Design Your How: Charge What You’re Worth

I have a friend who works at Disneyland. He can sign in three people every day he’s working and, since my wife and I are lazy, we haven’t renewed our annual passes yet. So, occasionally, we head down and get ourselves signed in. We did this last week, in fact. Normally, a Disneyland trip lasts at least 8 hours. We make sure to get on every ride and eat every Mickey Mouse pretzel with cheese we possibly can.

Not yesterday. Yesterday we were in the park for three hours total. And 30 minutes of our time was spent waiting in line for beer at California Adventure (ah, to be an adult at Disneyland).

Why the sudden drop in enthusiasm about Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, and microwaved Velveeta cheese?

It’s pretty easy to understand: We didn’t pay to be there. We got in for free, so the value of each ride, and our patience for any wait time at all, dropped to zero. Had we actually paid the hundred dollars each that we should have to be in the park, I can guarantee you we would have waited in every line, and we would have walked until our feet were bleeding to make sure that we got our money’s worth.

Your clients feel the same way.

This last week the always poetic Mike Montiero released his new book, Design Is A Job, through A Book Apart. I first heard about Mr. Montiero when he gave a talk at San Francisco’s Creative Mornings event called “F**k You, Pay Me” (who could forget a title like that, huh?). In the talk, he laments about designers who don’t use contracts, undercharge, and don’t involve legal counsel in their decision making. In Design Is A Job he elaborates on much of the same.

Here’s an excerpt from the book about doing free work:

Clients value you in direct proportion to how much it costs them. If you have ever done volunteer work, you may have noticed that the people you were volunteering for had no trouble making increasing demands on your time. No one is going to value your work, or your time, if you don’t.

Oh, and guess how much people value free work? You got it.

Sounds like Disneyland.

Without simply copying a lot of what Mike has to say on the topic, I’d just like to remind you to make sure that you charge your clients what your work is worth, and that you’re not apologizing for it. Whether you work for yourself as a freelancer or you work with a design agency, you need to start putting a dollar sign on the major things you do to make sure that you take your work as seriously as you should, and that your clients do too.

The world is quickly waking up to the value of design. And every time that we do free work, or work for a lot less than we know our work is worth, we take that perceived value down a notch — not just in the eyes of our client — but in the eyes of the world around us.

The Adobe Suite may be widely available. But good, well thought out, purposeful design solutions are not widely available. So if you would like to be categorized as the latter, and not be known just as “Some Dude Who Knows How To Use The Pen Tool,” it’s time to start charging what you’re worth.

If you’re just getting started, or you’ve been putting the pedal to the floor for a while without taking your invoicing seriously, I would highly recommend picking up Design Is A Job. If you’re not in the mood for a book, here are a few articles that could also be helpful:

Happy invoicing!

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