Creatives: Are You Killing Yourself on Price?

raise your price, raise your profile on chase jarvis blog by andertoons

Are the fees or prices you’re charging for your creative services too low? I bet they are.

Try doubling the money. You have to deliver the goods, of course, but that’s true in any work. Chances are that the clients you ditched needed ditching, the clients you carry forward and the new clients you land will pay those fees happily and will better understand the value you bring.

And I’m guessing you’ll be happier and much better off in the long run.


(via Mark Anderson/Andertoons.com)

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67 Responses to Creatives: Are You Killing Yourself on Price?

  1. Sara April 5, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    We are about to double our prices for 2013.. scary step.. like truly hard for us to even think about, let alone implement .. but it needs to happen.

  2. Cody Rutherford April 5, 2012 at 10:32 am #

    I’ve been stuck at a crossroads with this..I think its time I take chances.

  3. Alan Langley April 5, 2012 at 10:34 am #

    very possibly but ultimately it is supply and demand.

    • Caleb April 5, 2012 at 11:23 am #

      Only if you set yourself up as a commodity. Supply and demand is a fluid concept when it comes to art or photography. Supply is unknown, because you are setting up a buying environment that is largely emotional and a niche market. If you sell yourself and an experience than the supply is very exclusive. Beyond that, demand is a created thing, not a stone cold figure. We have to develop the demand like any product, but we have the right and privilege to say no to clients. This is much different than going to buy a commodity, like a gallon of milk. When’s the last time you picked up a gallon of 2% and it looked up at you and said, “I don’t think we’re a good fit.”?

      • filo April 19, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

        I agree; creatives need to fight the commoditization of their own industry. We’re people and we create unique solutions. We are not widgets. Having said that, one does need to eat, too.

  4. Forest April 5, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    This is a timely post. I recently bid a couple of big jobs at significantly higher rates than I have in the past. Not because I have become a better photographer, but because I was underselling the job before, and I am now content to either a) do it for what is worth or b) not do it at all. That’s not to say that I won’t do free work still (actually most of the work coming up this month is for an NGO or personal projects) but the free/cheap work that I do will be for causes/friends/projects that I really care about and want to throw my energy behind for some greater reward beyond money. However, the commercial work that I do from here out will be with clients who are willing to pay fairly for the work I do, and if that means losings some clients along the way (which it has) that’s fine – in the long run (as stated above) I have confidence that it will result in lasting relationships with a core group of clients who respect and appreciate my work. That said, losing clients and the fear that come with that rejection are not fun – just have to keep the long term goal in mind!

    • Mike Folden April 5, 2012 at 11:04 am #

      I’m at the same point! Since I’ve been doing a lot of the personal stuff for the projects I’m really into for free, they’ve helped me land the bigger commercial gigs. It’s not an easy step but a necessary one for sure. You can’t experience great success without taking great risks.

  5. Chi April 5, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    I Doubled my price a year ago. Most of my problems went away. Clients that use to complain about bs suddenly stopped complaining. Amazing.

  6. Matt and Jentry Photographers April 5, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    We just spent weeks, neck deep in spreadsheets, deciding what we should charge. We finished it up late Sunday night, and were shocked when we put our packages together. We weren’t charging nearly enough. We found that the prices we were charging (which we initially thought were fair) were actually causing us to make no profit, or even lose money in some cases. Our prices went up 2-3 times, which is scary. But the good news is, we are now confident that if we can still get the work, we can make money. If we had kept doing like we were, we would be on our asses by the end of the year. I think this is really good advice from Chase, but I would recommend taking it even further.

    Take some time to figure out how much you need to make. How much are your bills? How much will it take to run your business in the next year? How much will your marketing plans cost? How many gigs are you going to shoot? How much will you pay to taxes? These are just a few of the considerations we put into our pricing. It’s a ton of work to figure out your pricing, but nothing great comes without hard work.

    Can’t wait to see how our recent price structure changes things for us!

  7. Kurtis Kronk April 5, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    Alan, it’s not supply and demand if the client feels there is no alternative. But if you’re making ketchup… Yeah.

  8. Arsenik Studios Inc. April 5, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    I agree. I raised prices late last year and still completely booked couple months in advance. Too much undervaluing going on in the marketplace as is.
    Another key to remember is that you are selling a brand (your brand) and not just a pretty picture. People will pay the price if they want to work with you and what you bring to the table on a business side of things as well as execution and delivery.

