Yesterday, I installed part one of the big creative plight: how the hell to ensure we’re respected and paid for what we do? Just to recap, we’re highly unlikely to enlist an accountant friend in their full-blown professional capacity without thinking about paying them for their services. A piece of casual advice is very different, but to take care of your business? Even if it’s mates rates, the concept of payment propriety isn’t something we’re naturally inclined to think we can wing a pro bono on. For instance, if you require a little extra admin help from a willing sixth former one Saturday, the idea of not paying them for their help and work seems ludicrous. If it doesn’t, it should do.
Why then does the playing field frequently look very different for artists and creatives? The word ‘work’ is usually synonymous with monetary remuneration and the equation is simple: Person X sacrifices some of their time to do something. Person X is paid for making that sacrifice to do that something. Of course, the example there is the equivalent of 1+1. There are more complex variations on the sum (for instance, sometimes we do work willingly in exchange of something else – a favour, or something perhaps similar to bartering). But the ongoing conundrum that us artistic types come up against time and time again is the fact that our expertise lies in something we actually really enjoy doing, and would probably ‘hobby’ at it anyway, exempts us from monetary recognition or simple payment.
So, let’s crack on with the next phase in considering how we creative people can earn what we deserve from what we’re good at. After all, accountants are usually good at analytics and maths – it’s horses for courses, right?
Step Two: Getting Yourself Off The Ground
1. Working for nowt. Now, there will be / have been some modicum of ‘working for free’ on your journey, unless you’re really fortunate or the offspring of someone famous. Don’t worry: this isn’t strictly the command of creative industries, because scores of corporate businesses recruit and require interns and work experience people. The only difference is is that many arts or creative based professions are considerably more solitary than that of their less lateral, more left-brained counterparts. You could well collaborate with someone else designing handbags, but only one of you’s going to be putting paint to paper at the end of it.
The point with working for free for a decided period of time is to establish some sort of first-hand experience in your desired industry. In creative terms, it’s usually referred to portfolio building, and of course the more you’ve got in that there portfolio, the better, particularly if you’ve got some credible names lurking amongst your roster.
The other difference with creatives is, because a lot of their work is often standalone or can be explained away as a brief fulfilled, potential paying commissioners can’t tell from people’s portfolios whether or not they were paid for or made money from the gig or not. In left-brain terms, a month’s stint at some company or other will smack of internship. Either that, or a totally unreliable employee. Equally, in business terms, one’s CV will often explicitly allude to the fact that one month stint at whatever company was indeed an internship, but in creative terms, a one month stint working with so-and-so client was a generous deadline.
The thing here is that although it’s not a bad idea to put the effort in gratis (because it also demonstrates a serious passion and dedication to what you do), even though you can’t pay your rent with glory alone, there does come a cut off point. Some companies will exploit free labour sadly and actually base their entire enterprise on that. Unfortunately for them, staff turnover rates probably get quite high. Be decisive about when enough’s enough – it’s a tough call sometimes and can be a very thin line to walk. Equally, there might be an unpaid opening for you with a prestigious name / collaborator / company that would glisten in your portfolio (rumour has it that Vogue magazine aren’t quick to pay their contributors, especially if they’re ‘unknowns’, purely because to have your work published by them is basically the point at which the golden egg gets handed to you. You need no explanation as to why) and set you in excellent stead for your professional future. In short, be sensible and evaluate what is and isn’t worth the non-payment.
2. Because you’re worth it! Always bear in mind that work you do does have a value. Not only does this refer back to the simple 1+1 equation above, if you’ve been asked to do it, somebody wants or needs it. And even if you aren’t getting paid for the commission / brief / input and have happily arranged that beforehand, always keep a mental tally of what sort fee you would have otherwise charged: it helps to sustain a sense of value and keeps the fact that what we do is worth something in the forefront of our creative brains.
There are two things, however, that us creatives often stumble over in relation to this issue: the first is that we find putting a price on our work is as nebulous as the ‘how long is a piece of string?’ question. There’s no easy answer to this: it’s a case of researching what others who are doing – or have done – similar things charge for their efforts coupled with what you feel is fair, obviously taking into account your overheads. There’s another fine line to watch out for here also: it’s very easy to under charge people, because to creative minds, everyone’s capable of being creative. Well, newsflash, they’re absolutely not. It’s quite 50/50 out there. To explain, one of my good friends designs women’s shoes. She’s the only footwear designer I’ve ever met. I once remarked on how unusual it was to know someone who did what she did, to which she balked, “Huh? Loads of people I know design shoes!” I pointed out that that’s probably because she’s kept in touch with her classmates from university where she studied the craft, and of course networks with shoe-y people all the time.
Equally, it’s not unusual for artists to pluck figures out of the air based on what they’d like to earn or charge in an ideal world (or perhaps a dream world). Again, newsflash: everyone would like to earn a six figure salary, but that’s not always realistic. Again, it’s a case of employing sensibility but the line is – yes – quite thin with regards to this also: keep in mind client psychology – too cheap could put people off (although clients would always prefer to get as much as they can for as little as poss, that idea of false economy, or simply inadvertently stipulating that you’re not actually all that skilled could undermine you) as can too dear (despite the commonly reported incidence of people preferring to pay more because they think they’ll be getting better quality deliverables, you have to really be able to justify top end rates).
