Chapter Three: Investing in Yourself First
When we start out as creatives, many of us are reluctant to charge livable wages for our services. We fear that if we charge more, the client will expect more and we don’t have what it takes to deliver it. Furthermore, we often feel the need to do someone a favor by giving him or her a “deal” on services, not fully understanding that it was ultimately a disservice to the person. The part of the equation that we don’t get right is what it costs us to be creatives. It’s not just the education, the equipment, the overhead, the administrative hours, the time it takes to build and successfully market our work – there is a much bigger picture that we tend to miss.
Creatives tend to undercharge to the point of excruciation and then self-destruction. In my case, I struggled with the transition from normal working life to freelance life. I didn’t know how I was supposed to start my day, what I was supposed to be doing, what percentage of time I should be shooting, how to a handle the ebbs and flows. Freelance life as a creative was foreign to me. I felt like an alien, an imposter and ultimately, unemployed. I needed direction and was quickly becoming the worst boss I had ever had.
I wish someone had told me how much and how essential it is to invest in yourself first – and that I had put more money on the table sooner. It may be the most important lesson I've learned so far. It takes a lot to build a cohesive body of work that expresses who you are and what your style and specialty is. I still struggle and still question myself every time I book a shooting trip. Even though I have the results from previous trips and I know it will pay the dividends, it's still not easy to do.
Jen Sincero, author of You Are a Badass at Making Money, drives this very point home. She urges readers to take steps “right now that will take you a giant step closer to your goal of getting rich. Make sure it’s something scary, something that you’d really rather not do because it’s super uncomfy, something that makes you feel like you might puke, e.g., renting the massive space for your new handbag company, flying across the country and figuring out how to get yourself in front of the guy who’s hiring for that engineering job that you’re perfect for, cold-calling ten prospective clients, hiring a new full-time employee, etc.”
It takes courage and confidence to invest in yourself. The time versus money contrast is always at play. When you're making money you generally don't have the time, and when you have the time you may not have the money. You have to take a risk, which is quite difficult and not always a Suze Orman-approved move. I've done it a million times and I still second-guess myself, getting anxiety as I purchase tickets and hotel rooms and wonder the trip will really be worth it. Will the investment pay off? Am I crazy? Will I go out of business tomorrow, starve to death, and wish I hadn’t spent the last $2K on a plane ticket because it would have fed me for four more months?
As entrepreneurs, we tend to work alone or in small groups, so it’s easier to get in the mindset of scarcity. We have unlimited potential and a whole creative community of resources that we can access. The support is out there. People will support you in your personal work and will be happy to do it. You will actually be fulfilling them. We sometimes forget to ask others for help, connections and potential resources that others are actually happy to give to us. It is important to receive and engage others in your work as much as possible. Remember the purpose of getting your story out there: so that other people see it and benefit from it. The more people involved from the very beginning, the better.
The world needs you to create your own work, from your viewpoint. It's that simple. You're the only one who can do it. While there may be thousands of people that do what you do (photography, design, writing, etc.), you're the only one who can do it from your point of view. As creatives, it's a practice we have to commit to if we want to change the world and the way people see it. It’s not just our privilege, but also our responsibility.
In an age of fake news and cable news, the stories we tell – whether they are profound specimens of journalism or not – have never been more important. There's still a relatively small group of people that controls the media and content in the world. While things have opened up with social media, the biggest outlets still have the most power and the least amount of diversity. We can’t sit back and complain about the lack of diversity and the prevalence of sexist/racist/homophobic/every other bias while we sit at home eating doughnuts on the couch.
The platforms to express our beliefs and talents have never been bigger, more global and with a low to nonexistent cost of entry. There are no excuses. The conglomerate media is telling your story – and frankly, it’s not theirs to tell. Invest in yourself and your work and get the stories out there that you need to tell. You are here for a purpose. Losing sight of that purpose is a career risk you can’t afford to take.
Get out there!
Tips for investing in your own work:
1. Work with a coach or peer group to identify your short- and long-term goals.
2. Identify the bodies of work you'd like to create.
3. List all the steps (as small as possible) to create the work.
4. List the financial resources needed to so, and possibilities for raising that equity if it's not in your bank account.
5. List why you want to create the work and who will benefit from it.
6. Start taking small steps toward planning/scheduling time to work toward the goal, including target dates.
7. Document the work in a book, magazine or e-publication to help build your brand and make new work easier.