The Carrot

I am constantly goading people to turn down work, and am often met with resistance. Seems counter-intuitive that if you want to make more money you would turn down paying clients. So let me give you an example to illustrate the point: paid work can be unprofitable, and some paid work can actually hinder the achievement of your overall business goals.

Meet Russell, a wedding photographer who generally shoots on the weekends. Though there is a great deal of post-wedding work, weekdays are fairly flexible.

So when Sally asks if he can do some headshots for her LinkedIn profile, he says yes. He could use the extra income.

He thinks to himself that headshots are easy and can probably be done in two hours: one for shooting, one for editing. Since he charges $5,000 for weddings, $300 feels like a fair rate to him.

Sally shows up to the shoot holding a pile of clothes. She has no idea which outfit to wear. She asks if it’s OK to take photos in a few different looks.

The Fall Begins

No problem, says Russell. But once the shoot gets rolling and she’s on her third outfit, Russell realizes this is going to take longer than expected. He didn’t know outfit changes were going to take up so much time. Plus, she did her own hair and makeup and it’s not looking right in the photos. Russell doesn’t know how to do makeup and hair since his brides always have it professionally done. When he looks at the shots, he knows immediately that the lighting is washing her out. He tells her to put on more makeup. This takes up time.

The shoot ends up being two hours. He was an hour off, but hey, he’s still going to make $300 he wouldn’t have made otherwise.

He could have just been watching TV during that time anyway, so what’s an hour?

The next day he looks through the shots. Because of the makeup debacle, only half of the shots are even usable. He finally finds a few good ones, picks his top five and sends them to Sally. She writes back immediately. The ones he sent are not what she had in mind, she really wanted photos of her looking more professional. Sally thinks she looks too friendly.

The Fall Continues

Too friendly is not how Russell is feeling right now. He goes back through the photos again and finds some that could be considered more “professional”. Sally writes that these are better, but could she just take a look for herself and pick the ones she wants?

Frustration has now turned into annoyance. He’s already spent almost an hour sifting through the photos and doesn’t want to spend any more time on this project. But Russell doesn’t feel as though he has a choice. Sally clearly doesn’t like what he’s picked and he just wants her to choose the photos so he can move on to editing them.

Sally picks a couple photos, but her hair looks weird in them. She asks if Russell can Photoshop her hair from a different picture onto her face in another. Russell knows how much time this will take, but Sally has made it clear that she doesn’t like any of the other photos and Russell doesn’t want to upset her. After all, he’s bent over backwards thus far and would hate to have spent all this time and still send away an unhappy client!

So he does the work. After another hour he has produced the photo she wants. He sends it off relieved that it’s over and psyched to spend the $300 of some rightly-deserved beers.

But like a zombie, she keeps coming back. Sally writes that she is pleased with this one, but didn’t he say he would provide three final shots? Unfortunately, unlike a zombie, his brain is still intact and he has to continue to deal with this “side project”.

The Lesson

And on and on it goes. If you think this is an exaggeration, then you don’t work with clients. The thing is, it’s not Sally’s fault, it’s Russell’s and his lack of process.

You see, if Russell regularly did headshots, he would have given Sally instructions ahead of time. He would have recommended hiring a makeup artist for an additional fee. Even better, he would have included it in the price. He would have said she is allowed up to three changes of clothes. He would have asked her ahead of time to show him some examples of photos she liked and wants to emulate. This way, when he picked the top five photos, he would know that they were in line with what she wanted (and if she didn’t like them he would have been able to refer to a concrete example). Then he would have told her he only includes one round of editing and any additional rounds or extreme editing, like editing two photos together, would cost extra.

But this is not something Russell does every day so he doesn’t have a process for it. Meaning he doesn’t have a way yet of making it profitable. Had he developed that process just for Sally, it still wouldn’t have been lucrative since he would have spent that extra time developing the process. And unless Russell wants to add headshots to his repertoire, he needs to say “no” to customers looking for work outside his niche of weddings.

Turn Down Work, Make More Money

Imagine if he had spent that same 4-5 hours working to land another $5,000 wedding client instead? That marketing work may have even planted the seeds for a few additional wedding clients. The value of his time spent is incomparable!

Plus, the last thing he wants is for one of Sally’s friends to contact him for more LinkedIn headshots, so he didn’t even receive the value of more potential business. Sally is unlikely to give him a referral for weddings because that’s not why he was hired. For her he’s not top of mind for weddings, if anything he’s top of mind for headshots.


What the national bird can teach us about Badass Branding...

Its 1770-something, and the founding fathers are trying to decide how to symbolically represent this great nation they are starting...


That night, Ben Franklin goes home and writes a grumbling letter to his daughter:

"For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him... the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

Oh Ben. How very practical you are, but you're missing the point!

While the turkey might have some qualities you'd like to represent the country, the turkey doesn't exactly inspire action or excitement

In contrast, remember the last time you saw a bald eagle soaring through the sky? You can't help but watch it, looking up above you with your mouth open in awe, and tapping whomever is near you to do the same. Have you ever looked at a turkey waddling around, pecking at the ground with the same level of amazement? 

What Ben failed to understand is that when coming up with a brand, sometimes it's more important to be aspirational than accurate. Sometimes creating the emotion you want buyers to feel is more important than explaining all the details behind a symbol that hits all the points.

The turkey is the "what."

It has characteristics that are noble and tell an accurate story. But it's no match for the majestic personality of a bald eagle soaring through the sky. 

The turkey is like listing the services you offer on your homepage. Or like calling your marketing company "Effective Marketing USA." Accurate, but lame.

The bald eagle is the "why."

It's hitting your clients in the gut with a statement, or a feeling, that makes them tingle. It's naming your company Uber or Google because it feels right, not because you need to explain what you do. 

So Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy your turkey this week. At least the poor bastard is good for something. 


Whatever your politics, I think everyone is feeling a little uncertain right now. People are worried about their health insurance, or the security of their job, or their money in the market if it tanks.

And while I’ve had some panicky thoughts myself, it was overpowered by the incredibly lucky feeling that I don’t fear those particular issues in my life. I already pay an exorbitant amount for health insurance, and it sucks, but I have the money, and I’m able to pay for it, and I am so thankful for that.

I also can’t get fired from my job. Over the last 5 years I have built skills that give me great comfort in my abilities to make money. The more I learn, the more opportunities I see. And I find comfort in that.

I share this with you because that is freedom that I want for all of my fellow small business owners. Being your own boss, in and of itself, is not freeing. It can actually be the very shackles that keep you down when you can’t, or don’t know how to, find clients. Or when you can find clients, but you can’t seem to charge enough to get out of the paycheck to paycheck cycle.

It’s been a historic, emotional week and I feel compelled to share with you my greater vision in all this “Badass Branding” preaching that I do. My big idea. My “WHY.”

First, I don’t know why but I’ve never inherently trusted that I could rely on the government for anything. I don’t trust that there will be social security when I’m older, and I don’t trust that I’ll be able to get health insurance. I’ve never had a salary with benefits or paid vacation, so that’s never even been on my radar. In fact, relying on the government has always scared me, because it meant being reliant on something that I had no control over.

