One thing I wished I'd known after coming out of school as a graphic designer, was that I encouraged potential clients to think cheap. What I mean is that I didn't know I was contributing to the perception that they were paying for my design labor. Although clients want a designer to get something accomplished and relieve a problem, I helped them think they were negotiating my time to get their problem solved.
The result is that I had a hard time getting paid what I was worth. I ended up with clients who wanted to pay very little to get a product produced. In their minds, my value was limited to getting their project done, and that was the extent of my input. Some clients wanted me to account for my time, and keep the cost down. Some clients didn't pay at all, until I started asking for 50% up front.
What I learned
Our value as designers is not the time we put into the act of designing. Clients value expertise, not time. They want a graphic designer because we can do something they can't do very well, or in a timely manner. Skilled designers can give them the results they want and save them time and effort. They can concentrate on growing their business.
The problem with thinking that our value is in our labor is that we may charge hourly rates in hopes of getting paid for our time. But our clients don't value our time like we do. They value saving money when it comes to our time. They would rather spend their money on what they truly want and value — solving their design problem, so they can think about something else.
So, why discuss our hours with clients when it holds little value to them? Clients want a designer's expertise so that it saves them time and hassle. Hey, they are willing to pay for that.
Look, clients aren't motivated by the time we spend "designing". They are interested in whatever relieves their pain. Negotiate for what they truly want, and getting paid will be a whole lot easier.
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