Putting a value on our work

(originally published February 27, 2008, on The Next Stage)

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: this is a column that is supposed to be dedicated to tips and tricks about marketing artists, right? So what the heck is this whole “putting a value on our work” thing?

Because, my friend, you have to be able to put a value on your work before you can market and sell it. That is probably oversimplifying the situation, but please just bear with me for a moment.

When was the last time someone asked you to help them out by contributing your artistic skills for free? Yesterday? Last week? Five minutes ago? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

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’m not saying you should never volunteer your skills and services. I do it all the time. I’m doing it right now. I’m not saying you should never give a discount to a new client to make yourself a bit more appealing. What I’m saying is, be strategic. Weigh it. Don’t just say ‘yes’ to everything because you are afraid the well of opportunities will run dry. In fact, the very opposite may be true: when you start turning down unpaid work, you make space in your life for work that pays. And if you value yourself, so will others.

So, how do you put a value on your work? There are three possible ways.

The first one is called the going rate. Talk to people who are out there doing something that is similar to what you are doing. Ask them how much they charge. Do they charge by the hour, the contract, or the piece? It’s important to know this information, because it is not good to under-price yourself. You may get people hiring you because they think you’re a good deal, but ultimately people also believe they get what they pay for, and will be wondering what it is that you are not doing that the competition is. Also, price wars do not help anyone—if your competition starts underpricing you, then where will you be?

Second: look to your union or governing body or trade organization to see if they have any guidelines around pricing. They can often be really helpful in this respect.

Third: there is a somewhat complex formula you can use to calculate your hourly rate. Check out Flying Solo, a blog from Australia for the exact formula (math was never my strong suit!).

Here’s my last word on the topic: some people subscribe to the romantic, bohemian notion of being a “starving artist”. That’s cool, but if you belong to that category I’m asking you to stop reading my column, because there’s nothing here for you. You wanna be an artist and (gasp!) make money at it? Keep reading. But first, you have to believe you can do it. Or at least be a good enough actor to fake it.

Until next time, here’s to bums in seats everywhere…

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Rebecca Coleman

Social Media Marketing Strategist, Blogger, Author, Teacher, Trainer. Passionate foodie, mom to Michael, fueled by Americanos. I love my bike. Soon-to-be cookbook author. Localvore with a wanderlust.

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