Being afraid of loses: ‘I will do it for free because I am passionate’

‘I am in a trouble’. The story screenshot.

Prickly: ‘In an ideal world I would just spend my time pursuing my passion for photography, yet I wouldn’t make enough money to live on. I feel I am trapped in my current job.

Ally: ‘What about the potential client that you’ve told me about? She was going to ask you to take pictures of her little sons birthday party, wasn’t she?’

 Prickly: ‘Unfortunately, she’s never got back to me after that.’

Ally: ‘That’s pretty strange because I remember she really liked your style and thought you were a real talent. What exactly did you speak to her about before she disappeared?’

Prickly:Well, she was a lovely lady and asked me how much I would charge and you know, I started to explain that I have actually just started to do this, and my equipment is not that great yet and that I am not sure if I set up the light correctly. I might not get the best shots because my camera is not good enough. So, I suggested that maybe I would do the photoshoot first and then I could show her the pictures, and based on that we would decide how much I would charge.’

Ally: ‘Wait for a minute! Did I get it right? For a client who found you because she loved your pictures, not only did you confuse her with how much you would charge, you made it sound like the photoshoot would be a complete disaster her lovely baby. What you actually did is you ruined your own reputation regardless of your talent and unique style. You are better than this, you have artistic awards and a Masters degree in photography along with other qualifications!

Prickly:Of course it is not like that! You are always mean when you are analysing the situation in which you were not even there! I think she did not get back to me because she couldn’t afford paying for it and looked for a chance to get a free photoshoot.’

Ally: ‘This is not true because she is a friend of your boss and we both know that she is quite a wealthy lady, isn’t she? So why do you think you were not able to say simply how much would you charge her instead of rambling around the price whilst drawing the worst possible outcome that would never happen?’

 Prickly: ‘I don’t know.. I think I was afraid that she would not be satisfied with my photos at the end.. Because I am not very experienced yet.. And also I thought if I said the price, it might be too much.. and I could lose her as a client..’

‘Why we behave this way?’ Behavioural Science in Layman terms.

Whether it is your first piece of work or your hundredth, pricing your own work can be an extremely challenging task. If you set the price too low, you are in a danger to leave money on the table whereas putting too high a price can lead to your projects stacking up in your own home never getting sold.

I personally love art and I used to spend a lot of my time with contemporary artists, even helping them sometimes to sell their pieces. Noticing that many of them really struggle to put any price on their work, I became very curious to find out what is it actually going on inside of our brains when we are having thoughts or a conversation about a potential sale of something we created. After about a year of my observations, I came across of the two most common tendencies that seemed to be the barriers to handle the money conversation with a potential client successfully.

  • Loss Aversion. Nobel Prize-winning psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky discovered loss aversion during their research on Prospect Theory. The full theory involves quite a lot of math, but the short version is that the theory was intended to model how people make decisions. The above researches noticed something odd but very powerful —people tend to value losses twice more than equivalent gains. To illustrate the point, the thoughts of losing a client played a much stronger role in Prickly’s head than an actual joy that the client has already appeared in her life. In other words, Prickly was too busy picturing all the imaginary reasons why she might lose her client rather than focusing on what could be done to make it work. Being very creative she came up with many possible ‘might go wrong’ things so she ended up looking unprofessional and unskilled in the client eyes. Even though, the reality was much more promising.
  • Fear of failure. This is the bane of most artists everywhere. Well, most people across the world. There is the voice in our head telling us often that we are not good enough, or that other people are better, or that we will never be able to make something perfect. Fear of failure is what keeps us from trying new experiences, moving forward, taking an opportunity, and changing our lives for better. Rejection is scary and on a subconscious level, we seek for inclusion and belonging. When you upload a new picture or a video representing your newborn piece of work to Instagram or Facebook we are just DYING to get more likes. No one wants to feel like a misunderstood artist or an outsider. We all simply seek love and acceptance.


‘Is there a magic pill to help?’ Practical peaks and tips.

The wonderful thing about both tendencies (loss aversion and fear of failure) is that it is entirely up to us to decide how to look at it. We can choose to see failure as “the end of the world”. For instance, if a client not satisfied at the end of the project, this might mean that Prickly would have a negative review. Or, we can look at failure as the incredible learning experience that it often is. Every time we fail at something, we can choose to look for the lesson to learn. These lessons are very important; they help us to develop ourselves and keep us from making the same mistakes again. For instance, if Prickly stopped beating herself up in front of a client, taking the opportunity, she could learn what to actually improve on future projects. If the price was an issue at the end due to a lack of skills or equipment, providing a discount for a client could look like a caring and reasonable step forward rather than unprofessionalism at the very beginning. So failures and losses stop us only if we let them.

There is an additional piece of advice that I prepared for a few business developers with the intention to help putting a price on a piece of work if you have never done that. I hope this might provide you with a sense of direction and reduce the level of stress.

  • Research the Prices of Comparable professionals in your field

How much do similar artists/coaches/designers charge for their work? Researching your market will give you a better idea of how to price your art. Consider other professionals’ projects look at their level of qualification, experience, geographic location, and production rate. You could search online, or visit galleries/studios/offices. Learn what those professionals charge and try to understand why – as well as what price sells and what doesn’t. This information can be an excellent starting point to help ensure your pricing strategy.

  • Get a market value for your projects.

If you are struggling to put any value on your work, test it with an external world. Why not to experiment with auctions? Here is some vocabulary to start with when entering this world. If you are handcrafting, connect with the specialised online platforms such as Etsy, the experts of which could also help you to navigate ideas dealing with appropriate pricing and market strategies. Setting yourself as a coach or a consultant? Try to deliver a few taster sessions with potential clients and add a feedback form with a few price ranges so that clients could indicate how much they are willing to pay for a full version of your course. The main idea is that once you have an initial market valuation on your piece of work, your mind will relax much more. Take this as a reference point or a baseline. This will help to nourish your confidence in handling future money conversations with potential clients.

  • Give your mind a numeric hand to come up with better judgments

You need a system to help manage your projects, schedules, quotes, and invoices. Inventory management programs like Artwork Archive for art projects, YourTradeBase  or Xero for services would allow you to easily stay on top of the administrative side of your projects. But even more handy is that you could easily access previous projects and all their stats when they are needed to estimate a new opportunity more rationally rather than relying on our short-term memories and clouding emotions.

‘Did this help?’ Sometime later.

Prickly is still learning to handle financial conversations. She is more aware of pricing among similar level artists in photography that helps to value her portfolio better. She is still scared of taking a move to participate in a public auction or an exhibition to get an external valuation of her artwork. It is a hard and often a character-building job for a true creative soul to work on commercial issues. But if there is a willingness to change the behaviour will follow. Watch the space.

Sketch: Prickly is using an imaginary shredder to get rid of potential cash due to a failure negotiating a price with a client.



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