biz ladiesLife & Business

Biz Ladies: 10 Golden Rules About Getting Paid As A Creative

by Stephanie

Today’s Biz Ladies post comes to us from photographer Leela Cyd. In addition to photographing food, travel, interiors, and portraits for clients around the world, Leela teaches photography workshops in Italy, as well as offer tips and tricks for shooting on Apartment Therapy. Today Leela shares some of her knowledge on how to correctly and fairly price your work. Thank you, Leela, for offering your expert advice today! —Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump…


Mine is stolen right from this most amazing video I’ve ever seen, Mike Monteiro’s talk shot at Creative Mornings in San Francisco: “Fuck You. Pay Me.”. WATCH THIS VIDEO NOW!!! Say the mantra every day. It’s so good and so relevant, all about having the appropriate contracts in place before you get f$@#ed. Also in line with this mantra, I think of a great quote my dad always said: “I’ll trade my work for your check!”


When you set your rate/estimate for a job, you should gasp at the price (a little) and click send. You can always negotiate down, and I do a lot – but you gotta start at the high side of your comfort zone!


There’s enough work for all of us — no one is reinventing the wheel here, do your share and do that work! Send positive energy to those who you feel are your competitors, there’s something in their work that you aspire and connect to, the good vibes will come back around. Comparative thoughts are so draining and do not help you access your own creativity.


You gotta put that ego into hyper drive to get the job, fluff the feathers, have the portfolio site looking hot, but the minute you get the job, step back, lose the ego, be a person who digs in and praises the teammates around you. And don’t be afraid or surprised if you have to go back re-shoot, revise, refine — you’re already getting paid a comfortable rate because of that sexy contract you dialed in and gasped over! Expect to work for it! Can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back for a better shot or even turned around and had to get on the plane again (on my own dime) because I didn’t quite nail it the first time. It’s OK to have to work to get it right. That’s what a professional does – solves that problem.


Speaking of losing the ego, pick up the crumbs from the bigger fish, be the right person at the right time! I’ve had a few significant jobs come my way because someone better (and more expensive) backed out at the last moment — that’s OK! I’m so grateful for one photographer in particular who I keep catching jobs from that he turns down — pivotal career moves have been made because he was too busy! YES!


Dreaming of collaborating with your heroes? ASK THEM! Pick up the phone and show them your idea and how you could partner. When you dream big and show this person you are the right fit, it’s pretty intense! But when it works (and it’s been working for me…holy wow), it’s unbelievable. To stand among your heroes in art, design, writing, activism and help to create something together, it doesn’t get any better. Goosebumps!


Have different price points for different types of client. How bad do I want to work with them, how big a fish are they? Everyone gets a different rate — flexibility is key to making everyone happy. Some jobs I do for the big money others I do for the curiosity, place they may take me and what I might learn. Growing is critical to keeping this work thing interesting. And each potential client/partner has a different budget in mind.


It sounds so hokey, but I entered a ton of concert-ticket-contests by calling my local radio station as a teenager. I saw some of the best live music of my life courtesy of my winning phone call. I haven’t stopped trying for outrageous contests related to my work, best travel photo in National Geographic or AFAR, PDN young photographers contest, local paper travel section contests, win a trip to Italy to learn more about wine and artisan foods, etc. Sure, sometimes these don’t go anywhere, but every now and again I win. Then folks are exposed to my “winning story” and think “Hey she’s neat!” And a little serendipity makes life fun and silly and full of possibilities. And clients love to work with ladies who are winning contests right and left, globe trotting, pumping out legit contracts and working their asses off! It’s a package deal.


You’ve got to have that manic drive that just makes you put the work in, just one step in front of the other and keep showing up. Just like other jobs, when it’s work time it’s WORK TIME. A million hour days, grueling turn around of images, retouching, pumping it out while simultaneously pitching (and being turned down a lot) and working any relevant connections and possibilities and then continually following up on the million “maybe” threads rolling. It’s not for the low energy and shy of spirit. You’ve got to have a lot of hustle, enthusiasm and, most importantly, support (thanks husband and mom and dad!!)


Not if, but WHEN, new curve balls come up, get those written out for the next job. I never learn from the easy/comfortable jobs what crazy thing could be thrown at me. It’s the shoots that go hard, that get wild, that really make me cry on the drive home. I’m grateful for this sometimes insanity because it helps me hone my contract ever tighter for the next big thing. The only way out or up is through these tough jobs!!


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  • So helpful … Could not have come at a better time. (Even if I’m not a biz lady, I am lady*like*.) Thank you!

  • So helpful! I’m not an entrepreneur so in the moments where having some biz lady skillz would be helpful I often come up short. These are so practical and versatile – I can remember things like “F you, pay me” and “get your hustle on!” Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  • Thank you very much for these insights! Nothing teaches you this, but experiences… So thank you for sharing! Keep on working hard and inspiring us all!

