Costs & Pricing

Up until recently, I’ve been in a sort of silent struggle with the cost and pricing of my work. From products to client services, I’ve always been on edge about what to charge, how to charge, and when to charge. Lately, I’ve decided to quit worrying about it and adopt some general “rules” for pricing my work and what is factored into each rule.

Prior Knowledge

The first and most important factor, at least as I’ve identified, is prior knowledge. Meaning, in order to complete the task that you’re being paid for, how much prior knowledge or experience do you have to have to say “I can do that.” The answer to this question helps me define a price spread for a given piece of work. If I have a lot of prior experience, or, I’ve done it a handful of times, generally my price will be higher.

Something I’d call a “confidence cost.” When my confidence level is high on a given task, I charge more to compensate myself for prior knowledge. Because I’ve taken the time to learn how to complete that task and do it well, it seems fitting to reward myself for putting in the time to arrive at such a future.

On the flipside of this would be tasks where my confidence level is low to medium. Usually this is for things that I know I can figure out if put to task, but know that I’ll need to dedicate some time to studying or practicing the thing before I complete it. In the situations, as you might have guessed, the price for that work is lowered.

Turnaround Time

This is one that I’ve mistakenly let fall by the wayside in the past. Turnaround time is simply the amount of time within which a client expects you to produce a valuable result. I used to promise ridiculous turnaround times: partially in an effort to “impress” my clients (big fucking mistake) and also because I was unexperienced (a given).

The fix, then, is to consider the timeline for the work (the amount of time the client would like the task to take) and the realistic amount of time you think it would take you to complete the task (keep in mind the prior knowledge factor outlined above).

If a client says “I need this by the end of the week,” then, given my prior knowledge, the price will go up. Some might refer to this as a “rush” cost. Whatever your fancy. If the timeline for the project is extended over a much longer window, then the price may go down if I know that I’ll be able to procrastinate here and there or put gaps in between the days I actually work on the project.

P.I.T.A

This is new, but something I’m experimenting with. Despite what some may think, there is an unspoken (if you’re professional, at least) disregard for Pain in the Ass clients. You don’t have to be a designer or a developer to experience this. P.I.T.A people are everywhere and learning to deal with them can be a rite of passage (of sorts) into business.

Either way, the idea here is simple: if I know I’m going to have to hold your hand through certain tasks or you’re going to email or call me every 20 minutes, I factor in a P.I.T.A  cost. It’s usually not enough to matter, but more so, a fun way to pat myself on the back for putting up with a less-than-favorable client.

Budget & Benevolence

This one isn’t good for business (in the sense of collecting money), but something I pride myself on. I don’t mention this to clients, but in some cases, I offer a lower price based on the benevolence – or good nature – of the client. I tend to do this for people who are well-meaning, just starting out in business, or have a brilliant idea but lack the serious funds to get it off the ground. This type of pricing is used sparingly, but in places where I know if they knew I did it, the client would be incredibly thankful.

Conclusion

Pricing is a beast. It’s incredibly difficult to pin down what to charge someone for a piece of work and I truly believe that it comes down to the individual. Pricing calculators, advice columns, etc. are an “if you have to” way to price your work. Instead of this, take the time to consider what works for you and only you. Sometimes this will line up with other people.

More than anything, never let a client or customer back you into a corner on how you price your work. Be vigilant and honest about how you make your money and don’t be afraid to buck the status quo if it means running a better business (and creating a better product) for your customers.

Respond to this post on Twitter: @rglover.

Meditation

I’ve started to do something lately that I never thought I’d try: meditation. Over the past couple of months, I’ve noticed meditation popping into my world: in articles, podcasts, and mentioned by people I talk to. At first, I’d dismissed it as something goofy – a sort of pseudo-sport for the hippie set. As I’ve begun to practice meditation myself, though, I’ve come to learn its benefits and understand what lies behind the “hippies only” stereotype.

