September 5, 2020

Pricing your creative work: the self-doubt-proof way

In a recent edition of The Capsule, I shared a glimpse of an exchange I had with a recent client, and how it doubled the market price of my work in one strike. It so results that pricing your creative work relies more on instinct and intuition over rationale, and today we'll learn why.

Creative work tendentially low-ends because we, the makers, fail to see what the outsiders do. The “business” aspect of things was forgotten along our manufacturing process. For the worse, there's no visible neon sign anywhere that reads “Look! This is how much your work could make the client bank!”. Well, I'm here to plug the first cable into the socket.

Learning where to draw the line between “fair price” and “I could exchange this for a popsicle” is where it gets all fuzzy. Us designers and artists enjoy playing the role of people-pleaser frequently because, as I said, we're enamored with our craft. Thus we take in work here and there, unfiltered, stockpile it into our pipeline, and pray to Chuck Norris our awake time will suffice.

It is time to become more assertive about our pricing strategy, grow confidence over our creative outlet, and bring in the money fellas and felletes.

Simply ask for more money

Yes, you read right. Just ask for more. Can it be that simple? Confirmado.

Chris Do is well known for procuring paradigm shifts in creative minds. His discourse is meticulously crafted to dismantle the self-undermining talk some of us involuntarily put together when we question ourselves: am I skilled enough? Professional enough? Prepared enough? All silly, all woo-woo, questions that handicap our potential.

I've known outstanding creatives charging pennies for the work. I've also known average joes cashing in for the simple fact they asked for more money. It boils down to a matter of attitude. No matter how good you can draw, how A-level your perspective game is, how proficient you are in creating vector burritos; if your earnings aren't in ascent over time, there is a piece of the machinery that needs some greasing.

During this interview with Cuban-American visual artist Magdiel Lopez, both Chris and himself drop a couple of golden nuggets. I advise you to watch it, listen closely, and take notes if necessary. Magdiel recalls one particular “Aha!” moment following a client exchange which radically changed his outlook upon the value of his own work. Go look it up...impact guaranteed!

Enlightenment arrives when you dart that four, five, or six-figure number, swallow hard, and hit send. In that very instant, a chunk of the impassable paywall bias crumbles down right before your eyes like soda crackers. All of a sudden you feel empowered, capable, and most importantly: valued. So don't be afraid to simply ask for more.

Google your client

No, no. Not in a weird way!

Depending on who's soliciting your services, the company may or may not have financial data on the internet. The bigger the business is, the more likely this becomes. For instance, if Coca-Cola reaches out to you to create graphics for their winter campaign you could do one of two things:

  1. Assume that for it being Coca-Cola they are going to count with a big bag of cash for this job, a valid argument.
  2. Dive into Google to do lightning research on their campaign budgets or yearly ad spend. This will give you a hint of how far you can toss the spear without risking losing the client...or stabbing it.

Now, let's say the client is not Coca-Cola but a local eyewear brand. What should you do? You could go even further into the research. How many shops are there? What is the average price point of their product? Are they selling locally only, or region-wise? Can you look for competitors with similar profiles to cast a guess on Ad spend? These are all pointers you can later use to craft your project proposal with some solid arguments to support it. Bring me ze money!

Price based on foreseeable impact is a valid outtake strategy. What I mean with that is: create a hypothetical scenario of how your work will bring positive results to your client. What is the project scope and reach? Will it be showcased worldwide? Art creates emotions, moves masses, and provokes change. Your piece could be the defining factor of a well-executed campaign. Treat it like such.

Be bullish, your work demands it

Ever heard the saying: “One can only charge as much as your client is willing to pay?” No? Good. Me neither.

Cheap work is unappreciated work. Cheap work is destined to be battered, dragged, and thrown around like a ragdoll. In fact, charge your client cheap and be ready for what-ifs, let's do what my cat suggested, and who knows what sparkle of spontaneous capricious charm.

Note to starters: At the early stages of your freelancing career as an artist or creative, you shouldn't be bothering to appear on MTV's Cribs. You should instead have three goals in mind:

  • Build a portfolio
  • Become highly skilled in one (or more) areas
  • Network with other artists, designers, and agencies

Whether that entails doing free work, creating make-believe projects, or going on a 90-day artistic rampage. Your work has to do the talkin', don't fall into the ambition trap too early.

Remember price is an agent of quality. When a potential client winds up asking for a quote and your rates fly below their expectations, you signaled you're insecure about the value of your work. This unravels a plot in which they own the upper hand to toy around with requests, so you may as well buckle-up tight, Chewie.

