Are You a Snotty Artist?

Are You A Snotty Artist?There’s a debate online (and probably offline too) that divides writers, designers and more into two camps: those who consider their work a trade, and those who consider their work an art form.

Now, for those of you who know me or have read older posts on this site, you’ll know that I firmly sit in the “writing is a trade” camp and disdain calling what I do for a living an art.

It’s a career. It brings me income. It’s a business. It’s not William Shakespeare or Leonardo DaVinci.

I don’t make a point of fighting to convince those that call themselves artists that they aren’t. They are, in their way. I enjoy writing what I call art myself from time to time. But every now and then, I come across a discussion that makes me absolutely roll my eyes and snort, “ArTEESTes,” under my breath.

One such discussion can be found right here: Are Freelancers a Commodity or a Profession?

The post debated whether job auction sites like Elance devalue professional work. I didn’t agree with the arguments raised, and left a rather long comment saying as much. But what really got to me was the attitude of many, many freelancers who also commented.

I won’t repeat them here.

The majority of comments reflected a pretentious, arrogant mindset. How dare people buy cheap goods? How dare they make do with anything less than artistry? How dare they assume how much time it takes to create The Most Beautiful Logo On Earth?

Let me clue these people into some very important facts:

  • Buyers don’t know how much time it takes to create a logo or write a page of website copy.
  • Buyers don’t know the market value for such goods, nor do they feel the need to research it.
  • Buyers don’t know that there’s a difference in quality between the $10 guy and the $100 guy.

More importantly, buyers don’t CARE.

People who want to hire you for your services aren’t looking to have absolute art worthy of Mona Lisa fame for their website or business needs. They aren’t interested in how many pixels and hours go into creating a banner or a sales letter. They don’t want art.

They want results.

Let’s be realistic here. If Joe Blow comes along, decides to put up a website to earn some money and feed his family, he’s really not interested in having graphic art so lickable it could be hung on the wall of his living room. He wants people to buy what he’s selling.

Does site appeal and an impactful message accomplish that? Of course. The more appealing and impactful, the more sales.

But Joe doesn’t know that, not really. He’s a garage mechanic who just wants a better life for his kids, or maybe he’s a production line worker who lost his job. He’s looking for a way to keep his income stream alive, and from what he reads online, he knows that there’s opportunity to do so.

He reads a lot of stuff that says, “Find a freelancer. Get a website. Make money.”

Alright, thinks Joe. He Googles “freelance website designer,” and right there on the first page is “Get a Freelancer dot com”. (Which I won’t link to, because I think that’s a crappy site. You can Google it and take a look if you’d like.)

So Joe goes over, sees what other people are doing, looks at what it might cost him and decides to take the plunge.

“I need a website with five pages of content. I would like it in a week. I have a $100 budget.”

Is Joe an asshole? Is he devaluing web design everywhere? Is he supporting slave labor, low-quality providers and thumbing his nose at graphic artists and copywriters everywhere?

Good lord, no. Joe’s just some guy who knows cars or how to box canned goods.

Here’s clue number two: Joe just doesn’t know what goes into building a website.

Soon Joe gets some bids. He gets a whole bunch of guys offering to do the full work for $50. He also gets some guys offering phenomenally higher rates. Sure these guys have snazzy sites and credentials. The $50 guy has a nice site and plenty of other clients that have passed through before Joe.

$50 versus astronomically high. Which do you think Joe will pick? You do the math.

Now, the bohemiam rhapsody arTEESTes think they know what happens next. They think Joe picks the cheaper rate and gets crappy work back. They think Joe clearly sees he’s wasted his money and should’ve gone with a more expensive provider.

Let me give you clue number three: Your rates do not determine your quality of work.

I know this for a fact. I’ve seen terrible copy provided by some pretty pricey writers. I’ve seen horrible sites designed by expensive graphic artists. It’s not the exception to the rule, either – I see a lot of godawful stuff out there on the internet.

Bad copy that’s full of jargon and that comes off pretentious and full of self-worth. Sites that are stunningly beautiful and completely unusable. Sites that are so unfriendly for visitors and users that there’s a great chance very few sales are happening.

I’ve seen some people who have low rates do some amazing work, too. They live in places that don’t require two grand a month just to pay rent, so they don’t feel the need to price high. They sometimes even do live in these high-economy areas and still charge low rates.

Clue number four: We live in a global business world, folks. Your living conditions aren’t the next guy’s living conditions.

Fast forward a year later. Joe’s doing okay. His website is bringing in some money – not a ton, but he’s actually getting by and feeling good about it. Sure, he’d like to make more money. And he’s learning how. He reads all the popular blogs, he’s catching up on some education and he’s figuring out what he should do next.

Then he finds a site that totally bashes people who pay $50 for a website with five pages of copy. He’s surprised. He reads more. He sees commentators implying that buyers are uneducated, ignorant, foolish and wasteful. He notices that there are some pretty lofty comments and plenty of arrogant attitude flying around.

Now Joe’s defensive. He’s not nodding and agreeing that his website is an artist’s endeavor and that he’s made a grievous mistake. He’s feeling pointed at, criticized, degraded and flamed.

Clue five: Attacking people is not good for business.

So Joe now thinks that those copywriters and graphic artists who complain and gripe about other people and job sites are pretty snotty. He doesn’t like them. He didn’t see explanations why this was all about art, nor does he care. Joe has a business to run, and he knows that when he wants a banner ad or a new look, he has a cheap provider who does okay work that makes him feel welcome.

Maybe it’s not the best work. But it works.

Now, that’s the key, here. It works. That’s what any piece of copy or design should do for a buyer – it should accomplish the desired goal. That’s all that buyers want. Yes, they’d like beautiful and awesome and striking and emotional and impactful and total wow in a CSS box.

But that’s not a buyer’s priority. And if you’re in business, if you write for a living, if you design as a career, you’d do well to remember that.

So what should you do about this artistry/commodity issue? You should:

• Remember that you’re a professional service provider
• Be diplomatic, polite, understanding and friendly with people
• Take no offense when buyers chose a lower-priced option
• Be understanding of your peers and colleagues who may have lower rates
• Work towards education and teaching the value of your work
• Take marketing and sales courses to learn how to better present yourself to be hired
• Work on effectively conveying your value and worth to buyers
• Ignore service providers who aren’t within your niche of industry
• Continue to build your reputation and word-of-mouth referral
• Recognize that no one’s mission in life is to offend you by offering less money than you expect
• Realize that your needs and priorities are not the needs and priorities of your buyer.

Now, I’m not crazy or stupid. You run a business just like Joe does. You should hold out for the rates that you believe your work is worth. If you choose not to work with clients who can’t afford to pay your rates, that’s your prerogative. You have every right to do that.

Just don’t be deluded into thinking that your work is worth the price you demand because it’s “art”. It’s worth your price because it gets the client results.

