Landing My Second Client and the Lessons I Learned
To get my second gig, I had to convince a shopkeeper called Mwangi in our sleepy town centre that I was the best sign writer he would ever come across. The year was 1999 and I was 16. I told him that his kiosk didn’t have a name and that he was losing potential customers as a result.
To come up with a name for his kiosk I charged him 100 shillings ($1). To write the name of the shop I explained that I would charge him 10 shillings ($0.1) for every letter. Soon after I tabled my offer, I realised that my final pay depended directly on the number of letters I painted on his fascia board.To maximise my revenue I suggested that we name the shop Mwangi Shop & General Supplies Store Kamulu. That would give me a total of 470 shillings ($4.7) on completion of the job.
Mwangi agreed and I set off to work preparing the board and sketching out the text in pencil. But something inside me felt guilty about the the offer I had just made. I knew I was giving Mwangi a raw deal. I knew it would work better for him if we’d just named his kiosk ‘Mwangi’s Shop’ as this was easier to remember and as a result good for his business.
I had to make a decision. Should I do the job and walk away with my self serving pay or give Mwangi a good branding for his business by creating a memorable brand? I always walked past Mwangi’s shop everyday and so if I didn’t give him a working solution I would have to face my mistake everyday. Everyone would know that it was I who wrote that long sign that was hard to remember. And at that moment I realised that the money wasn’t as important as the outcome. I knew that if the board worked for Mwangi, I would get referral business from that one job and I would be proud to be known as the sign-writer who made his business flourish by giving it a memorable name. On the downside, this meant that I would now make only 200 shillings ($2) from the entire job; half of what I hoped for. Despite this, I chose my customer’s interests first.
The decision to choose integrity over my personal interests proved to be the best business decision ever. Mwangi’s shop became a known brand in the town centre. It even became a referral name for a bus stop which was very useful for a place so far out of the city. I got to write signs for several more shops in the area at a price of 30 shillings per letter and 200 shillings for images. I was 16 and just halfway through high school so this money was more than enough for me.
I learned what became my best lesson in design. That if you put your personal needs before the needs of your client, you will only profit once, no more. But if you put your clients’ needs first you will never run out of opportunities.
Secondly, learned that it’s hard to convince people to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself first.
Thirdly I realised that I had to re-think how I billed my clients for creative work otherwise one day I’d be forced to sell my kidneys to make ends meet.