Friday, May 24, 2013

Know Your Value

Next week I will start a series of entries pertaining to getting work in a creative field. So many people have great potential to be very profitable in this arena, and I thought a good introduction to becoming a paid professional might be to first discuss individual price. After all, I imagine if you’re an artist (or writer, or other type of creative) you have likely asked yourself this question: “How much is my stuff worth?”

There are obviously no easy answers, here. What you’re worth is based on several factors, including the time you put into your craft, your experience, the cost of supplies needed, who you’ve worked for in the past and the list goes on. It seems the only way you’ll know for sure what to charge is by sticking your neck out there and seeing who buys. That can make for a tough reality check on both ends. If you’re pricing yourself too high and people aren’t buying, then you either need to lower your price or up the quality of your work to match. If you’re too low, then people will be slow to offer you more money when you come asking for it later, or you’re just plain risking burn-out on things which don’t afford you much incentive.

As I said, there’s no singular easy answer to the question of what you may potentially be worth, but you should know that you can decrease the risk of missing your mark in terms of pricing, by taking a good hard look at your value.
So, first, I might as well explain what is meant by the word value: It is not simply the base price that someone is willing to pay for your work. It is not how many things you can do, how many hours you can work and certainly isn’t being everything to everyone. Value is specific to your area of expertise. It’s what makes you marketable. It is your unique selling proposition.
Some of the things which could be seen as valuable are found in the quality of work you provide, but others are less tangible and are based solely on perception. Here are but a few examples:
·         A carpenter spends all of his extra cash on supplies to make designer cabinets. He buys fine woods and custom-made hardware which he imports from Italy. The separate parts of the pieces he creates are, on their own, worth large sums of money and he only carves very simple designs into each piece so as not to distract from the delicate nature of their already-present details. He finds he can charge more for his work than it costs to make it, even though his art has value largely because of the pieces used and not necessarily the craftsmanship which goes into it.
·         An artist works in an exquisite style uniquely her own to craft necklaces. The pieces she uses to make the necklaces aren’t particularly expensive, and in fact the cost to make one is likely to be under $20 a piece. Still, she is able to sell them for hundreds of dollars, all because of the fine work she and she alone is capable of producing. In this example, the unique style and attention to detail are what give our artist the most value and are the reason she can charge more than the $20 it costs her to make the necklaces.
·         A writer has a regular column in the New York Times. He has published several best-selling novels and currently works as a freelancer and ghost-writer, charging top-dollar for commissioned pieces. He has a unique style of writing, but has been paid well for writings of under 100 words which wouldn’t necessarily show this. His name is well-known and he is able to command a higher salary because of it.
Value can give your customers more than what they’d get when paying for average work, and because of it you should expect a reasonably higher price for it. But what about the opposite? Far and away, offering a discount has become the norm when it comes to being competitive in any given market space, but you should be aware that in today’s world and yes, even in a crummy economy, people can and do respond negatively to discounts. It’s human nature to wonder what’s missing or wrong with something offered at a discount, while value, on the other hand, is almost always respected, even if a decision to purchase isn’t made as quickly.
It’s also important to note that value is in the eye of the beholder. Not everyone will think your stuff is worth the money, but that’s okay because you shouldn’t be marketing to those people in the first place. If you’re an artist who paints beautiful portraits of family pets, you would certainly have more success seeking out dog and cat enthusiasts than you would people who build model airplanes. Effective marketing not only helps your customers get the most for their money, but it helps you by assuring your client list is full of people who love what you love to do, and not just anybodies looking to get a piece of art done on the cheap.
If you know your value, then you can better assess your price even in a market which seems to be competitive in terms of discounts, only. Take the time to find out what the basic model is going for and instead of lowering your costs, raise them based on your value.

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