I’m Lucky. No one figure this out, please.
When I began freelancing, it was a thing of magic. We’d just moved to California, I had a 1-year-old at home with me, and I needed to find some work in a new world. One client was referred to me by a former coworker, a few more followed, and it’s been a steady rise ever since. I lucked into it. I still feel like I cheated.
Everyday, years later, I still wake up without having to put on heels or sit in traffic, and I’m every bit as thankful as the first day. Maybe because it wasn’t always this way, I can’t believe I get to make stuff I love for people I believe in and get paid to do it. From wherever I want to do it. There are hard days, really bleak days of tedious work or self doubt, but it comes down to this, really: I’m not working twice my pace in a meatpacking plant or picking beans from the low earth in the hot sun all day, or anything else that seems like actual hard work.
I’m pushing pixels from a place of true privilege. You are, too. If you’re reading this, I already know that about you.
The winds of change
I’m sitting at the same desk some years later, doing largely the same thing, but better, I hope. Bigger, I want to think. I’m looking out and I see so much change around me. Plenty of it great, really so great, some of it concerning. The landscape of my peers, some of whom started out alongside me, hustling for clients in those early days, working late into the night to get better. We were hungry then. We’d do anything for anyone then.
But the popular chorus of “charge more! work less!”, the siren song of value-based pricing, the sermon that Design is a Job and clients are terrible, has changed us. Has made us less hungry. It calls us to sit up straight, take no shit, and double our rates.
That’s only half the story, some of us know that, but it’s the one that’s spoken most loudly, most often. And so, we collectively roll our eyes at clients who don’t instinctively know how to conduct a design review, who don’t have $20,000, or know how to edit the red flags from their first inquiry. We have lofty project minimums and lengthy waiting lists, and we really think, I mean we really think, we’re doing the world a favor when we make a website.
How did it become so popular to be so terrible?
And why are we so proud of it?
I know the temptation. It’s easy to get fired up when you read something that makes you feel heard, seen, and appreciated. You’ve been heard, you’re appreciated. You’re probably doing good work. But, hey! good news!, the war is over and we won. Let’s get back to work!
It’s simple. It doesn’t need to be a movement or a blog series. Charge what you’re worth. Work to be worth even more by perfecting your craft (the entire point, I think). Do work you’re proud of. Do as much of it as you need to to keep the lights on. And then, if you can, undo all the years of brainwashing you’ve picked up at conferences and get over yourself a little bit.
An expensive, mediocre landscape of terror and doom and junk and crap
I think maybe some of us, most of us, collectively, were undercutting our industry as a whole by charging bargain basement rates to get established in our early days. But we’re not doing that anymore, right? We’ve all grown up, yes?
The dangerous effect of a mass message to increase prices and protect some kind of perceived industry standard is a threat to all of us. It’s expensive, mediocre work built on your platform. It’s our collective reputation. It’s jaded, disappointed clients—your future clients. It’s a barrier to entry to small business owners and dreamers trying to make something, who are told they need to cash out their life savings for a logo (come on). It drives them to crowdsourced or more automated options, the ones we mock. It leaves the door wide open for someone else to come along and pop this stupid bubble with a bit of common sense.
Are you really worth what you’re charging? Or are you just riding this wave and getting away with it? How long do you think that’ll last?
I’ve never paid out more or been simultaneously more dissatisfied with the output of other contractors (some, not all) than right now, in this entitled, inflated landscape. You know what undercuts our industry more than low rates and spec work? High rates and a bad experience. Inflated cost and a failure to deliver on time / respond promptly / be kind / kick ass.
Everyone wants you to know you’re special, worth more, aren’t charging enough. And I guess I just want to tell you to stop being a stupid freelancer, and get over yourself. With love, I mean. Because I really do love you. I really want to work with you, and make cool things together.
I said, I want to make cool things with you
I have a number of projects in my queue to collaborate on with others—illustrators, developers, strategists. Projects that are bigger than me, for which I like to involve other voices and perspectives. I send out inquiries, and over the years, the landscape has changed. I feel it, and I see it. The response is often something immediately about numbers, or timelines; disclaimers or qualifiers. The feet-dragging, finger-wagging No! people.
I sit there with my head on my desk. Don’t we love to do this work? Aren’t we at all excited about the idea, or the prospect of doing something new and different? Isn’t that why we’re here?
What happened to our passion? Why aren’t we doubling that?
The ‘Yes! and’ People will save us
And then, there are my favorite people. The Yes! and people. The people I send an idea to (responsibly, professionally, with all pertinent details about cost and timeline and project requirements) and they get to dreaming or sketching or rambling immediately. Those are the people I want to work with, who are worth double whatever their rates are. The people experience shows me time and time again likely aren’t speaking at conferences or writing think pieces on Medium. The people who are busy making and building and solving and doing.
Look for the people with their heads down, hard at work. The ones hustling more on their craft than their name. Those are the people who will take you to the next level. Those are the people you want at your table. Those are the people who will be there when the bubble bursts and the game changes and the names are replaced. They’ll lap the charlatans and the preachers every damn time.
Love you, bye.