Category Archives: Features

Whether we blog about something of interest around the world or around the corner, our Features category examine graphic design trends and viewpoints that are interesting and helpful.

Being self-employed in a city like Vancouver makes you fortunate: with good transit, good people and good cafes, the only real challenge in this city is actually doing a good job. But since we know you’ve already got that covered…what you really need is a place to have client meetings.

1. Try the library

With 22 branches strategically placed in the most convenient locations all across Vancouver, the library is the most obvious (and yet the most surprising) choice for a business meeting. Vancouver has committed to providing free wireless internet in every location, and if you don’t mind embracing the “community” feel, nothing beats a library as a quiet space for smart people.

2. Do coffee

Your favourite local coffee shop is moonlighting as a prime location for your next meeting. Here in Vancouver, it’s almost harder to find a coffee shop that doesn’t have wireless: every Waves location will hook you up for free, and most Blenz, Wired Monk and Bread Garden Urban Cafe locations will, too. Even at Starbucks, all it takes for free wi-fi is a registered Starbucks card – I carry an empty one around in my wallet for just that purpose.

3. Join the club

Your meeting could be happening in a Gastown loft with view of the Burrard Inlet and the North Shore mountains, in a comfortable-yet-stylish space with exposed brick, floor-to-ceiling windows and ready access to the city’s best coffee. Yeah, it’ll set you back a monthly membership fee, but you’ll also be part of Workspace, one of North America’s pioneers in shared spaces. The meetings might just be worth it. (You can also try The Network Hub on Richards Street, available at $20/hour for our kind of meetings)

4. Chow down

The breakfast meeting is a classic, and if you’ve got a client you’re comfortable enough with to eat pancakes and talk business at the same time, then Vancouver has a couple options. Every De Dutch location has free wireless. All Cactus Club shops (for a lunch or dinner option) can feed you broadband and beefsteak, and The End Café on Commercial can give you coffee, food and internet (and big tables).

5. Centre yourself

In January of 2009 Vancouver City Council passed a motion to start rolling out wireless for all Community Centres in Vancouver. It’s not ready yet, but most of the Centres have a good amount of tables and chairs ready to be inhabited by entrepreneurs like you.

Tools & Resources

Putting a price on creativity is no easy task. It takes great care to please your clients and build a sustainable livelihood at the same time. Without the benefit of pricing a product based on reselling tangible products, graphic designers and marketing specialists are often left to their own devices when it comes to establishing rates. Many times this results in varied and unrealistic charges and a general lack of best practices in the field.

From a professional perspective, there are several factors that should influence your decision making process and help you, as a creative, to valuate your services.

Rate Formulation Equation

Your first step to take in establishing an hourly rate is to calculate your overhead costs by creating a budget. If the idea of budgeting bothers you, this is an unfortunate problem to have. Many designers experience these same sentiments which is one of the main contributing factors in unreasonable and wildly fluctuating pricing models. If you can’t create a budget or do not want to create one, you run the risk of running an unsuccessful venture.

If you have been doing business for a few years, and have managed to keep these records, look back on your invoices and receipts, itemize both into several streams of revenue on the income side, and categorize your expenses in the same manner. If you are starting from scratch, there are several types of expenses that you can typically account for on a month to month basis. Here is a sample of what this may look like:

- Utilities: $300
- Rent: $1,500
- Phone/Internet: $75
- Recordable Media: $25
- Travel expenses: $150
- Online subscriptions: $100
- Payroll (your salary): $3,000
- Tax Remittance: $250

Total Monthly Expenses: $5,400
Total Yearly Expenses: $64,800

Once you have an idea of your annual expenses, it’s time to turn your attention to your income. Keep in mind that it’s very doubtful that you will have the opportunity to bill your clients for 40 hours per week as you would as normal employee. Managing your own business is wrought with numerous interruptions and many small tasks that require your attention and are simply not costs you can bill to anyone. Realistically, your opportunity for billing time directly to a client may be limited to 25-30 hours per week or 1400 hours per year. Your time may also be affected by your network of clients and their requirements. Estimate your billable hours carefully and responsibly.

