Design Domination Podcast Episode #170: Business Lessons From a Chiropractor?!

Find out how thinking like a doctor can help your creative business. Get business strategies for getting clients, the sales process and your work processes.

Today I wanted to share a personal story and how it may change how you think about your freelance business or it might give you ideas for how to get more business.

I’ve been plagued with sinus issues all my life but in the past few years, they’ve gotten worse. They’ve gotten so bad that I’ve sought out every kind of treatment you can imagine—talking to ENTs, a nutritionist, a naturopath, etc.

My nutritionist happened to mention that she got amazing sinus relief from getting an adjustment. She even went so far as to say, “The heavens opened up and angels sang.” Hey. I need some of that!

So I looked up chiropractors online. I looked to see if any of them mentioned sinuses. If they didn’t, I went on to the next one. I needed someone who had experience with this issue, because I needed relief yesterday!

I went straight to checking out the Facebook and Google reviews. What those said were extremely important to me, especially because I was absolutely terrified of having someone jerk my head or neck around.

She had amazing reviews, and even though she’s 40 minutes away, I booked an appointment.

She examined me and was able to tell me where exactly on my spine my issues were being caused. She even asked about other issues that I hadn’t mentioned. That got my attention.

She was confident she could help me and explained the x-rays thoroughly.

Then we talked about the cost. I didn’t know what other providers were charging, but I felt this one knew what she was doing, and the reviews said so. Plus, I was scared of having just anyone work on me.

I was willing to drive almost an hour and a half round trip for 15-minute appointments.

I was willing to pay to get this issue addressed. I mean, it affects my life on a daily basis.

So I didn’t shop around.

And news flash: many of your clients are the same way.

Business Strategies

I have a lot of business lessons to share from this experience. You can totally apply these to your creative business.

Pain Points

One lesson is really understanding what’s most important to your clients. What are their pain points?

It is easy to demonstrate this with a doctor analogy, right, because that is real pain maybe.

I think it was the author who goes by Keenan in his Gap Selling book how someone who has a headache would be willing to pay more for headache medication than someone who doesn’t currently have a headache.

But pain points could just be frustration or some kind of limitation to their current resources.

For years, I struggled with figuring out my clients’ pain points.

Why did they work with me in particular? Why did they need a logo or a brochure or website?

Well, because they needed one. It would be silly to ask, right?

But no. No client wakes up one day and says, “You know what? I want to pay a designer to create a brochure today. I just feel like I need one.”

They want what it will do for them. They might need to look more professional. They might need to raise money. They might need to increase sales.

So many designers think price is the biggest pain point, so they low ball their pricing to get new clients. But low pricing does not win you clients—and, worse, it attracts bad ones!

Clients just want the pain (or the frustration) to go away. You need to know what your clients’ pain points are. They could be time or stress or—with the accessibility work I do—compliance.

If you look back on your past projects, you can find this out, or you can just ask your clients. You can also ask them why they decided to work with you in particular.

I’ve had lots of my publication clients tell me it’s because their projects are complex and they needed someone with amazing attention to detail.

Other clients have said it’s because they don’t have to babysit me, that I check my work and get it done on time. Their pain point was frustration with other designers and having to spend their own time constantly asking where a project was or having to tell them they didn’t make all the edits they requested.

I just talked with a client about their website last week. I asked him why now?

He said they have had two developers try to help them and they quit on them, that the job was more than they could take on. He even looked stressed telling me about it.

They just want the site fixed. They don’t want to hold their breath every time the site gets updated. What’s going to break now?

They also want their site to be more accessible, because they serve people with disabilities. So it looks hypocritical to not have the site be accessible. That affects their branding, their reputation.

For another client I recently spoke with, time and expertise were the biggest factor. Could they design an accessible report in house? Yes, but the designer had a full plate and was not totally up to speed on accessibility. So they wanted it taken care of by someone else and someone who specialized in this work.

So this is why it’s important to ask about this. Ask why now? Why now does this need to be addressed?


Another lesson is to have a clear process. This is what happens and when.

The doctor had me come in for a consultation. She diagnosed the issues. She explained my problem. She told me how much it would cost to fix. She presented me with a treatment plan.

Processes instill confidence with clients. They show that you know what you are doing and that you mean business. There is no doubt about what needs to happen next.

Process put you in charge. You lead the process, not the client.

This is so important, because it’s the difference between being seen as an expert versus an order taker.


Another lesson from this story is about your branding—reputation. Jeff Bezos once said that branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

So this is where testimonials, reviews and word of mouth come into play.

If those are strong, they can be the reason someone wants to work with you. They instill so much confidence in that person that they may not bother shopping around. They may be willing to pay more to work with you too.


Speaking of money… Experts talk money up front.

Just like with this doctor, after she explained the issue, she explained how much it was going to cost and the payment options.

Other professionals talk money up front, but many designers don’t. Clients expect it, and when you don’t, you could end up wasting time on estimating projects for tire kickers.

I remember spending hours—days!—writing up proposals only to send them off and not get the work. I wasted so much time because I didn’t screen clients beforehand by assessing their budget—or, as I like to say “expectation of cost.”


Confidence is another lesson. Confidence is key. But confidence doesn’t mean you have to be bragadocious or anything like that.

If you’ve helped other clients with the same issue and done the same type of work that a new client is asking for, you’re going to be more confident than if they come to you for something you’ve never done.

If you normally work in WordPress, for example, but a client has a website in Wix they want you to work on, you’re not going to be confident about being able to help them or it might take you a lot longer, and that doubt or insecurity will come through as you talk to them.

Confidence also means you can demonstrate to the client you understand their problem and how to fix it.

So the doctor explained the x-rays to me, showing she clearly understood my issues.

Confidence also comes from honing in on your expertise—deepening your expertise or specializing.

When I was doing all the things, before I started specializing in accessibility in 2016, there would always be a website that had a new big thing I had to research, like a membership area. Or someone wanted me to code an HTML email.

I wasn’t up to speed on all the nuances of the different email programs, so these kinds of projects became a time suck. They weren’t profitable. So there was no point in taking them on.

At some point, I was just like, OK, certain projects are a good fit and others aren’t, so stop taking on those projects. And that’s OK!

So when clients come to you, they see, “Oh, this designer does this type of work all the time. We need to work with this person.” They are confident that you can help them.

So think like a doctor:

  1. Understand the pain. Get information up front about what’s going on.
  2. Prescribe—Offer your expert solution to their problem.
  3. Explain your process.

Definitely check out my chat with Stephanie Campanella called Nail a Niche (episode 40) and with my friend John Falke about his process for getting Google reviews (episode 143) and how much reviews have helped his business.

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