THE DE­SIGNER'S GUIDE TO MONEY

Just how much should you be paid? Tom May asks a range of cre­atives how they han­dle the tricky is­sue of cost­ing, glean­ing tips for get­ting paid ap­pro­pri­ately for your de­sign work

Computer Arts - - Industry Issues -

For most of us, work­ing in a cre­ative dis­ci­pline is not pri­mar­ily about the money. It’s more of a call­ing, a need to ex­press your­self cre­atively, while be­ing pas­sion­ate about creating great work. Un­for­tu­nately, when the land­lord is bang­ing on the door for this month’s rent and the bills are mount­ing up, none of that is much help.

The good news is that on the whole, de­sign is a rel­a­tively well paid pro­fes­sion, and it should be able to sus­tain you fi­nan­cially as much as it does emo­tion­ally. But there’s a skill to ex­tract­ing the right value for your ser­vices, whether you’re ne­go­ti­at­ing your salary, set­ting your free­lance rates or pric­ing up projects at studio level.

To help you get it right, we ex­plore these three ar­eas, and also get some ex­pert ad­vice on how to get the max­i­mum value for your work.

IN­CREASE YOUR SALARY

Ne­go­ti­at­ing a salary is hard enough for any pro­fes­sional, says Ted Leon­hardt, a sea­soned de­signer and au­thor of Nail It: Sto­ries for De­sign­ers on Ne­go­ti­at­ing with Con­fi­dence. But it’s es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult for cre­atives.

Why? “The big­gest prob­lem is that cre­atives by their very na­ture are more em­pa­thetic than the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion,” he points out. “In­deed, our abil­ity to cre­ate work that con­nects with peo­ple re­lies on this em­pa­thetic sense that we have. So if you’re trained as a cre­ative, you give in to the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties that you feel about your work, and end up un­der­valu­ing your mon­e­tary value.”

So what’s a de­signer to do? “The first, and most im­por­tant step is aware­ness: to un­der­stand that this is com­pletely nor­mal,” says Leon­hardt. “Then step two is to har­ness this abil­ity to be em­pa­thetic to read the emo­tions of the peo­ple you’re ne­go­ti­at­ing with, and use it in your favour.”

In short, Leon­hardt rec­om­mends you ap­proach ne­go­ti­a­tion not as an ad­ver­sar­ial bar­gain­ing ses­sion but as a col­lab­o­ra­tion in which you guide those you are ne­go­ti­at­ing with; much as you would do on any de­sign project.

Of course, you also need to do your re­search. “Widely avail­able salary sur­veys pro­vide a way for de­ter­min­ing your worth, and it’s im­por­tant to know the range,” says Leon­hardt. “Pro­fes­sional as­so­ci­a­tions are the best place to start.” If you can back up your de­mands with ev­i­dence, you can have a sen­si­ble dis­cus­sion with­out be­ing low­balled. For the same rea­son, Leon­hardt rec­om­mends that you don’t re­veal your past salary, even if asked; switch the em­pha­sis to­wards what you’re worth now, not when you first en­tered your last role. Above all, con­duct any salary ne­go­ti­a­tions with a sense of self-worth. “Cre­atives al­ways tend to dis­count their own value,” he stresses. “This can hap­pen even when some­one

comes to you first, when you au­to­mat­i­cally have an ad­van­tage. In­stead, you need to com­mu­ni­cate strongly your point of dif­fer­ence.”

ASK FOR A PAY RISE

It’s a sim­i­lar story when you’ve been in your cur­rent role a while and feel you’re due a salary bump. It’s good to ad­dress your feel­ings on this is­sue, says Ro­han Nana­vati, art di­rec­tor and owner of brand de­sign agency Roar Stu­dios, but a com­bat­ive at­ti­tude is un­likely to get you very far. Again, em­pa­thy and dis­cus­sion will win out over tantrums and ul­ti­ma­tums.

“You want your em­ployer to raise your pay hap­pily, not un­der suf­fer­ance,” he rea­sons, so play the long game. “Keep con­nected to your man­ager, and try to fig­ure out what your studio val­ues. Ap­proach them about a pay rise in a straight­for­ward man­ner, and try to keep the con­ver­sa­tion in­for­mal. If the rise doesn’t hap­pen im­me­di­ately, work with the man­ager to fig­ure out how you can be of more value to the com­pany.”