To combat this fear I made it my mission to become self reliant. Part of that was learning how to make money, and part of that was staying aware of how little I need to be happy and survive.

At Wesleyan, I spent many a smoky night discussing utopian governments and societies, a favorite pass time amongst my friends. Maybe if I’d been a Government major I would have designed one around the Government, but I was an Economics major. My utopia assumed that people are selfish and act first in their own self-interests, and I used that to imagine a world where everyone prospered under those assumptions. 

If everyone had the opportunity to create their own value in the world, and through pure economic self interest created value from nothing, and then spent that money supporting other people that were doing the same thing, the world would prosper. If you could create enough profit in your own business to have excess money left over, you would buy everything from other independent producers, and stay away from Walmart, because it furthered the prosperity that you yourself benefited from. 

Now before you think I’ve gone libertarian know that because I’m pragmatic and know this isn’t possible, I support a government that helps the poor, and provides assistance, and I would be willing to pay even higher taxes if it meant ensuring that every child in this country got an education even close to the one I did. I think education alone would solve many of our country’s greatest problems.

But to you, my fellow entrepreneurs: I think you, like me, that self reliance and the comfort that comes with it. I think you love independence. And because I know so many of you that want that, but don’t quite know how to get there, I get up every morning excited to get to work.

Because I’m excited to share what I’ve learned about turning expertise into profit. It’s makes me feel safe and secure knowing that even if I lost everything overnight, I could start making money to support myself the next day. 

You can’t take knowledge away from someone. 

So regardless of your industry, if you are selling a service, and selling your expertise, I can show you how to sell it much more easily, and at a much higher price, which may give you a sense of security. 

You have to be committed to becoming the superstar expert in your field, though, because these strategies won’t go that far if you can’t back up your claims! 

But when I say “Badass” I tend to attract the kind of people who know they are badasses. Badasses are motivated by what they do and the value they create.

That’s why I feel so lucky that I don’t have to be scared about my insurance, or my job, or the economy. Even in an economic downturn, when people are less likely to invest in their businesses, I’m still not scared. That means there will be less demand, but there is never NO demand. And when you have a badass brand, you are the one that wins those jobs.

That’s what I want for you, entrepreneur. That security that your own know-how is stronger than whatever political turmoil may happen because you hold 100% of your economic future in your hands. That’s why I spread the gospel of Badass Branding.

(End of rant.)

Your “One Thing”: Finding Your Business’ Focus

You’re at lunch with a new networking contact. It’s a Tuesday. Or a Wednesday. Okay, it doesn’t matter what day it is, or what you order. Following an hour-long discussion and meal, you head your separate ways and what matters is this: Even after that hour conversation, you still don’t have a clear idea of what that person does.

You have every intention of sending business their way, but you can’t put your finger on who or when would be an appropriate introduction.

Now imagine this networking friend having the same experience with you. After an hour-long discussion about your business, she walks away unclear about your value proposition--or with a complete misunderstanding of it.

From a business perspective, that lunch would be a complete waste of time. Why? Because if people don’t understand what you door don’t rememberit’s like you never even told them.

This is why you need a ready-to-go elevator pitch for your brand--one that contacts will listen, understand, remember, and act upon.

Make Sure the Right Idea Sticks

With every new person you meet, you have a tiny window of time, focus, and/or attention span. Too many details increase the chances that the idea(s) that sticks won’t be helpful for your business.

For example, if you have coffee with someone who tells you he collects Godzilla dolls and likes to swim with sharks, you may only remember him as “Jim, the thrill-seeking Godzilla collector.” But maybe Jim’s a big data wiz, and you come away knowing zero about that. You won’t be likely to refer business to him.

Best to pick a focal pointand carve your inroad there!

By narrowing your brand down to a simple concept, you frame the conversation as it benefits you, answering questions, giving examples, and even floating a few referral phrases. This way, you increase your chances that your name will pop up at the right time, and in the right conversation. After that, you can still touch on sharks--and feel confident that your central point will stick.

How to Determine Your “One Thing”

Finding your brand’s focal point can be difficult. As part of our Brandup Bootcamp, we’ve devised a formula that we teach to Badass-Brands-in-training.

Your “one thing” can come in a variety of forms, and you can also have multiple “one things”--your focus may shift depending on your audience. But it must always adhere to one major rule: It has to be something your competitors can’t and won’t say.

For example, we branded a financial plan for Stash Wealth, a wealth management company called Stash Wealth. We productized the “Stash Plan,” a flat-rate plan designed as the first step of any client relationship, which dives deep into a client’s goals, cash flow, and future. Now, when Stash speaks to potential clients, the Stash Plan is the only thing they want people to remember--it’s different, unique, cool, and shareable.

So, even though there are a lot of interesting things about Stash Wealth--like the fact that they work exclusively with 20- and 30-something HENRYs (High Earners Not Rich Yet)--they understand that everyone who leaves a conversation knowing the benefits of a Stash Plan is well on their way to becoming a client.

We Know Our Focus. Let Us Help Find Yours!

At Worstofall Design, our “one thing” is building Badass Brands in less than three days. We call this “without the bullshit.” For specific audiences, we may shift focus to our Brandshrink--a 90-minute deep-dive interview, where we identify a brand’s badassery and create a plan for how to unmask it.

Depending on who we’re talking to, we strategically plot out our approach. Both ideas are clear, branded, and unique to Worstofall--so when we frame a conversation around Brandshrinks or “no BS” branding, we know people will walk away with a distinct differentiator.

What’s your “one thing”?

Explore your material, nail that phrase, and watch your business grow.

Talk behind my back... Please!

If you want a business that attracts all ideal clients, you need to give them something to talk about.

Gossip gets a bad rap, especially considering it seems all PR is good PR these days.

Hell, we've got a presidential candidate who barely had to spend money on his campaign because he was so gossip-worthy! At Worstofall, we want people gossiping about us, too. That is, talking about us to their friends. Because good gossip is the best form marketingfree and reliable! And it builds reputation better than anything else.

People share things that are… Entertaining

Whether it’s a polarizing political article or an adorable puppy licking a giggling baby, content that revs up our emotional juices are fun to share because they inspire reactions. This is obvious when it comes to Trump & puppies, but how does it relate to your business?

Take Night, a luxury pillow company that is as much a beauty product as a sleep buddy. We built their brand a couple years ago, and encouraged them to embrace the authentically sassy voice of their cofounders Kalle & Isaac. 

A recent blog post of theirs had me laughing so hard I had to forward it to a few friends. A behind-the-scenes story of Isaac’s trip across the country to personally deliver their product to Kim Kardashian, including a series of travel missteps and how airport miracle worker “Linda” made magic happen, was both entertaining and personal. It infused a brand (whose sole product is a black, silk pillow) with personality that makes you want to hang out with the founders.

What fun and entertaining stories can you share that let us in on the people behind the brand? 

