Does Money Make You Uncomfortable?

hamburger“Why are you so expensive?”

The question came out of nowhere. I was talking to a client about a job he wanted me to do, and he verbalized what many customers are thinking when they hire a voice-over:

“Why should I pay you over four hundred dollars for three measly minutes of audio? It’s outrageous!”

“Why are you so expensive?”

How would you react to that question? Would you start doubting yourself? Would you apologize for your fee? Would you say: “Well, if it’s too much, perhaps we can agree on a different amount?”

The truth is this: money makes many people uncomfortable. Especially those who have chosen to do what they love. Creatives like musicians, writers, photographers, and yes, voice-over artists. If you are fortunate enough to enjoy your dream job, the wonderful work itself should be rewarding enough, shouldn’t it?

For years, the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam’s Carnegie Hall, didn’t pay young musicians a penny for playing lunch concerts. Not even travel expenses were reimbursed. Meanwhile, the ushers, sound engineers, and other staff members making these concerts possible were receiving a salary. How could that happen?

The Concertgebouw said it was giving artists a unique opportunity to gain some experience and get exposure. The same reasoning was used by schools “hiring” musicians for educational concerts, by pubs, churches, charities, and even TV shows. This went on for years and years. Why?

Because the artists agreed to it, thus teaching clients how to treat them.

Many had to give up their dream career because exposure doesn’t pay the bills.

JUSTIFYING YOUR FEE

As a for-profit freelancer, you have to answer the question “Why are you so expensive?” on at least two levels. First, you owe yourself an explanation. Secondly, you have to explain it to your client.

Before you do that, you have to realize that most questions are based on unspoken assumptions. If you buy into these assumptions, you buy into the client’s way of thinking, which is not such a smart thing to do.

Let’s unpack.

The question “Why are you so expensive?” has three elements. WHY, YOU, and EXPENSIVE. The word WHY demands justification, immediately putting you on the defensive. Do you wish to go there?

Here’s the thing: if you are comfortable with your rates, there is no need to defend them. The moment you feel unsure about your prices (and your self-worth), you’re more likely to lower your fee at the first sign of resistance.

In the beginning of my career, I was afraid to lose jobs because my fees might be perceived as too high. As soon as a customer uttered the magic words “we have a limited budget,” I believed them, and I lowered my price. Big mistake.

These days I know that there is no way of knowing how much a client -big or small- can or cannot afford. I do know that I cannot afford to work for low rates. Here’s the kicker: low fees are often seen as a sign of inexperience and amateurism. Charging less may actually result in not getting hired!

Bottom line: stop being so desperate. Have some dignity. If you are running a for-profit business you must be okay to walk away from a bad deal. Let others record that lengthy, self-published, shitty novel for $75 per finished hour thinking they have landed the deal of the century. You can’t convince stupid. Stupid has to learn from experience or repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

THE REAL DEAL

This brings me to the YOU in “Why are YOU so expensive?”

The question behind the question is: Compared to whom? The unspoken assumption is that there are others who are willing to do it for cheaper. That may be true, but you have to realize that the client is talking to you for a reason. You are not a dime a dozen. You sound like a million bucks and they know it.

Your voice is used by multinationals, world-famous brands, and well-known organizations. You need no hand-holding and no sound engineer to fix your audio. You’re easy to work with and you always meet your deadlines. That’s worth something. A lot, actually.

And if you’re a voice talent that’s just getting started, you know you have this fresh voice no one else has. You have a solid studio with decent equipment, and you’re a natural at making the words in the script dance off the page. You listen to your clients, and you give them what they need without an attitude. You may be new to the business, but you are a pro!

DEFINE EXPENSIVE

A wedding photographer I used to work with got this question all the time: “Why should we pay you a fortune for a few hours of your time?”

She learned that the first thing she had to overcome was the costumer’s ignorance about pricing and ignorance about what’s involved in doing the job. Most people had no idea of the going rate, so they had no way of telling whether someone was expensive or not. They just heard a number that seemed high. They made a mistake many beginning freelancers make:

Thinking that what you make is what you take home.

They did not realize that the fee for a photo shoot paid for professional cameras, lenses, lights, a shooting assistant, computers, editing software, a website, advertising, accountant’s fees, taxes, memberships of professional organizations, insurance, continuing education, a retirement plan, transportation, a photo studio, time spent looking for work, doing the books, editing photos, et cetera. Whatever is left has to pay for rent or mortgage, groceries, utilities, childcare, vacations, charitable donations, and many other expenses.

CLUELESS CUSTOMERS

Believe me: your clients have no clue about your cost of doing business, and they do not care.

However, if you don’t build these expenses into your fee, you will go broke. All the talent, skill and experience in the world is not going to save you if you’re not turning a profit.

So, the next time someone asks you “Why are you so expensive?” think twice before you answer.

Personally, I am comfortable with what I charge. I think it’s more than fair, and I deserve it.

When people ask me why I charge what I charge I tell them in a friendly but self-assured way:

“That’s my rate,” and I leave it at that. And you know what? Nine out of ten times, they accept it, and that’s understandable.

I mean, I don’t go into a restaurant challenging the chef why he charges $35 for the main course.

It’s simple.

If I don’t want to pay that much, I should eat somewhere else.

There’s fine dining, there’s fast food, and anything in between.

What are you cooking up for your clients?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters

7 Responses to Does Money Make You Uncomfortable?

  1. Jon Gardner

    Paul, I agree with all you have said… but isn’t it also true that you can’t start out expecting to be a chef? You begin as a line cook – getting paid much less – then as you prove yourself you move up the food chain ( pun intended). I am not wanting to be argumentative, just trying for balance in my perspective. As I am just starting out, it would seem unrealistic to expect to get paid what someone of your experience does. Why would they? I have no track record to prove my worth. Unless… I am just underselling myself because I am unconvinced I am really worth it?

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Once you advertise yourself as a voice-over and you begin to audition, you tell the world you can handle the work you audition for as a professional. You’ve moved on from being a line cook and sous-chef to running the kitchen (and the entire restaurant as a for-profit business). You never tell your clients that you just started. Your price is an indication of your professionalism. Customers pay you not based on what you have done for others but based on what you are going to do for them.

    [Reply]

  2. Paul Boucher

    Preach!!

    [Reply]

  3. Paul Garner

    Thanks, Paul. We are worth it!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Yes. We. Are!

    [Reply]

  4. Michael Schoen

    The answer to the question, “why are you so expensive?”, is simple.
    I am a skilled professional and I am capable of doing what you need.
    I always add, I’m sure you can find someone to do the job for you for less.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You’re right: there will always be a fool who is willing to do more for less and go bankrupt in the process.

    [Reply]

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