Designers, Value Your Work: How To Make Sure You’re Not Getting Ripped off

Even though there is a growing need for creative workers, other industries often fail to see the value.
Designers, Value Your Work: How To Make Sure You’re Not Getting Ripped off

As the internet expands and the workforce becomes more visual, creatives have become a hot commodity. According to the Artists and Other Cultural Workers report, artists are 3.6 times more likely to be self employed than workers from other industries. Even though there is a growing need for creative workers, other industries often fail to see the value. This imbalance pushes designers and creatives to put on the entrepreneur hat in order to ensure professional fairness. This task can be daunting for some, that’s why we’ve created some tips to help the process of setting boundaries.

The 5 Best Ways to Value Your Work

1. Know Your Rights

As a designer, you should know your rights. If you are a college trained creative, you might have taken a class or two on intellectual property. This is usually in a creative curriculum because intellectual property issues are typically the most common way of “getting ripped off”. IP covers a couple different forms of property, the one that most pertains to creatives is copyright. According to legalzoom , copyright is “the exclusive right to copy, make derivatives of, distribute, or publicly perform or display an original work (e.g., the screenplay for a movie)”. Copyright automatically belongs to the creator of the work (you). This is important because if someone tries to take your work for free, you have rights to act on it. For example, an early creative can work with a company, create plenty of work and hand over RAW files to them, without payment . If the creative did not receive a deposit before beginning work, the company could pull out, keep the files, and later use them without permission. This is grounds for copyright infringement because they are using the creative work without consent. Sadly, this is something that is very common in the industry, but can be prevented by creative professionals knowing their rights and leaving a paper trail.

Before starting work as a professional creative, you should have contracts and invoices in order. A good contract ensures clients work on your terms and agree to respect your work. Some things to include in the contract consist of : the description of services, payment details, a clause on edits, work product ownership, and reproduction rights (if any).

2. Know Your Merit

As a creative, people will always try to obtain services for free. Whether it’s your cousin Sid who needs artwork for his rap album, or the endless direct messages in your Instagram, everyone wants free work. When it comes to family business, that’s up to you and your sanity. However, professional work should rarely be done for free. This is why it is important to know your value, and value your work. There is value in doing work for exposure early in your career, but recognize when you should graduate to work for hire. There is also an exception when the exposure is really worth it, use your judgement and instinct. This can be a self reflection step, or a comparison of peers. Comparison can be deadly, but when it comes to value for work it can help you make a financial evaluation. Start with a creative that produces work similar to your own with the same experience. Knowing your value can feel like an arrogant task because as designers we are putting a price on ourselves, but think of it as business. Completing undervalued free work for the exposure of a company's 5 followers is bad for business.

3. Know Your Process

Creatives are entrepreneurs, and this point will prove that statement. Working as a creative is selling yourself as a service, and an important part of that is knowing your process and how to value your work. When a qualified client comes to you with a project, having a secured process leaves little room for error. One important step is to secure a deposit before starting work. This is sometimes a preference, but I personally believe in getting a deposit beforehand because this will help you gauge how serious your client is and how open they are to cooperating. Your time spent is billable, if you begin on a project without deposit and the client pulls out, you’ve lost profitable hours. This can be written out in the previously mentioned contract. Your contract plays a big role in your process, it ensures you and your client are on the same page. In addition, it is important to have an in-depth discovery session as a part of your process to learn more about your client.

4. Know Your Client

Creatives are hired for their design thinking and creative eye. Sometimes that means pulling and digging for what your client’s vision truly is. Knowing your client is important to the health of the lifetime of your project because a miscommunication could be costly. A lot of times clients will just say “I need a logo for my candle business”. If you just go off of that you’ll create a 60’s mod logo when they actually wanted a street style graffiti chic logo instead. It is your job as the creative designer to understand your client and gather those specific answers. It’s also helpful because when it comes to selling the art, you can describe it as exactly what your client wanted. We want the best for our clients, and the more you know about them the better you can meet their needs.

Another aspect of knowing your client, is knowing your point of contact. Let’s say you need an existing brand book, you wouldn’t ask accounting. You need your invoice paid? You wouldn’t call for the IT guy. You need the right contact and a lot of times, executives team members won’t want to be a part of the minutiae (color choices, picture themes, paper stock etc.). These are the things you’d need to know in order to ensure you are not wasting time speaking to someone who has no pull in expanding your hours. Apart from the housekeeping aspect of knowing your client, there is also a psychological side as well. Sometimes, people will try to pull free work out of you. I know, you’d think once they pay you’re in the clear, but this is where you should be most alert. Knowing your client allows you to read signs of when they try to create problems so that you will do more work for free. You’re coming to the end of a web design project and suddenly they say “I think it would be best if we add a button here to go to another site page”. This may sound harmless once, but if you allow it to happen once for free who is to say there won’t be 5 more pages? Know your client and pick up on these patterns to prevent being taken advantage of or wasting billable hours.

5. “No, I cannot fix your printer”

This is a bonus category for creatives who chose to join a company. The creative industry is still somewhat new so there are still some people who won’t know exactly what you do, and how to value your work. When going in for interviews at a company, be aware of the job description. Graphic designers have been asked if they would double as IT help, SEO specialists, and other techie professions. There are many artists who do multiple things at once, but if you are strictly graphic design, video, photo, etc., feel free to stick to your guns!

When selling yourself, keep all these things in mind but ultimately, use your instincts. Knowing your clients and process will allow you to save time and get it right the first time. Knowing your value prevents your work from being jipped, and knowing your rights gives you the power to create freely and intentionally. This industry is growing to be one of the highest valued skills and every creative should be excited to embark on the journey.


Kenia is the Visual Producer and Social Media Specialist at Abelian. She holds a versatile  skill set in graphic design, photo & video, and other areas of Digital Media. With diverse experience in the creative space, Kenia’s focus is on creating captivating content that converts.