Value of work

How do you price a slice of creativity? Trying to find the right fee for creative work or services can be stressful enough that the process clogs up and falls apart.

Some people react to their negotiating fears by demanding fees that no client is prepared to pay, and feel insulted if the client offers a lower figure. Others will dodge the topic, hoping the client will propose a fee (which they’ll automatically accept to avoid confrontation).

The task can be overburdened with emotional perceptions. But there’s a fundamental rule of trade that applies to anyone who has to negotiate fees:

“the value of something is what people are prepared to pay for it”

That’s it. It’s an absolutely simple rule and no amount of emotional weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth will ever change it. If you have something to sell and you think it’s worth ‘X’ and everyone who might buy it is only prepared to pay ‘Y’, then it’s worth ‘Y’. It’s up to you whether you sell it for ‘Y’ or hold on for someone who shares your value perception, always running the risk that it might never be sold at all. But its value is ‘Y’.

The key word here is perceive – value is not an absolute, it’s just the perception of value in the mind of the buyer. People are always prepared to pay more for something they see as valuable to them, even if it holds little value to others.

An old, neglected baby grand piano, riddled with woodworm and stored in a damp cellar for twenty years, may have a perceived value of almost nothing. The cost of dumping it may be more than its scrap value. Then you find out it was the piano John Lennon wrote ‘Imagine’ on and its value is instantly transformed to almost priceless, despite being the same battered old piano.

How much is an idea worth? What if it’s an idea that can transform an ailing consumer electronics manufacturer into a world leader?

How much is a story worth? Just another story about kids and magic? How much is a song worth? Everything and nothing – it’s all about the perception in the mind of the buyer.

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