Skip to main content

7 tips for getting paid more as a designer

Illustration: Mystery Meat

Illustration: Mystery Meat

Whether you're trying to persuade your boss to give you a pay rise or fleshing out the details of a potential job offer, it's absolutely vital to do your homework beforehand – forewarned really is forearmed.

01. Do your research

"The most important thing to do before deciding whether to negotiate is to conduct background research," says Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group.

"Review salary guides and speak to recruiters. Try to find out if the company is growing or has recently reduced its staff, as these events can help to inform your bargaining power."

02. Evaluate your worth

Illustration: Mystery Meat for Computer Arts issue 244

Illustration: Mystery Meat for Computer Arts issue 244

"You need a solid foundation for any kind of compensation request," Domeyer says. For example, consider the impact of the projects in your portfolio.

"Create a list of your achievements in previous roles and relate your work to any possible contribution to the companies' revenue. Has your work helped generate business or build visibility? Have you developed more efficient processes and procedures? If you don't have answers to these types of questions, it will be difficult to make a case."

03. Bargain hard...

Negotiation expert Ted Leonhardt is a specialist consultant to the creative industries and author of Nail It: Stories for Designers on Negotiating with Confidence. He emphasises the pivotal importance of "bargaining hard, but with respect", along with the need to remember that potential clients and employers are human beings too.

"Creatives are often terribly apprehensive about bargaining for money. They think the client is going to behave as if they are buying a used car and try to drive a hard bargain, when they're usually very civilised.

04. Rehearse

Leonhardt is clear on the fact that preparation shouldn't stop at background research. He says it can also be helpful to rehearse potential scenarios and practise how you might respond.

"We can fall back into certain behaviours when we're under stress, like going into fight or flight mode," he says. "The stress of negotiation will cause you to feel some anxiety and fear, and that's normal. Everyone does it, but we all pretend that we don't."

05. Think about it overnight

"If you think about things overnight, you'll have the opportunity to get your frontal lobe fully engaged in the process and to move from an emotional space into a rational one," Leonhardt continues. That's why you should plan for the process of negotiation.

"Creatives often resist this because they're uncomfortable with it and are in denial. They can go into the situation unprepared and can find themselves rolling over and giving in because they're feeling uncomfortable with the situation."

06. Clarity is important

Illustration: Mystery Meat for Computer Arts issue 244

Illustration: Mystery Meat for Computer Arts issue 244

"We give details of salary expectations from the beginning," says Kaler. "Otherwise you can reach the end of the process and find that expectations don't match. The offer may have been signed off with HR and now they'll have to go back with egg on their faces. There should be no surprises at offer stage."

07. Make yourself valuable

Taking care over your presentation – of yourself and your work – can make all the difference, says Nikky Lyle. "Don't show scruffy print-outs of your portfolio. I always recommend graphic designers show things on an iPad and then bring out printed samples as well."

It's all about how valuable you make yourself. If you want to earn more, get the maximum value from yourself.

The full version of this article first appeared inside Computer Arts issue 244: Earn More as a Designer – on sale now.

Liked this? Try these...