And if your client gets results he’s happy with from some cheaper provider or a less talented guy?

It’s really not your job to tell him he’s a bad person because of that.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. It’s a career. It brings me income. It’s a business. It’s not William Shakespeare or Leonardo DaVinci.

    Actually Shakespeare and Leonardo would probably have related to your attitude. Shakespeare was an entrepreneur and popular entertainer. Leonardo created work for rich clients, and wasn’t above creating party decorations and military machinery as well as paintings and sculptures.

    In their day, the word ‘art’ was much closer to the sense of ‘work’, ‘craft’, ‘skill’ than to the modern idea of fine arts and the arTEESTe.

    I suggest it’s no coincidence that jobbing craftsmen like this created greater ‘art’ than the navel-gazing, hissy-fit throwing arTEESTes.
    .-= Mark McGuinness´s last blog ..The Trouble with Telling People to Go Green =-.

  2. Hi James
    I particularly like ‘attacking people is not good for business’. It’s really not helpful, and doesn’t leave a great first impression. People remember things like that, and sometimes a bad reputation spreads far quicker than a good one.
    .-= Sally, Snappy Sentences´s last blog ..Start planning your content needs for 2010 =-.

  3. This is an interesting topic. I know a few writers who bash copywriters because they think book writing of freelance writing is more credible writing. However for me, copywriting is a business and you need to pay the bills. It is more lucractive to write a piece of copy than write a freelance article, interview people, find statistics etc You can either be a struggling artist in Australia or you can find corporate or copywriting work and pay the bills. I know what I would rather do.

  4. I’m in two minds about this. I guess you get what you pay for but at the same time, if we have freelancers who continue accept an incredibly low rate, then we will not be able to maintain reasonable rates for their business. In the same way, if a plumber continues to cut his rate and also offer a poor quality, it brings down our whole business. Just another point of view to consider.
    .-= Rob´s last blog ..footer 1 =-.

  5. @ Rob – Well, there’s a McDonalds in my town. Feeds four for about $20. Across the street from it is a French fondue bistro. Feeds two for about $80.

    It’s been there for 15 years. It has never lowered its rates. And the people who eat at it don’t eat at McDonalds and vice versa.

    There’s a plumber in town with a cheap rate, btw – the other plumbers shrug. “Dummy. He could get our rates.” But he doesn’t. He charges less. No one’s hurting for clients, though… go figure :)

    @ Rebecca – Ahh, even amongst the writers, we have arTEESTes, yes… quite sad, that, especially considering that not one of those novelists could write a page that sold steak to a starving dog.

    @ Sally – The more the comments were going up (on the other site), I kept thinking, “Do you not realize your potential clients could be reading this???!”

    @ Mark – I had Monet, you know. Taylor said, “No one knows Monet.” Now you go blow my examples out of the water. Sheesh.

    But in a really interesting way. I had forgotten that about Shakespeare (and didn’t know that about DaVinci).

    On a side note, a lot of modern fine art I see is some of the ugliest stuff ever that requires no creativity or skills to craft. Hmmm…

  6. I think one of the most important lessons freelancers in creative industries learn as they gain experience is to value themselves and their time. Our industries do not have set ‘price’ ranges, because it comes down to deciding how much YOU think your own time is worth.

    I’ve found, if you set any price you’ll have clients willing to pay it. That price could be $2 a page or $2 a word and somewhere out there will be clients who will pay. I frequently have freelancers in other niche areas comment that I charge far less than others in my industry but I charge what I feel my own time and experience is worth based on my own living expenses.

    What it comes down to is your personal motivation for the work. If you’re working for penny and dime, if the money is your primary focus, you’ll never feel anyone charges enough and you’ll always want to pay the least to others. If you’re in this business because you truly enjoy serving others and providing quality product then you only ever feel you need to charge ‘enough to pay the bills’ and no more.

    If, however, you think you’re providing ART, charge accordingly, but remember… most revered artists weren’t worth THAT much, until they were dead.
    .-= Rebecca Laffar-Smith´s last blog ..Writers Are Superheroes =-.

  7. @ James – Well, you know, I’m basically trying to bolster your argument. :-)

    Funnily enough, I find I’m a lot more open to modern art the older I get…
    .-= Mark McGuinness´s last blog ..Miffy – the Making of a Children’s Classic =-.

  8. Having been on both sides of the fence, I’ve learned that when the economy is good and I’m marketing the pants off my works of art, I can afford to charge the big bucks.

    When the economy is down, I can choose instead to take the long-term route and go in cheap (while providing future opportunities for sales as the months roll by).

    I have learned to let go of my ego and while I always take pride in the quality I deliver…I choose NOT to be personally invested in the aftermath.

    At the same time, I also realize that people who never buy (or who want the lowest prices ALWAYS) are NOT my customers in real life. So I have now chosen to focus my energies on providing premium (ie, paid) content. It will be quite the adventure to see how that plays out!

    It works for me.
    .-= Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach´s last blog ..Today’s quote of the day – It doesn’t matter WHO loves you… =-.

  9. This comes up in most “art” fields. I’m a beginning freelance copywriter, but I’ve been working in the theater for twenty years and the difference is really clear.

    An amateur works for himself. A professional works for others. An amateur wants people to notice how great he is but doesn’t care whether he actually is great or not. The hallmark of amateurism is the offended attitude you’re describing. “What sort of Philistine would think to go to Theater B, C or D. They just pander to the masses…”

    A professional needs to pay the bills with the work, so he makes sure the work will pay the bills. Usually the art is so much more subtle and nuanced. Some of the greatest writing you find is in sales copy, where the “art” of the work is understated. Shakespeare (who was accused of plagiarism and pandering to the masses, both of which were true) is one example, but also like every other working artist in any field you can think of.
    .-= Justin´s last blog ..Self-Sufficiency: You don’t need approval. =-.

  10. I know of only one case in which an arTEEEST was able to successfully “get back” at his employer. Caravaggio, an agnostic, painted prostitutes’ faces for Mary’s in his church-commissioned works largely because he felt hemmed in/exploited by the churches’ requirements. I’m not sure whether or not the churches were on to him. But yikes! Talk about a bad business practice. But he was so good, that they simply HAD to hire him.

  11. Oooh, the conversation on this one is going to be fascinating. I’m just going to run and get some popcorn…

    It is true, though, that prices often affect perception. The difference is whether you think lower prices mean “bargain” or “cheap/shoddy”–and THAT perception can be affected by the way they are presented.
    .-= –Deb´s last blog ..Climate Change =-.

  12. Congrats for a great topic for discussion! I worked in the early part of my freelance career for nuts. Now, after having few clients referred me… I charge them accordingly. One client argued why do I charge so much(infact it was not much!). He thought copywriting is content writing. I had to tell him mine (copywriting) is a work of art, and the content is not. Given the hours of work I do for coming out with compelling copy.
    When we project ourselves that what we do is a work of art, we feel energised and obliged to do great work. As you said, for that we need to be comfortable financially. But, I have decided come rain or shine, I wouldn’t lower my rates just to make few bucks. That would serioiusly hamper our image. Especially copywriter. I have no problem if someone writes.

