Working out what to charge when we've got no money

Gloria Lindh, 5 October 2012

Participants: Gloria, Collette, Lorna, Rich and others dropped in.

I called this session because I was thinking about what I charge for my work, and wondered how other people work out their rates. We ended up covering ideas about value, what our ‘bottom line’ may be, saying no, saying yes and being clear about expectations.

People spoke from a variety of experiences and practices, from running an established company to starting out as writer, and being midway through career change.

Some summary of our discussion:

- Setting rates.

After experience running a company for eight years Collette felt confident in asking for higher prices for her work, but when she started out she asked for a lower rate because she hadn't developed the confidence in the value of her work.
Initially the Arts Council were willing to provide a guideline as a day rate, but since have revised their policy on this and no longer suggest rates. I use ITC/Equity rates as a basis when setting project budgets.

Rich advised asking for what you thought as your basic day fifty pounds and see how it goes!
People took into account the ability of companies to pay and the general economic

climate when negotiating their rates.
If the work is priced too low people value it less.
If you get a reputation for being able to stretch a shoestring...will you always get a shoestring and no more? Someone once told me to consider what price I would put on what I do if I paid myself the true value of my work - and that as long as I kept it low that would be the limit to what I would allow myself to learn,

Making a living

When do you charge? as a producer I want to share the risk with artists. I also would like to reflect the value of the work I put in to the project. Do I build a daily rate as a project fee? Other people charge for writing applications, or they may charge a retainer, or an upfront fee for their services. Could it work like an agency and I take a commission? (Of funds raised? Value of work secured?)

Many people balanced work they love with work that paid regularly/better, which may not be in the same sector.
Putting your own money into projects, mixing up company and personal spend - because you want the project to succeed. It can get complicated as the projects and spend get bigger.

'Just getting it produced would be enough' - how does a writer get their script on stage? Which leads to...

Working for free

People were willing to work for free on projects that had value for them.
Knowing why you are working on a low paid or free project at the outset is important. The other kinds of value you may be getting are important to remember, and to be clear with yourself about how much you will invest.
There comes a point when an emerging artist is no longer emerging. Sometimes the

value of experience or CV boosting is not enough to makeup for no money.
Asking other people to work for free. Some people have been invited to work on projects subject to funding, and then asked if they would work for free when applications were unsuccessful. How much do you ask other freelancers to share the risk of a project if they are not as invested in the realisation of it? Is it ethical to ask people to work for free on projects you are delivering? Or to ask an employee to wait to be paid? People have been asked to work for free and found they feared losing an opportunity if they turned it down.

The fear

Of turning down work, or walking away from a project was discussed. You may not be able to feasibly deliver a project but it can still be difficult to turn it down.
Do you really want every opportunity? If a project brief is undeliverable or unpaid, why not turn it down?


Having a clarity of expectation at the outset helps in setting appropriate fees, and making sure you are the person to deliver the job! Being clear about what you can, and can't do is key. And making sure you properly understand what you are being asked for and under what terms.

You can have something fast, good or cheap - pick two.
Having a contract or letter of agreement helps to have something to refer to if there it becomes unclear what either party are expecting.

The bottom line
We discussed how when negotiating our fee we have a bottom line that covers our basic costs, that we don't go under. Our costs might be emotional, our time, our 
relationships, stability or money. We should take all of these into account when negotiating our own personal bottom line.


money, Value, ethical, life balance, contracts, freelance, self employed, working for free, making a living, value, Money