This article originally appeared at American Express Open ForumIt’s hard to get paid your worth in this economy. Everyone’s on a tight budget, and the un- and underemployed will often take what they can get. But amid this desperation, there are those who enjoy the fruits of their labour — and at a premium.
After all, how else can one expect to turn a profit without collecting a fee that helps their business not just sustain, but grow? In some cases, this means asking for an amount that is double the total skill and service fee, plus the amount of money required to pay your bills. The key is having confidence to ask for what you deserve and stay firm on it.
We spoke with Lincoln Mayne, an entrepreneur who founded LM.affair about how he’s managed to build a successful business out of his creative work. He shared a few tips on how he always gets paid what he’s worth — and keeps his business sustainable.
Know what you’re worth and don’t work for under that
Think and operate like a businessperson while living and producing creatively is one of Mayne’s mantras.
“When you understand what you’re worth exactly, you can ask for that number,” says Mayne. “There is a number, a price to allot for everything I do. I literally look at my bills and the timeline it takes to cover those bills to make a profit. If I’m working for someone for a month, I look at the fundamentals of what it costs to operate for that month and make a profit. If I work for less than my bills or just for my bills, I’m not going to make a profit and not going to move my business forward.”
Listen to what the client wants
In that first meeting, sit back and listen. Ask open-ended questions that allow you to learn just what the client wants.
“I keep it vague,” says Mayne. “I’ll ask: ‘Are you looking for something expressive? Contemporary? That way they can think and tell me what they want. If I go in with ideas and tell them my ideas right away, it might not be what they want and that will confuse them. This is not the time for me to project my ideas onto them.”
“What the client is paying for is my confidence as a commodity,” says Mayne. “I will get the job done on time. It will be done within budget. The work will look great. I have a delivery date and believe that after that date the work may not be worth what they’re paying for it.”
Eliminate any feelings of risk
It may seem like a risk for a mainstream company like VH1 or Bumble and bumble to hire someone with a fine arts background for a corporate job, but it may also result in something wonderfully unique. Mayne operates outside of corporate protocol and offers something more emotional and stylistic — something he was ultimately able to convince Bumble and bumble and VH1 he was capable of.
“You are hiring someone who thinks differently and isn’t a part of ‘the system.’ You have risk, but then the delivery is huge. I sell the creative to cancel out that risk factor that the client might have.”
Look at major companies as potential partners
The commercial world is an untapped gallery for Mayne. He sees bigger businesses as larger vessels for getting his creative message out.
“If I do an exhibition in a gallery for one month, I have an opportunity to express my ideas with a bunch of people,” says Mayne. “But if I do it with VH1, I have the chance to share my ideas with millions.”
When times are good, prepare for the future
While business has been great for Mayne, he also was hit hard by the economy. Fortunately, he had limited his overhead and caught up on debt back in 2007.
“I made sure everything was nice and clean because I knew that boom wasn’t sustainable,” says Mayne. “I saw too many brands on the streets and too many buildings being built, and went cautious. Now what’s nice is the budgets are the same, but we all have to work hard for it. It keeps everyone honest and less delusional.”
Try not to be desperate
It’s hard to keep cool when you’ve got bills to pay, but desperation usually leaves both the contractor and the client unhappy. Determine if the work is worth the time and energy, and what it means to you if the pay is going to be compromised.
“When people want a job so badly they almost always undercut themselves, oversell themselves, and confuse the client,” says Mayne. “The client asks for one thing and now you’ve gone and promised more. Figure out first what it takes to produce a good job. The client wants the work done right and will pay for it, but it has to be done right. No half-done job from under budgeting. If it’s not worth it for me financially, I’m not going to do it.”
Stay on task with your objective
Working creatively all the time is Mayne’s singular agenda and in order to succeed at it he set out to understand the logistics of running a business so he could securely make his goal prosperous.
“I decided I want to be creative all the time and wanted it so badly that I was willing to learn and understand the skills that effectively don’t have anything to do with creativity to make it all work. Managing everything doesn’t become second nature, I just become better and better at it.”
Don’t talk money right away
Mayne is firm about never giving a quote on the spot. Instead, he tells the client he will put a quote together quickly—within a few hours or in a day.
“You will always sell yourself short if you give them the number right away,” says Mayne. “Then if you sell yourself short you sell your client short. Even if they want a ballpark figure, don’t do it.”
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