A detailed, 5-step guide plus this free gift: the exact, previously confidential UX design contract that helped me get my first client, using the InVision App.
I’m going to show you the exact and confidential steps I took to get my first 5-figure design contract worth $34,770 using the InVision app. At the time, I was juggling part time UX research work and motherhood — and I was almost broke. Looking back, I realise I could have charged even more. At the end of this article, I’ll share with you why I didn’t ask for more.
Skip this, and you could be stuck for years while younger designers get paid more than you, just because they knew how to ask.
The exact wireframes from the InVision App clickable prototype designed to wow stakeholders and secure the $34,770 UX design contract, for the world’s first 100% shoppable magazine from Net-a-porter.com, The Edit Online.
Here’s what most UX designers do when seeking out higher paid work:
- Tinker about updating the content of their portfolio
- Spend hours contemplating “Should I be a UX specialist or generalist?”
- Wonder whether to promote their portfolio on Behance or WordPress
Below, I’ll show you exactly what parts of the process to focus on so you can book that all important first call with a potential client.
When you make that happen, you’ll eclipse 95% of your competition, and get the UX contracts everyone wants, but don’t necessarily know how to ask for.
Let’s break down the steps.
Step 1: Focus on applying to tech companies who’ll pay you market rate and more
First, what I did was research and find the top e-commerce companies I wanted to work for using LinkedIn as my guide. To do this, I typed in the names of the companies I wanted to follow in the search field, simply go to the company page and click on the “follow” button at top right. You’ll regularly see posts from employees and hiring managers, from all your favourite companies when you start following them.
‘Follow’ your favourite companies on LinkedIn to get regular updates on what they are doing. Set up email alerts for your favourite jobs and be the first to know as soon as they are hiring.
When you know how to use Linkedin to your advantage, you’ll have the tools at your fingertips to help you build the relationships you need to get the opportunities everyone wants, but only a few know how to get.
Second, I created a strategy, which allowed me to get notified when my favourite companies were hiring. To do this I went to LinkedIn, searched ‘UX Designer’ in the location: London, and top left clicked on ‘create job alerts’, that notified me of new UX jobs and contract positions being advertised in my location weekly.
What you’ll discover is by focusing on working in UX for companies who can pay you market rate or more, you’re more likely to reach your goals faster.
Your action steps:
- Go to LinkedIn.
- In the main jobs search field located at the top of the page, type in “UX designer.” Your goal is to find out which technology companies are hiring UX Designers today.
- In the left-hand menu, you can then filter the results by location, postcode and country, and even company. Do this for your location.
- Set up alerts to get notified when your favourite companies are hiring
Step 2: Acing the “informational interview”, the interview before the interview
When the Head of UX of net-a-porter.com posted a message on LinkedIn to say she was looking for a UX designer, I saw the post and replied straight away with a thoughtful message. I said I was interested in applying and asking about the “next steps”. We arranged a call. The call was an info call – it was simply to understand my experience and skills, so she could pass my details onto HR or not.
I’m going to share with you the exact questions I asked, that impressed the Head of Department so much so, she introduced me to HR.
Questions I asked during my intial “info chat” with net-a-porter.com (that you could ask too):
- “I noticed you posted a request for a UX designer. I’m really keen to know a bit more about where your focus is right now?”
- “Besides an increase in perceived value, what would you like the outcome of your UX design or re-design 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?”
- “Oh OK, what’s the thought process around the current design?”
- “I was wondering if you achieved ‘X” or “Y,” have you thought about what that might look like?”
Questions not to ask during an initial call (or info chat):
- “If I worked for you, how long would it take for me to get paid?”
- “Can I work 3 days from home for you?”
- “What are the benefits of working for you?”
- “I’m just a one-woman company, does that bother you?”
Questions like this, show a lack of interest in what the client wants, they focus on your needs and not the clients. When you do that you are unlikely to be asked to the next stage – the actual interview.
Your action steps:
- Once again, use LinkedIn to find and follow your favorite companies so you’re aware of new job opportunities.
- When you get to chat to the potential client, don’t ask questions that put the focus on your needs.
- Instead, ask questions that reinforce why they’re looking to work with someone and how your expertise fits what they need.
