Like architecture, photography is a subjective and creative process, so I was interested in what this photographer had to say. The part that hit home for me was at the end when she said “I do not ever let a client dictate my price”.
That is how is should be in architecture.
I remember years ago having a conversation with some fellow employees about what the value of a job is worth. You would typically get a question like “I am thinking about interviewing for a job with ABC architects, they need a (fill in the blank), what do you think the job is worth and how much should I ask for?”. So there would always be the long debates about how somebody else in a similar position is making a certain amount of money or maybe listed in some document somebody is looking for a similar position to be filled that offers a salary range between $xxxxxx - $YYYYYY.
After thinking about it for what felt like a long time, I came to the conclusion that you are worth what you will work for. It sounds vague and maybe a bit simplistic, but it is actually a very true statement. I have told my kids on many occasions this same statement. I always try to explain my ideas to help them understand how I came to my conclusions. I tell them everyone has a minimum price they will work for. If someone wants a job and the median pay is $35,000, what should a person ask for? There is no question that experience and character will play a big part, but determining what they are worth is more important to the person applying for the job than the person hiring. Why? Because the person applying for the job has to determine and believe in the value that they place on themselves.
Most people I have talked to have used the salary listed as a starting point and then added or deducted monies based on how bad they want the job or how bad they need the job. Using those two criteria it is very hard to assess a true value. I have asked my kids if the job says it will pay up to $35,000 would you take the job for $5,000, to which they reply, NOOOOO! I ask how little would you take under that $35,000 to accept the job? This is much more difficult to determine.
You have to decide first, what do I need to maintain the quality of life you have or want.. Then you have to determine what you think your value is based on your experience and character. Will you go into this new job , if offered, with your feet on the ground and running full speed or will it be on the job training for you? Are you dependable? Will you always be there on time and be a team member to help the office, not just yourself? You know the answers, but you potential new employer does not and will not have a decent idea until some time after you start working. So this is where is comes down to you knowing your value and what you will work for.
I have used the example with my kids, that if you accept that potential $35,000 a year job for $29,500 and then they hire another person for a second position similar to the one you are working for $37,000, don’t get mad at the new employee or company. Apparently your value is $29,500 and the new employee is $37,000. Apparently he would work for $29,500, but you will. Maybe if you set you low bar at $37,000 and you decided that you couldn’t take any less, you may also be working for $37,000 instead of the $29,500? There are certain low ball numbers that are no brainers, I would just walk away if those numbers were offered. Then there are numbers that are in that gray, “well maybe”, range that you internally debate over. The difference between $500 and $29,500 is easy to determine, but not so for $33,000 and $35,000.
It does come down to how you believe in yourself and value yourself. This mindset also comes down to how we set our fees. Just like the job scenario above, you have to determine what you think the value of your services are worth, regardless of what the client thinks. We have all been in that situation where we think the value should be one number and the client lowballs us with another number. We don’t feel comfortable with his humber and we get a bit queasy in the stomach trying to justify to ourselves how we can make the number work out. My suggestion to you is just walk away. I truly understand the NEED for work and I think all we architects do, but I just don’t see it as a winning proposition when you get tremendously underpaid and over worked. Double your efforts trying to find new jobs rather get torn up internally struggling through a “not so good” project.
Determining a fair fee is hard. Most other architects I talk to about fee usually look at three different methods and then use some kind of magic to try to meld the three. They use percentage of construction, estimated hours, and a rough cost per SF for determining the fee. After a fair amount of mental anguish we usually come up with a number that we think is fair. I submit this fee to the client and many times put in the email something to the effect of “ Here is our number and if not selected thanks for the opportunity”. What I am trying to convey is here is my fair number and don’t call me to try to beat me down, so if this number doesn’t work for you I understand if you pursue a less expensive solution, but please call again with any other opportunity you might have. I have told several clients and potential clients, “I can’t do it for that fee”. I even had several call back and ask me to reconsider. On on project the contractor / owner of the project called back three months later to say his site plan had been approved and he had two other architects that would do it for his fee, but he would rather work with me. I didn’t take this as leveraging move as I had told him months earlier that I couldn’t do it for that little a fee. He knew I didn’t need his work, so I took his second offer at face value. I didn’t do the project, but it was designed and built and I hope somewhere down the line I get to work with this contractor again. He was assertive, but a nice and fun guy to work with on projects.
So as the photographer stated, you should never let a client dictate your fee. She brings up so many good points in her talk, but I think one strong point is that a lot of photographer (just like architectects) undervalue themselves. I have been very guilty of this myself, but these kind of issues are something we, the architects, must resolve and it is not something that clients, external forces, should not be able to influence. The photographer points out that people who appreciate value are willing to pay for services they think are important Our services are important so we must either find those clients who value them or educate some potential clients so they understand. The people who think we are just a plan mill, well don’t waste your time because as I have been told trying to convince them of our value is “It’s like trying to teach a pig to sing, It’s a waste of your time and it annoys the pig”