  9. Michael Giordano April 5, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    “Competing to be the lowest price is a miserable business.”

    • Terrence April 5, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

      great statement

  10. Ahmed Roberson April 5, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    If you’re not careful though, you can price yourself right out of the game. For me, it depends on your market and client base.

    I live in Long Beach. My market area is Long Beach and Orange County.

    Los Angeles is FLOODED!!

    Long Beach as a market for Photography is almost non-existent.

    Orange County is slowly becoming more and more like Long Beach.

    Either the market is COMPLETELY saturated now, or my marketing skills have plummeted.

    Whatever the correct answer, doubling my pricing now is career suicide….sadly.

    Too many GWC’s, and lost clients who now feel that their iPhones can match our skills….and who can blame them..as some of us photographers market iPhone Photography as well.

    …Shot in the Foot….

    • Chase April 5, 2012 at 10:58 am #

      Sorry Ahmed – gotta call bullshit. Try doubling your prices, or trippling. And differentiate yourself. Point to the lower price competition as “a lower priced alternative…but that you get what you pay for” and see what happens…

      Apple computers, for example, are twice or more the price for a similarly spec’d PC. yet they’re selling like hotcakes because of the brand and perceived value. An theoretically a computer is a commodity… You can be a commodity, or you can differentiate. Its up to you.

      • Derek Anson April 6, 2012 at 1:03 am #

        Chase,

        Other than the Apple part I do agree with what you’ve said. When it comes to charging a higher fee you have to look like someone that earns that fee. It’s something Jasmine Star talks about during your awesome chat, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZqP_rLuNkI

        Skip to 1:05:00 for when JStar talks about pricing etc. I couldn’t find the part in the video but Jasmine also mentions the car she drives and how that has to set a good impression.

      • Brian Bulemore April 6, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

        I agree here on the BS call, glad you did…though I can relate to feeling like Ahmed here at the start of my business. Bend is quite saturated as well, but in learning more about branding and client selection I’ve realized that I can dictate which clients get my message AND what they think and feel about me (which IS branding basically). To paraphrase something I heard recently “stop trying to sell good steak to vegans…they won’t bite no matter what”. A recent workshop from Jen Burgess Thompson helped me realize that I need to market my services to my BEST customer instead of EVERY customer. It’s a good feeling.

    • Nate April 5, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

      sounds like you are targeting realtors :)

    • Michael Giordano April 13, 2012 at 10:25 am #

      I gotta agree with Chase below.

      The theory of Economics is “If the demand is high, the price is high. If the demand is low, the price is low.” Demand for photography is high. Also you really should figure out your Cost Of Doing Business and stick to your guns. (http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/cdb/cdbcalc.cfm) and learn about the licensing model. Don’t give away the whole turkey, give slices of it. LA is flooded but what kinds of stuff are you shooting? Is it unique? I see a lot of very good young shooters and they all shoot the same. But its 80% personality and 20% presentation. Chase did a great write up or quote about standing out from everyone else. I have a great write up from David Harry Stewart:

      “Making money at photography is a difficult thing to do. I don’t want to discourage you from your dreams, you should always pursue whatever it is that you love doing. The fact is that in the last three years the business has changed considerably. It has gone from being hard, to being very very hard. Success requires considerable luck, a vision that is relevant to the market, business sense and most of all perseverance. There is a certain Darwinian element to it, those who try the longest and the hardest survive.” – David Harry Stewart

      I believe in this statement: “Competing to be the lowest price is a miserable business.”

  11. brandon shane warren April 5, 2012 at 10:46 am #

    This is so right on , I doubled my rates to slow down demand and it actually got more busy for me but I also got way better quality clients – and with bigger packages being bought more often at new higher rates. go figure.

  12. Ian Harding April 5, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    It’s easy to simply say, “Double your prices!” in an effort to weed out low value clients, but when EVERYONE wants everything for free, I have to argue agains that. I’ve found that no one is interested in paying for true talent. They just want the best price, even if it means getting a lower quality product.

  13. Chase April 5, 2012 at 10:58 am #

    Ian – quite frankly, if that’s your experience, you’re looking in the wrong place for clients.

