When you are new to something, every step seems nearly impossible. I started freelancing some ten months ago, about half a year after graduating. I started my own business for several reasons, the most important one being my growing aversion to the office as a workplace. The business I started was not web design. It was something very different. I did need a website, however, and like in all good love stories, the next important moment came swiftly and without taking into account anything to do with reason or rationality; I became at once infatuated with web design.
This put me in a weird spot. I had loved web design culture (whatever that is) for a long time, but had almost no first hand experience with it. So on the one hand I knew that this was what I wanted to do, but on the other hand it was painfully clear to me that one does not just pick up how to make good web sites. It was however, the easiest way to make some money doing something I enjoy. So I tried to keep at it.
I had been listening to ‘Let’s Make Mistakes’ since the first episode (months before I started making sites) and although I liked the show and thought I understood what Mike, Katie, and later Leah were talking about, when I started my first client relationship I found it was nearly impossible to keep in line with all the ‘rules’ they had laid out for me (‘don’t work for free’, ‘don’t be squeamish over money’ et cetera). I had my ‘portfolio’ in mind and being an absolute beginner I felt I had no choice but to do some free work. Oh well. What’s done is done. Isn’t it? Well, not really. I’m still maintaining some of that work now, but without the necessary leverage, it will not become good work. I can’t go back and retake some of the early steps because, well, that would be a lot of work for no money, but I also can’t make a whole new set of agreements with the client because there is no client relationship to speak of. They’re just people I made a site for, and if I want to change something about that site I’m out of luck; can’t do it for free, but also can’t get paid to do it. Bummer. This particular bummer, however, is the reason ‘Design is a Job’ made so much sense to me.
I don’t know if Mike Monteiro is the first to give the idea of this sort of ‘leverage’ such a thorough thinking through. This leverage can be a bespoke salary, and should always entail a signed contract. I don’t even think he calls it leverage in this context (in fact, I know he doesn’t, I checked), so the term deserves a little explanation. With leverage I don’t mean a means to power, but a means to equality in an agreement. This equality, this fairness to yourself but also to the other party is what Monteiro explains so clearly, and what made me see the value in getting paid for your work. It sounds like a given, but unfortunately it is not. You see, a lot of my friends have their own business. None are in web design, but they are in some capacity ‘creative workers’. A common notion amongst them is that portfolio is more important than almost anything, including getting paid a fair amount. Pricing yourself below the going rate (al the way down to zero an hour) seems a great way to get your name out there. Monteiro shows, and explains, better than I’ve read anywhere before or since, that this is not the case. He shows you that not only is it beneath your dignity as a good designer to charge too little, it just doesn’t work. You will not do good work, because the work will always have less priority than work you are getting paid for.
I see now that this is not a proper book review, so I’ll stop before I completely rehash every point Monteiro makes. It’s a great book, and not just for someone in web design. Everyone that has to negotiate every single paycheck should be reading this. You will be a better freelancer, a better business for it.
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