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We all know graphic design is an industry that gets very little respect. The Internet is filled with websites that tell you the worst possible clients stories ever, every designer keeps receiving request for free work every now and then, that’s very annoying. You’re a professional, you have a solid set of skills, you pay your taxes, so why don’t you get the respect you deserve?
Well, here’s the answer and you’re not gonna like it: it’s your fault.
It’s your fault and the fault of every new designer who comes into the scene and conforms to the worst possible practices, just because you think it’s what designers do.
Yes, graphic design is probably misunderstood and underestimated by many people. Yes, anyone call themselves a designer nowadays, and it contributes to a bad image of the profession, but let’s face it: this is only the emerged part of the iceberg.
Clients from hell stories are hilarious and terrible at the same time, but listen to me here: they’re always the result of a series of mistakes made by the designer.
Acting unprofessionally leads to attracting disrespectful clients. Working with those disrespectful clients leads to acting unprofessionally. Etc, etc. That’s a vicious circle.
In addition to that, you’re probably producing work you hate because you’re allowing those clients to boss you around, tell you how to design, and make you do ridiculous revisions.
Well guess what: you just can’t expect that the good, respectful clients are going to stumble upon your work and save you from this horrible situation. It simply won’t happen. The only way to attract the clients you want is to act the way you would if you already had them.
Listen to this one more time: the only way to attract the clients you want is to act the way you would if you already had them.
Sean McCabe, founder of seanwes, says that “there's no such thing as "Clients from hell", because only designers from hell take on those types of clients.” and many people hate that. They don’t want to believe it. They’re trying to find the one situation, the very particular case, the exception, so they can unload the responsibility of their situation onto someone else.
You know what? Yes, people should be nice and respectful by default, but guess what: that’s just the way it is, there are bad, mean, disrespectful people out there. Yet, nothing forces you to deal with them.
Many people, in fact professors, other designers, potential clients, your parents, say working with bad clients is what it takes. You need to build your portfolio so, catch them all, and with time, you’ll get the good fancy clients.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
You can’t do anything against stupidity but you can refuse to work with it. You should refuse to work with it.
You are the professional here. You set the terms.
But you know what, I get it. You’re a freelancer, solopreneur, you have imposter syndrome, you have bills to pay, you think you’re too young and illegitimate, or you think you’re too old and past your prime. I get that, and I get that dealing with clients is intimidating. But no matter how much money they make, nobody can force you to take them on as a client if you don’t want to. Hear me out: you’re not trying to transform bad clients into good clients here. This is a cause you won’t win by yourself.
There’s an pretty well-known interview of Steve Jobs, back when he was building NeXT, and he’s talking about how he approached legendary graphic designer Paul Rand for the brand identity.
When Steve Jobs asked if he was going to come up with options, Paul Rand said no. He said would solve the problem the best way he knew and get paid for it. It didn’t matter if the company decided to use it or not.
Paul Rand told the former CEO of Apple to go ask other people if what he wanted was options. And of course, he was hired.
Now he wasn’t hired because it was a bold, provocative move, or because Steve Jobs liked his rock’n’roll attitude. He was hired because he wasn’t willing to compromise on his values. Because Steve Jobs wasn’t looking for a yes man, but for someone brilliant and confident enough so he could trust him.
You’re probably thinking “But I’m not Paul Rand!”, well it doesn’t matter. You don't become Paul Rand by accident, you become Paul Rand by acting like Paul Rand.
Are you confident in your abilities as a designer? Do you know how to solve problems? Then you don’t have to prove yourself beyond what your portfolio and track record say. You don’t need to be a celebrity designer to set your own rules. You do it because you have the talent to back it up. Stop taking bullshit clients and thanking them for choosing you among all the designers available.
Why don’t designers get respect? Because they don’t inspire respect. They’re so afraid of the competition, of not getting work, of not being liked, of not making their client happy, that they basically become a doormat and slave their way to a paycheck.
Yes, this is harsh talk, but it’s nothing compared to what you’re doing to yourself.
Professionalism isn’t only about being thorough, or delivering on time, about knowing your craft or dressing well when you go on a meeting. It’s about inspiring confidence to a person, to make it a no-brainer for them to hire you in addition to your expertise. No matter how much self-doubt you have, which is a natural feeling that all humans share, if you’re willing to take on clients and you want them to trust you, you need to inspire trust. You need to exude trust that’s going to fill in every little spot of doubt they have.
And that’s also why you should charge more. Let’s be honest, you’re not going to get respect if you’re charging $50 for a logo design. Your so-called “client” will certainly be very happy but don’t expect for him to respect you when your prices show so clearly how desperate you are.
You won’t lose clients if you charge more. You will lose opportunities to work with bad clients.
Spend that time practicing and mastering your craft: it will help you build a stronger body of work and reduce self-doubt dramatically. Great designers who get hired by the great clients are the ones who have a portfolio that speaks for themselves and don’t need any further justification. Look at the work by designers you admire. You would trust them 100% to do your logo or your website, because you know they’re good.
That’s what happens when you focusing on your craft rather than getting the most jobs you can to cover your expenses. You become so good, and you produce so much, that your work starts to spread like wildfire and people notice.
This is a lot and I know it’s probably overwhelming. This episode probably deserves a few re-listens. What’s important for me is for you to feel empowered, so I’m going to finish with ten actionable tips that will help you get the respect you deserve:
- Be good at what you do. If anything, be that.
- Charge accordingly, and NEVER lower the price. If you change a price you set, it means you miscalculated or overestimated the value of your work, and that doesn’t inspire trust.
- Don’t budge from your values. They’re the core of what you are and what makes your work as good as it is.
- Never do spec work. Your portfolio is more than enough of a proof of your skill level. A good client doesn’t make you the privilege of choosing you, and they don’t need a free taste before they can make their decision.
- Don’t cold-call clients. Let them come to you. Now by all means, promote your work, go to meetups, events, improve your Internet presence, but directly asking for someone to hire you makes you look desperate.
- Say no to bad clients. Take the time to talk, evaluate if you’re a good fit according to your values, and if their project is interesting to you. You’d rather have a long talk and decline a potential bad client than signing right away and get trapped in a horrible situation.
- Act the part. So, you’re not a famous designer that everyone wants to hire yet? Doesn’t matter. Me neither. Act like you are already: make yourself a dashing portfolio, adopt an incredibly professional process and decline the projects you don’t want to do even if you have no other projects right now. It doesn’t mean lying, make it look like you’re a big company when you’re a solopreneur, or act like a diva. It’s about adopting the mindset of the future version of yourself.
- Take responsibility. You will make mistakes. We tend to overthink what people will think of us if we publicly admit our mistakes. The truth is it’s very refreshing to see someone owning up to what they’ve done. Be true to your client, take responsibility for what you do, but keep your dignity. That’s probably what will make them most respect you.
- Let others be mediocre. So other designers are acting unprofessional? You certainly don’t have to follow them, or make excuses for the ones who are deliberately hurting their business. You should definitely push your friends to become more professional if you see them struggling, but don’t fall back in a self-indulgent mindset out of compassion.
- Believe in yourself. You have what it takes. You can become really big. I believe in you.
Original article: Why Designers Don't Get Respect