    If it is really necessary to work for less… tell the client who can’t afford… that you give it as an introductory offer or as an exclusive offer for finding you… and do it. BUt, don’t agree without mentioning that your work worth much much more!
    .-= Solomon´s last blog ..HEADLINE or HEARTLINE? =-.

  13. @Justin that’s a pretty insightful comment. I like the way you phrased it, “An amateur works for himself. A professional works for others.”

    I agree that value isn’t determined by price. The problem, as I see it, is not about art, it’s about setting unrealistic expectations.

    When someone goes with the lowest bidder for copy or web design and it bombs, he doesn’t come back and say, “I should have paid more.” He says, “this doesn’t work for my business. I give up.”
    .-= Henry´s last blog ..Social Media In Business For Dummies =-.

  14. James, you have a knack for writing on topics that get people talking. Congrats to you for that, my friend.

    I was going to point out that Shakespeare and Da Vinci were probably tradesmen first, artists second, but Mark beat me to that, so I’ll take a different path.

    The way I see it, I do two kinds of writing. The first type of writing is literary fiction and the second is copy writing. The two types of writing are very distinct in my head. I have a different website for each. One brings in revenue for me, the other, not so much.

    It’s tempting to think of one as art, and the other as a trade, but in fact, I think of both as art insofar as it takes a certain talent to accomplish them both, and both work best when you’re making an emotional, visceral connection with your audience.

    Where they become different for me is that copywriting is also a trade for me. I used to practice law, and to me, writing copy is very similar to what practicing law was. A client hired me to provide a service. Many other people could provide that service, some at lower rates, some at higher rates. Sometimes rates would reflect quality of the work, but not always. In both cases, I was judged on the results of the work done. Never in my (albeit short) legal career did I ever hear anyone refer to law as an art (apart from a couple of professors, who never left the ivory tower). Law is a trade first, and I think copywriting is the same.

    Does that mean that the other kind of writing I do isn’t a trade? Well, for me, it isn’t, because I’m not trying to make money off of it, but go talk to any successful working artist and ask him if he doesn’t think of what he’s doing as a trade. I love reading the thoughts of people like Hazel Dooney, John T Unger and Hugh Macleod for this very reason.

    Great post, James, and great discussion, all.
    .-= Adam Di Stefano´s last blog ..17 Tips for Crafting Copy that Sells =-.

  15. Scott Bowman says:

    Good shot of awesomesauce to start my Monday morning.

    And people would do well to remember, that what gets written on the Internet is open for all to see. Bashing your potential customers or just plain bad behavior are like words spoken; They can’t be taken back or fully erased.

  16. Everyone’s just got to do what works best for them and best for their clients. Some people don’t know the difference between good design and bad design, good writing and bad writing, good food and bad food, but it’s all relative. My perception of good is different from the guy next to me. People have different standards, different tastes, and different expectations and that’s OK. The world is a big place and there is a market for anything. If McDonald’s does the trick for making your stomach stop growling and you can afford it, that’s what’s right for you. If only the finest French cuisine will satisfy you and you can afford that, then that’s fine too. If someone wants to be an expensive artist, let them. If someone wants to run a budget word factory, let them. I don’t think there’s a magic recipe or philosophy that applies to everyone. Free country, free market. Whatever works for you and your clients.
    .-= Cheryl´s last blog ..Is Social Media Spookier Than a Vampire? =-.

  17. You guys are the best. I’m still waiting for someone to come stick me with a pitchfork and light me on fire, of course, but it’s grand to see professionals nodding and adding their opinion. Loving it.

    @ Cheryl – Agreed, we all need to do what works for us. The problem is that so many people think that what works for them has to be the rule for everyone else, too – and they get angry when those others say, “Mm, not for me, thanks.”

    @ Scott – I’m all about awesomesauce. With chicken. Excellent with chicken.

    @ Adam – Heh, if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s posts like these that shake people up a bit. My claim to fame.

    In both cases, I was judged on the results of the work done.

    And that’s just it. Even the most modern of modern art worth millions is judged based on the response and reaction it gets from viewers. Nothing else. It’s worth zero on its own, no matter who created it and how talented or skilled they were, if it doesn’t get results, whatever those may be.

    I think freelancers do well to keep that in mind.

    @ Henry – Ah, this quote of yours bears repeating:

    When someone goes with the lowest bidder for copy or web design and it bombs, he doesn’t come back and say, “I should have paid more.” He says, “this doesn’t work for my business. I give up.”

    @ Soloman – Not sure if the number of hours equates art or not. Saddlemakers who spend weeks carving intricate designs are still making saddles, at the end of the day – and last I heard, no one plunking their arse in one considers it art.

    Just a damned fine saddle 😉

    @ Deb – Oooh, the art of perception and influence… ooooh… *grabs popcorn*

    @ Lori – Oh, that’s brilliant. “Here, take THAT, you pompous group of…” Hee hee! I can picture what comes after.

    “Hey, Delilah, is that you?”

    “Why yes… an excellent rendition, don’t you think?”

    @ Justin – You’re my new best friend today. Awesome comment: “An amateur works for himself. A professional works for others.” Mmhm.

    @ Barbara – I think that’s a good part of it right there: The difference in taking pride in what you create, and being arrogant about what you can do.

    I choose the middle road of being cocky – because I can back it up. 😉

    @ Mark – Mellowing in your old age… ahh, and shall we get you a rockin’ chair for a wee sit-down, there, Granpa? 😉

    @ Rebecca – Hee hee!

    If, however, you think you’re providing ART, charge accordingly, but remember… most revered artists weren’t worth THAT much, until they were dead.

    I’m ALIVE! YAYY-… Oh wait. Does that mean I’m not worth that much after all? Dang…

  18. Hey, James stole my popcorn! The post didn’t get me mad, but popcorn thievery will!
    .-= –Deb´s last blog ..Climate Change =-.

  19. Leandro Romanzini says:

    Very good article. I agree with you.

    I think that the meaning of low or high rates depends on people that wants to hire someone. It’s almost the case of McDonalds versus French fondue bistro.

    The $50 for Joe Blow and $10,000 for TheBigCompany Corp. could be the same in their proportions. So, depends on where the freelance is positioned on the market.

    Have a nice day 😉

  20. Ah, poor Joe.

    He just doesn’t respect the internet the way he’s supposed to. I think a lot of people still see copyblogging as an only semi-legit career, so they think, “Well, why not?” and toss their cookies to the wind.

    It relates back to James’ post about asking fellow bloggers to write articles for free. So long as people refuse to value copyblogging as a legitimate field, people aren’t going to be respect those who work in the business.

