Let’s talk about pricing…
That conundrum which no doubt haunts any creative at some point in their career.
There seems to be a growing conversation about this online (in my Twittersphere anyway), which surely can only be a good thing and help alleviate some of the supposed mystery surrounding this topic. For the most part I have stayed out of the online discussion so far, but as it is continuing to grow, I decided to share my thoughts. With more people speaking about their individual experiences, hopefully everyone can be more informed and have a wider perspective on the whole thing.
Amidst this online discussion, there are unfortunately also more and more stories of people getting ripped off, working for free, and not to mention the many sites that basically breed undercharging for our highly skilled services, if you have ever fallen into them you probably know the ones I am talking about! Trying to teach people to value their work seems to be the underlying issue in many cases.
I think one of the reasons I have never spoken out about pricing is partly because I felt like I wasn’t in a position to advise anyone. To some extent this is still true, but after the Illustrators pricing survey (read here!) was published, it made me think that maybe all the experience I have amounts to more than I give myself credit. I know any advice I could have been given earlier on, and to be fair, any advice even now, would always be extremely helpful and welcome. In many cases I have learnt from my own mistakes.
I have thought about the topic of pricing a lot, and actually have a lot to say about it, so therefore I am going to split this over two blog posts with the aim to keep it as concise as possible (not one of my strong points). I should also say that everything I will say here, is my own opinion, and from my own experience.
In this post I will talk more widely about pricing and try to give some general advice and in the second post I will try to focus on more specifics of pricing. This means that whilst I am coming from an illustration background, some of what I will say here is fairly broad advice that can probably be applied to most creative avenues and maybe beyond that.
Here we go:
There is no rule book, no definitive correct answer - sorry!
Therefore, my advice, is that you should try your best to spread your knowledge and take advice from as many sources as you can find for example social media, other people doing what you do/ want to do, blogs, friends or people you know in similar positions. This will help you to build a database of information to help you form your own ideas and guides on pricing, because I really don’t think anyone has the correct answer and it is something that will keep changing anyway.
If you don’t value your work, why should anyone else?
Valuing your own work is SO important. However, I appreciate often very difficult, especially if you are just starting out. But ultimately if you undermine what you do, and price your work very low, that is what people will pay, and you will create a cycle for yourself where you are never really breaking out of that. Putting a low price on something undervalues it. Whilst doing the opposite can often have the opposite effect – price your work high, and it will have more value.
Shed the ‘starving artist’ syndrome.
I have quite strong feelings on this one. Whilst I admit choosing a creative career path for the most part doesn’t have the same security or guaranteed wage compared to say, a doctor, I also don’t think it is helpful in any way to ever put a label on it such as, struggling, starving, or poor. This ties in with the point above in a way, if you devalue your choices, your work, you will inevitably be creating this for yourself. Push yourself to think that it is possible to do what you love AND make money, rather than just accepting this starving artist narrative that you have been taught to believe. Being wrapped up in the notion that you will always be poor, is so unhelpful and will not help you develop your business mind. For most creatives this is not that natural, and should be something we all try to learn more about. Having the thought that because you are a creative that you will never have a job, or that you will never earn above X amount, or make enough money before you have even really tried, is futile and demotivating. When I start feeling those thoughts I try to remind myself of what I have achieved so far, to be inspired by what others have achieved and also to think things like: – it is not my work, it just needs to be in front of more of the right people, or, there are 7.5 billion people in this world, I only need a tiny percentage of them to buy/ commission my work. Thanks to the internet, reaching a global audience is a lot easier than is used to be. This then makes me re-focus on the task at hand: I have to keep creating work, and keep putting it out there with the aim to reach as many people as possible.
Don’t work for people who undermine your work, and won’t pay what it is worth.
Accepting work on the various freelance job sites that offer $5 a job, or even £100 but for a large amount of work, can do no good. It completely undermines the whole industry, massively undercutting other people trying to make this their profession, and will not lead to any better scenarios for you. Doing a few jobs that each pay £50, doesn’t suddenly lead to getting £1k jobs, or £10k jobs, if anything it does the exact opposite. How about spend that precious time building your portfolio and get a job that can cover your bills etc. There is NO SHAME in this. I think there is a bad culture of people wearing this badge of pride when they tell people they do this full time. Which is an amazing achievement, of course, but do not let this belittle your achievements and work if you are not doing it full time. If working in a shop, or a bar, or wherever, means that you have the freedom to create what you want (surely why you started on this route in the first place?) on your terms, then to me that makes more sense that bending over backwards to work for little money possibly doing illustrations you don’t care about. This could also help give you the choice to say no to people that clearly don’t value, or respect what you do, I have had a lot of emails in the past where there were immediate red flags, with people being disrespectful about my pricing, and generally being ignorant of what I do. When I need the money it is hard to say no to these jobs, but it doesn’t take long for me to realise it was 100% the right decision not to take on the work. If someone is acting like that in the beginning, that usually means it is going to be a very difficult commission to work on, and probably best to avoid.
Don’t work for ‘exposure’.
Following from the point above, whether you are tempted to work for a very low budget or for free, do not be lured in to believing it will get you loads of exposure. In the beginning of your career it is so easy to fall for people when they promise you it will get you ‘exposure’. You could have your work in a 100 high street shops, and still not gain much from exposure. Trust me. Especially in today’s climate where images and information are consumed at such a colossal rate, one project, one image, can only do so much. It is a long game, no quick fix, no sudden rise to fame. Creating your own self-directed portfolio is a much better way to spend your time, than creating work for ‘exposure’ help someone else in their business/ career.
That’s all for now, I will be posting the second half of this post soon!
Thanks so much for reading,
Follow more of my work on Instagram here.