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Do good work, money will follow
131: Money is not a goal, but a byproduct of success.
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I've been running my design business for 13 years. Mostly, I've never let money affect my decisions about what clients to work for or which projects to take on.
I say "most" because I did it a few times and quickly realized it was a mistake. In the tough times, I took on the projects I could find that would pay the bills. But I've always strived to grow my value and not chase money.
Every new freelancer will understand, too — when you start from scratch, you have to seize any opportunity that comes your way. You do not work for fascinating design challenges or satisfying client interactions. You work for a salary because money and experience are your most urgent requirements.
The sooner you make this change, the better your design career will progress. This is because money cannot be a goal in itself. It is merely an unintended byproduct of success.
"Money is a good measure of whether or not you're any good at what you do."
Your true goal is to be damn good at what you do. And no, you don't have to be a starving artist — quite the opposite. If you focus on creating high-quality work consistently and forget about the money – your design career can be extremely successful.
Do good work; money will follow
When you make decisions that foster the right conditions for doing your best work and providing maximum value to your clients, you create your path to earning more money.
Doing better work isn't necessarily about honing your design skills. It could also help you improve your soft skills or understanding of business. Or enhancing your storytelling or sales skills.
If we want to produce the best job we can and let the money follow, we must prioritize providing the right conditions for good design.
I noticed that I do my best work when I'm sincerely engaged in a topic. When my clients are enthusiastic about their ideas and strive to be respectable partners. When there are just enough boundaries to spark creativity but no unnecessary obstacles to inhibit it, I produce my greatest work.
Doing better design work — providing the most value to your clients and the world — is all about the decisions you make before the project begins. It's the decision on what to work on in the first place.
I select projects that are intriguing, challenging, or diverse. Clients who are enthusiastic, good communicators, respectful, and truthful. Businesses whose missions I support and am convinced I can assist them in achieving their goals.
Even on more significant projects that last years, I always try to work on at least three things:
Immediate small tasks (such as unblocking developers, creating additional states, and covering edge cases)
A larger task that's going to be the next thing developers will build (such as a feature with larger scope)
A long-term feature that's coming in the next few months (I have the time to do research, ideate, brainstorm, and validate the designs with stakeholders)
Working on various tasks helps me stay engaged with the project and not get bored.
Choose to grow value, not chase money
Here are some tactics I employ to help me make work decisions that prioritize personal development over short-term profit:
Charge a high rate for every client, project, or service. This rate should not be negotiated for anyone. If your time is valued the same regardless of who you work for, there is suddenly no consideration for which tasks are more profitable. You have the option of selecting tasks based on more essential criteria.
Say yes to growth. Take advantage of each project that allows you to learn a new skill or broaden your knowledge. The knowledge you've gained will help you perform even better on your next project and boost your worth to clients.
Say no to stress. If a client raises red signals that indicate they will not be productive collaborators — move away. No matter how much profit it offers, a flawed process and a frustrating experience are never a prescription for producing your greatest creative work.
Allow your flow to guide your schedule. If a project fits neatly within a window of availability — make it happen. If it doesn't, investigate if there's any way to postpone the start until you're available or decline. Overcommitting and failing to dedicate enough time to each project is the death of thoughtful, creative design.
When you eliminate money as a direct goal from your design career decisions, you'll be astonished to discover that you like your projects more frequently, which helps you produce better work and grow your skills faster, satisfying your clients and earning you more long-term value and income.
Regardless of how difficult it may appear, sacrificing short-term profit in favor of long-term value is always the wiser business decision. It also accelerates your growth as a designer.