What am I paying for?

It's 9pm and the kids are in bed asleep (finally) and I am just starting work. I am surrounded by things that never seem to get done, the paper that needs organising, the receipts that need inputting, the social media that needs updating. Not to mention the large pile of ironing that sits in the corner, growing daily. Recently I’ve been thinking about the question I get asked quite a lot, as do many other creatives – “What am I paying for?” People ask me this occasionally. It’s funny when you think about it. Perhaps we should all do that when we pay money for things. What are we actually paying for? Would you like to know what you’re paying for? Are you buying ethically? Are you lining the pockets of large corporations that don’t pay their taxes? When people ask me this question, I usually refer them to the FAQ’s page on my website and break down the cost entirely. What I don’t tell them is they are paying for my expertise, years of me sat alone in a room just… writing. I know many other creatives that find it hard to define costs. It’s funny, we accept that a call out fee for a plumber could cost hundreds. We might not have anything to show for it physically at the end, but what we do know is we can’t do it ourselves which is why we call one. Without meaning to sound too much like a creative, it is hard to put a price on creativity. Perhaps it is because we might do some of these things everyday ourselves, write, arrange flowers, bake a cake and because we can do these things without thinking about them we find it hard to pay for a service that does them professionally. I wouldn’t dream of cutting my own hair because I know I can’t do it and it would look terrible therefore I’m more than happy to pay for my hairdresser to do it. I am paying for her years of training and experience, the cost of hiring her chair in the salon and the overheads of stock she needs to buy, not to mention her time. The easiest way to start is to look at an hourly rate. Don’t forget this hourly rate should reflect the expertise. Next you need to think about overheads, office space, electricity etc. Most creatives I know have minimum costs and this is absolutely necessary. When I was starting out I got stung by this a lot. I would do small jobs for people that wouldn’t make much money. Let’s use an example of writing a page of wedding vows. If I were to quote, say £60 for an A4 page wedding vows some might think that a little steep, but when you break this cost down it makes sense. To start with there’s the time taken in email communication between the client and I about the brief and what is required. Then in some cases drafts are created, mocked up and sent over. I might have to order a specific type of card or perhaps they already have one that needs an ink test. Then I need to measure and test the layout. Check the ink is suitable for whichever material has been bought and probably do a few rough drafts to check the layout. Then there’s the time to actually create the piece, finalise it, tweak and amend it, pack it up and post it. So when you think about how long this small job takes and then think about what other work I could be doing instead, from a business point of view it makes sense for me to concentrate on the bigger jobs instead. Another way to think about it is through a florist who gets up at the crack of dawn, in all weather conditions, to travel to a flower market to collect the exact flowers you have requested. Then they store them and pay for a team to help create and install the overall vision. Or think of it through the eyes of a photographer. In a Instagram driven world it all seems like it’s easy to turn up and take a few photos, but what you don’t see is the knowledge it takes to know how to frame the shot and when to capture the perfect moment. Apart from this the hours and hours of editing involved after the photos are taken. There’s so much to consider when we shop small and yet we don’t seem to pose the same questions to large labels and businesses we regularly hand our cash over to without the blink of an eye. So next time you approach a creative or go to purchase something handmade have a little think about what you are paying for and know that your product will be created with care and love and that the money you have paid will go back into their business or into something lovely like their children’s swimming lessons or ballet class. Next time you buy from a large corporation think about where that money is going and maybe, just maybe, consider shopping small.