How Isioma learned product design in a year and "10xed" his income

career tips

Admin  |  January 4, 2024

3 minutes read

Isioma's story unfolds from his first introduction to design to building a thriving career as he navigates the design industry. In this conversation, he offers a roadmap for designers and walks us through his journey from charging 50k to over 500k.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your work?

Hi, my name is Isioma. I’m a product and web designer. I love to see stuff look good, and the bulk of my job is designing visually appealing products, making sure that they have value, are usable, and are scalable. By products, I mean anything that adds value in terms of websites, applications, and others. My thought process involves making sure that I’m providing value to companies and that the users have a blissful experience. 

How did you start designing?

I’m not going to lie, design didn’t come to me naturally. It didn’t just happen. But, I’ve constantly been around people who had startup ideas and were product-minded. My first introduction to design was when my brother had an idea for a product he wanted to build. His friend cooked up something and the design looked really good. The first time I saw it, I was amazed. I knew I wanted to do something like that. The fact that you could think of a product idea and instantly start designing how you wanted it to look and feel was mind-blowing. Since I was always around people who wanted to start something, the only way I could be part of it was through design. I had always liked the idea of tech, science, applications, and coding. But coding was a bit difficult, so I started taking design seriously because it was the only way I realized I could get into tech.

That’s Interesting. What year was this? 

My brother started working on that project in 2018. When I saw the design his friend had worked on, I wanted to know how he did it. So, I reached out to the guy and we got talking. He put me through the basics of UI/UX. He explained the terms to me and told me that the best way to master design is by practicing. He encouraged me to put effort into practice, that over time, the user experience of my work will improve. Design improves with practice but experience improves when you’re constantly working with technical people. Once the design is good, the user experience can always get better. During that same time, I started taking some courses but I never finished any one of them to be honest. Design courses are always too long and I just wanted to practice. 

LOL. Who finishes their courses anyway?!

Okay, maybe I finished one course. But, I always just wanted to practice. The technical aspects are also important but for me practicing was the best way to learn fast. I remember staying up all night to look at that design my brother’s friend made because I was so amazed at it. It looked like a real app. 

What was your motivation at the beginning? Money?

To be honest, money wasn’t a motivation for me at the beginning. I just wanted to build and design stuff. I wanted to be a part of the whole process. Like I said, I’ve always had people around me doing these things and the conversation around money didn’t come up. It was always about building stuff and providing value. I understood that once you’re able to provide value, money will come. For me, it was about getting better at design, being a world-class designer, building products, and having a standard portfolio that I could share with people. That was my motivation then. 

How did you go about getting your first job in design?  What was that like? 

For any newbie designer, you’ll get to a certain stage where you’ve done some personal projects and helped friends design some things. The next big stage is how to convince companies to see you as a valuable person up to the point where they decide to hire you. For me that was always the struggle. But, I kept learning and I knew that one day the opportunity to get a real job would come. I was also in school so I had to juggle school with design. There was no time when I needed a full-time job because I was still in school. 

Oh right!

My first client was in 2019. I had a friend who was working on a product and he asked me to work on the design. It didn’t go so well because it was my first experience. He was very controlling, so I wasn’t able to express myself the way I wanted. It affected the outcome of the design in general. I was always willing to freelance because I didn’t want work to affect school. But, 2019 was the year I started working with clients. I had 3 more clients before the end of that year and I learned a lot about dealing with people. I had some bad experiences, but I also had great clients as well. I cringe when I look at the designs I worked on that time. Most of my jobs came through referrals from my friends and my brother’s friends. 

How has your income grown over the years? 

I quickly realized that design is a lucrative field. I charged ₦50k for my first design. Now, if you don’t have at least ₦500k, we can’t even have a conversation. 

See that growth! From 50k to over 500k 

₦50k was a lot of money in 2019, but it wasn’t so much about the money then. I just wanted to be sure that the client liked my work because I was nervous. I tell people that one of the best ways to earn more money when working for an organization is to keep changing jobs. Another thing is to have a diverse range of projects in your portfolio. My rates have changed over time depending on the value I brought to the table. My portfolio has a diverse range of projects. From E-commerce to Fintech, Social Media, Landing pages, and SaaS projects. At some point, I started offering other services as well like SEO, email marketing, webflow, web design, Airtable, and so on. Design is nice but there are also other ways to provide value. 

That’s very smart! Do all your portfolio projects come from clients? 

Not really. Your portfolio projects don’t always have to come from clients. It could just be you picking up a particular area that needs a better approach in design. Come up with a case study, user personas, and all that. But, always go out of your comfort zone and try out something you haven’t done before. The range of your portfolio is very important. Most of my improvement came from constant practicing and studying of already existing apps. You always have to practice and be willing to learn. Pricing comes from a place of confidence in what you’ve already done. 

Walk us through how you went from 50k to 500k

I started charging between ₦100k-₦150k for landing pages in 2020 but over time, you get overwhelmed with projects and you start to get picky with the kind of jobs you take on. You have to learn to filter clients that don’t match your price expectations. I upped from ₦150k to ₦300k in 2021 and it was because I had taken on many projects and was confident in my skills and portfolio. So, it wasn’t a case of whether I was capable of getting the job done but the time it would take to get it done. I had to look at the time constraints from my end. How long would it take me? Was it something I needed to focus on for one or two months? One of the best things I did was to learn other valuable skills and add to my portfolio. 

So, I was taking my clients from the stage of design down to development. That helped me double my prices tremendously. To increase how much you can charge, you have to commit to improving yourself and adding a range of skill sets to your already existing ones. You need to also have a concrete and solid portfolio, and improve your communication skills because communication is extremely important. You need to be able to express yourself clearly, understand the idea, and make a good case for why you feel you deserve the amount you are charging.

Soft skills are underrated. A lot of people don’t talk about how much communication could help you get a job. Right now, if you want to build a website with me and you don’t have at least ₦500k, then we’re not having a conversation. ₦500k and you have my attention. And ₦500k will probably do for simple landing pages but when you want to start going for the advanced stuff, like E-commerce websites, then I’ll charge way more than that. Working for foreign clients helps as well. Again, this is because of the people I surround myself with.

What are your aspirations for the future as a designer? 

Constant improvements. Maybe pick up some certifications along the way, probably a master's in design. Take up more managerial roles in design. Start my design agency and maybe work on my tech startup in the future. Anything around these is what I look forward to doing in the future.

What advice would you give students unsure about their career path and looking to make money in school?

Some things come naturally to people but if it doesn’t, money is enough motivation to go after something and learn. There are a bunch of areas to explore in tech. It’s left to you to pick up the one you want to learn and focus on it. The sky is big enough for everybody if you’re good at what you do. Don’t neglect school but you shouldn’t wait till you’re done with school to start. The price of combining school with work will pay off in the end. 

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