FOH (that's Friend of HOW) Steve Gordon, Jr. has been a professional graphic designer for a decade, and he hangs out his own shingle in Omaha, NE. (The story of how Steve became a FOH is a good one; I'll save that for another post.)
Steve recently published a book with Rockport Publishers, 100 Habits of Highly Successful Freelance Designers (his advice applies equally to all creative solopreneurs). It's divided into chapters about making the leap to freelancing, working with vendors, dealing with downtime and the like — but the issue of money makes frequent appearances throughout the book.
In an e-mail interview, I asked Steve about the fact that much of the advice in the book has to do with money — not just about pricing your services, but also about talking money with your client and about ensuring your own financial success. (One of my favorite points was #55: Put yourself on the payroll.)
Then I asked him: Is money one of the things you personally wrestle with as a freelance designer? How did you learn how to deal with the money part of your business?
He said: Money is such a hang-up, even if you’re good with it. It’s a constant struggle because there are several ways to deal with it. The kid in me wants to cash a check and go shopping! But keeping an eye on operating expenses, write-offs, taxes and business income inevitably overlap with the purely personal side of things. As a true freelancer, or as I like to say—”independent creative”—you're an individual acting as a business. You're often collecting payments and cashing checks under your own name, and it’s a total act of discipline to be able to set aside dollars for both your business and personal necessities. Putting myself on a sort of an allowance gives me some structure. I also reward myself to pacify the urge to spend like I know more is coming, as is the case with a 9-to-5, paid-every-two-weeks gig.
The compensation conversation is a tricky one, because it’s just that—a conversation. You could be great talking about money, but the party you’re talking to might not be. Clients that freelancers work with are often easily spooked at the subject of money. They're operating very similarly to the freelancers themselves, watching dollars, being creative with expenses and trying to keep production costs low. If your tone is wrong, the pressure too high or the volume too loud, they shut off and the conversation is over. Learning how to approach each individual client is the key. The subject gets no easier but, knowing how to communicate with the client opens doors to talk about what is often the last thing in the creative services conversation. It should be moved to the front, candidly, but carefully.
Honestly, I learned to deal with money and the financial conversation during my time in the marketing department of the credit-card processing arm of a bank. Just knowing how to handle conversations about appropriated funds, budget meetings, equipment upgrade costs and even convincing my old bosses to send me to the HOW Conference has paid off big in seeing money as a part of the whole equation, versus it being a separate, uncomfortable afterthought.
I'll have more of my conversation with Steve in upcoming posts.