Once you come up with a practical weekly estimate, extrapolate these numbers out to create an annual figure. When you have this number calculated, divide your expenses ($64,800) by your billable hours (1400 hrs.) to come up with an hourly figure ($45.71/ hr). Once this figure is arrived at, you must consider the cost of growing your business and retaining income for savings. Perhaps, 10% is a good rate of savings (for an annual total of $6,300), and 20% would be a suitable mark-up for investment back into your business ($12,600 annually).

When taking these figures into account, your hourly rate of $59.21 seems like a figure that will ensure you cover your costs, pay yourself, save for the future, and encourage spending on growth initiatives like advertising or hardware upgrades.

Streamlining Your Business

Once you have created a financial blueprint for your business, you are well on your way to making yourself a successful entrepreneur. Your task now is to discover ways to lower your expenses in an effort to gain a competitive edge over your competition. If you can create opportunities to save on overhead costs such as utilities, rent or phone costs, you can choose to pass these savings onto your clients.

In the process of looking for creative ways to cut costs you may discover that these are also ways to reduce your carbon footprint. If this is something that saves you money every month, apart from the obvious benefits to the environment, it may be also be an opportunity to market your organization from a green perspective.

The more you can reduce your overhead expenses, all things being equal, the bigger the advantage you hold over your competitors.

Supply and Demand

Supply and demand is popular term in economics and may be the most practical way of deciding how to price yourself hourly. If demand is high, meaning your phone is ringing off the hook, your inbox is full, and you have more work than you can handle, your hourly rate is ready for a increase.

It’s also worth mentioning that if you have very little work, this is not justification to increase your hourly rate, rather it’s time to find a part time job to help make ends meet. Increasing your rates in this situation, although a short term solution, will not sustain you over the long term as you may end up pricing yourself out of work before you even begin.

Supply and demand should be the only factor that influences your hourly rate. By establishing yourself and succeeding on the premise of excellent design, fiscal responsibility, and great customer service, you are creating a fair economic environment that will grow proportionally with your success and the satisfaction of your clients. These are easily measurable metrics.


Although ethical decision making seems to be an out-dated principle in our capitalistic society, it’s an important factor to consider in pricing your services appropriately. Here are some potential situations where you may need to rely on ethics to make a decision:

  • It’s come to your attention that your client has secured a sizable new contract. This is not a reason to charge more.
  • Your client drives an expensive automobile to meetings. This is not a reason to charge more.
  • You feel annoyed. This is not a reason to charge more.
  • You are faced with a tight project time-line. This could be a reason to charge more.
  • You are working with technology you are unfamiliar with. This is not a reason to charge more.
  • The scope of the project increases. This is could be a reason to charge more.
  • Use your best judgment, or ask a trusted source, when you are faced with the temptation to charge more than your typical hourly rate or more than what was originally quoted. Remember that supply and demand is the main driver of your services.

    Consistent Value vs. Potential Value

    There is a school of thought in the design industry that believes you should bill on a sliding scale where cost is determined by the size or earnings of a client. For example, larger more established organizations should pay more for creative services than a smaller, lesser known client due to the fact that they have the potential to make more money from your work. As an responsible and respected designer, it should be noted that this ideal is ethically irresponsible and fundamentally flawed.

    Unless a larger organization approaches you with work while demand for your product is high, or negotiations are dictated by a set budget that is higher than you would normally expect to charge, you should not be inclined to charge larger companies any differently than you do your regular clients.

    Be aware of this slippery slope as it can cause serious creative difficulties if you do take liberties with your cost structure. The product you provide should always be of a consistent caliber, not one that fluctuates with the quality of your clientele.

    Smart Partnerships

    Your suppliers are a key element in your cost structure. Choose the people you work with carefully and ensure you can trust them to deliver a quality product in a timely fashion. Whether you outsource printing, web development, or hosting, your clients will be affected by your supply chain decisions. Be sure that you establish a specific percentage mark-up on all outsourced services and do not deviate from this pattern as it is important to create pricing that your clients can count on and budget for.

