4/12/2015 - StoryBlog
What? You Want Me To PAY for Storytelling?

Sean Buvala has written a great blog about being/becoming a Professional Storyteller, I highly recommend reading it! This started me thinking about questions that many newbie tellers ask about fees.

So, here are my thoughts about Pricing and Negotiation in Storytelling
By no means, is this the WHOLE story. But it should get you started on a realistic path to the real-world aspect of selling your services.


When you cross over that line from free/volunteer to "There is a charge for my service." - You are taking a GIANT leap. Make no mistake; the general public doesn't understand why artists, musicians, or Storytellers should get paid. Quite often, they have not planned for any funds in their budget, and most often believe that artists should perform "for the great exposure." Trust me, (especially in Arizona) the only thing exposure gets you is sunburned.

There have been many discussions regarding how to handle asking for and negotiating a fee for your services. Here is my take on the process.

Treat our profession as any other paid product or service.

If you buy a loaf of bread, you pay the price on the tag. If you purchase an item of clothing, you pay the listed price. Sometimes, you might ask if there are any sales or discounts available. This is OK, as discounts are a way to get and retain customers. But a dress shop will rarely give you a dress for FREE, just so it can bee seen by people at your party. Rarely does the plumber offer to fix your sink for FREE, even when you say, "But everyone who comes to my house will know I hired you."

And here's a particular bias of mine: If you do ask a plumber (or any other professional) WHY their price is what it is, they almost NEVER go into a long explanation of how much their tools cost; how much gas for their truck is; that they maintain a computer system and phone system to facilitate prompt customer service; that they have insurance costs or how much it costs to rent their office space. They merely say, "This is what I charge." There is rarely an argument or negotiation.

That said, as artists we must realize that consumers have a long-held misconception that "art" should not be expensive, unless the artist is dead! Many artists believe we need to educate the public regarding all of our "costs", as outlined above, in order to convince them we need to be compensated for them. I do not.

I believe that as artists, we must educate the public to only two things: 

"This is what I do for a living,"
"There is value to what I do." 

So, how does one decide what to charge? How do you present that initial "offer" to the client? (My usual fee is a bazillion dollars!) How do you respond when the client says they can't pay that much? What do you do when they ask you to do it for free? 

Keys to Negotiating Fees

Step 1 - Decide on your fees.
Do this FIRST, don't wait till you find out "How much is in the budget?" If you are just beginning, a range of $20-$40 per hour is a good starting place. Make a clear decision for yourself (before any calls or e-mails) what this "quoted" fee will be...AND STICK TO IT. Don't quote one person $20 and another $200 just because you think they can pay more. Fee Integrity is as important as your integrity as a professional teller. 

Hint: If you are not sure of what you are truly "worth", or "what the market will bear" - talk to other tellers in your area. Ask them what they charge, and what they think you could charge based on your experience, expertise and niche. Ask them what they think the "going rate" for storytelling is. Most will be happy to share with you.

You should also make a decision about your "bottom line" - how low in price will you go to get this job? Again, don't wait till you are on the phone, hemming and hawing about whether you can charge less than your quoted fee. Write both fees down on a piece of paper...and stick to it.

Step 2 - Have your questions ready.
Quite often, the first question clients ask is, "How much do you charge?" You don't have to give them an answer right away! If they really want a bottom-line quote, give it to them. Don't argue about it. It still may be possible to bring them to the point of discussion.

"I have a sliding scale based on many different factors. Perhaps I could first get some information about what your needs are; what it is that you want to accomplish?"

Get the pertinent information: When; where; how many people; age ranges; demographic makeup. If they want you to tell at a school, make sure you find out if they want one presentation to a whole group, or if they want you to tell to several classes separately. Based on your experience, you may want to break up large groups across a wide spectrum of grades and ages into smaller, more manageable groups.