In short, fig­ure out what your studio needs, and how you can be of use, then get no­ticed through the con­tri­bu­tions you make and ex­tra re­spon­si­bil­i­ties you take on. “That way, a pay rise will seem nat­u­ral and ab­so­lutely de­served,” says Nana­vati. “A studio will al­ways value a de­signer who con­nects and takes own­er­ship of the is­sues at hand, and will want to keep hold of you.”

SET FREE­LANCE RATES

If ne­go­ti­at­ing a salary can be in­tim­i­dat­ing, set­ting your free­lance rate is no pic­nic ei­ther. Again, re­search – both for­mal and in­for­mal – is vi­tal.

“There are a lot of ways to find out the mar­ket rate for de­sign work in your area,” says de­signer and il­lus­tra­tor Tad Car­pen­ter of Car­pen­ter Col­lec­tive. “For ex­am­ple, if you have a day job at an agency, look into their billing and how the fi­nances are han­dled. I’d also sit down and ask some­one out there do­ing it: how they bill and set rates. Af­ter all, it’s 2017: ask about money, it’s fine. Don’t be gross about it, but be kind and hon­est. Ask how it all works. It’s a scary sit­u­a­tion that so many of us were in, and are still eval­u­at­ing ev­ery day. You’d be sur­prised how open an­other de­signer will be when free lunch is in­volved.”

Alice Lick­ens, a free­lance il­lus­tra­tor, au­thor and de­signer based in London, did a lot of in­for­mal re­search her­self when she first went free­lance. “Mostly I asked around friends and other de­sign­ers and il­lus­tra­tors to see roughly where rates sat,” she re­calls. “I had a ball­park idea in mind that was about right. So I came up with a pric­ing strat­egy, and upped my prices ev­ery cou­ple of years or so.” Ini­tially she was wary about rais­ing prices, and says she stuck to the same bracket for longer than she should have as a re­sult. “I then re­alised that I was fall­ing into a gen­der trap of be­ing un­com­fort­able about ask­ing for a raise. One of the ben­e­fits of be­ing free­lance is set­ting your own rates, so I was de­liv­er­ing a spec­tac­u­lar own goal by be­ing so cau­tious. I upped my hourly fee and didn’t lose a sin­gle client.”

It’s a com­mon tale we’ve heard from so many de­sign­ers: rather than los­ing you clients, up­ping your fees over time can of­ten make them seem to want you more, giv­ing the im­pres­sion that your work is of higher qual­ity and value than oth­ers’.

Of course, some will al­ways try to low­ball you, but the beauty of be­ing free­lance is that you can just say no, although it’s not al­ways easy. “Say­ing no can be the hard­est part of our job,” says Car­pen­ter. “Ev­ery email that comes in is the op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate some­thing new, ex­cit­ing and mem­o­rable; I truly love creating work for clients. But at the end of the day, you have to stand up for your own val­ues and self-worth as a de­signer. Be­cause no one else will.”

Jonny Wan, a graphic artist and art di­rec­tor based in the UK, adds that you shouldn’t un­der­es­ti­mate the com­plex­ity of pric­ing mod­els, and need to get your head around them quickly. “When I first went free­lance, the big­gest chal­lenge was un­der­stand­ing all the fac­tors I’d need to take into ac­count when quot­ing a fee,” he re­calls. “I had to think about us­age, buy­outs, li­cens­ing. How long would the client use the il­lus­tra­tion for? A year, 10 years, in per­pe­tu­ity? I also had to fac­tor in the ter­ri­to­rial as­pect of where my work would cover; would it be lo­cal, na­tional or in­ter­na­tional?”

At this point, he de­cided to seek an agent with the ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge to ne­go­ti­ate the finer de­tails, leav­ing him solely to con­cen­trate on the cre­ative work. “From the fees my agents were charg­ing clients, I built up a good pic­ture of how to break down and itemise a job to make sure I was charg­ing fairly for jobs I took on in­de­pen­dently. Although hav­ing a good grasp on fees is es­sen­tial for any new­comer, I think some­times it’s just bet­ter to let some­one else whose day-to-day job is to han­dle fees and cost­ings do their thing.” (For more ad­vice on agents, see right, Help From an Agent.)

