Talking about Money (For Creatives) – Getting Paid Doing What You Love

The Starving Artist

When we think of an artist in today’s society, it is the image of an artist sacrificing all her material possessions in order to paint a masterpiece. She struggles to make ends meet and in order to satisfy her passion for art, she goes to multiple jobs wearing shit shoes. (Not that there’s anything wrong with wearing shit shoes, in fact, I am wearing shit shoes right now)

I am not trying to say that the life of an artist is devoid of struggles, of course, it is difficult to make a living doing what you love. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it, in fact, that is exactly what entrepreneurs do, they strive to make a living doing what they love doing (that is solving problems) and I guess artists should start thinking themselves as entrepreneurs because these two words are clearly synonymous. 

In modern days, this term “entrepreneur” has come to denote a cult, an insider’s circle. But no, the word entrepreneur doesn’t mean to signify a cult of business people. In fact, an entrepreneur is someone who uses creativity and execution to help the lives of other individuals. Well, isn’t that what an artist does? It would make more sense if we called Steve Jobs an artist right? What is Steve Jobs’ art, you ask? The I-phone. He solved the technology gap between smartphones and computers. Now you might be thinking, “My art doesn’t solve any problems”, it is because you aren’t trying to or ever thought about doing so, and that is what this article will help you learn. To solve problems.

Myth about Money

We have all been brought up to think that money doesn’t solve all our problems and that money is the root of all evil. Well, money might not solve all our problems but it does solve our money problems doesn’t it? And Robert Kiyosaki puts it more bluntly in his books, “Money is not the root of all evil, not having money is.”

The other day I was listening to this talk by a spiritual teacher where he talked about two kinds of suffering, one that was physical suffering and the other was psychological suffering. Some examples of physical suffering would be hunger, injury, health problems, financial problems and a great majority of this suffering can be solved with money. On the other hand, some examples of psychological suffering would be anxiety, sadness, guilt, remorse etc, which cannot be solved with money but more or less, by changing your mindset. Yet, if we ignore our physical suffering, we tend to invite more of the psychological suffering, wouldn’t we? 

This is true because the money wouldn’t cure you of cold but it could obviously buy you some prescription pills right? The reason I am talking about this is that money has come to be a subject of taboo, especially in developing countries and people rarely do talk about it. Kiyosaki is also right when he says that not having money is the root of evil because some people who are burdened by financial responsibilities go to an extent such as robbery, extortion, drug dealing etc. 

Artistic Guilt



I started doing graphic designing as a pastime activity during my college days, and I was pretty lucky to be paid about Rs.1000 for one illustration by a production company I was working with at that time. I was so shocked when I was paid about Rs.4000 for four illustrations that took me just one hour to make and I would think that I was cheating on them. I often thought I was an imposter in the industry and it soon started seeping into my creative work and I stopped doing designs altogether. Few years after that day, I wanted to help some local businesses with their brand identity and whenever I was faced to talk about money, I hesitated.

I would think to myself, it took me so little time to create and it is so easy, why would I even ask them for more money? It almost seemed like I was being paid to play and I ended up charging very less money, mostly around the number of coffee I bought while doing that work. As time went on, I started realising that my wallet was empty and I had very little motivation to do any creative work altogether. What added up to the suffering I felt was the fact that people were already expecting to pay creatives very less than what they deserve. So something needed to be changed. 

Then I thought about the time I was paid Rs.1000 per one illustration and asked myself, “What if I was worth more?”

Knowing Your Worth

Keep in mind that this does not simply come to solving graphic problems. I am only trying to set some supporting columns in the structure you’re trying to build and it doesn’t matter whatever creative career you’re trying to build as long as you sit down and apply these few concepts we have put together. And the most important concept you have to know is knowing your worth. Just because it is easy does not mean you should charge less. The fact that it comes easily to you is because you know exactly the ins and outs of your work, so that makes you valuable in the field.

It is crucial to have prior knowledge of the work that you are doing, meaning that this article is not to say that you can ask money even if you don’t know anything at all. You have to know your art very well. Having said that, knowing your worth is about having the mind shift to ask, “What do they value or want?” instead of “What is it I can do?”

