I’ve been writing up a storm lately as part of The Self Employment Telesummit Blog Tour. Among other things, the tour has generated some great questions. This week I want to talk with you about one question in particular, the relationship between creating sale-able work and selling out.
This came up over at Tammy Vitale’s blog (Women, Art Life: Weaving It All Together). I wrote a post for Tammy about the challenges of charging and getting a good price for one’s work. In it I said:
When I was a practicing fiber-artist, I would have said that my work was too labor intensive and that there was no way I could charge enough for my time. That was both true and not true.
I could not charge enough for my time the way I was choosing to spend it. My choices did not match the priorities of my just-right clients. More to the point, I didn’t give a hoot about my just-right clients. I wanted to make what I wanted to make and I was happy to sell it to anyone who loved it and would pay the price. But I wasn’t interested in finding out what my clients wanted and valued.
Two years after I closed the studio I realized why the money hadn’t followed the work I loved: I was not committed to serving anyone with my work. Why, then, should anyone pay me?
Here’s the come-on part
One reader of Tammy’s blog shared this reaction:
I have to admit that this has the appearance of just another marketing strategy: I find out what clients want and value, and then make what they want so I can make sales, rather than producing what comes from my heart and soul, and having those who are attracted to it become my clients.
I can understand how this reader feels. I’ve felt that way. And I am not saying we should abandon our hearts’ desires, look for vulnerabilities in the consumer psyche, and exploit those for money.
As I was sitting with this issue, I recalled a conversation I had once with a client who is a physical trainer. She wanted to invest in some workout clothes but was stuck on what to buy. “I know my shapeless old sweats aren’t professional,” she said, “but I don’t see why I should have to wear a thong, either.”
“Well,” I remarked. “There are a lot of choices that are neither shapeless sweats nor thongs.”
She began to laugh and her eyes lit up. “You mean maybe I could look nice without baring my tush?”
When we’re sensitized, we can only see extremes.
Sometimes we become so sensitized to an issue: body image or money, for example, that we only see the extremes. The quite rich and varied middle ground is practically invisible until we learn to look with different eyes. And that is what I would love for every person reading this article to do: Look at the relationship of your prices to your work, yourself, and your clients with fresh eyes.
Just another marketing strategy?
When we’re sensitized to marketing and sales, innocent business practices take on a sleazy character. We tend to see them in the worst light, to think of their most extreme and distasteful manifestations.
But nowhere is it written that we have to sacrifice creativity, integrity, or authenticity in order to do business. In fact, the opposite is true. The marketplace rewards all three, when they coincide with perceived value.
And that, I think, is as it should be. No one owes us a living. At the same time, one look at my checkered career and you’ll see I’m not attached to conventional lifestyles or definitions of success. So I’m not suggesting we reduce art to the level of consumer-baiting.
The marketplace is a meeting place, a middle ground.
I do feel that the marketplace, far from being an evil place, can be the crossroads where goods and services–including the arts–can be exchanged and both parties enriched in the process. And it is our responsibility to demonstrate or make apparent the value of our work if we want to earn a living from it.
Is this scary? You bet. There is always the risk of rejection and failure. I know some of my high-minded objections to business in the past were, in part, screens for my fear of failure. Equally scary can be the fear of succeeding, for being successful means being a visible target of criticism, envy, and even resentment.
These twin risks of failure and success are why I say self-employment is a spiritual path. I haven’t found a way to succeed in business that doesn’t require me to examine my conscience and my belief systems on a regular basis. I’m not always at ease with what I find, and that, too, is as it should be.
At the end of the day, finding out what clients want and value and responding to that can be part of rather than inimical to the creative process. We can produce what comes from our heart and still make good business decisions. In fact, that is exactly what we must do if we are going to enjoy any success worthy of the name.
A Pricing Exercise
Our feelings about marketing and sales are not logical, and even when we agree that we ought to be comfortable with them, we may struggle. Here’s an exercise that can help bring your heart, mind, and body into alignment around pricing.
Take a moment to observe your physical sensations. You don’t need to interpret or decode them; simply observe the sensations in your body. Some good places to check are your solar plexus, belly, chest, jaw, neck, and shoulders.
Notice your overall feeling or emotion. Again, no need to interpret this. Just go with your first impression.
Finally, notice any automatic thoughts that arise. Do you immediately think, “I ought to get more than this” or “If only I could sell 10 of these a week”? Whatever your thoughts are, just notice them.
Now roll your shoulders, shift your weight from side to side, and gently turn your head in both directions. You might even stand up and walk around the room for a moment before going on to the next part of this exercise.
Working with the same product or service, imagine someone buying it and really getting a lot of value from it. Picture how they will use it.
Notice everything that goes into realizing the benefits of this work. If you see yourself providing additional work, that’s fine. Just let yourself imagine how it would be and what it would take for a client to buy this thing or experience and really benefit.
When you have a clear picture of a client benefiting from your work, ask yourself what it takes for that benefit to occur. Are there any changes you would like to make to your sales or follow-up process? Would you like to improve the packaging?
Finally, ask what you would need to charge in order to feel really at ease selling this product or service. At what price point would the energy coming in equal the energy you need to put out in order for a client to benefit hugely?
Now imagine that you are charging this price and providing a product or service you are really proud of. In your mind’s eye, see a client paying the price and experiencing all the benefits of your work. Notice what it would feel like in your body to engage in this transaction. Observe your physical sensations, your emotions, and your self-talk.
You might want to make some notes of what you experienced.
With a bit of work, you will be able to charge good prices for good work, and you won’t have to bare your financial tush to do it.