Design Your How: Charge What You’re Worth

Design Your How: Charge What You’re Worth

Apr 23, 2012 Opinions

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!

  • Jared West

    Pay me for what I know, not what I do.

    • Jeff Golenski

      Pay me for both.

      • middle8media


        • nthnryn

          “Pay me for what I know, not what I do.” —Jared West

          “Pay me for both.” —Jeff Golenski

          > Absolutely. Frankly, if I know a lot but can’t produce, I’m probably not worth too much.

          “…if a client wants to save a few bucks on their shabby first impression, they need to get someone else, and suffer the consequences of a bad website.” —Middle8Media

          > Bingo!

          • Jared West

            I truly think the title of designer is the hardest part in our industry. Because to some business owners that referrers to the kid next door. I would rather call myself a problem solver — this already changes their perception of what i can do/offer.

          • nthnryn

            I would absolutely agree with you.

    • middle8media

      Exactly, what we do is a specialty service and not everyone can do it well, so if you want a website that doesn’t suck, pay me for what I know, or take the best I can give you at the max level of your low budget. An “acceptable” (for many businesses) site can be created for many “lower” budgets (Squarespace, Virb, WP etc…) although I would rather not create those, but if a client wants to save a few bucks on their shabby first impression, they need to get someone else, and suffer the consequences of a bad website.

  • Jordan Kohl

    While there can be value in free or cheap work, it is almost never worth it. I think as in any business, people are very scared of the reaction they’ll get from high rates and especially raising their rate with established clients. But wouldn’t you rather have fewer clients that pay more? I’d much rather lose 2 clients that don’t value my work and keep or gain another that will pay a premium. I wrote a similar blog post to yours that goes into detail on how to raise your perceived value, and thus your rate:

    • nthnryn

      “I’d much rather lose 2 clients that don’t value my work and keep or gain another that will pay a premium.”

      As would I. thanks for reading, and for the link on Twitter. Just added it to my Readability! :)

  • middle8media

    In my experience perceived value for both web design and video production is WAY down. My theory is that the popularity and ease of the web and YouTube has changed peoples perception while increasing the demand for provided solutions and excellence for free. They can type some letters, click a button and BOOM, they have what they want instantly, not taking into consideration how much time, effort, skill and expertise went into the site they are browsing or the video they are watching, well except for 90% of CrapTube. you get my point. I can’t tell you how many times I have submitted a fair proposal to my client, only to bring on a serious case of sticker shock. They just can’t wrap their head around spending that kind of money for something so easy, a “simple” website or a “quick” video. Ha, OK.

    Needing the work and referrals, with many of my clients I have been starting off with “What is your budget?”, this way I don’t waste my time with bids, and negotiation only to have them say,”sorry, too expensive”. Finding out their budget from the start allows me to find a quick solution and say, “OK, for that much money, I can give you this”. That way I meet their web needs quickly and get paid a fair amount, as well as benefit from referrals, word of mouth and networking.

    Now, their are other clients that are prepared to pay for the work they are requesting and for them I am happy to spend time preparing a bid and negotiate as needed, knowing that they respect the design/development process and understand the value it will bring both them and me.

    • nthnryn

      Wow. Thanks for the thoughtful response! You’re absolutely right about people’s perceived value of design. On one hand, the value of design is going way up because of how necessary it is to get people to trust your product. On the other hand, because of how “easy” it is to get ahold of and use the tools, people are reluctant to spend the appropriate amount of money to let a real designer help them represent their product well. It’s a problem I suspect our profession will be dealing with for a many, many years to come.

      Finding out their budget from the start allows me to find a quick solution and say, “OK, for that much money, I can give you this”

      I think the way Mike Montiero explains this in “Design Is A Job” is that you wouldn’t show somebody the Porsche on the lot if you knew they only had Civic money. Boom.

      Thanks again for reading!

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