Why I said ‘NO’ to a freelance job offer as a Junior UX/UI Designer

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© Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Two weeks ago I got a message from a startup on Behance that they would like to work with me because they liked my case studies.
At that time, I had just finished my UX course at CareerFoundry and hadn’t even started sending out applications because I thought my website needed a little update.

The naive move
Surprised that I was ‘seen’ at all and happy that I could possibly get a foothold in UX/UI soon, I of course replied to them and made an appointment the very next day to get to know each other and to talk about the project.
However, before we had the conversation, they’ve sent me documents in which direction the project should go and how the business envisioned it all.
To make sure they wouldn’t choose someone else, I sat down right on the same day and created a new logo (which is what they wanted) and a high-fidelity mockup from one of the wireframes they’ve sent me.
I knew of course that I wouldn’t get ‘paid’ for those 3–4 hours, however I thought that by doing so I would increase my chances that they would choose me.

The next day
The conversation the next day went extremely well.
It was a video call with the owners of the startup and we got along very well both on a human and on a business level.
They explained everything in detail and I had the opportunity to ask many “why questions” to understand the problem and generate a possible solution; it was actually a bit like a whiteboard challenge.
Without pressure, but with coffee, water and a lot of sympathy.
It all led to me being able to approach it without nervousness and with a clear head.

The project
Basically, the project would be divided into three phases.

1st phase (Mockups):
In the first phase, I should create high-fidelity mockups showing the new features of the already existing app and a redesign of the user interface.

2nd Phase (Interactive prototype):
From the mockups created, I was to create a prototype (one of my biggest strengths) that would then enable the startup to land new investors.

3rd phase (Implementation of new features):
In the third phase — which would last a few weeks — I would implement the new features, completely redesign the UI and get the new app ready for delivery to a developer.

This would also have been the phase where I would have done research and competitive analysis and where I would have conducted surveys and interviews to eliminate any friction-points from the app experience and to make it as pleasant as possible for the users to use the app.

After we talked for an hour about the project and they were able to see how I think and how I could envision all of this, we got onto the topic of compensation.
I told them my daily rate and a rough timeline of how long it would take me to complete each phase, approximately.

I said that the price is of course negotiable, but that I would prefer to spend a day longer on the mockups and prototype to get very good results — of course always with the business goals in mind; what benefits and what profits it can bring to have a very good prototype, instead of just connecting the screens together.

The other side of the coin
After the video call ended, I got an email about 10 minutes later, saying they would like to work with me.
They really liked my ideas and analytical thinking and the mockup and logo I created the day before really appealed to them.
Needless to say, I was very pleased; my first project and that too without actively applying; it couldn’t have been better.

They then made me an offer in the same email.
They lowered my daily rate a bit, which I was totally fine with.
The offer, in a few words, was that I would work with them for the first two phases first and then start the third phase once a new investor was found.
Until then, everything was fine with me.

Now comes the part where I got a little uncomfortable.

They offered me that I would get half of the compensation (from phase 1 and 2) once my deliverables were done and then the other half when (and if) they found a new investor — to start phase 3.

Knowing that this was an offer, I could of course make a counter offer.
I answered that I agree with the lowering of my daily rate, but not that I get half of the money now and the other half possibly later, should a new investor be found.
Thus, I suggested that we agree on the lowered daily rate. But I would finish the first phase and start the second phase as soon as I received the remuneration.

I thought that this was a fair offer to show that I am definitely interested in the project, but of course I don’t want to wait for speculative payments, but be compensated 100% for my time and work.

I said ‚no’
The answer to my counteroffer came rather quickly.
They thanked me and assured me that of course they understand that you don’t want half the money when you have done all the work.
But the problem was that unfortunately they didn’t have the financial means to accept my counter offer.

(Side note: I’m not going to give numbers here, of course, but as mentioned in the title, I’m a junior designer, so you can assume that I didn’t ask for horrendous amounts of money. I did my research and asked my mentors how much I can charge as a Junior.)

My response to them was that I thanked them for choosing me, but unfortunately we won’t come to an agreement because of course I have ongoing costs to pay and the offer doesn’t come close to covering that.
In addition, if I were to accept the offer, I would possibly deny myself the opportunity to take another job.

The end of the story
For the next two days I thought about whether I had done the right thing, or, whether maybe I should have accepted the offer after all. It wouldn’t have been about the money, but I could have gained experience working in a team where I would have been the only UX/UI designer and therefore would have had more freedom in my decisions.

I listened to my gut feeling in that case, which never disappointed me.

I thought to myself: I don’t go to the butcher, order 1kg of beef and pay them half now and the other half when I find a new job.
(Granted: a rather funny example, but it actually applies to the situation.)

I’m sure there will be one or two people now who will say, “There are so many designers who wish they had a job in the first place, and you turned down a job that came your way? That’s impertinent.”
Possibly that may even be true. But I say, “I don’t care if you’re a junior, or a senior.
Work done should always be paid 100%, no ifs, no buts.“

Of course, I would also be interested now: How would you have reacted if you had received the offer?
Would you have jumped over your shadow and accepted the job to add a project to your resume? Or would you have declined with thanks, because you knew that the company could possibly make a profit through you, but you would only have received half of what you were entitled to?

Please let me know.

As the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson wrote:
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”

The seed I planted is that I never want to sell myself short just because I enjoy and like my job.

We all have our value.

Why I said ‘NO’ to a freelance job offer as a Junior UX/UI Designer was originally published in Prototypr on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.