  21. Kenji Crosland says:

    Nice post James. I like your point on how we shouldn’t criticize Joe for making the 50 dollar choice if that works for him. Now, If Joe were looking to improve his site and was considering my services I’d probably praise Joe for the good deal he got for his 50 dollars, then point out the kind of value he could get for my more expensive services.
    .-= Kenji Crosland´s last blog ..Your Bad Writing: How to Deal With it. =-.

  22. Good article, James, and an age old issue for folks in any services field, whether creatively based or not.

    The thing about copywriting or any creative endeavor is it’s still a business, unless you’re being one of @ Justin’s amateurs.

    What will drive your ability to charge higher fees is demand for your services. If it’s low, then it’s unlikely you’ll ever be able to charge high fees. Conversely, if you’re in demand, then you can charge higher.

    What will drive demand for your services will be a combination of referrals and positive reviews (from folks who liked the *results* you scored for them and that means $$$) and perceptions of your value (and unless you value your talents and services, then no one else will either).

    That said. one of the unsung heroes of being perceived as valuable is customer service. Many times folks that have less arTEEESTic talent may win the project simply because they provide a better customer experience to the person paying the bill.

    In the real world, there are all levels of project budgets so there’s room for everyone to play. You just have to find “your” customers, focus on them — and then remember to be respectful of the folks who can’t afford you now because they may someday be able to. No sense making them angry and blocking the potential for future business.

    And as several folks have pointed out, comments posted on the Internet can have long tails and how they wag will impact how others may perceive the quality of your customer service.

  23. Anon Finn says:

    And they dont care what kind of car they drive and what kind of medical services they are give and they dont care what kind of blog articles they read and..

    Dude you got it wrong.

    But hey, keep digging the dirt, and let the golden goose lie.

  24. Dude, I didn’t say people didn’t know Monet. I said I didn’t know The Alphabet by Monet. Monet’s known for those waterlilies.

    Just defending my honor. Carry on with the debate!
    .-= Tei – Men with Pens´s last blog ..Are You a Snotty Artist? =-.

  25. @ Anon – Mm, no, I think I got it right. Many people don’t care what kind of car they drive (Kias wouldn’t exist), or the type of medical services they receive (just look to how many refuse quality care in favor of home doctoring), or the type of blog articles they read (John Chow, anyone?)…

    And yet, Kias thrive, home remedy books fly off shelves and John Chow is rolling in the dough. Something to think about…

    @ Kathy – You would not *believe* the number of clients who tell us some of their bad experiences in customer service with freelancers. No matter how stunning the design, if you suck at giving good service, you lose. Period.

    @ Kenji – Ahh, sneaky you. Yes, that’d be a good way. Make Joe feel good, then mention what he might do differently next time he’s in the market.

    @ Rose – The respect others offer me doesn’t matter as much as the respect I offer myself… and I convey that self-respect by being as professional and friendly as I can be to my clients.

    That pays off with respect on their part in return. Win!

    @ Leandro – Or what the guy ate for breakfast that morning, or the mood he’s in, or the pressure he’s facing… too many factors to say that Joe did or didn’t make a good choice. It’s only what Joe wants that counts, really!

    @ Deb – Mine. All mine.

  26. Instead of getting hot and bothered by people who “should” know that they should pay more, let’s step back a minute.

    Payless ($10 shoes) exists happily in the same universe as Christian Laboutin ($845 shoes). Now, you probably think that $845 (and up) for a pair of shoes with red soles is insane. So do I. However, there are people lined up out the door to get into the store on Madison Avenue and buy those shoes. Even in a recession.

    Both stores sell shoes. One is selling a luxury experience, bragging rights, high quality, etc. The other is selling solely (pardon the pun) on price.

    The job of the freelancer is not to convince the client that they “should” pay more. The job of the freelancer is to turn writing from a commodity into a solution. You’re not selling a brochure, you’re selling more business (and more profit). It’s not “ghostwriting for a celebrity” it’s getting on the best seller list.

    Sell the solution, not the process, the time, or the work. They’re buying holes, not drills.

  27. I wrote about this recently, probably taking a middle ground between the snotty artists and this post.

    The biggest problem with the snotty artist persona is that in addition to high prices they also seem unwilling to demonstrate to clients what the added value is. Which means that Joe is certainly not going to go with the higher bid, because nobody is even prepared to explain in plain English what benefits they provide.

    I agree that rates don’t necessarily equate to quality of work. I do think, however, that the really cheap rates on some of the job boards can devalue the business (not the art, the business) of web design. Regardless of cost of living, etc, I don’t see how a 20 page Joomla site design with custom functionality (for example) can be produced economically for $50. Yet those options exist.

    But cheap and expensive can easily exist within the same world, and cater to different clients. I charge a fair rate for what I do, and some people think it’s expensive, some people think it’s cheap, and others think it’s just right. What I will always do though is explain to clients what I’m doing in terms they understand, provide them the best possible customer service, and work to give the result appropriate for them.
    .-= Robin Cannon´s last blog ..Funky Friday Collection – 16 October 2009 =-.

  28. “Saddlemakers who spend weeks carving intricate designs are still making saddles, at the end of the day – and last I heard, no one plunking their arse in one considers it art.”

    Well, yeah, they DO consider it art, which is why those saddles cost a lot more than the ones with plain leather. But at the end of the day, it still has to be a “damn fine saddle” FIRST, or the art doesn’t matter. In other words, the product had better do what it is intended to do. After that, gussy it up all you want.

    But you know what? We can apply this entire argument to ANY PROFESSION. Even McDonald’s cashiers, dog walkers, and window washers. There will always be people who perform better, or do more, or do it faster, than other people doing the same job. However, if those people want to earn more, it is up to THEM to convince the customer that theit abilities are a VALUE ADD, and worth more accordingly.

    The customer wants a comfortable, durable saddle. If you can convince him/her that a comfortable saddle with carvings is more desirable, then you are entitled to your additional “worth.” Just don’t expect the customer to voluntarily offer you twice the going rate for a saddle.

  29. @james @henry Thanks, ya’ll.

    One other thought. The time I spend concerning myself about what others are doing is time (and energy) I could be spending on improving my marketing/writing/eating habits/foozeball score. So maybe allowing myself to get jealous about someone else’s success isn’t such a good use of my time. In addition to making myself look bad, it sounds like I’m trying to exert control well outside of my sphere of influence.
    .-= Justin´s last blog ..Self-Sufficiency: You don’t need approval. =-.

  30. During the last week of my English undergraduate degree, I realized I hadn’t made one friend in my English classes. I had lots of friends, but none of them were tortured, tormented artists discussing modern poetry. I studied for four years with arteests.

    I sat down one morning next to four people who were each wearing fingerless gloves. It was the middle of July. It was over 100 degrees outside and nearly 100 inside the classroom.