The tipping point for trying out meditation came when I heard about an app called Headspace. I was reading an article over on the Buffer blog about the benefits of meditation and what affect it has on the body and mind. Headspace is pretty slick. The whole app is centered around guided meditation and teaching you how to improve your technique. As a fun bonus, each session is narrated by UK based, once monk, Andy Puddicombe. The app offers a substantial amount of content, but I’m currently making my way through the 10 daily 10 minute sessions that come bundled when you download the app.

My experience so far has been great and I’ve found with the help of Headspace, very easy to get started. Each night sitting in bed, I pull up the app and plug in my headphones. From there, I listen to Andy’s guided program and work through a series of techniques that revolve around paying attention to breathing, learning to let your mind run uninhibited, focusing on background noise, and noticing your body and how it feels.

The results are not religious. But they are calming. When I sit down each night, most of my worries, fears, and brain chatter are milling about my head. After I finish the session, though, I’ve noticed a certain kind of peacefulness.

Before starting a few days ago, it wasn’t uncommon to find me sitting up in bed, playing with my phone or tossing and turning. Now, I find myself falling asleep within 10-15 minutes of meditating. I’ve also noticed my sleep being deeper, even going as far as to sleep in later than I usually do.

Beyond sleep, I’ve also noticed being more relaxed during the day. Normally I have an air of anxiety about me: worrying about my to-do list, responding to emails, and all of the other minutiae of life. The past couple of days I’ve found myself sitting down in the morning with a deep focus on my work.

Instead of fidgeting in my seat, I’ve managed to do 90 to 120 minute work sessions without issue. In tandem with this, too, is that I’ve started to take regular breaks. My usual work pattern is to sit and stare at my screen, desperately trying to “work” for hours on end without any real focus. With breaks scattered about my day, I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten more work done.

To say that all of these outcomes are the result of meditation might be a stretch, but I’m buying it. The subtle changes in my behavior have made life that much better and it’s convinced me to keep going. Meditation has really piqued my interest, so I intend to keep writing as I learn things.

I highly recommend Headspace, though. Try it out.

Respond to this post on Twitter: @rglover.

Scraps

I’ve noticed that a lot of the work that I produce is in the form of scraps. Tangents, incomplete ideas, things I thought of in the middle of the night. They’re not meant to be whole. They’re almost like clues, embedded in my unconscious. In order to get where I want to go, I need to produce this blur of an idea to get there.

Sometimes I get anxious when I don’t push these ideas further. They almost feel like mini failures. Why am I so excited about an idea when I start working on it, only to abandon it a few hours or days later? I think the reason, for me at least, is simple. It’s in exploring these idea–actually making them– that I realize that they’re not as brilliant as I saw them in my mind.

I’ve heard this referenced before, by Ben Chesnut over at MailChimp in his Creative Mornings talk. He explained that people in the company do a lot of exploratory work, but if nothing comes of it within two weeks, they scrap it and toss it in the parts bin. Boy do I love this idea. When I heard it, I immediately thought, “hey, that sounds like me!” What really excited me, though, was Ben’s revelation that these “parts” could be reused or learned from later.

One anecdote he shares is about one of the designers at MailChimp becoming infatuated with vikings, leading to a sword design. The design had nowhere to go, but coincidentally, Ben realized that one of the developers at MailChimp was working on a security app that needed imagery that was “tough,” something akin to a viking. The connection was easy and the ideas came together.

Because I tend to work alone, I may not get results like this. But, I do still find value in revisiting old ideas. For example, I was looking through my old Dribbble posts last night and saw a lot of seed ideas that never went anywhere. The cool thing, though, was that a lot of those ideas were actually great – little bits of UI or interaction ideas that I can use in my new projects.

This is a bit rambling, but I guess the point is to not feel guilty about abandoning ideas. If anything, just take what you’ve made and put it aside for later. Sure, the world wants to see what you’re working on, but they don’t need to. There’s this notion with all of this social stuff floating around that we need to constantly share everything we do. I think this is wrong. Share occasionally? Absolutely. Share everything? Nope. Put stuff on the back burner and let it simmer. Not everything is or needs to be an out of the park home run.

