If you're a designer, or any creative professional, this might be the most important thing you read this year. My sensationalist headline aside, it's not about money or being a primadonna. It's about defining how you work, working how you define, having an environment of trust and respect and creativity, and otherwise getting the life you want.
Sadly, many creatives just trust that that'll happen… and it doesn't. They get taken advantage of. This needs to stop.
Some things in here are scary. You don't need to do what's unnatural to you, you don't need to do anything in particular in here, and you don't need to rush yourself. Any given suggestion in here might increase your income by 20% and cut your "client stress" in half.
I'll tell you my story in a moment, so you can assess my credibility and see if this is workable advice. (It is.) I'll give you recommendations on where you can learn more. In exchange, I ask just one thing - if at any point while reading this, you think, "This is one of the most important things I've read this year" - then you immediately share it with as many people as you can that you think it would help.
I think that's fair, do you?
Are you nodding?
I think that's fair. If this is one of the most important things you read this year, you share it. I'll lay it all out. Brace yourself for the occasional foul language or hyper-controversial point, I'm trying to tone down my foul language but still struggle with it.
SEVEN REAL WORLD BUSINESS THINGS THAT ARE PROBABLY TRUE
We need a strong foundation. To understand how to work with a business, you need to understand the goals and thinking of a typical businessman. I think the following seven things are true for 90%+ of the cases you'll deal with.
1. Businesspeople want to increase profits, profit centers, and asset growth. They want to minimize costs and cost centers.
2. Almost nobody knows what anything is "intrinsically" worth. 
3. The more subjective the judgment is, the harder it is to assess its worth.
4. Nobody gives you what you're "worth" in the abstract. They give you what you force them to give you. 
5. Most designers aren't very good, according to Sturgeon's law . You'll need to show you're good to be known as good.
6. Additionally, most designers will let themselves get screwed, so the default inclination of many people is to try to screw you. And finally -
7. Good soldiers don't get paid. 
 Only one definition of "worth" has stood the test of time. In Rome in the year 100 BC, Publius Syrus said, "Everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it."
 This one sounds harsh, but I believe it's true. We'll discuss how you can force things to work out correctly without being unfriendly or nasty or corrupting your artistic ability in a moment.
 Sturgeon's Law says, "Ninety percent of everything is crap." It's a cheeky way of saying, "The most excellent people at something produce far, far better work than the rest."
 This makes me sick to my stomach, by the way. Humanity is screwed up in some ways. There are a few rare people who spread the wealth around. Hannibal Barca types. Genghis Khan actually did this, and it was a big key to his success. But don't assume someone is hyper-virtuous unless they REPEATEDLY demonstrate it. Nobody gets trust that "they're good for it" until they TANGIBLY prove it. Talk is cheap.
I'm Sebastian. Nice to meet you.
I'm currently working on a $700,000 contract and made $38,500 in the last two weeks. After I make the money, I'm going to go blow it on my friends, charity, art, and stupid shit. I used to worship money, but don't any more. Actually, I've started tearing currency into pieces during speeches I give to make a point. (It's a powerful effect. I'll explain it tactically in a moment.)
Who am I? I'm a little crazy, to tell you the truth. You kind of have to be to get anything done in the world.
You can read about me more in my recent "An Introduction to Cyclothymia" or declaring war on the publishing industry in, "An Open Letter to Simon and Schuester CEO Carolyn Reidy."
I have, at various times in my life, been extremely talented and high-performing, and been a total mess. I have basically zero regard for non-virtuous authority, I have minimal respect for stupid traditions, and I don't believe that kissing the ass of someone you don't like and blindly hoping things are going to get better will result in a good life.
I'm never sure which details to share to people when I try to explain who I am. I dropped out of two high schools, left home at age 16, got a full ride scholarship at age 17 anyways, dropped out of university at 19, and wound up working and traveling through 60+ countries. I write a lot - you can find 600 articles and over 3 million words of writing on this blog alone. 95% of it is relatively mundane looks into time tracking, goal-setting, probability, money, finance, history and historical events, strategy, excerpts and reviews of nonfiction, and so on.
I like people, and during social periods I'll correspond with 100 new people per month, help them out at no cost, while simultaneously keeping up correspondance with 20 to 50 "core people" in my life. If this sounds like a lot, it isn't - Gandhi used to write 30 letters per day. I got the idea from him.
Between audio, paper, and digital, I go through about 150 books per year.
I achieve all this because I've cut all the bullshit out of my life, and do basically whatever I want each day. I don't surf the net, my entertainment is reading, writing, and connecting with smart people. 95%+ of the time, I don't have a phone. If it's urgent, call the general I'm reporting to, or one of my captains and they'll know where I am. If you don't have any of their phone numbers, then I've got more important things to do than be interrupted immediately by your call. (Sorry.)
