Nobody tells you that when you go into business for yourself, you will still have a boss. The allure of being able to set your own hours and work in your pajamas just isn’t true for the majority. There have been days I have worked from home and in my pajamas but that only happens maybe a couple of times each year. I only mention this because this is the misconception most people have for the self employed. Being a creative, this misconception is placed upon me even more. Before I get into this, let me say this: I love being self employed. Though I yearn for stability of a regular paycheck at times, being self employed is very fulfilling. I honestly do not know if I could go to work for someone else without having complete creative control like I do with my own business.
Here is what most people do not realize about self employed. We have bosses. Our bosses are our clients. The clients who hire us to do work, have expectations like a boss does. They want the work completed to perfection and under budget if possible. The key phrase here is, “the client has expectations.” There is nothing wrong with expectations. Expectations are there to serve as an understanding. Just as in marriage, my wife has expectations of what my role is and I of her. Those of you who have worked for someone else have probably been in a situation where you were forced to do work a certain way that contradicts the way you would have preferred to do it. What I am saying is that you know of a better way, yet you are forced to do it the way your boss wants it done. This could relate to many things such as the steps you take to get to a certain result or even the fact that you are doing the task at all. I am not saying that my clients tell me how work needs to be done, but they all have their own ideas of what they want. There is nothing inherently wrong with that.
What I find almost laughable is how exact most of my clients are on what they want even though they don’t really understand what it is. They know just about every detail of how they want something to look or function, almost to the point that I wonder why they don’t just do it themselves. There is nothing wrong with this as we live in an information age where most of us can research just about anything. In this way, I am no different than my clients. The issue is that most people have no idea what they need, they just saw something, and it made sense to them, so what they saw is what they feel they need. I hope that makes sense because I am writing out of a slightly frustrated state.
Here is an example: A client explains a feature they want to have on their website. They explain to me the intended result of what this feature needs to achieve. At this point, I have a solid understanding of what they want to achieve and in my head I have formulated a process in which to make it happen. This is where as the hired creative, I should be left to do what I do best. However, the client saw how this worked on another website that doesn’t do what he does but for some reason their widget made them feel a certain way, so he studied it for hours until he had convinced himself that it was exactly what he needed. The client then details exactly how they want this to work. Processes that I had just formulated in my head start conflicting with what the client originally told me he wanted to achieve. It is starting to sound like the client does not really understand what he wants. He knows the result of what he wants, but everything in between is kind of messed up.
This is where I as a creative, and someone who genuinely cares about his clients desires, always interject with my thoughts and begin the process of explaining to my client why this widget he saw on another website won’t work for his situation. In rare instances a client will feel enlightened and will realize that my solution is what they need. In most cases the client has already made up his or her mind and can not be swayed.
My problem is this: I am not the type of person that will do work for someone that I know is not going to achieve their original goal. Sure I could probably make a lot more money this way but I know that when the work was done, and it did not function the way the client envisioned it working, the blame would be put on me for giving the client exactly what they asked for. It’s human nature. If everybody got everything they asked for and it worked, why would we need professionals in any field. WebMD would be enough for us to self diagnose all of our ailments and we could just go down to the pharmacy and get all the drugs we needed to cure all of the diseases we most likely don’t have. That and we all would probably die. Of course I realize that I am not saving lives here, but I am trying to save my clients money. This is where just about 80% of the time, my job goes thankless.
Clients love to assume that everything was their idea to begin with. When you put in the extra work to make it great or make suggestions that will improve the process, it doesn’t really matter because it was the clients idea to begin with. Thankfully I did not go into business to be showered in admiration. Even my clients whose business has increased year over year due to the additional exposure my work has gotten them do not think about me when they look at their bank account balances. That is not why I got into working for myself. The 80/20 rule applies here just like it does with most things. 80% of the joy you get out of doing good work will come from 20% (or less) of those people.
As a creative speaking on behalf of all creatives, you can’t let this get you down. I listen to what my clients need and then I make suggestions regardless of their desire for my input. I know for a fact that I have lost business because I told a client they needed something else. People are stubborn and are going to spend their money on what they already decided upon. This is where ethics comes into play.