Respond to this post on Twitter: @rglover.

Reality

A little more than two weeks ago, I put my first big product, Proper, live. I didn’t make any big announcements, just a friendly “hey guys” email sent out to my earlybird mailing list. The response was decent and has ended up generating a handful of customers. I’m happy. The product is out the door and I can start to think about where I’d like to take it. But something has felt weird…

One of the interesting parts of making your own stuff with your own money is that the frequency of focus shifts constantly. Since launch, I’ve taken a few consulting gigs to make up for the cost of getting Proper out the door. During that time, I’ve felt immense guilt. Almost like, “how dare you put out a product and not immediately start improving it.”

The siren song of the community is “ship it!” but after the tone fades out, there’s nothing. The instruction manual is more or less scattered, and realizing that you have to pull it together on your own is overwhelming.

What I’ve realized is that our industry as a whole (technology?) has placed too much of an emphasis on launching and revealing. We build up this hyper dynamic idea of what’s going to happen, how famous we’ll be, and how much money we’ll make. When we say “ship it,” what we’re actually doing is saying “get to the finish line, prizes lie ahead!” Whether the intended result or not (I’d argue, not), this conflates our expectations of what comes next.

It also removes us from the reality that getting something out the door isn’t the real test. But rather, listening to customers, evolving what we’ve made, and strapping in for the long haul is more on par. There are plenty to blame for this sort of attitude, but finger waving isn’t the way.

Instead, I’d like to see more stuff like this. Where founders and business owners bubble to the surface and say “well, not exactly kid.” Instead of aggrandizing all of the popularity and glitz, I think we stand to curate a much better future if we train young founders (like myself) to understand the depth of what running a business really entails. To move ourselves away from the “get rich quick” paradigm would settle the air quite a bit. It would also lead to some really brilliant companies coming in to existence.

Respond to this post on Twitter: @rglover.

All At Once

I’ve been coping with an important lesson lately: you don’t have to do it all at once.

As I’ve gotten closer and closer to releasing Proper, my first product, I’ve come to understand the importance of iteration. I’d preached it before, but didn’t really have a great idea for how to implement it in my own work. Until recently, I’ve usually just started ideas over from scratch, totally dismissing existing work or ideas in the process.

This has led to a number of ideas falling by the wayside. When I started working on them, I was (generally speaking) head-over-heels excited to make them a reality. But over time, I lost interest. If I think back to my state of mind at those various points in time, part of what thwarted my progress was a concern of never fully implementing my vision. I’m not just referring to products or things I’ve made, but others things too like decorating my office or writing a blog post. It didn’t really matter what it was, but after a certain point in the project, I became overwhelmed with the expanse of where I wanted to be and couldn’t accept that to get there would take time.

I came across a link earlier that made me really happy. It’s a detailed history of Google, from their beginning to current day. I enjoyed it because it gave you a sense of how one of the biggest companies in the world started as just two guys. You should read it, because it will help you to bring in to scope how long it takes to make an idea come to fruition. If I had to guess, Larry and Sergey still haven’t fully achieved what they talked about in the early days.

The reality is that when we’re building things, we need to not get so attached to the peak. When we focus on the “end result,” we tend to foil our motivation in the process of creating the thing. Instead of trying to guess where we’ll end up, we should focus on small units like our next step or the next piece of track. Based on our current abilities, what’s the best thing we can produce tomorrow?

If we take our time, we stay excited about what we’re working on. We don’t get wrapped up in the potential to make money or look “cool” to other people. We simply live our lives and work on our ideas because that’s what matters most to us in the current moment.

Remember what Andy Warhol said:

In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.

What’s the rush?

Respond to this post on Twitter: @rglover.

Others

I have an attraction to quotations that I don’t fully understand. The wisdom and knowledge of others, frozen in time, locking a certain idea or lesson in place: it’s seductive. A lot can be said by a quote, but a lot can be left out too.