The lessons I'm presenting in a moment are a result of my personal experience and learnings, as well as a mentor who makes around $200,000 per month and owns property in seven countries (he's 41 years old), a CEO friend running a large growing company who had massive power struggles with his board (I was staying at his house when it was happening, and learned a lot from that), and from Judd Weiss. You can google Judd, he became a self-made millionaire at age 24 and is a pretty big deal in Los Angeles. I'm really honored I got to meet him, Judd straightened me out to how things really work. Presidential candidates and authors and all sorts of people regularly want to speak at Judd's mansion in Bel Air. Peter Schiff was there last week.
So, these are the people I've learned from. I'll also reference and recommend the books "Pitch Anything" by Oren Klaff, "Winning Through Intimidation" by Robert Ringer (swap "designer" in mentally for "broker" when he's talking about people screwing you, and the book works perfectly), and Donald Trump's "Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and Life" (obnoxious title, surprisingly excellent read).
I, of course, have my own crazy stories and will share some of them. A recent post I wrote mentioned paying a designer "peanuts" and a number of designer acquaintances were upset. That's understandable, but they were missing context - I offered 3x the going rate in the classified ads, the designer asked me for 3x more, but that's still relatively peanuts since he'd worked on top campaigns for things like Versace. But he was making 9x the classified-ad-quality rates. Anyways, I always feel bad when I offend people that I like callously, so I'm writing this post to make it up to you.
SOME GUIDELINES FOR GETTING WHAT YOU'RE WORTH (AND LIVING A HAPPIER LIFE IN THE PROCESS)
Point #1: Primadonnas get paid...
You can get paid by being extremely solid and not demanding anything if you're working with someone who has demonstrated that they're a big thinker, that they like to share wealth, that they always pay promptly, that they have massive integrity, that they have massive respect for you, who are extremely prompt, and who would rather die than be dishonored...
...and good luck finding someone like that by accident.
We should note that going extreme-primadonna is what you'd call a high variance strategy - meaning, it will produce huge wins or spectacular failures. It's not something to jump into.
But think about the designers you know, or any creative professionals. Is it the solid, law-abiding good citizens that get the massive wins? C'mon now, I'm on your side but we must be realists. Isn't it the semi-reckless, rebellious, demanding, slightly cocky and eccentric people that get paid the most, have the best social and sex lives, are most often courted and having people want them?
Now note - you don't need to go extreme primadonna, and I don't recommend it. We can, however, break down the elements of what's working for them, so you can deploy a select few of them in your own life to get better results.
Point #2: ...and good soldiers, by and large, do not get paid on time or in full.
Let's face it. 90%+ of people would rather have the money in their own wallet than put it in yours.
They'll look to grind you, knock you down, they won't move you up if they feel your rates are too cheap, and will otherwise not look out for your interest.
There's a certain naiveté among artists, that people will just look after you and take care of you. It simply isn't true.
I kept waiting for it to be true. But it isn't true.
Here, I'll explain why. I'm hiring a lot of people lately for that $700,000 thing I've got going on. I'm teaching a colleague HR, how to evaluate people's personality and see if they'd be a fit, how to assess if they can be independent and develop their skills, their ambition levels (I want close to max ambition), and so on.
We reject a lot of people. I don't like doing it, but culture is fragile and delicate. The single bad apple ruins the whole barrel and becomes a net negative. And my colleague says something funny. Not "ha-ha funny", but "Jesus Christ Almighty, humanity is in bad shape" funny.
He says, "It feels good to be on the side rejecting people."
I don't think so. I hate it. I hate wasting people's time. It's all we've got and it's so precious.
But this is a kind, sweet, good guy. But he's been so beaten down that as soon as he gets a bit of power he starts to transform into a vampire. (I scolded him, and expressed that, NO, it does not feel good to reject people.)
That's the world. People, even good people, like to wield arbitrary power over others, and 90%+ of people in power aren't really qualified or virtuous to be there.
Read "Winning Through Intimidation" by Robert Ringer, or "Pitch Anything" by Oren Klaff if you don't believe me. These are entire books devoted to theme of dealing with power-craziness. I really truly people that the vast majority of people don't treat people who "soldier on" very well, but will pay you if you're both highly competent and highly demanding.
Point #3: You need to be good if you're demanding.
Really good. Like, the top 10% of your craft at least, if not top 1%.
So, work on your craft.
The good news is, you're probably better than you think. Read Derek Sivers's "Obvious to you. Amazing to others" post for a shot of inspiration.
Also read about The Dunning-Kruger Effect, which says that competent people consistently underestimate themselves. If you're thoughtful and work at your craft, you're probably already within spitting distance of being excellent or already there.
Okay, the philosophical part is basically complete. Primadonnas get paid for some reason which we'll explore, good soldiers do not (because most people become vampires when they get into power), but you do have to be good if you're going to be demanding (but you're probably better than you think you are).