I cannot ethically take money from people who I can see are just going to throw it away on the wrong idea. I know that someone else will, but I do my best to look into what they are trying to do and help direct them into a better solution for their problem. Because of this, I have been told that I don’t know what I am talking about and once was told I was arrogant and should “know the facts” before making suggestions about something I don’t know anything about. I am fine with losing that kind of business. Life is too short to have to work for or with those kind of people. There is a special kind of geek out there that doesn’t mind working for a dictator. That geek can have his money. Maybe I am wrong. I would love to see them succeed and I hope they return to throw their success in my face. I would be genuinely happy for them.
This year I have dealt with what seems like 10 times the amount of people who have wanted something only for me to find out that what they needed is something else. I have no problem with this situation. The problem lies in the fact that these days people don’t want to hear it. They have emotionally invested so much of their time into something because their competitor did it this way and “appeared” successful at it or they read some article on a tech website that said it was a “must have.” Because of that emotional connection they have, if someone suggests something different or even asks a question to help better understand why they want that solution, they get upset. What always confuses me is that they say they came to me because they wanted a “professional” to handle it for them.
When it comes to my own decision making process, I often am the same as my clients. I want something a certain way because I researched it and decided that I wanted it that way. Because of the time I invested in researching the idea, I am willing to do what it takes to make it happen. When I hire someone to do the work, I expect exactly what I asked for. The difference between me and many of the people I come in contact with is that I recognize that when it does not work the way I thought it would, I accept fault for making the wrong decision. I do not blame the failure of my decision on someone else. I recognize that my idea was not the best solution for the problem and corrections are made from there. What happens in most cases is that the client can not see what made their idea fail, so it must be the fault of the creative or developer. They either give up on their idea or take all of the ideas I suggested along the way, and go to a competitor of mine. I just had two professional services providers take the exact work I created on their behalf to a competitor of mine. I gladly handed over the work because if a client can not see the value in what was created it is not long until they will create the same kind of problems for the next person they work with. What am I saying, they obviously saw the value in the content because they continued to use it after leaving for a competitor. Life is too short to deal with people like that.
No relationship is ever going to be perfect. I know that from just about every experience I have had on this planet in my 34 years. I do not expect clients to sing my praises and shower me with accolades. I do not feel like I am a superhero who leaps tall buildings in a single bound, nor do I want to feel that way. I guess the whole reason for writing this post is just to vent. Sometimes as a person who creates, whether you work for someone else, or you work for yourself, you need to vent about it. No better place to do that than publically, right?
If you are a creative who works for him/herself or are one of many creatives at a company who performs services for clients, don’t let this discourage you. Even having the ability to work in an industry where there is such a wide variety of options and technology is a blessing. Our industry moves so fast that it is almost impossible to get bored. We live in a communal world where we have to interact with each other. Nothing is going to change there. I am just thankful that I get to learn so much about what other people do and despite the fact that I don’t always get to implement my suggested solutions, it’s still cool to see what people are doing and are passionate about.
If you are a client of a creative, especially one of my clients, and you are reading this; don’t worry. I don’t loathe working with you and please do not assume that you are a dictator because I said the word dictator once in this post. We all have frustrations with things. I spent an hour complaining about the latest iPhone’s camera the other day. Nothing is perfect and I don’t think any of us ever seek perfection, we just want our needs understood. From that, a solution that works should be developed and delivered. That is what my goal is, to understand my clients and deliver on their needs as best I can. Confusion and conflict will never go away, but if we listen to and understand each other, it makes for a much better relationship. All I ask is that you be open to suggestions. You might know how to drive the car, but you didn’t build it.
So, for those of you who have the misconception that working for yourself means total freedom from the mundane, and that all of our self employed days are filled with trips to Starbucks only to return to our couch where we will sit comfortably with our laptop and favorite Netflix shows, I hope that this post has enlightened you. Working for yourself is great, and sure it’s rewarding, but in the same way that having kids is rewarding. It’s hard work and sometimes you want to yell and scream, but when you look back on years of time invested, you can say that you were in at least 20% control.