This idea, of things being left out, is what has made me a little more skeptical about following quotes as blind advice lately. Not just quotes either, but any article, interview, podcast, or whatever that explains how a famous intellectual or creative carries (or carried) about their work. It’s all interesting and insightful, but it leaves something out: my own opinion.

The purpose of reading about what others have done is to influence my own work. But if I’m busy reading about the work and ideals of others, I’m not staking much of a claim for myself, am I? The idea here being, that in order to be a person of influence, you have to spend your time forming your own ideas and opinions without the influence of others.

There’s another problem: not only is my own opinion left out, but I think occasionally the original author is too. A quote or article referencing another person or their work is like hovering over it with a microscope. We never see the whole thing, only what fits into our (or whoever is presenting this thing to us) lens. Sometimes, this can distort our understanding of what someone is trying to convey or teach us. Or, gasp, that maybe when they said what they said, it was just them sharing their opinion and not trying to influence others. Interesting.

I’ve started weening off of the quote/article thing lately. What I’ve noticed is that I’ve started to have more fun, to get a better understanding for what I like, and to show more personality in my work. The things I’ve been making (for example, this blog) are coming to fruition because I want them to. Because they’re important to me. I’ve wasted hours (perhaps even days) on worry, doubt, and fear of what others might think because of something I read or heard somewhere once.

That’s really fucking stupid.

Respond to this post on Twitter: @rglover.

Hibernation

I love the Fall. Great weather, beautiful scenery, and a time to say goodbye to your fellow humans as they retreat into their own company for a few months.

Something is different this year, though. I’m genuinely excited for the fall and winter months. Why? I need to study.

If you’ve been following me elsewhere online, you’ll know that I’ve been splitting my time between my home-based design studio, Well Rounded Gent, and my first app/product, Proper. As I wrap up the first version of Proper, I’ve noticed that my skills have started to stagnate. While I did learn a lot about development thanks to my time with Meteor, I’ve noticed that I’m a falling short in a few other spots.

I’m not a big fan of cold weather, in fact, I get down right grumpy when it dips below 40. As a result, you’ll usually see me perched in my office, close to the radiator.

Instead of griping about the temperature this year, I’ve decided to spend my snow watching days being a bit more productive. And so, I’ll be entering an active hibernation.

I want to spend the end of this year focusing on three big things: writing, marketing, and a new approach to starting projects.

Writing

If you couldn’t tell, I’ve taken a close look at writing and what it means to me lately. I’ve come to enjoy getting my thoughts on paper (screen?) and want to get better at organizing them. I haven’t decided how I’ll be working on writing aside from posting to this blog, but it will be a big theme for this Winter. The goal right now is to just make writing a more regular part of my work.

Marketing

The impetus behind marketing is Proper. I’m not too big on marketing from a “hey, buy my shit!” standpoint, so I want to avoid the wiener route and really practice promoting my work from a more authentic point of view. I have some ideas about how to make this process more human, so I’ll be doing a handful of experiments to see if I’m right. I’m betting big on people with this one, so we’ll see how it goes.

Starting Projects/Workflow

This is big. I had a tiff with one of my friends about this today, but he may have convinced me otherwise. Generally speaking, I’ve been pretty adverse to “starter kits” for front-end development like Bootstrap and Foundation. I’ve played with both, and they’re very well done, but I’m a stubborn fellow and have (up until now) been very adamant about “rolling my own” solutions. With my first product rolling out, I’m starting to realize that from a business angle, this isn’t bright. I want to find something that’s flexible enough for me to make it my own, but developed enough to make rolling out new interfaces super easy.

In tandem with a front-end framework, I want to evaluate a new CMS. I’ve been a diehard WordPress follower for about five years now. I’m by no means a WP rockstar, but I’ve found it customizable and accessible enough for clients that it’s burrowed its head deep into my process. Lately, I’ve felt WP stammering a bit (at least, in regard to my own needs), and want to give someone else an opportunity to woo me. Right now I have my eye on Craft, but this is purely from an “ooh, that looks nice” standpoint and no practical experience.

