Ep 10: Why I Turned Down $250/hr As a Graphic Artist
It's strange that just 6 months ago, the title of this post would've began with 'How I Earned...' instead of 'Why I Turned Down...' Things done changed, for sure. Plus, this could make for a far more interesting story, right? Why someone would say 'no' to this instead of 'hell yeah!' Well, in short, I turned this amount down to pursue 3 key assets in my professional life. But first, let me give you some context...
When I first began freelancing as a graphic artist, I starting out charging $25/hr and I got to this figure by running some numbers on what I needed to earn to make a nice living. 6 years later, I was earning 10 times that. I was able to charge a premium rate because I delivered premium products and services. I was happy. Clients were happy. The stars were aligned. Not too shabby, right?
Then in recent months, something changed. I began to notice a pattern and where it was headed. I started having more clarity about my mission on Earth, what legacy I wanted to leave behind, and what I wanted to be remembered by. In the vast spectrum of purpose and influence, I felt that my work with clients (while fun and productive) was beginning to feel inconsequential. I was not creatively fulfilled. I did not get final cut on my work. And I didn't retain any rights to my intellectual property.
Design is never finished and never perfect - it's a living, breathing organism that evolves.
I'm an incarnation of design. I too am imperfect - constantly evolving. But at my core, I’ve always desired to achieve greatness, to experience the unachievable, and to share my gifts with the world. I haven’t yet found that to be wholly possible in freelance design work. Furthermore, I discovered that these desires can’t be priced.
For some time, I thought I higher rate would warrant more autonomy, less revisions, and further outreach. And for a while, it did. However, to go where I needed to go, I had to see freelance in a different light and as a stepping stone to a larger arc. An arc of building an invaluable brand that would yield the influence necessary to thrive in freedom, time, and ownership - the 3 key assets of which I'm now in heavy pursuit. Let's break them down:
More accurately - autonomy, is the first reason I turned down $250/hr. I'm a free spirit and like most artists, I crave the independency to express my craft and have final cut of the work I produce. In a field like fine art, this is commonplace, but this is virtually impossible in freelance. You can get the autonomy either way, but final cut usually rests with your client or boss, because they're the one paying you to execute a job. Completely understandable. I suppose I have an artist's spirit and a designer's eye - what a strange mix.
I quite love when my creative license is given free reign and full trust - it's when I produce my best work. But being this way can sometimes be at odds with the visions my clients had, and it's no one's fault really. Fine art and graphic art have opposite goals - one is very subjective, the other is about marketability. I could either choose to continue freelancing or choose something else entirely. For a while, it was the former, then it became the latter. I think that having the best of both worlds (artistic and graphic) is attainable in the right niche.
The second reason I turned down such a high freelance rate was to have more control over my time. What I did with it. Where it was best spent and when. In general, I've been either selling my hours to clients or doing fixed-price jobs, based on how long they'd take to complete. The most fascinating part is considering all that I could be doing with my time, that I'm not because I'm too busy with other projects and commitments. Everything else that I'm saying 'no' to, everything else I don't have time for. It's actually scary!
As artists, we are craftsmen - we are invaluable to society. The things we can build, document, create - they all have to be worthy of our time. We are fueled by purpose and purpose can evolve too. I can't be at peace with myself selling my time in that way anymore. I've got to consider the value my work could generate. My best years should always be just beyond my reach, but if I can inspire others to improve, to be more productive, to be better people - there is no time limit for how much I'm willing to spend to aid these causes. I think my time is best spent practicing on being invaluable and having as huge as outreach as possible.
Your intellectual property as an artist or designer is arguably your most important asset next to your time. In freelance, you are constantly giving this up each time you create and sell your work to your client. As I grew and got more experience under my belt, the value of my intellectual property became a subject I spent much time trying to wrap my head around. How difficult is it to measure, to touch, to grasp. Then how it was sold, for which price, to which bidder.
It's not until I started having a hand in building start-ups that I understood just how viable my intellectual property is. It helped customers take start-ups more seriously. It helped bring investors to the table and fund initiatives into existence. It earned me some sweat equity and stock that would grow in value as the companies did. It was bigger than just money at this point - this was impact. My work helped create jobs, helped people believe - all from my seeds of imagination and execution.
The ownership you retain to your work can be compared to the fatherhood (or motherhood) one would have to a child. It's your last sense of claim and you want it for as long as you can have it. Because when it's gone, you might not be worth as much, while your work could be worth a lot more. Going forward, I want to reap the fruits of my labor and share in the wealth (should there be any) rather than sell my work once and for all.
So there you have it. Freedom. Time. Ownership. With a through-line of creating optimal value. Having a choice of earning $250/hr is a great one and is not easy to turn down. The cat's out the bag now. But I think something even greater is just around the corner. Possessing these 3 key assets will require great power and responsibility. I'm bred for this and I believe I can wield these assets to tremendous effect. It will require help from A-players. It will require a strong support system. It will require building new relationships. It will require an impenetrable community to have my back when I run up against obstacles.
There's a lot of work yet to be done. I said 'no' then, so that I could say 'yes' now. And not everyone will be behind this decision. It's a polarizing choice.
I turned down $250/hr as a freelance graphic artist so that I could build an invaluable brand. Here's to getting there! *Cling*