Imagine you stumble across a new restaurant and it quickly becomes one your favorite places to frequent. When you first started going there, the owner would bring you an extra side with every meal. After awhile, you counted on those extra sides at lunch to top you off for the rest of the day. You even got some of your friends hooked on the food and the experience. But then one day, while ordering your meal and selecting your side, the owner says, “The sides now cost extra. Is that okay?” What do you do?

Before you answer, let’s talk about a few things. Being a designer, you’ll often find yourself on both sides of this scenario, not just the customer, but also the owner.

The Customer

As a designer, there’s nothing more important than your designer toolbox. This generally consists of all your typefaces, vector and photo libraries, patterns and backgrounds, program plugins and add ons, online tutorials, legal/contract resources, and sometimes even programming and web coding tools. This digital treasure trove has been personalized by you over your years as a designer. You love it. You organize it. You rummage about the internet looking to enhance it anyway you can. Sometimes you find free services and other times you pay. Either way, it’s yours and it helps you on every project.

But then, just like in the story above, one of the free services you have come to rely on is now asking you to pay. You’re stuck at the payment options page deciding on whether or not to enter in your precious 16 digit number or to find another free resource. For some of us, it’s worth it. It saves us energy and allows us to get our projects looking great in almost no time at all. On the other hand, adding on yet another monthly subscription adds up quick and can be too much for us in the long run. So, what do you do?

Generally, there’s no right or wrong decision to be made when this happens to you, because only you know the needs of both you and your clients. However, if your designer toolbox is only filled with free resources, your work will surely reflect that. Don’t be afraid to occasionally purchase some of the amazing resources out there. You’ll be supporting those designers while making yourself look better. When you do buy, buy to your needs not just your wants. You’ll find the things you buy more useful, which will help limit the clutter in your downloads folder and, more importantly, limit buyer’s remorse.

The Owner

You’re a passionate designer. You love your work and your clients. Whenever you can, you go above and beyond for them. You have a clear contract, but every once in awhile you’ll do a quick little job for them at no cost, because that’s just the kind of wonderful person you are. They appreciate what you do and keep coming back. They even tell some of their friends about you which lands you a few more clients. Your designs are good. Business is good. Life’s great.

But then you start to look at the numbers. You’ve been spending more and more time on these extra projects that you aren’t getting paid for. You kick yourself after thinking about all the hours that could have be used on projects that actually pay out. What do you do?

For this, there is a right answer. Simply put, you need to start charging more appropriately for your services. You’re a good designer. You know it and your clients know it. If your clients appreciate what you do for them, then they will understand your need to increase your rates. Raising your rates can be a difficult task for a designer, especially when it comes to the “informing the clients” part. However, when you bite the bullet and decide to raise your rates to reflect the quality of your services, you’ll notice many great changes happening for yourself and your business. You’ll find yourself doing less work for the same amount, while possibly making more money than in previous years. You’ll also take on better clients who know the value of design and who will trust you more.

Sure, you may lose some clients during the transition. You may even have to tell more potential clients that you are probably not be the right fit for them. But in the end, you’ll be juggling less clients, have the time to focus more on bigger projects, have the energy to be more creative, and make a more comfortable living for yourself.

So now, let’s go back to you at the restaurant. Are you still picturing yourself as the customer or do you now relate more with the owner? If you relate more with the customer, that’s great. It means you probably have a good grasp on what your time and money is worth. Keep it up. But if your picturing yourself more as the owner, then you’ve have some evaluating to do. Talk with other designers, go over you costs and project completion times, and ask yourself the hard question: Are you making the most of your time?

Your time and services aren’t free. Don’t let it cost you.