Pricing Creative Services / Freelancer Tips
Price your work—not your ego.
A quick, unsolicited PSA for creative service providers.
I came across an article a while back about pricing creative services and was immediately struck by the boldly worded headline: “If I do a job in 30 minutes, it’s because I spent 10 years learning how to do that in 30 minutes. You owe me for the years, not the minutes.” I recognized its similarity to the now legendary napkin sketch story of Paula Scher’s Citibank logo, which, to be honest, never sat quite right with me either.
Think about that for a second and say it out loud — “you owe me.” Imagine saying that to someone willing to invest their hard earned money into your product or service; now, imagine a vendor saying that to you. What if the chef preparing your meal or mechanic servicing your vehicle, or even a brand like Apple suddenly decided that you now owed them for their years, not their “minutes?”
The entire article goes on to reinforce this sentiment, based upon the individual’s experience and the value of the work being done. While I believe the author’s heart is in the right place, this is the exact mentality that breeds a growing arrogance amongst many creative service providers, along with a widening divide between us and our clients — and here’s why:
- First and foremost, no one owes us anything. Conversely, it’s our responsibility to continually earn trust, credibility and ultimately the business of those we seek to serve.
- Second, the claim of time in experience (how long it took you to learn) as a significant factor for determining a price directly opposes the idea of dismissing time as it relates to labor or execution (how long it takes you to make). Pricing solely based on value — or impact — typically removes time as a billable consideration altogether.
- Third, we don’t determine the value of our offers, our consumers do. We set a price that is considerate of our total cost and the perceived value of a project, but the true value lies inherently with our customer — they get to determine if our offer is worth what we’re asking.
Now, I’m not proposing that we as creatives accept less than we feel we deserve — especially if we have the luxury of saying “no” — nor am I suggesting we try to make professional relationships work when they are clearly not a good fit — for any reason.
What I am advocating for is that we remain accountable — to ourselves and each other; that we resist trading empathy for ego and avoid cultivating an “us vs. them” mentality against our clients, while consciously respecting the line between confidence and arrogance.
Now, if demanding compensation because you truly feel the world owes you something is working for you, keep at it. If not, don’t worry—just continue to earn more opportunities by doing high-caliber, impactful work that matters.