Advice — Five tips to help you build your creative confidence and get paid

Posted 06 October 2020 Written by Alec Dudson

Your confidence can impact many aspects of your career, but have you ever considered the way it affects what you charge for your creative work? Here, Alec Dudson, founder and editor-in-chief of Intern, shares his tips for building your creative confidence, to make sure you get paid what you’re really worth.

One of the hardest things to figure out in your career is the value of your work. You’re not helped by the lack of information that traditional education offers on the subject – and having to try and price your work without a reference point most commonly leads to significant undervaluing. But have you ever considered how your own confidence impacts this?

How you feel impacts so many aspects of your career. Most crucially, it can stop you following your creative instincts, put you off building networks and convince you that your work is not valuable. I regularly see and work with young creators who know that they can’t make a living charging what they currently do for their work, but who genuinely feel like it isn’t worth any more.

“I don’t believe that you need to change your personality overnight or unleash your inner Kanye whenever it comes to confidence or money.”

If you don’t believe that it can happen to anyone, what if I told you that Carolyn Davidson created Nike’s ‘swoosh’ logo in 1971 for just $35? Adjusted for inflation, that’s still a measly £170. You don’t need me to tell you that Carolyn – while she could have never known how Nike would grow – could have cut herself a far better deal. As a recent graduate, charging a modest hourly rate though, we can speculate that her self-confidence will have been what stopped her from charging more.

I don’t believe that you need to change your personality overnight or unleash your inner Kanye whenever it comes to confidence or money. Confidence is learned, developed and can be worked on. So please don’t feel like the die is cast and you’re never going to be able to feel more comfortable in your creative skin. Instead, here are some practical steps that you can take that will help you to feel more confident when charging for your work.

You don’t have to be an extrovert

Let’s begin by shattering a myth: “Some people are just born confident”. Nope. Being extroverted doesn’t mean that you’re confident and being introverted doesn’t mean that you can’t be. Everyone is confident in some settings and go into their shell in others. When it comes to your career, there will inevitably be settings or scenarios that make you anxious or have you questioning yourself; imposter syndrome only needs the slightest opportunity in order to flood your conscious.

Growth happens outside of our comfort zones
This happens to everyone, at all levels, in all sectors. Personal growth happens outside of our comfort zones. If we don’t challenge ourselves, we stay where we are. You have the power to control that, so be prepared to push your boundaries and embrace that discomfort, but don’t feel like you have to do it on a daily basis, or that you’re somehow inferior if it’s tough. The more you do something, the easier it becomes.

Please remember as well that we only see one side of people on social media, so don’t be fooled by their ‘on stage’ persona, ‘backstage’ they’re probably just like you.

Failure to prepare is to prepare to fail

Nine times out of ten, what you perceive to be someone else’s ‘natural confidence’ is most likely diligent preparation. The good news is that anyone can do the work to be well-prepared and appear confident. It can have a transformative effect personally as it can stop you from feeling out of your depth in typically un-nerving situations like negotiations and networking.

Write an elevator pitch
A quick tip here is to write an elevator pitch. It could be about you as a practitioner, a project you’re working on, anything you like. In your own time and space, refine it, practice it and record yourself saying it using your phone’s voice memo app. If, like me, you have the memory of a goldfish, then that should help to encourage you to make it short and snappy.

What, How, Why
I use a simple structure like: ‘What, How, Why’ to guide a maximum of two short sentences that gives a top-line overview of whatever I’m ‘pitching’. Once I’ve made a recording that I’m happy with, I play it to myself on repeat until it’s committed to memory, or on the journey to an event or a meeting. That way, if or when I’m put on the spot, I can just switch briefly onto autopilot instead of freezing up, ‘umm-ing’ and ‘ahh-ing’ and talking complete gibberish when I’m asked to introduce myself or an idea to someone.

That serves as an ice-breaker and a conversation starter. Your nerves vanish as soon as the other person appears interested and asks questions, which you can then just answer naturally now you’re a bit more relaxed.

