As artists, too often, we are asked to compromise our value. The excuses vary but they all have the same promise, EXPOSURE! I am here to tell you, compromising your value for the promise of exposure, is the number one mistake all artists make at some point of their careers. Please don’t despair, there is a simple solution. It is as simple at the title of this blog. Unfortunately, for most it is easier said than done.
Lasting Damage to Your Value
Here is the scenario. You get a call from a local not for profit that is producing a gala event. They are seeking to use your talents to entertainment the guests. The first red flag you notice is the caller’s insistence that they can’t pay you but promise to give you exposure to hundreds of their guests. You think, this is great, once all these people see your work, the paying gigs will start rolling in. You jump at this fabulous opportunity. Once at the event you start to see the error of your ways. The room is filled with post grad students, most swamped in dept. They love your work but clearly don’t have the income to justify hiring you any time soon. Ok, lesson learned, this time all you lost was a single night of potential income. The next scenario will sting just a bit more. The same not for profit calls you the next day about another event. This time they can promise you a paycheck. Unfortunately, they can only pay you one tenth of your normal fee. They promise lots more work down the road. You reluctantly agree and take the job. Here’s where things get ugly. They continue to offer you more projects. Each time they offer one excuse after another about why they can only pay you a fraction of your asking price. After a while, they stop making excuses, knowing that you are now accustomed to working on the cheap. Word quickly spreads and more offers start pouring in. The problem is that all the offers are for low or no paying gigs. Word has spread to all the wrong people. You are now known as the artist willing to compromise in value. You have no one to blame but your self. This is the client base you built.
Why Saying No Works
When you refuse to work for less than your asking price, you are sending a message to clients that your work has value. You are also opening your self up to a new client base. Why work multiple projects for clients that can’t afford to pay you, when you could take one job from a client that actually has the budget to pay you. This is where exposure works to your advantage. By refusing to compromise your value actually increases. That one high paying gig will slowly open doors to other high paying jobs as long as you continue to perform at a consistently high level. It is the same snowball effect as before but this time, working in your favor.
Proof of Concept
A client of mine,who shall remain nameless, has hired me for the same event, at my full rate, for several years in a row. I always bill them in two separate invoices. The first covers my labor and second, a much smaller amount, covers materials used for the project. A few years ago they called me to book the event. I sent off the invoice as usual. This time I recieved a quick response stating that because my rates had increased considerably, there was no way they could afford to share me for that years event. The problem was, that my rates hadn’t increased at all. After some careful research and a little back and forth with the client, I discovered they were referencing a prior invoice that only listed materials billed. Once the error was pointed out, the client apologised and had no problem with the amount charged. The concept here is clear. If you reduce your fees with the hope that down the line you will be able to charge full price, you will loose every time.
Have you ever been asked to work for exposure or compromised your value just to get the job? Let us know in the comments below.