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How to Charge What You're Worth as a Creative

As a creative person, you've probably been told countless times to "charge what you're worth." But in an industry where rates vary wildly and there is often little transparency when it comes to pay, how do you do that? While the answer is dependent on a variety of factors, here are a few things to take into consideration when deciding on your rates.

a woman holding euros

Get an idea of how much money is on the table

As you've probably experienced, the budget for creative projects can vary drastically from client to client. You obviously want to charge as much as possible, but you simply won't get paid more than a client is able to give. At the same time, you absolutely don't want to undersell yourself and leave money on the table.

In some instances, you'll be able to ask about the budget for the overall project/service. If you're the only person the budget is for, you have your answer! If the budget is for more than just you, you can estimate what their other expenses might be and get an idea of how much of the budget is left for you.

When this is not the case, you can still figure how much your client is willing to pay by doing some detective work. Are they a big established company, a small non-profit, or an individual? Where are they located, and what are the costs of living in their area? Are they spending on a lot of other things? A corporation in a big city that is currently paying for a lot of services will probably have a much higher budget than your local non-profit.

Ask professionals who have done similar work

There's also a decent chance that someone in your network has taken on a project similar to yours. Do you know someone who has played a gig at the venue you're talking to? Or another musician who teaches private lessons in your area? You can ask what they charged, taking into consideration any differences in level of experience between you and in the scope of your projects. If you can, ask multiple people to find out the range of rates people have successfully charged.

If you don't know anyone personally, you can try looking for rates listed on people's websites, or asking on reddit, in Facebook groups, etc.

Calculate your time investment and other expenses

After taking external factors into consideration, it's important to make sure that the rate you choose is worth it for you. While we don't always want to charge per hour, it can be helpful to check how much you'd be making per hour of work at the end of the project.

If you're a musician taking a gig, make sure you consider the time it takes you to practice for the gig, as well as the time and cost of transportation.

If you're an artist taking a commission, make sure you consider the cost of your materials, how long it will take you to make a piece, and any other expenses like shipping.

What's the minimum you'd have to charge to make this all worth it? What number would make you prioritize this project above others? Your rate should fall between these two numbers.

Show that you are open to negotiation

Now that you have an idea of your range, it's time to actually ask. This is the most intimidating part, because there's always a fear that if you ask for too much, the client will turn you down. That's where the art of negotiation comes in.

It's pretty standard practice to ask for a bit more than you think you will get. If the rate you'd be excited about is not too far off from the client's perceived budget and the rate other people with similar experience have charged, go ahead and ask for that rate! If it seems like that rate will be way too high for the client, pick a number that is at least slightly above the minimum you'd be willing to accept. When stating your rate, be clear that this is how much you charge, but that you'd be open to working with their budget.

As long as your number is not way out of their range, the client should feel comfortable negotiating the rate with you if they have to. If they don't question it at all, you have validation that you can charge the same amount for a similar client/project in the future, or even raise your rates a little!

It's okay to turn things down

Deciding on your minimum rate is a good way to draw a boundary for your creative work. Maybe at first, it's simply minimum wage - if after all the time and energy you'll spend on the project, it pays less than minimum wage (unfortunately this happens often), then you say no and don't feel bad about doing so.

If a project can only pay your minimum, take some time to think if there's anything else in it for you. Is it a type of project you need or want to get experience in? Is it a great networking opportunity or something that will look good on your portfolio? If so, there's nothing wrong with taking it on anyways. If you can't think of any other benefits, it might be time to prioritize something else.

Good Luck!

Now that you have an idea of how to find a fair rate, it's time to get out there and look for opportunities! Don't be too hard on yourself if you make some mistakes along the way, as long as you learn from them.

If you're a creative looking for opportunities in your field, check out our database of jobs, grants, residencies, and more!

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