    The discussion turned to zombies for some reason, and herein was born my definition of arteest. One of these hobo-chic brainiacs referred to a zombie as a “vegetative non-life commodity.” Not a joke. He was soooo serious I wanted to gag.

    Arteests use words like Heidegerrian over breakfast at 7 AM and can’t ever figure out how to break character.

    Sorry–this was not the story I planned on telling during this comment, but there you go.
    .-= Josh Hanagarne´s last blog ..13 Days of Darkness Part 1 – Book Review: Song of Kali =-.

  31. My guess is that many of these artEEEsts have not spent much time in the real world, where profit is generated by buying and selling things . . . not by pretty pictures and bloated, self-indulgent copy.

    I’m just getting started with my freelance business. I’ve chosen to focus on a market (web content) that I KNOW is full of low-cost providers who will gladly do what I do for a fraction of the price. And some of them aren’t bad either. So I know I’ll need to find a way to differentiate myself and show potential clients the value of doing business with me.

    If it turns out that I just can’t compete with the low-cost providers and my business fails, then it’s back to the drawing board to figure out a new business model.

    There are plenty of other ways to make money.

    Nice post, dude. Keep ’em coming!

  32. Christopher Korody says:

    James –

    I would beg to differ with your basic premise. There are in fact educated buyers and uneducated buyers.

    Educated buyers have a very good idea of what it takes to do the level of work they require. Many of them know as much about it as we do. Another word for these people is professional. Their job is to commission and oversee the production of materials on a ongoing basis that delivers value to their organization.

    Educated buyers are happy to pay for service and for quality. They tend to be relationship oriented – they know that for you to be successful on their behalf, they have to invest in your knowledge of their business and needs. Like all of us they prefer not to reinvent the wheel on every project.

    Of course they are not going to believe what you tell them – they are going to look at what you’ve done and decide based on your experience if you can deliver or not. Note that delivering encompasses considerably more then a pile of pixels – it includes on time, on target, it includes project managment, it includes your ability to function effectively inside their organization.

    If you make the grade you are usually in for a pleasant experience. They know what you need for reference and resource, they know what has to happen inside their own organization and they know how long it takes to get things done.

    I have worked for some who actually assign different people to different projects based on their needs and yes budget.

    So yes they are people who care. And no, I am not surprised to discover that they don’t think that the low bidder is the person who is likely to do the most for their career.


  33. I can’t talk too long. The villagers are outside my door with their pitchforks and torches because I’m endorsing a content site. Before I’m burned at the stake, I wanted to stop here to tell you I love your latest “but I’m an arteeeste” post. Yes, you guessed it, I’m rolling my eyes – but not at you this time.

    It’s the old, “You’re a sucky writer and have no self respect because you get paid $15 and you’re devaluing our profession and whoring out our craft” debate that comes up like every five minutes.


    I know nothing about design, so I won’t go there. However, in the writing world things have changed. A lot. There’s a different kind f writing, there’s a different kind of writer, there’s a different kind of advertiser and it’s different economy. Times have changed, client. The New York Times is laying off and Conde Nast shut down two magazines. Damned if I’m going to knock anyone for their choices.

    Now, contrary to popular belief, I don’t believe everyone should settle for low pay. I do think people have their reasons for doing what they do and it’s not up to me to decide they’re wrong.
    .-= Deb Ng´s last blog ..A Tale of Two Opportunities: One Missed, One with Amazing Potential =-.

  34. World has changed. It’s changing now. And faster. My programming skills aren’t very valuable anymore. Pity. Took a long time to acquire them!

    Seriously considering getting my Professional Engineers license. I can do the work, good at it. Since you can’t do civil engineering without a license, there’s a floor under the pay. Makes sense. Don’t want that bridge to fall down.
    .-= Dave Doolin´s last blog ..Blog World Expo Recap: Blogging Success Requires Passion and a Lot of Writing =-.

  35. HEY! I LOVE my Kia!

    While some aspects of choice comes to education I also believe there are just some people who have a taste for blue collar. I know I do. I’ve had $70 lobster in a 5 star restaurant over candlelight and soft music; HATED it! While I can’t say I’m a fan of the McDonald’s alternative I do actually PREFER it over the former. There are some people who are meat and potatoes and others who are caviar.

    When it comes to quality service the same can be said. For many average users, functional is what they want, what they need. If it works, they’re satisfied, period. Then you have the high-brow who care less about functional and more about fashionable.

    It comes down to WHO your target client/market is and what they expect from the service you provide.
    .-= Rebecca Laffar-Smith´s last blog ..When Financial Stress Weighs You Down =-.

  36. Wow, an entire string of fantastic comments worthy of a post on their own merit!

    I was going to come here and say that I think there is a place for both types of work, but honestly I’d rather pay for a good communicator that understands my needs than get a cheap job done at elance. I’ve had my bouts over there and the work was around a D+…but sometimes you just can’t afford it.

    On the other hand, there are lot’s of grade A “artists” that don’t respond to email or are too busy to talk about my job. I make a note of them. I suspect those are the types you’re talking about here.
    .-= Nathan Hangen´s last blog ..Live from Las Vegas – Get Out and Meet People (and a T-Shirt Contest) =-.

  37. Whew, tons of comments, this rocks! Let’s see if I can catch them all…

    @ Nathan – I’ve actually worked with over 10 people from Elance – good, all-around workers who understand that I don’t want to wait 3 days for a reply, who take the time to make sure they understand my needs, who don’t condescend to me and who do good, solid work. Art? No. But good, solid work and good, dependable service.

    One of those people is Larry from Storyfix – who has now moved on to become somewhat of a rising star in the blogosphere. Oh, and he’s also a bestselling author.

    Most expensive? Nope. But better than all the ones who *were* expensive, let me tell you.

    @ Rebecca – See, that’s the point. It’s about your target market. It’s not about what we want as service providers. It’s about what *they* want, each and every time. And whining that so and so devalues this or that is just a silly waste of egotistical time.

    (Alright, up with Kias! How about… Ladas? Down with Ladas!)

    @ Dave – Well, programming skills are valuable – ANY skills are valuable. But if that value is equal to money in your pocket, no, they may not be. Should we blame buyers? I don’t think so.

    Also, I’m all for everyone picking up new skills and improving what they can do as a person. I think the fact that acquiring skills is easier these days does mean that we all have more competition.

    And, actually, competition is *great* for business. Otherwise, it’s just a monopoly. And that sucks.

    @ Deb –

    Damned if I’m going to knock anyone for their choices.

    That’s it right there. The arTEESTes do. And I hate that.

    Coming your way with a gas torch to help you out with those trolls. Be there in a sec!

    @ Chris – Hmm… Well, I don’t recall ever stating that all buyers aren’t educated. But, the implication is that MOST aren’t, and that’s probably pretty accurate.

    Also, this made me wince:

    Educated buyers have a very good idea of what it takes to do the level of work they require. Many of them know as much about it as we do. Another word for these people is professional.