You are not valuable by having expensive gadgets, money, skills and sophisticated equipment. You are valuable by your ability to help people find their problems and solve them. 

Asking The Right Questions

Labour is getting less valuable day by day and if you are asking questions similar to taking orders from someone. You are becoming a cog in the system and encouraging people to treat you like one. Well, it is indeed important to ask questions such as, “What is the budget?” “What time should I complete it by?” but that shouldn’t be the crux of the negotiation. You should ask questions that are leaning into the problems they are trying to solve. Questions like, “What is your vision?” “Why do you want this in the first place?” and “What are the metrics by which you will judge the success of this?”

We might encounter people who would be willing to pay you to be as creative as you can, no questions asked. You might be thinking, “that is the dream bruh!”, well, quite frankly, it isn’t. The dream isn’t to be creatively free, the dream is to be valuable. Creativity isn’t that doodle you made on the desk during school, it is the art of solving problems with minimal resources. So insist and ensure that you are asking the right questions.

Once you do that, you will understand that they are trying to solve a problem and quite obviously, they reached out to you to take care of that. If you can solve that problem, quote a good price. If they are not willing to pay you the amount that you have quoted, they don’t think that the problem is big enough for them to solve. More importantly, they do not value their own vision. 

If they want it cheap, tell them you had expected that they really cared enough to solve that problem, and you (artist) could do it. But it turns out, it is not that big of a deal to your company but you (the artist) could help find someone who could do that for much cheaper. 

And find someone who can help them do it at a lower price. In which case, you’re helping both the parties find exactly what they want, and there’s a big chance that you will be remembered.

There’s a big craze these days for machine learning and AI, as it soon will replace menial labour. But can it really replace creativity? I think not. Maybe it will create art but not the ability to look at a problem through the eyes of a human being and connect to it, tweak it, prototype it or eliminate it. If you know you can solve a problem which machine learning or AI can not solve, you are valuable in the marketplace and you should know your worth. We are so ready to look at the successes of Elon Musk or Bill Gates and make them our heroes. We overestimate their heroism and underestimate ourselves. Most of the heroes we know are regular human beings, who get the job done despite their internal stories.

You are worth more than what you already know about yourself. Therefore, instead of asking less of a price for what you are doing, instead, do it for free. When you’re doing it for free, you’re giving a gift to someone and that is far more valuable than what you would have done by being paid less.

Value Based Pricing

The best way to get paid more, even with a handful of clients/customers is to segment your pricing with respect to your offerings, products or services accordingly. A fine way to do this is by using a value ladder. 

In order to use this strategy, you need to first understand the pain points of the customer. Keep in mind that every client or customer has a unique set of problems and as you move along this journey, you will start to realise that some customers have almost similar set of problems thereby making the services you provide to help them reach their goals similar. The set of clients/customers who have a similar need and solution can be segmented under one market. Yes, that particular customer belongs to one of your many markets. 

The problem with some startups or companies regarding their advertising and marketing is this- they treat all of their customers/clients as one market. Some even segment them by their age groups or interests but a market will consist of people who have a similar set of pain points and another market, if they have totally different pain points as compared to the first one. 

You might find different markets with different solutions and your strategy should be different for each one of them and the values you provide differ accordingly.


The more value you can provide, the price gets that much higher. Therefore, when your value exceeds the price, people pay. Make sure that the value you are providing helps your customers/clients reach their goals, if not, add more value to the existing set of services you provide or the problem you solve. Here are a few questions that might be helpful in order to understand your market and to segment them accordingly:

From Seth Godin’s Blog:

Who is your next customer? (Conceptually, not specifically. Describe his outlook, his tribe, his hopes and dreams and needs and wants…)

What is the story he told himself (about the world, about his situation, about his perceptions) before he met you?

How do you encounter him in a way that he trusts the story you tell him about what you have to offer?

What change are you trying to make in him, his life, or his story?

