Stephanie: Hello and welcome back to the podcast, today we have Colleen Gratzer
Colleen: Hi, have a bonzer day, is all the Australian I know, so.
Stephanie: A bonza day? What Australian told you that one?
Colleen: I don’t know somebody from WP Elevation told me have a bonza day means have a good day.
Stephanie: Have a bonza day? I can’t say I use that one myself.
Colleen: Oh, okay.
Stephanie: That’s weird!
Colleen: My Australian’s really bad!
Stephanie: I know but it’s really funny because you can be in Sydney where it’s pumping and then you can go, (sorry for everyone living in Adelaide here) to Adelaide and there’s this different slang, like togs instead of swimmers, flip flops instead of thongs… So maybe someone from outside of Sydney mentioned it?
Colleen: Oh, how funny, okay.
Stephanie: So your background, I just mentioned, you’ve got some German there. Gratzer, yeah?
Colleen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Stephanie: Cool, awesome! Well welcome to the podcast.
Colleen: Thanks for having me.
Stephanie: I’d love to dive into your niche and understand where you’ve come from, and some of some childhood tribulations, and then yeah sort of dig into where you’re going next. So how about we start with past Colleen. So tell us where you’ve come from and what you’ve been doing, and what’s been keeping you really busy.
Colleen: Well, I mean after I graduated college I always wanted to work for myself, so I freelanced on the side while working a full time job for seven years, and then I went out on my own full time. Because I just wasn’t confident enough to take that step right away, so it took me seven years to do it. So then I started Gratzer Graphics in 2003, and so I’ve always served mostly non-profit clients, a few small business clients. So non-profits has always been the niche for that business. More recently, now that I’ve been doing this for 20 something years, last year I started a podcast that is actually targeting graphic designers to help them with their confidence and their design skills, and any kind of business issues, freelance issues they might be having. So, that’s a podcast and it’s a community now. I offer some free guides, I’m going to be offering some courses.
Stephanie: So you are the superhero to graphic designers around the world, you might say.
Colleen: That would be great if they thought that of me!
Stephanie: I’m sure you are. What’s the big issues that graphic designers are having? You mentioned confidence. Tell me about some of their problems.
Colleen: Yeah so a lot of graphic designers and any artsy types are more sensitive by nature, and I find that a lot of graphic designers, myself included, you can sometimes lack this confidence, especially in asserting yourself. Especially when dealing with clients, like you might not stand up for your terms of work, you might allow some late payments, you might put up with clients that have bad behavior for a very long time, which I did for quite-
Stephanie: …I like how you’re saying you might allow clients to shit on you or, you know, I love the language there because it is what you allow, and I think people can say, “Oh my god I’ve got the worst clients,” or “I hate the work that I do” or whatever, but it’s like well you allowed it.
Colleen: Exactly. Right, and I think that, well in my experience at least, and from what I see from other designers that have lacked confidence, when you lack confidence you let the clients do whatever. They’re running your business, you’re not running your business, they’re running you. They think they own you, they get away with stuff, because they’re not necessarily trying to do that on purpose, but if you’re not asserting yourself and putting your foot down and just being in charge, then that is going to happen.
Stephanie: Yeah, give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. Bastards. So what do you love most about where you’ve transitioned from non for profits, working from that client, and now you’re building a community to help support graphic designers in need. Why again the initial change like the, why did you shift?
Colleen: Well I’ve been serving the nonprofits and having clients for 22 years now. And I had this idea several years ago of helping designers. It’s just something that I really wanted to do. It’s like, I’ve been through this journey, I know how to help others because I’ve already lived it and made a lot of the mistakes.
Stephanie: Of course
Colleen: Yeah. So it’s something that I thought you know, colleagues would ask me for advice or I’d ask them for advice, and people started saying, “Oh that really helped me out,” so I’m like okay, you know.
Colleen: I know. And I find that like the more you share, the more that you realize that you know. You know?
Stephanie: Yeah, and I think you just don’t realize how many battles you’ve been into, and what you now know.
Stephanie: To come out the other end. So what’s the best thing about helping your new creative niche?
Colleen: The best thing is the feedback. But not so much for my ego, although that’s great because that builds my confidence, but to hear that what I’m saying to people has actually helped them.
Stephanie: Has actually worked.
Colleen: Yeah. It’s actually worked. So I love hearing that, you know.
Stephanie: Cool. And what’s been the hardest obstacle in terms of working with them? Is there something that keeps coming up again and again?
Colleen: It’s not an obstacle of me working with them, but confidence is a recurring issue. You know, getting clients and getting the right clients, that’s also a recurring issue, but I believe a lot of that can go back to confidence. Some of that is a marketing issue and some of that is a confidence issue.