Another win-win-situation about increasing your rates is you immediately put yourself in the spot of delivering higher quality work. Double the price, double the expectations, double the pressure, double the growth. Can I have that with fries on the side, please?

Sorry but we can't afford it

Lastly, this a scenario you're going to face give or take when the rubber meets the road. At this moment you have to ask yourself a handful of questions:

  • Will this project significantly improve my skills?
  • Could this relationship result in more work further on?
  • Is the client a fit for my values and objectives?
  • Am I in the right financial situation to cut-down prices?
  • Would I amount to a greater impact by investing the time into honing my portfolio and skills instead?

If the answer is yes, take it. If otherwise, know you should only take in commissions you feel good about—unless your finances state the opposite. Halving the price of your creative work doesn't render it less valuable, or you less competent, if you're harnessing a big chunk of professional experience in return. Hold onto that thought.

Put your priorities on a scale and make a cold call. Don't hesitate to say No to a client whose objectives are incompatible with yours, there's plenty of fish in the sea.

Which leads me to my last argument: clients, there are many; your time, on the other hand, is finite. Focus on doing the work you love and let that be the compass that leads you into a successful economic landscape. It works like clockwork. In the meantime get educated, read books, water your creativity, equip yourself with tools to face the journey, and don't forget: never be afraid to ask for more money.

June 4, 2020

Branding for artists in 2020, does it matter?

Branding for artists is as crucial as having the right set of watercolors in place before whipping the first strokes onto a blank canvas. In a bigger sphere, branding is what your art communicates through its forms and channels. It encompasses your art form, your written and spoken language, your very essence as an artist.

Let’s clarify the big question first: What is a brand?

I’ll paint a picture for you to begin with. Do you remember the last time you had to make a call on where to grab your morning cappuccino? You had two choices. Either Starbucks or Salvatore’s D’Cocos Cafetería right next to it?

I’ll take a Venti, with oat milk and a dab of cinnamon, please. And my name is Marco, with a C and without the S. Five minutes later—Ok here you go Mr. Markhusx. 

Did I guess right? Most likely yes.

The fact is, both of these businesses are brands. Any fictional or non-fictional figure that stands behind its own unique set of values, morals, visual identity, and voice is a brand. Thus us individuals fall into this category likewise.

Why are we, however, biased to incline towards some brands more than others? What triggers this sense of choice and belonging? 

The origins of brand

Brands have been around since the very spawn of our human species. The leader of an ancient tribe, for example, was a flagship for the community in which he embodied a figure of authority. 

The younger members looked up to him as a role model, whilst the female perceived him to be a prime candidate to father their offspring. His brand traced a line across the competition, attained a high fidelity, and thus was the beacon to follow,  as it would happen in the modern market.

Another historical example of well executed branding is religion. Their preachings based upon a strict set of beliefs, dogmas (no please), outtakes on the mortal and immortal life, or the underlying promise of “something after”. Humans who resonate with their messaging come together almost by inertia.

Good branding equals loyalty, engagement, sales, power over the mind, and choice.

Bad branding equals the exact opposite of all mentioned above. Bad branding can be also used in the effects of evil. Mid 20th century was plagued by it and national-socialism is a great example. 

Quoting Uncle Ben—with great power comes great responsibility. Might also be, with great branding comes great responsibility.

Personal vs. business brand

This one is a pretty intuitive answer but let’s dab into it for a moment.

A personal brand is one that is bound to a person’s personality, a faithful X-ray scan of your personality traits. Anybody can thus develop a personal brand, and now that we are at it, everybody should have one. Why?

A personal brand is a powerful business tool. By putting yourself out there, stating your word, saying what you think with the right intentions in mind, wonderful things can happen. With time and experience, you will become an authority within your niche. Which will consecutively attract clients, work opportunities, and mentees to follow up on you. True fans, as Kevin Kelly describes them in his essay.

Good examples of a personal brand? Many. If I say “guitar and top hat” who comes to mind? Slash from Guns N’ Roses. If I say “tattoo and boxing” who comes to mind? Mike Tyson. If I say “digital collage and cats” who comes to mind? I probably know that guy.

On the other hand, a business brand is taking that same modus operandi but creating a fictional chassis to transport the identity. 

Rather than instilling your character into it, you have to research what your audience’s wants and needs are. From there, you craft a unique personality that talks to these people, understand where they come from, cares for them. It’s almost like playing God mode in the business landscape. 