    So people who don’t know what goes into web design, graphics or copywriting aren’t professionals?

    Ouch, dude. Seriously.

    @ Paul –

    If it turns out that I just can’t compete with the low-cost providers and my business fails, then it’s back to the drawing board to figure out a new business model.

    To be honest, if any service provider, no matter how artful that person is, can’t make money off what he or she does and complains about it, then I’d say that there seriously is something wrong with the business model.

    I’m much like you – if I can’t clearly convey the value and worth of my work to clients, then there’s a problem with me, not with them.

    @ Josh – Reminds me of my first philosophy class in University, where I spent six months trying to find the right answer and nearly failed the course before some professor kindly said, “There is no right answer. You simply have to… well, philosophize about what you think on the matter.”

    I then wrote my last paper and fluffed it FULL of words like “vegetative non-commodity”, bullshit my way through the whole thing with lofty, grandiose ideas, and managed to pass the course.

    @ Justin – I’ve frequently had consultants ask me who my main competition is, and I’ve always answered, “I don’t know.” Because I think that instead of trying to see what the other guy is doing and beat him at his game, I can better spend my time and energy looking at what I’m doing and how to make it even better.

    @ Kit – YES! (Fellow horserider, perchance?)

    @ Robin – That’s entirely what gets me going about the arTEESTEs. They sit, moan, cry, get indignant and outraged… but I have yet to see them say more than, “Well mine is BETTER! Of course!”

    Yeeeeah. Still not convinced. Want to take another stab?

    @ Jodi – Exactly. Show me exactly how something is going to not only get me what I want (a hole) but also how it’ll change my life (a kid’s smile? Priceless). If you can do that, you win.

    But that, of course, means being business minded. And the lofty typically aren’t. Oh well.

  38. Christopher Korody says:

    James – mea culpa for not realizing that this literary gathering would immediately equate “educated” with education…

    I should have just started with professional. In my experience “professionals” who are in the business of purchasing services take the time to learn what is involved with the services they are purchasing.

    Why? Because it is their job, dude. Seriously.

    Does that mean that they know the mechanics, ins nd outs and gory details?


    But they do understand what can make or break their project.

    Of course if you want to take professional out of this context – sure there are lots of highly trained professionals who know nothing about any of this – but then they usually aren’t buying these services either.

    I’ll use savvy next time.

  39. I love these posts – “On a side note, a lot of modern fine art I see is some of the ugliest stuff ever that requires no creativity or skills to craft.”
    by James and “If, however, you think you’re providing ART, charge accordingly, but remember… most revered artists weren’t worth THAT much, until they were dead.” by Rebecca Laffar-Smith.

    So very true. I guess just like most of everything its about perception. “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” comes to mind. An “ArTEESTes” may see a collection of “junk” put together as art, but some may just see them as junk. Many a serial killer even considers what they do as “art.”

  40. Great post! Two things occur to me. One, I wouldn’t knock anyone for providing services at a rate that works for them. If I need more because I have a higher cost of living, then it’s up to me to price my services accordingly. Second, it’s up to me to show the client the value I provide. Sometimes my rate works for clients, sometimes it doesn’t – that’s life!

    A good approach for those that don’t want to sell themselves short is to find out the client’s budget and give the client some useful options for what you can provide within that budget. Then everyone’s happy.
    .-= Sharon Hurley Hall´s last blog ..Overwhelmed by Writing Work? What Should You Do? =-.

  41. “If Joe Blow comes along, decides to put up a website to earn some money and feed his family, he’s really not interested in having graphic art so lickable it could be hung on the wall of his living room.”

    Interesting choice of metaphor? Are you sure you’re not being subtly very artistic there? You don’t mention what this Joe’s website’s supposed to be about.

    And aren’t tonnes and tonnes of people earning a living by copywriting while they write lierary novels and poems and stuff?

    And James, some novelists really do make a good living you know – not most but a quite a few. Salman Rushdie once said he’d never have survived his fatwah if he hadn’t been a wealthy man. He started out as a copywriter? He could sell enough to feed a starving nation, nevermind a starving dog.

    I love an angry blog – really I do – but aren’t stupid clients more upsetting than artists?

    I think so.

  42. @ Dangling – “…being subtly artistic?” Well, if you call spinning a good phrase art, then I think you seriously flatter me and I need to charge a bazillion dollars an hour.

    But I fail to follow your arguments, so I think that knocks me out of the brilliant group out there. I’m not sure what working on copy on the side while writing a fiction novel has to do with anything – to me, it actually proves what I’m saying, that there’s art and then there’s work.

    Work pays the bills, for the majority of people.

    And, forgive me, but there are rarely any stupid clients. And no, even those don’t upset me.

    @ Sharon – Oh, good reminder with the budget, well done!

    @ James with an F – Indeed, perception has a ton to do with it. But at the end of the day, my perception is that clients keep my biz alive, so I’d best make sure I’m nice to them :)

    @ Christopher –

    mea culpa for not realizing that this literary gathering would immediately equate “educated” with education…

    I can’t figure out if you’re being sarcastic or witty, so I’ll lean somewhere between the two.

    “Educated” implies that there’s been education somewhere along the way. Past tense, there. That’s a real giveaway. So, the people you speak of have somewhere, somehow, decided that certain factors and standards aren’t worth their time, and others are. Through experience, most likely, and personal perception and values as well.

    This doesn’t mean they consider the work art when they hire someone. It means they’ve been burned by shoddy work in the past or believe that more expensive equals better. It doesn’t prove that these people are more refined or distinguished or better in some way because they hire arTEESTes.

    And, too, I bet these people are pretty damned quick to fire an arTEESTe that’s more trouble than he’s worth. Because at the end of the day, they’re after one thing: results.

    Also, I worked as a Purchaser for five years in an international corporation – I *know* what these people do for a living. I was one.

  43. Christopher Korody says:

    James –

    As you were one – you know – it’s got nothing to do with art. And everything to do with results. And yes they in my experience have little tolerance for arTEESTes, divas, poseurs and the like.

    Back to your original premise – I’ll bet after a year or two on the job you had a pretty good idea about what it took to create the deliverable you were contracting, and an even better idea about what was and wasn’t important to getting the result you wanted.

    I think buyers do care – and that you did too.

  44. Yup, I’m a horserider. And I’ve had the same plain saddle for 20+ years. I could have spent a lot more, but this saddle fits me like a glove, it’s easy to maintain (no need to polish a lot of hard-to-get-at curlicues), and it will last almost to infinity. THAT is art in my world.

    Oh, and I don’t separate out “commercial” work from “arteestic” work. Novels are no more artistic than a well-written technical manual, or a beguiling bit of ad copy. Jingle writers get just as much respect from me as “poets.” All writing is a creative process. Not all writing is good writing, no matter what its form.

