Get paid what you’re worth: 2 simple tips from Pablo Picasso

How long do you think it took Picasso to make this?

(This blog post was inspired by this piece which takes the same story and draws a few different insights from this story.)

There’s a legend about the famous artist Pablo Picasso (as shared in Creating the Vital Organization) that tells a story of a time a man interrupted Picasso during his dinner at a restaurant. The man, overwhelmed by seeing Picasso in person, couldn’t resist asking him for a sketch, anything really, he could take away from this moment. He offered to pay Picasso whatever he wanted for the ad hoc art. Picasso obliged, taking a pencil out of his jacket pocket and quickly sketching a goat. It took no more than a minute but it was undoubtedly a Picasso. Before handing it over to the man, Picasso demanded $100,000 for the sketch. The man was floored. “$100,000?! It took you 30 seconds to make it!” Picasso put the sketch back in his pocket and replied, “You’re wrong, it took me 40 years.” 

What Picasso created for the man was the result of years of practice, experimentation, experience and expertise. The fact that he could now produce masterpieces such as the napkin sketch of a goat in a few short strokes belies the time spent perfecting those skills. For the buyer, who wasn’t there for the years of practice, the fixation on the end product — the visible part of the work — is understandable but misguided. Your clients, bosses, conference organizers, publications — anyone who is hiring you for your skills —  tend to focus on the same thing.

“It’s just a 30 minute talk.” 

“You’ll only be managing 2 people.” 

“It’s just a simple app.”

“You could probably knock it out in a day or two.”

These are common qualifiers of work requests from our employers. The unfortunate part is that we tend to fall for it. “They’re right,” you rationalize. “I could knock this out in a day or two.” You never stop to think about why you can do that. You can do that because you’re good at what you do. You’ve spent years doing it, getting it wrong, improving and reaching a level of mastery where others now want to hire you to provide that service. Well done! Now, make sure you get paid what you deserve for that experience. Here are two tips to help you do that inspired by the Picasso story:

People value expensive things

I’ve been teaching workshops and training teams now for nearly 15 years. I’ve worked hard to not only know my material but to deliver it in a way that my clients find inspiring, entertaining and practical. Because of this I am expensive. The training that I offer can be purchased elsewhere from other providers for half the price and sometimes even lower prices. I’ve found over the years that when people pay a premium for something they value it much more. When they value something they pay attention to it. They take it seriously. They incorporate it into their lives. In short, they extract the value from it they set out to find when they purchased it.

I’ve also seen the opposite. I’ve had several experiences in my life where clients in my workshop had gotten in for free (for various reasons). I’ve never needed the list of attendees to know who paid to be there and who didn’t. The free attendees played with their phones, took extra long lunches and often left early. This wasn’t something they valued. 

As you consider your next job, freelance gig, client, speaking or writing opportunity ask yourself, “What would Picasso charge?” and “Do I want to work where I am not valued?” When your client tries to lowball you or offer you “exposure” for your work, remind yourself that the end product is the culmination of your years of practice. Resist the urge to let impostor syndrome take over and ask for the fee you believe you deserve. If your client believes in your work and values it they will work with you to ensure you’re compensated fairly. 

Better to win fewer clients at higher fees than dilute your brand at lower ones. 

You get what you pay for 

When clients hear my price sheet many decline to work with me. It’s never easy but I’ve gotten used to it. How? Because the majority of them come back. Oftentimes they’ll decline to work with me based on my rates and find a less expensive offering. They quickly learn why that provider charges less. Quality. 

There is no shortage of Picasso copycats. You could walk into any of the thousands of souvenir shops in Barcelona and pick up a replica of many of his pieces. Is it the same thing? Same quality? Do you feel like you got your money’s worth? Would you pay more for the real thing? 

The same holds true for your pricing structure. 

What you charge will shape the perception of the quality of your work.That’s not to say other providers in my space aren’t good at their job. It does mean that they haven’t put in the effort or time to build up the skills and reputation that command a higher fee. It doesn’t mean they’ll never raise their fees. In fact, it’s the practice at the lower fees that will enable them to get better and eventually charge higher rates. If you’re going to charge higher rates ensure you’ve set the quality bar high. Make it uniquely yours and charge for that uniqueness. It’s the one thing your competitors can’t copy.

While we all aspire to reach a fraction of the level of master Picasso had it shouldn’t dissuade us from getting paid what we’re worth. Consider how long you’ve worked to get to where you are today, what you’ve overcome. Each time a new opportunity comes up, ask yourself, “What would Picasso do?” 

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