I recently contributed to an article discussing setting rates for web design work. I’ve written about this a few times, and have several years experience doing it. This is challenging for those just starting out, so I felt really good about being a part of it. Unlike many articles on the topic, actual numbers were discussed along with practices, making it a lot more useful to people trying to set their own rates. So when I discovered from my site tracking that I’d gotten over a thousand visitors from the article, I was psyched.
That is, until I went there and read the comments…uh…it was a bloodbath.
I mean, my God. How many times you see a group of strangers talk about what you’ve been doing for over a decade, and use your job title in quotes? Call you unethical for charging the rates you do? Say your clients must be stupid? Holy shit, y’kno? Ouch. It felt like getting slapped in the face. I wasn’t expecting praise from these strangers, although some appreciation for people sharing their information might have been nice. But instead, there was about 80% venom.
Ironically enough, I don’t even have a design portfolio online anymore. Haven’t been looking for design work, so I don’t have it available. So these people evidently just hate my Good Karma Host website design. [Note: This site is no longer online since I sold the biz.]
I took it hard for a minute. I shouldn’t have, but you know. I started obsessively clicking the links provided by any commenter to see what their own sites looked like. Many didn’t have links, or linked to placeholder “coming soon” pages. (Yeah–pretty easy to be better than anyone else in your HEAD, huh?) Saw several ripoffs of the “design’d’jour” trends, i.e. WooThemes knockoffs. And a few sites that were nicely designed, in my (not-too-heralded) opinion. But nothing that should give these folks credibility beyond real-life results: I have run a business for over a decade with ZERO marketing, surviving full time on word of mouth advertising.
A couple of the folks I work with (heard me complaining via Twitter) popped on with rebuttal, which I thought was very kind. And I debated with myself hard about linking that article from my business site. In the end, I decided to, although I could change my mind again. It just seemed kind of dirty to try and bury it, I guess, when I’d normally promote stuff I’m involved in. But the whole thing got me thinking…
See, I’m not a professionally trained graphic artist. I have no college credit in design, or coding, or anything else related to what I do for a living. ((You could argue the psych background is universally applicable, but I’m not.)) I am not the world’s premier designer, or coder, or anything for that matter. I could feel bad about that. But I am not going to; my clients are happy and that is my goal. Hence, I’m meeting my own definition of success.
I thought about this…Why have I been successful in a field where so many, some of whom have stronger skills than me, struggle and fail? I know I do a lot of things right. I’m honest about both my skills and limitations. I treat my customers well, and always do my best for them. I “get” customer service when many don’t.
But if I had to distill it down to a single principle, it’s fairly simple why I’ve made it when others (who may have more talent) don’t: I build people up. I use all my skills to support the people I work with–or even just come in contact with–however I can. I’m generous with whatever time, skills, and expertise I possess. I always give whatever I’ve got totally and with the best intent, however flawed it may at times be, and I give with a sincere hope to help.
You won’t find me commenting on an article about web design by lambasting the contributors as talentless hacks. That’s not my style. For many years, I had articles up about getting started in the biz, and would regularly get emails from folks just starting out looking for advice. I’d take a few minutes and try to give them helpful feedback. Some were not too far along, but everybody has to start somewhere. I’d be as supportive and as encouraging as possible, while pointing out some areas they may turn attention to in order to improve and grow. I didn’t have to tear anybody down to remain both honest and helpful. I just had to set aside my own ego enough to see that having more experience or skill in certain areas didn’t make me somehow ” better” than these new folks who are trying to learn the ropes.
And maybe there is a lesson here. I don’t bill myself as a rock star designer (or rock star anything). But I don’t need to. Not every client is looking for a rock star designer–or accompanying rock star ego. My clients want to work with someone who cares, listens, and honestly and consistently does their very best to support their goals. You have to be able to set your ego aside to do this effectively.
I’d say a little humility is a pretty damn valuable business asset. Thank God I have some.