Step 3. Get a detailed UX design brief or job spec before the interview pitch
My aim was to get the client to share a detailed design brief and budget with me in the same conversation, either before your chat, via email, or during the call itself. 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, within their timeframe.
What happens if the client says “But 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 holds any objections.
- The exact market rate for your role
- How long it will take you to do the job
- How much you need to allow for contingency (things like how many rounds of revisions will be included.)
Here’s what you want to look out for in a design brief:
- The project background – project status so far
- The actual brief – the to-do list
- The Objectives and scope – outcomes (not always, sometimes you have to dig deeper for these).
- The client’s budget or rate
A clear UX design brief is the foundation for a UX project. You want to work with clients who are experienced at producing a detailed design brief or problem definition, 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 definitly 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 he wants you to solve.
An example of an exact and confidential brief I received that allowed me to create a highly tailored pitch.
What most UX Designers do is ask questions during the design brief stage, that put the onus on the client to make the UX design decisions when, in fact, they are potentially hiring you to do that.
But, you may be thinking, “What about clients who don’t know what they want? What do I do then?” If that’s the case, it’s up to you to spring into action and produce three potential design solutions that allow the client to decide what UX design direction they want you to proceed in.
Here are some questions to avoid, and questions to ask during the briefing stage.
|Don’t ask these questions
The actual questions I asked that got me to the interview stage
Note: Asking potential clients if they have data to validate the current design will allow you to assess where the current design weaknesses are.
The reason these are poor questions is because they focus on your needs, and you should be focused on understanding your potential clients needs instead.
Good questions focus on understanding the client’s needs, they allowed me to produce a pitch that identified real needs and offers potential solutions based on facts, not fantasy.
Once I got the UX design brief from net-a-porter.com, I had the exact details I need to prepare my pitch: the exact details of how I was going to solve the client’s design problem.
Your action steps:
- Get a detailed design brief
- Focus on finding your clients actual project needs
- Ask great questions during your chat to define the problems
- Use the problems defined to create you problem solving pitch
Step 4. Preparing the UX design pitch
When you do this step right, the client will think you’ve read their mind and the likelihood of you being offered the job is high.
What most UX designers do is prepare a design pitch based on how they think the client should proceed, spending hours creating a proposal that doesn’t match the client’s actual needs. The result is a pitch proposal that totally misses the point.
Here’s an example of what I did to design the pitch to get the net-a-porter.com contract, and examples of what I’ve did in the past that did not work. So you can avoid some of the mistakes I made, and can prepare a pitch that makes the client think you’ve read their mind:
Pitch task that didn’t work
Pitch tasks that got me the contract
|Creating a complete redesign of the client’s website and logo that wasn’t asked for or identified in the project brief.||Creating 2 or 3 examples of case studies of design work you did in a previous role that relates to the client’s design brief and that exceeds expectation.|
|Preparing a pitch in English when the language that is spoken in the client’s office is German.||Hosting your case studies, wireframes, sketches, and clickable prototype on the InVision App so you can present a link to the case studies folder with the client.|
|Including your daily rate in the proposal if it wasn’t agreed upon or if the budget wasn’t shared during the project brief.||Stating your strengths and 3 reasons why you would be a good fit for the clients design team (if they have one).|
An Outline of the Pitch Content
Here are the 3 phases of a UX research and design pitch that you can use to present to the client :
- The Discovery phase – the research phase
- The Design phase – the sketch phase
- The Development/Production phase – the execution and delivery phase
Breaking the pitch proposal down into the 3 phases will provided the structure for the pitch proposal. Next to each phase, be sure include a timeline, deliverable and cost based on the client’s actual confirmed budget.
What I did was cut and paste the design brief to Google docs. Then in the introduction, I summarized the UX design brief and included:
- The 3 user centered design phases
- The tasks associated with achieving each phase
- A timeline for completing each phase.
I then printed it out so that the client would be able to refer to it during the pitch meeting. Or you could email it to the client. Most clients expect to receive proposals within 24 hours of your catch-up call. Or if you would like more impact, you can present it during the actual pitch meeting. It’s up to you, both ways are acceptable.
Step 5. Create a winning pitch using InVision app and my negotiation tips
So you’ve spoken to the client, you’ve got the brief, you’ve outlined your pitch and the pitch or interview date is confirmed.