People share things that are… easy to share

I bet there are a ton of people that know and trust you that would love to send you business... but they don’t. This is usually because you’re not easy to share with others because:

  • You are selling something generic that lots of other people are selling. In their most genuine tone the only reason they have to tell their friend to contact you is because they like you. “You should call my friend who’s an insurance broker because… he’s a great guy!” Not a very compelling sell. 
  • What you do is hard to explain, so it’s hard to bring it up. “My friend does this energy healing thing, I’m not sure exactly how she does it but she makes you feel better. You should try it!” Hmm… really?
  • It’s completely unclear how much you cost, so others are fearful of sending the wrong people to you because it may make them look bad. Either they send you someone who can't afford you (and wastes your time), or they send you a client who is ready to spend a lot more and then feels like their time was wasted when they find out you are at a much lower price, and therefore not in the league they were looking for.

Having a clear idea, action or product that makes you easy to talk about and share can change this. One example: we productized SAT test prep company Ivy Lounge Test Prep’s first meeting into an “Ace the Test Game Plan.”  Instead of an hourly test prep tutor, Ivy Lounge offers a $750 package where they do a full assessment of the student’s testing abilities, diagnose strengths and weaknesses, discuss test score and college goals, and gives a full report with an action plan on how to achieve said goals.

This is both easy for students and parents to share, and it lets everyone know the price range of their services. Instead of being another, albeit great, test tutor, they have something clearly defined that others can talk about.

People share things that… are unexpected

There are so many unexpected ways to be unexpected, but I’ll share my favorite one here: say "no" to clients that aren’t ideal for you. Nobody forgets the company that said “no” to them, whether explicitly ("we're not a match"), or implicitly by pricing themselves out of certain clients.

We just got an amazing client from a prospect who wanted to work with us months ago but couldn’t afford our services. Instead of feeling disillusioned, she was motivated to get her business to a more established spot so she could afford our services. In the meantime she became a raving fan who told her colleague that they had to work with us because they could afford it.

Are you gossip worthy?

Do you have something clear and specific that makes it easy for your friends, colleagues and fans to share you with others?

Sign up for our upcoming training and get clear on what makes you gossip worthy...

What's the going hourly rate of an "expert"?

What you charge, and how you charge, says a lot about your level of skill whether you like it or not. I meet so many people that want to be experts, thought leaders, gurus, yet their pricing, and how they handle the situation, tells a different story.

Here's what an expert looks like

I met Steve the week he moved to NYC. Through a mutual friend at a bar on Bleecker St., we were quickly drawn to each other and a first date the following week was scheduled.

Now, Steve had just moved here; I was born and raised in the east village. Did I ask him what he wanted to do on our date? Of course not! As an expert New Yorker I knew it was my job to put together an impressive itinerary of insider hot spots.

Neither of us had any money, so I had to plan an intriguing date that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. I knew he was an artist, so with a dignified quarter I took him to the bar on the roof of the Met to sip a beer next to some oversized Jeff Koons animal ballons. I followed up that impressive and classy spot with a few locals-only joints in the east village, including a sushi bar on St. Marks that is both delicious and crazy affordable. 

Had I asked what he wanted to do, his uninformed requests may have landed us at an overpriced hotel bar in midtown manhattan full of out of towners showing off, or worse, TGIFridays.

Therein lies the difference between and Expert and a Service Provider.

Nuanced but not minuscule, Experts learn their trade over a lifetime, and Service Providers execute ideas based primarily on your direction. 

And like any expert, had I been charging for my expertise I certainly would have charged, and earned, top dollar. Because little secret spots are not easily found in Zagat and Frommers, they are known only from a lifetime of living in the city.

How to Spot an Expert


Most people are service providers and they usually charge based on time. Even if they are proposing a project rate, they formulate that rate based on a forecasted amount of time. This is because they are at the mercy of the client, so they have to predict how much time the client will need!

An Expert’s fee is related to his or her value contribution. They know how long it will take them because they've done it a million times, but they don't charge based on that time. 

He or she has spent years, sometimes a lifetime learning, and clients pay for that knowledge regardless of how long it takes.

Imagine a plumber. I've had a plumber come and snake my clogged drain in 10 minutes and charge $200. And it's worth it! Because he knows how to do it, and I don't. He solved my problem, didn't ask me how, and came when I needed him. That's value.


Service Providers are the hands: they execute. They ask, “What do you think? Do you like this?”

Experts are the brain. They tell you why a decision is the right one and give thoughtful reasoning and innovative ideas to back it up.

Service Providers need to put guidelines and restrictions on their work in order to regulate the potential for a deluge of client change-requests.

Experts similarly put in guidelines, but don’t typically need to enforce them due to clients not typically needing more than one round of revisions.


Experts and Service Providers strive for you to be happy, but Experts are less likely to sacrifice the truth of a situation to make you feel good. As in, that dress really does make you look fat.

Web designers, for example, are often Service Providers. They ask for page examples, content, photos, and other websites as examples; they are acting as the hands for your vision. But when web designers are Experts, they ask what the client is looking to accomplish. They ask about the brand, the market, what is currently on the site. They ask about the goal.

When Experts asks these questions, they can charge a premium. After all, it costs more to tell the client how a website should look and function than to simply put things in placed based off client notes. Experts will tell the client what pieces of content they need in advance and recommend additional outside help, if necessary. 

Knowing these distinctions not only helps with planning and executing your next project, but with your bottom line as well. Even if Steve had hired me (at a premium) to take him on the date, considering that date would change the course of his life I think we can all agree the benefits he received far outweighed any investment ;)


Want to go from "Service Provider" to Expert


Sign up for our upcoming training and learn how to instantly elevate yourself to expert status >

How to never sell again (and still sell a ton)

Hate sales? Us too.

Most who run small service businesses don't like the idea of sales, they are an unfortunately means to an end. Selling to people can be frustrating, and as any consumer can attest, being sold to is the worst.

However, sales is the lifeblood of your business. Without sales techniques, how are you going to seal the deal and convince people to buy from your brand?

Well, there is another option: 

Build a Badass Brand that Sells Itself

While this sounds too good to be true, my personal experience says otherwise. We help create kick-ass, self-selling brands for clients on a regular basis, without the yuck factor.

Personally, when I think of icky sales, I picture someone trying to convince me to buy something. I don’t like being in that position, so I avoid putting other people into similar situations. Most consumers, it turns out, feel the same way.

But let's play with a different scenario. How do you feel when you're shopping for something specific that you really want or need? In that situation I know I don’t feel like I'm being sold to; when there’s a problem that needs solving and I'm happy to find the solution.

For example, how would you react if your roof was leaking, and a roofer showed up at your door, claiming he could fix the leak?

When you frame your service as a solution to a dire problem, your audience won’t hesitate to hire you. Instead of thinking, What is this company selling to me? they’ll wonder, Why haven’t I done this yet?!

The difference between using this as a sales technique, and having a badass brand, is that when you have a badass brand you are genuinely looking only for the people who are looking for you! This approach helps potential clients understand what you do, why you do, and how well you do it--an understanding that sells.

Cats out of the Bag: When you're "selling" nobody likes you

Salesy talk can pollute the conversation, reducing trust and creating doubt on both sides. Simply put, when you’re worrying about selling, and potential clients are worried about being sold to, conversations aren’t 100% honest.

But when your message is clear, you don’t have to spend time convincing people to buy from you. Instead, interactions become discovery sessionsfor you to figure out if they are the right clients for you.

