Barbara McDonald

About Barbara McDonald

Barbara McDonald became an artist at age 5. The local mall held a coloring contest, and when she showed up to claim her giant bunny, the lady at the store said, “Are you SURE you colored this yourself?”A typically shy child, she took a deep breath and replied, “I can do another if you'd like.” Now she helps businesses get noticed, attract their target markets and garner their client’s trust through design that hits the heart and the target. Visit her website at signmeupberkeley.biz.

When It Comes to Business Relationships, Take the Long View 

I launched my graphic design business when I was just 29. My Midwest work ethic made me an anomaly in my field. My varied skills combined my love of design with my practicality of providing a tangible product. But there was one aspect of my business I wasn’t very good at: the relationship with myself and its impact on my clients. 

Strong boundaries are the cornerstone of relationships. I realized I didn’t have any. I would run myself ragged saying yes to every project, whether or not it was a fit for me. I heard a seasoned illustrator lay out his criteria for accepting a project. It had to satisfy two of three criteria: it was lucrative; it brought notoriety; it was fun. This strategy allowed him to do occasional pro-bono work (notoriety + fun) while also reminding him that without money, he couldn’t do what he loved. 

Another fellow designer had these criteria for clients: fast, cheap and good. They could have two out of three, but not all three. I had been trying to fulfill all three of those for my clients. They learned to expect same-day turnaround. Eventually, I was unable to keep that pace with my client load, and was neglecting tasks like invoicing. I was both frazzled and cash flow challenged. 

Reflecting on four ten-hour days at a sign company, I wondered if I could adapt that policy in my own business. I changed my hours and eventually found that with the space to recharge and handle the business side of business, I was serving my clients with more energy, enthusiasm and efficiency. 

I dropped the four-day week while raising my kids, but now that they are teens, I will reinstate it. I hope to teach them that time for oneself is a gift in the relationship with others. It’s a long race. Pace yourself. 

The Pitfalls of Doing It All

As my dear business coach and client, Caterina Rando, brilliantly said, “You need to do what is the highest use of your time, and let other people handle the rest.” I think of this often in my own business, and I have seen my best months and best year ever as a result. I hired a bookkeeper who comes in once a week, as well as a part-time assistant who handles production of signs and banners, in addition to simple updates for my clients, so I can stay focused on what I do best: design.

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