How Do You Value Your Work

How Do You Value Your Work: What Separates a Design Hobbyist from a Professional Designer
Copyright 2013 Margot Potter
All Rights Reserved

One of the most empowering and important things a professional designer can do is put a tangible value on their work, their time and creativity.  And when I say value, I mean a monetary one.  All creativity has value.  It's a tricky thing because not everyone who creates does it for a living or for any financial return.  A lot of people create for the sheer, unfettered joy of it.  That's a personal choice and an acceptable one for sure.  Doing what we love doesn't mean we have to do it for a living.  So, what separates a professional designer from a hobbyist?  Is it skill?  Is it knowledge?  Is it simply the willingness to say, "I am hanging out my shingle, this designer is for hire?"  How do you value your work enough to ask for compensation?  What is the value of creativity?

For me, the moment that I went from design hobbyist to professional designer was when I realized that my work was in some way exceptional or at least interesting enough that craft companies wanted to pay for it.  I dabbled for a few years selling finished goods in our gallery, but it took several years for me to completely understand that my work had value. Tangible, viable, real world value! It took a manufacturer buying my finished designs, requesting instructions, asking for more and paying for my work for me to realize that I was on to something.  As in, I could make a living as a real life professional designer! 

That being said, it's been a rocky road along the way.  I meet up on a regular basis with people in charge of hiring creatives who simply can not and will not grasp that my work has value.  People who aren't creative seem to believe that it's so easy and fun to make things, all creatives should just do it for fun!  Whee!  Anyone can put some beads on a string or paint on a canvas, but not everyone spends hours and hours coming up with unique and creative ways to put beads on a string or paint on a canvas.  And then comes the sticky question of what is the difference between a professional designer and an artist?  Which is a whole other can of worms.  Though I do make art, most of what I do is design.  I make craft projects and designs that show how to use a manufacturer's materials in a creative way.  If I'm not working for a client, I'm designing finished goods.  Still, I have to keep the consumer in mind.  My work has to be trend conscious.  I need to be aware of colors, motifs, techniques, styles and trends that are in line with what is happening on Pinterest, in the magazines, in the fashion world and the blogosphere.  When I make art, there are no rules, limitations or need for a final destination.  With design, I have a clear road map, a time frame and a definitive destination. 

A professional designer works with and for their client.  That means, we have to put our own ego aside and allow them to inform our work.  Believe me when I tell you, this isn't always easy.  In fact, there are times I feel like pulling my hair out when my work is critiqued or changed by someone who has no clue what kind of time or energy it took to make the sample.  Them's the breaks, kiddo.  If you don't want to design by team or be aware of trend, being a professional designer may not be your calling.

My freelance work is my full time job. I clock in and clock out.  I have to keep records, bill clients, pay taxes, set fees, monitor time, maintain a studio and office with competitive equipment and materials.  I spend several hours a day marketing my brand, social networking, promoting and creating new connections.  I am a designer, writer, on camera talent, editor, photographer, blogger, marketer, consultant...I wear many hats to make it work.  This is not my hobby.  This isn't something I do for fun, in fact it's often not fun at all.  Though I do love what I do and do what I love, it's still a job.

The industry in which I work has been shifting over the past few years.  Professional designers are finding themselves replaced by creative people (often very skilled people) who enjoy creating for fun and don't need or desire to make design a full time career.  The manufacturers and publishers, seeing this trend, are creating Design Teams enticing these hobbyist designers to work for free product, promotion and cache.  It's a tempting thing for someone who wants to get started as a professional, but the flip side is that it's getting harder for professionals to get paid.  The paid work is being siphoned into the free work pool.  To be clear, I'm not bashing the folks who aspire to join design teams, but I'm wondering what it means for the professional designer.

I was part of a private conversation yesterday around craft industry professional design fees.  This is the big secret among designers in my industry.  No one, and I mean this sincerely, no one in my industry shares their fees.  There isn't any kind of standard.  It's hard to pin it down, so many of us have such varied skill sets.  Different kinds of design take different levels of expertise and time commitments.  There isn't any real dialogue because it's a sticky wicket.  It's all on the DL and hush hush.  I'm not sure that even if everyone shared their fees it would create any standards.  A novice can't charge the same as an experienced pro and there are levels and layers of expertise.  Because of this, it's difficult for designers to come up with a number when approached to do design work.  It can feel a little awkward putting a number on your creativity.  What is the value of your time?  What is your expertise worth?  Why should they pay you when Susie Sunshine will do it for a jar of glitter and a set of punches? 

