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Why I Charge More

A Designer's Open Letter to His Future Clients
Topics: Pricing

January 5, 2011 at 12:15 pm by Blair

Sometimes we do it for the money, don't we? The irony is that the less money we're paid, the more likely we are to be doing it for the money. When we're paid well, it's suddenly about something much bigger. Here's a letter you might take, modify and use in many forms and many ways. 

It's yours if you'd like it. No need to attribute. 

"The more I charge you, the more pressure I put on myself to perform for you.

"The client who grinds me on price is the least satisfied. He gets less attention from me and is most likely to be pissed off at me. And I don't really care, because to be honest, I resent him. The very fact that he is on my roster reminds me that I'm part prostitute. For him, I'm doing it for the money and as it isn't very much money I'm not troubled by not doing it well. He pays me a paltry sum, I perform poorly, he gets angry and I resent him. We can have that type of relationship if you like. 

"The client who pays me the premium gets my best work. He's the one I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about, wondering if I'm doing all I can to earn his money. When he calls, I jump. Hell, I call him first. I take pride in moving his business. I try to make myself indispensible to him. I imagine that he winces when he opens my bill (he doesn't say), but he thanks me for all I do for him. Heís the one I worry about. 

"Iím great at what I do, but if someone hires me without giving me the resources (money, time, access) to do a great job, itís easy for me to rationalize poor performance. When a client gives me everything I ask for, he removes all the obstacles to a high quality outcome. Thereís no way for me to rationalize anything less than perfection. 

"There is no greater pressure than the pressure I put on myself, and the only way you can add to my own sense of pressure is to pay me well. Yelling wonít do it. Neither will threatening to pull your business. My deep sense of obligation comes from you paying me well enough to dispatch all of the excuses. Then I have to prove to you, and, more importantly, to me that I am as good as I say I am. 

"So, I've given you my price and it's the price that I need to charge to bring a deep sense of obligation to the job. Will I work for less? Probably. Can you negotiate with me? Sure. We can have that type of relationship if you really want me to be that type of designer and you want to be that type of client. 

"Let's just understand each other before we get started."


Learn about the ReCourses New Business Summit, the annual three-day conference I do every January with David C. Baker of ReCourses.

Comments RSS

Cristian said:


eric shew said:

This is really smart and insightful. Thank you for continuing to write such great articles.

Siddharth said:


Rasmus Rasmussen said:

Every client looking to hire any type of creative should read through this first.

Richard Knobbs said:

Brilliant, Blair. As Rasmus says, every client - and indeed anybody involved in creative work - should read this.

A client recently asked me if I could design a cheap logo (for a restaurant). I asked him if he could make me some really foul-tasting food, to which he replied 'Probably, but why would I want to? My business is...' He didn't finish the sentence, as he'd got the point.

ingo said:

Great, Blair! I will translate it into German, if that's ok for you.

Blair Enns said:

Thanks for the kind comments, everyone.

Ingo - yes go ahead and translate - thank you.

Richard, love the foul-tasting food story.

Murray said:

Wonderful wonderful wonderful, thank you!

Heather said:

thank you. I REALLY needed this today! I can't even tell you how perfect the timing.

Heather Shelby said:

Is anyone using it? And if so how? I am thinking of creating a tab on my Web site called "Pricing" and the letter would be there. Any thoughts?

Blair Enns said:

Hi Heather; I'm not sure if anyone is using it but I like your idea of a pricing page. Let me know if you use it and how it works.

Haley said:

All this says to me is that honestly you are in it for the money. Actions speak louder than words. If you had any pride in your work, you would always do the best you could, because in todays society you need repeat customers and recommendations.

Jeff said:

May I use this for my firm?

Jeff said:

It is awesome by the way. Thank you for sharing.

Blair Enns said:

Thank you, Jeff. Yes - please do use as you see fit.

Jessica said:

Hahahahahahaha....I love this post!
By the way, hello...I found out about your Twitter and blog through :)
This letter you wrote made me laugh. I already bookmarked this and will definitely show this to my customers.

A Fan said:

Haley, my guess is that you are either a) employed; b) new to freelancing; or c) the type of client Blair is talking to in this article.

This IS how it is, whether you're an independent designer, a plumber, a car mechanic, or any service provider.

For the first time in nearly 15 years of headhunting, I finally found a client who paid me my full fee for a search, and paid as I went. The result was a great experience for us both and a successful placement. I have never felt better about my work or DONE better work. And it wasn't because I had money to pay bills. It was because I felt respected and therefore highly motivated to live up to that respect for fear of losing it.

I specialize in headhunting creatives. I can't think of one (good) designer I've met over the years who was "in it for the money." That's not how (good) designers think or work. They usually hate negotiating or even discussing money. It's not what they do. They design, and (good) designers are motivated by the ability, freedom and latitude to do just that.

Blair is right. It's only about the money when the client makes it all about money. Thank you for saying what we all feel when we're being nickel and dimed.

Jonathon Watkins said:

Superb. :-) Thank you for putting this into words and expressing what so many of us feel.

loocas said:

Pure gold!

Adam said:

Just seen this... sat there thinking "oh my god so true"... Loving the restaurant comment below too!

