A Short Conversation With Jonathan Longnecker and Nate Croft of FortySeven Media
Hey everyone. First of, let me appologize for the lack of activity on the blog. The thing about life is that sometimes it gets in the way of work and this time it was the passing of a dear family member on my wife’s side that took me away from the blog for a couple of weeks.
However this week we are finishing up our “Short Conversations With a Pro” series by speaking with two designers whose work I respect and admire, they are Jonathan Longnecker and Nate Croft of FortySeven Media.
About Jonathan and Nate
Jonathan and Nate started FortySeven Media back in 2004. Today, FortySeven Media’s clients range “...from the shop down the street to international tech companies.” Jonathan and Nate are also the minds behind DESIGN HOPE FOR STARTUPS 2009. An idea to bring together different companies to help a new business in a tough economy by designing and developing their website.
- Can you tell us a little bit about your first design job?
- NC:Jon was already working for this particular design shop and I got in as an intern on his recommendation. It turns out that I was especially gifted at resizing logos for use on various promotional products, so much so that they hired me. There I learned the ins and outs of the design business, what was expected from a designer in the real world and most importantly how to deal with clients and their requests. I worked there for about a year and a half total before moving on to another opportunity.
- JL:My first design job was actually at the school where I got my graphics degree. I worked on all sorts of forms and random school posters. They had seen my work in the student showcase and hired me because of that. Unfortunately, it was fairly short lived as they let go all their contract employees about 6 months after I started. I got the job at the shop Nate mentions right after; simply because their head designer was leaving and he called my current job and asked if anyone was interested. Seriously, I barely even interviewed for it. I ended up staying there about 4 years and the pace and types of jobs really prepared me for what I’m doing now. You have to do great work, but it needs to be done quickly and efficiently. I did learn a lot of what I didn’t want to do with a company, but I’m very grateful for the training and experiences I had there.
- How did you land your first freelance design gig?
- NC:My first freelance project was a website I built for a local business. It was a considerable amount of money and I couldn’t turn it down despite never building a real website. I was both thrilled and terrified. I learned a few things from this project. First, you can’t plan far enough ahead. I built the site in Flash because I had not yet learned how to build a proper site using HTML/CSS. That turned out to be a major pain because I hadn’t built it to be easily updatable. Second, going above and beyond the call of duty is not above the call of duty. The extra attention to detail and making life easier for your client is part of your job and should not be considered something you do only for the “good” clients. Finally, believe in yourself. Yes it’s cheesy I know, but when your client sees that you are confident, they will have confidence in you as well. Do your first gig well and you may have a client for life. We just redesigned that client’s old Flash site last year, 6 years later!
- JL:I honestly can’t remember my first freelance job. I’ve been drawing and doing logos for people so long….well let’s try for my first freelance web job. I believe the first website I built for someone else was for my wife’s sister. Her and her husband are missionaries in New Guinea. I re-did the whole thing a few years ago because it was too hard to update and the design looked dated. We got them setup with a CMS so it’s easier all around. I do work for them pro-bono so yes they’re still my client.
- How much effort do you invest in finding new clients?
- NC:We must be a strange case in this regard. Very rarely have we actively sought out clients. God has really blessed that way. When we first started, we let all of our old contacts from the print world know that we were launching out on our own and they responded with some great contacts. Once we switched to primarily building websites, we started posting them to the various CSS galleries of the day. That has, and still does bring in a good amount of business. Also, start being a contributing member of the community. A tutorial on our blog about how to use CSS to keep your footer at the bottom of the page accounts for a huge amount of traffic to our site. Giving back helps everyone. More than anything, we do our best to make every single job live up to its fullest potential. Great work and happy clients generate the kind of word of mouth that’s more effective than advertising.
- JL:Not much to add here. Do great work, work hard, give back to people and you’ll stay busy. I will say that there are always slow times. Use the good times to save up and prepare for them.
- Related to the previous question, how do you maintain your current clients?
- NC:Take the time to understand their concerns and ideas rather than just their words. Often, they are two totally unrelated things. Being a designer is like being a translator. You have to speak the languages of both imagination and reality, so that you can bring ideas to life. However, there are sometimes when a client no longer respects your efforts and talents. When you have repeatedly, skillfully and tactfully made the case for excellence and are still pushed to do shoddy and hurried work, it may be time to fire that client. Explain to them your concerns and end that relationship as professionally and respectfully as possible. You may be surprised that a tactfully fired client might want to work with you again once they discover your advice was sound.
- JL:I think you maintain your current clients by keeping in regular communication with them. The longer you don’t talk, things build up. If there’s something not working on their site, but they don’t have the time to call you, by the time they do they’re so fed up with it they’re mad at you. A simple, “How’s everything going” call can help alleviate those situations. We try not to say good bye to clients, but like Nate said sometimes the working relationship reaches a point where it’s not beneficial to either party. They’ll probably be mad at you, but it’s worth the lack of drama I think.
- If you could make one suggestion to someone about to jump into freelancing what would that be?
- NC:Make the jump and do the best work that you possibly can every singe time. Give it everything you’ve got. This is your chance to let your talents shine. Yes, you will sleep less than you ever have, occasionally wonder if you have gotten yourself into, but it is a great adventure and one I have never regretted.
- JL:I would say not to make that jump until you’ve got a decent client base and money in the bank. Everyone wants to borrow money to start a company, but that’s crap. All you need is a computer and some software. Work nights and weekends until you feel comfortable making that jump. You’ll be tempted to do it early, but be patient. It will be completely worth it.