How Pablo Picasso helped me raise my prices

May 21, 2021

‘Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art’ – Andy Warhol.

Let’s talk about one of the most challenging aspects of freelancing – pricing your services. 

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying charge your worth.

Although the statement is true – freelancers should be paid and make a profit for their expertise, talent and time – it doesn’t really mean anything.

When I was starting out in the freelancing world, I spent a lot of time typing ‘how much do copywriters charge?!?’ into Google, scanning other copywriter’s websites, reading books on manifesting money – all hoping for a lightning bolt of clarity. But all the pricing answers were vague. 

I was desperate for someone to just give me a ball-point figure, to tell me exactly what I should be charging. How could I charge my worth when I was completely new to all this?

But then a freelancing friend shared this anecdote with me, and it suddenly changed my approach to pricing.

A woman asks Pablo Picasso for the napkin which he was doodling on. The artist replies that it will cost 40,000 francs.

“But it only took you 10 minutes!” the astonished woman replied.

 “Madame,” Picasso replied, “it took me forty years.”

It struck me then, that I wasn’t just charging for project deliverables alone. I was charging for all the courses I’d taken, the stack of marketing books I’d read, all the online training I’d done, all the past projects I’d completed. I was charging for my life’s worth of knowledge and expertise.

This statement by Picasso made me take a step back and view my freelancing work within the context of my whole life, it allowed me to set a price that felt aligned to where I was on my journey.

I’m sorry if you came here looking for a concrete pricing figure. (Underpinned has some great resources to help you with that.) I hope that this has prompted you to see your work in a grander scope. So with all that in mind, here are 7 pieces of pricing advice I’ve picked up along the way:

1. Don’t get stuck on freelance job boards.
They’re a great place to start your freelancing career as they’re a quick and easy way to get new clients, build your portfolio and gather testimonials. Often dubbed ‘content mills,’ these sites are usually looking for high-quality work for a minimal price so if you stick around too long you start to view your work as being of low worth. Use freelance job boards as a launchpad to propel your career but jump ship as soon as you have a good portfolio/ testimonial bank. (Around 3-5 pieces of work is enough to get you going.)

2. Work through your money blocks.
Money-mindset mentor Denise Duffield-Thomas has helped me uncover a lot of the limiting beliefs I had around earning money. If you aren’t familiar with Denise, I recommend reading her book ‘Get Rich, Lucky Bitch’ (don’t let the title put you off) as it can help you release your money blocks and increase your earning potential.

3. You can still work for free (if you want.)
I have a lot of creative and freelancing friends that absolutely will not take on any unpaid work. And that’s okay. But for me personally, I do still offer to work for free. For example, if I want to have a piece of my writing published in a beautiful magazine, I don’t mind if I’m not getting paid for it. Likewise, I sometimes offer my friends help with their web copy. Just make sure that if you aren’t charging for your service, you’re getting a good testimonial in return. It can also be helpful to have a quota of how much work you’ll do for free, that way you’ll never be turning away paying clients.

4. Don’t take pricing advice from those who aren’t your target audience.
If your Great-Aunt Sally tells you over Sunday lunch that you’re prices are way too high and that no one will ever pay that – do not despair! Unless Great-Aunt Sally is your ideal client, then pay no heed. Remember that the term ‘expensive’ is relative. Once you tune into your target audience, you’ll get a feel for pricing.  

5. Increase your prices as you go.
Like I said earlier, the more you know the more you grow. You can raise your prices naturally over time, in a way that feels right for you and your business. At the beginning of my freelancing journey, I raised my prices by £50-100 with every project completed. If you’ve feel like you’ve outgrown the prices listed on your website, go ahead and change them!

6. You don’t have to be an expert to start making money.
This one is another mindset hack. When we want to try something new our imposter-syndrome holds us back by asking, ‘Who are you to be doing this?’ Our inner perfectionists tell us that we must be an expert in the field before we begin charging money. But that’s not true. All that matters is that you know enough to get started, aka you have a minimum viable product in place – the rest you can learn as you go.

7. Do everything in your own time.
If your freelance business is a side-hustle alongside your day job – that’s ok! Don’t berate yourself if it’s taking you longer to make a full-time income from it than you expected. It doesn’t mean you’re any less worthy or qualified. Social media has glamorised the life of digital nomads and online entrepreneurs but remember, you never see the full picture. It’s not a race so take your time and enjoy the ride.