Point #4: A strong code of conduct can achieve 90% of the good results without the stress.
I'm comfortable doing battle with people. It's my makeup. Someone attacks me, I get up and get excited to fight. When someone escalates, I escalate more. Always. Never put me in charge of a nuclear arsenal.
But that might not be you, eh? In fact, it's not most people, which is why most people don't get what they're worth.
Well, okay, I've got something that gets most of the combat results. I'm going to bold this so you pay attention -
Set hard rule principles, and start acting on principle instead of tactically. That's my biggest piece of advice for having a better life.
I believe life works like this - most people don't think at all, and go by routine. This leads to life in a swamp. (No disrespect intended to people living in swamps.)
Of the people who do think, most people think tactically. They think, "What should I do?" This leads to slightly-better-than-swamp, but you're still frantic.
The next level up is thinking strategically. Very few people do this. This is saying, "What am I trying to accomplish?" instead of "What should I do?" Instead of latching on to any particular action, you keep the end goal in mind. This is surprisingly hard to do, and will lead you to a very healthy, happy, wealthy, engaged life if you do it - staying away from frantic tactics and being strategic, I mean.
There's an even higher level, though. This is acting philosophically instead of strategically. This acts, "What is right and wrong? What's worth living and dying for? What do I stand for? Who am I?"
Then acting in accordance with that.
If you read my last week of entries, I'm a man on fire. My output has been nuts. I've built an insane amount of wealth and been compensated for it.
Why? I largely abandoned strategy and have been acting on principle. My main principle? Everyone will value my time extremely highly, treat me very well, I'll deliver the highest level of service and ability that I can to them, they'll honor that and use it immediately, I'll be treated with extreme respect and gratitude, I'll be extremely grateful too, we'll buy gifts for each other, I won't accept any pay from someone that they don't willingly excitedly give (the first time I tore some money into pieces was after I won a bet, and a friend grudgingly gave me the money - I said I don't want it if you're not downright excited to pay me and interact with me, because money is bullshit and not worth worshipping or chasing, whereas doing cool and meaningful things with good people is worthwhile, etc).
I would like to make a generational impact on the world. This requires that everyone around me treat me very well, or get out of my life.
I communicate these points to people, and it's up to them if they want to work with me. Many will not be interested. This is good. Of the ones who are interested, we'll establish common guidelines and we'll live by those. I'll keep my word to you, or apologize deeply if I fall short. (I will fall short, because I'm human, but I'll lay it all out in getting there.)
And your word? You'll keep it to me, or it's a big deal if you don't.
As a designer (or any creative professional), you too can do this. It will get you 90% of the results of being a primadonna, cut your stress in half, and it's not hard to do.
Here's my code again for working with people - you could adopt it for yourself, if it's useful to you:
Everyone will value my time extremely highly, treat me very well, I'll deliver the highest level of service and ability that I can to them, they'll honor that and use it immediately, I'll be treated with extreme respect and gratitude, I'll be extremely grateful too, we'll buy gifts for each other, I won't accept any pay from someone that they don't willingly excitedly give.
Point #5: Don't play games with game-players. Skip negotiation and contracts.
I studied contract law at Boston University from an adjunct professor who had been a corporate lawyer and had worked for the IRS and other federal agencies. The dude gave me a very good education.
I've written dozens of contracts in my life. I have kind of an idle curiosity of contracts, and I've read a lot of random big company contracts for the heck of it. I've also had contracts broken down and explained to me by people like Judd, various mentors, and other people doing high stakes negotiations with companies like Ferrari, Boeing, Microsoft, and so on.
I've put a lot of time into learning contracts.
And here's what I can safely tell you - I don't know shit about contracts.
People will outright lie about the terms of a contract. I just had a contract presented to me that was instantly voidable. It said that in order for me to be able to execute the deal, I had to hit certain numbers with no equity, no debt, extreme growth, and beat the whole industry's profit margin.
It was impossible. And on the off chance I did it, I'd have received terrible terms anyways.
None of this was obvious. They're terms like, "Debt to free cash flow ratio is limited to..." and "Equity shall not be raised without the agreement of all shareholders" and "Profit margin shall exceed XX%."
Quick glance? It looks fine. Look closer - it's a crock of bullshit.
You can't win that game.
I can't win that game, and I actually know how to play it.
So I said, "This is a fucking insult. You must think I'm an idiot. You were wondering where the line with me was? You just found it. I quit."
And then I got $30,000 instead of $17,000 to keep me around. (I actually originally wanted $50k, but I was ground down, and I just took it instead of fighting more, because I need to actually work instead of scheme and fight with schemers).
Pardon my rambling. The point? Unless it's totally impossible, reject multiple page-long contracts. Whoever wrote it knows better than you. Any simple deal can be written in one page. If it's under $100,000 on a one-off job and there's no regulations in play, then there's no excuse for a bazillion pages.
