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Why You’re Undervaluing Yourself (and How to Stop)
Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Ali Luke of Aliventures.
Do you feel uncomfortable charging for your creativity? Maybe you’re an illustrator – you draw because you love to, but you can’t bring yourself to ask people to pay fifty dollars for something which, to you, seems like a glorified doodle. Perhaps you’re a writer and you can’t understand why anyone would pay you fifty dollars or more for a blog post. Or you’re a coach, a programmer, a graphic designer, a cake decorator, a social media expert...
Whatever it is you do (or want to do), there are a couple of things you should know:
You are good at this – even if that statement causes knee-jerk resistance
There are a lot of people who cannot do what you do and who are more than happy to pay you
So why does it feel weird to charge someone for your particular skill? Why does the voice in your head ask Who in their right mind would pay for THAT? And who do you think you are to sell yourself as a writer, an artist, a coach, a designer? Who made YOU an expert?
Since leaving my day job and striking out on my own – first as a writer and website handy person, now just as a writer – I’ve talked to a lot of people who find the idea of freelancing intriguing and attractive, but in one way or another feel that it’s not for them. Three main issues crop up –which are probably causing you discomfort about charging a fair rate, or even preventing you launching into business altogether:
Taking your skills for granted
Wondering why people pay for your skills, given that you wouldn’t
Focusing on your flaws
I want to explore each of these – and suggest some ways for you to start getting a more accurate perspective about the value of what you do.
Taking Your Skills for Granted
I’ve always enjoyed writing, experimenting with stories, essays and journalistic pieces at school, then studying English at university. Words come naturally to me: I think best with a pen in my hand, I’ve been blogging on and off since the age of eighteen, and the only online game I’ve ever played was entirely textual...
I imagine that you might have a similar story about your chosen area. Many of us get started in childhood: perhaps with drawing, singing, or dancing. Others find their passion in their teens: a musical instrument, acting, computer programming, even teaching. When you’ve been doing something for so long that it’s become second nature, you tend to take it for granted.
You also enjoy whatever it is you do. Of course, there are times when it’s tricky, frustrating or requires a lot of creative energy – but, in one way or another, you wouldn’t be you if you weren’t a writer, or an artist, or a coach, or a singer, or a musician. You’d carry on using your particular skill, in some form or another, whether or not you were being paid for it. In a very real way, your art is simply what you do.
So how can you step outside your own experience, the utter naturalness of being an artist, writer, coach, etc?
Look at the time you’ve invested.
How long have you spent learning, practicing and using this particular skill? Chances are, it’s taken years of your life. I can’t say exactly how many hundreds of hours I’ve spent writing – not to mention reading great books, reading about writing, and listening and talking to writers – but it’s a lot of time.
You weren’t born with the ability to draw, sing, act, program a computer or play the ukulele. You’ve built up your skill over time – whether through formal training or, more likely, hours of experimentation and play.
You Wouldn’t Pay for Your Skills – But Others Will
Perhaps you’ve not yet consciously acknowledged this hang-up, but I suspect you have it. You wouldn’t pay for your own skills – which makes it very hard to judge what they’re worth to other people.
Since writing comes easily for me, the thought of paying someone to write is seriously hard to get my head around. When I create a website, I write all the copy myself. When I want a press release, again, I work it out myself. So charging people a professional rate for my writing automatically causes some level of anxiety: I wouldn’t ever pay $50 for a blog post – I’d just write one myself – yet some of the blogs I write for pay upwards of that.
Your sellable skills probably began as hobbies, and the idea of paying someone to do something enjoyable is weird – especially if you’re in a culture where work focuses on the money, rather than on doing something fulfilling.
So how can you step outside your own set of circumstances, interests and skills to see yourself from a different perspective?
Well, you know that there are people who would find that what you do impossible. I’ve met people who struggle immensely to express themselves in writing. Recognising the truth of this may mean translating what you do into another field. For example, I have little skill with visual design or illustration, and I have no particular interest in this area. If I wanted a logo, I’d happily pay for one. However, I know that there are plenty of people who draw for fun (my butt-kicking partner, Willie Hewes, is one of them).
What looks like hard, thankless and difficult work to you is someone else’s play. Your particular creative skill is fun and natural for you – but there are millions of people out there who’d be all too glad to pay you for it.
Most People Can’t See Your Flaws
As you advance in a particular creative area, you’ll find yourself more and more aware of what you don’t yet know. You’ll be able to see the flaws and imperfections in what you create. And because you know it’s not perfect, you’ll have some resistance to charging for it.
What many creatives don’t realise is that, to someone who’s a complete newbie in your field, your skills are indistinguishable from an expert’s. Plus, they don’t need (and can’t afford) someone who really is a guru.
Unless you actually trying to defraud people, you have no reason to see yourself a fraud. You have certain skills you can offer the world, and whether or not you don’t appreciate them, other people can. You may not see yourself as a 10 on the old sliding scale, maybe you’re a 5, but let me tell you this: To people who are a 0, 1 or 2, your 5 might as well be a 10. You have value they need.
(Dave Navarro, 7 Steps to Playing a Much Bigger Game (With Workbook), The Launch Coach) This came home to me when my younger sister showed me a painting she’d done. She’s been drawing and painting since early childhood: I’d spent weekend afternoons writing; she’d get out a sketchbook and draw. To me, her painting looked perfect. To her, there were (apparently!) obvious flaws – the brushwork, the composition.
You see the flaws in your work because you are highly skilled. Depending on your field, a high skill level may not even be required. I’m a better writer than I am a “techy” person, but I was able to charge for website services because the limited skills I have are useful to people who are baffled by buying a domain name. Don’t wait until you’re perfect – your skills are already of value.
One of the best ways to get over your sense of your own flaws is to simply carry on. Keep providing your services or putting your creative work out there – and take the feedback you receive seriously. Trust the opinion of those who hire you. Many of the editors I write for have praised me for doing a “great job”. That’s the reality, however much I recognise that I’m no Pulitzer Prize winner.
Revaluing Your Skills
Here are three questions to think about:
How long have you been practicing your particular skill(s)? (How many years have you spent writing? When did you start drawing? etc...)
Why do you feel uncomfortable charging for something which you would do for fun?
Who would be delighted to pay you for your skills?
And just as a postscript here – I know that when I read this sort of post, I think that I must be the exception. I’ll nod along in agreement, and see how the advice applies to everyone else ... just not to me. But here’s the truth: you are not the exception. Everything here applies to you.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of this – whether you’re still considering how to make money as a creative, whether you're uncomfortable about the idea of raising your prices, or whether you’re completely at peace with what you charge for what you do.