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Creatives: Start Giving Your Work the Value It Deserves

Creatives: Start Giving Your Work the Value It Deserves

There’s a hot button issue trending in the news right now: Five prominent players on the U.S. women’s soccer team are filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, the sport’s governing body, demanding gender equality when it comes to pay. Their argument is sound — the U.S. women’s soccer team brought in $20 million more in revenue than its male counterpart in 2015, and have been wildly successful in recent history, with three World Cups and four Olympic golds — yet the ladies make just around 25% of what the men do.

Not that they should even need those trophies, medals, and ticket sales to demand what they deserve. They kick the same ball; they play on the same regulation field; the clock keeps the same time.

This both heats me right up (as most instances of gender equality rightly do) and makes me incredibly happy. (That they’re finally demanding the pay parity they’ve deserved all along.) Yet, I’d still like to point out a lesser talked about issue that hits close to home each and every day as an artist, designer, and entrepreneur: inequities in the valuing of creatives’ work.

Stop giving your talents away

Let me back up a bit and explain why the story of the U.S. women’s soccer team made me even more compelled to write this post…

A few weeks ago, I was made aware of a competition. The organization sponsoring the competition was putting out a call for a new logo. Artists could submit designs, and the winning design would be used in the rebrand, with the artist also taking home a prize.

This struck a few major chords for me. First, the organization was advertising this competition as if it was an incredible opportunity for designers. Second, the criteria for winning? Entirely subjective. And finally, the prize for the winning design, while a fun prize, is valued incredibly low. (I’ll give you a hint: It doesn’t even hit triple digits.)

The thing is, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard about a competition like this, nor will it be the last time. Artists and designers are consistently asked to give their work away for free in contests or for auctions of all different sorts. And while I do believe there is a time and place for giving your skills and time away (I’ll cover that in a bit), there are also a few major issues with it being the “norm.”

The first: When we, creatives, consistently give our work away, we lower our perceived level of value.

Second: We give others the right to find creative businesses less professional.

Third: We lessen our chances of ever getting the level of pay or respect which we deserve.

Remember what your work is worth

Pretend with me for a moment. You walk into your doctor’s office for a consultation, where they’re detailing out what your surgery will cost. They say it’s a $4,500 procedure. You offer $1,000. They laugh.

Let’s try your accounting firm. You head in there for your year-end tax appointment, where your accountant is preparing your taxes for submission. She prints out your bill for her time. It’s $499. You offer $50. She laughs.

Would they really laugh? Maybe not. But bargaining with doctors, accountants, lawyers, and other, typically non-creative professionals simply isn’t even something we think to do. Nor do we ask them to submit their work for competitions, where others decide on their merits, or give away their work for a silent auction, where it might sell for ¼ of what it’s worth.

Yet there’s hardly a second thought when it comes to bargaining with creatives or asking them for free work.

So please, remember this: Your work is worth more. As creatives, we give our heart to our work. We give our soul to our creations. We lend each and every one of our talents to each and every client piece so that no two are the same. We don’t learn our trades in a textbook. We learn it by practicing it every day; by experimenting with different techniques; by finding our style.

And while we might not be directly saving lives or keeping businesses from being audited by the IRS, we are positively impacting brands, extending businesses’ influence, and increasing bottom lines.

When it’s okay to give your work away

There are always two sides to every argument, of course. And I do believe that there is a time and place to give your work away. College students looking to build their portfolios might give their time away in exchange for feedback. Professionals looking to develop a new skill might give their time away in return for the learning opportunity. Artists, like myself, might find that the best way to support a cause they care about is to give of their time and skill. These are all valid reasons to give your time and work away — but be mindful of the frequency and be intentional in your choices.

Let’s not be okay with the status quo

Pay parity between genders is incredibly important — and it’s finally getting the attention it rightly deserves. I give applause to the ladies willing to shun the status quo and be bold in coming forward.

Let’s do the same, creatives. Let’s not be okay with the inequity of value when it comes to our work. Let’s make it clear how important what we do is. Most of all? Let’s start walking our talk and giving our work the respect it deserves, ourselves.

If you’re on board, I’d love if you’d click the handy link below to tweet this post. Have more to add? Tell me in the comments!

Comments

  1. I love your passion about the subject of pay parity when it comes to gender and professions. I work in a primarily female dominated profession that still chooses to give most of the promotions to men despite the superior educational and experiential qualifications of the women in my organization. Unfortunately most genders, races and creeds of people who are not white and male are still having to fight tooth and nail for the same pay and status in American society today. I have many friends who are artists and craftspersons who are asked repeatedly to offer their time and talents for free. It is a real problem and you make great comparisons to other professionals that would find it laughable to barter for their services. Great article, thanks!

  2. Whole heartedly agree! Except on one point: “giving it away.” I think college students building a portfolio are using “deferred compensation.” Professionals taking on a new project and “developing a skill” is educational investment. Cindy’s hyperlink regarding “supporting a cause” is a wonderful statement about the same philosophy; one I use in my work as a substitute teacher. Another is that there are no “hobby farms” every farm is a “working farm.” The degree to which profit is the sole driver is a personal decision. Respectfully, Jeff Van Arsdale

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