Calibrating that work life balance

July 21st, 2018

As a business owner and a parent, I love and devote my waking hours to my ‘babies’. On weekdays, my focus is on building my business and taking care of my clients’ needs. On evenings and weekends, I put on a different hat, and spending much needed quality time with my kids. I share this arrangement with my clients upfront and a majority of them understand my needs, as most of them are parents themselves. However, I recently encountered an angry client who demanded that I work on a weekend, on a project which wasn’t even an urgent life-or-death matter.

This incident serves as a good reminder of the endless tug-of-war between work and family time. With the advent of mobile data and smart phones, the lines separating working hours and personal time are blurring; there’s a constant expectation to remain contactable, and with that, an unconscious belief that we are expected to be available and at the ready whenever the client needs us.

It seems like an uphill struggle to tackle that mentality, despite all the research showing that there is an inverse relationship between longer working hours and output. Perhaps it is a result of the explosive development industries have seen in the last several decades. After the war, when there was a focus on manufacturing, lesser hours meant lower production. That mentality could have carried over to today, even in industries where output is not measured in absolute units.

The perfect example of this conundrum at work can be found in Japan. There, the population clocks the longest working hours in the world, a fact that is well-documented publicly. But data from the OECD Compendium of Productivity Indicatorsranks Japan as having the lowest productivity among G-7 nations.

We need time off to recharge, and it’s easier to do good work when you feel well-rested and happy. The human brain just isn’t wired to sustain productive work for more than a few hours, and taking a breather creates a better environment for your brain to thrive.

Of course, as business owners, it’s not possible to block off every single weekend or avoid any overtime work. There are bound to be urgent projects that require our attention, and we’ll have to responsibly put in extra time to complete these by the given deadlines.

At times like this, our loved ones’ support and understanding is key. If you know they have your back and can cover for our absence at home, you’ll be able to throw more into your work, pushing through to meeting that tough deadline. And once that’s done, you can make up for it by taking a few days off to reward yourself for a job well done, and show appreciation to your loved ones for their patience by taking them for a nice meal or a movie date together.

Besides managing the work you take on, managing clients’ expectations is one important aspect so that those who enter an agreement with you know the boundaries of the job. Here are some points to note when managing expectations with your clients in future:

  1. Set a clear timeline

Lay everything out at the start—from the deadline by which you will need certain answers or resources from the clients—to when they can expect project milestones from you. Be clear on the fact that you will need the stipulated amount of time to complete a task, and any delays on their end will push the overall timeline back. If you don’t implement a clear-cut timeline, you can bet the client would be expecting things to happen faster than it is realistically possible.

  1. Avoid giving overly optimistic estimates

Don’t say you need only five working days, when the time needed falls between four to six working days. Giving your client the end product earlier than estimated makes for a pleasant surprise, while anything that is after the given date creates annoyance. In fact, account for possible delays on the clients’ end, so that the timeline you’ve painstakingly agreed upon will not have to shift too drastically.

  1. Be clear about your working hours

Let your client know what your unavailable days and timings are, and don’t let them get used to seeing a reply from you during these touch-me-not timings. Let them know upfront that there may be a delay in response on weekends and after office hours, and leave this information in visible places on your website or in your email signature.

  1. Set a limit on the number of revisions

We’ve all experienced that one client who always has just one small edit that they want to tweak, no matter how many revisions they have been given. Set this expectation from the start so that they will compile more substantial and detailed feedback, which helps you to implement the necessary changes more efficiently.

  1. Learn to say no

Sometimes, no matter how many tools you implement, you’ll meet a client who wants everything done by yesterday. If you’re not ready to rush the job for them, or even if it simply is not in line with the priorities you’ve set for yourself, then it might be wise to turn down the job. But make sure you don’t burn any bridges; even if you’re not the right solution for them right now, things might change in the future.

How to hire an illustrator?