  14. Mike Folden April 5, 2012 at 11:02 am #

    I can’t agree with this more. It was the scariest thing but once I did it, I got more respect and shook out all the sketchy clients who were taking up most of my time. I still need to charge more but it’s baby steps!

  15. Scott April 5, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    All sounds fine, but how do you break it to good, close, long-standing customers you need to increase rates significantly for pretty much the same product?

    • Gene April 8, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

      If they are long standing customers they already understand your talent.

  16. JC Ruiz April 5, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    I always felt my prices were lower than most and perhaps I was doing it to seem “affordable” but I know I’m seeing that with my prices people are always trying to haggle etc. Maybe if I double my rate they’ll be like if he charges this much there must be a reason for it

  17. Elis Alves April 5, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    Right on time for me too, Chase! I am working on building a VERY Different pricing for my work and my clients and I’m scared to death. And just today I was thinking of backing out and not price things so highly… Thanks for pointing me in the right direction once again!

  18. Monique April 5, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    Oooooh it’s so tough putting a value on your work. How much do I think I’m worth? As a person I’m worth a million bucks (maybe more) as a photographer that’s probably not going to happen…. Although one can dream ;) thanks for your blogs they have helped me so much. Especially the one on workflow!! It has made life so much easier!! Keep up the brilliant work :)

  19. Andrew April 5, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    Reading through a few of the comments I pretty much get the feeling that if you consider “those with iPhones” and “hobbyists” as your competition then it’s not your prices you need to re-consider, it’s your entire approach to your business. If you lose clients, so be it – you’re pricing yourself out of the “need someone with a camera” market, and none of us want to be there, right? That’s the “oh my mate takes some nice pictures, I’ve seen some of his photos on Facebook, I’ll ask if he can bring his camera” market.

    I personally like the feeling of being hired because an art buyer/picture editor really appreciates my style and body of work – it’s a great feeling and the “coup de grâce” being when the project is signed off with a beaming smile from both sides.

    Also, in my personal experience, I’ve lost a bid on a job because my quote was too high, I moved on and thought nothing more of it. A couple of months later, the same agency came back to me with a different (but similar) job at my previous quote price.

  20. Danté Bell April 5, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    Chase, your article made me smile since it brought back memories of my mom & dad!

    Mom was an artist working mostly in oils and with multi-media pieces. She was having trouble selling them. My dad was an electrical/mechanical engineer and totally color blind. He thought about her problem for a day or two, then told her to quadruple her prices! Mom thought he was totally wrong and many arguments ensued ;) But she agreed to try it for a month at her gallery.

    Contrary to mom’s artist driven price model, she started selling her pieces once she quadrupled the price! I guess if you don’t value your art enough, then buyers don’t value it that much either and would rather spend their money on something else! Thanks for the memories ;)

    • stanchung April 6, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

      I love this.

      Thanks Chase. I will keep this in mind and double my prices and see what happens.

  21. Natalie Tuggle April 5, 2012 at 11:43 am #

    I know I am worth a lot more than I charge, but I am taking a slow road to charging more. It’s about confidence. If you say your price with confidence, the client will believe that is what you are worth. If it feels too high (which is my problem…I’m a cheapskate by nature), then my client is going to feel uncomfortable as well. Yes, I have lost a client because I didn’t charge enough, but I increase my price only with my increasing comfort in my worth and portfolio.

    • Anonymous April 8, 2012 at 1:05 am #

      what has helped me with the fear of charging “too much” is taking a long hard look at ALL my overhead & expenses, investment in learning, time, skill, equipment and then adding PROFIT on top of all that. For example, if you charge $20/hour for each of: time, skill and equipment and add $10/hour profit, we come to about $70/hour. Now for every hour we shoot, we spend at least 3 hours editing/driving/etc. So we try to never be lower than $280/hour of shooting. Not that we tell our clients that, but its a guideline for us. That is just a baseline that we use, of course you can add for second shooter, prints, digital files, minimum hourly req, etc. I suspect you will realize that you do need to charge a lot to be able to deliver the goods consistently. low prices take away all your options – investment in learning, can’t buy equipment, can’t afford good assistants, can’t spend money on advertising & marketing, etc. Don’t feel guilty about charging a fairly high price – they don’t apologize for the price of a BMW just because a KIA costs $14k.

