Design Domination Podcast Episode #82: Break Away From These “But’s” and Stop Wondering Your Worth

Many graphic designers undervalue their expertise and their work. You might undercut or reduce your pricing to win new work and clients. But if you don’t value your work, no one else will! Stop wondering about your worth and break away from these “but’s.”

How Graphic Designers Hold Themselves Back

There are a lot of reasons as a graphic designer you might undervalue your worth—and I did this too years ago, so I get it. You might reason with yourself:

  • “But it won’t take me long to do it.”
  • “But I’m new to freelancing and need to build up my client base.”
  • “But there are better designers out there.”
  • “But I don’t have experience in this industry.”
  • “But I haven’t been doing this type of work very long.”
  • “But my clients don’t have the budget or won’t pay more.”
  • “But the client could Google how to do it.”
  • “But I really need the money.”

These are mindset issues. You’re creating your own obstacles in your mind.

Stop wondering about your worth and break away from these “but’s.”

Let’s dive into each one.

1. “But it won’t take me long to do it.”

Heck! A client might even say that, that it won’t take you long to do, so therefore you should do it free or cheaper.

But you have to consider how long it took you to be able to do it that quickly.

For example, I’ve been using InDesign for 20 years. I can format a publication with hundreds of pages in no time. Other designers, who don’t know the software well, would spend 10 times that and maybe even struggle to do things properly. Should I charge less for that? Heck no!

On the flip side, if that designer spends more time doing the work, is the work more valuable to the client? Again, heck no!

The value of the work is not dependent upon the time it takes. And when you diminish the value in that manner, that’s what you’re saying to clients: “I’m trading time for money.”

You also have to think about the time you’re going to spend on responding to emails, creating and sending proofs, logging in if it’s a website, invoicing and so forth.

When you, in your mind, justify lowering your rate or your fee because it won’t take you long, you’re placing the value of your work on time.

And when you put the focus on time, clients will too. They will start asking and nit picking about how much time future work will take you too.

2. “But I’m new to freelancing and need to build up my client base.”

Another one I hear is “But I’m new to freelancing and need to build up my client base.”

Are you in business to just gather clients and projects? Isn’t the goal to make money at what you’re doing? You don’t need tons of clients to be profitable.

“New to freelancing” doesn’t necessarily mean “new in the field.”

Why should you charge less just because you’re now freelancing instead of working for someone else?

In fact, now you have more expenses, so you should be charging more—not less!

You’ve got to pay for your own health insurance, taxes, retirement contributions, liability insurance and so forth.

Plus, another thing to think about is: undervaluing your work and undercharging isn’t attractive to clients who are expecting to pay for an expert. That will actually turn them off. Trust me. I know from experience.

3. “But there are better designers out there.”

Well, yeah, there always are. Designers are always at a different level of experience and expertise from each other at any given time. You just can’t go around comparing yourself to other designers.

No one just pops out of the womb being an amazing designer. Heck, when I go back and look at some of the projects I did in college, I am absolutely horrified. We all have to start somewhere.

Constantly challenging yourself and learning is a way to continually improve. But it’s a journey, not a destination.

Your role is to give clients your best at that point in time. It’s not a promise to the client that you are the best of the best. Don’t feel guilty about getting better in the future.

I saw this brought up in a Facebook group recently. A designer was wondering if they should go back and redo work they’ve done for clients in the past because the designer was not happy looking back at the work. The client hadn’t said anything about it. But absolutely not!

You are not offering insurance of your current design work based upon the quality of your future design work and skill level.

As you get better, though, definitely remember to charge more.

But what you do now, what you charge now, is all based on your current situation and the client’s needs.

Graphic design is a business. Make sure you’re profitable.

If you always worry about the art of it, you won’t get very far. It’s not about creating personal art pieces. If the client likes your work and it helps them, that’s what matters.

Leave your ego out of it. Charge appropriately, do the work, move on to the next project and keep improving.

4. “But I don’t have experience in this industry.”

Discounting your work to get into a new industry may not work for that reason either.

Just because you’re trying to get into a new industry doesn’t mean you aren’t applying what you already know and can’t help your clients. You might spend more time learning about that industry, but it doesn’t mean your work isn’t as valuable now.

5. “But I haven’t been doing this type of work very long.”

Let’s say you haven’t been doing a certain type of work very long, such as publication design. Maybe you’re great at it though, and you’ve been able to get amazing results for your clients.

A client might say they’re considering a designer with 10 years of experience in that same type of work, so why are your fees more than theirs?

Let me just tell you: I get files all the time from “art directors” and “creative directors” who have been using InDesign and doing page layout for 20-some years. I get their files… The design is nice, sure. But 99% of them don’t have any idea how to properly use the software.