So state that. "Sorry, I don't understand contracts. I only sign one page contracts that are very simple."
Maybe two pages. Maybe give a little. But this comes from being principled instead of chasing down any money. Do you really want to work with someone that is going to paper-fight you? Look, if someone thinks you're a star, they'll re-write their contract for you.
Point #6: Likewise, use anti-negotiation. Don't play the negotiation game.
Tell people how you work. I like this one -
"I will give you my price, and you will say yes or no. It will be fair. I don't like to negotiate, haggling is cheap and ruins art, and makes both parties uninspired and destroys trust. I will give you a very fair quote, and I will deliver extensively more value. You just say yes or no. 'No' won't hurt my feelings. Okay?"
Then quote a fair price. I hate the stupid negotiation game. What a waste of time. It builds no value. I'll discuss terms. I don't want to haggle over price. It's so... low level... it gets people uninspired... whenever anyone wants to work with me, I just pay what they're asking or more than they're asking. If they ask for more than I want to pay, I just say no and wish them well. If they want a whole lot and they're excellent, I see if it can be structured on performance or paid over time or otherwise play with the terms.
You can't work with everyone. If you're doing high end design, you can't compete with "customize a template a little for $80." Don't even bother. You're going to explain your service quality, tell them that you'll give a quote, tell them the quote will be high but you'll deliver even more, and then do it.
Point #7: Design work is a commodity. So don't do design work.
Again, the hierarchy is something like,
Philosophical people get treated the best and paid the best and live the best lives.
The non-thinking designer says, "Yes, I'll color on the page for you for $50."
The tactical designer says, "I'll find a good way to color the page for you."
The strategic designer says, "I'm going to understand your fundamental goals for this piece, and make this piece work hard for your goals." (Note: Being strategic is enough to get paid a lot and live well.)
The philosophical designer says, "The nature of art is art, and the nature of commerce is commerce... I can make a beautiful and amazing piece of art, that will serve all of your strategic and commercial goals, and will also be a timeless aesthetic. I can do this if you treat me with the highest levels of respect and dignity, give me the resources I ask very promptly, and so on. I am an eternal devotee of this craft, and I can fuse art and commerce into extreme practical beauty, for you, if you are enlightened enough to work with."
If you haven't heard about how Paul Rand worked, you need to study him. Steve Jobs called him 'the greatest living designer' shortly before he passed away in 1996. He was philosophical and principled about design.
I took many of the cues I got from him. He similarly said that he'd do a piece of work, he would not modify it after it was done, and the client would say yes or no, and pay him very well.
Point #8: Do remember to be strategic, too.
Understand the client's goals, and repeat the goals back to the client, and have the client write down their goals in their own form.
Point #9: Educate the client on how to work with you.
Say something along the lines of, "I'm going to teach you how to work with a high level designer. I'm an artist, fundamentally, but also very practical about achieving your goals. To that end, you wouldn't want your artist to come in and demand that you change your business plan fundamentally. Likewise, no good designer can work with an executive who wants to change something just to assert himself. Saying, 'Put a panda in there!' destroys visual harmony and balance, and makes design look cheap. Yet, many executives who have not studied aesthetics and visuals do just that. ... You are hiring me and paying me a lot because I am an expert and very good at what I do. If you don't believe I'm very good at what I do, you shouldn't hire me. Once you do hire me, you'll trust me and my recommendations. I'll ask you for feedback in the areas it's necessary, but with a very high level professional, you can't just mess with their work randomly unless you've got a very good reason. I will understand your goals and make you look very good, and make everyone look very good, and be pleasant to work with - so long as you understand how to work with a skilled professional artist."
Likewise, try to explain when things can be changed and not. Over time, you'll see common problems happen, and all of them can be preempted. If clients are scope-creeping with you, add a "Scope creep" discussion before you start working together. It would sound something like this, "This is what's called a scope. I trust you know the term already? It just means 'the stuff we agreed to do.' It's very important that once we start working, the scope doesn't change. Oh, I can do a little tweak or fix an error. But many times a businessperson doesn't understand that changing the scope is akin to doubling or tripling the hassle of working together, and they still want things on time and at the previously lower-scope agreed rate. It might sound simple to also turn my logo into a t-shirt design, put it on some pens, and baseball cap, but I'm a professional and I don't like shoddy work. If you want me to adapt the design to other creative areas, I can do that but we need to discuss separately after we're mostly complete with the current scope of work."
Point #10: Be an asset-builder and profit center.
Again, everyone hates and wants to lower costs. People want to increase assets and profits.
You should explain and back up how design can lead to increased sales, increased repeat purchases, give you more trust and authority, and so on. Phrase in terms of the client's main interest, but add others.
Repeatedly stress that they're making an investment into a durable and long-lasting asset. Costs get cut, assets get invested in.
