Paco de Leon
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I used to be really bad at earning money. Early on, I was a junior financial planner, and my job was to help people manage their wealth. But my salary was so low that I started riding my bike to work to save money on gas, and I started a garden to save money on food. Now I run a bookkeeping agency that specifically serves creative businesses.

[TED: The Way We Work]

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This might sound strange coming from a former financial planner, but I'm not a fan of capitalism. Almost everyone I work with and know and love is an artist, including me. So I know, the way the system is set up, freelancers and artists are too often way underpaid. They often feel like focusing on money will corrupt their creativity, or they think they're just not that good at making money anyway.

But the truth is, we can be good at it, and in fact, we have to be, because our freedom is at stake: our freedom to create, to influence and to use the power of money to change the very exploitation that keeps artists broke to begin with.

I'm not struggling anymore, and I've learned a lot since being a financial planner, and I just wanted to share that knowledge. So here's what I've learned and done.

One: what you do. When it comes to your offer, you have to be able to answer the following question: Why would anyone hire you over your competition? If you can't answer that question, neither can your potential clients, which means you can't charge more for the thing that makes your work special. Price becomes a differentiator, and bidding becomes a race to the bottom. What sets you apart could be what you do, why you do it or how you do it: a string quartet that arranges and plays hip-hop medleys or a branding firm that has a unique way of marketing technology to Baby Boomers or a prop and set designer who's known for crafting beautiful papier-mâché miniatures.

Two: who you do it for. After you determine what sets you apart, position yourself for your ideal customer. In order for this to be effective, you must narrow your focus. Without focus, you try to be everything for everyone, and you end up being nothing for nobody. Then, use the kind of language that appeals to your target customer. Create the kind of marketing materials or the kind of portfolio that attracts them. Then be in the real-life and virtual places they are. For example, if you're a videographer and you want to work with mission-driven companies that bring clean water to places where it's scarce, create a video trailer that shows exactly how the power of film moves people to act.

Three: when it's time to talk money, understand the real value that you create. You're not just being compensated for the time that you work on a project. You're being compensated for everything you've learned and everything you've done over the years that make you excellent at what you do. Ask yourself questions like: How does your service impact a customer's bottom line? How do you create efficiencies that generate cost savings? How much money can your customer make from a product that you helped them create? For example, if you're a freelancer that helps YouTube creators develop merch like T-shirts and dad hats, mention how much money you've helped your clients generate. Or, if you've created a diversity and inclusion training program for corporations, talk about how much time and money a company saves purchasing your product instead of developing their own.

Four: make sure your price includes your taxes, your overhead and your profit. When you're a freelancer, you are your own business, so you're responsible for marketing, accounting, taxes, legal, insurance, overhead and profit. If you price too low, you've already negotiated against yourself. And if a potential customer balks at your pricing, don't apologize. Just say that you're running a business and you can't afford to do the work for less.

Instead of corrupting your creativity, focusing on making more money could actually enhance it by giving you the freedom of choice. Because when you earn enough working with clients that value your work, you don't have to compromise by working with clients who don't.