In this Design Cuts Live session, we had a sit down with one of our favourite people in the calligraphy world - Molly Suber Thorpe. This was our chance to pick her brain in what was our first dedicated Q&A of the year! Whether we were interested in calligraphy, lettering, Procreate, or product creation, Molly was here to answer any and all of our questions.

Give Discounts or Work for Free?

Giving a discount is a donation of your time by working for free. When someone asks you for a discount because your price is too high, ask yourself what you're going to get out by this. Donating some of your time in a project is worth it. However, if you can't come up with something that you're going to take away from the job in exchange for this donation of your time, then you should leave discounts completely off the table. Avoid starting off a career or a job being filled with any sense of resentment that you're not getting paid for the time you’re giving.

The second approach to this would be: if you really need a project or a job to fulfill the needs of a client then change the job parameters. Gently educate the client about what goes into the project and suggest ways that it could be adjusted so that the project parameters are less time consuming for you. Don’t reduce the price, reduce the scope. At the end, they get a product that is close to what they want.

For example, if someone asks you to do an entire wedding invitation and calligraphy but can't meet your budget, suggest them if you could do the key words on the calligraphy and the rest in a digital typeface. This will save you a lot of time and they will still get a beautiful product out of it.

Be free to help anyone from your family like your mother or sister, but avoid working for free for any organization or an unknown person.

Build Relationships to Open Opportunities

Giving away free consultancy in exchange of personal or career growth is a great investment. Avoid working for free only when another person asks, rather make your decisions wisely. Build a personal one-on-one communication on your terms. 

Deal with Clients who Categorize your Services Expensive

It's fairly common for clients to not know the price of your work, the amount of work that goes into it and the amount of skill required to do that job. Clients often push back against your pricing and call your services expensive, asking you to lower the prices. This is a normal scenario that every creative freelancer can address by gently educating the clients.  Explain the process of your work, the thought that goes into it and the drafts that are made over time. Tell them how the end product is going to be personal. 

If the client becomes rude about your prices, simply let go of them. 

Commercial vs Personal Projects 

The difference between a personal and a commercial project in design and lettering is that a personal project is done for a client that is going to be used exclusively, but the client is never going to profit from your work. For example, a wedding invite. A commercial job is one where the client will take the end result of your design and they will earn income or prestige from that. For example, a logo for a company.

Understanding why a Logo Costs More than a Wedding Invite

When a designer creates a logo for a company, that company uses the face of their brand with that logo to increase and boost the influence and the income of their company. A brand earns money from the logo or its brand identity whereas the designer rarely gets credit, unless specified. For this particular reason, a premium is charged by the designer to be able to use that design indefinitely by the client, to earn income from and the right to not be credited on a design. Hence a logo costs more than a wedding invite. 

Build a Strong Portfolio

Always believe in quality over quantity. What's going to be in your portfolio is personal work. For example, some of the top notch designers in the world have created a personal project for themselves, that is not for a paid client.

However, your portfolio should be beautifully presented. If your goal is to get paid clients through your hand lettering, build a website, not just an Instagram account. Curate your work to have a cohesive, aesthetic look and don’t include anything that is poorly presented. Use mock ups to build your portfolio and educate yourself on how you can build a good one. 

Deal with Creative Burnout

Rejuvenate your creative juices through things that inspire you instead of feeling imposter syndrome. Make a calendar, schedule things, make lists and tasks. Take breaks by picking a hobby or indulging in an activity or an adventure. It is extremely important to deal with burnouts by giving yourself some time off and then recharging yourself. Keep a lookout for red flags and motivate yourself. 

Grow your Creative Business Marketing

Sharpen your craft while learning or practicing. Preach, practice and play often. Create business cards to reach your audience. Share your work with other people so that you are on top of their mind. Build personal connections by sending personalized emails and messages. Put yourself in front of your audience instead of curating your feed for them to find you. Avoid waiting for a client to come around,  instead reach out to them.

Niche Services

Examine your skillset and what you most love to do. For example, niching in the lettering community can mean that you work in branding for companies and creating logos where it can be specific to wedding invitations.

Deal with Clients who ask to Tone Down your Work System

Gently educate the client about the process of your work or politely avoid dealing with such a situation.

Learn from Errors

The worst experiences in life teach you how to do things better. Lean from your mistakes. For example, Molly worked for a company that bragged about her. When she finished the project, they didn’t thank her for her work and stopped answering her emails. The work was shared but no credit was given to her as she made a naive mistake of not signing a contract with them.

Pro tip: Always remember to sign a contract and make deadlines. 

Special Contracts vs Pre-approved Contracts Projects

Make a template and reuse as per project or client. You can use The Contract Shop or Molly’s book, The Calligrapher’s Business Handbook to find samples and references of such templates. 

Teach Calligraphy Classes

Teaching private lessons is a great example of doing something for free or for a discount, because you're getting something out of it in return. You're learning to teach while the students are learning calligraphy. Then build yourself and market your classes by offering lessons to more students. Manage peoples' expectations, keep them inspired and come up with your own exercises that are geared towards beginners.