Validation vs Innovation


I've found myself walking a fine line lately...


It's the line of "industry etiquette" between what my community deems acceptable, and my crazy ideas for the future of my business. Basically, the line every disruptor has crossed before they inevitably broke the norm and pissed off everyone in their industry. Which brought up the question a few days ago...

Why am I seeking validation and respect from my peers rather than finding innovative, even disruptive ways to serve my audience?

Insecurity? Desire for community as well? Either way, I've decided that it's time for me to stop. Insecurity is the death of innovation. And I'm working on building a community of supportive peers around me that agree.

Here are the things I have heard about the small business design industry from my design peers (and sometimes even parroted in the past) that I currently find myself at odds with more and more frequently:

  • Charging low prices or offering free work hurts the industry and other designers by setting unrealistic expectations with clients.
  • If you charge low prices it means you're a shitty designer. Fiverr designers and Etsy sellers are rarely good to work with or provide the right designs or files. They are constantly ripping off small businesses.
  • "Charge what you're worth" which is a lot.
  • As a designer for small businesses you should never make less than $50/hour, and usually should make upwards of $100. This translates to charging your clients those amounts for hourly work (even if completed in less time).

Here are a few things I also know:

  • I am a GREAT designer. And I am usually the last to state this (actually, I've never even said this outloud). What it boils down to is that I can make beautiful designs and strategy for small businesses. Not fortune 500s. I'm good at MY specific passion, thank goodness because that's what matters.
  • Everyone questions everyone's motives and information when it comes to the internet - as they should. People often don't tell the truth on the internet. I'm not lying... or am I? I'm not, for the record, I AM a good designer.
  • Online success stories in my industry are formulaic - person takes a huge financial risk to start a business, person is an early adopter of a marketing strategy for their niche audience, person books a lot of client work or makes a lot of sales, person becomes an educator and teaches others how to replicate their success (but never as successfully).
  • Blogs success stories have a different, yet still formulaic trend. Person has passion, person shares passion online, money magically follows via ads and sponsorships, person's content gets even better, person becomes mini-celebrity and lands a tv show or movie, person MAYBE teaches people how to replicate success (but again, never as successfully).
  • Logos and websites aren't worth very much to a new small business. It's all about strategy and implementation. A brand design won't make the business; it's the other way around. Your DIY logo has a mistake? Get a new one on Etsy, only 10 people have seen it anyways, and you haven't printed your business cards yet.


Keeping all those things in mind, I'm going to take action. I'm going to forget the things I have heard, and embrace the things I know and am learning. And you’ll be the first to see what happens.

I’m going to follow a non-traditional, somewhat minimalist “business” plan. and I'm going to focus on disrupting in two ways.

  1. Providing free value to an underserved audience. Small business owners are taught so that they can be sold to, or they're being sold something that will be taught. I’m not going to do this. I’m going to stop selling things that I can teach and be a resource first, business second.

  2. If I can’t teach something within reason (like how to develop an eye for design), or if people prefer a service over a lesson, I’ll find the most innovative, cost-effective way to develop products, while still producing a quality result. I’m going to only develop products and services that people want and need, and hopefully charge only what the user feels is fair for the value it provided them.

First, I'll have to reevaluate every aspect of my business as it relates to this direction. I had better pick this up in another post.


TL;DR. I'm going to cross the line, piss people off if necessary, and try to innovate. Let's see what happens.