Pitch & Salary
Because Net-a-porter.com had already shared the research with me before the pitch – all I had to do was:
- Sketch out the user flow based on hierarchy of user needs
- Create the wireframes in Sketch
- Upload the wireframes into InVision app
- Share the mobile app with the client
- Know what my market rate was
- The mobile view wireframe I created in Sketch App for the net-a-porter.com pitch
- The Mobile web view homescreen for Net-a-porter.com The Edit Online magazine – uploaded to InVision and presented as a clickable prototype
- The Global header menu wireframe – for Net-a-porter.com The Edit Online magazine uploaded to InVision and presented as a clickable prototype
Top 3 Features to use in InVision App:
- Hot spots to make the prototype clickable
- SMS the Invision App prototype to yours mobile to test (or your clients mobile in advance of the pitch)
- Fixed headers – to recreate popular functionality
- Live share – to share the project with clients
- User Test – to get video feedback from users to show the client at the pitch meeting
Most people arrive unprepared for the pitch meeting. When they do this, the client thinks you’re disorganised, unprepared, and wasting their time. When I arrived prepared I elevated my status to someone who cares about the clients needs, and can get the job done, and they hired me on the spot.
Here are some real life examples of bad pitching practise to avoid, and great pitching examples I use to great success.
Examples of bad pitching practice
Examples of great pitching practice
|Shaking the client’s hand and saying “Nice to meet you, James” — when the client’s name is Chris.||Arriving on time.
Having your A4 pitch and case studies or clickable prototype ready to present.
|Interrupting the client’s introductory talk about the company with questions.||Having your pitch and case studies ready to present.|
|Presenting a pitch based on your own bias, not the client’s need.
Not presenting an A4 pitch snapshot of how you’ll work together.
|Looking your best.
Securing your WiFi and password from reception when you arrive and log in.
Remembering the client’s name.
Having your pitch open on your laptop, ready to run through.
Why I Could Have Asked for More Money, but Didn’t
Recently, I heard someone say “if you get UX designers cheaply, they must be desperate”. That comment stopped me in my tracks. Because even though I knew at the time, I could command up to $600 a day – I didn’t want to “push it” beyond $350. So what are the reasons not to push for higher salary? Even though I could have
- It’s your first BIG client and you know you can leverage this work to get other big clients.
- They might have a pool of candidates, and saying yes to the first offer, especially if they want you to start tomorrow, is the right thing to do.
- When you let them know what your day rate is, and they say yes straight away.
Sometimes it’s OK not to push for a higher rate, even though you know you could have.
Your action steps:
- Print out: an A4 copy of your pitch, a one-page CV (optional) and the client’s original design brief.
- Have 3 case studies or clickable prototypes ready to show the client using the InVision App (for mobile or web view)
- Accessible to view from your laptop or client’s display screen.
- Have your project questions ready.
- Have your market rate ready to share with the client, based on actual research.
Once you know how to ask for what you want
- You can stop living hand to mouth.
- You can afford to buy that new car.
- You can afford to take the kids on holiday whenever you want to.
Knowing how to ask for it is the great ingredient to accelerate your successful career in design.
To sum it all up, here are 5 guidelines for your first $34,770 UX contract
- Use Linkedin for deep company research and set up alerts to your favourite companies.
- Ask the right questions during the info chat with HR.
- Create results-driven cases studies.
- Create a winning pitch using the InVision App and what you’ve learned today.
Made it all the way to the end of this article?
Congratulations… phew! I know this is an intense post. It’s a lot to take in all at once, especially if you’re just starting out. I don’t want you to rush through it.
As promised at the very start, here is the exact and confidential UX Design Contract that got me my first 5 figure design job.
I’ve actually taken it a step further for you, and broken it down into a 5 part-email series to show exactly how to implement each step, including a copy of the pitch that got me my first design client worth $34,770 a month. Sign up here.
Louise Campbell is a Lead UX Designer for giant e-Commerce companies as well as Career Coach for ambitious designers. She’s worked for Net-a-porter.com, MrPorter.com, and The Body Shop. Join Louise’s newsletter for coaching opportunities and weekly tips to improve your UX career and life.
Why I could have asked for more, but didn’t