1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?

From a very young age, I have been doodling on scraps of paper, and in academia, it was my school work. I seemed to always be drawn to visual elements and wanting to improve on
the concept.

It wasn’t until 1997 that I started to get into logo design. We had a contest to redesign our school logo. My logo design was chosen, and that stirred that alignment to be more focused on the pursuit of Graphic Design.  

2. How did you get started, and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?

I have two significant hurdles that stand out, and equally had defining moments of change that required a major shift.

  1. Overseas design: I was competing with designers were charging rock bottom prices, and so I shifted from a designer to a strategist. I focused on making my strategy process the value, and not the end product. Clients begin to see that the value of the process was much more important than the end result, but necessary to get the best outcome. It also helped then understand that a logo isn’t just a logo with a much bigger price tag.

  2. I lost my creative agency… it wasn’t because of our ability to exceed the expectations of our clients, but because of a strategic alliance relationship, and internal sabotage from a key team member. The strategic alliance did the most damage by calling my client list and trashing us. I know what you may be thinking… how could I allow this to happen. You must off sued off his pants.

    I had every right to sue, and the evidence to do so on both accounts, but I took no such action. This turned out to be the best outcome that could have possibly happened. Yes, I was dragged through the social media mud, but only for a season. I started the company I have now and focused on only doing Branding… no marketing… no automation… just Branding. I have no regrets, and I am grateful for the failure I endured. 

3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?

I have been word of mouth for 20+ years, and my system is super simple. When we finished up with a client I would have a concluding meeting tieing up any loose ends, but at the same time I would get their feedback. If I saw that they were truly happy with the results I would ask them for a testimonial by providing them with 7 guided questions.

I would then ask if they could share their experiences and testimonial with three other people they know that would benefit from our services. I would only take on the clients that were aligned with us. It’s that simple.

4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?

I under-promise and over-deliver. Clients see very quickly how serious I take Branding and the success of that journey. I don’t tell them what they want to hear, I guide them to where they need to go… and also give them the blunt truth. As a result of just this, they come back to us for work.

Yes, we have your typical follow-up systems that keep us in the front of their mind, but the reality is… I truly care about the success of their brand.

5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?

Don’t we all… Yes, each mistake we made in this department, we added another clause to our contract. It’s now many pages of legal for a reason. The reality is we are dealing with humans, and keeping that conversation open, and grace for unforeseen circumstances is essential. I evaluate each circumstance as it arises. Sometimes I shut it down, and other times I allow a payment plan. I always have my contract to lean on if it get’s legally ugly.

I would love to tell you this never happens after 20+ years, but that isn’t simply true. This COVID-19 is a perfect example of good people caught in unfortunate circumstances.

6. What does your typical workday look like?

My workday starts between 4:30 am – 5:30 am and ends around 3:30 pm-5 pm. I do take breaks in between to hang with my wife and boys. I have a different schedule for each day. Typically Monday and Friday are set aside for internal brand refining and strategic alliances I am working and supporting. Tuesday-Thursday,

I do meetings with clients and potential clients. Obviously, not all clients can meet these requirements, and flexibility is required.

7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?

  • Your value as a designer is not in your end product designs, but in your strategic processes to get to that outcome.
  • You don’t have to work with everyone. Choose carefully who you are going to work with and make sure the clients are aligned with your brand culture and values. That has been important for us, but to each their own.
  • Don’t get distracted by closing a big deal. I have worked with many big brands, and the amount of bureaucracy and time needed to invest in their success was way more than I was paid. This is my opinion, but boundaries are a big deal with me.
  • Don’t let people entice you with carrots; even if you are starting out and building your portfolio… don’t do it for free. It’s hard to get off of that slippery slope once you are there. I am speaking from experience. Your talents have value…. charge accordingly.
  • Your time has a significant value once it’s used… it’s gone forever. Many people, friends, and family will try to pick your brain. If you start to feel they are buying you a meal to further their agenda and get creative ideas. Redirect them to a design consult time, and help them set up a billable time. If they don’t like that or get defensive, it’s a good indicator that you wouldn’t want to work with them.

These are obviously my opinions from my experience, but I hope that it will help you not make the same mistakes as I did. Thank you for the opportunity to share and for your time.

Joel Kelly is the founder of BAM Create with 20+ years experience in the field of branding and strategy. You can also find them on facebook and instagram