the business of being creative with Sean Low: what are you worth?

the business of being creative with Sean Low: what are you worth?

We're excited to bring you this empowering article: the first in our series from Design Aglow contributor, Sean Low. Enjoy!

"There is a fascinating article in the New York Times about Ken Perenyi who once made a fortune selling forgeries of 18th and 19th century artists such as Martin Johnson Heade, Gilbert Stuart and Charles Bird King. He is now selling the same forgeries as “authentic reproductions” for a fraction of the cost.  And that is the thing: the real deal is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the very best copy in the world (so good the very best experts have a hard time telling the difference) - just a few thousand.

So what are you worth?  If you believe yourself and your creative business to be creators and not copiers, then why does it matter what those who do similar work to you charge for their work?  For objective things, okay, a rose is a rose is a rose.  But, for subjective: what do you intend to do with the rose?  That is only bounded by what you need to feel good about sharing that intention with your client.

You are swimming in a boundless ocean. Asking for that number should make you sweat and tingle with excitement and force you to move beyond what is definable.  When you make the number too small, you are giving yourself an out.  You can always point to how much work you are going to have to do to conceptualize all that needs to be done.  Who cares?  That is not the value.  Time, stuff, things are not part of your boundless ocean, only your creativity and the process of translating your client's vision beyond what they themselves could ever imagine for themselves.  Time, stuff and things are not a life-raft in the ocean, they are icebergs. When you force yourself to push beyond the boundaries of what you think you are worth, you also force yourself to define all that is valuable about you, your art and creative business on a deeper more connected level.  You can then become more and more unapologetic for doing what you do, how you do it and for what price.  The haters will never show up.  More important, neither will the take it or leave its.  And this is the thing about all creative businesses: it is never about price.  Within the very very far bounds of reason, the cost of your creativity (i.e., what is between your ears, not between your hands) is a yes with no question.  Your clients will either pay it or they will not.  If, say, the cost for you to come up with a design is $10, the right client will gladly pay the $10, the wrong one will not pay a cent. 

Going beyond your comfort zone makes you work harder for the right client because the more you can sell the very ethos of you, your art and your creative business (as opposed to the stuff), the easier it will be for them to connect with you and, ironically, the easier for you to collect your fee.  The wrong clients will just shake their heads and leave, to which, you should be enormously grateful. If I had a dollar for every time I have heard, “I could never charge that, no one would ever pay me that much just for my ideas” only to have it come to pass, I would be writing this blog from my Maui estate.  The courage it takes to put your art out there in the first place is the same courage it takes to get paid what you are truly worth, not the self-limiting value you have placed on you, your art and your creative business.  To do that though, your client has to know what they are paying for beyond time, stuff and things. What I am talking about here is absolutely not about greed.  It is about demanding to be acknowledged for the art you are about to create, earning what is necessary for you to feel good about it.  Moreover, it is about defining you, your art and your creative business for those that care the most.  When you live there, you live in the possible.  I, for one, would rather see where that takes me than where “an authentic reproduction” does."

*Special thanks to Simply Bloom Photography for the lovely image.




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