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How to Run a Successful Creative Business According to Ilise Benun

Written by Val Sopi on Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ilise Benun

Ilise Benun, courtesy of Problem Clients: video-cast

This post is part of the Goodwerp series featuring design business professionals.

I first learned about Ilise when I was running my design firm (circa 2004-2007) in Wayne, New Jersey, kindly named Lucid Vagabond, Inc.

Then as a 24-year old I was trying to learn as much as I possibly could about running a successful design firm, and Ilise’s teaching about promotion and marketing as a design professional would pop-up at any New York City design networking event.

Since then, I’ve followed her blog and now decided to do a recap on all her teachings as most of our blog readers are designers running their own shops.

Who is Ilise

Ilise Benun a business expert for creative professionals. She’s an author of numerous books, a national speaker, mentor. During her +25 year career she has coached thousands of creatives, and still does. To read everything there is to know about Ilise, read her about page on Marketing Mentor.

To understand Ilise’s impact you must read testimonials by designers she has helped where among other things you’ll hear things like: “thanks for helping me get new clients”, “thanks for being “better than a fairy godmother”, “thanks for 18% growth”...

This post relates with our most recent post on how to start a design firm.

On with the collection

Today I’m bringing some of her best advice and teachings in one ultimate writing.

Retainers and how to secure those elusive monthly recurring payments

This goes hand in hand with packaging your services, as retainers can have a major impact on your positive cash-flow.

Ilise gives 2 pointers on how to go about securing a retainer:

  • They evolve out of an existing relationship
  • They are pursued strategically

Read her blog about details on how to secure a retainer

How to stop project’s from dragging on without a payment

Ilise suggests that you never tie your payments to a milestone, rather to a calendar. This way your month-to-month cash-flow does not suffer because of a client’s delay in delivery.

“The problem occurs when you tie payments to the milestones of the project and your cash flow suffers when things get held up. Instead, tie payments to the calendar. Take a percentage as a deposit to start, then a monthly fee over the course of the anticipated timeframe of the project. So if it’s a 4 month project, they pay a percentage on the 1st of each month for 3 more months. That way, they’re paying despite the delays. And if nothing else, it forces a conversation when there’s a delay and it can be negotiated.” — Ilise Benun

Read the blog post in its entirety.

Knowing exactly what you’re worth

Knowing what you’re worth and articulating it clearly will make or break for your business.

“Why can’t I get my clients to pay what I’m worth?” is a question you may hear repeatedly.

Here’s a video that accompanies the article

As well as the article itself.

Services as a product/package

I can’t say I haven’t thought about this when I was running my own design firm. One mistake I kept repeating was sticking to one type of service.

For example: I always offered custom services to all clients. This was great for creativity, however more times than not I lost clients because they wanted something more simple, and maybe “pre-packaged”, which brings me back to Ilise’s suggestion that thinking about packaging your services in not such a bad idea after all. You can continue doing your custom work, however you could also diversify your services by offering some of them as “pre-packaged” goods.

You’ll be doing your clients a favor and your cash-flow will flourish.

Here’s an mp3 to Ilise’s podcast about the topic.

And here’s a link to the the blog post talking more about your readiness to offer your services as a package.

Succeeding via content marketing

If you’re running a blog, in this video, Ilise Benun and Laura M Foley, talk about how to turn your blog into an e-book that will promote your services.

How to deal with with problematic clients

Ilise here talks about how to deal with problematic clients, looming deadlines, big egos. She identifies 4 red-flags to spot these types of clients and solutions on how to overcome these situations.

Also, here’s another PDF cheat-sheet about red flags you should look for.

Getting work done

Running a viable creative business takes muscle, in the sense that you have to “stay on top of things”.

Without your leadership and persistence things can quickly derail (I can attest to this) and your business can (god forbid) become worst than the job you quit to start your creative firm.

Read more about what it takes to get work done.

Blogs or Newsletters

This one hits close to home as we at Goodwerp actually do both. This post is quite long and. Make sure to take down some notes as you’re reading it.

Among few gems, Ilise quickly points out some key benefits of both Blogging and Newsletters: Blogs attract more web-traffic whereas Newsletters close more sales.

To learn more read Ilise’s post on Blogs and Letters.

She also suggests if you’re just starting out… “If you don’t already have a website to promote your business, a blog is a good first step in that direction. It provides a way for people to find you online without your spending a lot of money or time working with a Web designer or learning Web design software. In fact, some people use a blog as their one and only Web presence.”

Class: Command the fees you deserve

Here’s a master class with Ilise Benun that runs at $149. The course price is totally worth it, as it amounts to a few hours of your consultancy work in exchange for the ultimate knowledge on how to command your own fees and be the actual “boss” of your creative destiny.

The course runs in 3 sessions, made up of 44 lessons with videos.

Review what the course has to offer, which comes with a free preview

Being clear about what you do

Here’s a Soundcloud podcast by Jake Jorgovan interviewing Ilise Benun on the topic of describing clearly what you do.

In the podcast Ilise talks about a specific framework which you can use in casual settings, networking events, online, or anywhere else, without sounding to “businessey”.

What to do when you’re being ignored

Here are some hard facts and techniques on how to get the other party to respond when you’re expecting a response.

Also, there are specific times when the other part simply does not have the power or credibility to give you a direct answer.

For more reasons and techniques View the cheat sheet in PDF.

Here’s another article in AdAge about how to increase responsiveness from the unresponsive.

One of the techniques mentioned in the article is the 1-2 punch:
Reach out more than once, like a 1-2 punch. Don’t even consider them two separate efforts. They’re two parts of the same effort, and the repetition says “I’m serious.”

Overhead calculations

Here’s the cheat-sheet I wish I had when I was running my own design firm. It covers everything on what it takes to run your profitable business and what you need to charge to keep your business running.

View and print the PDF as a blueprint to your design firm’s financial success.

Being productive

How to become more productive for freelancers and project-based professionals featuring Ed Gandia of Effortless Productivity.

Writing good proposals

Here’s an interview of Ilise Benun over at Nusii which makes a proposal writing software

...and last but not least

An interview with one of the most recent crowd-favorite designer/maker Aaron Draplin.

Ilise interviews Aaron Draplin on how he runs a successful design business by diversifying his offerings and products.


Ilise Benun has been mentoring, teach, advising, and leading design-business professionals for quite some time. Her expertise and testimonials truly hit home with what I went through when I was running my own design firm.

For more about Ilise subscribe to her newsletter for a daily dose of running a better creative business and visit for more.

If you liked this post please leave your comments below and suggest any other tips and techniques on running a cash-flow positive design business.

Read next: Goodwerp Studio Manager: The Most Versatile Solution for Your Creative Business

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