Freelancing Shouldn’t Be Free: Here’s How to Get Paid

By Design is a fortnightly letter reaching ~170,000 people following the Prototypr publication. Written by Sophie Clifton-Tucker, we unearth unheard voices, and break down the barriers in design and development.

“Hey, we need a designer, want to collaborate?”

“Hell yeah!” you respond, excited about making a little extra dolla for that sweet sweet electricity bill.

“There’s no payment, obviously, but it will be great exposure — we’ve got 100,000 followers who will see your work!”

…If you’ve had enough of the new wave of freebie culture and your hard work going underappreciated, read on, dear reader.

Not Hot off the Press

  • Exposure Doesn’t Pay the Bills: As Kerrie Hughes wrote in an article about designers’ fury over an unpaid graphic design role back in 2017: “Working for free or for ‘exposure’ is a sore subject in the design community, but, sadly, one that crops way too often.” The advert rather boldly (and naively) read: “The Volunteer Graphic Designer at SAHMRI is a volunteer position. This means that you perform all duties on a voluntary basis, of your own free will, and you will not receive payment for your work. You are not an employee of SAHMRI and you are not entitled to a salary or any other entitlements associated with employment.” Okay then. Unsurprisingly, this was met with a lot of backlash, with Nic Elridge (CEO of AGDA) taking to Twitter to vocalise his stance: “…our main effort today is to alert young designers to the fact that this is not ok.”
  • “It’s Not a Real Job” Until Aldi starts accepting ‘exposure’ in exchange for my weekly groceries, I’m no longer accepting this as a legitimate form of payment — and nor should you. But in case you need further convincing, Digital Synopsis compiled a list of the best (or worst) exchanges between artists and nightmare clients from Twitter account For Exposure.
  • What’s Your Worth? Inside Design (by InVision) hosted a really informative DesignTalk with Ran Segall on how to strategically price your design work. In his talk, Ran recounts how money wasn’t the initial draw for him, and as a result, has found it difficult to know what or when to charge: “I got in as a hobby. And starting out doing something that you love, you actually in a way feel bad charging a lot of money for something that you enjoy doing.” When pricing yourself, it’s a balancing act between hard graft and quality of life. More clients doesn’t always equal more money — use your pricing to increase your income and decrease the amount you work, as Jake Jorgovan states.
  • Completely Free? No Thanks! In a strange instance of role reversal, we have a creator willingly offering a product for free, and the corporation refusing it. WordPress founding developer, Matt Mullenweg, recently became embroiled in a battle with Apple for cutting off updates to his app unless he agrees to adding in-app purchases to afford the most valuable company in the world 30%.

Where to Start

Okay Sophie, we get it, but how do we bring home the bacon? Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes exposure is a great way to get your name out there, especially when you’re just starting out — but there’s a time and place, and it’s important to know when and where that is.

💻 As Darian Rosebrook succinctly puts it: “Client work isn’t for everybody. It’s messy, stressful, difficult, and sometimes terrifying”. Darian also wrote an extensive list of avenues you can take in lieu of the ol’ 9–5, including selling online resources such as templates/brushes, physical ones like stickers/prints, or even unused concepts as designer placeholders. And if none of that tickles your fancy, there’s always teaching. Those who can’t…

💼 Get a paid job. Easier said than done, I know, but aligning yourself with a reputable company who will employ you and value you for your contribution is invaluable. Don’t wait for a vacancy; if you know the sorts of companies you want to work for, send in your CV with some examples of your past work. That way, when a position does become available, you’re top of the pile. In some instances, you may even offer something they hadn’t thought of before, which could lead to a role being made for you. Sell, sell, sell!

☕️ You’ve probably heard of Ko-Fi by now, mainly because I keep mentioning them — and for good reason. Ko-Fi is a great way for creators to make an income at the click of a nifty little button added to your site. Think of it as Patreon, without the fees and the anxiety of having to publish to a strict schedule. Visitors/clients can then drop you a donation to the tune of a price of coffee (or more!). You now also have the option of adding a Ko-Fi badge to your Prototypr profile. Simply edit your current profile, add your URL, and watch those tips roll in.

✏️ Getting paid? To write? That’s the dream. (And I am but a dreamer.) The truth is, you can make a pretty penny from your email newsletters through subscription revenue. To read about some clever people who were successful in growing their own profitable newsletters, take a peek at this Indie Hackers thread. (If you’re not sure where to start, Rory Gibson has put together a fab step-by-step guide over at Trolley.)

💸 We couldn’t get through this section without mentioning the P word. Whilst paywalls are a way to make money, it’s a precarious one. The income is unreliable, and relies on the algorithm playing in your favour, which as we learnt in our last newsletter isn’t always the case. Where possible, it’s best to invest in your own platform.

Prototypr Roundup

Homework for Designers: I get it; when a company is looking for a designer, they want to see how they roll. But asking for an entire redesign of their website? That doesn’t rock.

That’s exactly what happened to Isabela Carvalho when she applied to a promising start-up in Manhattan. She had to ask herself: “Was it really worth it to devote all that time and energy for a company I was not that familiar with? Doing a half-baked job was out of the question. I’m a designer. You don’t ask a baker to bake half of a beautiful pie. I either do my 100% best, or I don’t even start.” 
She has a few tips for companies on assignment giving and why it should come later in the interviewing process. (In case you were wondering, Isabela ended up being hired by one of the world’s top design consultancies… and they didn’t give her any homework.)

Are Unpaid Internships Worth It? When Melody Sabouri was just starting out in the big bad world of UX, she had little ‘real world’ experience to speak of, aside from class projects. So, she tried her luck within the murky world of unpaid internships… which was short-lived. Melody writes about the reality of embarking on said internship, and catalogues the whole miserable process, from hiring through to resigning.

Sorry, Not for Hire: Signe Roswall 🙋🏼‍♀️ will only work for herself for free, all the while avoiding The Pit of Despair, and navigating The Downward Spiral Into Financial Ruin. In her article, Signe explains why she’s forgoing viable job opportunities to focus on herself. But rather than think of it as throwing away money in the present, she considers it an investment on her future.

Get Active to Earn Passive: Since July, Nick Groenfield has taken us on his journey of creating a passive income design project from scratch through a series of articles. 54 days later, and he’s smashed his way through the $100 barrier, and is now in triple digit territory. Tag along for the ride as he pushes for that fourth digit.

Available for Hire

In each fortnightly newsletter, we’ll be cherry picking members of the Prototypr community who are available and willing to work… for money.

Ariana Machado • Designer and Webflow Developer

LinkedIn | Website | Prototypr

  • According to her mom, Ariana Machado is the most talkative person you’ll ever meet. But that’s not all she’s good at. Ariana knows her way around Sketch, Flinto, the Adobe Suite including Adobe XD, InVision, Framer, as well as essential UX skills such user research, user testing, journey mapping, storyboarding, wireframing, prototyping, and HTML, CSS, Javascript, ReactJS, React Native.
  • Check out some of Ariana’s awesome projects, which includes a carpooling app for students and a takeout app for dining in.

Marcus Washington • Digital Graphic Designer and Illustrator

LinkedIn | Website | Prototypr

  • Marcus was born and raised from a US military family, and lived in 3 different states and 2 countries during his childhood. He is now a Media Specialist for Jay R. Smith Mfg. Co.
  • He was the runner up in a dribbble ‘faux brand identity’ contest, sponsored by The inspiration for his concept — Bite! — came to him after watching an advert for a popular food delivery service.
  • Get an idea of Marcus’ design process by reading about his branding case study — Ignition.

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Sophie Clifton-Tucker

Editor, UX writer, coding since GeoCities 👾