This clarity gives you the opportunity to learn about a potential client’s challenges, and whether your unique skills can solve them. Rather than talking up your brand, you’re asking strategic questions to dive deep into someone’s mindset.

Also, you may not even want to work with every prospect that comes your way. Why sell to someone you can’t helpor someone who seems toxic? If you realize a client isn’t right for you during the discovery conversation, recommend some other options. This helps build trust, and prospects will know you aren’t just trying to close the deal.

The Opposite of Sales is Integrity

Integrity goes a long way in the services industry. Even if you don’t end up working with certain people, they will have a deeper respect for what you doand it often leads to well qualified referrals! By establishing your reputation as a brand that sticks to its beliefs, and serves clients who honor theirs, you can carve out a nice niche for yourself.

Want to eliminate the sale completely?

Focus on working with the right people. Develop clear, committed messaging for your business. Create a brand that knows what it does well and lets its work speak for itself.

Learn how on our FREE upcoming online training:

The greatest brand of all (and why you should ignore it)

Apple is the most Badass Brand out there... right???

One of the biggest mistakes small business ownersand even brand strategistsmake is emulating the branding of companies like Apple, Ralph Lauren, Starbucks, Coke, and Nike. These household names appear over and over in articles about becoming a powerful brand, and yet... 

...here’s why they shouldn’t:

Your small service business is nothing like these behemoths. Your goals are different, your offering is different, your challenges are different. And you don’t sell products. Being the next Apple, even if you could, would be a mistake. 

Large Brands vs. Your Small Business

Companies like Coca-Cola and Nike are looking for market share. You? You should be looking for a sweet spot niche: a specific segment of well-paying clients that need what you offer, precisely the way you offer it.

Big-name brands also have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on their advertising campaign. Do you?

Consumers buy Starbucks lattes, Nike baseball hats, and Apple, well, everything largely because each paid for placement over and over again to build brand recognition and trust in your mind. (Not to mention millions in R&D to formulate and test the products to begin with.)

People pay for your services because of trust, too--but instead of traditional advertising, you establish consumer confidence in your brand through more focused channels. Maybe you steer your efforts toward owning social media or creating a killer website--and directing traffic there. Or perhaps you work on an integrated plan to make your brand undeniably badass. Great! In your corner of the world, you are Coke or Pepsi. 

The Opportunity to Stand Out

Household brands want to separate themselves from the competition, just like you. But these brands need to stay conservative for the most part, so as not to alienate their universal fans.

Your service brand is liberated from this problem. Since you’re targeting a select few, you can play an entirely different game. Think about it: Your business can thrive off of very few customers. So, if you can reach these people and hit them with a message that sticks, you’ll position your brand as a major player among your target. 

Research tells us the average person needs to see a brand seven times before recognizing it. Without a colossal marketing and branding budget, you’d better start by making a memorable first impression.

Narrow Your Focus & Sharpen Your Message

With the right message, you can distinguish your brand from the competition. Remember: your brand doesn’t need to appeal to everyone--it just needs to appeal to someone. So, don’t cast a wide net just to see what you can catch. Find people who love what you do and get their attention.

Branding that resonates with your target audience will drive consumers to notice you, remember who you are, and tell their friends all about it.

Want a brand like that?
ake our upcoming free online training Badass Your Brand

Remember, none of the biggest brands started out selling everything to everyone. They were all badass. Nike spoke to performance athletes. Apple was for nerds that wanted to be hip. Ralph Lauren Polo appealed only to equestrian types. Once they made a name for themselves and became known for something, they expanded their consumer base and appeal.


Should you charge... what other people charge? Less? More? As much as you can?

worstofall design 50 25 25 rule

If the goal is lifestyle and freedom, try starting from the goal and working backwards.

Pricing is a nuanced game, and it's useful to revisit and evaluate pricing often. But to go from "always looking for more clients" to a business that has control over its cash flow, is never desperately seeking clients, and affords its owner financial and lifestyle freedom, it's useful to start with pricing goals. 

Instead of an arbitrary "as much as possible" goal, we've developed a formula that is a great start for any entrepreneur who wants freedom and flexibility. It's called the 50/25/25 rule.

First: Define Freedom

First: would you rather have 50 clients paying $1,000 per project, or 10 clients paying $5,000?

Both scenarios yield $50,000. But this isn't a trick question. In the first scenario, you’re working for 50 clients, which leads to extra churn created by having to manage and service a large number of accounts. In the second scenario, you are merely looking to delight 10 ideal clients that understand your valueand are willing to pay more for it. 

This smaller workload would leave you with extra timeso what do you do with it? You could use the time to go out and get more business. Or you could take a psychic break, relax, tackle a personal project, or work on your business, rather than in it. 

If fewer, higher paying clients sound like your speed, read on for my recipe to identify your pricing sweet spot and achieve freedom and flexibility in your lifestyle. 

How to Use the 50/25/25 Rule

To integrate the 50/25/25 Rule into your business strategy, first figure out how much money you need to make annually to cover all your expenses and live comfortably.

If you need $120,000 a year, then your monthly goal is $10,000. With the 50/25/25 Rule, the first goal is to reach that figure by spending 50% of your time on client workor two weeks out of the month.

Next, determine how many clients you can take care of within that timeframe. If you can complete four projects in a two-week span, divide $10,000 (your month’s goal) by four (the number of projects). In this example, you’d look to charge about $2,500 per client to reach your monthly goal.

Take Control of Your Business & Life

Now, this number may be drastically different from what you’re charging now. But this exercise gives you direction for how to increase your value for ideal clientsthe ones willing to pay what you’re worth. When you begin reaching your monthly financial goal in 50% of your available working time, you have the luxury of pursuing other business goals.

With this newfound freedom, you can focus 25% of your time (or the equivalent of one week of the month) on branding and business development. Everything you do during this week— such as competitive research, content marketing, social media, and email campaigns— increases the value of your service, allowing you to charge an even higher rate in the future.

And the final 25% of your time? If you’ve done the proper legwork for the other 75%, you’ve earned the right to do whatever you want with it. Devote time to learning more about your industry so you can better serve clients, or take on more work to boost profits. You can even fill this last week of the month with your own creative hobbies that have nothing to do with your business. Travel, knit, learn to surfthe point is: When you build a Badass Brand, you have freedom, flexibility, and control over how you spend your time.

The only question is… What exactly should your brand focus on to achieve the 50/25/25 balance?

To find out, check out our upcoming live online training--where we’ll discuss what products and services to sell, and how to position them to attract your ideal clients.

Once you’ve built a Badass Brand, 50/25/25 implementation becomes a seamless transition.


Branding can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars up to multi-millions for larger corporations. What's the difference in what you get and how much should you invest in your business' brand?

Here's a general list of prices that start-up and small growing businesses should expect to pay for a professional branding project that may include a combination of the following: naming, positioning & strategy, messaging, logo & identity design, copy, website design and development, creation of marketing materials, company culture and messaging.


