Mike Monteiro, author of the much celebrated Design is a Job, fields your questions about freelancing, approaching pitching - and how to tell when the time is right to fire a client
@TechnicallyBlue: For the beginner who considers freelancing. Would you suggest working in a design studio or large company first?
MM: First off, I’d never recommend that a beginner consider freelancing. There’s a lot to learn in this craft, and school only prepared you for some of it, and most likely none of the business end.
I get an email a day from inexperienced freelancers who do a ton of work and get left at the altar with unpaid invoices and unpaid bills.
If you’re serious about earning a living as a designer go out and find someone who’s been practicing the craft for a long time. They can teach you how to learn the ropes and help you avoid some of the potholes. You can find those people at both big companies and design studios, but at design studios you’ll have the added benefit of dealing with a variety of different problems. Under no circumstances should you start your career at a place where you’re the only designer or all the designers have the same level of experience.
@vayknights: How do you handle a client that requests marquees, iframes, justified text and splash pages?
MM: Same way I handle all client requests: I ask them to justify their reasoning.
Sometimes their reasoning is solid, and they’ve just worked their way into an inelegant solution. Your job is to walk them back to whatever problem they’re trying to solve and convince them that there are better ways to accomplish what they’re trying to do.
Sometimes their reasoning is off, or they’ve dug their heels in on a pet solution. Before taking anyone on as a client, do your due diligence and find out whether they’re going to be open to letting you solve the problem to the best of your ability or whether they’re just hiring you to execute their pet solutions. Never take on a client that you can’t reason or fight with. And never take on a job that you’re not willing to do right.
@MrQwest: Does firing a client ever become easy?
MM: No. And it never should. By the time you and your client have decided to work together it should be because you both believe that you’re committed to the same goal. Problems always arise during projects. But as long as you’re both still in agreement that you can reach that end goal in a way you can both be proud of you should make every attempt to work through those problems. I’ve only ever fired a client when I exhausted those attempts and saw no clear way to work through them. Firing them was the right thing to do, but it wasn’t done lightly.
@the_franchise: We know your thoughts on someone who refuses to pay on-time; what do you say to clients who balk at larger than expected bills?
MM: A client should never get a bill larger than they were expecting. If you’re about to run over on cost, tell your client before you do so. Don’t run over without an explicit agreement in writing. Otherwise, expect to eat that overrun. A client who pays a bill larger than they were expecting is doing you a favor.
@nanderson: Only this: "Why?"
MM: I used to be a smoker before my son was born. One time my doctor asked me why I smoked. I thought about it for a while and said “Because when I see other people smoke they’re so bad at it. They hold their cigarettes wrong. They use disposable lighters. It drives me nuts.”
I still carry a Zippo, btw.
@jazzpastord: How do you encourage brainstorming and dreaming? Are there technologies/apps that help with this?
MM: Absolutely. The human mind. It’s awesome at both of those things. And it does this amazing trick where it shuts down your body for an extended time every day just so it can brainstorm and dream. Your brain figures things out when you least expect it to. Let it happen. Carry a notebook around to record stuff as your brain feeds it to you. And never brainstorm in front of a computer. It’s useless.
@phuunet: What's the first, or most important, "why" question you ask a client when approaching a project?
MM: “Why are you doing this?”
The best clients have clear, articulate answers and their eyes light up as they explain it. They’re excited to put something in the world. They believe the world needs it and will be better off for it. If a project isn’t important to a client, and they don’t have a, dare I say, passion for what they’re doing the project won’t go well. The answer to this question, in and of itself, isn’t enough to decide whether to take on a project. But it’s enough to not take on a project. And just as importantly, ask yourself the same question about taking the project on.
@studentwebguide: Any advice for web design students trying to get into the industry?
MM: Plant a flag on the web. Make sure people can see your work online, but even more importantly: write! Make sure people can read evidence of your thought process. It’s not enough to show the work; you need to describe the problem at hand and how you went about solving it. When I’m interviewing designers, the work gets you in the door, but it’s your mouth that gets you hired.
@markaduffy: How much time and effort do you put into pitches. Do you mock up a PSD or just wireframe?
MM: When you’re pitching your job is to convince the client that you’re capable, not to walk in with a solution in hand. You don’t have the facts. You haven’t done the research. Don’t walk in with assumptions. When I walk into a pitch I have no idea how to solve a client’s problem, but I’m confident that I have a process for figuring it out. It’s the process that you pitch. Not the solution.
@gray: Where is my chapter five dirty joke? I was promised a dirty joke in chapter five.
MM: Read it again. It’s there.