own style that would set him apart from his competition. He simply lacks the necessary time to do so.

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Time is not our currency. Expertise is

We are experts in what we do because we are experienced in our field. The more we do, the more original our work becomes and the faster we get results. In short, we are getting better and better.

Therefore, we can’t calculate our fee by the hour. Our expertise makes us valuable to the client – not our time.

Five years ago, I developed about 4 to 5 conceptual illustration ideas in four days. Today, I draw up to 20 in two days. If I calculated per hour, I would be penalized for getting better.

The client hires our service because he has a problem he needs us to solve (illustrative or otherwise). If we present him a solution in two days instead of four, that’s added value. Apart from the higher quality and number of alternatives, we give him something much more precious: time.

Using time pressure as a motivational power-up

In video games, a power-up temporarily strengthens the player. The most famous one is the mushroom in Super Mario. Time pressure can be our power-up.

Let’s say we have an appointment at the bank in 45 minutes. If we subtract 15 minutes for the trip, we have 30 minutes left. We often fritter away this precious time until the appointment. We say, “It’s not worth it to start something new now,” and bang goes Youtube. But that short time can be our mushroom. We can accomplish so much in 30 minutes, whether it’s work or personal activities like exercise or household chores.

The best part is that we always keep an eye on the clock, which boosts our concentration. I am often amazed that I can accomplish something in an intense 30 minutes that usually takes much more time, like writing this post, for example. 

The art of Email correspondence: three types of interlocutors

The art of email communication can easily be underestimated. Ideally, reading and writing feel like a pleasant face-to-face conversation. We remain friendly at all times. We keep our sentences short and simple by avoiding filler words and refraining from using unnecessary technical terms. Since we lack gestures and facial expressions, we avoid potentially misunderstandable language. Irony, sarcasm, and sometimes even a joking comment can quickly be taken the wrong way. Unlike in verbal conversation, we can change, adapt or delete what we just wrote. We use this advantage.

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Video recommendation: “How do I raise prices without losing clients” by The Futur

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A helpful video by the Futur on the challenging topic of pricing or raising prices. In the conversation are Chris Do (the Futur), Joel Pilger (business coach), and Maryia Bulka (illustrator). Among other things, they talk about how to raise the pricing for existing and new clients, and there is an exciting role-play between client and contractor. The following stuck with me:

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Got a new commission? 7 Reasons why we should jump in immediately

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We just received a new job request? Let’s start immediately. Let’s not procrastinate. Let’s not put it off. Even if we only spend a minute. By doing so, we make our lives so much easier. Waiting for the right time or inspiration is for amateurs. We are professionals. We get to work. Here are seven reasons why we should always start immediately:

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