      • Anonymous April 8, 2012 at 1:13 am #

        …and people will not respect you until first you respect yourself. This advice of Chase’s is excellent. Most business people tend to undervalue their service. Even if you do not get as many jobs, you be making the same profit or more, and will have so much more time and less stress. Plus, how do we know that when we don’t get certain jobs, that maybe it because we’re too low?

  22. Earl April 5, 2012 at 11:55 am #

    This is a great discussion and very timely but I need some hard numbers here. I know what I charge and if I doubled that I would poop my pants in fear of sending out that email to clients. So how can we start talking about hard numbers to help me see if I’m under valuing myself? Can I just say what my hourly rate is, u all check out my work on my website and tell me if I’m undervaluing my time? Thank uuiuuuuuuu!

    • Dan - right brained April 5, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

      Yes – publish your effective hourly rate – loaded for time making the sale and time at the computer/printer. And, understand that you will be evaluated not against the guy who can pull weeds in your yard, but against the guy with the equipment and experience to create something of lasting value and worth.

      We can never compete against the guy/gal with the Costco camera giving images out of the camera. If your/my clientele is only looking for that ‘snapshot’ – we have the wrong clientele and doubling the prices will wipe them away, if they are considering us.

  23. David Wai April 5, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    So my question is if you’re just starting out, like me, do I still double my price?
    Get my name out there for cheap/free services or charge more?

    When do I reach the point where I start charging for my services?

  24. chey April 5, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    One way to know you’re REALLY underselling your services: When soem client INSIST on paying you double what you charged. Yikes.

    • kuhlhoto.ca April 8, 2012 at 1:18 am #

      No kidding…the first engagement shoot we did for casual friends turned out pretty good, and they insisted on paying. We had no idea what to charge and weren’t comfortable with the idea of charging people for something we loved to do so much. So we said…just pay us what you can afford and what you feel the photos are worth to you. We were expecting $100, and would’ve been very happy with that. They were thrilled to pay us $1000! – ten times what we would’ve valued ourselves at!

  25. Allen April 5, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    This is important advice. Higher prices often attract more clients and when they don’t, they keep you from doing work you probably shouldn’t do anyway.

  26. Zack April 5, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    I think I’m going to try this, maybe go 1.5 up instead of 2x for my freelance work. I’m doing mainly video, but gear is freaking expensive and frighteningly so when you’re dealing with student loans at the same time.

  27. Budi Pramono April 5, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

    This is something I’m still struggling with

  28. Dwayne Foong April 5, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    It’s true. Lower charges attracts lower end client (often fussy & demand for more), higher charges attracts higher end client.

  29. Tony Clark April 5, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

    I believe that my images add value to my clients projects and I price it accordingly. I think long and hard about this economy and whether my potential clients will see quality and move forward with me. It’s not always about money, unfortunately not everyone recognizes quality. Sometimes, it’s more about qualifying clients.

  30. Phil Lucero April 5, 2012 at 9:22 pm #

    I prefer to work less for more, not more for less. And I DON’T mean to be lazy, but A lot of people think they can compete with the Wal Mart model of selling a lot of things cheap. And like Wal Mart they end up with a very mediocre product.

  31. faisal April 6, 2012 at 5:55 am #

    Well it is a subjective thing, you simply cant say I am doubling, without justifying the service.

  32. Huffoto April 6, 2012 at 9:32 am #

    I believe I’m at this crossroads as well… When you’re own clients ask you “Why so cheap?” I guess it is a sign lol.

  33. DanielKphoto April 6, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    Very interesting viewpoint, not the first thing you’d think about but I guess you’re right. I remember from your interview I think with Zack Arias, you or him said: “Either do it for free, or for the full price.” That sorta boils down to the same I think. Thanks for sharing this, I’ll keep it in mind!

  34. Mark Sass April 6, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

    This is so funny Chase! I’m just starting my business and pricing is an imortant topic for me. I thought about it a lot. Even though i’m planning to dive more in the editorial and commercial world in the future, i decided shooting weddings first. I charged low for my first one to build a portfolio. It went fantastic! The couple was amazing and i was able to shoot some killer images. A few days ago i was booked by a friend of that bride and i charged her 3.5 times as much as i charged for the first wedding. And this bride knew what i charged for the wedding of her friend.

