Studio Max Senden


The State and Waste of Dutch Design

A zebra crossing cut in half by a road separation overflown with weeds and plants
Few people know about online freelancing (i.e. outsourcing). Even less have attempted to analyse it. With this short essay I hope to lift the veil into the world of online freelancing within the global creative industry.

When 'okay' is good enough

Imagine you're a standup comedian. During the past several years you have honed your skills and perfected your acts. No matter where you perform at you know how to entertain people and give them their money's worth. Tonight you are scheduled to do a sketch at a local pub. However, just before opening the manager comes over and tells you he's only willing to pay 30% of your usual fee. Instead of asking you to cut your 1,5 hour performance down to 30 minutes he asks you to simply use some of your lesser material. He doesn't want people to laugh out loud or experience the best night of their life. If they happen to have an occasional giggle, and buy a beer or two, it's already good enough for him.

Dropping your price in return for a lacklustre performance sounds like an absurd proposal. However, some clients explicitly state that they don't want to have the very best. It shouldn't come as a surprise that many creative professionals have difficulty understanding such a request. After all, most of us always strive to do the very best we can (not to mention we're taught to do so from as early on as kindergarten). Not only does it give us a lot of pride and satisfaction, but it also enables us to use our creation for future acquisition. Even when a client's budget is insufficient a professional will usually try to look for a workable solution.

Less is more... more or less

But why do some clients explicitly ask for you to perform less or deliver a lesser product? One would expect the most common reason for this to be a lack of budget, or perhaps even a lack of ambition or confidence. Although this can be (part of) the reason there's more at play here. For example, a client might have all the money in the world, but maybe all he needs is a cheap low-grade webshop to make his enterprise a success. Why then should the client be expected to invest thousands of euros (if not a multitude of that) to get something better? Sure, a webshop with all the bells and whistles might lead to an increase in sales, but is that desirable? It might be impossible for the client to stock up his webshop fast enough to keep up with an increase in orders. This is just one of many possible reasons why a client might not want to get the very best.

Another thing us creatives tend to (conveniently) forget about is that no single client is under the obligation to care about our creative satisfaction. No matter how much some of us like to deny it, in the current marketplace we provide our clients with a product or service that can be replicated and customized in numerous of ways. Being able to modify that product or service to suit the clients' needs is only healthy business practice for any creative professional.

The Ego

So what is a creative professional to do when he or she comes across a client like this? There are plenty of creative professionals and agencies out there who have built their business models and employee bases specifically for these kind of clients. Perfectly respectable, and a good way to make good money for doing relatively little when compared to other aspects of the Creative Industry.

But let us assume you don't belong to this category of creative professionals. Lets say you insist to always give it your very best (in order to satisfy your own pride and ego, because lets be honest, that's what it is). If so, my advice would be to turn away these kind of clients. No matter which choice you make it'll end up in a lose-lose situation. Either you don't give it your best shot and feel discontent afterwards (not to mention creatively frustrated during the entire run of the project). Or you do give it your best shot, but by doing so undersell yourself. Both scenarios are undesirable and only result in wasting valuable time, money and effort.

In other words: if you truly insist on always giving it your very best, then carefully select only those clients who share your ambitions. By no means is it an indicator that these kind of clients will be any better than the other. But at least they will pay you (what you think is) your money's worth.

Are you good enough to be okay with it?

Having said all of this: it's impossible to avoid the 'okay is good enough' scenario from time to time. Even clients who pay the big bucks and only demand the very best will occasionally ask you to whip up something quick and dirty. It's something all creatives have to deal with sooner or later.

So perhaps the real question is not 'when is okay good enough?' but 'are you good enough to be okay with it?'.

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