New businesses typically don’t have a lot of cash to spend on branding, so it’s understandable that they would look for low-cost ways to get the logo and website they need to be competitive. Between fiverr.com, which offers all kinds of design services for $5; squarespace.com, with its free and almost free logos; 99designs.com, which offers crowd-sourced logos, identity, and website; and the infinite freelancers on Craigslist who will design anything and everything at all price points, it is possible to piece together a logo and maybe website for under a thousand dollars.

The question is: will it have a brand and badass business behind it that will actually make money? What if you could get more than design, but an actual business and brand that attracts clients, and is easy to sell? Learn how you can build a badass brand for even less than a Craigslist designer here


If you have a little money to spend, you will be able to hire a more seasoned designer, but he or she will not offer the strategies and marketing insights you can find with a brander. A designer will create your logo, brand identity, and website, but will not build your brand. A designer cannot help you answer why people will buy from you instead of your competitors, and then design your brand to support that message. Instead, you must trust your own knowledge about branding and marketing.

Because so many small businesses need a brand but don’t have a big budget, Worstofall developed an affordable all-in-one branding package that strategizes your message and builds it out into all your materials. We’re able to charge less than $10,000 because we execute the entire brand with the client in the office during intensive one- and two-day Brandups.


For small businesses that have been in operation for a number of years, this is typically the price range for a rebrand and redesign/development of materials. The price is determined by a number of factors: the size of the company and its overhead, the size of the website, the number of deliverables, and the team’s experience level. Unfortunately, price does not always equal value. Plenty of small agencies deliver design, rather than brand. Vet your agency carefully. Be sure the team will go beyond merely executing what you are thinking. (If that’s what you want, you can get it for less.) On the other hand, unless you’re a branding expert or have a background in marketing, hire a strategically minded company that you like, and then trust them to do what they do best.


For larger companies or institutions with a lot of decision makers or big websites that require high functionality, the bill can increase pretty significantly. We won’t go into details here, because companies at this level usually aren’t reading articles about the cost of branding. 

Want to jump start your brand?

Learn how to attract clients to your brand like bees to honey in our free online training this week!



To a business strategist like me, it’s infuriatingand puzzlingthat so many service companies try to be everything to everyone. If only they knew what we know: specializing is the most powerful branding play. By far.

When you narrow your focal point, you are suddenly seen as an expert in a focused area.

(Now I'm trusting you with this valuable info! Because narrowing will elevate your brand and your perceived expertise, regardless of whether or not you are actually an expert. So please use these powers for good.)

What else can narrowing do for you? Make your company instantaneously memorable, increase the likelihood of referralsand even help you command premium pricing.

Worstofall Design - most powerful brand play

Sounds pretty Badass, huh? But how do you figure out what to focus on?

Well... don't just pick something out of a hat! #worstideaever

Specializing for specializing’s sake is weakwe’re looking for what gets you jazzed to get out of bed in the morning. What keeps you going, with or without a caffeine fix? It has to be a skill you love, for clients you enjoy being around, or else... seriously what’s the point?.

Once you nab it, and commit to it, it's like pouring jet fuel on the engine. 

Start Here: Focus on the Winners

To find your niche, look back at your favorite projects, clients, and experiences. Who have been the best clients to work with? Why did you enjoy those projects and people? Once you understand what makes a client ideal, you’ll have a clear direction for your specialization.

Usually, I use these benchmarks to evaluate and identify “ideal” past clients:

  • They had problems your background, expertise and experience made you ideally qualified to fix
  • The project scope, budget, and timeframe allowed you to fulfill on your promises to the best of your abilities
  • You’re proud of the value you delivered, and they were impressed and excited about the final result
  • They understood your value and were willing to pay your premium price without blinking, bargaining, or bartering (Also, they paid you on-time!)

If you've had clients like this, start there. If you’ve never had such a magical experience, choose the project that runs closestthen figure out how to make it magical.

Be Master of Your Domain

As a small business owner, you’re in a unique position: You have the power to build your business exactly how you’d like.  <<click to tweet>>

If you feel like you need $5,000 to deliver your best value, then you need to charge $5,000 for your services. And if you don’t think anyone out there will pay $5,000 for your services, you’re either hanging around the wrong crowd, or need to revamp your offering and messaging. 

Present and polish your brand so that the price tag makes sense. With a crisp, clear, sophisticated brand and message you will be attractive to the clients you actually want to work with.

Case in Point: The Wedding Industrial Complex

I recently spoke with a woman who creates custom paintings of weddings as beautiful mementos for the happy couple. Charging about $1,500 per painting, she worried about the future of her business because people were haggling.

But she’s in the wedding businessan industry where price sensitivity goes out the window.

What an opportunity!

If you’re running into consistent bartering like her, you’re talking to the wrong people. Once you acknowledge and accept that, you can adjust your strategy and course. For our wedding artist, the money and market most certainly exist, she just has to own that positioning in the market. Be a higher end service, stick to what she wants from the deal (i.e. her price), and then only put effort into marketing to the people who have the right budget.

If she identifies potential referral partners that cater to $250,000+ weddings, and then only puts energy into connecting with them, she will build a reputation with a higher-end market. She may have to polish up her website and process. She may need to invest in nicer boxes in which to deliver the paintings (presentation goes a long way with premium priced services.) She probably needs to dress the part (can't show up to a million dollar wedding in discount clothing.) Plus, with $1,500 prices on her site, she’ll never sell a painting for $5,000 or $10,000. But with the right messaging and targeting, she can reinvent her brand and position herself specifically in that $5-10,000 price range (or much higher.) 

Cause you might as well...

You don't need to be in the wedding industry to charge a premium. There is a premium version of any service in every industry. Why shouldn't it be you? 

Specializing bestows enormous power in your space. To pick your focus effectively, identify your ideal process, clients, and price point, and build your brand's positioning around that. It’s difficult enough to build and manage a successful business, in general, so you may as well center it around something you truly love (and that's profitable!)

In fact, if you enjoy it, you’ll have a better shot at success, and the benefits will extend much further than your company’s bank account--inspiring you to commit fully to each project and deliver the highest value possible.

Need help finding your niche?

Take our upcoming Badass Your Brand free online training!


The situation was becoming clear: we had a client who wanted to work with us but didn’t want to let us do our thing...

saying no is badass branding in brooklyn

They needed to separate themselves from competitors, but they weren’t willing to focus on one detail of their business. Like I said in Part 1, “they wanted to be everything for everyone.”

So, this Brandup was going to be a lot of back and forth, just trying to make something they like, and then them looking to us to tell them it’s good.

“No, it’s not good, but it’s what you’re forcing us to make…”

It was a shitty situation with a client that I’d turned into a bad client.

Face a shitty situation head-on

We prepped anyway, and we made some great looking designs that were both in-line with what they wanted and modern. (Seriously, anything would have been better than the site they’d currently had.) We also wrote some generic copy they wanted, attempting to make it unique and different.

All prepared, Steve and I walked to the client’s office early to start the first day, both kind of dreading this project.

Why dreading it? Because we were going to charge them our fee to do something we didn’t believe in. Even if they were ultimately going to be happy, they shouldn’t be paying a premium rate for this. If they wanted a designer to just make something that looks nice according to them, there are waaaay cheaper options.

