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Lessons from a $75k design project

In 2018 I made a decision that changed how I worked with clients. I have quadrupled my rates and was waiting for clients to come my way.

Alex Dovhyi
Alex Dovhyi
3 min read
Lessons from a $75k design project

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Lessons from a $75k design project

In 2018 I made a decision that changed how I worked with clients. I have quadrupled my rates and was waiting for clients to come my way.

After a month of not getting any projects, I realized that nobody would be looking for me and my services, and I had to reach out to myself to get things going. I started reaching out to my past clients and doing more cold outreach.

I was in such a mood that I didn't really care if I got any project or a job because it couldn't have been worse than that. So I set my own rules of how I want to work with anyone:

  • 50% upfront payments for projects
  • Fully remote work
  • I show up for meetings no more than once a week
  • Slack/text during my working hours

After some time of talking to past and brand new clients, I applied for a gig with a $75k budget. They said YES. I could not believe this was happening.

Here are 3 lessons I learned from this project:

Companies with less popularity have budgets, too

The software they are creating is highly specialized. Successful, but not sexy.

For some reason, UI/UX designers love working for well-known businesses. I get it. You gain some popularity and immediate credibility for the last job. But I don't like that for some reason. The founders' and the team's working environment was extremely casual and without pretense.

That is my preference for the pressure of being famous.

The higher they pay — the more they trust

We are mistaken by thinking that if the client pays more — we should do everything they want. We should show we're worth their money.

But no. In reality, the more they pay — the more they trust you. You won't find lots of micro-management with such clients. And you'll be able to set the project's design direction rules.

In the project I worked I had plenty of time to do the research and explore different options. I got into conversations with founders about business strategy and shaping the future of the product.

After working on this project, I no longer have any patience for clients who ask you to move something to the left or make it bigger while they are staring at your shared screen.

Those who pay – pay attention.

Work with a retainer contract

This project took a few months. There was no way I could have given a fixed project because the scope was so enormous. It makes the most sense to structure the engagement as a retained contract in this situation.

Essentially, a retainer is a monthly salary. You get recurring income for months, which is a benefit for you. You can also work on other projects if you have the time. As an independent consultant, you manage the process.

The benefit for your client is that they don't have to pay for health insurance, and the contract ends once the work is completed.


As a sole product designer, I've discovered that retainer agreements are essential to creating a reliable income.

Charge more. It benefits both you and your clients. Period.

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Alex Dovhyi Twitter

Product designer exploring design’s interplay with product, business, and technology, and answering your questions about freelancing, career, and personal growth.