Earn With Your Art Part 3 — Strengthening Product / Increasing Rates

Strength of your Product

The most valuable asset you can have, is a first rate product. Whilst this isn’t the most groundbreaking, or glamorous advice – the proof is in the pudding. If your work is jaw-droppingly sublime, or stamped with a fiercely unique narrative voice, stuff is going to happen for you. If your product is a regurgitated ‘me too’ variant of what’s already out there, you will be a commodity and will have to compete on price alongside the bargain-bucket crowd. Not a pleasant place to be.

Your personal branding can help separate you from the herd to a certain extent (we’ll discuss more on that, later…) , but it’s your product that is the core offering, the backbone of your market value. You should be striving to step up your game from the outset, to find your personal aesthetic / narrative voice, and deliver it in such a way that is truly REMARKABLE.

In the cover-art community where I spend the bulk my time, I notice that the up and comers post a lot of covers that look like they’ve spent an hour or two, putting them together. Whilst in the ‘Brass Tacks’ sense of posting frequently, this is good – it’s really not enough to break through to the next level. To professional eyes, a ‘lazy’ cover looks like a lazy cover, no matter how many of your immediate peers fawn over it, and say it’s ‘amazing’ in the comments section. Believe me, the clients worth knowing can tell the difference.

The first thing you can do, to instantly strengthen your product, is to SPEND MORE TIME on the work. Do not be in a rush to indiscriminately churn out slap-dash artwork. If you’re in a position where you’re getting little dribbles of work from here and there – invest A LOT more time into showcase pieces that really highlight the apex of what you’re capable of. You could consider these pieces ‘loss-leaders’. As work volume increases you can fine-tune the process, to make the time expenditure more cost effective. To get the proverbial foot in the door however, your art has to be more desirable, or sufficiently unique / different.

There are exceptions to this rule, and I know many prolific artists operating within the ‘budget-range’, producing an obscene volume of commission work (and probably earning pretty well, too.) This can be ok whilst you’re starting out, but I know that this model really isn’t sustainable for too long – it can actually send you mad!! Burnout is no joke, and neither is the longterm physical damage that can be caused by excessive stress, and computer useage.

Strive to become a Premium Artist, where you can invest a comfortable amount of time into each gig; have the leverage to produce only your best work; and be paid accordingly.

Increasing your Rates

There’s a timeless business adage, that goes something like this:

‘The cheaper the client, the bigger the problems…’

This is a universal truth, that cannot be denied. Cheap clients, or the bargain-bucket crowd as I like to call them (slightly derogatory, sorry cheapies), tend to be ‘amateur-level’ themselves in their respective fields. With this, often comes a set of production problems throughout the creative process. The client may not be aware of the limitations of your art-form, and make grand requests on par with Hollywood level production-values (and all for $50!!). It may be the case that they don’t fully understand how to articulate what they require, or have insufficient knowledge of file formats, templates, or output modes. The additional to-and-fro required to rectify these issues can be tremendously labour-intensive, and as we learned in Brass-Tacks – TIME is the most valuable commodity that exists.

This is unfortunate to say, but in some instances the client may be a prima donna, caught up in their own ego – and view you as a tool / subordinate, not a creative partner. Believe it or not, this issue is actually more prevalent with cheap / amateur clients, as opposed to seasoned professionals. These clients are the most challenging that you’ll meet throughout your career, and your skills in diplomacy will be pushed to the absolute limit. These are the cases where you will lose the most time and revenue, and feel the most anguish.

Now the preceding passages may have painted bargain-bucket clients in a bad light, however it’s not my goal to demean those working with limited budgets. Many are perfectly competent, and an absolute pleasure to work with. Producing art is an incredibly cerebral pursuit, when you add a third party to the equation, it can become very taxing emotionally.

I believe it’s essential for newcomers to become ‘battle-hardened’, by working with some truly challenging clients, early in their career. Through the fire of practice, you become sharper at articulating your ideas, identifying issues early, and optimising the entire consultation / review process. However, it’s advisable not to remain in this ‘high-stress’ zone for too long. Increase the quality of your product and your professionalism, to remove yourself from the -$200 price range as fast as possible. Employing this strategy will be infinitely better for your longterm enjoyment of the craft, and mental health.

Closing Comments:

The aim of the game, is to ensure that your service isn’t a ‘commodity’. What you offer is truly unique, and you can charge a premium rate for your one-of-a-kind narrative voice. Spending more time on your product can help you achieve this.

By working with more professional clients, you will save lots of unnecessary heartache and stress, allowing you to invest your (precious) mental energy into producing the best work possible.

In the fourth installment of Earn With Your Art we’ll be examining how you can transform your creative pursuit into a full-time career, with a focus on professionalism, and the age old question ‘how much to charge?’ The new article lands next week, watch this space!!

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Dean Samed is a horror cover-artist who has worked for the biggest names in the genre. He now produces cinematic stock photography for NeoStock.com