Re-educate yourself about what you are worth
Your own worth is a bit of a vague concept. I am not about to start taking it on as a whole – I am no psychologist. In the realm of creative professionals I’d like to argue that it can take on two meanings:
- How much you charge your clients
- How much value you think you give to your clients
These two definitions are intrinsically linked but we often don’t see it like that. How much we charge our clients is mostly driven by competition or what could be called the ‘going-rate’ and as for the value we give to our clients, this can sometimes get by-passed altogether in the rush to get work through the door. To challenge this I propose we start thinking about how much value we give in order to work out how much to charge. [BH1]
So let’s go about the business of re-educating yourself about the value of your work: You are capable of creative excellence. Do you believe this? I am at pains to say ‘capable of’ because there are many factors that get in the way but the main point is that it is possible, in fact more than possible, it’s what you are always aiming for. It is what you are selling, the commodity that you are at pains to convince your prospective clients is worth spending money on. Once you prioritise this as the core activity in your business then you should look at reducing all the other clutter that will get in the way of doing that.
Let’s pause for a short aside on the definition of creative excellence. I have been convinced over time that creative excellence is not merely a matter of taste, that it can be something worked at and achieved. Therefore it is possible for something to be creatively excellent and something else to be creatively poor. This is not referring to the approach towards the work – one could attack any problem ‘creatively’ and not necessarily come up with a creatively excellent output. It also doesn’t assume that this is what clients want to buy, most will be swayed by the promise of some financially more tangible output like eyes on a page or product transactions, but I’ll save the convincing of clients to Part 4 (also feel free to read this article by Mark Wnek for some insight into how clients and large agencies are getting this balance wrong here: https://adage.com/article/agency-viewpoint/death-creative-excellence/309496/.)
Are you convinced that your creative excellence is the most valuable thing you do? There are many businesses out there where creative excellence is not the most important thing they do, you may actually be one of them, for example, some web designers spend most of their efforts on populating templates, no harm in this being your business but I would say to any creative professional who is spending most of their time on non-creative projects when they would prefer not to, that valuing your creativity is the first step to making it the centre of your business.
If your creative excellence is the most valuable thing that you do then it becomes the immovable object around which all other work must fit. It means:
- Charging more because it shows you are worth more
- Your creative work should pay for all other aspects of running a business
- You should do it as effectively as possible
- You should reduce all other work streams that take you away from doing it
Using your time tracking to keep the main thing the main thing
In Part 2 of this series I encouraged you to record your working hours, not as a way of finding out which projects took less time or had the biggest budgets as has traditionally been the aim of time sheets but in order to understand how the working week is typically structured in terms of billable and non-billable time, and creative and non-creative tasks. And because no two weeks are the same for most creative professionals I have challenged you to a 6 week time tracking challenge. If you’d like to get up to speed on why I’m so passionate about the way creativity is being devalued and why that means we should all take a time tracking challenge then please go back and read parts one and two of this series.
Once you’ve completed your 6 week time tracking challenge you’ll want to organise theinformation that you have gathered into some simple trends. To do this I’ve put together another helpful how-to guide which follows on from the time tracking challenge.
By doing this you’ll have identified a few trends about your work:
- The percentage of your time spent on billable work
- The average hourly rate of all your business hours (not just your billable ones)
- The percentage of your time spent on core business tasks
In order for you to keep focused on the main aspect of your business – creative excellence – you need to be finding ways of increasing all 3 of these values. I’ve made some suggestions about ways to go about this in 4 sections below.
Finding the right person and then training them up can be a huge drain on time but it will not be long before the time is won back because you have more time to spend on billable work. If you are doing this alongside increasing your rates then you should also be paying them less than you are earning for those hours saved.
Streamline with Technology
Are there any of your non-billable or non-core business tasks that can be streamlined using tools or apps for example invoicing and financial management services or client management systems? Again these can have an overhead cost but that may be minimal in comparison to how much money you are wasting working on them in a non-streamlined way.
Are there any ways you could work more effectively when focusing on your core business tasks for example, removing distractions, structuring your day better to work on deep work at high energy points or being more intentional about grouping non-billable tasks together during a non-intrusive part of the day or week?
If your focus becomes the creative excellence of your work then your priorities change to limit all other aspects of business work. You cannot eliminate them completely and still run a business so you need to be structured and disciplined about the time you spend on different types of tasks. Hopefully the time tracking challenge will have helped you identify what times in the day you work best and how much time you need to spend on unavoidable tasks such as client management so that you can carve out your best time for core business tasks.
Increase your billable rates
As demonstrated by the overall hourly rate, your billable rate needs to include all your non-billable time and overheads incurred by outsourcing and streamlining in order to be a true demonstration of your worth. It may seem inconceivable at this stage to start charging more but this is because we have so often devalued creativity that it has become second nature to do so but this culture needs to change. There are also countless other people banging on about this too:
Come back next week for the final part of this series when I will help you learn how to explain your worth to others.
If you can’t wait to streamline your business contact me!
changed the wording here for clarity so they don’t have to scroll back up to check what was latter and what was former [BH1]