Stephanie: Yeah. Right, okay. So there’s a big piece on confidence that you are working with designers to help them overcome and get over and build sort of tactical processes or skills so they don’t have to feel that pain or hurt, I guess.
Colleen: Yeah, exactly. So they can think the issue is one thing, and then as I listen to it, I’m like okay but here’s your problem.
Stephanie: Here’s actually what’s happening.
Colleen: Like one time, Elise Bennin, who is a marketing mentor, she’s also very involved with the How Design Conference, she’s been on my podcast. So she’s a marketing guru and she will often say to designers, “You don’t have a pricing problem. You have a marketing problem.” And you can find the clients that are willing to pay, you need to show the value, you know? There’s nothing wrong with your price because somebody didn’t accept it. And that’s the other thing with confidence, too, is that if you attract the wrong client and you keep hearing no, like, “No, I don’t like that design,” or, “No, that price is too high,” you start to think it’s you. So then you start changing to accommodate them, but it’s just not a good match, but you think you’re the problem.
Stephanie: Yeah, exactly, and little by little they break you down until you’re charging a dollar an hour and it’s a bargain.
Colleen: Right, there’s a race to the bottom and nobody wins that.
Stephanie: This is your niche? Have you thought about changing or you weren’t sure which direction you were going? Is this it, or have you thought about throwing the niche away and starting again?
Colleen: With the graphic designers or with my client base?
Stephanie: Yeah, yeah the Designers.
Colleen: Oh no, I really enjoy this and it’s very different from what I’ve built my career doing. It’s just a different take on it. So it’s still using what I’ve learned and helping people, but doing it with a different audience, in a different way.
Stephanie: Awesome. I guess, so personal Colleen, are there things that you’ve done in your life that have clicked and made you go, “Oh my god, I’m good at that in my personal life, can I apply that to my business life?” Has there ever been some circumstances where you’ve gone like, “Oh my god, can’t super Colleen be like that in business?” Or “I wish I was more like that in my personal life?”
Stephanie: I know, the hard hitting questions on the Nailing It podcast.
Colleen: Yeah, I mean I think I was more of a pushover in business for years. But my friends would never think that I was a pushover. So I was putting up, in one episode of my podcast I think I call it like, you don’t have to pimp yourself. You don’t have to pimp yourself out for the money. And so I think that’s really like what it was, it was like well they’re paying me, so I just have to put up with it.
Colleen: But designers don’t have to put up with it just because they’re being paid, you know? So I put up with too much in business than I would-
Stephanie: You would never, you would not lie down in personal, but you found yourself laying down in business, and you’re like wait a minute this is not me, like, I would never do this.
Colleen: Yeah, right. And so I would, you know, I’m very outspoken in real life, and hold my tongue quite a bit when it comes to business stuff. But yeah I realized, too, a few years ago that me facing bullying in my childhood and all this criticism that I had in my school days, that really affected me through my life, and a lot of that really sucked the confidence out of me, and so that really affected my business, I realized a few years ago. So that sucked. But you know, once I figured that out it was kind of like little by little, oh my gosh it’s like eye opening, and it really started changing things in my business as well.
Stephanie: I was on the phone to an awesome business owner yesterday Ondina. She runs a Presence Workshop, she hosted one last week that I went to. And yesterday we were on the phone and I said, “Look, I’ve got to a few things going on, I’ve got some launches and,” and she said, “What’s going on, why are you staggering about?” And I was like, “Well I’m not really afraid of failure, but I do wonder, is that why I haven’t pushed publish today, because I’m worried about what might be.” And then her question was, “where is this coming from? If this is coming from past stuff and past experiences, and if you can understand where those little mental triggers or habits have come from, then you can realize that you’ve overcome them and you’re not that person, and you can move forward and you can be confident and be mentally prepared and all this other stuff’. So yeah it’s really funny you mention that.
Colleen: Yeah, I mean I was afraid to put myself out there on the podcast, I mean that would be on my never do list, you know. I don’t want the criticism! I don’t want to put myself out there, I don’t want someone to come after me and bully me for something they disagreed with, you know? I just didn’t want to put myself out there and open myself up to that, but it’s funny because I’ve gotten nothing but positivity from it, and it’s helped people. So it’s had this effect that I didn’t think it would have.
Stephanie: Yeah, and that pushes you to keep moving forward, too, when you actually overcome that hump and you’re like I’m going to hit publish, and I’m going to be as out there as possible and feel free to judge and ra ra. And when people actually give you like, “Oh my god thanks so much,” it is a reward, isn’t it.
Colleen: Yeah, it really is. So to hear that, like one designer I was working with, he had a total mental shift through a session that we had. He was like, “Oh my gosh I totally am thinking about things completely differently and I’m never going to go back to what I was doing before, I’m going to get rid of those old bad habits.”
