131.Professional Practices for Freelance Creatives

Do how you do business and how you conduct yourself in your business make a difference in the types of clients you attract and the caliber of your creative work?

Freelance Road Trip Podcast with Alvalyn Lundgren 131: Professional Practices for Freelance Creatives

There is the idea of professional practice, and the idea of professional practices. They’re not the same.

 
As a basis to understand the difference, I teach part-time with a private college and a state university in their extended studies programs.
Both programs are centered on teaching professional practice — the goal is not academic degrees but career advancement, career launch, skills upgrades, and entrepreneurial business development. Along those lines, professional practice 
 

What is professional practice? 

 
Professional Practice is a term that describes activities which will help you apply your knowledge to your industry, job role or workplace. This is differentiated from the idea of “amateur”, or “academic”. In professional practice you ply your trade in exchange for income. To be professional means you’re intentionally creating an income in exchange for your time, talents, and services. Anyone employed at a design firm, a corporation, a business, or who’s self-employed in their own business is a professional practitioner. 
 
A web designer may have the theories and design principles to do the work of a web designer, but until he or she starts promoting and providing these services to others, they’re not practicing professionally.
 

What are professional practices?

 
Professional practices, however, are different. We can look at it this way: to succeed long term as a professional practitioner, one must establish and follow professional practices. 
 
Most design schools teach you the elements and principles of design and aesthetics. A few also teach professional practice. If you desire to make a living from your creative work, you should select a school that focuses on professional practice and not just pedagogy. In other words, to be your own boss, you need the street smarts for it, not just the “book learning.”
 
Professional practices help you practice professionally.
 
So what are professional practices? They’re the actions and activities you perform regularly to keep your business running smoothly. And they’re also how you work with clients. They’re related to yoru values. They’re HOW you do business, and not just how, but why.
 
So, if you’ve been one of my students, or you’ve listened to this podcast for very long, you know I focus on the WHY of things. Because without knowing WHY, the what and how are not sustainable.
 
Professional practices do include filing your income taxes, obtaining your business licences, using contracts, writing invoices, and such. But they also pertain to your professional code of conduct. Smalle things, such as replying to your clients’ emails in a timely manner, or reporting income on your schedule C even though you didn’t receive a 1099 from your client, fall under a code of conduct — how you act in your business relationships. 
 
You can see that your code of conduct relates to your values and world view.
 
 
You should have a set of values , and they should be written down. Whether you publish them or not, they are how you actually act.
 
In addition to a set of values, establishing a professional code of conduct or professional practices, helps you become consistent in working with clients, creating work, and managing your business. This means that you develop integrity as you deal with clients, peers, suppliers. You can be counted on for certain things, and trusted. Your clients don’t have to ride herd on you. 
 
Professional practices are the mark of a professional practitioner. When you operate by a set of principles to ensure excellence creatively managerially and relationally, you create a reputation of trust.
 
What are some basic professional standards you should establish in your own creative practice?
 
Treating client correspondence, information  and preliminary work on a project as confidential.
 
Following through on deadlines and promises, or communicating as soon as you know you need to adjust a schedule. 
 
For example, I met a few days ago with a prospective client who was “burned” by another freelance designer who didn’t follow through, didn’t communicate, didn’t get the job done. This left the client frustrated and they weren’t able to achieve their business objective. This client was referred to me by one of my colleagues. We set up a zoom call, and agreed to move forward. The first aspect of my code of conduct was to schedule the zoom call. The second was to show up to that call on time, prepared for our conversation about their needs and objectives. Because I kept my promises, they agreed to take the next step, which is the proposal. I needed to follow through again to write and send the proposal by the time I promised it. These are all small things, but they’re code of conduct related. The previous designer didn’t do these things, and didn’t do other things, and finally the client gave up on them and went elsewhere, after having invested time and money in them which they can’t recoup.
 
Professional practices are generally developed over time asd you learn what to do and what not to do in ensure desired otucomes for both you and your clients. 
 
Professional practices — your code of conduct — is that secret sauce that can differentiate you from your competition and encourage long-term client relationships — repeat business.
 
I believe it’s accurate to say that many creatives focus on copying each others’ successful work, perusing design annuals and CA competitions, instead of developing their relational prowess. Are they good to work with? Are they trustworthy?
 
It’s easy to create effective work, but helping to build your clients’ businesses through your work. and creating significant work, requires relationships developed over time, and you need to conduct yourself and your business with consistency.
 
Some questions to consider in forming your code of conduct — how you practice your values in your business:
 
1] What is your responsibility to your business?
 
Refuse any project that violates your ethics and morals.
 
Do not engage in any activity or promote any idea that will undermine your sources of income.
 
 
 
2] What is your responsibility to your brand?
 
Your brand is your reputation in the marketplace and with others.
 
Refuse any project that violates your ethics and morals.
 
Refuse any project that contradicts your position and differentiation. Be careful and circumspect about what you are known for.
 
 
3] What is your responsibility to your clients?
 
Refuse any project that creates conflict of interest with other clients.
 
Refuse any material, IP not owned or licensed by the client 
 
Transfer all rights to brand identites and websites. Transfer what the client needs to achieve their objectives.
 
 
4] What is you’re responsibility to your suppliers?
 
Pay in full and on time.
 
Don’t accept kickbacks, finder’s fees, commissions, etc. 
 
 
5] What is your responsibility to your profession?
 
Respect others’ property rights. Don’t infringe another’s copyright simply because a client asks you to.
 
Avoid undermining/supplanting or harming the reputation of a fellow creative
 
Not taking over work by another designer until you are certain the previous relationship has been terminated.
 
Don’t deprecate the work of another designer or diss on them to clients, other creative pros.
 
Do not claim someone else’s work as your own.  Include the names of everyone involved on a collaborative work.
 
What about how your price your work, your pricing structure?
 
 
 
6] What is your Ethical responsibility?
 
Don’t accept projects that are harmful to the public or undermine the public good. 
 
Don’t work with suppliers who engage in practices that are harmful to others.
 
Consider impact of one’s work on culture, environment, economy and strive to minimize adverse effects.
 
Refuse to discriminate on the basis of age, gender, race, nationality, lifestyle or disability.
 
Don’t use or promote lies, misstatements, incorrect information in promotional activities — website, direct mail, email, social media, networking.
 
Do not engage in any action that will undermine other designers’ sources of income.
 
 
It’s reported that Paul Rand (not Rand Paul) commanded six figures for a single logo. He was sought after. He developed logos and wordmarks for major brands. He was essentially a freelancer. He worked solo. His success wasn’t only in his talent and skill, but in his WHY — his values. He answered his own phone with “hello”. He worked form home. He didn’t have a staff or assistants, or interns. But he built a repruation for effective work and accessibility, which resonated with the corporations and enterprises he served. He focused on being an individual, and recognized the importants of being personal. Businesses, after all, no matter how small or how large, are made of people. 
 
 
So, basically what you want to look at is what is the mark of a professional independent creative? What do you want your reputation to be? 
How will you make your industry better in the eyes of your clients?
 
Each and every one of us represents our profession. By the way you conduct your business and handle your professional communication, the general public and other creative professionals will judge the industry and our profession as a whole. This, in turn, affects how you/we are treated in business.
 
We want to be treated as respected professionals, paid appripriately for our work, skills and experience. It’s up to each of us to set the expectations of those who will work with us.
 
Character still matters. You should aspire to be someone people want to work with.
 
To encourage clients to stick with you and trust you with their long-term success, you want to promote the highest quality in all forms of creative skill, critical thinking and creative solutions, and to upgrade public image of your profession. 
 
 

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