Interview with Yugene Lee, Founder at JIN Design
Yugene Lee is Lead Designer and Founder at JINDesign, a UI & UX Studio based in Singapore. After freelancing in Singapore for two years as a freelance web designer, he started a full-service digital marketing agency. Shortly after he went back to freelancing and most recently found his true calling in UI & UX design, boasting clients like AIA Singapore and Mediacorp.
We’re very excited to see what ideas Yugene has for us based off his illustrious journey so far.
1. What were you doing before you decided to start your business?
I was a web design freelancer. I started designing websites at the end of my second year while reading my degree program in University. What followed after were two ‘deals’ startups – Deals89 and DealsChrome started with a few partners. Unfortunately it wasn’t going anywhere so we shut it down.
My next venture was starting a digital agency with the same group of partners where we offered a full spread of services from SEO (Search Engine Optimization), Social Media Management to Web Design and Development.
Things were going swimmingly up till a point in time where I became too busy project managing rather than tapping on my core strengths in designing websites. That was when I knew I needed to move on to something else, so I went back to freelancing for awhile.
Call it serendipity if you want, but a year later I met a wonderful lady who asked me for a donation on the street. She also shared with me that she was looking to change careers. Long story short, we clicked and built a small team and we now work in JIN Design together.
2. How did you get into your current line of work/ why did you decide to do it?
I considered myself to be an introvert and always hoped there would be a way for me to earn an income digitally. During University I set time aside to pick up on programming languages like CSS and HTML. I also volunteered to help a few school societies develop and manage their websites, these experiences proved to be invaluable later on.
During my internship in a music company, I got to further study web design practices and also started my first personal portfolio website: Yugenelee.com. A few months after, enquiries starting streaming in and the rest is history.
3. What would you say was your greatest difficulty getting into it? Did you have to make any sacrifices?
I might have missed out on what people would call the ‘full University experience’. Most people would hang out after school or engage with the curriculum on a deeper level. I was trying to stay afloat while juggling between homework and client work. During lectures, I’d spend my time designing websites rather than paying attention.
When I first started freelancing I had no idea how to charge for a website. I was charging a few hundred dollars for a website but trading numerous hours of my time, sometimes weeks at a time.
Needless to say, I had to sacrifice my social life with my friends, I was too busy working and trying to get better at it.
One of my greatest difficulties was getting clients early on. Most freelancers probably face the same issue. Again, I wasn’t keen on physically chasing deals, so I found another avenue to get discovered – Search Engine Optimization. Since I was building websites, I started to optimize them for search. Once I ranked for a few lucrative keywords, the deals were coming in on auto-pilot.
4. How are you marketing your business/getting, clients for your company?
a) I get a lot of new clients via SEO.
They find me on search and that usually means they are warm, qualified leads. I continue to invest time to optimize my sites as result.
I only really became aware of this when a client told me he found me via Google search, that’s when I knew I had to invest more time in that area to grow my business. The basics are optimizing your page titles to fit the keyword you want to rank for, writing content-rich articles to boost your domain authority and to start building backlinks if you haven’t already.
A quick approach to do this is to think about what your prospective clients would like to read about – then write articles on those topics.
b) At the same time, I also get some repeat business from old clients or referral work from time-to-time.
It’s much easier to convert them as a warm referral makes all the difference when closing the sale. I love working with good clients again. I make sure to try to offer ongoing services after we complete projects so we can keep the working relationship going while my team continues to add value to them.
c) My website
As a web-designer, needless to say I’ll need to walk the talk when it comes to building sites that convert. My website has been responsible for bringing in more than $500K worth of business since I created it. Some tips off the top-of-my-head are:
- Keep your website simple and ensure that prospects immediately know what you do once they get on the front-page
- Ensure the language is speaking to them personally, nobody likes to work with a body corporate, they want to work with warm, helpful people.
5. What has been your greatest lesson so far since starting your business?
Two things: Pricing and Legal protection.
For service work, especially design work, quality is more important than quantity. I was charging way below the market when I first started so I had to take on more engagements to cover my living expenses.
The problem was when it started to get overwhelming. I couldn’t deliver the same quality work to 10 clients as I could for 2-3. You will start to realize it’s all a numbers game. The question is then, do you want to be the one charging high fees but serving a few clients well or charging low fees but serving too many clients to manage well.
As a one-man operation, there weren’t too many ways around it.
Legal protection is also extremely important. I learned the hard way that you need to be covered before anything goes wrong. Don’t be vague with your terms and try to be very specific with the scope of your service otherwise certain clients will take advantage of you – scope creep happens. Don’t start any professional work without a signed contract if you know what’s good for you.
6. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t be afraid to charge higher, know your value.
Early on in my freelancing career, I didn’t feel confident enough to charge as high as other agencies. As mentioned earlier, it really drove me into a state of exhaustion and low-morale. As the years went by, I started to realize that I could put out quality work comparable to most agencies and that in fact, certain clients would question my capabilities if I charged too low! Crazy, huh?
7. If you had to offer a piece of advice to someone that had zero experience or connections getting into business, what would you say?
Focus on the value you’re providing when charging, not your skill or experience.
Your clients pays for value, not the level of skill you have. If you can justify and demonstrate how much more value clients get from working with you, the rates you can charge instantly increases. The only caveat is that you’ll need to ask.
8. What have you started trying this year that has been working well for your business?
I’ve started managing timelines more closely by setting hard deadlines for everything we do. It has given us more freedom when filling out our schedules, but that only happens if everyone keeps to their deadlines.
It’s a small change, but I’ve found that when you change your attitude towards how you manage your time, everything else changes for the better.
9. What is one book you would recommend that every new business owner or freelancer be reading?
One book I’d highly recommend is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. You will understand why 42 is the answer to everything.
10. What have you just learned recently that just blew you away?
Actually I was learning Facebook Marketing currently, it did blow me away when I realized the power of it. The great thing is you really hone in on the exact demographic of people you want to target, for instance, if I wanted to target Females aged 40 to 55 interested in marketing / ux design / food that has used a credit card in the last 30 days, I can.
Instagram has recently jumped on the bandwagon with hyper-focused targeting options as well.
11. What are 3-4 tools (digital or offline) that you feel everyone should know about?
Facebook Marketing – One of the cheapest ways to acquire new leads if used correctly. I encourage everyone to learn how to use it.
Search Engine Optimization – Not really a tool, but as I’ve mentioned, it can really boost your business
WordPress – When I build a new website, I almost exclusively use WordPress. People without programming know-how can get on it easily and build great looking sites quickly.
Evernote – All my notes live here. It’s a central hub to collaborate for my team as well.
12. How can people connect with you?
Email me at email@example.com
This interview is part of our Expert Interview series where we endeavor to interview entrepreneurs or successful freelancers with interesting and useful stories/lessons on starting and running a business.