And me? I was going to have to manage the entire thing, simultaneously trying to please them and convince them that the generic fluff they were forcing me to write was actually going to work? (Not like they needed much convincing anyway.)

That’s when we turned down $10,000 the morning of a project, even though we had done all the prep work and could have easily just done it and made them happy.

Best “No” we ever said.

Don’t sever ties

Of course, Steve and I called the client up and apologized. I explained why: I didn’t think they were going to let us provide the service they were paying us to provide, and I couldn’t charge them for the work we were going to do. I said we would just give them all the prep work anyway, and that they could take these awesome designs and find someone cheap to implement them if they wanted. I figured they basically got some great design work without having to pay for it, and that that would make them happy.

They understood, no hard feelings. They were happy to receive the designs for free, and Steve and I danced down the street excited to have escaped this nightmare couple of days.

Be who you are

This experience solidified it: we were for service businesses only. Now, we knew we wouldn’t even entertain products because it just wasn’t worth it. There are plenty of service businesses in need of our Brandups, and we know we can crush it every time. The value of what we are selling is highest for those types of clients. 

And that’s the main point of saying no in the first place: to create time for the clients you love—to work with the clients you can do your best for.


Saying "no" to the wrong clients is one of the hardest and most important ways to build a reputable brand that attracts clients and commands a premium price. We already shared the first time we said no and how pivotal it was to our profitability. That time had to do with price. This next time was totally unexpected, and it came out of nowhere...

It was summer 2015. We’d been flying high for about nine months, only doing Brandups, steadily raising our prices each month yet always filling our calendar with clients. 

I got a call from someone with a slightly different request.

His e-commerce website needed a new design, and he was also open to a new logo and possibly even a new name. He told me he needed it soon—or more specifically—within two weeks. 

I told him we don’t really deal with e-commerce or products, and usually we do brand strategy and website design for service businesses.

But he was desperate to get something soon, and he loved both our approach and our package.

Couldn’t we make an exception?

Well, technically we could. We are always booked solid, but we also normally leave a week open for internal and personal projects, and that week happened to be coming up. For $10,000, I could make an exception, and Steve—though usually unwilling to give up his art time (smart man)—succumbed to my pressure (he doesn’t anymore, and I’m fine with that).

Stick to your process

I said we would start with a Brandshrink and take it from there. The client and his partner were in the office the next day, and to see if this was even possible, I wrote the brief that night and sent it the following morning.

They were sold.

And because of the tight timeline, we agreed to do the Brandup a week and a half later.

In the meantime, we needed feedback on the brief, which outlined what the client was looking for, our plan, and advice for how to execute it. They needed messaging, and they sent me “brand documents” someone else had prepared for them.

Now, these brand documents were pretty typical. There was a lot of info and tons of ideas—a lot of fluff, all pretty sweeping and generic.

I told them their documents weren’t too helpful, because it was just the same thing over and over again. The reason there was so much info was because they hadn’t picked an angle yet, and they desperately needed to. 

The client’s business was delivering brand name goods to Africa from all over the world at affordable prices. Their mission was smart, and their model made sense.

Ask your client the important questions

But what was separating them from other companies like this? Even if they were really “better,” there were too many details to explain—too many details they insisted needed to be part of the message.

They were falling victim to one of the most common problems I’ve seen: a startup with little to no funding who didn’t want to be known for anything in particular. Instead of specializing, they wanted a brand broad enough (“like Amazon,” they said!) to appeal to everyone.

They made brands available with cash—a big problem solver in Africa—but they also took credit cards and didn’t want to seem like they didn’t.

They allowed deliveries to kiosks, solving the postal service problem for people living outside of delivery zone, but they also delivered directly to people, so they couldn’t own that.

They delivered fancy brands from America and Europe, but they did so at affordable prices!

To sum up: This client offered the cheapest, easiest way to get your goods from the U.S., Europe, and Asia, with guaranteed quality that can be delivered to your home OR kiosk paid by COD OR credit card.

Okay, let’s sum that up now: They wanted to be everything for everyone.

Identify the problem (if there is one)

Even though they kept saying they trusted us, they really didn’t want to budge. They wanted something generic, something that—in our opinions—wouldn’t work.

How could we execute this properly? They wanted our expertise, but they weren’t letting us give them our expertise.

There was also another problem here: this was not our specialty. We know small service businesses like the back of our hands. Not only have we successfully built one ourselves, but we’ve worked with hundreds of them and can confidently say what will and won’t work. 

Large e-commerce delivery services on another continent, though? Well, we know that the branding principles still apply, but I just couldn’t confidently put my foot down…

What would you have done?

Find out what we did in Part 2.


Getting out of town can do wonders for your business. There are several key types of trips I use to increase revenue. Though they may seem like just a lot of vacations, we actually seriously plan them and force ourselves to take them on a regular basis because of how much they positively affect our bottom line.

Seriously, if we didn’t make it a priority, we would probably never leave town because we love working on our business so much!

1. The Quick Trip

This is the most obvious one, a 4-7 day change of scenery that doesn’t necessarily require us to check out of our email. When you work for yourself this is relatively easy to do. A couple of laptops and some wifi and you can seamlessly continue to work without anyone knowing you’re gone.

Why it’s good: Moving locations stimulates the creative juices. Even if you’re still working during the work day, meals and weekends are an opportunity to dine in new places, and, if it’s winter, get some vitamin D sunshine. It’s easier to relax in a “vacation” environment, and the change of pace is a welcome respite, even if you love what you do.

Bonus tip: We rent out our apartment on airbnb whenever we go away. Actually, we always have it available and when someone requests it we decide whether that’s a good time for a quick trip out of town. The fee from the renter usually pays for most, if not all of, our trip (note: this might only work when you live in NYC!)

2. The Long Off-the-Grid Trip

As I mentioned in an article on Pregame, the idea for our business was born while we were living for 3 months on a farm in the British Virgin Islands without a computer, electricity or clock. It’s amazing the kind of ideas you can come up with when you only have books, conversation and the scenery for entertainment. That’s why we have tried to make a point of going away for at least a few weeks every year, and to stay “off the grid” for as much of it as possible.

Steve picked me bananas while glamping in our eco-hut

Steve picked me bananas while glamping in our eco-hut

Bonus Tip: Disconnecting is crucial if you want to see the benefits. Sometimes it’s hard to turn the phone off, so we actually choose places where it’s not even an option. Last year we spent 3 weeks in Maui and much of that time we stayed in a eco-hut “glamping” without electricity and outside of cell phone range. The first week is usually the hardest, but after that the ideas start flowing. This is where we brainstormed our idea to build the Brandup Bootcamp, which is now allowing us even more freedom in our business.

3. The Instagrammable Work Retreat

The best way to increase your tax write off! When Ciara Pressler (of Pressler Collaborative) sent me an email saying she was going to be #WorkingFromMexico for a few weeks and was open to coworking houseguests, I went straight to Kayak and booked my flights.

Some might say it’s a little gratuitous to fly all the way to Mexico for four days, but from an investment standpoint it was a no-brainer. Tanning on the beach next to a dynamite marketing brain while sunning myself in the middle of winter both stimulated new ideas and gave me that business owner glow that only comes from working for yourself, and being able to pick up and go to Mexico on a whim.

