17 Apr Reflecting on 10 Years in the Industry
I recently wrote this reply to a designer in an online forum who was expressing their frustration at designers “diluting the field” with lowball offers, and compaies like Fiverr and the like creating a bargain-bin outlet for design. I wrote this response and I think it can be useful for many designers and clients alike.
So here is what 10 years in the business has taught me. I’m sure everyone has an opinion or a different experience, but I’m just hoping this will help some new and old designers alike. Take it with a grain of salt if you don’t agree, or put it to work if you find it useful! Here it goes:
1.) You never want to be the cheap guy. It screams “I need this job” in addition to “I’m worth this much” (or little). If someone wants to pay Fiverr… tell them to pay Fiverr and best of luck. That indicates someone who isn’t dedicated to creating an outstanding representation of their brand. They probably won’t be in business long.
2.) Don’t hate on innovators… Fiverr and other sites found a way to exploit clients looking for a bargain. They deliver well in the $5-30 range. Let those clients learn their lesson the same way you learned yours by taking on cheap work that divvies up to something like $0.30/hr.
3.) A brand is much, much different than a logo. I have worked my way into some outstanding jobs just by describing this difference to a business owner or marketing director who doesn’t know any better. Understanding your client’s needs will always pay off better than getting mad at their expectations. I recently talked a small-business client interested in paying no more than $250 for a logo… into developing their brand into a representation of incredible customer experience on all levels for an extra 0 tacked onto that number (with the logo being only one small part of the communication strategy I delivered for them). And you know what? They understand now that the experience we created together is driving far more business than a crappy little bargain-bin logo ever could have. Their customers now swear by their brand, and their brand now tells a story with intrigue that drives more and more people to their location. It’s pervasive in ever print piece, every sign, every phone call, the interior design of the location and the attitude of their employees. Identity and brand is different than a logo in this way. You should be selling well-thought out brand systems instead of logos. That’s where clients will want to pay you more… because it is well worth it. Start studying how outstanding brands let their visual identity (read: logo and associated visual materials) reflect the level of service and experience they provide for their customers.
4.) It takes time. We all hate to hear this. I was the bargain-bin designer for a number of years. Shit, I graduated on the cliff of the housing market crash where no one was hiring a designer at all… I worked virtually for free for two years… and I did not have a place to live like some might assume. I moved from my parents’ ritzy neighborhood to a hole in the south-side because my parents didn’t agree with me wanting to start a business. I persisted. You must persist, too. Unless the passion for what you do outweighs the risk of losing everything… you will not succeed in this incredibly competitive arena of visual work and advertising. This is not art, it’s the business of art.
5.) Learn, learn, learn and learn some more. I’ve taken jobs I hated in order to learn marketing (something designers commonly think they know, but have no idea until they’ve spent two years creating excel spreadsheets on the impact that the sale of 45,000 graphics cards monthly has on the production capacity of a channel distributor). Google some of those words… you’ll probably say “Oh, shit,” in some way or another. I learned web and app development from the ground up. It’s currently 2:30AM and I’m writing this after finishing a 14 page contract for a $10,000 website job I would have offered to do for $1000 only five years ago. Learning is your BEST and ONLY asset for growth in this industry. Constant and never-ending learning.
6.) Psychology. You can get mad that some designers are lowballing for work… or you can up your game and raise the bar for what you’re willing to accept. In order to up your business game you must up your psychological game. Let other people have lowball work, but not you. Up your standards of work and production level to meet the fees you want to pull from clients. Higher fees demand a higher level of delivery for clients. Go out and mess up a LOT. Get fucked by mean, narcissistic, manipulative clients – it’s bound to happen… but hopefully only once or twice. You’ll grow psychologically and see that poor-quality customer from a million miles away next time. Let the lowball designers take those jobs… but not you. Therapy and business seminars have been my best friends in the last 10 years of heartbreak, struggle, family issues, business failure, job failure and finally… successes. Reference item 4… it takes time. I hope I’ll look back in 5 or 10 more years and see that I’ve doubled or tripled my learning efforts, drive, capacity, business acumen, creative production and psychological black-belt status.
7.) This will be the last one because I’m tired. Honesty. Psychology does not mean manipulation, it means self-defense. Learning actual martial arts helps with this… I suggest taking a few classes. The same way martial arts helps defend against threats by giving you the ability to read body language and therefore avoid a confrontation altogether…. is the same way that psychological development helps you avoid bad or low-paying clients. It gives you the space and the room to breathe that lets you take an honest and open inventory of your current progress. You’ll notice that through that process, honesty in communication, quality, workmanship (or workwomanship) and development is the only thing that will make you a force worthy of a high fee. Get skills, get mentally fit, get excited, and get paid what you deserve.
Hope this helps some people. Good night!