For those of you unfamiliar with Mike, he’s the Design Director and co-founder of Mule Design, a rather awesome web company in California. He’s also the author of Design is a Job and a giver of many talks, the most famous being one from last year entitled Fuck You, Pay Me. You can pretty much guess what it was about and, for the record, it’s absolutely worth watching.
Mike’s talks, books, and general financial openness has always intrigued and inspired me, partially because I used to shy away from talking about money, partially because I’m British, and partially because those two are exactly the same thing (our resident Norwegian finds the bashful approach towards money in the UK highly amusing). In an industry often accustomed to a slightly warped service/client relationship, Mike’s philosophy stands out as a beacon of logic and sensibility. Designers, developers, creatives, whatevers, provide a service in exchange for financial compensation – it’s a simple transaction and something everyone should have an open attitude about and a healthy respect for.
You are not doing design, you are selling design, which is a valuable service. If you don’t want to charge for your services, you can pick up Design Is a Hobby on aisle three of Michael’s between the balsa wood and yarn.
Mike Monteiro, Design is a Job
Mr Monteiro’s latest blog post about the necessity of knowing a potential client’s budget reinforces the sometimes distrustful nature we all have about purchasing something that doesn’t have an upfront price tag on it. And I say ‘we’ because I actually suspect I would have exactly the same hesitations about spouting off how much money I had to spend on something as many of our clients do. I get it, it’s like poker, and no one wants to show their hand first for the fear they’re going to get a worse bargain as a result. Understandable but all rather silly really.
Ultimately, a lot of what’s involved in client services boils down to trust. Trust that the supplier will do a good job, trust that they will work hard and deliver on time, trust that the relationship between the supplier and customer will be a good one, and, in return, trust that the customer will pay the supplier on time and in full. Call me naive, call me old fashioned, but personally I believe trust is a hugely important factor in delivering a good project. And it all starts with the scent of money.
It’s not about being mercenary or a financial hard ass (I know a lot of folk in the service industry fear coming across as purely money motivated), instead it’s simply about knowing the boundaries of a project, the scale and scope of what can be delivered and deciphering the best solution to offer. Sometimes this will involve convincing the client to double their budget (or halve their expectations), sometimes it will involve taking a financial hit and doing it anyway, and sometimes it will involve just being too expensive and passing up the work. We at Primate have been in all of those situations but, regardless of the outcome, having the ‘budget chat’ in as frank and honest a way possible always works out best for everyone. And yes, it’s still something we’re working on.
Just like my man-crush-of-the-month, Mike, I believe that a budget is the life blood of a project. It guides feasibility and possibility right from the get-go and, as someone who’s been estimating projects since the first day on the job as a graduate developer over seven years ago, I find having a ballpark to start with tremendously useful. After all, expectations are incredibly subjective and for fifty grand one person might expect you to build a single page web site whilst another might expect Google. At the end of the day, it almost doesn’t matter what your rate is or many days something will take but rather how much someone has to spend and the value they receive.
Of course, knowing a budget and working to one are two completely different things… but that’s another blog post.