Start with this before you spend time on tactics, technology or scalability.


Are you scamming someone?

As artists, we are all prone to feel like an imposter from time to time. The reason being that art sometimes comes so naturally to us, it almost feels like we don’t deserve the reward we get because of it. Sometimes we think we are not even a subject matter expert and we need to take a few courses, work on a bigger and better portfolio before we ever begin. Which is true and perhaps the best thing that you would do for your own career, but my point is, you can start from anywhere and there’s no alternative to learning. You have to learn new skills and take on new projects and get even more expertise before you begin talking like an expert but you gotta start somewhere. There is no perfect time to begin something than right now. Why not right now?

 Have you ever thought about the times when creativity is hard to call upon when it is most needed? How about the emotional labor you experience when you just can’t figure out what to write in the next line? 

We forget that we are not vessels of creativity and don’t mind me telling you that you are not a creative person so to speak. Creativity chooses you and its origin is unbeknownst but it chooses the diligent one for sure. So we have got to think professionally about creativity. We have got to account for all the times we spend brainstorming, the papers we throw into the trash, the amount of coffee we consume, the times we smash our faces against the keyboard and occasionally, the sudden stroke of insight and creativity.

You are not a fraud for being creative. Not all people can expend emotional labour to find a solution and yet that is what the world needs. There are people who are better at doing physical labour but it doesn’t mean that emotional labour has to be equally tiring as that. Sometimes it is.

When you devalue your own worth, you are making it that much harder for another artist to be confident about what she does and to trust herself. Trust yourself for us, for all the artists out there. You have a responsibility if you are setting out to drive a creative career. I understand it is hard to give a presentation in front of sixty people when you do not even consider yourself an expert in the subject matter. I know it is hard to make your client understand the value of the work that you did for him and you wouldn’t even try. I see where the problem might be –  you don’t even try.

Chris Do, the founder and CEO of TheFutur says, “I don’t mind the expression “Fake it til you make it” but it rubs some people the wrong way. The word “fake” conjures up impressions of fraudulent, misleading, and dishonest.

If this bugs you, I suggest using “Believe it til you achieve it”. Same idea, different words.”

Keeping a Learner’s Mindset

A lot of entrepreneurs and creators complain about why they  aren’t growing and able to distinguish themselves in the market but fail to realise the fact that they do not invest in themselves and their business. We like to think that any investment we make in taking up a new course or buying a new book is a down cost or look upon it as an expense. We will never be able to differentiate and flourish ourselves as long as we take on this mentality. Don’t blame yourself, it is human nature, however realise the fact that the more you invest in yourself, the more your art will take off.

It is suffice to say that once you stop learning, you will start dying (a quote I saw at the back of a pickup truck). As we pursue on with our craft, we will most definitely encounter challenges and troubles yet these are the moments wherein the professional and the amateur are differentiated. An amateur is the one who acts defensive in the face of adversity or challenges, whereas a professional sees this challenge as an opportunity to learn something new and he picks up a new book or researches in the area he is lacking in. In other words, professionals are always learning how to solve problems.

For creatives, this boils down to learning new skills, new topics and enrolling for courses etc. One way I know is the Creator’s Toolkit that we have currently been working on. A subscription for creators designed to increase productivity, motivation and happiness. The toolkit is available for one month free.

 Things you will get in the Creator’s Toolkit:

It comes with a journal that is optimized for project planning, gratitude habit building, task prioritizing, time management techniques etc.

A Creator’s guide featuring interviews with professionals, innovators, icons and top performers in the creative industry. This guide will also feature topics that will help you drive a successful creative career. It will also feature tactics, habits, routines and topics such as negotiation skills, finding clients, pricing strategies, mindset building, creative processes, effective learning, handling finances, motivation, psychology, design thinking, getting started etc.

You will also receive free event passes, custom gifts and discount cards. You can learn more about it here

Footnotes:

Websites Referred:
TheFutur
Seth’s Blog

Books referred:
Linchinpin by Seth Godin
Crossing The Chasm by Geoffry A Moore
Ego is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday

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