Don’t undersell yourself as a graduate

Here’s a quick one that I’m often challenged on. I believe that if you’re leaving university, defining yourself as a ‘student’ or ‘graduate’ in your social bios, or on your website, is a quick way to put yourself in a box. When people see that, they think there’s a limit to what you’re capable of and what you should be paid (if anything). If your work is good, why should it matter? Your confidence will take less of a beating if people aren’t projecting their assumptions on you from the get-go.

You’re a designer, not a design graduate
You can’t control the assumptions that people have about the capabilities of a student or graduate, but what you can control is whether or not they use that element of who you are to define you. Without being dishonest or grandiose, think carefully about how you describe yourself. You’re just as much of a ‘graphic designer’ or ‘illustrator’ as you are a student. If you’re creative, why not apply some creativity to your bio and how you contextualise your practice. It’s in your hands, not theirs.

Awards and followers aren’t everything

Sure, awards are nice, but if you don’t win one, then it’s not the end of the world. It can be really difficult to see friends win, while you miss out, but the award landscape in the creative industries is far from perfect.

Don’t look for validation from a chosen few
Many professional awards charge you to enter, and when you strip away all of the branding, what’s left is a handful of people on a judging panel. Their judgment is not the only one that matters. The world is full of potential clients, collaborators, customers and audiences who could love your work, so don’t look for validation from a chosen few.

Connect with people you respect and admire
It’s more important and impactful for you to share your personal projects, start new conversations, build relationships and find a supportive community within your field. Your network is personal to you, so whether you’re using Instagram, LinkedIn or something else, connect with people whose perspectives are valuable to you, and think of how you can offer value in return.

Quality over quantity
All great relationships are reciprocal and they’ll get you further than awards or hitting a higher follower count on Instagram. People with lots of followers communicate clearly, consistently and give their audience value. Think about how you can do that, experiment, and your audience will grow. Remember that it’s quality over quantity though. Random follows don’t mean much, but people who are actively watching you build your career and want to be involved – that’s where the opportunities come from.

Don’t underprice your work!

I’ve left this one until last as everything discussed above, if left unchecked, can actively contribute to us grossly underpricing our work. We’re all guilty of leading by feeling when we start out and it’s such a terrible way to think about pricing.

Your prices should be based on facts
It’s a fact that you’ve got rent and other bills to pay. It’s a fact that there’s only so many hours in a day. It’s a fact that you need sleep, exercise, social interaction and nourishment to be able to function. Your prices have to make room for all of those things and if they don’t, it means that you’ll be working crazy hours just to make ends meet. That’s completely unsustainable and will only batter your confidence as you’ll feel like you aren’t good enough to work this all out.

Start with the facts and calculate your minimum income from that. Your rate should allow you to make that through a realistic number of projects per month.

We often have a perception that people who charge ‘proper money’ in the creative industries are egomaniacs. They’re not – they’re just people who understand that in order to create a reasonable work-life balance, their rate has to stand up to the reality of their situation.

You deserve to be paid properly
Remember as well that your rate also shapes a client’s perception of the value of your work. If you’re cheap, they don’t expect much. If you’re expensive, they’re more inclined to think that you really know what you’re doing. It’s not about fooling anyone though, it’s about believing in yourself. Whatever stage you’re at in your career, you deserve to be paid properly. If everyone who showed promise bankrupted themselves before hitting their stride, who would be left?


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If you’re a graphic designer and don’t know where to start when it comes to pricing you can enrol on The Price is Right for just £49.99 and get immediate access to hours of video instruction from Alec covering rate setting, pricing strategies, confidence, negotiation, contracts, invoicing, chasing payment and much more. Click here to sign up and you can start building the tools that you need for a sustainable freelance design career today.

Posted 06 October 2020 Written by Alec Dudson
Collection: Advice
Disciplines: Graphic Design, Photography, Illustration

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