Ghostly Ferns: A Freelancing Family

The  Ghostly Ferns  team

The Ghostly Ferns team

I think we’re on to something here at Ghostly Ferns. A while back I published a post on the No Employee Design Team. Although it was not an original idea, the concept was positively received. Throughout the past year since I wrote that post Jen, Laura, Mike, Brad and I began thinking about how that method both was and was not working for us. The biggest issue was my role as “business owner”. I’ve always been the legal owner of Ghostly Ferns but always thought of myself as a designer first. As the owner of this No Employee Design Team, I was forced to do more client management, calendar management, and managing team member workloads. A lot of management. Gross. I was left with no time to design and it was killing me. We (Laura, Mike, Brad, Jen and myself) decided to take a step back and reevaluate the strengths of our no-employee model and work to improve it.

The solution? We decided to stop trying to be a design studio, or a company, by traditional means. At its core (legally), Ghostly Ferns has always been a group of freelancers. Each of us comes into the studio at different times. Some of us work on the weekends, some of us don’t. Our schedules are different. Our workloads are different. We each love our flexible freelancer lifestyles. So why push ourselves to become a standard NYC 10am-6pm design company?

Everyone is envious of freelancers. We do what we want. More importantly, no one decides our own destiny but us. It’s badass. The scary part of freelancing is the fear of an empty schedule and sheer loneliness. At Ghostly Ferns, we’ve solved that problem. Freelancing is so much better with friends. 

We’re a group of freelancers who each offer different services. Usually we work for clients individually, but we often pair together on projects when we can. We work in the same room together and are constantly providing feedback and support to one another. We have company meetings and make awesome side project-y things in our spare time. We act as a support group and sounding board for one another on a daily basis. We’re here for each other and we are best friends. I love my fellow Ghostly Ferns and would do anything for them. In fact, I have done a lot of crazy things for them. And I know they would do the same for me. We care for each other and inspire each other. It rules.

Because we each have our own expertise, our collective portfolio is bangin’. We’re all basically scratching each other’s backs with our individual work. My web, product, UI work makes Jen’s hand lettering transition into digital mean than it otherwise would. Laura’s character illustrations make my web products more personable and fun. Long story short: we make each other’s work stronger.

Other design studios love us because they can grab one or two of us as an extra set of hands when their workload is too hefty. Agencies love us because we’re individual contractors. It’s a win, win, win, win situation for all.

Good Vibes for Clients

I spend a lot of time hearing roaring opinions from design peers about how to handle clients. A good majority of the advice I hear comes in the form of rants about shittastic clients and how the designer was able to get the upper hand. Designers love to try and coach one another on how to be firm with clients and not let them push you around. I'm a pushover by nature, I've been this way as long as I can remember. For the first few years of my design career I thought there was something massively wrong with my client-relations style as it was glaringly different than any management advice I'd heard. This realization forced me to reevaluate my contracts, client-dealing style, and even hire on a person or two to help me deal with clients in a more firm way.

As soon as I started this new foray into "badass Meggery", I was left with a horrific taste in my mouth. Being forceful, concrete, and heavily structured with my clients was keeping me awake at night and made me feel insincere as a human Meg. This really got me to think back to the way I previously handle clients— a lot of warm gushy hand holding. Since I was so unhappy with this new management style I had to think back and say, "I'm certainly not happy now, was I happy then?". The answer was YES. I was totally happy back then! Why? Because my clients were happy. I'm all about posi vibes and blockin' out the negs. Being too stiff with my clients was throwing all kinds of negatives at them and made the process a total drag for everyone.


General Philosophy

Be a genuinely delightful person that people want to be around and interact with. You'll naturally deter any grumpy Gus's; they hate happy people. Don't be afraid to let your online (and IRL) presence exude major sun rays. If you aren't completely happy, leave that shit in your sock drawer and deal with it when you aren't working. Doing so will attract fellow lovely people who mean no malice or harm. Sure, sometimes a butthole Bob will come your way once in a while. Just be sure to always look out for the warning signs of a potentially crazy person. I've been living my life this way for my entire existence. I've never been in an argument with a friend or client and have never had to terminate a project. Sunshine and moonbeams, everybody.


#1: It's not about you

This one is tough to remember, even for myself. The process of dealing with clients isn't about you in the least bit. You're providing a service for this person or company, not the other way around. You should be doing everything in your personal power to make sure the client leaves completely satisfied. It's easy to switch into selfish mode during a project, only thinking about how scope changes affect yourself rather than the betterment of the project.  If this client is particularly difficult to work with, don't moan and groan to friends or family about it. Keep that to yourself and focus on how to make that client a pleasure to work with again. After all, you're going to make a decent amount of money from this person. The least you can do is devote 100% of your positive vibes to them.


#2: Hold their hands and gently caress them

The process of working with you is going to be foreign to your client, otherwise they would just do the work themselves. To them, it's very scary hiring someone for something they know nothing about. It's a huge point of vulnerability to them. To make them feel more comfortable, spend the extra time to be very thorough in explaining process and details. End emails (or every paragraph) with, "If you need additional clarification, I'm happy to give you more information on this!". It makes the client feel as though your door is open, even if it isn't.


#3: Language mirroring

Again, this process is going to be foreign to them. Don't make them feel stupid by constantly correcting their language if they aren't describing something correctly. For example, a lot of clients of mine still call header navigation links "tabs" even if there isn't an actual tab in the design. Rather than giving them a lecture on why they're wrong, I simply refer to those links as "tabs" myself. This clears up any unnecessary friction or confrontation. Nobody likes someone who is constantly correcting their grammar, this isn't any different. If it comes to a point where you're legitimately confused on what they're referring to, simply say, "love your ideas on the tabs, would you mind clarifying what a 'tab' is to you?"...and then show navigation screen shots from various websites to make sure you are on the same page.


#4: One, two hug

This isn't to say that I don't ever disappoint clients. I have to do this all the time! When a client changes the scope of the project drastically or they ask for a Wordpress feature that simply isn't doable within a plugin's capabilities, I have to send a disappointing email or two. Here's where Meg's patent-pending "one, two hug" comes in. Think of it like the opposite of a one, two punch. When I give a client disappointing news, I always have an alternate option that comes afterwards. For example, "I can't actually design this slideshow as we had previously planned due to abilities of the particular plugin you've requested. However, I'm happy to design it this better way instead [insert image of gorgeous kickass design]".


#5: Use your feelerz

It's important to list out everything in a particular project that is included in scope right in the proposal (or contract). It's even more important to list out everything that is not included in scope. This keeps any awkward surprises from your client later down the road. Clients do not like to hear a surprise "no". However, if a certain client is being absolutely lovely during the process and is jiving with your vibe, throw in a favor or two along the way. It's going to make a happy client even happier and the end product is going to be bangin'. If you aren't jiving with a specific client, it's okay! Just stick to that airtight list of what is/isn't included and you won't run into any issues. 


That's it! I know a bunch of you haters are going to scoff at my advice. Who cares! I love you.

I bought a sweet lamp


I bought this extremely beautiful lamp from Andrew Neyer a couple of weeks ago. It came in the mail today and I'm elated! To celebrate, I made a shapely design. Thanks Andrew Neyer! Will be posting as soon as I get it up in my lovely abode.

I'm just here to creep you out

Well, shoot. Today marks the day of Meg Lewis's first ever personal website. I thought it was about time that I have a special place to call my own, full of the weird thoughts and images that go through my head. I may post written words and thoughts about design and life, but I'll mostly just slap up a lot of grotesquely delightful images. We'll see what happens. Anyhow, hello Internet. This is going to be a sweet ride!