Archive: Jun 2015

  1. 5 Ways to Give Yourself a Pay Rise

    1 Comment 6 min read

    You know what I miss about being an employee of a company? Ladders. You know what I’m talking about; the climb. The clear next step that you’d have to take to progress your career, to take another step up the ladder. From team member, to assistant manager, to manager, to area manager and so on… but with cooler titles obviously, because that companies job titles sound boring as shit, bad example. Obviously though with each of those steps up the ladder comes that boost to your pay packet, which is probably the main reason anyone would want a promotion.

    Being a freelancer, you may not be able to go after that new title (well I mean you could I guess, but you’d be giving it to yourself so… it’d be a bit weird), but you sure as hell can give yourself a pay rise.

    Now when you’re working for a company there are two ways to get a pay rise. One – you work really hard, to the point where your superiors feel stupid for not utilising your talents more effectively. Or two – you wait it out (we all know how when someone up the food chain gets a promotion, their shoes need to be filled, so the auto response is to go after the guy who’s ‘been here the longest’, you know, because they’ll have more experience).

    Does your work ethic still suck? Oh it does? Then tough shit pal.

    However in the world of the freelancer there is no option two. Have you been a freelancer for ten years? Oh you have? Do you feel like you deserve more money? Oh you do? Does your work ethic still suck? Oh it does? Then tough shit pal.

    And that’s fair.

    The only way you can increase your income as a freelance designer, photographer, developer or illustrator is if you deserve it.

    Sweet little sound bite, but how do you actually action ‘deserving it’? Well here are five of very best ways you can bring in more cash at the end of the month.

    1. Learn More

    The most straight forward and obvious answer is to get better at what you do. There is always room for improvement, and that is a wonderful thing; could you imagine how dull this job would be if we couldn’t improve?

    Take the next step in your career and learn a complimentary skill. Are you a frontend web developer? Start teaching yourself PHP so you can manage the backend too. Are you a vector illustrator? Have a play with digital paintings so you can offer a wider range of styles. The more you can do, the more you can charge. Having all those skills in just one head is a fantastic and highly desirable thing. Clients love having their design stuff under one roof (which is why agencies are so popular), so if you can do everything they need in one place and save them from darting about between designers and developers, then they’ll pay for the privilege.

    2. Become a Specialist

    The other direction you can go to get better is to really drill down into what it is that you do. Become a specialist in your industry, the name that’s on everyone’s lips when it comes to this one specific thing. Say for instance you’re an interior photographer, you could become the premier hotel room interior photographer. Or you’re a brand designer, you could be the only name in health food business branding.

    If you market yourself as being literally exactly what they’re looking for, then the only reason that they won’t be hiring you is that they can’t afford you.

    Granted, you are taking yourself off the market for a lot of clients, but by really concentrating on your niche in the market, you’re making the choice for the client obvious. If you market yourself as being literally exactly what they’re looking for, then the only reason that they won’t be hiring you is that they can’t afford you.

    3. Use Stock

    Say you’re happy with the service you’re offering for whatever reason (honestly though – I don’t think this should ever be the case), how else can you boost your income? Well you do more of what you do; you work faster.

    When I say faster, I’m not talking about dipping your head in a vat of coffee, popping a pencil in each hand and going crazy like the Tasmanian Devil. What I really mean is smarter, but since I’m talking about fitting more work into the same time it makes sense.

    Bill Beachy wrote a very useful article not long ago along these lines called How to Become a Faster Graphic Designer, so in addition to giving that a read, here are a few things that you can do to push out more work in the same amount of time.

    Whatever it is you’re trying to do, chances are someone has already done a chunk of it

    Use other people’s time to save your own. Whatever it is you’re trying to do, chances are someone has already done a chunk of it, and is willing to sell you that chunk for a very reasonable price. It’s a nice idea to look at a finished design safe in the knowledge that every last bit of it came from you, but in reality when you’re against the clock and trying to earn a living, it’s not always practical. When I’m having to work to a tight deadline I’ll often have a scan about on Graphic River or Photo Dune for the last bits and pieces I need to finish things off.

    4. Template Your Work

    Turn your own designs into templates. As you work your way through a design just a keep an eye out for when you do something especially good that you may be able to use again. As a web designer, this could be a little bit of code for a fancy image slider, or if you’re a graphic designer, perhaps you made a sticker graphic for a poster that you could use elsewhere. I’m constantly vetting my own designs for knick-knacks that I can use again in other projects.

    5. Set deadlines AND set time limits

    They sound similar, but they’re very different. A deadline is date by which a project must be finished and signed off by the client. A time limit, is the amount of time you’re allowed to spend on that project. You see, I used to set deadlines and think that was all I needed, but what ended up happening was that I’d find myself working into the night or over the weekends on a project. Yes I had defined a deadline, but every second up until that point was fair game.

    design quote
    (Pin it!)