  • so happy these tips are lighting up my fellow biz lady community. cheers to getting paid and having fun while you’re at it!

  • Leela…point #3 and point #9 are ones I’m yelling “YES!” to as I re-read your article. Thank you! One of my biggest breaks when planning my business was being willing to ask for advice from people I was afraid to approach(because they were “too important”, etc.). Rarely did anyone say no and in return, I gleaned boatloads of wisdom.

  • I love this post – thank you so much! I started my digital design Etsy shop less than a year ago. I still struggle so much with how much to charge for custom designs, and I have had several people try to wiggle their way out of paying for things. #2 is a perfect reminder!

  • great points! I always have a problem with quoting prices, it’s so tempting to start out low so you don’t “scare away” clients with the price tag.

  • Thank you! This is fantastic! A good reminder of things I know I should be doing and am not, plus some bonus ideas. I’ve printed this out and it’s pinned to my wall. Off to go hustling now : )

  • YES X 10!! i’ve had the pleasure of meeting Leela a few years back and have stalked her work since then – every item on the list gets a ‘YES!’ from me – spot on Leela, spot on!

  • Great post. I think so often if you work in the design industry people think your job sounds ‘fun’, like something you’d want to do for a hobby, and assume that you’ll be willing to work for very little or even for free. While it may at times be fun, it is real work, it is your livelihood, and thus should be respected and compensated accordingly.

  • Love this post! Encouraging yet totally realistic. Just what us new to pursuing our creative dreams need to hear. Thank you!

  • I would agree with most of these points with the exception of #2.

    Price should never be about emotion and to me-gasping, nerves etc implies that the price is based on emotion rather than grounded in real numbers like time working to get the job, time to do the job, your hourly rate based on your talent/experience, materials if applicable and the market you are in. When you present numbers based on facts, there’s no room for negotiation or emotion. I think this is particularly challenging for women who often have a lack of confidence in their pricing or fear of not getting the job or being perceived as difficult. I think instead of starting high, send out a fair quote based on what your price is to run your biz and live your life and then see #1. If they won’t pay your price, they’re not the client for you.

  • This is great information. My daughter is a Photography major at Ai The Art Institute and she is loving her life there. I know she eventually would lol to work with magazines, celebs etc what advice would you give her? She visited Europe last year and loves London, I know studying abroad might open doors for her as well! How can she approach this avenue?

    Thank you

  • Getting your hustle on must be THE most important point in our (creative) industry! SO hard but SO worth it. Thanks for putting this together Leela. You’re a champ! Thanks for letting me feature your work this week on http://www.stylejuicer.com.

    Lots of positive energy your way from rainy London. ;-)

  • Leela is a friend and mentor. She has inspired me in more ways than I can count….the most important being she was so kind and generous with sharing information with me…bouncing ideas around… She is a true creative. Love her.

  • I love #1! So true, and your dad’s advice is awesome! I’m totally using that one. :) I don’t understand why companies come to people and ask them to work for free or cheap, the companies are not a non-profit. This is great advice and an ongoing topic for sure.

  • As a visual artist, dealing with pricing and the business end of things is often an issue. This was great insight and reinforcement for all creatives!

  • This is a fantastic article! I especially agree with #8. My entire career in the food world began because of cooking and recipe contests. So many food bloggers view contests as “giving away recipes for free” when it really can result in priceless buzz and exposure.

  • Thanks For a refreshing take on something I deal with everyday. I am a working boss w/ my own graphic design studio. I too went to AI SoFla. My partner have a combined experience over 75 years. Multi National and Middle Range as well as Independent Spirits. I have said for years, #2. even suggested I want that as a tee shirt! It is always tough, as art is VERY Subjective! But you have to stand by your beliefs and don’t prostitute yourself ! Play it forward. Do the right thing, good things will follow!!!

  • Wow, these are all such amazing ideas and, as a creative myself, I find I hit the wall with getting paid often, but I am starting to apply what I learn and hope for the best! I’m not so sure about the different prices thing though, word may get out that you aren’t serious with such changes… but I do agree that for a special job that you really really want you can apply a discount, just mark it as such!

  • Glad this was reposted – seem to have missed it the first time around! Really excellent advice. Thanks, Leela!

  • # 3 is HUGE! I love the fact that we can all find work to do – in our own specialties. It is super freeing to let go of the competitor-fear and just do our thing.

    Great list – thanks!


  • This comes at a time when I’m just starting my own design firm after working for others for 17 years. These are all great, especially #2. I heard some sage advice from a designer once. She always told me, “Don’t sell out of your own pocketbook.” I regularly gasp at my prices and I need to remember that I can negotiate down, but never up. Thanks!

  • Amazing blog! Do you have any recommendations for aspiring writers?
    I’m planning to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that I’m totally overwhelmed ..

    Any suggestions? Bless you!