Practical tips on how and how much to charge for your work
When we’re taking the first steps in our career, it’s common not to know how to value our own creative work that, wrongly, is seen as something abstract or subjective. As well as the resulting work, it’s necessary to bear in mind variables such as hours worked, tools used, courses, experience, and other factors that are all part of the process.
We interviewed two creatives to find out their valuable tips that will help you define the criteria by which you can set the prices for your service or product.
Writer, illustrator, communicator, and podcaster Aline Valek famous for her Portuguese science fiction novel As águas-vivas não sabem de si (Rocco) and her stories in various Brazilian collections and magazines such as Superinteressante and Dragão Brasil. She has written on the internet for over a year and is active in independent publishing too.
How do you value creative work? What advice do you give to those who are starting their careers or who have difficulty setting up their own work?
Value is a very subjective attribute. Price is the number that tries to reflect how much our work is worth, even if it is only an approximation, it’s not an exact science.
I seek to base the price of my services on time. After all, it is my life that I am consuming to complete the work, plus the life that I have dedicated to study, research, and develop my ability and experience to do the work.
So I assign a value to my time, which will depend on what the work is and the circumstances involved in executing it. For example, if gives me less time than I usually require to create something and they need it urgently, the price per hour will be higher.
Will I need tools or materials that cost more? That will also affect the price. Then, I calculate: how much time is this job going to take?
This logic helps lead me to a price X, that I can then adjust to what I think is fair. Do I feel comfortable charging this much? Is it fair for me to receive this much money for this work? It’s this subjective evaluation that will define my final price.
Do you have a funny story about a quote?
I have a lot of funny situations I can tell you, but it's never fun at that point. Sometimes it's even sad. On one occasion I was offered a derisory fee, with the justification that in the future they would like to pay authors more. Well, then when the future comes, we’ll talk.
There was also a moment when I took a job that I thought would be simple, but it took much longer than necessary, because the client was very disorganized. The money I earned didn't pay for the anger it brought me. But that was my mistake, because I didn't include a "nervousness insurance" margin in the budget.
Why do people have difficulty pricing and valuing creative work?
Because it's very difficult to see the value itself. First, because we live in a society where value is usually linked to utility. Art does not necessarily have to be useful to be good. I even think it is important that it is not useful, so it is very difficult to point out that art has value.
Second, because there is a lot of guilt involved. We're used to seeing money as undignified, something that degrades us, and to understanding artistic work as something that's done out of love, which must involve suffering.
I can't stand this romanticization of artists living in poverty anymore! Poverty is horrible, it leaves deep scars on people. Learning to see the value in one's work is a process. It took me a long time to understand that I love my work because I know how to do it and I know how to do it well. So I deserve to be paid for it. This learning process cost me a lot, which is why I defend it so strongly.
Ícaro de Abreu is a creative with extensive experience in communication, design, technology, art, and mobility. He has over 15 years of experience in agencies, production companies, and educational institutions such as DraftFCb, Mather, Mackenzie and with clients such as Facebook, Budweiser, Volkswagen, Toyota, Nestle, Vivo, P&G, Discovery Channel, Vodafone, and Warner. He was Head of Innovation at IBM Latam and Vice President of Creative at Mutato.
How can you value creative work? What advice do you give to those who are starting their careers or have difficulty pricing their work?
We are all capable of having ideas. What we charge, in general, is not the idea, but the path we have to follow and the way we execute it to make it a reality.
Price per hour is like democracy, it is not the best way, but something better is yet to be found [laughs]. I value my work by thinking about how long it takes to achieve the result of a project, be it small, medium or large. I multiply the number by my or someone else’s hourly rate and add taxes at the end.
(i.e. one, two and four weeks)
For a 40-hour project, I add the time it takes to collaborate with my clients, usually double. If I deliver 40 hours of work, I need 80 hours to close the project.
Besides setting the price, it is very important to make it clear that the project delivery time is not the execution time. There will be a phone call, the computer will be blocked, the internet will be turned off, the client will request a correction, some personal problem will arise, etc. That is why it is important to establish an SLA (Service Level Agreement).
In my case, I duplicate the execution calculation and combine partial deliveries with the client so they can follow the development. As I said, we don't sell the idea. We sell the way we make it happen.
Icarus Abreu's formula for pricing creative projects
Time calculation (S, M, L) x Hourly rate (junior or senior staff) + Taxes (% of time per hour) = Total $
80 (M) x 30 (junior) + 20% (80 x 30) = $2,880
Why do people find it difficult to value and appreciate creative work?
One thing I discovered about my work is that my products are useless until they exist. Because it is thought that the value is in the idea and that what we do has some value, as if it were art. Because we understand that that idea is something unique.
However, creativity, the more you exercise it, the more it develops, and not the other way around. Many people I've met believed in an idea they had, left everything behind and went to try to make it a reality. It's hard to face the reality that making it happen is much harder than having an idea.
Do you have a methodology to put a price on your work? Leave your suggestion in the comments!
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