Thursday, November 12, 2015

Standing Behind Our Value

I had quite a few challenges to pricing some projects with clients over the last couple weeks.  Prospects and even existing clients were pressing especially hard to try and get me to bring my prices under their budgets while still getting everything they wanted without any compromises on their end.  In some cases, they really couldn't afford to work with a professional, but were trying to find someone who would do a professional job for a non-professional price.  They pulled a lot of stops out of the negotiating bucket:
  • asking me to defend why I price things the way I do
  • saying that someone else prices the same thing much lower
  • talking about how great the exposure will be and how many other clients it will lead to
  • suggesting that a great price on this project will mean more future business together
  • telling me that the project doesn't require as much time/effort as I know it will
  • building a package discount and then trying to remove individual items at full price
  • threatening that they'll take their business elsewhere if I can't give them the price they want

When I was inexperienced and without the deep knowledge of how much time and expense goes into everything I create, these tactics may have made me feel insecure of myself and made me question my own value.  Due to experience and wisdom, these hard bargain strategies don't work on me anymore and I can spot them coming from a mile away.  I also know that the client who tends to use them up front is often a red flag for more issues down the road.  The tactics aren't new and they aren't going away anytime soon.  Not everyone can afford to work with a professional, and that's OK.  The problem is not that clients do these things, but that creative professionals blame clients for devaluing our work or industry.

The fact is, clients don't devalue our work, we do.

We devalue our work every time we don't stand up for our own prices.  We devalue our work when we agree to work for the same price "someone else" charges even when we have no idea who that someone else is or what the situation was.  We devalue our work when we accept exposure as sufficient payment even when we know it's something that should be paid for.  We devalue our work when we begin client relationships with an intro bargain, but then don't ask for more or don't raise our prices to fit our changing market, or professional advancement, or additional experience.  We devalue our work when we let clients tell us how much time or effort something should take, rather than defending our knowledge of the work we put in.  We devalue our work when we allow clients to get away with bad math rather than calling them on their errors.  We devalue our work when we take on projects because we feel desperate or threatened, rather than defending our value and holding space for better clients to come along.

Expect to be questioned about your value.  Expect to be compared.  Expect to be asked to work for free.  Expect to be lied to.  Expect to play hard ball.  Expect that sometimes you have to walk away in order to defend your value.  If you expect these things to happen, than you will only be pleasantly surprised on the occasions when they don't happen.

The difference between creatives with similar styles who charge more or less is often based on how they defend their value.  The $10,000 creative doesn't necessarily create better or more magical work for $10K, they simply won't do the work for less than that and are willing to take whatever risks, gambles, or other income streams are necessary in order to holdfast to that particular valuing of their work.  I'm not saying the market will pay whatever people feel like charging (though some people still debate that), I'm simply saying that our value is ultimately defined by how much we value our own work and are willing to stand behind our worth.  The funny thing is, the more comfortable we are with defending our worth, the more others tend to value it as well.

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. With over 10 years of success as a full-time photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, and now architecture and interiors, she spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems. Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.