    Your business hours are a lot like a suitcase. When you’re going on holiday you fill your suitcase right up to your weight allowance. It doesn’t matter if you’re taking a wetsuit to the desert (and I have actually done just that) you fill it. Same goes with work, if you give yourself 100 hours to finish a website, guess what, it’s probably going to take you around 100 hours to get done. Limit your allowance. Don’t be stupid with it, but sit down and seriously think, if I had a gun to my head (Swordfish style) how quickly could I do this?


    You need to make that your time limit for the project. We all work faster when we’re against the clock, but you need to be aware that this isn’t a race. Your limit for getting the job done should include getting it right and finishing it to a quality you’re happy with. It’s not about churning out rubbish at a rate of knots, that’s useless. It’s about producing the same kind of work you’re doing right now, but just having zero wasted time whilst doing it.

    Photo Credit to Drew Coffman
  2. How to Work Within a Clients Budget Without Lowering Your Price.

    Leave a Comment 6 min read

    We’ve all had it at some point. That wonderful client comes calling by with a project idea that is just perfect for you. You chat away for an hour or so, bouncing ideas off each other as a thousand amazing concepts start to take root in your head. Then comes the part where you talk about price, and everything comes crashing down. You see, this wonderful client, with his amazing idea, only has a budget of £350 for the branding of his new business and that fancy eCommerce website you’ve been chatting about.

    Disaster right? I mean what are your options here? Either you tell the client, sorry – there’s no way you can give him what he’s asking for that amount, and risk making him feel like a fool for not properly understanding your industry. Or you bite the bullet – take on the awesome project and work for about £5 an hour for the next month, developing a fondness for beans on toast in the process.

    Not necessarily – there is always a middle ground and contrary to what you may be thinking it doesn’t involve discounts and “special one off cases”.

    Don’t do Discounts

    I’ve said before that I don’t do discounts. As soon as you start to lower your price or offer a special rate, then what you’re really doing is admitting to the client that you were overpriced to begin with. Your work is worth what you charge for it. It is a finite amount, no more, no less.

    You can’t be mad about a client trying to get a better deal, that’s them being a good business person.

    Once you drop your rate for a client it is a long and difficult climb to get back to the original fee you should have been charging in the first place. Once a client knows how to push your buttons, why wouldn’t they do that every time? You can’t be mad about a client trying to get a better deal, that’s them being a good business person. If you cave, then that’s on you.

    I say this not to put any of you down, but as someone who has done this literally hundreds of times in their career. When I first started as a designer I did this with almost EVERY SINGLE client, sometimes without them even asking. I was so fearful of loosing the job, that I’d instinctively tag on the phrase “but I could probably drop that to x amount if you wanted?”, to every quote.


    Decide what you are worth. Stick to it.


    So if your price is fixed solid, and we’ll assume that the clients budget is fixed solid, surely we’re at an impasse? Nope – think about this.

    client triangle

    Every project is a triangle. In one corner you have the price you charge for your services, in another corner you have the amount the client can pay, but in the third corner is the project itself – what the client actually wants. If the first two points cannot shift, then we need to see if the third one can.

    Clients can be stubborn, I know this. Some of them come to you with an idea so utterly rock solid in their heads that the concept may as well be carved in stone. However, they are not a designer, they have no idea how to look at a concept and see which bits take five minuets and which bits take five days.

    I guarantee you they’ll drop that idea like it was nuclear waste.

    They may well say to you that it absolutely has to be this way, and that they cannot possibly even consider an alternative, but when you point out that having hand drawn titles on every page of their website will eat up half their budget, I guarantee you they’ll drop that idea like it was nuclear waste.

    By pruning a clients concept like this you can shave off a lot of time and cost, ultimately making an unworkable project workable. Does the client really need a fully functioning blog that every member of their staff can log into remotely and post updates on what they’re working on (which you know they never will), or will a testimonials page achieve a similar goal?

    View the Goal

    Another option is to take a step backwards and look not at what the client is asking for, but rather what they want to achieve. Say for instance a client comes to you looking to have each of their staff professionally photographed for their website or brochure. Ask them why. Not in a snarky or sarcastic way, but in a genuine manner. Why do you want all your staff photographed? What are you trying to achieve?

    In this instance they may want to put a human face to their business. Ok – well how about we take a group staff photo instead? One photo of everyone will cost far less than one of each staff member, and even though it’s not doing what the client asked for, it is achieving the same goal.

    View the goal your client wants to achieve and then give them some options.

    Again – this is exactly the kind of thinking that people come to designers for. It’s part of your job to educate your clients in methods and options that they may not have realised. Only you know how much effort, time and money something will cost – view the goal your client wants to achieve and then give them some options.


    Ok, so what if you’ve tried the first two options and the client still wont budge? Don’t worry there is still hope.

    If the client has this huge idea and simply cannot deviate, then your only remaining option is to break it down into stages. Instead of one huge job, try to look at the project as a group of smaller jobs and price them up accordingly. This way a client can cherry pick which bits they want to begin with (‘begin’ being the operative word here). Once those parts are done and paid for, the client can save up a bit more cash and move onto the next part of the project.

