Whether you’re paid in dollars or with your audience’s gratitude, I’ve written here before that you should think of your craft as a business. Not in the Ebenezer Scrooge “let’s make lots and lots of money” sense, but in the “I value my work here enough to take it seriously” sense.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to value your own art, then the next question is “how much should I charge?”
How you answer this question could spell the difference between success and failure.
Why Many New Artists Fail
Here’s the thought process of many new artists:
- I’m new.
- I need work.
- I’m not as good as those who are more established in my field.
- I’ll charge less to “get my foot in the door.”
I’ll tell you where this leads: within months you’re finished.
Why? You were so worried about overcharging that you underpriced yourself right out of the market.
If you don’t make enough money to pay your bills, you’ll become discouraged. I understand that part of being an artist is learning to throw off discouragement…we’ve all been down that road. But in this case, it’s more fatalistic. You begin to tell yourself “I’ll never make any money doing this.” Sadly, the stack of bills piling up in the corner confirms your suspicion.
Adding It Up
Pricing your craft is a two step process:
First, determine how much money you need to survive.
Second, study your market to see if you can demand that price.
I’d even add a third step: be brave enough to charge what you’re worth.
Let’s cover these in detail.
Determine How Much You Need
When I first started my business, a coach I was working with asked me, “How much money does it take to turn on the lights every day? What’s your break-even point?” I laughed nervously, because I had no clue.
It’s a great question, isn’t it? If you don’t earn X amount of money, you won’t survive. Every day you need to make a profit. What is that point?
Add together your personal costs as well as your craft expenses. How much do you come up with?
Study Your Market
Many artists can’t demand a huge wage. However, some can just because they dared to try.
The first question is the difficult one: can you command enough to keep the lights on?
For some of you, that’s a resounding yes. Congratulations. I suspect most people will have difficulty with this question, though.
If you can’t command enough, that’s fine. Now you have the wheels turning. Realizing that you aren’t making enough is the first step in activating your subconscious mind to begin finding ways to create more income.
Ask experienced artists in your specialty how long it took them to earn a wage. Ask them privately (if possible) how much they earned when they first began. You’ll be surprised by how forthcoming seasoned artists will be with this information (not all will be, but many more than you’d expect, if you ask politely). Seasoned artists often remember the struggling days fondly. They’re proud enough of the fact that they succeeded that many are happy to share details to help you along the journey.
This last part might come across as nothing more than a motivational speech, but I’ll write it anyway. DON’T COMPROMISE YOUR STANDARDS! Many artistic people are horrible with money. You’ll never experience success without demanding what you’re worth.
Psychology is at work here. A friend of mine is an author on Amazon. She decided that the best strategy with her early novels was to give them away. You read that right: she decided to price her books as free.
Why would someone do that?
She said, “I wanted to build an audience. I knew I could write, but nobody knew who I was. Someone suggested I give away books at a writer’s conference I attended, so I did.”
Her first two books experienced horrible download numbers (the first one was picked up less than 200 times and the second just over 450).
Worse than the low number of downloads, the comments on her book weren’t promising. She was surprised at how rude some of the readers were and how little they valued her writing ability.
She began to lose confidence in herself. But, before throwing in the towel, she took brave action. She charged $2.99 for her third book.
It hit the Amazon charts. Reviews were fantastic. She immediately pulled the first two books from circulation so nobody would see the rotten reviews of those pieces!
Why did things change? She doesn’t know, and neither do I, but we both believe that readers placed more value on the more expensive book. Sure, at some point, she was going to hit a ceiling, but she learned a valuable lesson: she didn’t need to sell herself short.
Charge what you’re worth. Calculate what it would take to keep the lights on and set a course to financial security!