(Note from Ciara: I invited Pia so I could get the benefits of her business brain while elevating my brand. I paid far less for the trip than I would to hire Pia for four days, so I’d call that an excellent investment, wouldn’t you? – Ciara)

Bonus Tip: Go with a business buddy for a mutually beneficial experience.


We are constantly preaching about how you must be different, and say "no" to business outside your niche, if you want a profitable business that attracts clients. We also talk about how this takes guts. And we know because we almost didn't have the guts to do it either!

worstofall design

Clients may not come easy at first.

For the first 3 years of our business, I was constantly pounding the pavement, hoping I’d find new work in the rubble. I networked every day, so I met a lot of people. As a personable, amicable female, people wanted to refer me to their colleagues and bosses.

But many of them seemed to have the same problem:

I just can’t refer “Worstofall Design” to my boss.

What I didn't know then that I know now? They just weren't our clients.

Don’t Get Defensive

When I did get referrals, people often introduced my company with an immediate qualifier, like: “Worstofall Design is named after the creative director Steve Wasterval, but they’re actually really good!” C’mon! I did not need or want a defensive intro right out of the gate. That type of introduction lacked confidence, and it didn’t set my company up to knock it out of the park.

After hearing about people’s hesitance to refer us, I spoke to Steve. If we created another company called “WOA Design”--with a website that showed off only our corporate work--we could easily market our services to these BNI/networking clients. With a more corporate arm of our company, we could effectively appeal to the people who just didn’t get “Worstofall.”

Let Your Brand Speak for Itself

At first, Steve humored me. We put it on our to-do list, but that’s the furthest we got. As I recall, we became too busy to develop a new corporate brand--and, thankfully, the idea fizzled out. 

But what if it hadn’t? Had we built “WOA Design,” I’m not sure we ever would’ve developed into the Badass Brand we are today. We wouldn’t have given the brand the time and attention to get it there, because we would have had a trickle of corporate clients to placate us into settling for a generic brand that brought us just enough business (instead of a badass brand that brought us tons of business!)

Being different is scary, and we get it. It’s hard to put yourself out there, then hear people say they want to refer your business, but can’t. Most people would just change their business right then and there.

But what many don’t understand is that this is where the power lies:

having the guts to commit to what makes you different when some people tell you it’s wrong or that they don’t like it. If you build a brand that’s authentic and unique to you, and stick with it, you can establish a reputation that precedes you.

And that’s when you get to attract clients and charge more than your competitors.

To be loved by some, you must accept being disliked (or even misunderstood) by others.

So ask yourself:

What kind of business do you really want?


"What's your mission? Why do you do this? What do you stand for?" wah wah....

These are the questions that most branding companies will ask you when trying to get to the heart of the "why" about your company. Unfortunately, generic questions like that tend to produce generic answers. Want to avoid the generic fluff your competitors are pumping out in their brands? 

Instead, ask yourself: What do you stand against? 

What pisses you off about your industry? What do you hate about your industry that you want to improve?

What are others in your industry doing that YOU do better?

By finding out what you are against, you will get a much clearer picture of what separates you from the rest. It’s even better if you find you are against things your competitors are for. This means your message will resonate with clients who think similarly, and it can help potential clients make a clear distinction between you and your competitors. That’s the goal, right?

Identify a problem you care about

We worked with a speaking coach who just hated dull speakers who put their audiences to sleep. Her homepage now reads: “On a mission to rid the world of boredom, one speaker at a time.” This copy is fun and entertaining—not corporate and stodgy like her competitors’ sites. Once she realized she was against boring speeches, she embraced her spunky, entertaining side.

Another client of ours, Moderna Capital, came to us because they had a nice looking website and tons of experience in their field, but they couldn’t get clients. They were a boutique wealth management firm started by a pair of ex-Merrill Lynch advisors, and they wanted to give “young professionals” financial advice. 

When we Brandshrinked them, I asked them what pissed them off about their industry, and they got really heated. They told us they were fed up that Merrill Lynch only worked with people who had a minimum of $500,000 in liquid assets. They believed people who were still BUILDING their businesses and careers—people who might not have had that kind of money yet—should still have access to reliable, financial advisors and advice. 

They were against the big corporate Merrill Lynch way, yet they had built a brand that still looked a lot like Merrill Lynch. The copy was a little more hip, but it didn’t reflect the passion they expressed when they spoke about their disagreement with Merrill Lynch’ values.

Distinguish yourself through your passion

By truly understanding what they were AGAINST, we could build a brand that sounds and looks like it stands for something that’s actually different from Moderna Capital’s competitors. 

Rather than say they “break from the mold,” their brand now actually breaks from the Merrill Lynch mold through its fresh look, copy, and vibe. Their target market of young professionals wants bite-sized info—or “financial cliffnotes,” as we called them—and so we expanded their services to include fun seminars and products that are accessible for smaller budgets. Moderna Capital eventually gave in and renamed their company to “Stash Wealth” with our full support. They are now killing it as a highly coveted financial voice for the millennial generation.

Maybe you’re a therapist who hates the touchy-feely image that therapy has. Or a personal trainer who is so annoyed at all these quick-fix gimmicks like 5-minute abs. Or a marketing company that thinks it’s wasteful for small businesses to advertise to get new clients when they haven’t fully mined their current and past clients for more business, which are 70% cheaper to close.

Whatever the industry, most people go into business for themselves because they worked in a company and thought, “I could do it better.”

Take a few minutes to jot down the first things that come to mind when you ask yourself, “What am I against?” It’s a hack that helps cut through the crap of standing for generic fluff.


One of the most important words in business, and also the hardest.

Almost a year before our now-famous fall into debt—before we doubled our prices from $16,000 to $32,000—we were increasing our prices slowly with every client.

say no for a badass brand in brooklyn

Our strategy?

For every client, we went above and beyond, delivering more value than they’d anticipated. By doing this, we were breeding both happy clients and great referral sources, and building our own confidence.

Though difficult, we felt optimistic about our price increase every time.

At the moment of our first "no," we were definitely looking for clients. So, I did the only thing I knew to do to find work: I went networking. Luckily I met a potential client who needed a full rebrand with a logo and website, which is exactly what we were selling.

I poured my heart into a beautifully devised, long-ass proposal, rich with benefit statements and fancy design to make them go WOW.

It worked. They loved us. 

But they didn’t like the $16,000 price, so they asked us to bring it down.

Be realistic

Now, $16,000 is nothing to scoff at. And this was also the most we had ever charged at that stage of the game. But I also knew that for the amount of work we were doing, we needed at least $16,000. (This is before we had a tightened-up badass process—when we assumed this project was going to take 4-6 months and I had to pay my employees the whole time.)

I told them we could do it for the $13,000 they were asking for, but I’d have to drop a few things from the proposal. They couldn’t make that deal, they said. They needed everything.

We had a couple of phone calls, and they told me they were looking at other companies who were charging even less than $13,000, and they couldn’t justify paying $16,000. But they definitely wanted to use us and we were at the top of the list.

Perfect, that’s exactly where I like to be.
Top of the list and just a little too expensive, but the client wants it anyway.

