Oh, gee, thank you for this change. I can buy a hot dog today!
Oh, gee, thank you for this change. I can buy a hot dog today!

For some reason in our culture, and others, it's been decided that artists somehow only work for fun and that creative work is worthless unless it's high-brow or for corporate gain. Isn't it strange how artists are told their work is worthless and yet they're called deadbeats for not making money?

If you're fed up with being expected to do things for free, I'm here to say: It begins with you.

Through my experiences with my own work, and with my friends and clients in various creative settings, I've learned that setting your own personal boundaries can help tremendously when you're trying to get paid.

How do you do that? Start with these four simple ways to help you get paid for your creative work.

Set your prices

This might seem like an obvious point, but many artists who complain about not getting paid for their work don't seem to know how to value their work. So ask yourself - What does my work cost? How much is my time worth?  Think about the cost of materials and the time spent creating. Go out and look at what other people charge for similar work. Don't undervalue your work out of fear of judgment or self-doubt. 9 times out of 10, creatives think they're worth a lot less than people are willing to pay. Set a price that's just a little bit too high for your comfort and stick to it. As more and more people start to pay that price, you'll get more comfortable with it.

Create contracts

There's no better way to ensure you won't get paid than by doing a job without a written agreement. If your work is gig-based, you need clear guidelines regarding what your job is, what you'll be paid, when you'll be paid, and who owns the creative work once it's complete. I know, it feels weird to lay out a contract, especially at the beginning because you're usually working with people you know. But if you're gonna get serious about getting paid for your art, you need to do all the serious things that go along with that.

There are several resources online that provide templates for service-based contracts. Check out this one from rocket-lawyer or this one that's specifically tailored to artists. I'm not a lawyer, so I can't guarantee the legality of these contracts for you. I suggest contacting a lawyer yourself. Here in Baltimore, you can contact Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts for inexpensive legal help. They even hold $5 art law clinics about 10 times a year to help artists learn how to protect themselves legally.

Be clear and direct

Let people know what you do and what it costs up front. If you're wishy-washy or unsure, it'll show and people will take advantage of that. When you want to be paid, ask to be paid. If you choose to volunteer your time or skills, be clear about how much you are willing to give and then only give that much. Resentment often builds when you've given away too much. In the end, you only do what you say "yes" to. So be clear about what you're willing and not willing to do. (Hint: outline that in your contract!) Don't let someone else (or yourself) push you into saying, "yes" when you really want to say, "no."

Get ok with saying, "No."

This can be SO hard for highly empathic creatives. I get it - you want to share the love. And you've heard over and over again that you have to "pay your dues" in your industry. But here's the thing - when you continually work for free, people continue to expect you to work for free. If you've been doing your creative work for a couples years and you're ready to start getting paid, you need to start saying, "No." It doesn't require a big explanation, even if the person throws a fit over it. "No" is a perfectly ok thing to say when you really want to say it. Yeah, it'll be scary at first, but when you put your foot down and show your worth, people will respect and know your worth.


Bottom line: You don't owe people free work.

You deserve to get paid for your contribution to the world And the more creatives that stand up and say, "Pay me", the closer we'll get to changing the culture around paying for creative work.

What do you think? 

I'd love to hear about your experiences with getting paid and not getting paid for your creative work. When you haven't been paid, but thought you should have what could you have done to change it? Are there certain situations where it would be right for someone not to be paid for their work? How do you want to help change how creative work is valued?