Step 3 - Give them a quote.
Okay, the time has come; you finally have to reveal the secret! Now that you know what the gig will entail, quote your fee. For our purposes of this discussion, let's say it is $400 for one hour of telling to a total of 200, 5th and sixth graders. My standard verbiage is:

"My usual fee for this type of presentation is $400."

(Slight pause here to see if they respond immediately with a "Fine"
or with an "Oh my goodness!")

"Does that fit into your budget?"

An immediate answer of "OK" is the best sound you can hear. At this point, skip right to getting contact & billing info, make up a contract, and start planning the program. Then breathe!

Step 4 - What if they say they can't pay that...or they can't pay anything?
Time to breathe more.
Don't panic. Stay calm. No matter what the outcome, everything will be OK.

The client could come back with a definitive dollar "counter offer", or a "zero budget" answer. If they counter with a lower price, like $200, that is when you glance down at your paper that has your bottom line and make your decision. If you have designated a bottom line of $250, I would suggest saying "yes" to the $200. A fifty dollar difference at this point doesn't mean much, and it does mean that you will get the gig and have it on your resume.

In cases where your initial quote is much higher, say, $750 or more, with a bottom line of $500; then a low-ball counter of $300 makes it easier to decide that it may not be worth doing for that low amount.

One consideration:
One always has to decide the VALUE of any proposition. As I said above, "exposure" usually gets you very little, unless it definitely gets you a foot in the door. If IBM is calling, then one must decide if the gig might get you noticed by the DECISION MAKERS. Will it get you an opportunity to pitch yourself as a long-term consultant to the company, or even a "coach" who can help managers and executives craft their speeches and stories. Make sure you can get clear answers and/or commitments from the client. Are you talking to a decision maker now? Who do you have to get to for some clear answers?

Step 5 - You are a professional.
If you have discovered (in Step 2) what their "needs" are (and believe they might pay if you can show the value of what you do), it is easier to help them understand what they are paying for. Remember, don't talk about your expenses, only talk about the value of what you can provide. Use comparisons. If they want a luncheon presentation, help them understand that you are providing new skills for their managers. The lunch, per person, for ten managers will probably cost them more than your fee.

Step 6 - Get Creative
If they say they can't pay, there might be other options. Here is where you have to get creative and think outside the box.

"I understand that you may not have budgeted for this. There might be some alternative ways that I could be compensated. Are you willing to brainstorm with me and see what alternatives there might be?"

There are a myriad number of options. Here are just some:

  • They could take dollars from a different part of their budget, perhaps community outreach, advertizing, marketing, entertainment, etc.
  • They might be able to find an individual or corporate "sponsor" to underwrite all of or a portion of your fee.
  • Maybe a school can get some money from the Parent-Teacher Organization, or their library budget.
  • Maybe a large company provides some sort of service that you could "trade" for, i.e. printing; or maybe their HR department gets movie or sports tickets. Would you do the gig to get good seats to a baseball or basketball game?
  • Maybe they have a manager or executive who needs some coaching, and there is a budget for THAT. You could agree to do the coaching for your normal fee and throw in a short group presentation for free. That would get you a foot in the door!

If you get creative and ask a lot of questions, there is virtually no limit to what you might come up with!

The Bottom Line for Everyone.
At some point, you will know whether the "negotiations" are actually going somewhere, or falling flat. That's when you have to make a decision regarding whether you will take the gig or not. Accept the fact that you will not get every job.

Be gracious, be kind and be professional.

"It is unfortunate that the budget doesn't allow for this. I hope that if there is another opportunity in the future that you can budget for, please contact me. In the meantime, I am happy to refer you to one of my colleagues that may be able to help you."

Don't be afraid to walk away from the job.
Make your best decision about the entire value of the proposition. Walk away with a clean slate, knowing that you did your best, professional try at offering your talent and service for what you believe to be a fair and reasonable price. You may be walking away from this gig...but you may also be walking towards another.

©Mark Goldman 2015

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For more information contact Mark Goldman - 602-390-3858 - Mark@Storytellermark.com


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