Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Valuing our work

As creatives, Monkey + Seal have found that society as a whole tends to think that for whatever reason, our services are negotiable. Monkey + Seal are guilty of dropping their rates since we were "students" and not really valuing our own work. However, no other industry would ever allow this to happen.

When Monkey attended a professional designer's society's mixer, he heard a speaker who talked about this. The speaker said, "you would never walk into an automotive shop and say 'Well, can you fix my car first, and then maybe I'll pay you for the work?' You would never go 'Hmm, can I have my dinner to go, and if I like it, I'll stop by next month and pay your for it?' to a restaurant."

However, this is what we often do, because we're afraid of not getting work, never being "discovered," or of losing a bid. We work on spec, enter into contests and give away our rights, and when you compare our business to that of any other profession, it's just plain ridiculous. The public doesn't hire creatives as often (how often have you personally hired an illustrator versus hiring a doctor or a eaten out?) so it's difficult to change the way the public thinks about creatives and their work. Thus, it's up to us to stick up for ourselves and make sure we aren't under-valuing ourselves.

Now we cannot judge anyone, as we completely understand the need to make some cash. Everyone's personal circumstances are different, but we think that low-balling your work hurts the industry as a whole. If you're a student, it's a little more acceptable (you can get dental work done by students at lower prices), but once you've graduated, it hurts all creatives.

If you are a graphic designer or an illustrator, realize that there IS such a thing as an "industry standard." Check out the Graphic Arts Guild's Handbook: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. It's definitely helped us set our pricing for freelance work, and we do our best to stick by it. The best part is that is has concrete examples (and is pretty specific) for a lot of general jobs, such as a quarter-page illustration for a local newspaper versus a nationally-distributed paper.

The more work that is done on spec or is given away in hopes of getting money back is going to lower the industry standard as a whole. Although it doesn't affect emerging artists now, when/if they ever do become established, they'll find that it is harder and harder to find clients willing to pay full price. As creatives you have to realize that you have the ability to do something that most people cannot.

As a visual artist (or any other creative) you are responsible for expressing ideas in a way that others cannot. If a client ever asks you why you charge so much, ask them why they aren't doing the job themselves. If designing a complete branding identity was so easy, then why doesn't your client do it themselves? Ask them to try, and when they realize how difficult it is, then they can come back and hire you.

Monkey + Seal often have to fight the constant battle of making sure our prices are fair and affordable but also that they don't sell our work short. We have heard a lot of other artists deal with this as well. If you do, how do you cope with this?

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