Some creative professionals are content to earn lower rates or salaries because they find it overly limiting to apply commercial principles to their work. They love their chosen art so much that they would even do the work for free. We owe some of our finest cultural heritage to people who made such uncompromising choices.
As life circumstances change, others may have to assess at some point whether they are compensated well enough to make a living and whether they can keep growing in their chosen profession. If you find yourself in this situation, it may be helpful to explore the relationship between time spent and financial return.
Sound financial advice written exclusively for creative professionals is not easy to find. Many of the existing blogs and articles appear to recommend the same "five tips" that don't work when pay is irregular and project-based. If your eyes tend to glaze over when you read the same old advice on 401ks or savings, you may need to ask yourself these questions instead: How profitable are your business hours, and do you earn fair compensation for the time you put into your work?
Here are a few steps to take to consider how whether the time invested in your work is worthwhile:
1. Honestly assess your hourly income
Because we all tend to gloss over situations that aren't exactly pleasant, looking at your unvarnished financial picture may not be easy. It is understandable that you may feel defensive, but is a good idea to put it all on the table for yourself. Using your own method of accounting, compare the money coming in for your work to expenses going out. What is left after paying for expenses, and is it enough? What is your true hourly rate when you consider the average number of hours you spend on your creative work and the pay you receive for it? The more honest your assessment, the easier it will be to make meaningful decisions, so put aside any excuses ("success is just around the corner") and look at the actual situation.
If your assessment reveals that there is room for improvement, you have several choices:
2. Work more efficiently
If you provide several types of services (e.g. website design and advertising layout), think about which of your different offers is the most profitable use of your time. It is also helpful to consider how many hours of your day go toward paid work and how time is spent on other matters in between. There may be ways to rearrange your schedule for greater efficiency and to fit more paid hours into a regular day.
3. Charge more for your time
The Consumer Price Index rose by 0.3% in June 2015. If you haven't adjusted your rates for a while because you are concerned about losing clients or about cheaper competition from online platforms, the increasing cost of consumer goods means that you are effectively being paid LESS for your time. Has your pricing kept pace with your "Experience Index"? It can be difficult to properly assess your creative skills, but the fact is that good writing, graphic design, or musical skills are in great demand.
4. Change the way you do business
Another point to consider is whether you need to approach your work model differently to be more effective. Do you simply accept whatever projects come in, or can you take steps to increase orders for the type of work that pays best? Who are your best clients, and why? Can you get more of them, possibly by specializing more and promoting your work in specialty areas? Is it time to say good-bye to some clients that are less than ideal in some way?
Underestimating the value of your work, or giving your customer overly generous deals can cost you thousands of dollars over the years. Because your personalized work is clearly the choice of specific customers, don't hesitate to charge what your work is truly worth.
What are some of your best approaches to maximizing your income? Share them here!
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