    Responsibility in Graphic Design is an important aspect of our industry that is often disregarded in the passionate pursuit of creative solutions. As a designer, remember that your choices affect everyone and if you run your business with professionalism – everyone wins!

    Taking Twitter Seriously

    Where were you when you started taking Twitter seriously? For me, it was on the bright red couches by the fireplace at the food court in Metrotown, when my friend Zach Bulick took 20 minutes to spell it out for me. It was in September 2008, and I had a cold at the time.

    “It just seems so frivolous,” I insisted between sniffles. “It’s like reading the Facebook status updates of strangers.”

    “It seems like that at first,” Zach countered. “But start thinking outside the box and you’ll come up with some amazing ways to use it.”

    Because Twitter is basically people blogging in under 140 characters, you can tap into a lot of information very quickly. Zach pointed out that CNN was using using it to gather instant feedback from viewers, and that Comcast (at least I think it was them) was using it to offer a new kind of customer service. They’d use to find messages where users are complaining about their company or services, then get in touch with them instantly to see how they could help.

    I realized then how Twitter could work for the organization I work for, a non-profit in Vancouver called Union Gospel Mission. We could educate people about homelessness. Give people an unprecedented glimpse into the street-level work we do. Network with other agencies like us to share resources. Build relationships with influential bloggers. Share progress towards fundraising goals. Offer admin support to donors who need it. And since that conversation with Zach, that’s exactly what we’ve been trying to do as @ugm on Twitter.

    I have a feeling that Twitter could work for your business, too, and it’s just a matter of thinking it through and coming up with a good strategy.

    1. Gather the tools and learn the terms

    Compared with the familiar territory of blogging, Twitter is a whole new world. You’ll learn the lingo and lay-of-the-land quickly, but it’s always nice to have help. Once you set up your account, you should:

    2. Find the key influencers in your area

    In every industry and every geographic area, certain Twitter users have more influence than others. It might be because of their expertise, their personality, or just the number of people following them. As a businessperson, it’s a good idea to follow these key influencers — it’s good, old-fashioned networking. It keeps you in the know, and helps establish your presence as a fellow like-minded expert. (You can use a service called Twellow to identify who these individuals are.)

    3. Listen to what people are saying

    Leave the monologuing for the theatrical types — it’s your foremost priority to hear what other people are saying before adding to the noise. The better you understand the culture, the more effective you can be as a participant — that goes for life and for Twitter. If you can get a handle on the nuances of this communication style — the type of Tweets that plummet and the type that soar — you’ll be better equipped to contribute content that is valuable, unique and compelling (more on that in step 5).

    4. Metrics and Monitoring

    • Monitor terms that pertain to your business or industry. It’s incredibly useful to see what Twitter users are saying about your business, your industry, your products or your work — consider it a free, unfiltered focus group. You can automatically monitor Twitter for specific updates in a few ways: TweetDeck can bet set up to constantly monitor up to 10 terms that you select. Or, if you use RSS, you can do a search on Twitter Search, then subscribe to the feed for that query. (Leave us a note in the comments if you need help with that step.)
    • Define what you will consider “success” as you venture into Twitter. Is it how many people are following you? How many replies you receive weekly? How many visitors Twitter sends to your website? By developing clear standards early, it will keep you focused. It will also act as an early warning system to let you know when you need to start adjusting your strategy.

    5. Contribute content that counts

    Don’t spam your Twitter followers with sales pitches and ad copy. Instead, try to mine your business for engaging stories, interesting angles and thoughtful approaches that you can share. This is easier than you think: nobody knows your business like you do. What are the “front lines” in your business? If it’s the guys in the shop, sit down with them weekly to find out more about a project they’re working on. If it’s a team of programmers, plumbers, pro soccer players or professors, tune into the day-to-day and discover the unique aspects of your organization that nobody else knows about. As you learned in step 3, this is a conversation, not a speech. When you enter Twitter as a business, you are being invited into someone’s living room. Do your best to add commentary and ideas that will add value, and you will be rewarded.

    Got questions? Want to chime in with your own tips, tricks or tools for using Twitter? Comments are open 24/7, and we’re here to help.