Make the tough decisions

The knot in my stomach tightened, and I politely told them on the phone, “Look, this would be a great project. I know we would kill it for you, and I’d love to knock this baby out of the park. But if you want everything, it has to be $16,000. And if you need to pass and use someone else, I’ll totally understand.”

He said ok, that he was disappointed, and then he hung up.

And that was it. I told Steve what happened, and I just couldn’t go into a project like that. I couldn’t accept just taking a discount before the project even begins. 

I’ve been in this situation a few times, and that’s often the end of the conversation. It’s hard, but I always look at it as dodging a bullet. Though we needed work, it freed me up to find a client willing to pay what the work was worth.

Confidence pays off

In this instance, however, that same client called me up a week later. Surprise! He hired us for the full $16,000. I still get butterflies thinking about it. Victory!

Victory because I stuck to my guns. Victory because I knew what we were selling had value, and I wasn’t going to compromise.

Victory because now this project was going to be a breeze. They hired us—the most expensive company on their list—and shelled out way more than they wanted because they knew our work was the best.

And, as long as I maintained control of the situation, this project was going to go smoothly.

By hiring us in this manner, they were also saying that they understood we were experts in our field, and they trusted us. And so, they were wonderful clients every step of the way, and they got great work from us.

Especially because—for them, too—we purposely did way more than $16,000 worth of work. After that project, we doubled our rates. Then, with a few unexpected twists, our story really got going.


There are no bad clients. Or, more precisely put: all bad clients are your fault. Here are 4 Mistakes to Avoid When Taking on a Project:

badass brands eliminate bad clients


Here’s a typical scenario:

You’re a graphic designer.

A potential client reaches out and says they need a logo and website designed.

You write them a proposal.

They read your proposal.

Maybe they get back to you,

maybe they don’t.

Let’s say they do, but your quote is a little more than they had budgeted…

MISTAKE #1 - Just giving a discount

Can you do it for 10% less? You need the money, so you’re happy to give the discount. You start working and ask them what they want—color preferences, logo specifics, etc. They’re going to send over examples of what they like.

Why it’s a mistake: When you give a discount just because, you’re suggesting your original price was an arbitrary number, not based on any sort of value you put on your work. You can immediately lose the client’s trust this way.

MISTAKE #2 - Just asking what they want

The client sends over tons of information about their company, as well as examples of designs they like. Great! You see some patterns, and you get to work.

Why it’s a mistake: The first rule of creating a great client is developing a relationship of trust. They must trust you to do what you do best, that you know what you’re doing and that you’ll deliver. You are the expert, so you should lead the process. If you ask the client what they think the logo should be, you’ve created doubt around your status as a design expert. If the client were an expert, they would’ve made a logo themselves. And if you allow the client to lead the process, things can get messy…

MISTAKE #3 - Emailing work without explanation

You create dozens of logo designs, and you send your ten best in a PDF.

They call you up: “We liked logos 3, 4, and 9. We’d like to see #3 in a couple of different colors, #4 with the font from #5, and we like #9 but can you make the logo icon just a little more... modern?”

Why it’s a mistake:
You’re just throwing spaghetti at the wall hoping something sticks. You don’t trust that you know what is good or right—you just hope the client will like something. Doesn’t sound like something an “expert” would do. It’s your job to educate your client so they can make an informed decision.

Sending tons of options makes it harder for clients to make that decision. Most clients are terrified of paying for a service and not getting what they want out of it. But again, you’ve put them in a difficult position—you’ve given a novice the job of making an expert judgment. This will result in requests to see more options because of uncertainty.

MISTAKE #4 - Doing whatever the client says

You get back to work. You make another PDF with all the edits, which ends up being another ten logos—all variations of their three favorites. You send it over.

They call you up again, with more revisions and requests. These communications go back and forth for days, maybe even weeks. The requests have (d)evolved from small and straightforward to frustrating and outlandish.

And now you have a shitty client. You haven’t even begun the website yet! AND IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT.

Why it’s a mistake: Well, this is what happens when you let your client drive the ship. You can become their whipping boy before the project even begins. By doing whatever the client says, you are not using your expertise. That’s what they’re paying you for!

This is why you must stay in control throughout the process. 

In the end, it’s not the client’s fault—it’s yours. You are responsible for leading your projects and your clients, for building trust and rapport. Make sure you listen to the client and then give them exactly what they need to achieve their desired results.

*Caveat: Some people just suck.

Do everything you can to avoid working with people like this. Have a screening process before you start projects with new clients. In these cases, $1 does not equal $1.

Even if you need the money, a shitty client will cost you time, energy, and sanity. This may, in turn, cost you money anyway—and it can keep you from finding the clients who love, respect, and pay you what you’re worth.

And they’re out there! We can proudly, unequivocally say that we have loved working with all of our Brandup clients for the last two years (and if any clients are reading this, that means you!)


Why the old wisdom of "The Customer is Always Right" is just that, old.

badass brand brooklyn- customer is never right

I’ve been saying it for a long time... Sometimes it pisses people off because it goes against everything sacred from the golden age of Leave It to Beaver and whatever the term "good old days" refers to (also B.S.)

AGAIN, The customer is never right.

Many people believe the exact opposite, which explains why tons of small businesses are flailing—overworked, underpaid, and always desperately searching for clients. They bend over backwards because of this lame misconception, and then they still end up with clients who aren’t satisfied.

Here’s why.

When someone hires you for a service, they are not merely hiring you to perform said service. They are hiring you for your expertise in delivering said service. If they knew how to execute the service, they would save their money and do it themselves!

But they don’t.

Case in point:

Many boutique branding companies start their initial conversation asking a client what they want their website to look like.

You may have heard it before… "Show me websites you like. Tell me what pages you want on your site. Send me your web copy".

These web designers/developers are turning themselves into a commodity. They are merely technicians—the hands that execute your vision. But there’s a huge problem with that.

Your vision of the pages and content you want on your site… what is that based on? Are you a website expert? Do you think it’s appropriate to build a website to the specifications of your personal tastes and thoughts, rather than those of your target audience?

What if, instead, the web developer asked you what you are looking to do with your website? That conversation would go a bit differently… Why do you want a new website? What challenges are you currently facing that you think a new website could solve?

Now we’re cooking with gas!

You see, ultimately, when someone “needs a new website,” what they are usually saying is they need help with their business in some way, and they think a website is going to solve their problem. 

Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But wouldn’t it be nice if the website development company—a company that supposedly knows a lot about websites—could help the client figure that out?

By asking the big questions, we might discover that a new website won’t help the client fix their problem. I suspect that’s one reason most companies don’t ask those questions. But you need to position yourself as an authority, as someone with valuable insight the client doesn’t have. That’s what they’re paying you for.

Steve and I have our “core values” prominently displayed on our wall. One of the values that stands out is #4: “Always be in control for the sake of the customer.”

It’s your job as the expert to lead the way. That outdated “customer is always right” mentality suggests that the customer knows more than you about the subject at hand. When that happens, all bets are off. 

This is why it is in your best interest to take the reigns of any and all conversations and projects. For the sake of your clients, get down to the root of their problems and offer up effective actions.