Ay, there's the rub.

If you are willing to ask for what you believe you are worth, if you are willing to place a tangible value on your skills, what do you do when so many are willing to do it for free? 

I believe that it doesn't matter what other people are willing to do, it's crucial to put a real value on your work.  Your creativity, your time, your skills all have value.  My advice for what it's worth, "Don't work for glitter."

I have had to walk away from a lot of opportunities over the years.  I've been insulted, balked at, yelled at and demeaned for asking for what I was worth.  I have sat on the other end of the phone while someone tore me a new one because I had the audacity to ask to be paid.  Seriously.  I have lost jobs because I wasn't willing to do the work for a pittance.  And yes, I have on several occasions worked for cross promotion and marketing opportunities when it was equally beneficial.  That is the exception, however, and not the rule.  I do value my work and my time and I like to get paid in money.

I'm funny like that.  Plus, my mortgage company won't let me pay them in craft supplies.


The thing is, once you do value your work, you may be surprised to find people are happy to pay you.  In fact, part of being professional is having a sense of how much you have to make an hour to make a living.  It's a business, part time or full, it has to be profitable to be viable.

So, I ask you, what is the difference between a hobbyist and a professional?  Do you put a monetary value on your work as a designer?  If you do, how do you value your work?


(Like this post?  You might just like my new e-book The Fine Art of Shameless Self Promotion: Masterful Marketing and Bodacious Branding for Enterprising Entrepreneurs.)


Mary Ann Potter said...

So much food for thought here, Madge! I have entertained the idea of selling my work at our small-town art fair. What always stops me, though, is thoughts like this: Is it good enough? Will folks truly be interested? And here's a biggie --- I love what I've made and am hesitant to part with it. I would never sell my miniature buildings; they are the fulfillment of childhood fantasies and grown-up dreams. But my collages may be another matter. I'm going to read this post a few more times and do some serious thinking...

Margot Potter said...

It's really a hard thing to figure out, because you have to charge what the market will bear, but what if that isn't enough to make it worth your time? What is the value of handmade?

Food for thought and whatever you decide, I wish you joy!


amandadavie said...

most excellent post! another little angle...(at least from the jewelry biz) when you are getting paid in glitter...(ie: design team) it's hard to believe what you say...'cause is it the truth? or are you feeling obligated to say this is the best glitter ever---because you got it for free? for takes something away...thanks for the great discussion and great post!

Jan said...

Excellent post and an ongoing question. I have been a prof. designer for many years and have had many reactions when presenting my compensation expectations. Presenting myself in a prof. manner helps - having a bona fide business, office, with all the trappings helps, as does having a BFA from a well known art school. The market now seems flooded with those willing to "work for glitter" and that comes from not having the confidence in their own work enough to charge for it appropriately. I guess it takes a heap of validation before one feels confident in presenting their fees. All they can say is no. I wish these glitter workers would buck up and start saying "product is nice, but I( really need $30.00 an hour to do this". Keep up the good work Margo!

VanBeads said...

This is fantastic, Margot. When I was living solely by my wits as an artist, I very often encountered people who balked at the prices I charged for teaching classes or for my original tutorials and patterns. I would frequently tell them that I had a mortgage to pay, just like they did, and that I felt my work was just as important as, say, a stockbroker or a postal worker.

I wonder why it's so hard for some people to value their own work. It's a scary thing, for sure, to have to admit to yourself that you DO have value. But if we don't value ourselves, who will?

Thanks again for such a wonderful, thought-provoking blog!

Susan said...

