Mabz came back for this post! If you’re new here, Mabz (@chalkedbymabz) and I do lots of signage projects together, like murals and big windows and all sorts of things. We get a lot of questions about it, and we’ve actually been making a full course about signage! We’re literally working on it right now, so we’ve been having a lot of really good discussions about things that we want to teach our students based on mistakes that we’ve made in the past.
Many, many mistakes.
Rather watch than read? No problem! You can watch and listen in real-time by clicking the video below!
Let’s Get Started!
We thought we’d share some of our biggest mistakes and what we learned from them. We’ll share them along with some key takeaways that you can use to avoid making these mistakes yourself in the future.
The angriest client situation Mabz has dealt with was a seating chart she did. She accidentally spelled multiple names wrong (even wedding party members). She’d accidentally inverted letters (like AE vs EA).
And I’ve totally made this mistake too! I did a seating chart and misspelled THE BRIDE’S LAST NAME. Her whole family had the same last name, and I screwed up every single one of them.
The name was Leibovich. I can’t remember if it was like L I E or L E I, but I inverted it. It was like literally like 50 names. It was a massive wedding, and her whole family had that same last name. She picked it up. She brought it to the wedding. I left the city for the weekend (I went to the cottage for the weekend), and then on the Saturday morning at 6:00 AM, she frantically called me that all the names were wrong. So I had to drive two hours back with my little Q-tip and my oil-based paint pen, go onsite, and fix 50 names on the spot. Oooof.
Thankfully I was able to fix it. Mabz…. wasn’t so lucky.
She couldn’t fix it. When the clients picked it up, she was heading out the door, but she had already wrapped it all up. They couldn’t get a solid look at it. The problem was the wedding was in Toronto, so they didn’t know there was an issue until they got there. And she couldn’t just drive to fix it. She had to explain what pen she used, how to remove the lettering with acetone, etc. She ended up giving them a huge discount to make up for it because she couldn’t go and physically fix it.
Lesson here: Have somebody else read it over. When you’ve been looking at something, especially a mirror (since you’re seeing double the whole time)… Just have somebody else come and do a check for you. You can have the full list in front of you, but if you get a particular spelling in your head, you’ll still spell it wrong. And you won’t know to reeeeeeally check them yourself.
That’s definitely lesson number one: Get someone else to proofread for you.
The next biggest mistake I made… It was more of an oversight than a mistake – it was something I didn’t realize. This was one of those things that I didn’t know about until it happened. I couldn’t have foreseen this issue…
I was doing a really big storefront window. In case you don’t know, you letter on the inside of the window (not the outside). I got on-site, I met the client there, we were talking inside, I saw the window… They told me they had to leave, told me which window I was working on, and I got started.
I started doing the window, no issues. I went outside to check on it to make sure everything looked good. I had started in the morning, and so when I went outside, everything was fine. So I continued and did the whole window. But then in the afternoon, when the sun started coming up, it became apparent that the windows were tinted. As the sun hit it in a different way, you couldn’t really see the lettering since it was on the inside. Before I lettered on the window, they had used a bunch of decals on the outside of the window that were bright white. They thought that my lettering would be as bright as those decals…
It was a miscommunication where they thought it would look the same as their decals, and I didn’t realize their windows were tinted (because they didn’t tell me they were tinted). It was definitely something that I didn’t know to ask at the time… And now every time I do a window job, I asked them, “are your windows tinted?” Because if the windows are tinted, they won’t be happy with the project.
So in that job, they ended up not being super thrilled. And I told them there’s only so much I can do – I can’t do the lettering on the outside because it’ll just get ruined by weather. And I couldn’t just give them a refund… I spent literally two days doing the windows for them. But as a bonus, I ended up doing something for them in a different spot in their business.
Mabz had a communication issue too (also on a window). The problem was that the windows were massive, and the measurements Mabz was given were the amount of space they wanted to be filled in. She brought the tools she always brought, which were just a medium point pen. Given the window size though, she would have needed the biggest juiciest fattest paint pen ever. Given the size of the windows and her supplies, her lettering would have looked like this itty-bitty thing on gigantic windows.
They never gave her the size of the actual windows (which were massive). They told her the height and the width (four by four feet) that they wanted filled. She made her design to FIT inside of a 4×4 square – not a 4×4 square design. It ended up looking so small on these massive windows. They wanted it to BE 4×4, but she account for margins, extra space, etc. She didn’t have the right tools for the job. Her parents had to drive across the city to get her the right supplies (while she cried on the phone to them explaining what she needed), and she ended up being there way longer than planned.
Now she always brings the giant fat Sharpie Paint Pens with her to window signage jobs! Speaking of… We have a whole post (and free PDF download!) about what’s in our toolboxes. It’s all about what we recommend always having in your kit.
Spelling issues, communication issues – those are the biggest ones. We have some other bonus mistakes for you of things we’ve screwed up…
Like… Not giving ourselves enough time. Like we had a client ask us how long we needed (because they were closing their store for us to work), and we told them three hours… AND THEN IT TOOK NINE HOURS.
Another is not bringing the right tools, like Mabz mentioned. We’ve done a job before where we were doing something in color and thought we would use small Posca pens. But then we got on site and decided it was way too big, and we needed actual paint, brushes, and acrylic paints. We had to leave the site, go get paint, and come back. Just general planning mistakes like that.
Another mistake Mabz had was with a chalkboard. She was doing something permanent on it, so once it was on, it was on. She knew what they wanted, so she did it. And then only when they got it did they tell her that they actually wanted it in the other orientation. She had made it one orientation, but they wanted it the other way. But it was too late! She felt awful because it was a vintage chalkboard, and she messed it up. They said it still worked with the space though, which is great. So now she ALWAYS asks before she starts: “which way does it go?”
We narrowed it down to FIVE key takeaways for you.
Number One: Ask ALL the questions beforehand. Ask way more questions than you think you need to. It might feel uncomfortable, like you’re being nitpicky about things, but clients don’t mind because they will be much happier with the outcome if it’s exactly what they want. (Like if Mabz had asked about the chalkboard orientation before she did it).
It’s tricky though when you’re getting started because you don’t know exactly what questions to ask. It’s also tricky when clients say: “We trust you, do your thing.” Like with Mabz’s chalkboard – that’s what they said. She didn’t do a mock-up or anything because they didn’t want one. But if she had done one, the orientation miscommunication would have been caught before she started. Always ask!
Number Two: Go see the space beforehand. It’s definitely ideal to go see the space. If you have to be on site to do a job, like windows or a mural or something, go see it. Go physically touch the wall if you’re doing a mural. See if the windows are tinted. See if there’s anything that a client might overlook that you would need to know. And if you can’t actually go, then at least get pictures and very accurate dimensions – ask them twice even! Often the client will say: “Oh, it’s about five feet by four feet” and then be totally wrong. It juuuuust happened to me two weeks ago – I showed up, and it was two feet bigger than she told me. So either go yourself or get really accurate dimensions and pictures beforehand.
Number Three: Get someone else to proofread for you.
Number Four: Overestimate how long the job is going to take. Always, always overestimate, and bring more supplies than you think if you’re going on site. it’s better to have “just in case supplies” than to have to leave.
Number Five: Be over prepared. Always bring way more supplies and things than you think you’re going to need.
And That’s A Wrap!
Anyway, hopefully just reading this post and learning about our mistakes will help you avoid some of them in the future.
We’re curious if you are reading this… Have you ever made a dumb signage mistake or overlooked something really crucial Let us know in the comments!
And finally, your dad joke…
The dentist made a mistake…
It was accidental.