How I got unexpected money for a design job [case study]

Today I’m going to share with you my best strategies for getting unexpected money from my clients, based on a real-life example.

Why do I call it unexpected money? Well, because it’s money my clients weren’t planning on investing in the first place.

Also because it’s a catchy title.

I promise that I didn’t drag you here with a catchy title just to waste your time, though. I’m going to provide you with value – knowledge on how to get more money from your clients. Value that’s worth spending your time on . Basically, that’s the gist of this article: provide more value, and people will be happy to give you their money.

Other than a great title, a good post should start with a good cliche. Here we go:

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Henry Ford

When Henry Ford was building his car empire, most people have never heard of cars, or at least, they didn’t own cars yet. The most common way to commute was by horses – so that’s what they had in mind when asked about a better way to commute.

Faster horses.

That’s exactly what happens with most of our clients. They’ve asked around and learned that they need to hire a designer. This designer should create a logo for their new business, or a beautiful website. They are looking for designers once they already know what they need.

The client: “Hey designer, I need you to build me a faster horse. can you?”

The designer: “Sure, I can design a faster horse for you.”

Can you see what’s wrong with this picture?


Lately I was approached by a guy who opens a new type of sports-club. Founded in London, the sports club now has a few branches all over the world and a new one is about to open in Tel-Aviv (my hometown).

A few months ago, the manager of the sports club (a friend of a friend of a friend) called me up.

“I want your advice.,” he said. “We’re about to choose a digital marketing agency, and I think you can help me pick out the right one. Can you spare me an hour?”

“Why are you looking for a digital marketing agency?” I asked.

“The club needs some brand awareness. We want people to find out about us, come to our website, fall in love with us, and buy subscriptions. We only sell them online.”

So there’s the real problem, I thought. They need traffic, brand awareness and authority and they need to get people to buy subscriptions online (conversion).

Could I help them solve it myself?

I do not own a digital marketing agency. Still, I might be able to solve their problems with my own skills. Interesting.

Anyhoo – I wanted to help him even if there’s no opportunity for me here.

“Sure, I’ll come over and help you get it all sorted. I might even have something for you,” I replied.

We scheduled a meeting for the following Monday. Enough time for me to prepare.

I felt that I know exactly what the club needs to do in order to get lots of traffic and engagement on their website.

How awesome would it be if I could provide them with what they need. They would make a great client, one that I could get on a retainer with. Plus, I’m passionate about their product, I wanna sign up to this club myself.

The Opportunity

I decided to invest a couple of hours in order to do some research and get ready for the meeting. I always try to learn as much as I can about the business of a potential client. That is how I find new ways to provide more value.

This club is an existing international brand, so it wasn’t too hard to find out how the other branches are gaining traffic to their website.

I created a list of the things a digital marketing agency would do. I then noted to myself which are relevant to this club, and where I might be able to help out with my own skills:

  1. Create Google ads and banners. I felt this one’s irrelevant, since you can’t reduce the concept of this club a banner containing just a few words. It’s not a regular gym.
  2. Design and set up a blog for the club. Relevant, plus I can help. Blog posts that cover relevant topics can increase traffic to the club’s website. I could also offer SEO (Search Engine Optimization) services for those blog posts.
  3. Design and set up social network accounts. Relevant, plus I can help.
  4. Send weekly emails. Relevant, because the club needs to gain authority. I can help with setting up a Mailchimp account (email service), design the emails and write a weekly email.
  5. Create a promotional video campaign. Relevant, but I can’t really help them there. I don’t have the right skills for shooting and editing a video. My friend Ran (from the nuSchool) knows how to do it, though. Maybe he could help me with it.

I was ready for the meeting.

I had learned everything I could from Google. I had come up with lots of ideas on how I could add value to the business, ideas that I genuinely believe can help the club grow and prosper.

Monday arrived and I got to the meeting all pumped up with my notes.

I decided not to offer anything before I deliver what I was called for, pure and honest advice about the agencies they’ve met with.

The club’s manager showed me what’s on the table. A few agencies suggested creating Google Ads campaigns (which, remember, I believed are irrelevant to the club). Others offered viral videos campaigns, and a couple of them have suggested to do a bit of everything.

Then came my turn to provide some value.

For forty-five minutes I taught him everything I know about the ins and outs of digital marketing.

I explained what SEO is and how to find relevant keywords for Google Ads (and why it’s irrelevant to his business). We talked about viral videos and how hard it is to help them go viral, and so on and so forth. I then explained the advantages of creating a great blog and showed him that the other branches of the club are doing exactly that.

