I saw a complaint on facebook by Lady T about what she found to be ridiculous – the amount of money she says someone asked to be paid to do what Lady T described as simple work; publishing posts and articles to social media sites. The person was asking to be paid 200,000 XAF monthly. Now in Cameroon, we know many civil servants don’t earn up to that amount in a month so it can sound a little bit greedy. There were many factors in play. First of all, if you ask someone to name their price, expect any smart person to test your pockets but I understand with Lady T because I also get angry sometimes when I ask someone to give me a quote and they throw something ridiculous like I’m not from town or something. Secondly, I think she did not do a good job with the job description because it was easier to interpret her wanted ad as though she was looking for a content creator and community manager.
The incident brought me to thinking about something I have also had trouble with- pricing my creative services. When I realized that there was a problem every time I had to discuss pay with clients, I went to do some research on how to price creative services.
I have seen someone or a couple of people post about an experience that is very similar to one I have had to deal with so many times. We worked on some creative work for a company and we had a very hard time making them understand that they were not paying us for the sometimes 2 hours it took for us to get work to them. It was almost as if being efficient was working against us. It was one of our first ‘big’ clients and we wanted to show them we can handle all their work but it soon became a situation where we were working under so much pressure and being under-compensated.
If you pay a graphic designer for a logo, he/she can take 2 minutes to come up with a logo for you as well as there are logos that were worked on for months or even years. Does that necessarily mean that the designer who got the logo in 2 minutes would be paid less than the one who took months? If you think so then what you are saying is that if the designer comes up with your logo in 2 minutes, you prefer that he/she turns you around for 6 months before handing over the work just to show you they have been working working hard and long so they can charge you more. Sometimes your handlers in a company you are freelancing for is sitting there thinking “I work here 30 days a month and I get paid x, while these guys come in for two weeks and are asking for 10 times what I earned?”
So with the company I was talking about earlier, we realized that the more we were able to work under pressure and deliver, they tended to think our work was not that hard. They started trying to renegotiate financial agreements we had made for the work we were doing. Imagine doing work where you are getting paid for one final validated product but you sometimes have to go through 6 or seven iterations. You realize that there was no way we could be happy and have the client happy without being on a retainer to cover overhead and opportunity costs of all the work we do just to send to the trash.
The problem is even made worse when it is two sided meaning the service provider does not know the true value of his work and the client does not know the true value of the service they are buying. Similar to Lady T’s case I once had someone approach me to help them build a social media following. You know the usual, it was begging about how there is no money and they are still trying to grow etc. Given that I am naturally interested in their line of business, I thought it wouldn’t be such a pain in back trying to create content for their target audience and I just really wanted to help and be part of something. I asked for 30,000 XAF a month. That is about how much I spend on the minimum per month for internet connectivity.
They were happy I was willing to help for that amount but what happened is they disappeared. I think because I accepted to do what if you don’t know is very hard work for such a small amount, they thought, it can’t be that big of a deal. Whenever we come back, he will be there waiting for us. Four or five months passed and they had a new product coming to the market and they came back to me. I was really pissed off because if I had been working on their stuff since we first agreed to work, now the work would have been easier because I would have already had at least a foundational following to build on. This time around, they had to show me they were serious. My rate was now 150,000 for one month of consultation work after which we can renegotiate a long term contract moving forward. In fact it was all their idea at this point. It sounded good to me but there was another problem. They wanted to pay me after the fact but I since made a decision from past experiences that only in very rare cases will I work before some money exchanges hands. I mean if they don’t show you the money, they are trying to use you. So that’s how that deal went through the window but I got some good practice out of it.
So how do you Value creative work?
There is still no rule book but from what I have researched and from my own personal experiences it mostly boils down to two things:- The value to the client and the opportunity cost of doing that job. If Chococam for example comes to me to design new packaging for Mambo, I won’t be charging them the same amount of money I would charge a small start up that is trying to package and sell peanuts because the value of that new packaging I am making for Chococam holds more value. If I have both Chococam and another big company -say OK Foods soliciting my services and I don’t have enough time to cater to both simultaneously, my price goes up because my opportunity cost has gone up.
Have you noticed I have not once mentioned that I made any decision based on what other people were charging? Because that does not affect me as a creative person. I am not selling salt or sugar. There is no fixed price for anything. My mood can even count in what I end up charging you, although I don’t think that is a very smart thing to do.
Someone somewhere in the world with my very set of skills is making a killing but here I’m struggling. The environment and the economy are different. My line of work is still being overlooked. Not underestimated but overlooked and undervalued. Many people still need to be reminded that creativity is becoming the primary competitive advantage and right now creatives in the corporate environment are actually underpriced and undervalued. I’m famous for saying the world does not need experience, what it needs is creativity.
I happen to know the true value of creativity and I know that in a very short time, people will learn to appreciate it more around here. If not, what am I still doing here?
If you are one who has been struggling with pricing your creative services, I hope this helps you a little in your decision making. If you are one who buys creative services, always think “what is in it for me.” Stop thinking about how much is entering the designers pocket. Think about how much money you can be making when you have the product standing out on the shelves. And one thing, if we did you work in 5 mins, know that it took us our whole lives to prepare for those five minutes.
- Norbert Foy
Tags: Entrepreneurship, Creativity, Design, Career planning, Business Management, Business Development