  45. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    “…I think that instead of trying to see what the other guy is doing and beat him at his game, I can better spend my time and energy looking at what I’m doing and how to make it even better.”
    James, your philosophy teacher would be proud.

    ps. Remind me not to make you mad.

  46. Patrick Vuleta says:


    In my testimonial for Men With Pens I used the A word. Feel kindof guilty now…

    I guess it comes down to matching work to client wants, as you said in your post. Some clients will want, or need a more artistic approach, and those clients would be better served by going to someone with more experience in providing that. Some clients don’t care.

  47. I am so tired of these arteeste types. Why do they spend so much time trying to make people like me feel bad for charging less than they do? If charging $250 per page of writing means that I will spend most of my time griping about clients who can’t afford me and content mill writers who aren’t “real” writers, than I’d rather continue charging $25 bucks per page of writing. I get plenty of work and the majority of my clients are regulars. The money I make pays the bills, takes me on vacations, and enables me to stay at home with my daughter. Anytime I come across one of these so-called veteran writers saying that writers who charge the rates I do are a joke, the last thing I feel like doing is raising my rates. Obviously these folks aren’t getting much work if they have enough time to write lengthy blog posts bashing cheaper providers. If they want to be advocates for fair pay for writers, they should probably be a little more encouraging and stop insulting people. Not only are they alienating other writers, they are alienating potential clients.

    Thank you for this post. I am glad to know I am not the only one that feels like these folks have got it all wrong.

  48. @ Kathleen – Yeah, there you go, another problem: Creating dissension *within* the industry they’re trying to uphold. It’s not just arTEESTes versus clients, it’s writers against writers. Designers against designers. Artists versus artists.

    Pretty hard for all of us to work together to get everyone to respect us more when we can’t even respect each other.

    @ Patrick – You didn’t spell it with the big capital letters. You’re safe. :)

    @ Mary – Poor sod, I don’t even remember his name… But I sure do remember every single thing about that course, down to the textbook titles and authors. Grrr…

    @ Kat – There’s nothin’ like a saddle that fits an arse like a glove. Mmhm. My trail guide years proved that one. We used to argue over who got which saddles in the barns. hehehe.

    @ Christopher – AH! NOW I get it!!! (Hurray, yay for James!) YES! I agree!!!

    Uh, okay, now I realize that makes my “buyers don’t care” point sort of invalid.

    They care. Just not about the same things that the arTEESTes do.

  49. Dave Wilkinson says:

    Ahh, I love this debate, almost as much as I love the spec-work debate.

    My opinion: Do what you like. If you can put food on the table charging $10 an hour, well done. If you have customers willing to pay $275 an hour, charge it. And if you find Elance freelancer rates repulsively low, don’t join Elance. It’s that simple.

  50. I think another thing to consider in this whole debate is a person’s talent for what they do. One person may charge 100.00 for something that takes them five hours to do, making 20.00/hr.

    But, someone else, more experienced, or more inclined naturally may do the same job for 50.00 in one hour, making 50.00/hr. There is no comparison there.

    The completed project could be exactly the same. But, each person is different. Each job is different. And so, even if the second person charged only 25.00, they would still actually be charging a higher per hour rate even if it appears that they are “low-balling” their competition.

    So, it certainly would not apply that cheaper rates, means lower quality work. It could mean just the opposite. : )

  51. This is an interesting post with a good strong opposing viewpoint to the Freelance Switch thread on outsourcing.

    In an ideal world, clients would appreciate real value, and freelancers would be ranked such that the bozos would stand alone while the quality players would attract all of the business.

    But, things aren’t linear at all in business.

    I contend that prospects will often unconsciously correlate over-the-top confidence with excellence, and humility with stupidity and incompetence and being very ordinary and unexceptional.

    I personally believe two things: (1) the business world (perhaps just in the US) tends to thrive on an appearance of arrogance or at least “specialness” and “uniqueness”. (2) new clients won’t really appreciate “good value” anyway.

    Let’s look at point 2.

    In terms of the second point, I have spent quite a few years working as a contract software developer.

    My very *least* appreciative clients over the years have been ones where I was assiduous about providing maximum value per billed hour, and where my bill rate was purposefully modest in order to fit into their supposed “budget”.

    I’d say that most of my lower-billed clients have insulted me or my work for them somehow or lumped me into a “heads down moron” category, even though the activity I was on essentially stopped dead after I left them.

    I have been treated *much* better when I have done two things: stuck to a high-average bill rate; and impressed upon the client that I was too special in some way important to their immediate needs to be lumped with a low paid programmer harvested from some temp agency pool.

    I’m saying that you don’t want to be diffident on purpose, but also, acting too eager or too grateful (at least in the business circles I’ve run in) gets you kicked in the teeth and treated like Rodney Dangerfield.

    Also, I have some experience with hiring offshore programmers. In general they are just looking for an opportunity to bill lots of cheap hours on non complex tasks. I’ve hired such folks myself a few times and it’s been mostly a waste of time and a hassle. In each instance I felt that if only I could have found someone in the same country as me (at prevailing US rates) I would have gotten better value per dollar.

    I’d expect freelance creatives to be just as mixed in results. The bleating “but it’s a world wide marketplace!!” misses several points. One point is that the client has the problem of picking the “right” one – perhaps several times in a row in order to find one provider that produces an acceptable result. That repetition of expenses can be much more costly than finding one good local or regional person who provides real value.

    Another issue is cultural differences, from scoping the project to delivering the actual work. How do you know that the cheap non local person really understands what you need and want? The bid may be low because the provider is naïve, has poor communication skills or is desperate for work and is underbidding. I have run into all of these variations. This is a lot easier to determine when the provider comes from the same business culture.

    In general I don’t treat someone who charges a fraction of the going rate in *anything* that seriously. If they were that good, they could be doing better and charging more. Even if they’re overseas. (By fraction I mean the 10:1 or 30:1 ratio of first world to third world rates that all of us self employed people are supposed to cower under in fear.)

    So, James … I think you’re offering counterproductive advice to people in some ways.

    I completely agree that the “arteest” schtick is overplayed. I don’t agree that a variant of it has absolutely no place. I think that a freelancer provider has to defend themselves, their value proposition, and yes, their “specialness”, using whatever tools are at their disposal – including interpersonal skills, which are a form of marketing.

    Arrogance, cockiness, and a degree of positioning oneself as “uber” definitely have their place. But, of course, it has to be calibrated to the audience. Don’t come off like a jerk. Do hold your head high.

  52. Don Wallace said: “I have some experience with hiring offshore programmers. In general they are just looking for an opportunity to bill lots of cheap hours on non complex tasks.”

    As a, so called, “offshore programmer” myself I suspect the issues you’ve had relate more to having hired ‘cheap’ labor than outsourcing to international providers. It IS, for the most part, a “global market”. In fact, 80% of my clients are not fellow Australians and I often outsource some of my own needs to international freelancers.

