Jun
14

How To Not Get Screwed

Written by Gwydhar Gebien

A few days ago, one of the artists that I work with sent me a link to this video:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2a8TRSgzZY&hl=en&fs=1&]

You know those tingles that you get when you realize something is true and you wish that it weren’t? I was getting those. By day I work as a sales rep for a commercial art studio called Steven Edsey and Sons and I have heard every single one of  these lines. It’s just part of the job. Sadly it has been especially prevalent lately with budgets being so tight. Everyone is looking for work- at any price- and the people handing out the jobs know it. There is always the veiled (and sometimes not-so-veiled) threat of “if you won’t do it for this price then I’m sure there are dozens of other artists who will” that hovers in the back of every negotiation like an optomist at a pity party. Invariably I find myself caught between a rock and a hard place: do I take the job because any work is good work? Or do I stand my ground and protect the interests of the artists I work for. Here is what I’ve learned to do:

*  *  *

The Line: “We need [filet mignon] done but we only have [taco hut] budget.

Money is tight all around- and there is no shame in working with a budget. This is one of those “work is work” situations where you don’t want to say no outright but you’re not sure it’ll be worth the trouble. Never say “No” straight out. Even if you’re not sure you want to take the job, make an effort to work something out. Find out what their budget is and quote them a price slightly higher than it. They won’t always go for it, but if they do, it’s a good sign that they want to work with you enough that they’re willing to meet you in the middle. Defer them (but not too long) and check your schedule. If there is nothing else going on then I tend to err on the side of taking the work. Sometimes you’re doing them a favor and they’ll remember it and come back- but we’ll get to that later.

The Response: “Let me see if [the artist] is willing to work for that.” (Or alternatively) “Let me see what you are looking for and I will let you know if I can accomodate you in my schedule.”

*  *  *

The Line: “But it only took [the artist] fifteen minutes to do”

I love this line: it says “well if time is money and you didn’t spend much time, then I don’t owe you much money”. Patently untrue and here is why: a professional artist can make artwork in a short amount of time because they spent YEARS practicing. Professionals are professionals because they work well and more importantly work well with a deadline.

The Response: “It took 15 minutes to do, but 15 years to be able to do it that quickly”

*  *  *

The Line: “We don’t have much money for this project but we’ll send you more work down the line.”

It’s easy to buy the present at the expense of the future so I usually take this line with a heaping helping of salt. If this is coming from someone who has called regularly in the past, or someone who I’ve worked with on a job with a decent budget in the past then I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. If you give them a deal and you’ve never worked with them before then be sure to tell them that it is a special rate because of their budget, and be sure to tell them what the normal rate would be. Don’t let them go away thinking they can always get your work for that price.

The Response: “Well since you’re on a tight budget we can give you a special rate this time of [$$], but our normal rate is usually [$$$$].

*  *  *

Final Thoughts:

If you decide that you can’t take the job because there isn’t enough money to make it worth your while, then quote your lowest price and stick with it with the line: “I’m sorry, I really don’t think I could deliver quality work for less than [$$$].” It’s a polite way to stand your ground. I’ve worked with people who have cut me deals and still stood their ground and I respect them for it. I can’t always afford to hire them, but I always know that if I had the money it would be well spent.

If they don’t pay their bills, be persistent. I had a client wait over a year to pay for some artwork that we did and we sent them a notice every week. Be a polite pest. Sooner or later they’ll pay you to make you go away. This also works if you’re trying to get a settlement from an insurance claim. (Trust me I know).

Creativity is a difficult thing to put a price on, but don’t be afraid to ask for what you think your work is worth and to expect to be paid for it. You wouldn’t expect to get a filet, a hairstyle, or a video for less than it was worth, would you? Creativity is your product and if your product is good then people will pay for it.

  • Well said Gwydhar, but what role does building relationships and teaching others about your product and services play in creating the value your work deserves? People often undervalue services they are not shown deserve value. Relationships build empathy, listening skills and a basis to explain why someone should want to find a way to pay for what you offer. I have found that most artists are afraid to learn how to sell because they think it is a) beneath them b) like groveling for money c) that their work should sell itself d) one more thing to do that they don’t have time for e) what is your reason?

    All of these and more are the reasons I find myself helping artists from 20 to 70 years of age with sales and marketing. I only hope that artists, like everyone else in the world, will come to realize that every day in every way we are sold products and buy them. It is not the fear of selling that should concern artists but the fear that they will never reach their target market because they don’t invest the time and energy they need to to build the skills they need to get the money they deserve for the quality work they provide.

    When a customer is MOTIVATED to pay you- its funny- but they find a way to…

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