Onward

So that’s my winter. I want to invest my energy in getting better at my craft, but also put some serious time and thinking into promoting Proper. If you’re into the idea of watching someone stumble up a hill, watch this blog. It’s going to get interesting.

See you on the other side!

Respond to this post on Twitter: @rglover.

Sandboxing

I launched a new version of this site on a whim last Sunday. When I woke up, there was zero intention or desire to redesign my personal site. In an attempt to distract myself from the frustration, that all changed and now I have a new site. Blamo. A week later, I’ve changed the design.

This got me thinking about the power of sandboxing. When you fail to set boundaries on what you’re going to make, you can end up making anything and everything. It’s a bit scary, but it’s also quite empowering.

I’ve always liked the color orange. My professional moniker employs it heavily and even the wall of my office is orange. In a way, the color explains my personality. Hot and cold. Medium. Half-way there. It’s positive without being too positive.

Whatever the underlying reason, I decided to update the design of this site to incorporate orange and a new font, too. I like it. It’s nice. I might change it next week or next year. I guess it just depends.

I also made a switch back to editing the site live without worrying. No more complicated git setups or launch protocols. Just drag and drop over FTP with a side of who the hell cares if someone sees a messy site for a second or two. No pressure.

I’m going to make a recommendation: start a project that you can sandbox. Something where you can change the colors, reorganize the layout, or swap out typography on the fly without having a panic attack. Remove the need for perfection and make things that exist solely to be changed.

Respond to this post on Twitter: @rglover.

Tuning

“Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself.”

- Miles Davis

I started officially learning design and development back in the summer of 2007. I was bored, not-quite-enthused following my first year of college. The summer just felt like an extension of high school. I wanted to do something different.

Web design had always held a special place for me. The first “web design” I ever did was a lie. For third grade show and tell, I put a word document on a floppy disk and held it up in front of the class announcing “this is a website.” A few years later, I recall sitting in the library of a university, placing clip art of a leather jacket clad alligator paying guitar on a page. I’d show my dad, an aspiring law student, and he’d cheer as I cobbled a website together on Geocities. It made me happy, seeing these arbitrary bits of text and images sort of amass on the screen.

Growing into my adolescence and my “oh fuck I’m chubby, I better do something weird so I don’t get picked on” phase in high school, I decided my best bet was to buddy up with the pale kids, start wearing black, and learning the ins and outs of angry music and pseudo political intellectualism. An offshoot of course was that some of my friends were in bands.

I’d suggest letting me design their website or logo and ended up dawdling around in Photoshop and Homestead, eventually scoring five bucks for not even producing a real website (fun fact: the kid that gave me the five bucks ended up being one of my first clients about two years ago). I also recall a short-lived, super illegal promotional business I started on the back of a Homestead website called the “Prozac Coalition” that I’d oft promote by leaving flyers in the bathroom at punk rock shows.

The Photoshop years followed, thanks to my brother showing me what he’d learned about the software in school. I killed several hours a day making graphics for bands I’d start but never write any songs for. My interest in Photoshop carried me to the Summer of 2007 a few years later, when I decided to spend my summer thumbing through an XHTML & CSS book. It was great: I’d sit up late cruising design galeries, inspecting the details of my favorite designers latest work, attempting to recreate their work with my latest knowledge.

Step on the gas and fast forward six years and now I do this for a living. Bizarre how that works out. I’m “better” in so much that I can make things look good on screen, write the code that makes the thing go there, or the bloop go “blorp” when you click on it. But the quote above still resonates with me.

Even after six years of learning to make stuff for the web, I still find myself not feeling in tune on occasion. Sometimes I feel like I just left the bookstore and haven’t learned anything yet. It’s strange because I hear the notes in my head, but plucking the strings doesn’t produce the right tone. I see full-blown designs, gorgeous, and detailed, but they stay inside.