Point #11: Pre-frame and set expectations correctly. Then, deliver on expectations.
Let's say you're making an abstract design. I actually just had my current project get an abstract design from the high level guy, and my whole staff hated it because it was just some abstract lines. Instead, they wanted some kitschy friendly nonsense.
The fact is, almost all of the world's most enduring top designs are somewhat abstract. LOLcats might be friendly and cute and fun, and give an instant dopamine jolt, but the novelty wears off. If your logo was a LOLcat five years ago, it would have been awesome. Now, it would look tired and petty.
I'm not a designer. You probably know more about this stuff than me. Lots of negative space? Harmony of colors? Good fonts and typesetting?
Yeah. I don't know a damn thing about that, and neither do the vast majority of your clients. So, educate them beforehand.
Say, "Look, do you want a high end design? High end designs often look strange and ugly when you first see them, but then they grow on you and become enduring. Here, I'll show you some examples." Show some examples. "I'm going to give you a design like that, if you want it, and probably no one at the company will like it at first. That's to be expected. If you want a panda or a LOLcat in it, people will like it immediately, but the novelty will wear off fast and it'll be kitschy. I'm happy to go high end, if that's what you want, so long as you understand that high end designs are intended to occupy mindspace and stand out as really unique, not to be an instant dopamine jolt the first time you see them."
Point #11: Emphasize paying for production, not headcount.
Everyone in the world is stupid, so they refuse to pay you more even if you do 10x the quality/quantity of work of a normal person at your job. Lately, I've gotten a lot of abuse from short-sighted and ignorant people for insisting I only pay above market rates in any long term working relationship.
I don't give two fucks about headcount. I want production. In fact, I dislike headcount! I don't want stupid, ineffective people in the room at a bargain. The space they're taking up could be better used by having a lamp there.
See, I've got a market researcher that I'm paying somewhere around 5x the market rate of what I could get for a normal person. She's a top, award-winning scholar. She produces 5x what a normal person would per week, and it's higher quality. To quote Teddy KGB, "Give that [wo]man her fucking money!"
Most people are idiots, and don't think like this. You need to try to get them to. It's hard. Maybe just find people who are smarter to work for. Everyone tries to get headcount cheaply, instead of paying for production.
Emphasize that you've been a top producer everywhere, and that they're paying for your production, not for being in the room. In fact, they shouldn't want you in the room unless you're 10x better than average and 100x better than a hack. You evaluate yourself more highly than that, and it's dangerous to have people around who evaluate themselves super highly if you don't think the same.
Point #12: Use some multiplication and bullshit charts. I don't know why this works and I think it's ridiculous (it doesn't work on me), but it does work.
Whoever is paying you needs to justify it. Make some charts and graphs about how an expensive logo correlates with making a lot of money or high share price.
Or something. I don't know. I think this is stupid, but it seems to help with most people so they feel like they're getting something tangible.
Point #13: Study and use anchoring.
This would be its own thousands-of-words post. Just throw out a lot of huge numbers.
Here's an example. I just had a designer write me asking for advice. He's out of work. He said he wanted to make $2k per month. "Only" $2k he said. You know what? It's going to be a fight for him to get it. I don't know how good he is, but even if he's a star he's going to struggle.
Here's what I recommended to him. First, read everything Charlie Hoehn wrote on his blog, and especially key in on the free work approach. It works well. Charlie hasn't written a lot, and it's all pretty good, so just read it all.
Second, if you want $2k per month, after you've done some free work successfully, then say, "My end goal is be making $15,000 to $18,000 per month, and to deliver far beyond that... but I love working here, I'll take whatever you offer. Seriously - I won't negotiate, whatever you say, I'm going to say yes. So, say whatever number you think would be a fantastic deal for you, and I'll say yes, because I love it here. Take a few minutes to think about it if you want, I'll go get an ice cream and come back."
Give them 10 minutes. If they think you're good at all, you'll get more than $2k doing it that way. If you ask for $2k, maybe you'll get $2k, or maybe not.
Point #14: Stop fearing prosperity. Go after the big deals, and seize the big opportunities. Just do what you normally do, it might be enough.
This deserves its own post. I kept not seizing big opportunities in the past because I was afraid. I've since said I'm only going to work on seven-figure stuff, which is about $3000 per day. (Actually, I want to make closer to $7000 per day, so I can sponsor lots of art, and build statues and bridges, and orphanages, and things like that.)
Now, you can't get there working on small stuff. I'd like to be seven-figure plus, or at least huge amounts of fun and interesting meaningful stuff if I'm not generating $3k per day. But anyways, I need to overthrow entire multi-million dollar markets to get there, which is what I'm now starting to do. It's surprisingly not hard, though I should remind you that I've put immense amounts of work and study in for years and years to get here. Magical thinking isn't enough - you have to be good, and work on big things.