PRIC­ING AT STUDIO LEVEL

When it comes to agree­ing a price for a studio project, the sums get big­ger and the stakes higher. “We find there are many chal­lenges to pric­ing

up studio projects,” says Matt Rice, di­rec­tor of London de­sign studio Sen­nep. “One is rein­ing in our own cre­ative am­bi­tions to fit a set bud­get. An­other one is to try and fore­see ob­sta­cles fur­ther down the line and try and es­ti­mate time, in ad­vance, to over­come these. The sec­ond one can be helped by hav­ing a con­tin­gency bud­get.”

While as a freelancer you may have be­come used to quot­ing a fixed price for work up­front, that’s a dan­ger­ous road to go down when it comes to studio projects, Rice ad­vises.

“The big­gest mis­take you can make is to agree a fixed cost with­out a clearly de­fined scope and set of de­liv­er­ables,” he be­lieves. “So in­stead, we di­vide the job up into one or two week ‘de­sign sprints’. Dur­ing each sprint, a se­ries of tasks – ‘de­liv­er­ables’ – need to be achieved, and we agree a stan­dard rate per sprint with the client. We ex­plain that if the na­ture of the project changes, these de­liv­er­ables may be re-pri­ori­tised and re­placed, and new sprints may be added.”

This process has come about as the re­sult of a long learn­ing curve, he ex­plains. “A cou­ple of years ago we had a few projects run over by a sig­nif­i­cant amount. That was a real wake up call in terms of bud­get man­age­ment. Since then we have tight­ened up our process a lot.”

SCOPE THINGS OUT

The most sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment Sen­nep has made has been en­cour­ag­ing in-depth scop­ing ses­sions with all stake­hold­ers be­fore they start a job and, more im­por­tantly, be­fore they agree to fi­nal costs. “This is es­sen­tial with com­pli­cated projects,” says Rice, “par­tic­u­larly ones that in­volve in­te­grat­ing with third-party tools and ser­vices that we haven’t used be­fore.”

The scop­ing pe­riod gen­er­ally takes place over a se­ries of work­shops, span­ning one to three weeks, and gives the client a much more de­tailed un­der­stand­ing of what they are get­ting, what is ex­pected of the studio, what’s ex­pected of any in­volved third par­ties, and what the process will be when the project kicks off.

In short, it’s about plan­ning ahead care­fully. “In the past,” Rice ex­plains, “one of the rea­sons for run­ning over was pro­duc­ing a large amount of cre­ative work lead­ing up to a big pre­sen­ta­tion with­out key stake­hold­ers see­ing it. Go­ing back to the draw­ing board at a late stage can be po­ten­tially dis­as­trous for costs, par­tic­u­larly if you’re work­ing to a fixed bud­get.

“We try very hard to avoid this now by work­ing in weekly sprints and hav­ing daily stand-ups with the client to make sure ev­ery­one is in the loop.

The process is more trans­par­ent, and po­ten­tial is­sues don’t fes­ter and grow into big­ger prob­lems. We share de­sign work and our think­ing much ear­lier, quite of­ten from day one. That way clients are much more in­vested in the out­come, be­cause they have been part of the process and un­der­stand why key de­ci­sions have been made.”

To sum­marise: what­ever stage you’re at in your de­sign ca­reer, there’s a clear thread run­ning through all of this. Whether it’s hag­gling over £200 for an il­lus­tra­tion, go­ing back and forth with a man­ager over a 10 per cent pay rise, or ne­go­ti­at­ing six-fig­ure sums with a big brand on be­half of your studio, the same fun­da­men­tal fac­tors come into play.

You need the con­fi­dence that comes from re­search and hard data, whether that be sur­veys of free­lance rates and salaries or de­tailed cost break­downs of past projects. Be­yond that, it’s about clear and con­tin­u­ous com­mu­ni­ca­tion: evolv­ing dis­cus­sions that al­low you, over time, to pro­vide bet­ter value – keep­ing your clients or em­ployer happy, and gen­er­at­ing enough cash to oil the wheels of great de­sign work.

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