The Art of the Business

A blog dedicated to artists who are serious about their business.

Your perception of value March 8, 2010


It’s been a trending topic in my own personal blogosphere, lately.

First there was John McLauglan talking about Firing some of his Customers.

Then Nancy Kenny asked me for some advice about valuing her new service, and wrote about that experience in a post called The Value of Me

That post lead Michael Di Lauro to riff on The Perception of Free.

The second blog post I ever wrote was called Putting a Value on Your Work. In it, I talked about the fallacy of “The Starving Artist,” and how, just because we are lucky enough as artists to have found a career that we love, it’s not okay for us to work for free. Here’s an excerpt: (I feel weird excerpting myself, but at least I don’t have to worry about copyright!)

See, there’s this perception out there in the world (and we as artists are guilty of it too), that because we get intrinsic value from our work, that we don’t need to be compensated financially. In an ideal world, we would all make a living from our artistic practice. Some of you out there already are (and you make me very happy and proud and give me a great deal of hope, so thank you). But for the rest of us, where does it end?

Beginning to value your work also means beginning to say ‘no’. And I don’t know about you, but I find that scary. Scary because, if I say no to someone, am I cutting off all future ties? Will I lose paying business down the road if I don’t give them a freebie the first time? Maybe. I can’t answer those questions for you. But what I have experienced is this: often unpaid work leads to more of the same. Conversely, paid work often leads to more of the same.

I’ll be honest with you: I sometimes turn down contracts, because they can’t afford to pay what I perceive as being enough. I have some bottom-line pricing–while I have a standard rate I charge for my work, I am willing to negotiate, but not below a certain number. When I first started this crazy business two years ago, I basically took any contract that was offered to me, but no more. It isn’t enough any more for me to just be working. I have to be working and making a living, or even a living plus a little bit more….

What changed over the past two years? I have gotten better at my job, my media contacts are stronger than ever, and I have systems in place that make it easier for me to run my business. I’ve had a fair amount of success at getting my clients media coverage. Generally speaking, it all comes down to confidence.

It’s natural to feel apprehensive about setting a rate when you are just starting out. My Putting a Value on Your Work blog post talks about ways that you can come up with that number, and having that information can help you to educate your client about why you charge that particular amount. Ultimately, you have the power to negotiate, and you alone know what your bottom-line number is. My philosophy is, go into any negotiation with three numbers in mind: your top price, your bottom line, and what you would be happy with (which is somewhere in between). Go in with confidence (even if you don’t really have it, fake it), and pitch a price that is in the higher range. And then take it from there…

Because if you don’t value the work that you do, then who will?

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4 Responses to “Your perception of value”

  1. Rebecca, I think the saying “no” part is probably the hardest thing to do but it’s what will help eliminate the need, further down the road, to fire a customer.

    From years of being self-employed, it is a very hard habit to kick!

  2. I hear you, John. I find it very difficult to do. Having said that, there have been several times when I had a gut feeling I shouldn’t take a certain contract, but I did anyway. And every single time, it turned out badly. There’s a case to be made for sharpening and listening to your instincts!

  3. Maria Says:

    I think it is a balancing act between knowing what you are worth to yourself and knowing what you are worth to your client or customer. There are “life coaches” in this city who charge upwards of $250 an hour to help the rich and famous find fulfillment. Clearly there are people to whom it is worth this money as the coaches are still in business. I work in public mental health with the chronically ill. My services are not worth anywhere close to that to my customer (who is actually the government). Am I worth less than the $250 coach? No. Do I have more training and skill than a coach? Certainly than most of them. Do I do as much good for the people I care for? Well I’ll leave that one up to you. Bottom line is it doesn’t make an iota of difference if I feel that my service is valued at $50 an hour there is no one going to pay it.

    My point is that it’s more than what you value yourself at, it is also what you are valued at by your customer.

    I sometimes get the sense in the arts that there is an attitude of “well we are making great art! They owe us an audience”. I have sat in discussions of ticket prices in which the discussion has centered around setting ticket prices to cover the cost of the show but then being angry when people are not willing to pay the ticket price and they make that known by not attending. Then the whining starts about large companies who can charge high prices and people come out in droves to their shows but their shows aren’t great art like ours and are just pandering to the masses….. reality check… no one owes us an audience. If we can’t come up with a product that people want to buy and set a price point that they are willing to pay then we have to consider whether there is in fact a market for our product, and if there is not a market for it, then we have to decide if it is worth it to us to make the product anyway.

  4. Thanks, Maria;
    Excellent points, lots of stuff to think about. I’m already working on a follow-up post to this one, with a money coach! I wonder how much she charges!!

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