Oh, as a sidenote, thinking that money is bullshit helps a lot. It's just money, y'know? I'm offering to fly friends out to work with me, I tell them to think about a $10,000 idea on the plane flight. We'll see how it works out, maybe I'm crazy and will be bankrupt in six months, but my math and logic seem to work out okay. Anyways, stop being intimidated by money and go after big stuff. Money is bullshit and having money doesn't make a person special. Actually, lots of people with money are assholes, and besides, if they aren't going to help you and aren't on your side and aren't going to pay you reasonably, then what the fuck are they worth to you? Nothing, right? So go for big stuff, and be flippant and demanding and philosophical about it, cuz why not?
Point $15: If you don't like money, spread it around.
I'm giving out money like candy lately , and it seems to be working. I'm tearing it up, I'm taking people out, I'm flying them around, and otherwise running my fortunes into the ground.
 In pre-response to hundreds of stupid emails - "No."
I have a friend whose goal is "to become financially independent" - actually, I have lots of friends like that.
You know what? It's bogus. Expenses increase with income. You'll always be trapped if you're a slave to that stuff. I've helped hundreds or even thousands of people in my life. Before I went on my crazy spree lately, I called a bunch of them up and said, "Hey, I'm about to go totally fucking nuts, and I'll be dead broke in six months if it doesn't work. If I called you up and said, 'Hey! I'm broke and need 10 grand! I need a contract to bang out a quick 10 grand for you! I'll do an awesome job!', then, would you find work for me?"
Everyone said yes. Okay, talk is cheap, but I'm feeling pretty safe. That's before even getting to all the people who would lend me $500 (enough to live for a month in a developing country) and not care when they're ever paid back (there's at least a few dozen people I'd just give $500 to and say 'whatever, don't worry about it' ... and I've done favors for a hell of a lot of people) ... anyways, I realized I'm never going to have to worry about money, so I can stop playing scared.
Imagine that! I can just do cool shit. So I'm throwing money around, and more seems to be coming in. It's interesting, isn't it?
Maybe this is bad advice. Maybe wait until after you get the first big contract to do it. But if you're freaking out about some contract you're going to get, just remember, "I can always spend this on a bunch of cool stuff, and my friends, and do some charity, and sponsor some cool art" and then do it. It's just money, y'know? It's nothing to make a big deal out of.
Point #16: Keep it social instead of transactional if you can. Make it very clear that you're going to deliver inspired, divinely created work, and it's not up for negotiation.
There's a great scene in the mob movie "Donnie Brasco."
Al Pacino and Johnny Depp exchange envelopes for Christmas. In each one? 10 crisp new $100 bills.
Pacino says to Depp, "That's very generous of you, thank you."
Now, what really happened? They give each other white envelopes. There's no change in net worth.
Or, did they just demonstrate loyalty to each other? Hmm... clearly something happened there.
Transactional relationships are all numbers. It's fine to be transactional if you're in a one-off deal. Plenty of times I'm negotiating to buy a stupid hat or pair of aviator sunglasses or something and the person selling it wants to mark it up 20x, and I want to haggle them down to only 5x.
The haggling doesn't matter in this case, since we'll never see each other again.
But if we're going to interact more? Then haggling is a no-go: it destroys goodwill, since it makes things transactional.
Do everything you can to stay relational/social instead of market/transactional. When you present your work, add in touches like chocolate or little gifts. Whenever I pay someone for a creative work, I try to wrap the cash in a nice letter addressed to them, and include fine chocolate with it.
People remember the chocolate more than the cash.
Money is so... bourgeois, I guess? I think I finally get it. Money's important, it's a great way to move things around. You've got some wheat over here, you turn it into money so you can get some camels over there. Neat.
But it's not to be worshipped. Actually put the time in to really take care of your clients. Chocolate, little cards, things like that. Be a trusted advisor. Overdeliver on work. Incidentally, you'll get paid way more, but you need to deliver even more than that.
It's a very virtuous cycle. When you start seriously looking out for your clients in every way, for real, great things happen. Transactional relationships are about paying as little as you can for as much as you can get. Social relationships are about giving as much as you can and far exceeding what you get.
Transactional relationships suck. Social relationships are good.
Point #17: Use numbers that are hard to divide, like $777 or 22%. You want to put a mental break in so it can't get transactional.
It's just a tactic that works. Ask for pay that's a symbolic number. 8888 RMB in China, or 777 euros, or $1776 USD. NEVER make a bonus a multiplier of your pay or the pay of whoever works for you, if you can avoid it. They'll say, "Oh, that's 40 hours of work as a bonus?" Everyone multiplies and divides instinctually. Pick symbolic numbers and it helps fight off the transactional vibe.
Point #18: There need to be consequences for breaking their word. Immediately escalate and fight. Also show that that's costing them and setting them back.