I love wandering in here and reading your posts. There are always genuine nuggets of wisdom in your thoughts. Because of this subject matter you've inspired me to take a much closer look at my work, my pricing, and to ask myself if the "free" stuff really is beneficial. I am currently part of a design team, and I have to say, I love it! It has been a definite win/win for me but also took me 10 years of being in business to feel like it was a fit for me. On the other hand I am frequently asked for freebie donations, pick my brain time for information, or asked to teach classes at way below what I believe I'm worth. And the answer is no! It's empowering to say no and I'm going to continue to do so and ask for what I'm worth.
Thanks Margot for the constant inspiration! Always,

pbEADS said...

Margot have known you for years now and even though we are not in same circles as much now, i really can relate to your post (Saw the hubbie a few times in Tucson). When we first met say HIA Anaheim years ago, if you were to tell me i was a creative person i would of asked "what have you been sipping". But over the years, and mostly forced by necessity and the love of beads i challenged myself to be creative. Now, my creativity has been applied to a specialized industry where understanding technology in the industry is important. I do realize today with anything i have done "spikes" or whatever, there is still someone needed a "Bead or Craft Artist" to dot the "I'S" and cross the "T's". Now how do i value this "touch" which i know you bring. Supply and demand, by the hour, i really don't think i can put a value on your or anyone's creativity. I think the value lies on what we accept for ourselves. To me all creativity is priceless and as far as experienced professional work even more so. I wish i could pay the true value of its worth.(oh this was perfect for day before family vacation so i hope yours is well)

Margot Potter said...

I think what I love the most about the creative industry, is the passion we share for the power of creativity. We get it, because we do it, we love it, we live it. The key is getting the people who don't get get it.

Thanks for all of your thoughtful comments!


TesoriTrovati said...

All great points that you and your readers have writ. I agree. Nodding my head over here. I have been on the 'Will Work For Glitter' train and I have since hopped off. Unless I can find a beneficial mutual agreement I will no longer do that. Those teams have been wonderful and I enjoyed them and learned a lot, but I do believe that my time and talent is worth something. When I design for the current team I am on (and I am getting paid), I do have to put their products in the best light, but I do have some freedom of style and can select what speaks most to me. So I do feel that what I write and what I say is genuine because I am lucky to have that choice. Plus it has opened me up to some really fantastic connections and new friendships that I might not have had otherwise. And it has helped me to develop my style even further even within the parameters of someone else's vision. I think that branding yourself from the beginning is key, having a look, and a website that is yours alone. Those were all things I did before I even knew what I was actually doing... faking it until I made it, so to speak. But now I feel that I can fully own my brand, and I never feel ashamed of charging what I am worth. Because while anyone can string a bead or paint a canvas (borrowing your analogy) only I can bring my unique skill set, my vision, my abilities and spend hours making all the mistakes that someone else might make in order to bring a fully fleshed idea to light! Kudos to you for opening up this line of thinking. I would like to see all of us - whether we fancy ourselves professional designers or highly skilled hobbyists - charging what we are worth and not backing down from that! You always make me think! Thank you for the inspiration. Enjoy the day. Erin

Joan Tucker said...

This undervaluing seems to be the norm.
Designers who sell their jewelry for less than the prices of the total parts drive me crazy. As an artisan parts maker, my livelihood is harmed when you make jewelry for a pittance and not cover the costs of materials. Some of the most well known designers are doing that right now. For me that means a customer expects to purchase all those parts to make the same item for a pittance. When I was a professional in my old life, no one had a problem in paying for services rendered now as a creative, I feel I am always challenged to the dollar value of my work. I feel that is why people go into coaching or teaching or anything but making and selling. esty's evil empire does not help.Thanks Madge

Terry Ricioli Designs said...

Great points! I can see you presenting this topic at designer ed at the CHA show.

Doug said...

Yes, this needs to be said over and over again.

Search youtube for Harlan Ellison pay the writer for a (NSFW) rant about this very thing for writers; its a few years old, but sadly still relevant (and perhaps its been getting worse).

Margot Potter said...

I will definitely look for the video, love Harlan Ellison! I'm a writer too and publishing has taken a huge hit over the past few years. That's why I self published, got tired of watching my advances and royalties shrink.

Interesting times...

Bobbie said...

Amen, amen, amen - preach it, sister! If we don't properly value our creativity and our output, by extension we devalue those creatives around us by undermining them in the marketplace.

Diane Long said...

