What’s the true cost of not charging more for your creative work?
When I was starting out as a freelance writer — and was systematically undercharging for my services — I was certain that if I increased my rates, no one would work with me. So I became fixated on creating the most value for the least amount of money. I simplified my work so that it wouldn’t cost as much. And I put in unpaid hours when a client’s needs changed and, as a result, what I had to contribute to their project. I thought that this is what generosity looked like.
Eventually, this way of being became too painful; my martyr approach too unsustainable. It was exhausting to always be scraping by financially. More than that, it was exhausting to not be able to give my all to the work that mattered to me. Charging so little for my writing meant that I had to take on a lot of projects. As a result, I was stretched too thin to do my best work. I knew I was capable of contributing more but had no idea how to make the leap.
In the end, it was a combination of coaching and desperation that pushed me to increase my rates and the value of what I had to offer. By the time I decided to quit freelance writing, I was charging enough to keep myself well and to start paying off my student debt. As I discovered, the more I charged, the fewer projects I had to take on. Fewer projects meant I could do better work. Better work meant happier clients. Happier clients meant more referrals and future work.
The true cost of undercharging for what I was capable of offering as a freelance writer became too big for me to ignore any longer. While I was “saving” my clients money, they weren’t getting the remarkable work that I was capable of creating and that would change their businesses and their lives. Instead, they were getting work that was satisfactory. Work that met spec but didn’t exceed it. Because it couldn’t. Because I didn’t have the resources to give any more.
A common assumption that creatives make — that often leads to them selling themselves short — is that people’s biggest concern is money. And while money can be a major deciding factor for the folx whom our work is for, it’s not the only one. So we do people a great disservice when we decide for them that their biggest priority is to get the most value as cheaply as possible. It’s far more generous of us to give them the opportunity to access our full potential.
When we don’t charge enough to keep ourselves and our creative work well, everyone loses out. We lose out on the chance to do our best work. Our clients lose out on the chance to show up differently with the help of our work. And the world misses out the chance to be changed by our work. That’s the true cost of undercharging for what we do. That’s the true cost of hiding behind money as a way to avoid showing up fully in our creative practices.
So, what’s the true cost of not charging more for your creative work?