A long time ago in the land of ignorance and naiveté, I was a young, starving artist in school trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Having bypassed my aspirations of ace fighter pilot and medical doctor (I know I was all over the place), I decided on what came easily to me… drawing.
“Graphic Design Students… Please Stop Selling Out”
One day after having the last Little Debbie Snack Cake in my cupboard for breakfast and trolling through classes pondering when my Financial Aid check would finally come in, I decided to try my hand at hustling. Promptly gathering up some paper from the printer in our computer lab and a couple pencils, I went to the center of the school (the most social area) and set up shop, drawing people for $5 a pic. An hour later I was $60 richer and able to buy groceries to keep it moving until that Aid check came in… I thought I was invincible.
Fast forward a year into school and I was in the computer lab playing with Adobe Photoshop when a church official pops up offering $15 for one of us to design a flyer for him. Of course I jumped on it and after being scolded by my instructors for “selling out” with my $5 hustle, it still didn’t click in my mind that a $15 flyer was something to laugh at, not something to jump at. Yet how was I supposed to know? Nobody taught us about pricing and industry standards in school, and nobody warned us that the smartest and cheapest scavengers fed constantly on students.
“Graphic Design Students… You Are Worth More”
Soon I was graduated and green, and still dumb… this time I am working for a Publishing company, making peanuts… thinking life is grand because I was making a living off of those peanuts. The collective of designers in that building were all of the same mindset as I was… some were twice my age. Think on that for a second.
“Nobody will ever RESPECT your craft… Get Money”
A few raises, companies being liquidated, employees being laid off and countless assholes playing boss led me to a point where I reflected internally… and it dawned on me: Artists, Graphic Designers and basically ALL students of the arts are seen as people doing “FUN” things for money. A sales hack who does nothing but grind for money does not place value in paying for you to have FUN. A boss who dislikes having to pay anybody outside of himself does not like paying for “FUN”, and it’s a fact that will forever go on unless we creatives do something about it… wait, I did after a number of years… I want every one of you to do it too.
People regard that logo which you researched, sketched and designed for HOURS as FUN. So when you ask for $500 to give them something that is so memorable that it will yield a return on investment in the 10’s of thousands… they will laugh at you and choose instead to pay a naïve student $25 for something amateurish and sloppy. Students who read this, I implore you… do not sell out to cheap people. They do not respect you or your craft.
Today I saw an ad in the job listings which read like this…
“Looking for a student or someone willing to assist with a small web project for low or no cost (in exchange for portfolio building).”
It made me laugh almost to tears until I realized that it would eventually get answered. Students, starving web and graphic folks out there – take it from someone who has made a decent coin in our trade. Cheap work is NEVER worth it, and building your portfolio by selling out to people who don’t respect your craft is the worst thing that you can do.
Your best website should be YOUR website, the one housing your portfolio which you present to hiring-managers and Art Directors. The hours you spend on building that guy’s site for free, only to have it get a glance by one of us out here hiring is never going to be worth it. If you want to impress people, make sure the site that has your work is the best. In a perfect world, that ad would go untouched… very much like the ones I see asking photographers to trade pictures for nothing.
So get confident in your craft, stand by your pricing and make people respect your professional work. When you deal exclusively with people that are willing and able to pay for quality, I guarantee you that you will find success in this thing of ours.
Don’t ever work for free.See some words or phrases that you don't understand? Check out The Dragon's Lexicon.