    I’ve often found, the attitude of those in our employ has a great deal to do with our own attitude toward them. If you feel and act superior, you’ll have ‘small’ minds responding to your requests. If you’re warm, inviting, and can relate one-on-one to others, bright, talented, creative minds will flock to you.

    The same can be said for our clients. The way WE relate to others, and to ourselves, plays a significant part on the kind of clients we’ll attract. Another is that there are many in creative industries who just don’t KNOW that they could be charging more.

    As an “offshore” provider, my cost of living differs, my government has a supportive health system and fair superannuation and taxation. I can afford to charge less and give more than many providers. I often adjust my own rate based on the country of origin of my client. But I’ve only done that as I’ve become confident in myself and my business skill to know I CAN do it.

    Many providers don’t realize that the income they earn is ‘perceived’ rather than actual value. One person, or culture, is willing to pay one rate and another would consider that rate expensive/cheap. The value is in the eye of the client, not the provider.
    .-= Rebecca Laffar-Smith´s last blog ..Are You Writing A Book Next Month? =-.

  53. @ Don – I’ll start off by pointing out that I’m Canadian (not American), a Quebecer and half French as well… so I think I fit into the “international outsourcers” category as well as the “cultural differences” category as well.

    98% of my clientele are Americans. They think, for the most part, that I do a brilliant job. I also have no issue understanding their needs and providing results, despite those categorical differences I mentioned above.

    So when you suggest I’m providing counterproductive advice to people, I’m not sure where and how.

    Also, I know many providers in Europe, Great Britain, Serbia South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and other countries around the world beyond the United States. These people all have varying rates based on their personal cost of living and region’s market rates, and they all do brilliant work.

    I will also add that some of the worst work I’ve seen has come from locations that may indeed surprise you.

    But, you’ll get great work all over the world, and you’ll get shoddy work all over the world. While I’d like to think that “Made in Canada” is a stamp of quality beyond excellence itself, I’m more realistic than that, and I also know that “Made in the USA” isn’t any better or worse.

    We are all equals, in my mind.

    You mention: “One point is that the client has the problem of picking the “right” one – perhaps several times in a row in order to find one provider that produces an acceptable result. That repetition of expenses can be much more costly than finding one good local or regional person who provides real value.”

    This has very little to do with where a person works from. Picking the “right” one simply means knowing what you want, having criteria for the type of person you want to work with, and carrying out proper interviews to find that person. My experience is that this process doesn’t go faster if that person is in the United States – and very often, it takes much longer.

    You mention: “Another issue is cultural differences, from scoping the project to delivering the actual work. How do you know that the cheap non local person really understands what you need and want?”

    To which I ask, how do you know that the really expensive very local person really understands what you need and want? I have people who work an hour away from me that have a harder time understanding than someone halfway across the world.

    The language barrier? Perhaps, but I’ve met some people who have English as a second language who can speak it and write it better than people who have it as a first language. (I won’t use myself as an example here, because I did have a fluently bilingual upbringing…)

    I am glad that we agree on the arTEESTe attitude – that too, knows no boundaries.

    As for cockiness… Yep, it’s got it’s place, eh? 😉


  54. I love this article. You’ve stylishly and convincingly articulated one of the foundational principles of NAIWE (National Association of Independent Writers and Editors). Writing can be both a trade and an art, and both practices are worthy of respect.

    Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain, and other revered literary figures worked at writing as a trade, and in the process, created art. Many aspiring literary writers support themselves by doing some form of commercial writing, editing, or teaching of the craft. Why not? There are no real boundaries in writing, and using your skills to make a great living is not selling out. With luck and good management, it’s just another step on the way to becoming who you want to be. (And if you want to be an arTEESTe, don’t let me stop you. Just don’t expect me to join you in disrespecting others.)

    Great post. Thanks!
    .-= Janice Campbell from NAIWE´s last blog ..Bleeder: A miracle? Or bloody murder? by John Desjarlais- A Review =-.

  55. This is all well and good, but all those posting comments deriding freelancers who consider their work to have any kind of artistic value (“arteestes”, seriously?) seem to be repeating the same snottiness and arrogance they say they detest from others about their own business practices. If we’re supposed to only be all about getting down with the “global business world” and making money, maybe it’s time for a career change. After all, I could make a lot more money in finance than as a writer/designer/creative/whatever. Obviously, paying customers don’t like to hear that you think your services are worth more than they would like to pay you, but if you care more about the money side of things than the creative, you should really go into hedge funds.

  56. @Shenme – arTEESTes, seriously. The difference is much as you pointed out: the arrogance conveyed. If you look up at all the comments here, I don’t see any that come off as arrogant, “better than you”, “out of your league” or condescending in any way. But if I travel over to some of the design blogs out there, that “O Mighty Me” attitude is clearly reflected – and even supported.

    As for career changes, had I wanted to make some serious money, I would’ve been a lawyer or an accountant. But I’m a writer, where my talents and skills lie. It isn’t about money at all – it’s about understanding that those who bitch about being unable to earn a living from purist art mindsets really should change their attitudes, not their jobs :)

  57. At the end of the day, it’s not the provider who determines the price – it’s the client.

    If the client wants cheap, the client will find cheap. If the client wants a high end, quality service…well, they’ll get it.

    The provider has no effect on the market. They can only change themselves to suit their chosen market.

    (Unless that provider happens to be a totalitarian dictatorship. And even then, they have to pay their soldiers well, and treat their generals like kings. Even Hitler had to ass-kiss.)


  1. […] everyone can simply become a writer, I do believe there’s room for everyone. The ArTEESTes (HT: James Chartrand) of the world may not like it, but times are changing and we need to change along with […]

  2. […] copywriting in all its forms, as well as ethical and business issues. Check out their post titled Are You A Snotty Artist? to see Men with Pens at its […]

  3. […] Are You a Snotty Artist? James, at Men with Pens, responds to the ever-present debate over freelance rates. He takes issue with the people who say that those who work for and those who offer low rates are devaluing the work we all do. It is tough. We all need to make a living, and I am a firm believer in refusing to work for rates that won’t allow me to do so. But I also accept that people do what they need to do to get buy. If a content mill is providing the pay and experience you need, who am I to judge you? If your budget wouldn’t allow you to hire me, should I call you out as an evil carpetbagger? Where do you fall on the issue? […]

  4. […] recently wrote about how and why arTEESTes piss me off, and I used the example of an average guy I called Joe, who doesn’t really know why one […]

  5. […] • Are you a snotty artist? […]

  6. […] generally don’t care that your experience and time are worth paying for. Most only care who can do the job cheapest. That doesn’t mean the buyer is stupid, it doesn’t mean they’re a terrible person. […]

  7. […] the subject of design, this is a fantastic article about attitudes toward “cheap buyers” of graphic/web design and copy. Here’s the […]

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