Every year I have the privilege of trying to avoid what is the hardest day of the year for me- September 11th. For many it is a day to pause and focus on events that shifted the historical narrative of our country, while I am trying to do everything but give those moments concentrated attention. September 11, 2001 is the day when international terrorism filtered into our collective consciousness and opportunistically opted to reside. I don’t know if its commemoration will eventually become overrun with barbecues and commercialization as Veteran’s and Memorial Day have, but after having dismissively glanced at a graphic that stated “Happy Patriot’s Day” I wonder if that level of tone deafness is on the horizon. 

As of now, for me, September 11 is a day primarily centered on dodging media coverage, fervently avoiding social media, as much as occupationally possible, and ingesting as few recollections of the circumstances surrounding the day I can NEVER forget. This is a challenge when NPR is apart of the drive to and from work and tracking news is a part of my job.  Even if I drove in silence, I knew that I would have the privilege of being inundated with imagery and ceremony that would only pose to awaken my own memories with their emotional ties unearthing what is desired to be buried.

I have found myself trapped in conversations outlining the day to those who weren’t close enough to feel the reverberating weight that washed across the city that never sleeps but was certainly solace. Able to offer the course of my day in relation to the impact in matter of fact fashion without breaking the veneer, which would disintegrate during my time alone and linger in my awareness for days after just recounting the story, was always a feat. I hadn’t mastered how to evade being forthright when being asked about the day or how to not engage the conversation at all.

For the most part yesterday, I was able to keep them[my memories] at bay but I wasn’t one hundred percent successful. “We will never forget” or “never forget” floated across the internet yesterday. My first thought when seeing that verbiage was, I wish I could. I wish I could forget the sounds of the trucks removing rubble from the debris months after the attacks. I wish I could forget the smells of the fire that seemed to burn forever. I wish I could forget the plume of smoke billowing up the gridded streets of New York surrounding coughing people emerging from them. I wish I could forget standing at the corner by Trinity Church on my way to the NYU film office. Instead of a mundane ride on the train, I stood suspended in time watching the first plane hit the World Trade Center. For many of us, “never forget” is an unnecessary call to action. I remember the homeless man standing in the street proclaiming what we had just seen. I remember the man emerging from his red sports car with his mouth agape. I remember holding cameras that I never removed from their bags. We all looked at each other, then towards the tower as black smoke filled the sky and once more back at each other not believing what we had seen. 

For some of us, forgetting would offer some emotional relief from what we remember. Some of us would rather not possess these moments that are emblazoned on our minds but we can’t unsee them. Every year we are left seeking a peace that cannot be captured around a day of remembrance that lasts far longer than a day. 

Depending on how much media I encounter or conversations I have (this year I had zero), the weight of the memories will last a few days and recede as the national conversation shifts. Soon I will receive a questionnaire asking about my health. A few months from that I will receive a report on the general well-being and resources for those in the World Trade Center Health Registry. Other than that, I will get to forget—that is until next year. 

The words aren’t necessary because we won’t forget. We can’t. 

Entrepreneurship is one of the hardest things that you will do. It is exhilarating, frustrating and at its very best the most rewarding pursuit you will have. It is not a journey for the weak or easily swayed. For those who have ever climbed a steep mountain, it is very often a harkening to the experience of pushing upward in a press against the elements, fatigue and rough terrain. Entrepreneurship is very similar. What makes this journey tough is lacking a system.

My son is selling tea cakes, which I help him bake and package. Several students have told him they didn’t have any money and would “get him tomorrow” so his profit was short. He was concerned about their hunger. That’s sweet, right? Sweet, doesn’t equal sound business decisions. Sorry. No, I’m not.   My question to him was, “Are you running a non-profit or for-profit?” Slightly offended, he proclaimed “for-profit.” I told him to decide how he would operate. That was a non-profit reaction in a for-profit effort.

At its’ core, the issue was planning. He gave away product because he hadn’t prepared for the situation. I told him to tell those who say, “I will get you tomorrow” that you will get them tomorrow. Set one aside for them and approach them the next day or recommend that they pool their money with someone else to purchase what they want. Butter, vanilla extract and eggs are not free. Neither are the supplies needed to operate your enterprise. Preparing ahead keeps you from a panicked reaction that you might regret later.

Below are a few tips that I have learned through my years of entrepreneurship:

Examine your system.

If you offer a product or service that is highly customized (i.e. personalized items or websites), require a deposit before rendering any service. Beyond an initial 30 minute consultation, my time is no longer free in a one on one context. When someone expresses desiring to work with me, I require a deposit of 50% before the full project/service is given to the client the remaining balance must be paid. The deposit percentage you choose will depend on your industry or service. Ensure that your deposit covers any initial cost that your business incurs including your time. If the person decides to not complete the purchase, the project will not be a total loss.

Make your policy standard.