The manager was super happy to get this private lesson. For the first time he felt that he understood what digital marketing is all about. He said that he was too confused, and that was why he called me for help in the first place.

At that point he was educated enough to know what he really wants. “OK, what we need is to set up a blog, write good content with great SEO, and keep a well-designed email list. Google ads are not for us”.

I was listening to his pitch me exactly what I believe in.

And then he said, “Lior, thank you so much for this great lesson. It seems like you know so much about this. Do you provide such services yourself?”

Wow. That was much easier than I thought.

“Yes. I’m going to prepare a plan and send you a proposal by the end of the week,” I answered.

Now before we move on, I must stress that there was nothing manipulative here. The things he asked me to do are the things I genuinely believed would be the best for the business’ goals. Otherwise, I would never have offered my services to him. (I would never dare write about it out loud otherwise).

To make a long story not-so-long –

I got the job

I never called myself a digital marketer – but that’s just a title. I found a way to provide a huge amount of value to this business, and they are happily paying me a monthly fee for doing just that.

And it’s not over yet.

Once a week me and the manager have a meeting. On that meeting I listen carefully. I try to figure out what are some current problems and challenges that the business is facing. Then, if there’s something I can do to help solve these problems, I offer my help. Otherwise, I give my best advice.

For example, we had the following problem: we planned to start promoting the club, but the website wasn’t ready yet. The manager wants people to pre-subscribe before it opens, and he doesn’t want to wait for the website.

Can I help with this problem? Sure.

I created a simple landing page with an email opt-in box. That way we can start collecting email addresses from interested people. There you go, more unexpected work for me.

I keep looking for problems I can solve – then I find new ways to provide value. That’s how I get lots of unexpected money.

And the client? Well, they get the traffic they wanted, and people are signing up to their mailing list, so they are happy with the results. Which means they’re happy to pay me.

How do you get unexpected money?

1. Understand the business

When you have a potential client, do everything to learn as much as you can about their business. Ask them a million questions:

– “Who are your clients?”

– “What is your business model?”

– “How do people hear about your business?”

– “How do they react when they hear about it?”

Dig deep. And then dig deeper.

Now use Google/Bing/DuckDuckGo and see what you can find. Look for similar businesses that are already successful and try to understand what they’re doing right.

Look for press written about your client’s business.

Ask friends if they know of them. Anything goes.

2. Look for problems/needs

Ask your clients – what’s the biggest thing you’re struggling with? They’ll start pouring it out. Write it all down, and get creative about how you could help them solve it.

Try to understand the problems yourself – do they have enough clients? Is their product/service selling at all?

Understand what your client’s needs are. Some clients are running their businesses alone, and they need support and someone to talk to. That’s also a need you can help with. Others need more brand awareness. Needs can be either emotional or rational.

Never stop talking to your clients. Even and especially if you got the project. As long as your client has a business you can always provide more value. You do that by knowing what current problems your client is facing, and figuring out how you can help solve them.

3. Teach them everything you know

Your clients don’t know much about design. They don’t know that design is all about solving problems. They don’t know what UX is for, what exactly “responsive” means, or what a responsive-layout is.

By teaching them everything you know, they’ll:

  1. Consider you an expert.
  2. Have fun with you while learning (super important!)
  3. Brag to their friends about what they’ve learned. They’ll want to learn more, and they’ll want to keep hanging out and working with you.

4. Tell them what they shouldn’t do

You should never, ever, sell your clients services they don’t really need. Even if you know how to provide those – if you don’t think they are of great value to your client, skip them.

I gain lots of trust from my clients when I tell them what they shouldn’t do.

For example, Facebook pages have lately turned into something that isn’t attractive for small businesses. That is, unless you have a full-time community manager. So when clients ask me to help them design their FB page, I advise them not to do that. And I explain why.

You should see my clients’ eyes when I do that. Their trust level jumps ten times higher within seconds.

5. Learn how to charge for extra value

Knowing how to bring more value doesn’t help you if you don’t get paid for it, right? You have to figure out how to charge for this extra value, and how to present it in your proposals, especially with new clients.

Otherwise, it’s not unexpected money, only unexpected ideas.

If you want to learn more about how to provide more value to your clients, and how to communicate your value to them, check out our Pricing Class.

Post by Lior Frenkel

Lior is the head of fun and CEO at The nuSchool. He is the author of 'Pay Me.. Or Else! and 'Value For Money' and a mentor at the Designer's Pricing Class


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