How Do You Value Your Work: What Separates a Design Hobbyist from a Professional Designer
Copyright 2013 Margot Potter
All Rights Reserved
One of the most empowering and important things a professional designer can do is put a tangible value on their work, their time and creativity. And when I say value, I mean a monetary one. All creativity has value. It's a tricky thing because not everyone who creates does it for a living or for any financial return. A lot of people create for the sheer, unfettered joy of it. That's a personal choice and an acceptable one for sure. Doing what we love doesn't mean we have to do it for a living. So, what separates a professional designer from a hobbyist? Is it skill? Is it knowledge? Is it simply the willingness to say, "I am hanging out my shingle, this designer is for hire?" How do you value your work enough to ask for compensation? What is the value of creativity?
For me, the moment that I went from design hobbyist to professional designer was when I realized that my work was in some way exceptional or at least interesting enough that craft companies wanted to pay for it. I dabbled for a few years selling finished goods in our gallery, but it took several years for me to completely understand that my work had value. Tangible, viable, real world value! It took a manufacturer buying my finished designs, requesting instructions, asking for more and paying for my work for me to realize that I was on to something. As in, I could make a living as a real life professional designer!
That being said, it's been a rocky road along the way. I meet up on a regular basis with people in charge of hiring creatives who simply can not and will not grasp that my work has value. People who aren't creative seem to believe that it's so easy and fun to make things, all creatives should just do it for fun! Whee! Anyone can put some beads on a string or paint on a canvas, but not everyone spends hours and hours coming up with unique and creative ways to put beads on a string or paint on a canvas. And then comes the sticky question of what is the difference between a professional designer and an artist? Which is a whole other can of worms. Though I do make art, most of what I do is design. I make craft projects and designs that show how to use a manufacturer's materials in a creative way. If I'm not working for a client, I'm designing finished goods. Still, I have to keep the consumer in mind. My work has to be trend conscious. I need to be aware of colors, motifs, techniques, styles and trends that are in line with what is happening on Pinterest, in the magazines, in the fashion world and the blogosphere. When I make art, there are no rules, limitations or need for a final destination. With design, I have a clear road map, a time frame and a definitive destination.
A professional designer works with and for their client. That means, we have to put our own ego aside and allow them to inform our work. Believe me when I tell you, this isn't always easy. In fact, there are times I feel like pulling my hair out when my work is critiqued or changed by someone who has no clue what kind of time or energy it took to make the sample. Them's the breaks, kiddo. If you don't want to design by team or be aware of trend, being a professional designer may not be your calling.
My freelance work is my full time job. I clock in and clock out. I have to keep records, bill clients, pay taxes, set fees, monitor time, maintain a studio and office with competitive equipment and materials. I spend several hours a day marketing my brand, social networking, promoting and creating new connections. I am a designer, writer, on camera talent, editor, photographer, blogger, marketer, consultant...I wear many hats to make it work. This is not my hobby. This isn't something I do for fun, in fact it's often not fun at all. Though I do love what I do and do what I love, it's still a job.
The industry in which I work has been shifting over the past few years. Professional designers are finding themselves replaced by creative people (often very skilled people) who enjoy creating for fun and don't need or desire to make design a full time career. The manufacturers and publishers, seeing this trend, are creating Design Teams enticing these hobbyist designers to work for free product, promotion and cache. It's a tempting thing for someone who wants to get started as a professional, but the flip side is that it's getting harder for professionals to get paid. The paid work is being siphoned into the free work pool. To be clear, I'm not bashing the folks who aspire to join design teams, but I'm wondering what it means for the professional designer.
I was part of a private conversation yesterday around craft industry professional design fees. This is the big secret among designers in my industry. No one, and I mean this sincerely, no one in my industry shares their fees. There isn't any kind of standard. It's hard to pin it down, so many of us have such varied skill sets. Different kinds of design take different levels of expertise and time commitments. There isn't any real dialogue because it's a sticky wicket. It's all on the DL and hush hush. I'm not sure that even if everyone shared their fees it would create any standards. A novice can't charge the same as an experienced pro and there are levels and layers of expertise. Because of this, it's difficult for designers to come up with a number when approached to do design work. It can feel a little awkward putting a number on your creativity. What is the value of your time? What is your expertise worth? Why should they pay you when Susie Sunshine will do it for a jar of glitter and a set of punches?
Ay, there's the rub.
If you are willing to ask for what you believe you are worth, if you are willing to place a tangible value on your skills, what do you do when so many are willing to do it for free?
I believe that it doesn't matter what other people are willing to do, it's crucial to put a real value on your work. Your creativity, your time, your skills all have value. My advice for what it's worth, "Don't work for glitter."
I have had to walk away from a lot of opportunities over the years. I've been insulted, balked at, yelled at and demeaned for asking for what I was worth. I have sat on the other end of the phone while someone tore me a new one because I had the audacity to ask to be paid. Seriously. I have lost jobs because I wasn't willing to do the work for a pittance. And yes, I have on several occasions worked for cross promotion and marketing opportunities when it was equally beneficial. That is the exception, however, and not the rule. I do value my work and my time and I like to get paid in money.
I'm funny like that. Plus, my mortgage company won't let me pay them in craft supplies.
The thing is, once you do value your work, you may be surprised to find people are happy to pay you. In fact, part of being professional is having a sense of how much you have to make an hour to make a living. It's a business, part time or full, it has to be profitable to be viable.
So, I ask you, what is the difference between a hobbyist and a professional? Do you put a monetary value on your work as a designer? If you do, how do you value your work?
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