Creativity comes in many different forms. It is a way for a hobbyist to spend time doing something they love. It’s relaxing, exhilarating, and sometimes becomes a passion that turns into a profitable venture. However, there is a reason for the cliche term starving artist.
A dear friend of mine, from high school, provides this insight on her Facebook. With her permission, I share that same insight with you. Consider it the hunger games guide to creativity.
I’m going to share one of my observations and some unsolicited advice from doing 25+ years of freelance work and nearly a decade at doodlepunkart. One of my fantastic instructors, at The School of Visual Concepts in Seattle, gave me some very sound advice back in the 90’s. She recommended that I do not try to make a living with my art to start, so that I am not pressured into wasting my time doing work for people who have very limited funds. Her reason was not just because it gives an artist a reputation of doing a lower “quality” work, but these clients can not or WILL not pay you what you are worth, AND ALSO they don’t have experience working with artists, so they are difficult to work with and end up taking a lot more of your time and effort, paying you more with frustration than with money. I’ve found this to be often true. She recommended that if someone can’t pay me what I’m worth, then to either not take the job or do it pro bono, and I have accepted pro bono work here and there, some of which has benefited me in other ways besides financially.
I have not taken her advice on a number of occasions and have nearly torn out my hair in a few of these cases. Not all of my low budget clients are difficult, but I’ve never had a difficult client that wasn’t low budget, AND low budget clients very often take more time and energy than regular clients. As an example, here’s a scenario that has happened a few times:
The client states they are suffering financially and want something, but can’t afford it. They ask for coupons and discounts.
I respond with suggestions.
They want me to figure out how to do it for even cheaper…If I take off this, or substitute that, will it cost less?
I brainstorm and respond with options. This actually takes a lot of time, but in the moment, I feel like I’m being nice, so it’s ok.
Then they want photos.
How much for each options?
Then can I add such and such for the same price?
Ummmmm, well, okay, because the “I’m so poor” story is making me feel guilty and I kinda just want to be done with it…
Now, can I substitute the really expensive thing (an undrilled stone) for the less expensive thing (a drilled stone) with the same design?
Because and undrilled stone needs to have a setting created, which takes me A LOT more time and the stone and all that silver costs me A LOT MORE to boot!…however I can do this for you…(I offer a compromise.) And I know they’ll want photos, so I might as well get that over with now.
…and now I’ve learned to actually hope that’s the end of it. That they flake out, because it can go even farther than that. If they do buy … well, let me put it this way – they are most likely a person who is accustomed to taking advantage. However, they often flake at this point, because I won’t give them a $90 pendant for $35.
So my suggestion is that if you are getting started in business, it is better to have some other source of income to start with. This way you don’t end up taking less pay than you are worth. DO NOT put yourself in a situation where you NEED it to come from your creative endeavor.
If you want your creative endeavor to turn into something profitable, in the long term, then don’t build your clientele from a group of people who won’t pay. This is especially true if you want to transition into a higher price bracket. Not only will you have to build a completely new client list; you will be fighting against a reputation of “cheaper” work.
Also, artisans do not find loyal customers among serious bargain hunters. Their priority is not quality. Even if you provide them the perfect buying experience, they may purchase from whoever offers them the lowest price. I think you could apply this to all sorts of business endeavors not just traditional creative work.
I post this as it is a reminder that creative people love to share their works. However, what tends to happen is the illusion that instant fame and fortune will come. Even as a writer, what content I am producing has significant value.
Jennifer’s advise, from my perspective, is this:
- Know your worth – if you do not value your own worth, you will constantly find that you’re selling short for that quick buck.
- Respect your boundaries and values – by believing in and knowing your own worth, you are respecting your boundaries and what you value.
- Build yourself up and be confident in your own value and worth – It takes time to build up a client base because you want to attract those who value the creative work you are producing.
- Don’t quit your day job just yet – invest in yourself, your time, energy, and keep that passion for creativity alive. Work until you see a return on investments coming in where you no longer need to work full time.
If you are a creative person who wants to venture out in selling your work – you do not have to be a starving artist, writer, painter, jewelry maker, et al. Enjoy what you do, just don’t sell yourself short. And, enjoy the journey.