Somewhere in the middle then? Well, yes, one would assume so, but your rates are dependent on several factors: how niche or in demand is the type of thing you do? If it’s a relatively saturated market, competition is going to be fi-erce. You also need to take into account the socio-economic level of the market you’re aiming to entice. Which is potentially global, thanks to the internets, but might just be limited to where it is you live.
But therein lies the second thing: creatives often find it very difficult to deploy that business head with regard to their fees – overheads, materials and of course hourly rates / time spent on projects, and so on. Usually, the root cause of this is very simply confidence (watch us run for the hills when we’re presented with numerical figures) and the misguided belief that it takes Mohammed to rally a mountain. It doesn’t. There’ll still be plenty of time for being an actual artist. Better still, get the help of an expert or at least someone whose objective input you can trust.
3. What’s your potential / current network looking like? You’ll have heard it a million times before, but networking is massively important on all frontiers. But we’re not talking about sleeping your way to the top or spraying on a false smile while flattering someone’s ego in the hope you’ll encounter someone who’ll give you a leg up. By all means do this if it floats your boat, but the networking issue is oftentimes highly misconstrued.
Thankfully, with the internet, networking doesn’t have to be entirely physical (although this will always earn you brownie points at some stage) as there are plenty of forums, sites and blogs on the web that offer people a small piece of the stage to start having a look round and getting themselves out there. And there’s little need to stand on ceremony while actively networking. Casual is more often than not highly preferred, as is the absence of pretension (because actually this is what we all hate when the ‘N’ word is mentioned) and desperation: even if you’re not quite there yourself, you’ll be able to smell the blood of a frantic ‘wannabe’ a mile off and it won’t be pretty. And although there will be elbows aplenty, there’s actually little need to be a bitch or a total twat about bagging your place. There’s plenty of room for everyone in actual fact so quit with the pushing.
As an aside at this point, you will encounter people who will riddle you with jealousy: we’ve all heard about the aspiring novelists who read books only to spit nails about how they could have written it a hundred times better themselves. Well, you didn’t write it, did you? Admire people who’ve made their marks: they’re clearly doing something you’re not, even if you firmly believe you’re entirely more capable. If you can swallow your pride and put your ego to one side for a moment, actively seek their alliance in some way – ask them questions about their journey and how they ‘made’ it. Seek their advice (it’s highly flattering when someone seeks one’s counsel) and build up a positive relationship, however you see fit. You never know; maybe they’ll be moved to help you out?
In more physical terms, it’s not just other creatives we mean when we refer to networking. Look to liaise with potential clients as well. All manner of wonder can come of putting yourself about: collaborations, introductions, recommendations and of course, commissions. Literally make it your business to expand your social remit, virtually and physically.
4. Don’t Take It Personally. I’ve inferred several times in this post and the previous one that artistic people are inclined to take criticism personally. There’s a reason existentialism was primarily domain of Parisienne art students: creators of art are sensitive creatures.
So, just to remind you that for every positive comment you receive, the nine that aren’t so positive aren’t intended to knock the stool away from under your feet – they’re merely personal opinion and aren’t necessarily reflective of how good or talented you are. After all, there are people out there who genuinely like pebble dashing on houses. There are also people who like their tattoo of Winnie The Pooh on their shoulder-blade.
As difficult as it is – because it really is – try not to allow yourself to feel defeated by any negative reactions or remarks your art receives. Particularly if it comes when you’ve not actually sought someone’s opinion explicitly. Remember that a fast track way to make one’s own ego feel better is to criticise someone else. Frequently, the criticism isn’t always based on the sharp sentiment it’s delivered with – it is literally intended as an attempt to deflate you because you’ve got something good going on. Use your good judgment and when applicable, take another’s harsh words or contorted facial expressions as a back-handed compliment.
5. Don’t underestimate the power of social networks: build your brand. Not just Facebook; Twitter and other specialist platforms (like Reverb Nation if you’re a musician, say). Be pragmatic about your self-promotion. Start off with a fan page on Facebook which you circulate membership to among your immediate friends list. Try and get over any shyness and ask them to put it out to their networks. Theoretically, your fan page network could scale to thousands of fans or members overnight. It’s a good place to start, plus it’s free. Update your status accordingly: from cryptic clues as to the latest project you’re working on to big announcements.
Twitter has also become something of a must have facility over the last two years. These days – as you’re very likely to know – it’s much more a tool for business than the 140 character FB status update commodity it was possibly intended as originally. Set yourself up an account under the name of your business / brand and tweet, tweet, tweet.
Share fragments of your own inspiration with a platform like Tumblr also. Keep it relevant to your art or business, but keep it updated.
The point of this is actually to build your brand. That’s the key word. Your ‘brand’ might be your street artist’s persona, your band, your club night, your dance group, your magazine, or just you. Work on your brand, pimp yourself, be proud and get yourself ablazing on the web.
To be continued…