My point is: your 2 years of experience with something might be better than someone else’s 10 years of experience doing something.

I mean, I still see web designers building websites that are not responsive, so there’s that too. Just because someone’s been doing something a long time doesn’t mean they’re doing it the right way.

6. “But my clients don’t have the budget or won’t pay more.”

Let’s look at another objection I hear from designers: “My clients don’t have the budget or won’t pay more.”

Clients won’t pay more when they don’t understand the value. That value is based on several factors:

  • The level of experience that is needed for the project;
  • The results they will get from the work;
  • The tools required for the job, which they may not even have;
  • The time investment that is needed; and
  • Convenience to them by not having to do it themselves.

So if a client balks at your price, it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with your pricing or the value of what you’re offering. It either means they are looking for cheap or they don’t understand all that’s involved, which is often the case. It’s your job to educate them.

For example, let’s say you tell a prospect their new website will cost $2,500.

They balk and say that seems really high. You then ask what they think a new website should cost.

They say they expected it to be around $500, which is one-fifth of your pricing.

You tell them, “OK, well, you could do it yourself. You’ll just need to find hosting, a good theme, change some code, add some graphics, optimize your page content for search engines, add some forms and connect them to your email service provider, purchase some plugins… Once you’re done, you’ll need to set up backups, change over the name servers and maybe move email.”

They say, “Hmmm. OK. I think I can Google that and figure it out. But you said I would need to find hosting and purchase some plugins?”

“Yes,” you say. “One of them will cost you $200 a year. Another will cost you $100 a year. Then there’s the cost of hosting, which you’ll pay more for because you’d have your own account and not be on my plan… Oh, and don’t forget: it will take you several weeks to create the site, so you might miss out on some sales in the process. You will probably also get behind in your other job duties while focusing on the website build.”

“Oh, I see. You know, now that I think about it… I’d like you to do the work for the fee you proposed.”

Think about this in terms of food and cars. You could buy cheap food or cheap cars, or you could spend more than a year’s–or several years’—salary on a car.

There are people buying fast food, and there are people hiring private chefs. There are people buying commuter cars, and people buying Ferraris.

Why do they buy fast food? Because they’re on the go and don’t have time. It’s the convenience.

Why do they hire a private chef? Because they want a unique, intimate and memorable dining experience.

Why do they buy a commuter car? Because they’ve got to get back and forth to work, and they don’t want to spend a lot on gas.

Why do they buy a Ferrari? They want to look cool. They want to have a car most people don’t have. They want to show off. They want to be envied. They want attention. Any or all of these reasons.

People find ways to buy what they want to buy. It’s what’s driving their reason for buying—what it will do for them. But they have to see the value in it.

7. “But the client could Google how to do it.”

I hear this all the time too.

Yes, they could, like I mentioned in the previous example. But how much time are they willing to spend on trying to figure out how to do the project themselves? How much time will that take them from other things they need to do or would rather spend time on?

Maybe they don’t want to do it themselves. Just because someone can do something themselves doesn’t mean they want to.

Don’t make up a client’s mind for them. If they’ve already come to you for help, demonstrate how you can serve them. Don’t put up an obstacle in your mind because you can create a bunch of different reasons in your head why they should pay less.

8. “But I really need the money.”

Going back to what I said about low balling or reducing your fees to get work…

Cheap is not what good clients are looking for. When you go that route, you alienate good clients, and you attract tire kickers. You also say, “My price is open to negotiation.”

What’s Your Worth?

The next time you price a job and are questioning your worth, please keep in mind these points.

Prospects are looking to you for confidence, to be the expert. If you’re a doormat (and I’ve acted that way myself!), they will have their way with you.

Ask yourself why clients hire you. If you don’t know, ask them. They might say it’s your:

  • experience in their industry,
  • skill set or specialized expertise,
  • eagle eye for detail,
  • personality,
  • work ethic,
  • responsiveness,
  • genuine interest in their business or cause, or the
  • accuracy of your work.

Don’t downplay any of these factors. Stop making up stories in your mind that clients only want cheap work.

Remember: if you don’t value your expertise—which for many designers comes down to how they value themselves—no one else will.

Know your worth and own it. Be confident about it. Don’t ever make apologies for it.

For more on this topic, please check out episode 75, Squash Self-Doubt and Own Your Expertise, and episode 42 with Blair Enns, Power, Positioning and Pricing.

If you’d like one-on-one help, inquire about a mentoring session with me.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join the Design Domination Community

Hang out and get advice from designers of all levels in our welcoming community of graphic designers on Facebook.

Join the group