Wonderful food for thought Madge. I prefer to think of myself as a Craft Artisan. A pearl is still a valuable thing even if it sits at the bottom of the ocean. Perhaps we view it as less valuable because we feel, " it was easy for me to make this so, I guess it's not hard (or valuable) and anyone can do it

Unknown said...

Wonderful food for thought Madge. I prefer to think of myself as a Craft Artisan. A pearl is still a valuable thing even if it sits at the bottom of the ocean. Perhaps we view it as less valuable because we feel, " it was easy for me to make this so, I guess it's not hard (or valuable) and anyone can do it

Linda Katz said...

Your article is very interesting, since I am a hobbist right now. I have been beading and learning all I can about beading for a few years now. I have considered trying to sell my work on a professional basis and did sell a few items on a private basis, but - 1-I have a hard time parting with what I make (I don't have a lot of time to bead since I work a full time job)- 2- I took notice of what I think would be the most commercial. From what I observed, most women (in Israel at least) like colors which go with everything, and with all their outfits, especially black,white,silver & gold, but I love color ! I love purples, turqouise, pinks, & greens... I would only reach a small population and I'm not sure it would be the ones holding the purse strings. Of course, I could be totally wrong. They also like gold filled items with embellishments of crystals.There is a store of "Michal Negrin" who uses beautiful colors but she has special metal links made for her whereas, I like to work mainly with beads (less with metal). 3- I have a hard time checking how long it takes me to bead something since I do it with many breaks in between. Do you count the time it takes if you made a mistake and take out a portion of the work ? If so, how much ? I am also intimidated by the question of how to set up, pay taxes, need invoices/receipts etc. Where to start - there is so many things to consider, I'm afraid there will be no time to enjoy the beading anymore....Not sure if it's worth the headache. And of course, my family's lively hood is at stake. I have no capital to buy a large amount of beads and whatever else I might need .... (although I already have a pretty big amount of beads I have accumulated during the years).

Margot Potter said...

You know, Linda, there is no pressure to turn your hobby into a job or to make money from your craft. If you love it and it's a nice escape from the day to day, that's a wonderful thing!

Now to respond to some of your points...if you make mistakes and have to start over I think that's on you. I wouldn't factor that into the cost of a piece. There's a learning curve on every design. You have to look around and see what the market will bear. The biggest problem for beaders is the plethora of dirt cheap jewelry coming from overseas. It's hard to compete with that.

I would say in the US, color does just as well as black, white, silver and gold. As a designer, staying informed of Pantone color forecasts is a good idea. That way the pieces you create will coordinate with the trends in the market. Though I think you have to follow your intuition and if you make beautiful pieces that stand out, people will buy them.

There are lots of ways to crack the nut, I make most of my money designing tutorials and projects for publication.

My advice is never to quit your day job unless you have a viable alternative source of income! Do what you love simply because you love it, that's a wonderful thing!


stevieretro said...

For a lot of us with full time jobs and limited resources, the most viable options for selling our pieces are ebay and etsy. But when the markets are full of people selling things for so little it makes it impossible- I know how much time, effort, and money goes into making my resin jewelry, but how can I price it for what it's worth and expect to compete when Happy Hannah Highschool is selling her resin rings for $3??

Margot Potter said...

Take a trip to NYC and visit the fashion district. You'll see gorgeous costume jewelry pieces selling for next to nothing. Or shop at the mall, accessories are cheap, cheap, cheap.

But you know, I honestly believe that people will pay more if you charge it. If what you're making and doing is superior, than people like 'Hannah' or Design Team free product folks won't be able to compete. Cream rises and quality matters.

Etsy and eBay are tough markets for sure, but I know people who do quite well there and none of them undersell their work. AND, there are other venues...


Anonymous said...

This is a great post. Lots to think about. I am still struggling with this. I was underpricing my items for a long time thinking it would help me sell more , but it did not. I finally decided to price them at what I felt they were worth and what I felt was fair for both me and the customer. I am slowly starting to get sales and some repeat customers. I have been part time for over twenty years, but now I am working full time, still earning hobby pay, but I am determined to get to a place where my hard work will pay off !! IT really is a very fine line, trying to figure out what your work is worth !!