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.