Which brand should you create is completely up to you. Mine is a mashup of both. Whilst it is showered with my personality, I have tweaked the “looks” of it to mimic what a futuristic high tech product may look like. Picture a 23rd-century toaster.

The weirder I know, the better

You may tell yourself that you’re the true definition of “normal”. The normalestest individual on the face of Earth. Normality is a characteristic ingrained in your DNA. You know how to behave normally so nobody will ever give you weird looks. You’ve trained for this…for decades!

Well… I’m sorry to be the one to break it down for you but, that’s definitely not the case. We’re all weird. Very weird. Sorry pal, I hope we can still be friends.

Weirdness is entirely subjective. We may label somebody as “weird” because he puts salt and pepper on his pancakes instead of our obvious favorite, creamy-chocolatey-deliciousness Nutella. 

We may label somebody as “weird” because she TikTok dances her way into fame, while we’re counting the pennies in our kitchen drawer to prepare for the zombie apocalypse. 

We label “weird” that which renders us uncomfortable.

Don’t you see it? We’re all crazy and that’s the beauty. That’s what makes us in-di-vi-duals.

A great personal brand roots in your weirdness. The better you identify your quirks, the more people will connect. Be incisive, look deep into your weird. What makes you tick? Do you have a passion for collecting eccentric dog collars? Hey, if that is what floats your boat, I’m happy for you! 

Now share it with pride because there’s nothing to be ashamed of. I once stored random pieces of construction scrap to safeguard the memories of what was torn down. I know the weird very well.

Being “normal” is boring. It’s flavorless like unsalted eggs. Level up your brand, embrace your weird.

Put a personal stamp on it

This one is a biggie. Always keep in mind that branding goes hand in hand with recognition. A successful brand manages to iconize its visual identity in a way that it will only take a couple of seconds for it to settle inside the viewer’s mind.

The same principle applies to branding for us artists. 

We fan about our favorite creators for many reasons. It could be the way they dress, perform, or walk the talk. It could also be the way they create using a particular technique unique of theirs they have been mimicking for years.

Take an actor’s memorable punchlines. For instance, Matthew McConaughey’s “alright, alright, alright” or Jim Carrey’s “aaaalrighty then”. Fun parallelism right there no? Both are examples of great branding.

These touches of “you” are what will separate you from the ordinary. Using them often will result in a pattern, and we humans love patterns. Haven’t you noticed what your daily routine looks like? Be sure to double-check your keys right next to that lucky coconut shell your cousin brought from the Bahamas, sitting on the living room’s coffee table. Otherwise, chaos may ensue.

To aid the process of finding your unique voice you can use a technique I call “emulating and remixing”, found in my Digital Collage Starter Guide.

Create your own pattern. Make it pop. Make it personal. Make it different. Put a personal stamp on it!

Inc. Yourself

This is one of my favorites. Coined by Steven Pressfield in his masterpiece, The War of Art, he claims a vital step towards becoming a professional in your craft is “Inc.ing yourself”. Doing so separates the man from the business, the vessel from the carrier. It enables you to both hire, and of course, fire yourself when you’re not meeting up to standards.

In branding for artists, applying such train of thought can also positively affect how others perceive your art. Predominantly in the business field. 

Businesses like to do business with other businesses. The more business you act, talk, walk, the higher the chances are to be caught by businesses operating at elevated levels. 

Separating yourself from your craft works counter-intuitively to your very own perception of your work. You’ll start to see your art as a creative duty over a hobby or passion project. Just as you’d show up in your office to face the nuances of corporate life, you’ll rewire to do likewise for your creative endeavors. Because what happens if you slack off at work, take one-too-many coffee breaks, or get spontaneously “sick” the Monday after the Champion’s League final?

Work is left undone. You’ll regret it sooner than later. And maybe…just maybe, get fired. Fortunately for your Inc. Self, there’s always a second chance at bat.

In conclusion

Yes, working on your brand as an artist is important. Yes, being an artist is much more than spraying paint on a worn-out concrete wall, writing an essay on Why Humans also Have 9 Lives or fleeing to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in search of the Muse.

Being an artist is treating yourself like a business. By doing so, the emotional spreads thin, and the practical kicks in. Creative time becomes a daily staple. You let go of the fluffy discourse of creating for passion and reword it with purpose, aim, vision.

How you choose to sculpt your brand is entirely up to your goals and expectations. The basics nevertheless remain the same. Be authentic, be professional, be hard-working, be an example to follow. But most importantly, be unapologetically yourself.