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You don’t have to be as good as everyone else

Renowned writer and creator Neil Gaiman explains how freelancers attract new business.

“…because their work is good, and because they’re easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine.

“People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time.

“People will forgive the lateness of your work if it’s good and they like you.

“And you don’t have to be as good as everyone else if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.

From his excellent 2012 commencement address at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts.

Also on YouTube. Via @bantjes. Photo via UArts.

Gavin Aung Than of Zen Pencils created a web comic version of some of Neil’s speech.

My second book on Amazon

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12 comments about “You don’t have to be as good as everyone else”

  1. Love this… thanks for posting. Isn’t it sad that clients will tolerate a cranky and unpleasant designer if they produce quality work? I can remember back when I was in corporate marketing for a pretty large software company that we would hire out some help with design work. I’ve gotta admit: I actually would call on the more pleasant, friendly and open-minded designers that I could work with because they’d be more open to our ideas and create designs and solutions that we could work together on.

  2. Reminds me of the great graphic design line: good, cheap fast–choose two! Any combination seems to work!

  3. In my twenty years experience, genius freelancers who are unpleasant have fallen by the wayside – to their own astonishment. Only us nice ones are still going.

  4. Having worked with a few freelancers in an agency environment I’d take issue with a few of his quotes.

    If you have an unpleasant personality you’re unlikely to get the call when we need a freelancer. Unpleasant personalities don’t take kindly to criticism or being asked to do something that pushes their comfort zone to the limit.

    If you can’t meet deadlines you’re not going to get much work, regardless of how good you are. Time equals money in an agency.

    If you’re not very good then you’re not going to get much work at all. Cruel, but true.

  5. I found this very useful as a beginner starting out in graphic design. I think it’s so true that if you start acting like someone who knows what they’re doing, it’s a lot easier to get started! I also agree that the work done just for the love of doing it is so much more valuable than some paid jobs you’re not so keen on, it all helps in the long run if you’ve got a few great projects rather than hundreds of okay projects in your portfolio.

    Thanks for posting.

  6. Great advice David, thanks for sharing. While 3 out of 3 should be a goal, It takes the edge off….yet adds to the simple importance of each element.

  7. Quite frankly I would beg to differ with Abbas…..Number one…it is an absolute fact that you don’t have to be good to get work. Designers may be able to spot bad artwork but by the plethora of absolutely hidious logo and ad work in this world it is obvious that many clients are indifferent to what is good or bad or just have terrible taste…and are willing to pay for it no matter how hideous. And it takes only a short trip down memory lane, looking at and remembering all the fashion and designs of decades past that were all the rage in their day that are considered hideous now.

    Unpleasant personalites are not a deciding factor in who gets work..one has only to read the biographies of the “greats” in the art world to know that big egos often become wealthy in spite of their personalities because their work is in high demand..(this also extends to other arts from ballerinas to movie stars and symphony conductors. )

    Deadlines in virtually every business are most often a hoped for goal not a contract breaker, architects, logo designers , writers and fine artists have often told clients that unfortunately they are not going to make the deadline and are still paid and paid well for their work those who become famous for being late or not making a deadline begin to get clients who want something in 3 months but demand that it be done in two…knowing full well that it will come in on time 3 months later. (It becomes a game like setting the clock forward 10 minutes so you get up on time in the morning.)

    In a perfect world………..but then this is not a perfect world and well…. we are afer all …just human. I am sure that Abbas is telling the truth, in his experience these things resulted in particular freelancers not getting work but honestly, there is sooooo much mediocre, and late work done by those with horrible personalities that I tend to agree with Mr Gaiman! Besides that the speech was inspiring…and I have decided to just keep pressing on toward my mountain…and making good art…..regardless. Thank you David this was an inspiring post! (As usual)

  8. P.S. Sorry for all the typos……clicked that submit bar a bit too soon!

  9. You’re right Meredith, in my experience if you consistently miss deadlines, you’ll be shown the door and if you’re an arse, you won’t get far. Personally, I like it that way. I don’t want to work with those kind of people.

    Experiences differ and I appreciate your opinion.

  10. Abbas….. I appreciate yours as well and while I defended Mr Gaiman’s points I wholeheartedly agree with you on a personal level. I don’t like or respect those who ignore deadlines, I despise rude and/or crass people and shoddy work is a pet peeve of mine. I just agreed that people like this OFTEN get away with such work…sad but true.

  11. This is encouraging to read. Quite frankly, we should strive to be all three, but sometimes there’s bad days or weeks or seasons. I know I’m pretty hard on myself. Always comparing myself to amazing design gods like David Airey ;)

    So it’s refreshing to hear someone say, “Relax a little, and maybe on the days you woke up on the wrong side of the bed, just focus on being good and on time. Or if your muse is running late, be the nicest on-time mediocre designer you can be.” We all need to hear things like this once in a while.

    Thanks for sharing, David.

  12. Neil’s original comment at the top of the article reminds me of the old adage that there’s three types of work in the world: good, fast and cheap.

    If your work is fast and cheap, it will not be good.

    If your work is cheap and good, it will not be fast.

    If your work is fast and good, it will not be cheap.

Anything to add?

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