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What are you worth?

It’s a simple enough question. Isn’t it? worth worth worth worth worth worth worth worth worth

Well the obvious answer is a resounding NO! But why can we often find it difficult to establish an initial rate when starting out? For emerging photographers, artists, illustrators etc., the answers to the questions of when, where and how can often leave a bad taste in the mouth. Especially when they are told that there is someone similar who has a tenth of the ability and experience you have, can do it at half the price, or even worse, for free. Which is not similar at all, but people who want you to work for less, or even for free, will tell you so.worth worth

I don’t think I’ve come across anyone who hasn’t, at some point in their career, come up against this problem; and with the current economic climate the problem isn’t going to disappear.  It’s getting more common that you hear “…it’ll good for your business”, “I can put lots more work your way”, “…our budget is limited”, “…it”ll be good publicity”. “…we have no budget”.  All things I’ve heard over the years and I’m not a betting man at all, but I’m willing to bet my last penny that I’m not the only one to have heard such things. But there are places and people out there who genuinely have very little budget etc…and you have to use your own judgement when taking things on. For instance, I was contacted by someone who informed me that they wanted to use some of my images in their up-coming magazine, but they couldn’t afford to pay as the magazine was part of a government funded initiative etc etc. With it being “funded” I knew that they had already had money for images or at least the money to purchase was there somewhere. I explained that to the nice lady and she paused for a while, before asking “How much are we looking at?”. This G funded magazine then purchased three images.

It proved to me only what I already knew: Everyone wants something for nothing, mostly. And when it’s in its place, that’s okay. Offering your work for free is miles different to having to offer you work for free. Not forgetting that it’s good for the soul. But making that choice when you are a beginner is far more difficult because you have not yet made a basis by which you can measure. Few sales, a couple of weddings, and a heap load of fear. A fear of “What if I don’t…”. So what do you do? worth worth worth worth worth worth worth worth worth

To keep going is the only option if you want to lay down the foundations to what can be a very rewarding career path. Understanding how to grow your business (yes, that’s what you are) is crucial to maintaining a steady growth, even in today’s climate.  Ultimately, how much do you want to be paid per hour. Once you have worked that out you can then focus on pricing with more efficiency. There would be nothing worse than you quote a price and when the dust has finally settled, realising that you’re about to end up out of pocket. You will also need to make a decision on whether to factor in certain things into your hourly rate i.e. £50 per hour including framing and materials. Many in the field will probably keep things such as framing and materials as a separate cost, to be added on top of the hourly rate before a quote is offered out; unless you have the facilities to offer these in-house.

So, what are you worth? Only what people are willing to pay?

Mr  A is selling his car and it’s worth £5000, but there is no one willing to pay more than £4000 for it. So, what is Mr A’s car worth? His options are pretty much limited to either drop the price, or go somewhere where people will pay the asking price. I use this analogy because it’s actually true. Mr A didn’t go elsewhere, he stuck to his guns…and it took him nearly 12 months to sell his car and he ended up getting only £3400 for it. A loss of £600…A bitter pill to swallow, I bet. But it does go to show that even when you are sure of a value (your value) there still has to be a variable, controlling your sense of business.

 The problem is that when you’re starting out, you often feel that you don’t really have a value you can relate to, so what do you do? Research, research and research. And when that’s all done, do a little more.  Know the pricing market well in your area, country, and even continent. Sounds strange maybe,  but you will find that values can change throughout the globe and knowing that in some respects, Spain will pay more than Poland and Canada will pay more than USA, can help you to not just market much better, but be a penny closer to a better and more solid pricing structure. After all, the art market is global, with many artists selling more work overseas than in their home country.

Should I work for free?

The problems this can cause can be long lasting, and not just for you but for others in your field too. Offering your services for free is a great way to get a hold of the ladder, photographing a friend’s wedding, christening or bar mitzvah is fine and it will give you a chance to practice your craft. The problems are when 12 months later, or even longer, you are still working for free. You have to remember that there are others in your field who have mortgages and children to feed and rely on that kind of income. When I was starting out I promised myself that I would not knowingly take any work away from a working artist, I would say no and walk away. It was a promise I’m happy to say I kept. But there is also the other side of the coin, meaning that people ask you, just because you’re not charging. Years ago a friend done a few pieces for a client, free. After a while my friend added a nominal charge (and it really was nominal… £10) and his client gave the work back and went elsewhere. That one small act set him back a year or two when it came to confidence.

 Another thing to consider is: Tiers. Say you want to price for a wedding and you have done your research. Which research have you done? High class weddings? Bargain Basement weddings? Where exactly are you going to place yourself? Will you opt for middle of the road hoping to get best of both worlds or will your chips be firmly placed? Knowing all this before you start marketing will increase your client rate, after all, if you’re not sure of what you do how is a client supposed to know. Be sure of what you can offer and be determined to deliver it to the best of your ability.

By poorly valuing not just yourself, but also the work you do, you’re opening a tinderbox to a world that can spark at any minute. Remember that if you value yourself, other people will.  And remember that “Art” is subjective. Not because of the art… but because of the people.

…And remember… Freedy is the new Greedy.

So…lots to remember there.

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