Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor or business expert and this article isn’t intended as a guide for your specific financial or business situation. It is a recounting of my experience and my opinions on the subject on what has worked for me. For advice about your financial or business decisions, please contact a qualified financial advisor or a trusted business mentor.
Knowing Your Value as a creative
Knowing one’s value is incredibly important because it’s directly related to earning a living working as an artist or creative.
Many artists/creatives I’ve come across often undervalue themselves for various reasons. When I first got started, it was exciting to get ANY sort of compensation. After all, it’s a blessing to earn income from something you enjoy.
After some time working in the industry, I noticed that there were people providing similar services, but some earned more than others. I was intrigued by the difference in compensation for people on a similar technical/creative level. Knowing what type of value you provide in your industry can be the difference between living paycheck to paycheck or progressing in a career.
Your market value
A good place to start is to find the income range in the industry you work in. If the average person doing what you are doing makes a certain annual income, then theoretically you should be in that income bracket. The same goes with day/hourly rates.
How do you find out the average rate people are charging? It can be difficult for the creative industry. I’ve found career websites that give a general range of income to not be incredibly helpful, because there are so many variables that affect level of compensation. Furthermore, there are so many different niche skills within the creative industry itself that not all possibilities are covered.
So you have no idea what you should be making. Now what? In many countries it’s considered bad taste to ask someone what their income is. In my experience, I’ve found asking a much more experienced colleague or friend working in the field how much I should be charging for what I offer. I don’t just do this out of the blue to random colleagues. I only ask advice of people I have rapport with, and if they’re actually doing what I want to be doing. It isn’t helpful to ask someone who is unsure of what they should be charging either. From there I felt more confident in asking employers/clients for a certain amount for a particular type of work without feeling like it was a complete shot in the dark.
The Economy, Competition, etc
We do not live in a bubble. Even if you know your value and what you should be charging, there may be periods of time or specific projects where you may need to charge less. Factors could include the region you work in (level of demand), global economy, or the way your specific industry is going.
I’d like to go slightly off topic and discuss undercharging. There are some instances where you may undercharge for a strategic business purpose, which is another article in and of itself. I haven’t heard of any uber success stories of people consistently undercharging just to get work and be the least expensive provider. I’ve seen people who consistently undercharge – yet they never get the bigger jobs they wish for. Several years later, they’re doing the same thing and wonder if there’s a better way. If there’s no strategy behind what you’re doing and you just want to be the lowest price option, it may work for some parts of the market. But prepare to be disappointed when employers are not loyal if they’re hiring you mostly because of your price and not because of the perspective/experience you provide.
What type of value do you provide?
The amount of value you provide is directly correlated to the amount that people are willing to pay you. There are a few different ways you can add value – with either tangible work people can see and evaluate (your creative works), or intangible things like your personality and ability to negotiate, that make people want to hire you or agree to pay you more:
1. Being one of few people in your field who does what you do, at a very high level.
This takes time to develop. Most people, even naturally talented ones, need to work hard and consistently progress over many years to get to a higher level. Once they get to that point, fewer people can offer the services that they do. Their skill is harder to come by, so people and companies will pay more to get access to their skill set.
2. You make it easy for your clients because you know what you’re doing; you anticipate needs.
People hire others not only for skill, but because of the experience they get or the perspective they provide. As an example, there are countless times people have hired me for more than my tangible skills. Without prompting, they tell me that I am very easy to work with and know what I am doing. I’ve been told that other people providing the same or similar service made their lives difficult by being stubborn and argumentative, so they decided to not re-hire them again and look for other options. While staying true to your vision is important, it’s more important to recognize that your creative needs come second to a client’s when they’re paying you to execute what they want.
3. You work diligently and are reliable
If people know they can count on you, that sometimes translates to them trusting you with bigger responsibilities later on. I’ve worked with a few companies where I started on small projects. Over time, they saw I was capable of handling more, and the projects got bigger.
This varies depending on the company. There are a handful of companies I’ve been loyal to, provided great rates to meet their budgets, but as soon as they have a bigger job, they will look for a higher level option. Sometimes when you start at a lower level, you’ll often be “the low budget option”, even if you have the capability to go to another level given a bigger budget. It’s important to be aware of every situation you’re in. In cases of lowering your rate, you need to know the advantages and disadvantages of doing this.
Exercise: Self-Assessment/Goal Setting
I am a goal oriented person. I’ve found that setting and resetting goals every 3-6 months gives me something to aim towards, instead of living day to day hoping that it’ll work out. One of the most helpful things I’ve done is to write my goals down, and adjust from there. When I write a goal down and put it some place I could see frequently, it forces my mind to think of how I could achieve that goal. Whether it is improving my skill level to be up to par for the next level, or simply providing additional services, I have something to aim towards. That also led me to look at what I am able to provide today. Knowing your value means knowing yourself, which takes self-reflection and honesty.
Here are questions I’ve asked myself for self-reflection. Note that I usually write on paper or type it out as I find it cements the thoughts in my mind.
1. What services do I provide that are valuable to others? Why are these services considered valuable?
2. Do I do what I do well? If so, what do I do that sets me apart from others in my field? If not, what are steps I can take on a consistent basis to improve?
3. How much do I make? Is this the industry standard? If not, why aren’t I making the industry standard, and what steps can I take to get up to the industry standard?
4. Am I easy to work with? How am I easy to work with? When’s the last time someone who hired me said they loved working with me?
5. If I feel like I’ve met my potential as far as income, what can I do to go to the next level? What skills do I need to add or work on to get there? Do I even WANT to go to the next level or am I okay with where I’m at?
Sometimes you realize you may need to make a massive shift, or maybe what you’re doing isn’t working. As an example, I was working towards becoming a music producer in the music industry. After many years of not getting anywhere, I asked myself the questions above and more in an attempt to see what value I provided. Being completely transparent with myself, I realized I wasn’t providing much value to other people, companies, etc. at all. I realized I needed to make a change. This led me to seek out different avenues of how I could generate income while also doing creative work, and eventually led me into the world of film production, where there is currently a demand for creatives and technicians.
Keeping up with yourself
Knowing one’s value is an ongoing process. The world and the industries in it are constantly changing. To stay relevant or even get ahead, one must take the effort to continually improve one’s skills and not rely on what was delivered yesterday.
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