Your agreement policy should be standard regardless of the client. Friends, family, members of your faith community, and total strangers should have to follow the same rules of engagement. This is tough for those who operate more with their heart than head. Sometimes people take advantage of kindness. Keep business business. If they can’t follow the rules of engagement yet, express how wonderful it would be to work with them and that you cannot wait to do their project when they are ready.

No, is okay

If you are struggling for clients or nervous about making the next sale before the next month’s bills hit the mailbox, you will make decisions out of desperation. Desperate makes bad decisions. Not every client is your client and that is okay. Market well and engage those clients who can be a good base for you. If they have a good experience, they will return to you when they need your services again. If you have an enjoyable experience with them, you will want them to return.

Those who don’t show up or can’t pay for your services/product, aren’t your clients yet and that is okay. Don’t try to force them to be a good fit. If you spend your time and energy with those who are not ready to work with you, you will miss those who are ready. Save yourself and them the frustration. Yes, you have bills but you will pay more for the bad client than you will earn, trust me.

Remember: You set your value. You teach them how to treat you. Most importantly, you CAN do this.


Hints that let you know a person is not ready to be your client:

No Time

He or she is too busy to meet with you to discuss their project. This might not sound like a huge issue particularly is the person is able to pay your deposit but, it is. Their lack of time will become your issue when they review work in which they didn’t take the time to contribute. After you have poured yourself into a design or project, they will miraculously discover the time and ability to communicate. This will leave your previous hours very wasted. If you are just determined to take on the “too busy ” client, don’t start the work until they have conveyed their vision for the project. This will keep them involved and overtly responsible for any feelings of dissatisfaction. Keep yourself in the position of fulfilling their request. If they then complain, charge for your extra time.

No Vision

This one is a little tricky. You can sit with someone who seemingly has no vision for their project and a few questions could spark a terrific new brand. This is where listening will be extremely pertinent. You will have to depend on the language that client is using. If her vision changes from conversation to conversation, invite her to draw out what she envisions or present pieces she has seen that display the style she desires. If she is still unable to produce, she is simply not sure enough in her own company, project or product to began creating marketing collateral. Save yourself some time and frustration. Give the client homework and encourage them to contact you in a future date. You can always follow-up to inquire if the potential client vision has become more clear to him or her.

No Budget

Get the scope of work from the client with as much detail as possible. Will they provide the copy and images? When does the job need to be completed? Are you responsible for securing other vendors relevant to the project? Before you turn on your Wacom tablet, write out a detailed scope of work agreement including deadlines, revisions allowed and pay schedule. Present this to the client. Only start the work after receiving a written agreement and deposit. (Hint: Do not deliver a completed product until you have received your balance.) If the client tries to bargain your price and you know that you are being fair, thank her for her time and move forward. You can use the quote as a template when you meet the person who is meant to be your client.

No Authority

As you are out networking, you will certainly meet people who love your work and contract you. Before agreeing know who the person is in their organization. If they cannot make the decision to hire you but were given the task of doing a project, prepare your proposal thoroughly enough for the decision maker to understand the process. Do NOT design anything until you are hired by the person with authority to issue payment. To empower the person who wants to hire you, offer to be with him or her when they present to their supervisor or board. If there are questions, you will be more equipped to answer them than an employee reading your proposal.

Aim for clients who are ready for you. If you detect any of these characteristics, simply encourage the client to contact you in the future. Don’t forget to follow up with them later. You can even schedule a few date to converse.

I used to be so super excited to get projects that I would often dive right into designing. After getting started, I would then get the question “how much do you charge?” As I stumbled along unsure of what to say, I would toss out a number and would often receive the income I desired. After those initial moments of being more stunned than I probably should have been, I began looking up equations for determining what to charge depending upon the number of years in the industry, client’s industry and the time the project would take.

Credit Card machine with human hand for shopping payment

Before haphazardly throwing out a number, simply tell the client that you will write up a quote for him. That will give you time to really consider what will be required to complete the project, compare your prices to others in the industry on your level and in your area and consider why the price is what it is. The latter is important in case your client questions the cost.

Now I know exactly how much I would charge for a website, logo, magazine or flyer depending on the sector (non-profit, entrepreneur/small business or large company). I also know how long the project should take if I was wise in choosing my client. Yes, you choose your client. As an entrepreneur, you have the privilege to not take a client or not. Not everyone is your client and that is ‘okay’.

Take some time to look at the projects you are most asked to create. If your most requested three projects in the course of a year or two are T-shirts, flyers and website, write out a spec sheet on each project type with a low, medium and high price tier adding features with increased cost. Save it on your phone or in Google Docs, so you can quickly reference it when asked about your fees.

If you are confident in your prices, do not lower them to appease the budget of a client. You will most likely resent the project or rush through it to get to those that are higher paying. At a business development event I attended two years ago, the speaker said, “If a client asks you to lower your prices and you know your prices are accurate, that is not your client.” It was the most liberating statement I had ever heard. When I don’t get a client due to their budgetary restrictions, I remind myself of that statement and the reality that she or he was not my client.