Dominic Pearce said:

Nailed on the effin' head man. This is brilliant.

Stacey0 said:

True dat. I'd even go further in that the more you charge the more your output is respected.

Hayley, you don't get it. Everyone works for something, usually money, if you don't respect what you do with a price tag then who will respect what you deliver?

Jamie said:

Excellent writing Blair. Thank for the non-attribution freedom as well, though I will likely attribute anyway. =)

Tess Elliott said:

Just have to say, as a visual artist, I am often in the same boat. You have a purpose, to design a tool to market a business and make it beautiful/seductive/informative and irresistible. It is true that those who pay the best will usually get the best, and the minute they start to bargain they ruin the chemistry. I learned that the hard way. Kurt Vonnegut once wrote a scene where a doctor asks an artist if he felt rather useless that all his skill accomplished was being pretty (like all art must be pretty). The artist responded that while it is true the doctor has to fix the plumbing for a person to live, it is the artist who makes a person WANT to live. Nail on the head, for the greatly missed master!

Christina said:

I do freelance graphic design and this is fabulous! Thank you for eloquently articulating exactly my thoughts when negotiating with a new client!

Kimberly Schwede said:

AMEN!! Thank you - needed to read this today :)

EyeSpyPro said:

This is so true, the people who grind you down demand the most, get pissed off so easy, and demand money back before making any effort to work out any problems. We are starting to turn these people away.

Graham said:

Nicely said!

Patrick Baldwin said:

This is just a brilliant letter. It defines the phrase "good point, well made"

TimL said:

Well said, Blair. Here's to understanding each other.

Glyn Davies Gallery said:

As a photographer, I agree entirely. When people try to bargain you down, they are actually displaying a lack of respect by asking you to put in 100% even when you can't afford to. Over the years, without question, those who quibble about price at the beginning will ALWAYS find some excuse about not paying settlements at the end.

The best clients for me have almost always been those who ask questions about quality, experience, availability and style, not price. The global recession of course has forced some previously excellent clients to have to negotiate on price these days, and that's perhaps understandable at present when they are smaller businesses.

Only caveat - sometimes, there are amazing projects for clients with little funding, that I'd work on for nothing or maybe cost, because I choose to do so, not because they ask, and that's the difference.

Great letter that many photographers will be happy to use thank you :-)

Noah said:

These days, I make money doing something else. Not by doing what I use to and a bit of graphic design. I got sick of having everybody and their brother wanting free work or just not wanting to pay very much. They saw what I was doing as nothing, or a hobby I didn't deserve to be paid for. I still take photos and use's just that now I only create work for myself....for my own pure satisfaction.

david gg said:

Don't agree. Any project I accept I give my all. I don't do "better" work for the guy who pays me 10% higher than the last guy. If I accept your job I'll do my best.

If we can't agree on a price, then so be it. I won't do your job. That's OK.

ArnoldCeasar said:

Great letter!

Reminds me of something I'd read about renowned cycling illustrator Daniel Rebour. "But if anyone dared suggest a discrepancy in the ratio of cost to time spent on an illustration, he would quickly retort: Pour dessiner cet oevre une demi-heure a suffit %u2013 plus 50 ans d' experience." > {this work took half an hour of drawing %u2013 and 50 years of experience.}

- Taken from an article on Daniel Rebour, by David Herliby, in the 1993 Bridgestone Catalog,

Luis Gomes said:

I hoped there was no need to post a reply. I just can't handle bad criticism.
I found your letter from a newsgroup. With several comments about this enough.
I come from Post production. Worked for fifteen years for seven "Post boutiques" and none exists today.
All were forced to invest in the latest gear for the lowest pay.
Artistic skills were replaced by "who has the latest gadget that have that box with perspective?"
Audiences were delighted. Ad agencies left you in a blink. Usually "if you were lucky" after six months. The industry attracted and still attracts loads of Amateurs wannabes.
There is always fools and foes that will work for nothing.
Just in case. Maybe I get noticed. For my enthusiasm. And hard work.
Usually it lasts even less.
To be in the high end and get payed you deserve is tough. And it's a long road.

Sola said:

Business wise, it makes sense. What is what doing at all is what doing very well. Business is business.

dave said:

Disagree 100%. I do what I do for the love of the job. Once I accept it my name is on the project and I give it my best because its my name that I respect more than the money. If the money is too low I simply do not accept the gig. I have been in the biz for over 25 years.

R Carter said:

I only have one problem with this. It's called ethics. If you agree to a price then you should work as hard as you would no matter what they are paying. If you don't, it reflects upon you as a person for taking that job and performing poorly. If its not enough money to do it the best you can then please turn it down. It just makes yourself look bad if you don't. This is the biggest excuse I have ever seen for performing badly. I understand the problem and I completely believe that people should be paid the best rate for the best talent but to say "yes, I will work for that." Then to not do your best only reflects upon you as a person. It either means you have no ethics or your just terrible at making choices. Man up and say "no" if you will do anything less than the best you can. Just my two cents as I was raised in the Midwest. I'm also a photographer and graphic designer. I do film production on the side.

KD Web said:

One word. Brilliant!

Andy said:


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