So, you're ready to take on the big bad world of selling your art to consumers who are desperate to hire you and bring fortune to your door! Congratulations! Now, on to the first order of business...how do you begin?
Figuring out how much to charge, how to haggle for the best possible price, and get what you are worth is a struggle for independent artists. We are not usually the money types. Often, we are not the most organized of people, and let's face it, pimping yourself out is uncomfortable even if the exchange is storytelling for money instead of sex.
I cannot claim to be the expert on this, but what I can do is share some of the things Dave and I have done over the years. At this point, it is only Dave, I don't engage in the haggling part anymore, but he uses a similar strategy to the one I employed back in the day when I was doing the selling part as well as making the art.
1) Come up with a fee schedule that makes you happy. i.e. One forty-five minute show will cost 300.00. Two 45 minute shows at the same school back to back will cost 475.00. Three shows at the same school in the same day will cost 750.00. If the shows have a break between them of an hour or more, there is an extra 50.00 charge. If two schools go in together, there will be a 50.00 discount for both schools. (You get the idea, make a fee schedule)
2) Come up with a bottom line. This is not something you plan to share with clients, but you have to know what the bottom is, or you'll end up taking shows you don't want that pay what you feel is not right, in situations that make you furious. What is the least amount you will accept....determine what it is and DO NOT GO BELOW IT!
3) When speaking to a potential customer, some want to know your fee schedule. Give it to them if they want something standard. If they ask for something that is not standard, i.e. 'Could you design a show around this Argentinian Mask that is on our website?' then do not offer to do this for the standard fee. Anytime they start asking for something special, decide what kind of work that is and what you would be happy charging. START with the standard fee and then go up from there.
4) If the customer talks a blue streak about what they want - before you start sending contracts or agreeing to a date, talk turkey about the price.
5) Make sure you have different pricing systems for different venues. What you charge the local church might be different than what you charge a small library which might be different from what you might charge the University of Southern California.
6) If an organization wants to hire you and they are asking for more than you would normally do, before you agree to any of it, ask them what sort of budget they have. They may tell you, or they might counter by asking what you charge. Be flexible if you want to do the work, but also want to make sure you are compensated.
7) Be flexible. Never give your potential client your bottom line. Build in a healthy cushion so that if they cannot match your best price, they might be able to find some common ground with you somewhere. Just as you do not wish to go below your bottom price, they are hoping not to have to pay their top price. Negotiations are important. Swallow your embarrassment and pride and just go for it.
8) The question I always get is what is the best price to charge. The answer, as always, is up to you. Charge what you think is best. There is most likely a top or bottom for you in this business. If you start getting people complaining about how high your prices are, find out what they are wanting to pay. IF they attempt to tell you that one hundred dollars is more than plenty, then they are clearly not looking for a professional storyteller. There are far too many people in our business who do not charge a reasonable fee schedule. They make it hard for some folks to work because the buyers believe they should be paying less because that is what they are used to. People get what they pay for. Stick to your guns and press for both the recognition and compensation.
9) Now that you have a strong bottom line, come up with a pie in the sky top line...got it? If you have anything under five zeroes, you are not dreaming big enough. Okay, now, come up with a reasonable top line. It should be within at least two hundred dollars of your bottom line, but three to five doesn't hurt. Always start at the reasonable top of your fee schedule when you can, and go down only if you have to. Take no prisoners and give ground only when absolutely necessary.
Storytellers, like every other artist, have financial responsibilities. We need to pay mortgages, car notes, dental bills, you name it. We have to be compensated for what we do. Negotiating the fee is not the most fun thing in the world, but it is a necessary one. Sit down, figure out what you want to charge. Figure out what you feel is your strongest bottom line and start negotiations with your top price. Instead of the fear of approaching the money, consider the fact that you are worth every penny and more. In fact, consider that you are worth your pie in the sky number, after that, if they are paying less than that, they are getting an uber bargain.
Money is a touchy subject in our society unless you've got gobs of it. Few of us have gobs of it. Let's do what we can to make sure that we have enough to continue doing what we love.