Design Is a Job by Mike Monteiro (Book Summary)

Design Is a Job by Mike Monteiro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This succinct book is densely packed with sage business advice for designers (especially web designers). Monteiro rightly calls it “a guide to making a living as a designer”, and shows that he has a lot of experience in the industry. It’s quite funny; I laughed out loud several times. My favorite chapters were Getting Clients, Choosing the Right Clients, Charging for Your Work, and Working with Contracts.

I especially liked Monteiro’s description of the role of design. He says that designers aren’t artists; designers use art to solve clients’ problems. Clients have goals, and they need designers to provide the strategy and problems-solving to achieve them. Therefore, clients can’t simply tell designers what to do; they must explain their goals and leave the designing to designers.

Monteiro says communication is critical, and since tone of voice and body language can make such a difference, it’s best to meet with clients in person. When that’s not possible, do a video conference or phone/voice call. Subtleties in communication are lost in email.

He makes a good point that people don’t inherently know how to be good design clients; they have good intentions, but need designers to guide them. I also liked his stance on pricing: charge for value, not time, and charge as much as you honestly can.

I read this book because it was recommended in several places, including the article Getting Clients on A List Apart, Episode 19 of the Pagebreak Podcast, and on Code Poet.

Monteiro is fairly general in his advice; I would’ve appreciated more specific strategies for marketing, selling, and pricing. For those, I recommend SitePoint’s The Web Design Business Kit and Starting Your Career as a Freelance Web Designer.

Getting Clients

  • Be pleasant, not nice. Clients hire you to solve problems, not be their friend. Be politely straightforward.
  • Referrals: source of over 90% of work.
  • RFPs: contact the person behind the RFP. Create a relationship to bypass the RFP process.
  • Outbound contact: go through your network; don’t cold call.
  • Advertising: at most, may help you seem familiar to a potential client who’s been referred to you.
  • Conferences: meet potential clients and peers.

Choosing the Right Clients

  • Good clients are open to your solutions to their problems; they aren’t committed to their own solutions.
  • Designers provide strategy and problem-solving, not just production.
  • Never work for free. Provide a discount if you must, but show actual cost on invoices.
  • People don’t inherently know how to be good clients; you need to guide them.

Charging for Your Work

  • Charge as much as you can, and deliver an honest value.
  • When explaining that the cost of a website depends on the client’s needs, use cars or houses as analogies.
  • Clients buy your work, not your time, so charge based on the value of the work to them.
  • Mention ballpark prices early to avoid sticker shock.
  • Create the proposal with the client, listing each party’s responsibilities.
  • Present a proposal, don’t send it. Present with confidence and using costs based on research.
  • Never lower a price without taking something away and explaining the lost benefit.
  • “The secrets to getting the price you want for your work are having done the homework to know you’re asking for the right thing, the confidence to ask for it, and the willingness to walk away when you can’t get it.”

Working with Contracts

  • Freelancers should have a lawyer create a solid master contract, then ask for guidance when necessary.
  • Keep contracts and SOWs separate. One contract can cover multiple SOWs.

Contract elements

  • Intellectual property (IP) transfer on full payment
  • Termination/kill fee
  • Deliverables acceptance language: if client isn’t happy with work, they need to give you a chance to address it. If they fire you, you keep the work.
  • Do not include indemnity for the client, because they could hold you responsible for losses if they’re sued.
  • Do not include any guarantees that the design will meet the goals.

Sticking to Your Process

  • The client has a goal; you provide the plan to get there.
  • Meet with clients in person whenever possible. Phone/voice call is next best. Tone of voice and body language matter.

Presenting Design

  • Don’t ask for subjective feedback; don’t ask “do you like it?” Ask for specific, objective feedback about whether the design meets the goals.

Managing Feedback

  • Don’t let the client design. Instead, talk to them about the problem they’re trying to solve.

Getting Your Money

  • Tie payments to clear milestones; events that you control and can be put on a calendar. Don’t tie payments to metrics. Don’t use the site launch as a payment milestone unless you alone control the launch date.
  • Divide projects into 3 or 4 payments.

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