Design Is a Job by Mike Monteiro
Chances are if you work in the design industry you’ve heard the name Mike Monteiro, the no bullshit co-founder of Mule Design. Mike’s reputation for being very… direct is well-known, helped along by his public-speaking debut at CreativeMornings/SanFrancisco creatively titled, F*ck You, Pay Me. But beyond his noteriety he is probably best known as the author of the oft-cited and highly regarded book, Design Is a Job.
The book, which has been available for some time (I first read it in 2013), has been dissected and quoted time and again so I won’t be doing more of that here. This article is meant to pique your curiosity, not rehash the book. I only hint at what the book covers and how this deceptively modest yet information-packed quick-read has shifted my perspective and understanding of freelancing. The ebook is only $11, so don’t be a cheap bastard.
I will say what makes this such a standout is the clearly stated common sense approach. There’s no pretense of trying to reinvent the wheel. Mike simply points out what’s been right in front of us yet continually fail to see. In truth many of us are probably blissfully ignorant of things that could mean the difference between owning a thriving business vs. one that limps along.
Less is More
The first thing you notice is how brief the book is. You might think there isn’t much to be gleaned but you would almost certainly be mistaken. From the first few pages it’s clear that Mike’s writing style is succinct and thus extremely easy to digest and you quickly realize there’s a lot of hard-earned insight packed into its brief chapters.
The Truth Always Hurts
It’s worth pointing out that before reading Design Is a Job I felt I was doing ok from a business perspective, and in some ways I was doing... ok. But was I best serving my own interests? Hell no! I knew the business side had rough spots but I was confident I knew how to fix them. Boy, was I mistaken.
After a couple chapters I was happy to note a lot (though far from all) of what Mike discusses I was already aware of or had implemented to a lesser extent, but that feeling was premature and short-lived. What quickly became painfully clear (yes, it was painful to admit) was that my approach, while vaguely similar in certain respects to Mike’s, was frightfully… laughably far from being fully realized. I wasn’t even an eighth of the way through the book and already it was obvious I was a long way from where I thought I was; from where I needed to be.
You’re a Salesman, So Act Like One
The first of my many forehead-slapping moments came when I realized that before being anything else: artist, designer, developer, business owner etc. I was a salesman. Period. It seems so clear now yet it wasn’t until I read it that I fully grasped the obviousness of the statement.
With this clarity I was able to effect a core change in how I viewed my business and how I presented myself to prospective clients. You see, previously I thought of myself only as an artist and designer, not a business owner selling a service. Like everyone else I have expenses that need to be paid from the sale of my services, yet that’s not how I was looking at the situation. Clearly it was an unsustainable approach.
Once I understood and accepted this fact and along with a shift of perspective, I reassessed my role from a far more practical and realistic point-of-view. This change has proven absolutely critical in providing the foundation from which all other changes would later be built upon. I credit this change more than any other for the benefits I’ve seen thus far.
Naturally a fundamental change will have a ripple effect and as I was about to find out there was more work to be done.
Your Boss is a Damn Fool
My second realization came in the form of pricing, an uncomfortable and often confusing topic for many of us. Value-based pricing (vbp) gets a lot of focus though the concept is nothing new. Many people tout its superiority over all other types of pricing structures as being the only viable and sustainable strategy. I’ll leave it to you to decide if that statement is accurate.
I first heard of it a few years ago and to be honest, while it made perfect sense on the surface I couldn’t see how it would actually work in my situation so I put it on the back-burner. Looking back I now realize why I couldn’t see the bigger picture: I was still thinking like an artist or designer and not a business owner (this was before I made the above change). The result of my ignorance was that, despite my belief that I had a realistic and sustainable pricing structure. I did not. The result of which I was grossly undervaluing my work.
Despite having read many articles over the years regarding the pros of vbp it wasn’t until I read Mike’s explanation that it finally… finally clicked for me. So simple and obvious when you have the proper perspective. I felt simultaneous elation over the clarity and embarrassment at having taken so long to get here.
Seeing the Forest for the Trees
I’ve read Design Is a Job a couple times cover-to-cover and it’s always an enlightening experience. Even now I will page through it for a brush-up and always find a new subtle insight. In that sense it really is a reference book. I frequently find myself thinking, that makes total sense or oh sure, I know that while at the same time saying, why the hell am I not doing this? What Mike has done for me is to very clearly define those aspects I was only vaguely aware of while also bridging the gap between what I already knew should be done but didn’t know how to do.
He also opened my eyes to a lot of aspects of running a design business I had dismissed or had never been aware of in the first place. Far more than what I’ve discussed here. I know I have more work to do but I feel as though I found a path I didn’t know I needed to be on.
For that Mike, I thank you.