L et’s get straight to it—we all would like to make more as UX designers. There’s a lot of advice out there about how toraise your rates and get your work noticed, but what about finding and attracting the right clients to sign a UX contract with you?
Here’s what I see most UX designers doing when they’re seeking out higher-paid work:
Tinkering about updating the content of their portfolio
Spending hours contemplating “ Should I be a UX specialist or generalist? ”
Wondering whether to promote their portfolio on Behance or WordPress
Those things aren’t useless, but they’re not as productive as the process I used to land my first big UX design contract for Net-a-porter.com’s online magazine. Let’s talk about exactly what parts of the design contract process to focus on so you can book that all-important first call with a potential client.
When you can make that happen, you’ll eclipse 95% of your competition right away, and get the UX contracts everyone wants but doesn’t know how to get.
The exact wireframes of the clickable prototype for the world’s first 100 percent shoppable magazine from Net-a-porter.com, The Edit Online . Designed using InVision to wow stakeholders and secure the $34,770 UX design contract. Art Director: Jon Wetherell. Acting Editor Marion Jones. Digital Creative Lead: Oliver Campbell.
Step 1: Apply to companies who’ll pay you market rate—or more
First, I researched and found the top ecommerce companies I wanted to work for using LinkedIn as my guide.
To do this, type in the name of the companies you want to work for in the search field, then go to their company profile page and click on the yellow “Follow” button in the top right. You’ll start to see posts from employees posting company news and hiring managers posting jobs from those companies.
When you know how to usenetworking and job search tools like Linkedin to your advantage, you’ll have the tools at your fingertips to build relationships. That’s key to being the top of mind for jobs, especially those that may never even get to a job board.
Second, I created job alerts so I’d get notified when my favorite ecommerce companies were hiring.
To do this, I went to LinkedIn, searched “UX Designer in London” and at the top left, and created alerts to notify me of new UX employment and contract positions advertised in my location.
By focusing on finding UX roles at companies you know can pay you market rate or more (larger companies, successful or well-funded startups, etc.), you’re more likely to reach your goals faster.
Step 2: Acing the interview before the interview
Because I’d taken time to follow companies and set up alerts on LinkedIn, I saw right away when the Head of UX of Net-a-porter.com posted a message on LinkedIn saying she was looking for a UX designer.
I replied immediately with a thoughtful message saying I was interested and wanted to know the next steps. We arranged a call to chat about my experience and skills. This is what I call “the interview before the interview,” where your potential client wants to assess whether you’re a good fit based on your skills and demeanor.
Needless to say because I ended up getting the job later, this informational interview went incredibly well. Afterward, the Head of UX introduced me to HR for the formal interview process.
The best way to impress a client during the initial call is to ask perceptive questions . These are the questions I asked during my interview-before-the-interview with Net-a-porter.com (and which you can use too):
“I’m excited you posted a request for a UX designer. Where is your UX focus right now?”
“Besides an increase in perceived value, what would you like the outcome of your UX design or redesign project to accomplish?”
“I hope you don’t mind me asking, what does success look like for you as far as the UX design on this project goes?”
All of these questions signal interest and a focus on the prospective client’s goals. Be careful not to ask questions showing lack of interest in what they want, or that focus too much on yourself. Instead, ask questions that reinforce why they’re looking to work with someone, and how your expertise fits their hiring needs.
You can always ask questions about salary and working arrangements in the formal interview process, but this first contact should be to explore the project with the potential client.
Also beware drawing attention to the size of your agency or the fact that you’re a solo designer, if that’s the case—the company is interested in you because of your skills, so don’t be afraid to go after contracts that might traditionally go to a larger company or bigger-name designer.
Step 3: Get a detailed UX design brief or job spec before the interview
Try to get the client to share a detailed design brief and budget with you as early as possible.
The UX design brief outlines the project status. It defines business and customer needs, and it gives you an overview of what the client wants your design work to accomplish.
Knowing the client’s budget allows you to compare if the outcome they want is possible against your market rate and within their timeframe.
But what happens if the client says, “If I share the budget with you, you’ll just tell me that’s what it costs”? To a certain extent, that’s correct. And that’s when you need to know the following points, in case your client has any objections to your rate:
The exact market rate for your role based on research
How long it will take you to do the job
How much you need to allow for contingency
How many rounds of revisions are included
Knowing the exact market rate for your role gives you the baseline from which to negotiate and avoid getting lowballed. If the client isn’t sure what the market rate should be, you should be able to show them 3 examples of what current employers are paying for the same role.
Here’s exactly what to look for in a design brief:
The project background—project status so far
The actual brief—the to-do list
The objectives and scope—outcomes (these aren’t always apparent and sometimes you have to dig deeper for these)
A clear UX design brief is the foundation for a successful UX project. You want to work with clients who are disciplined in producing detailed design briefs or at defining problems, because it means they understand the UX design process.
A potential client who doesn’t have a clear design brief is going to be hard to work with and is one to avoid. That’s why I suggest you choose large tech companies to pitch, because they’ll have a detailed brief for you to create a pitch from.
Below is an example of a real life, extremely specific UX design brief. The exact details are covered for privacy reasons, but as you can see, it’s very detailed. The client has already identified most of the problem areas that they want you to solve.