July 12th, 2018

If you’ve never had the opportunity to hire an illustrator, here are a handful of tips than can help you with the process. Aside from the style and quality of an artist’s work, the most important factors when looking for an illustrator are professionalism, dependability and getting the job done right within the time given. Contrary to popular belief, most of us are a pleasure to work with and don’t bite. With that in mind, here’s a simple step-by-step guideline:

  1. Research. Before contacting an illustrator, take some time to study the portfolio of the artist you have in mind. Make sure the style, technique and creative vision you are looking for is represented in their work. Look beyond the subject matter of the images. For instance, if you are looking for an artist who paints fun animals but you don’t see examples in their book, ask the artist if there are any examples they can send you. Another thing to consider is the digital format of the final artwork, vector or bit-map, which can be crucial in determining the usage of the image (more on that later). If the illustrator has more than one style, make a note of specific images from their portfolio as style samples to refer to.
  2. Contact. Once you have contacted the illustrator of your choice, exchange information such as your name, company name, contact info, client info and project description. The more information you can provide the better, especially if it involves winning lottery numbers.
  3. Describe Project. A detailed description should include: specific art direction, usage, deadlines and last but not least…money. These items are explained in detail as follows:
    1. Art Direction. Describe in detail, what type of imagery you are looking for, how many illustrations you will need created and what the size dimensions for each will be. It would be great to supply any layouts, comps and reference materials at this time. Also, as mentioned earlier, if the illustrator has more than one style, specify which particular image or images from their portfolio you have in mind as examples. Giving as much information as you can up front will paint a more clear picture of what you need done for your project…pardon the pun, I couldn’t help myself.
    2. Usage. The ways an image will be used are a big part in calculating how much a project can cost. Disclosing how frequently the images will be used, how long they will be used for, where they will be displayed, whether on the web, in print, or some other medium and the geographical range of the usage will help determine a price for the project. Another factor in usage is copyright ownership. Who will own copyright of the final image? Asking for exclusive rights for an image will result in a higher fee than rights for a limited time. Any rights not transferred in writing are retained by the artist.
    3. Deadlines. A time line should clearly be spelled out from the beginning with milestones set for each phase of the project from when the first round of sketches are due to when the final art has to be completed and delivered. It is a good idea to work out how much time will be needed for everyone involved, to review each stage of the process and get back to the illustrator with comments in a reasonable time. Give ample time for revisions to meet the project’s needs before giving approval to proceed to final art. Keep in mind most illustrators will include minor changes and or color tweaks to the final art, but any alterations to the final art, that are different to what was approved in the pencil stage, will usually result in a separate fee which will be determined by the extent of the change. There’s nothing more frustrating (unless you are a Washington Redskin fan) than having a revision request coming out of left field after the art is complete…that is good stuff for primal scream therapy…seriously.
    4. Money. When setting a budget for an illustration project, consider all the factors involved. The complexity of the work, time given to complete the assignment in a skilled and professional manner and usage of the final art. Payment terms should be worked out at this point whether they are scheduled throughout the project or paid in one lump sum when the final art is delivered. Getting a payment schedule worked out beforehand will eliminate any confusion or have you running in the streets screaming into the night once the project has started.
  4. Format. As mentioned briefly earlier, file format can be crucial depending on how you plan to use the image. In today’s world, most illustrations created are done digitally and those done traditionally are digitally scanned. Digital file formats and file resolution requirements should be stated in the beginning to avoid any confusion. Images that will be used in various sizes and media applications may work better created in a resolution free, vector format such as Adobe Illustrator. Images created in a resolution dependent, bit-map format can still be used in various sizes and media applications as long as the resolution and size is worked out beforehand. In my professional opinion, bit-map programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Corel Draw using a digital drawing tablet, can offer a wider range of styles and techniques in digital artwork than a vector program. Finally, how you want the final file delivered should be specified whether it be via email, disk, ftp site or other types of file transfer.

There you go. A painless step-by-step process in hiring an illustrator and living to tell about it. There are more factors that I could go into more detail about but that will have to wait until next time.