    The idea here is not to present this concept as though the client is only getting part of what they’re asking for, instead you’re offering a way to break down the project into milestones for them. They can take a look at exactly which bits are vital to their business, which bits they cannot function without. Once those are done, the client is free to get their project moving and potentially earning, allowing them to finance the next few stages that will really round off the project.

    I use this option all the time. The basic concept is “done is better than perfect”. It’s a phrase I hate, but when the alternative is zilch, it’s not a bad mantra. It’s a great way for a client to feel like things are really moving, and that they’re seeing big results fast. Get the core of the idea built, and then add on all those expensive flashing lights and dangley bits that the client thought were oh so vital.

    Not only is this approach good for the client, but it’s good for you. Setting milestones like this really help in staying on top of a project, and it also gives you the opportunity to get paid throughout the contract rather than waiting for that huge lump sum all at the end.

  3. How Learning the Dark Arts can Make you More Money

    Leave a Comment 4 min read

    Every industry has it’s Dark Arts. Skills so mysterious and incomprehensible that only a chosen few dare wield their powers. Yet these impenetrable abilities are so sought out by the masses, so utterly required that many will shower gold on any who can truly claim a mastery of these magnificent proficiencies.

    So what are these Dark Arts then, and how can you learn them? Well that in itself is a tricky question as the Dark Arts themselves are constantly changing. In more general terms though a Dark Art is something that the majority of clients want, but have no idea how to create.

    When I first started working in the creative industry, web design was a Dark Art. This was around the time it was becoming apparent that every business, no matter how small needed an online presence. There was a swell of clients with literally no knowledge of web design or social media that suddenly needed a website, but with no idea where to even begin, their only option was the humble web designer.

    Web design however, is no longer a Dark Art.

    Over the years, web design and online promotion have become vastly more accessible to unskilled users. From tools like WordPress, Wix or Squarespace that allow anyone to quickly build a simple website, to the development of Facebook and Twitter as business platforms. The online world has never been so accessible, even to those who would happily claim to be digital novices.

    What I am saying however is that a website is no longer this strange, incomprehensible, unobtainable asset, whereby web designers are the sole gatekeepers.

    Let me be clear – I’m not saying that web designers are no longer needed. Obviously that’s not the case. We all know the difference (and the value) between a stock Wix template website and one that has been custom made for a clients needs. What I am saying however is that a website is no longer this strange, incomprehensible, unobtainable asset, whereby web designers are the sole gatekeepers. When a client comes to a web designer now, they already have an idea (or rather a misconception) of how a website is built; “You just drag a drop stuff, right?”.

    There is always a gap between what the client can do themselves and what we can do as designers. The wider that gap is, the more a client is willing to pay for our services. For services like web design, photography, video production etc… the increase of digital tools and technologies that are becoming readily available means that gap is closing every year.

    So what are the Dark Arts right now?

    App design is probably the most apparent Dark Art at the moment. Apps have been becoming that next step for both new and established businesses for quite some time, But actually creating an app is still something that’s nearly impossible for someone outside that industry to even attempt. If you want an app for your business, you need to go to an app designer. The same can said for animation or 3D modelling.

    You could even play the long game and try and guess what the next Dark Art might be. Virtual Reality looks like it may be a solid bet given the flurry of activity in the VR headset market. Or maybe you could specialise in developing apps for the Apple Watch?

    Don’t worry – I know that’s not as easy as it sounds. I’m not going to leave you hanging with your only hope in the world bring to ditch your current skill set and start all over learning a new one. I’m not a total dick.

    So what should you do if you feel the gap closing in your business. If with each and every passing year that goes by, it seems like more and more tools are becoming available that will let your clients do what you do for free?

    Widen the gap.

    To go back to websites for example; if your business is based around making very simple, information based websites then you are going to struggle more are more, as these are just the kinds of websites that are become easy for clients to create themselves. Instead you need to shift your focus and specialise in a part of web design that users are still going to need help with. For instance templates and free tools for developing responsive websites, and custom eCommerce websites are still pretty far away from what many clients will want or need, so make it apparent that you are the person to come to if this is what a client needs. Take a look at what facilities are on offer from these ‘do it yourself’ website builders, and then make a really big deal about offering what they don’t. You need your clients to feel not just like they’re missing out on vital services by attempting to create a website themselves, but also that the level of quality between the two is utterly incomparable.

    Take a look at what facilities are on offer from these ‘do it yourself’ website builders, and then make a really big deal about offering what they don’t.

    The same goes for any industry. If you’re a photographer, don’t offer a portfolio full of images (no matter how beautiful they may be) that look like they’ve had an Instagram filter applied to them. Granted, a client may look at them and think they look gorgeous, but they’ll be also thinking “I could do that myself”.

    Look at what free tools are available and popular in your industry, I guarantee you, there will be some. Look for what they do well, and look for what they do poorly. Once you know that, then really focus your marketing on offering what isn’t available. Make yourself exclusive, special and unobtainable. Create your own Dark Art.

    Illustrations by Alexander Singleton