Have you ever agreed to work on a commission for a client for less than you usually charge out of fear that they wouldn’t pay your full fee? Or has a client ever demeaned you to try to get you to work for free or for cheap? Sadly, this happens quite often, especially when you're still new and insecure about pricing your art fairly. But you need to stand your ground or selling yourself short will definitely keep you poor.
Before we move on, let me just get something straight. You’re doing a real job and you deserve to be paid a fair wage.
Sure, people can claim that art "isn’t a real job" or that you shouldn’t charge so much for something you love doing, that you should do it for free. But I call BS.
A lot of people have common day jobs that they LOVE and nobody tells them to do it for free or for less money. So why should you create art for others for free?
Long story short, you shouldn’t. Unless that is what you legit want to do. But not because someone else manipulates you into doing it. If someone steps out of line to get you to work for dirt cheap, you have my permission to slam the door in their face and move on.
Remember, this is your job now, treat it as such and don’t let anyone treat you and the work you do with disrespect. Having people respect and acknowledge your work starts with you.
Let’s do this! Here are 5 important reasons why pricing your art too cheap can keep you poor
Reason #1 - Undervalued & Overworked? Bad combo.
One of the main reasons why you don’t want to sell yourself short and price your commissions or other services too low is that you’ll need to work so much more to reach your income goals.
If you need $2000 to have all your needs covered each month (rent, food, utilities, car, insurance, etc.), it will require you to work your buns off if you’re selling yourself short.
For example, at $20 a piece, you’d need to sell and complete 100 artworks to reach your revenue goal! Can you imagine working on 100 commissions each month, non stop? That would be a few pieces a day, everyday.
Not only that, but actually getting 100 people to commission you each month isn’t an easy feat either unless you have a really large audience.
Now, on the other hand, at $100 a piece you’d only need to find and work with 20 clients which is certainly more manageable than 100.
At $200 a piece you’d only need 10 commissions each month which would give you ample room to work on each piece and still live your life (sweet!).
Price your artworks based on the quality of your art, how much time and effort goes into each piece and the workload you can handle to reach your revenue goals.
Don’t base your prices on what some people who don’t value you or your art think you should charge. They have no power here.
Reason #2 - It’ll attract even more Nightmare clients
You are who you surround yourself with. If you’re always working with nightmare clients who lowball you and demean you to get cheaper prices, you will attract even more.
If you think that working with some nightmare clients here and there will be the first stepping stone to better clients, and that they’ll somehow find you and then you won’t need to work with nightmare clients, I’d say you’re in for a disappointment.
The more you work with nightmare clients, the more you’ll attract.
There’s no sugarcoating it. Whether it’s just the universe bringing you more of what you focus on, or whether it’s the nightmare clients referring other nightmare clients to you, the point is that you won’t be able to work with dream clients until you say ‘enough’ and you cut out the nightmare clients from your life for good.
And they will threaten you, lowball you and demean you even more when you do. But stand your ground, you’ll be able to work with dream clients who value you and you art if you’re able to steer clear of cheap clients.
However… If you continue working with bad clients, I can almost guarantee you’ll have more work, less money, more frustration and more criticism from your oh so nice clients.
Reason #3 - It Can drain your passion for art
When you have to work so much and for clients that are usually not that supportive of your art (if they made you feel your art is incredible, you could be tempted to raise your prices and they can’t have that, now can they?) you may start to lose your love for art and even burn out from doing so much work that isn’t in alignment with your goals and vision for your art career.
This can be dangerous because it may result in physical and mental health problems. It could also drive you to give up on art altogether and find some other way to make ends meet.
This would be a sad end to your story, friend. You’re meant for more! Don’t let a few rotten apples keep you from sharing your incredible gifts with the world.
Your dream clients are out there waiting for you and when you finally get to work with them, you’ll be so happy you didn’t give up on art and even more so that you ditched the mean clients.
Isn't that enough reason to make sure you're pricing your art to attract dream clients and keep nightmare ones away? I definitely think so!
Reason #4 - Dream clients don’t want to invest in you if you don’t think you’re worth it
This may seem counter intuitive. To think that a good client would refuse to buy good art because it’s cheap? But it’s true!
Most clients who value art also value the artist and they want the artist to be paid fairly. But when they see you charging pennies for your art, chances are they won’t want to invest in you if you yourself don’t think you’re worth investing into.
If the way you're pricing your art shows you don’t value it enough to charge what it's worth, they’ll likely pass up on the chance to work with you.
Some reasons why they won’t commission you are…
There’s also the case of artists who commission other artists. When fellow artists commission you, they want you to have fair prices on your commissions as well. They know how hard it is to create each piece and they won’t want to commission you if they know what your prices are saying: hours upon hours of work for little cash.
Reason #5 - Pricing your art too low hurts the collective
When you offer your commissions for very cheap prices, it affects the overall value of art in the market. When enough people sell themselves short, clients expect other artists to work for dirt cheap as well, damaging the collective as a whole.
Don’t sell yourself short. You can offer special pricing for your first clients to get the ball rolling, or add a few bonuses if there’s ever a time when you don’t have enough clients, but don’t undervalue yourself so much.
Not only are you harming fellow artists when you sell your art for too little money, but they’ll openly refuse to commission you when you’re negatively impacting the collective as well.
When you agree to let clients lowball you, you’re giving them permission to do the same to other artists and let them get away with it.
If you have the means to do so, educate them instead on why art is valuable and should be paid fairly.
If not, simply block them and move on. They really have no power over you, even if they threaten with ‘exposing you’ for wanting fair wage for your work, they won’t do it and if they do, it’ll just backfire on them for being so cheap and abusive towards artists.
>>> Pricing your art is an art in and of itself. Read this guide for the ultimate guide to pricing your art commissions!
Bonus! Dream client alert - When fate gives you a loving nudge that it’s time to raise your prices
I’ve mentioned a few instances of clients openly refusing to commission you if your prices are low. But every so often you’ll be nicely surprised by dream clients popping up and giving you a hint that it’s okay and even encouraged to charge more for your art.
For example, this happened to me way back in 2013. I received a message on deviantART from a man who wanted to commission me for a proposal artwork for his (now) wife.
I was a bit wary at first and I quoted him $25 for two figures and a detailed background. I was hoping to God that he wouldn’t reach back out screaming that I was SO overpricing my art and how dared I think I was worth that much.
Well, lo and behold, he wrote back and said:
“Make that $65 and do whatever you want”.
I was lost for words! Not only was he not screaming at me for overpricing my art, he was paying me almost 3x my initial quote and gave me full creative control over the piece. Say whaaaat?
So that’s just one instance of how every so often clients who think you’re pricing your art below it's true worth will give you a hint and show you they’re willing to invest more in you and so should you.
That man, Malcolm Collins, commissioned 21+ other artists for his proposal project and by the end of it, he and his (now) wife Simone realized how often artists undercharged for their art, so they decided to launch Artcorgi, an online marketplace to help artists find clients and be paid fairly for their work. Isn’t that amazing?
Other times you may hear from potential clients or from fellow artists that suggest you should raise your prices. This is important because if others believe your art is more valuable than you’re selling it for, it means something. Listen to them 🙂
Over to you - Are you ready to Start pricing your art fairly?
So these are the main reasons why selling yourself short will keep you poor, overworked and unfulfilled. There are better opportunities for you out there if you open yourself to the abundance available and let go of the scarcity mindset and fear that often comes from the ‘starving artist’ stereotype.
Let’s change that to thriving artist instead and the first step is to ensure you're pricing your art correctly! You got this!