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My Worst Client Was Me

In The Design Processby Tim Douglass

These are the talking points I use for telling my own embarrassing story. I post it here because there is nothing more cathartic than telling the internet how badly you’ve screwed up. Hopefully, it saves you the pain and headache I endured. Enjoy!

1 –  I started my photography business at age 24, the same year I got married to a photographer. We had fun but didn’t make a ton of money; we were young, dumb, and we were happy!

2 – We showed our images on myspace.com before someone said, you gotta show your work online. They were right, of course, but that meant we needed graphics/a logo, a distinctive presentation style, and …a functioning website.

3 – We got a quote from a branding agency in Austin. Design package, single page website with photo gallery plugin for 12K.

4 – MAN! I should have signed that right away and let them go to it.

5 – But not me. I choked on the price and doubled down on my hubris – ‘I’m a tech-savvy frugal young chap. This can’t be that hard.’

6 – Result: two months of diligent effort to learn the platform, design, tweak, get feedback, re-design, tweak, get feedback, obsess more, and repeat.

7 – After all that: I had a crappy -looking website and logo. In fact, my wife wouldn’t let me show it. It hurt my feelings back then. Today, I want to find a Doc Brown DeLorean and give her a historical high five.

8 – So I paid a neighbor 1K for 2 months of his slow/part-time work. It was generic, but we took it. We didn’t connect with our customer base or build any brand equity. It was stupid, but we did have some version of a logo.

9 – Yikes. A baby! I need to actually make money. Back to the branding and website drawing board.

10 – What followed? 3 rebrands and 6 web builds later. I soothed my weary mind with one thought – ‘at least it isn’t 12K!’

11 – Here is what I actually paid for my lousy branding and websites:

TIME – a solid year of my time as I fought pixels, kerning, plugins, and code
MONEY – I spent almost 12K in services attempting to shore up a dumb foundation
OPPORTUNITIES – almost 5 years worth of genuine connection with my client base
SANITY – could have been having FUN with my wife traveling more or burping all those kids who kept showing up – instead, I was working long hours after working long hours at my actual job!
LOST EQUITY – those few years could have been shoring up a unified brand identity that would ricochet into my future – we kept starting over

12 – I finally cracked open my wallet just a few inches and under-paid an agency who took six months to develop everything I needed. That agency budget priced themselves out of existence within a year. It was sad. It still makes me sad for them because they were talented and great to work with.

13 – The takeaway: I thought I was saving so much money, but I actually bought an extremely expensive and agonizing education. And – the irony that I now run a branding/design agency with my partners isn’t lost on me. If there is a silver lining here, it’s that I really was my own worst client from day one! It’s been better every day since and gives me empathy for nervous clients who put a ton of trust into my team. It takes guts to commit and we work hard to be worthy of big investments in a brand’s future success. It matters to us and to you!

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