“There’s no pay. Is that okay?”
If I were to hand a book editor my manuscript and say, “Can you please make this look good and fix my typos? But there’s no pay. Is that okay?” Or walk into a doctors office and ask for some free immunizations because I’m really awesome, but I just don’t have a budget for that. What are the odds of that happening? – April MacLean at TEDxUCRSalon
This is one of the biggest frustrations of working as a freelancer in a creative field.
If you are regularly doing work for very little or even negative amounts of money, it will seriously affect your motivation. You’ll end up being resentful.
Negative amounts of money are when you consider the cost of continuous education,supplies, software or other services the creative professional has to pay for in “money” in order to work. When someone asks, “Can you design ___________ for me? It’s a great opportunity but we can’t pay you. We don’t have a budget for that. Is that okay?” It’s actually costing you money to work.
If this is a business, you need to think of yourself as a business. 30% of what you make goes for taxes. Usually 50% covers the cost of expenses and you need to put 20% back into your business so you really only get to keep 10% as your earnings.
You have to be careful about giving your services away because if you don’t value your work, no one else will. Choose your clients wisely and don’t undercharge. You’ll not only devalue your work but you’ll devalue the work of professionals in your industry. Most of us know what our skill set is. We know our level of expertise and some of us are more skilled or less skilled than others because it takes time to develop and hone our skills. Charge according to your level of skill. I’ve given you a link to a book that will help you at the end of this article.
What is the disconnect that makes it okay for people to approach you and ask you to work for little to nothing?
It is a friendship killer. If you think about it.
I once created a website for a friend and ended up managing it and being responsible for it for over a year. She had no clue of the amount of time and effort that went into it and she never learned to take care of it herself. Her eyes would glaze over and she would pretend to be dumb when I tried to explain things to her.
When I finally quit, I was so angry and had so much resentment built up and that came across in my relationship. Because she didn’t value or understand what I had been providing to her, she handed over the site to someone who was not qualified to manage it and it sat stagnant. Untouched and unloved. Her business could have benefited so much more than it did. We both lost. I should never have taken it on as a favor. If she had paid the market price she would have understood the value and done the work she needed to do to make it worth the money.
I did not get any new business from referrals and I had to pay if I ate in her restaurant. I didn’t even get invited to the anniversary party to celebrate one year in business. Even though I was up until 5 am in the morning getting her site ready for her appearance on a local morning show to announce the opening of her business. It had no value. It was my fault for allowing it to happen and a lesson I learned through experience.
April MacLean explains that it is because they are not aware of the skill that’s involved. They just don’t know.
“This is a skilled, hard working set of individuals. The more we continue to downplay the work of the Arts (creatives), the more it is spilling into our culture, our communities, and our schools. Arts are being cut. It’s affecting the way children are creatively. It’s affecting their health. It’s affecting their problem solving and their comradery. And we’re sending a message that this is not a worthy thing to honor. I will pay a house cleaner $45 to come clean my house for two hours, but I will not pay you “creative professional” $45 for the months of work that you have put into bringing this piece to my stage.” Give Me Money: April MacLean at TEDxUCRSalon
I think that as creatives we are fueled by empathy and emotions in which many of us become people pleasers. People may have praised us early in life for our talents and abilities. We may have performed or painted the scenery for a theater production at our schools, made posters or showcased our photography. None were paying gigs. We did it because of our passion. Perhaps this is a way we have disconnected ourselves from viewing these skills to have monetary value.
What can you do?
Know that what you have to offer has value. Position yourself to attract the kind of clients who have budgeted for your services. Many of us get into a creative field because we are good artists, writers, etc. We may be talented at what we do, but there is the business administrative, financial and technical aspect to making a living as a creative freelancer. I am a right brain thinker and as such, I’m very creative. The technical part is difficult but is necessary. It’s a combination of skills that have been carefully thought out and practiced.
The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money: How to Think About It, How to Talk About it, How to Manage It is a great resource. “This book focuses on proven techniques and resources used by a wide range of successful creatives to manage their business finances. Expert advisers are interviewed on topics such as accounting, taxes, contracts and financial planning. Using examples, case studies, and real-life stories from actual creatives.”
Track your time spent on projects using tools such as FreshBooks. It’s a pain in the butt to log in and set the timer every time you make a change or complete a task, but the 6 minutes here and 10 minutes there add up! You need to deliver the client a status report to show them what you have been working on. This is a no brainer. Keeping a record not only helps you show the client the progress, it also helps you see the value you bring.
Update: This is a great article about ways to work with someone’s budget especially when they don’t have one.
You could just say, “NO!”