My newest contract has a downright insane clause in it. After a short grace period, there's a 10% penalty per week for late payment. $1000 on time, $1100 one week late, $1210 two weeks late, etc, etc.
This is because this client had demonstrated multiple times that they don't care about paying me on time, and didn't care about making me whole. When a client is late in paying you, they need to be reminded that that's not acceptable. You should tell them, "Look, I don't take this personally, but it is a breach of trust and makes it hard to work together. I always assume you're as good as your word, and I just trust you. I'm comfortable running RIGHT on the line if payment is due from you, because I know you're as good as your word. So if I'm on the line and even laying out my own cash on supplies for you, and you pay me late, we've got big problems."
It's up to you whether you want to ask for a token gesture or more cash, whether you want to contractually require it, or just throw a fit if someone screws up in paying you. But you can't let it go unnoticed. When I've paid people late in the past (even a few days late), I always included a 10% bonus as an apology, and to make myself feel the pain. You need to make people feel pain when they don't pay you on time, or otherwise break their word.
Point #19: Beware the ratchet. Ratcheting is fundamentally evil, however it's frequently deployed from the vampire playbook because it is effective.
I passionately hate ratcheters. Ratcheting is when you promise ABC in exchange for XYZ. I deliver XYZ to you. You fail to deliver ABC. I then ask, "Hey, what the hell? You promised ABC." Then if you're going to be a ratcheting bastard, you say, "Oh... well, I'll give you ABC after you do 123 additionally for me."
Oh no you won't! You'll be reminded of our original deal, and pay RIGHT NOW, and YOU WILL NOT RATCHET ANYTHING. There will be no extra terms, no extra guarantees, and no new negotiation. You're also burning goodwill for every minute that passes going forwards, you're not going to get what you want, and if you want to work together going forwards, you'll remedy this immediately (in fact, you should inflict some pain on yourself so you're not tempted to try this bullshit again).
Ratcheting is evil, but very effective. It's holding the carrot in front of the donkey, and never giving it to the donkey.
Don't be a donkey. Don't let people ratchet you.
Point #20: Stop soldiering after they break their word, until it's remedied ++.
"Don't you trust me?"
"Oh I trust you, however, you've just failed to deliver. That destroys a good working relationship, and you need to remedy it."
When they (inevitably) complain about their problems and make excuses, "I understand. I also have problems. I could tell you that I've bought supplies for this project on a credit card and need to pay it off, I could tell you I need to feed my kids, I could tell you my father has leukemia and I'm paying for his treatment, but I won't, because it's irrelevant to you. I'm a professional and you're a professional. That means you pay on time, or you talk about in advance if there's going to be a problem and we work something out. I'm very happy to try to work something out if you let me know far in advance that there's going to be problems."
Points 21 and Onwards -
This is getting too long already and I just flew an acquaintance out from America to put a deal together will him, I've got to go meet him at the Starbucks by the metro station. Here's a bunch more points, you can ask if any of them aren't clear -
*If you can, make them pay for you to present to them, unless you love them, in which case do it for free and make it very valuable. Don't go halfway and do something uninspired.
*Tell people to give you all kinds of tools and nonsense. You'll get paid more, and you'll get what you want. Demand food, drinks, coffee, music, assistants, whatever. This is absurd, but you'll actually get paid more. I'm being ridiculously demanding lately and people are giving me what I want.
*Ask, "What's the goal?" Is it to be friendly, or to get your needs met?
*Write things down. Take them out and show them. People are funny about remembering what's most convenient for them. Paper doesn't lie.
*Have them write it down, if possible.
*Before you ask someone to sign on to a deal, ask them, "What do you expect to get out of working with me?" Have them say all of it, and write it all down. Professionalism, something beautiful, a great experience, a total professional, the exact design specs, etc, etc, etc. Print it. Show it to them and say you've delivered on all of it when they (inevitably) drag ass.
*Use analogies and jokes.
*"This is a fucking clownshow."
*Explain the asset value.
*Do a tradeoff table.
*Draw things on paper that are smart, leave them around when you're gone.
*If they keep jerking you around, give ultimatums without giving ultimatums. If you have a go-between, "Look, he didn't say explicitly he'd quit if he wasn't made whole, but he was pretty upset..."
CONCLUSION - GET PHILOSOPHICAL, DON'T TAKE CRAP, GET WHAT YOU WANT
Start living a principled life and things get easier and more enjoyable.
The rabbit hole goes pretty deep - I keep learning and re-learning and re-re-learning this stuff.
I do think artists deserve to be treated better, but that means demanding to be treated better.
If you take only one thing from this piece, it's to lay down a set of principles about what your time, your art, and your life are worth, and to explain them in advance. In the process, educate people about how best to work with you, and immediately call someone out when they start disrespecting your principles and your life.
