Value Your Work. Value Yourself.

While working in an above-the-line agency, I learned a very valuable lesson from a very kind colleague that I did a sideline project for. In doing up a quick poster for his band’s regular gig, I made a grievous error that I had been making a lot. I offered to do it for nothing.

One of my biggest flaws is not being able to adequately assign value to my own work – call it an esteem issue, call it frustration when trying to justify work to clients that undervalue the importance of good design, call it whatever you will – I try to be fair in the cost of my work, as best I can. When I view it as a favor, it’s hard for me to accept money in exchange for it. Or it was.

What he said to me amounted to a lesson in value. Though the exact wording escapes me, it follows summarily as this:

You have to have a value exchange for everything. If you provide goods or services with no exchange, the recipient holds it with no value. If you give me the design for nothing, then I hold it as nothing, and can summarily dismiss it, discard it, or misuse it. By taking money from me in exchange for your talent and effort, I’ll take this away with a sense of having purchased something, even uniquely owning it in my own way. I’ll use it more wisely, think harder about it’s development and deployment, and in turn hold you with more value.

Some people will appreciate a designed piece, or artwork for what it is. But everyone gains a sense of value for it from the act of exchanging hard earned money for the service or product you provide. To others, it might even be subconsciously insulting to receive your hard work for free.

Always ensure that you receive something in exchange for your work. Barter, trade, haggle – but if you’re putting in your time, your experience – that’s worth something.

The first step is to figure out what your time, and your experience is worth. The next hurdle – and this can be the harder one- is being able to communicate how your work will add value to your clients business. It’s not always enough to say that you’re a creative problem solver or a strategist. Being able to try and quantify and qualify your work is important.

Give me some feedback!