You’re reading an excerpt from Art For Money, by Michael Ardelean. This small but powerful book helps every creative freelancer know their value and scale their business. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.
I once coached a very talented Italian furniture designer. We’ll call her Chianti. Her portfolio is full of work for Zaha Hadid and other beautiful designs for prestigious clients.
If you or I would have glanced at Chianti’s portfolio or met her in person, we would have seen a successful, stylish, talented professional who would undoubtedly command high rates for her work. Large, high-revenue clients look at her work and see it in the same way.
The trouble was, Chianti had a different image of herself. When a client approached her, she assumed they were just looking for the cheapest option, so she became that option. When I encouraged her to aim higher, she said she was afraid to lose the job by being too expensive.
Here’s the thing though: she is expensive.
Her designs and products are expensive, her taste is expensive, her whole vibe is expensive. Her private clients have money, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to afford her dining tables for their homes. Her corporate clients were the same way—looking for quality, ready to pay.
But there was a disconnect.
The client: Accustomed to success, money to spend, approaching the designer, looking to upgrade their office space with a luxurious new interior design. Abundance mentality.
The designer herself: Needing the work, thinking of paying her rent, assuming the client was in the same boat—and she let her self-doubt leak into the conversation. Scarcity mentality.
When I noticed this dynamic, I realized we needed to reset the playing field. We rebuilt Chianti’s proposal, upped her price, and changed the overall tone. The client responded by nonchalantly paying the full asking price, without so much as a discussion.
Chianti was ecstatic. All I did was point out what was obvious to me but obscured for her: what her art was worth.
I had a similar experience with a very high caliber digital design studio. Their portfolio consisted of amazing marketing work for huge name brands, with impressive results.
But when they sat down with me to get my advice on how to grow, their language consisted of things like, “We’re still paying our dues as a studio,” and, “We’re having a hard time getting our normal rate so we’ve been discounting a lot of work recently.”
Bro I just saw your portfolio. It’s 75 pages long and full of impeccable work for household names! You drove here in a Land Rover and you’re wearing a $3,000 leather jacket. Your accessories don’t necessarily equal success, but they signal it. Your prospective clients know that. Do you know that?
Lots of freelancers tend to be self-deprecating because they associate confidence with being a jerk. This is false. You are not Ari Gold, you are a talented creative who delivers great work to clients who love you.
It’s very important to integrate your past successes into your professional identity. If you did a photo shoot for Budweiser, you are now a photographer who has worked with Budweiser. Will every client have a Budweiser-sized budget? No, but they want to work with the photographer who did the Budweiser campaign they’ve seen on all the billboards, and they’ll expect it to cost money.
Please make sure that you give yourself credit for how capable and accomplished you are. In doing so, please also understand that confidence and humility are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are a powerful duo.
When you combine a high level of self-respect with a smile and some manners and a personal touch, the result is the ability to calmly say things that might otherwise feel uncomfortable. You can now stand up for yourself and create boundaries. Some more examples:
(smile) “Just a heads up; it looks like our delivery date is being pushed out three days, because I received the assets three days late. No problem, I’m already on it—and I’ll see if we can make it two days.” (smile)
(smile) “I’d love to work with you but I’ve got a certain capacity and a very full plate, so I’m a bit limited in my ability to discount my work at the moment. But let’s talk about scope; maybe we can make this happen.” (smile)
(smile) “My standard turnaround time is five business days but it looks like you need them tomorrow. I’ve included the rush fee in the proposal.” (smile)
Understand the professional plane on which you seek to exist. Visualize what a successful freelance business looks like, and who a successful freelancer is. Then be that person. Take the actions that a successful freelancer would take, and see what happens.
The correct order is Zig Ziglar’s: “Be, Do, Have.”
It’s not enough to be nice in life. You’ve got to have nerve.Georgia O’Keeffe
Freelance success is as much about how you deal with people as it is any artistic talent you possess.
You’ve built an exceptional business and you want people to know about it. You want to command larger amounts of money, you want to diffuse conflict, you want to calm people, you want them to trust you. Not all clients (or potential clients) are going to be easy to talk to. But you can win them over anyway, with thoughtfulness, as well as your voice and your body language.