Stephanie: Speaking of habits, can you give me some habits that have attributed to your success? Are there things that you do consciously every morning, like are you a gratitude diary person? Are you a Best Self Diary person? Have you got any habits that you try and take on for your week?
Colleen: No. I mean I drink some wine every day.
Stephanie: You drink wine every day! Now there is a habit. Is it red or white?
Stephanie: It’s red, mm delicious!
Colleen: Yes, dark red wines. No but I mean other than that, I’m OCD but I don’t have any habits, I guess that doesn’t make sense.
Stephanie: Aren’t we all OCD.
Colleen: I mean I pay a lot of attention to detail, I’m always check things over and over, like any kind of work that I do or that our team does, I always check everything. And I have to write everything down and have it in front of me. So I actually have a habit of having a lot of papers at my desk. Lots of to do lists. But I mean I get up and I do the same thing every day, but just in a different order, I guess. I’m checking in with the team, and I’m checking my schedule, but it’s not like a set thing at a set time every day.
Stephanie: So would you say that you’re kind of a woo-woo kind of person, or you’re like the anti woo-woo.
Colleen: No, I think I’m much too anal to be that. I’m very type A. Very tightly wound.
Stephanie: Okay, no zen master yoga…
Stephanie: What’s the best thing about running your business? What is the most thrilling thing about running a business on your own, doing this thing?
Colleen: Well the original reason I wanted to have my own business was for the flexibility, and I found that I had absolutely no flexibility for many years because I was so busy, and I was letting the clients and the business run me. And so after I got that situated and everything sorted out, everything was much smoother and less stressful. But at the time I had a dog that had separation anxiety and I couldn’t leave her at home, and I tried everything. Like drugs, crate training, everything. And I had to take her to doggy daycare every single day when I was working at a job still. So that was the catalyst to get my butt moving to working for myself.
So yes, you have to always keep in mind your goals when you go to work for yourself. You know, why am I doing this? Are you going to have a reactive business where you just take what comes and you just take the treatment that comes with it, are you going to take any job that comes your way? Because I’ve done that. And it was fucked. And it sucked, and I didn’t do any marketing because I was like I’m so busy, I’m making good money, I don’t need to do any marketing. And then one day I was like, oh my God I haven’t raised my rates in how many years? I haven’t done any marketing and I am not working with all the clients that I want to. So it was like I had to really assess the situation.
And I think you have to constantly do that when you go out on your own and you need to do that in order to be flexible, in order to be able to achieve the things that you wanted to in the first place by going out on your own, to have that.
Stephanie: Yeah, I think that’s a great message. Remember why you did it in the first place. Because yeah like you’re saying, you can get six months down the line and you are smashed. You’re dealing with all kinds of jobs, you’re debt collecting and all the other issues that might arise, and yeah and then you realize, oh my god, I actually got into business to be free. And I am anything but free.
Colleen: Right it’s like you created a full time job for yourself.
Stephanie: Exactly, you just created this job where you’re chained to the desk and you know, you’re generating some carpal tunnel in your wrist because you’re working so much. How the hell did you do that. If you’re working for the man you can at least take sick day and get paid for it.
Colleen: Right, exactly. You get better benefits.
Stephanie: Cool, where to next? So we’ve covered like past Colleen and current Colleen, so where are you next, where is your pathway going to lead and what are you most excited about for this year?
Colleen: I really want to focus more on the podcast and the community and the courses that I’m creating. And because it’s kind of been a little bit of my client based business and then serving the graphic designers. So I want to get to a balance so it’s kind of like 50-50. So I want to do more with graphic designers and the mentoring, and the podcast and the community and all of that.
Stephanie: Okay, cool. And I’ve got here your accessibility course. Tell me about that.
Colleen: Yeah, so I learned accessibility. Well accessibility means that a document or website, something electronic, and it also could apply to different types of software, different electronic things. But I was trying to document accessibility, specifically in design, three years ago, and I got really interested in that. And then since I was also developing websites and coding them, I also, I mean I’ve spent many years researching since then how to build accessible websites. So I’ve been putting together a course about that. So accessibility, when it comes to design, can refer to colors and the contrast, and it can also pertain to the type of font that you choose.
Stephanie: This is just non text stuff?
Colleen: With text. Yeah, so with text and then color contrast between text and the background, if you have a file or data that need to be accessible, you have to consider the contrast between the different pieces together. So if you have a graph and you’ve got three colors in it, could somebody who’s colorblind distinguish between the three colors, you know? So it’s not only contrast against the background, it also depends on how it’s being used. Because the number one rule in accessibility is you cannot use color alone to convey information.
Stephanie: Yeah, right wow. This is a whole new world, really.
