Love that clip of Harlan Ellison because it doesn't just apply to writers. It applies to designers as well. With more and more companies turning to designers to take their products to the next level, there's a danger of not getting paid what they're worth. And with more and more competition, it's easy to put out the tin cup, taking any amount of cash a client is willing to plunk in to get that next job.
Lowballing what your work is worth, however, can potentially damage your relationship with a client. Or as Andy Budd puts it in this article:
The problem is, when a professional relationship begins with a compromise, it's very difficult to gain your power back.
Andy makes a great point when he says that the power is in the hands of the designer, not the client. Designers hold the cards, he says, because they are, after all, the experts. Andy urges designers to stop holding themselves back because "we're so desperate to win work that we'll drop our prices and compromise on quality." Great, but how do designers do that? How do they make sure they get paid what they are worth?
By proving your worth, that you are the expert.
Proving Your Worth
Let's go back to Harlan Ellison for a sec. He knows his worth. But he's proved that worth over decades of hard, deliberate work. He's written thousands of short stories and articles. He's written television and movie scripts. He's got the professional cred to get paid what he's worth.
Does that mean that designers have to have decades upon decades of work behind them? Sure, it helps to have a backlog of work to show, but it doesn't necessarily have to be decades worth of work. And even if you don't have decades of work, you can still stand out from those folks that push pretty pixels around without any clear idea what they are doing or why they are doing it. How do designers do that? What makes a great designer who gets paid what they are worth? Deliberate practice and hard work.
Here are three practices that can help designers stand out from those that are just pixel pushers:
- ID-ing your target audience. Nailing down who your users exactly are can make or break a product design. Eric Ries' first startup crashed and burned because he didn't figure out who'll use and pay for his product.
- Talking to users. It's not enough to ID your users. You have to talk with them, get their feedback. How will you know what to improve if you don't get feedback?
- Defining the problem. Designers have to ask why, as pointed out by Simon Sinek in his book, 'The Power of Why.' Most designers neglect asking why first. Without answering why, we can't define the problem we are solving.
Getting paid what you're worth and keeping yourself from getting taken starts with putting in the hard work and practice to perfect your craft. By doing so, you'll solidify your professional cred, be seen as the expert and be able to haggle for a better price on your work.