#006: Jon Pietz Speaks Out: How Designers Can Start Getting More Respect and Higher Fees

Summary: In this episode of Smarter freelancing podcast you'll hear from Jon Pietz on how designers can start getting more respect & higher fees!

Partnering with high-paying clients who respect your work — that's every freelancer's dream.

And while I truly believe it's entirely possible to build that kind of business, it's not always easy.

Especially for designers.

But even with all the pricing pressure in the design industry, there is still plenty of opportunity to make a great living as a graphic designer.

It's not just me saying this. Boston-based designer Jon Pietz believes this is a very real possibility. And in this interview, he explains why.

He also discusses the strategic shift designers (and ALL creatives) need to start making today if they ever want to escape the never-ending pricing battle. And he offers some very practical suggestions for getting more respect from your clients.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us about yourself?

Jon started as a designer in a small design shop. After a couple years, he moved into advertising and worked his way up.

In 2001, while working as a creative director at a Boston agency, he decided to strike out on his own. Today, he helps clients with branding.

Many designers struggle with clients not understanding their value. What's your take?

The world would be a very boring place without designers. Designers appreciate beauty, balance, colors and aesthetics.

But business owners and marketing managers live in a different world. They, and their clients, have their own wants and needs. They don’t care about what you do or why you do it necessarily. They care about results.

You have to understand the world your clients and prospects live in. Only then can you build a bridge.

How has globalization impacted design work and how we communicate our value?

Globalization can lead to commoditization, which in turn leads to discounting and price wars. We need to create new categories and brands for ourselves so we’re not lumped in with overseas designers who’ll design a logo for $15.

Design isn’t just arranging elements on a page. It’s about solving bigger problems—if you position yourself that way. It’s about bringing meaning to what our clients do for their customers and delivering results.

Daniel H. Pink, A Whole New Mind.

How can we communicate this in a way so clients get our value?

The more you talk about your clients, and the less you talk about yourself, the more valuable you’ll be. You may have a gorgeous portfolio, but that’s not their focus. And besides, they often won’t recognize the difference between a great portfolio and a good portfolio.

Selling doesn’t mean presenting. Today, selling is asking, “Do we ‘get’ each other?”

Do you have any examples of this kind of conversation?

One of Jon’s clients sells products for large-scale landscaping sites, such as golf courses and parks. They wanted someone to develop a website for them.

When Jon met with them, he suggested they do a brand discovery before proceeding. He got the job because he was the only one to broaden the conversation beyond website design to branding. Since then, they’ve developed an ongoing partnership.

Tips to better communicate your value to prospects:

  1. Be clear on what you stand for.
  2. Research before meeting with clients. 
  3. Expand your knowledge of business and business strategy.
  4. Learn from your clients.

To learn what your prospects think and care about, Jon follows Jill Konrath’s advice on joining LinkedIn forums. (See High-Income Business Writing podcast #005: Cracking the LinkedIn Sales Code.)

How do you get most of your clients these days?

Almost all of Jon’s work comes through referrals. Ask existing clients if they know other people who’d like to talk to you.

Jon also gets referrals from business consultants and a developer he’s worked with.

When you connect with people through meetups, LinkedIn or friends, you start from a place of trust.

How important is it for a designer to think of him/herself as a business, instead of an artist?

If you want to make an impact on the world, then you have to understand the world. Understand how what you do contributes to what other people are trying to do. Design can transform businesses (e.g. Apple, Target) and those designers understand what drives behavior and business.

You want to have a place at the table when business is discussed. But to be invited, you have to cultivate a broader awareness of business and how your work contributes to business goals.

Where can we learn more about you?

Download Jon's free cheatsheet: Designers who get it

Jon Pietz’s company is Brand X.

Website: Brandxco.com
LinkedIn: Jon Pietz
Twitter: @JonPietz