We're on the planet for a brief blink of an eye, a single warm teardrop on the cold oceans of eternity. It's too short to share that time with people who won't respect yours, and yet eternally long when shared with people doing beautiful and creative things. Godspeed.
Wow! This just confirmed everything I've thought for the past several years, but have been too scared to do it 100%. I could start point-by-point, but I'll just say that everything you say reflects my own experiences.
As a designer, I got burnt-out with always fighting with clients on the philosophical-side. I felt more like an ego-pleaser person than an actual highly-skilled and talented professional. I thought if I went strategic, things would get easier (by having lots of data to back things up and I'd get rewarded for being good). But, honestly, it was just more of the same b.s., but only slightly better.
The problem I have now with strategy work is that clients like to withhold payments if they don't see magical results with tiny budgets and in tiny timeframes, regardless of how good the work is or how effective it may be for them long-term. Of course, this means I need to only work with clients that have suitable budgets and timeframe on results expectations (yes, same lessons learned again and again).
I should have fought harder for my design work. I think it's an issue of dignity rather than just primadonna-ness. My husband and I recently decided we needed to join forces to fight the good fight together. I'm a really awesome designer and strategist and he's a freakishly talented artist. We have a lot of insane projects together coming up. Let's see what we do in 2012!
Thanks for this.
Great stuff. I think you are one of the most interesting people on the internet at the moment.
I have no idea if any of it is true (I don't know you, and I don't know anyone who knows you) but it all rings true, and I'm really enjoying it. Keep it up!
Incredibly insightful and inspiring post. Can't believe how many awesome ideas you covered, even in this long article.
Been reading your blog for a few months now, I find it truly inspirational. I'm just getting started with web business and I find your writing to provide the best concepts for developing the resilient and aggressive mindset that is needed.
This article is unreal, possibly the most helpful I have read yet. Tons of value, especially in elevating an approach past strategic thinking and incorporating a philosophical, principle based approach to business. Thanks a lot Sebastian. Sharing to anyone I can
I've never seen this much valuable information packed into such a small space.
I feel a powerful urge to know you. I'm sure you know what I mean. What's your advice on that?
This post is wonderful and I send lots of friends to it. Definitely one of the most useful posts on the web.
Seth Godin wrote an interesting post in a challenging vein today: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2012/04/the-end-of-the-diva-paradox.html
Brilliant piece, thank you for writing it.
I've shared this with every person I know who is in the least interested in being successful by running their own business or pursuing their own interests.
I'm familiar with the general premise of the post as a self employed search marketer, I'd like to thank you for articulating the points so well. It would have helped me greatly to read this years ago, when I started out.
"I hate the stupid negotiation game. What a waste of time. It builds no value. I’ll discuss terms. I don’t want to haggle over price."
I hate things too. Gravity, for example, or taxes. I still have to deal with them. They exist.
Human psychology is such that your "take it or leave it" approach to negotiation will alienate a good number of people. That's just the way it works. Even if you offer a good deal for the other party, if you stiff-arm them when they ask for more they'll be annoyed.
You might consider re-reading "Power Negotiation" by Roger Dawson. It's the best book on negotiation ever. Always always always ask for more than you expect to get, because:
1) You just might get it
2) It creates room for you to give and negotiate (which makes you seem flexible and helps you to avoid deadlock)
3) Asking a high price increases the perceived value of what you're offering
I wrote a blog post about this topic specifically on giving employment offers. A "take it or leave it" approach is a terrible idea when offering someone a job.
When I saw the length of this post, I thought, OMG, I will never make it to the end... But, I kept reading and nodded every so often. This post was suggested to me by a friend, because I have some trouble with one of my clients right now, and I just wish I had read this earlier. Thanks a lot for this advice! I'm definitely sharing this one :)
I'm finding that a few minutes of reflection from time to time goes a long ways.
My natural tendency is to get into motion, to take action, to do things. But, I'm starting to see that I jump on trivial and mostly useless stuff sometimes for the desire to be in motion.
I was doing a review of my last week, and I came to a pretty amazing conclusion. If I'm working on big, important stuff with deadlines, the maintenance and day-to-day stuff naturally fills in the cracks, and things are good.
However, when my highest priority is maintenance/fill-in-the-cracks type stuff, I don't get as much done. Surprisingly, when I have less to do, even the little stuff doesn't get fully done.
So I'm starting to realize - just jumping into action without reflection isn't always such a good thing, unless it's clear what the most important thing to work on is.
So back in January, I wrote out my 7 goals for the year. It's been two months, so let's see how I'm doing :
1. Become FULLY polyphasic
I'm close on this one. Many days I go perfectly, sometimes if I have nothing to do I oversleep and then skip some naps during the day. I'm actually pretty satisfied with that, as I'm only sleeping 2.5-4.5 hours per night, I'm never tired, and can always count on being awake early and staying up late. I'll keep pressing to be more consistent, but I'm satisfied with where I am.