I have never seen such rampant and epidemic underpricing as I do with creative professionals. Mostly I think this is due to a number of myths that customers, clients, and the general public often believe. Here are a few of the most common myths, and why the people who propagate them are ignoramuses:
- “Art is a hobby, not a profession.” A favorite line of my dad and many other old-country parents, often used to steer young people out of the arts and into more “respectable” fields such as medicine or business (I got around this by majoring in “Networked Media,” which was a digital arts degree, but my dad thought it was computer science). The implication is that working in a creative field is frivolous and therefore not worthy of serious consideration or compensation. Luckily, like the notion that climate change is a myth or that same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry this opinion is beginning to die out.
- “What you do is easy.” Only ever said by someone who has never tried to create something seriously beautiful, or who has such poor taste they wouldn’t know what beautiful was if it slapped them in the face. Cringe and pity this person the way you would a loud and tone-deaf contestant on American Idol who still insists they’ll make it as a pop star.
- “Why should I pay you for something you like to do anyway?” A harder one to combat, but still a fundamentally stupid point. Isn’t it likely that someone who enjoys their work would do it better, and therefore should be paid better as well? People who say this are likely bitter about their own jobs and therefore think that everyone’s work should be unpleasant, or it doesn’t count as work at all.
- “I can get the same thing for cheaper at a chain store.” No, you most certainly cannot. A person who says this does not understand the difference between a Scharffenberger souffle and a Hershey bar. Even though they may say they’re seeking value, what they really care about is price, and not any other aspect of value such as quality or integrity. This person is therefore not your customer, so feel free to send them cheerfully along to Walmart.
- “If you can’t afford to buy your own products, they’re too expensive.” This is one I hear a lot from creatives themselves, but it sounds like a ridiculous form of classism. Think of what it implies: that only rich people should design expensive evening gowns or sports cars, or that I shouldn’t charge a local department store more for a window display than I could afford to commission for my own apartment. It is perfectly fine to have customers outside of your income group to help you support your passions — whether it’s rich socialites or big corporations. Your job is to make beautiful things, at a price that sustains your business financially so you can continue to make beautiful things, not to cater to some arbitrary price stratum.
- “You need to put in your dues before you can reap the rewards.” Often said by clients or companies looking to take advantage of newbie creative professionals through unpaid internships or “portfolio-building.” Clients who underpay you in the beginning will never pay you better down the line, nor will their referrals, so it’s best to sidestep them completely before they become your clients at all. To avoid feeling like you need to do cheap work to build your portfolio, take a day job for a few months to pay the bills and work on projects after hours, so that when you are ready to take on paying clients, you have the work to back up a sustainable rate. Contrary to what anyone might say, a portfolio of work you love and do well is much more helpful in getting the jobs you want than a collection of boring projects you did for “real” clients.