Is the work you do for your clients yours or theirs? Not legally, but artistically? More and more I hear from creative business owners that what they do is make happen a client’s vision. These owners go on to say that what they do is not about them; it is about their clients. If a client wants Pepto-Bismol Pink on their walls, then that is what they get. Hot dogs and Manischewitz for their cocktail hour and “At Last” for their wedding song. Not a problem. They are paying after all and who are you to say that theirs might not be the best idea. Moreover, they say it is just so arrogant to say that it is as much about you as it is about them. And they are not arrogant, they are there to serve and provide great service.
To which I say, yes, your clients have ideas about what they want, but this is your art, not theirs. Your job is to understand their vision and interpret in a way that explodes their idea in a way they could never have dreamed of. When you surprise and delight your clients with YOUR vision, you are entitled to own that vision (i.e., take credit for it, scream it to the world). To do otherwise belies the essence of you, your art and your creative business.
If you are unwilling to own your art, then you are a functionary. Functionaries get paid an objective market rate, artists a subjective premium. And as the market floods with functionaries, what do you think is going to happen to market rates? Sending the message to your potential clients that it is all about them places you squarely in the role of functionary. From there it is almost impossible to either extract a premium for your services or avoid a price negotiation. The result will be that you will have to create “packages” (again, that word) which will try to shoe-horn bundled value rather than focus on the art itself.
An example: if you are a photographer and you only release hi-res images on disc if your clients buy enough prints, then you have just made your whole business about negotiation. How many prints? Why that number and not half that number? Why any prints at all if you are ultimately willing to let go of how YOUR image is going to be reproduced?
Most creative business owners are not very good negotiators. You care too much about wanting your clients to be happy and love your work relative to price. Yet, in my example above, you have just made it all about the money. Better to make it all about the art and never apologize for what it takes for you to create it. Integrity is having the grace of confidence born from years of experience honing God-given talent, not false humility to say it is not about you.