I’m happy with what I produce now, but I’m also unhappy: it can be better. It can have more depth. It can attract more people than before. The carrot still dangles.

Miles was right.

Respond to this post on Twitter: @rglover.

Frustration

We all have two faces: the one that we allow the public (friends, colleagues, strangers) to see, and the one that we keep to ourselves. Our dark side. The “us” that – if it got out – has the potential to invalidate the “us” that everyone knows.

I’m going to let out a little secret: I get frustrated easily, a lot. Earlier today, for instance, my girlfriend asked if I’d like to get out of the house and work at Starbucks while she got her haircut. I obliged, deciding that a temperate Sunday indoors was a bit silly. While I was getting ready, I got frustrated and threw a little mini tantrum. I was trying to move my development environment from my desktop to my laptop and the laptop copy was throwing errors left and right. My girlfriend came in to ask if I was ready to go and I let out a small roar.

Silly, right? I know it is, but I’ve always been like this. When I was younger, I was a handful. On several occasions, I recall not getting what I wanted and in turn, wreaking enough havoc to send my mother into tears. I can’t say I was proud of it, but it was my tool of sorts for getting what I wanted. I was reprimanded, sure, but that rarely seemed to stop me: I always came back full force the next time.

In tandem with my behavior was frustration. Whenever something didn’t go exactly as I’d planned, I’d have a little pout. I’d kick and scream, and toss about. The little cherry on top was that I’d always blame my shortcomings on someone else – usually whoever was nearby. I’d make up a defense that I couldn’t possibly have been responsible for what I’d done and try to blame it on someone or something else. This is tough to admit, but in a way: I still do this.

Over the weekend, I started to read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. In it, I was pleased to learn that Anne shared one of my eccentricities: she too made up rebuttals in her head for confrontations that didn’t exist. She explains:

“I walk along defending myself to people, or exchanging repartee with them, or rationalizing my behavior, or seducing them with gossip, or pretending I’m on their TV talk show or whatever. I speed or run an aging yellow light or don’t come to a full stop, and one nanosecond later am explaining to imaginary cops exactly why I had to do what I did, or insisting that I did not in fact do it.”

My favorite moments are when I make up disputes with others before they even take place or show the possibility of taking place. It’s a strange habit. I haven’t quite pinned down why I do it, but I’ve been making a conscious effort to thwart it lately.

The one hunch I have is that it comes from my unfortunate bout with Leukemia when I was younger. I was constantly in and out of hospital rooms and doctor’s offices, being told something was wrong with me when I didn’t feel or understand what that might be. I felt fine. My activity levels certainly didn’t give off that I was sick. To me, all of the hullabaloo around my sickness felt unnecessary. As a result, I think I started to look at my “oppressors” as having it out for me (they did, I swear!).

Whatever the case, I’ve started to look at frustration as a healthy thing. In a way, it tells me when I’m headed in the wrong direction. As a compass, frustration allows me to identify what I do and don’t want to be doing. If my temper starts to tick, I stop and look at the “what” that caused it to flare up.

So far, I’ve been able to identify a handful(s) of things that I should avoid: online bill pay systems, cheap clients, people who yell at their friends for petting a well-groomed dog in an upscale neighborhood on the premise that “you don’t know where that dog has been.” They’re all little things, but hell if they don’t add up.

So here I am. On the long end of twenty five years, still trying to figure this tick out. Perhaps it’s just “in there” for good and I won’t be able to shake it. Writing it all down seems to help, though. Up until this writing, I think my biggest fear was people finding out about my frustration. Now that it’s written down, it actually seems kind of funny. Hopefully you find it charming, too.

By the way, welcome to my new personal blog. I’ve been meaning to do this for awhile now. A little repository for the words that don’t fit into my other happenings. I’d recommend signing up for my newsletter, too: Highbrow Hyperbole. I don’t have any concrete plans for what will show up there, but if you liked this writing, I bet you will like the newsletter as well.

Respond to this post on Twitter: @rglover.