Colleen: Yeah, there’s a lot.
Stephanie: I think people might be just skipping over this sort of stuff when they’re putting things together.
Colleen: Yes absolutely. People think, ‘I don’t understand’ or ‘it doesn’t apply to me, I don’t have a disability’. And I think, they think, okay well a disability must mean that somebody’s in a wheelchair, or they’re blind, and that’s not the case. Disabilities, I think the World Bank estimates that like 20% of the population has something that qualifies as a disability. It could be an auditory issue, it could be a visual issue, it could be low vision, you know, it could be macular degeneration, it could be blindness. It could be, maybe you broke your right arm and you’re in a case for several months and you can’t use the mouse. Now you have a temporary disability.
Colleen: So making something accessible is being more inclusive to people regardless of what kind of physical or cognitive condition they might have. I mean, somebody could go to a website and if they have a certain type of seizure disorder they could be triggered by a slider on the homepage that moves too quickly.
Stephanie: Holy cow.
Colleen: I mean frankly, some sites that I’ve seen with the flashing, I could be triggered by that!
Stephanie: Oh wow, okay, cool.
Colleen: So yeah there is a lot, and then with the development then there’s also things where it comes to the functionality of the document and the website.
Stephanie: There is actually a whole other area of design, like you’re saying, with colorblindness and all this kind of stuff, colors sitting too close together and not contrasting. Cool okay, so you’ve got a course coming out that people can take and learn about accessibility and then apply it into the work that they do, right?
Stephanie: Sick, okay cool.
Colleen: Yeah so it’s like start to finish, it’s like here’s questions you need to ask the client, here’s how you need to execute the work, and here’s what you need to tell the client. Because accessibility is also an ongoing process, it’s not like a website, you just set it up and it’s done. Websites aren’t like that either. You know, there’s ongoing work to be done. And it’s the same with accessibility.
Stephanie: There’s a list to get notified? Okay sweet, okay cool. Well we’ll make sure I point that out in the show notes. Is there anything else that you kind of want to tackle here? Any wisdom that you want to leave the listeners?
Colleen: So I guess the last thing I would say is that don’t isolate yourself, and it’s important to not only talk to other designers, that’s also why I started my community, which is Design Domination on Facebook. But it’s important to not work in isolation, it’s important to bounce ideas off one another, it’s also important to help each other gain confidence and get support on freelance business issues.
Stephanie: Yeah, wow I love that. Don’t work in isolation.
Stephanie: Put a team of people around you that at any moment could come and help support you.
Colleen: Yeah even if it’s like, “Hey, what do you think of this pricing?” I mean, or, “Check out my proposal.” I mean it really makes such a big difference when you do that.
Stephanie: Sick. All right well round of applause for Colleen. I’m sure one of my tech guys will put some applause in there. It was so good to have you on here and it was so good to see what you’re up to. I can’t wait to see your course take off. That’s really important, like I think when you get into digital business you don’t realize there’s so much to do. And even as a incoming client, there might be people listening here who are looking to buy some digital services, and even they might not realize that there’s this whole other section of stuff that needs to be done, and that’s why you’ve really got to work with a professional.
Colleen: Yeah, and you know I forgot to mention about the accessibility stuff too is that you know, a lot of what’s happening in the United States, at least, and especially what’s happening in New York, is that there are so many lawsuits. And even though businesses aren’t legally required to, like some businesses are not legally required to adhere to accessibility laws, they’re still getting sued.
Colleen: And then they’re just writing a cheque.
Stephanie: Wow. Wasn’t there a court case with Beyonce was the first or something?
Colleen: Yup, she’s had something brought against her. I mean but in New York there’s a whole bunch of lawyers who are actually going around like in search, like on the prowl for websites that are not accessible.
Stephanie: Whoa. Okay.
Colleen: And so there’s a lot of legal stuff to this too, that I’m putting in the course, too.
Stephanie: Wow, okay all right.
Colleen: Protect yourself legally too, I mean I’ve seen designers post in some communities and they’re like “I just created a website for my client” and then a few months later, the client’s like, “Well this needs to be accessible.” And you know, the designer didn’t realize they needed to ask the question, and I’m like, “Wow, they could come after you!” The client should of course mention it, but if you can ask that question up front, then you can put it in your contract and protect yourself.
Stephanie: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. Oh wow, all right so there’s a lot to learn here about accessibility. The course link will be in the show notes of course, so feel free to jump into the blog and click on the links and learn more about Colleen. Also, I’ll throw up some of your social icons there, so that if people want to connect with you than they certainly can. But thanks, thanks so much for being on the podcast.
Colleen: Thanks for having me.
Stephanie: All right, legend. Well let’s wrap!
You can connect with Colleen here: