My name's James Engerbretson. I'm a skier and graphic designer from North Idaho. I work in-house at a publishing company based in my hometown, and freelance on the side. I specialize in logo and branding design, a little illustration, and some web and UI/UX design. I have sprinkled some examples of my work throughout this article to keep things exciting. You may have seen me around the site in photos like this one by Cy Whitling:

I want to take a second to speak to all the creative thinkers here on NS. Whether it’s cinematography, graphic design, photography, fine arts, sound design, etc.... there are so many people on this site pushing out amazing creative work. If you, like me, are doing any kind of creative work, freelancing or whatever... stick with me for a bit. I’d like to spark a conversation.

I want to challenge the norm. Finally rebel against the way things have been done for a long time. When I started accepting freelance design work I did what every young creative does. I (the idiot,) tracked my time and billed by the hour. Why? Because, as far as I knew, that’s the way it has always been done. For creatives, trying to bill by the hour is insane. I say we kill the billable hour.

I remember asking myself once at the end of a logo project, “Ok... so how many hours did I actually spend on this?” That’s the wrong freaking question to be asking. After weeks of research, brainstorming, and hard work it all boiled down to the hours I spent on it? “How could I even track that?” I thought, “The hours I clocked at my desk don’t even begin to account for it.”

Then I realized... How many hours I spent on the project had nothing to do with the value of that logo. You can’t account for the amount of time you actually spent thinking about that project. You can’t account for the insight, intuition, and experience you bring to the project by charging X amount of dollars per hour. As creatives we provide valuable solutions to problems. Our clients buy value not time. We have got to start focusing on how effective we are, not on how efficient we are.

Here’s a great quote from Matt Riopelle:

“The client hires you to solve a problem that improves their situation. Think how much more powerful your proposal becomes when changed from ‘Pay me $ because it will take me this much time, use this process, and produce these things’ to ‘I will solve this problem that means $$$ to you, and it will only cost you $.’” –Matt Riopelle, “Value Pricing Is Client-Focused Pricing

Creative work is not manual labor, and what we sell is not a commodity. Putting a price on our time automatically commoditizes what we do. As soon as we do that, creative work becomes a game of “who’s got the cheapest rates,” and that’s ridiculous. You want clients to come to you for your unique insight and experience because they value that. Charging by the hour will devalue what you bring to the table in the client’s eyes. That’s not something I’m stoked on doing.

It doesn’t matter how many hours you spent yesterday, or when you took your lunch break. What matters is whether or not the final product is effective. This is key to making money as a creative professional, and it’s key in maintaining good quality relationships with clients. Stop BSing your time sheets. Start meaningfully representing the service you provide.

Let me know what you think in the comments, especially if you disagree. I'd love to hear about your experiences and how all you creatives do your billing!

You can find me at my website james-e.com,

hook up with me on Facebook here,

or follow my story on Instagram @jamesengerbretson.


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