  35. Eric April 7, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    I crossed this path last year. After a wedding I sat down and ran though the numbers again. When it was all said and done I had made a [profit of less than $10. In turn for 2012 I made a significant price increase. I will see better returns and have only had one or two complaints. Most are receptive to the cost of business and what they get for their money when it is explained to them.

  36. Chris Lawrence April 8, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    Chase,
    After reading most of the post thought I would share a blog post I have written on Bad business practices. I(my producer/agente) always calculate my expenses a part from my fee in a quote, this allows for clients to see what they are paying for. It also helps me earn a profit and not lose money because I did not quote an expense(in every quote there is MISC expense). I hope this helps!! Chris Lawrence

    “WTF!! Bad Photography Business Practices”
    WTF!! I receive a lot of email, I do not always look everyone immediately. So this morning with that daily dose of Lavazza(damn good stuff!!) I started to delete all the email that are of no use. I found this in Groupon.

    Turns out that for 59€ each, three people can have a photo shoot, 15 retouched photos and 10 printed. given that you shoot for 2 hours, 30 minutes retouching per photo, 5 minutes per photo print time: THAT IS 620 MINUTES!! IN OTHER WORDS 10.5 HOURS!!!

    OH WAIT, BUT THEY ARE 2 TO 3 MODELS!!! so let’s say that there are 3 models. Yes you could say that you are only going to shoot for 2 hours, but Murphy’s Law is now multiplied by 3. Three female models, make-up, wardrobe… even the most efficient photographer can not control the laws of nature with 3 inexperienced models. ADD another 120 minutes!! 740 minutes.

    OH WAIT!!!!!!!
    now we have to print 30 photos so we must add another 100 minutes = 840 minutes. Not to mention an average cost per copy is around 1€. yes the a method of paying less, we could go to a local Kodak center and have them printed cheaper. BUT WAIT, this means getting in car and driving to you local photography or drug store. ADD another 60 minutes = 900 minutes total.

    A whopping 15 hours!!!!

    YES now if there are 3 models we will be charging 59€ x 3 = 177€ (obviously under the table)

    Total billed: 177€

    Expenses:
    - 30 copies @ 0,50€ = 15,00€
    - Gas in europe these days is 1,65€ per liter (for you americans 3.8 liters is a gallon, 6,27€). 5,00€ in gas
    - the electric bill 30 minutes x 15 photos (our idea is that we deliver the same 15 photos to the 3 models) 7.5 hours of sitting in front of a computer, 10€
    Total Expenses: 30€

    = 147€ now we need to divid this number by the hours worked 15.

    9,80€ per hour (does not sound bad for an hourly wage)

    This is a good calculator for the cost os doing business by the NPPA. It is set up in dollars, but as far as calculating we will just assume that they are Euros (I am calculating as if it were me.) http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/cdb/cdbcalc.cfm

    OK, so I need to earn 3200€ a week! but I am making 9,80€ per hour. This means that I must work 327 hours a week!!

    It turns out that there are only 168 hours in a normal 7 day week. 9,80€ x 168 = 1,646.40€ a difference of 1,553.60€

    BAD BUSINESS!!!

    I may have missed something, but this is basically for people to understand the Cost of doing Business!!

  37. Neil Speers April 10, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    I’ve always been a photographer, but it was – until a few years ago – part of other jobs like being a reporter/editor and then a graphic designer. Early in my design career I was charing $25 per hour (this is 25 years ago), and while I was doing okay I knew I needed to bump it up – so I doubled it to $50. I figured if I lost 25 per cent of my clients I’d still be ahead. I actually got more clients and they treated me better. At the lower price, I was constantly having to justify what I was charging and clients were always looking for freebees. That all pretty much disappeared at double the price.

  38. Pizzuti April 19, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    Definitely see where you are going here, but blindly doubling one’s prices might not be the best option. I think first off any business needs to know the break even point, and then to figure what the owners need from that business.

  39. Antoine Thisdale April 19, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    Interesting repeat of what everyone says.
    However, i have a completely different story.

    I am always told i charge too much, by every potential clients and i never get a job. I since left professional photography because i can’t possibly make a living out of it and i’ll end up in debt. Zack Arias also told us multiple times not to get there, so i had to stop. Hard.

    Just as examples;
    For portraits, i’ve charged 300-500, 1000$. The only jobs i got is 1x 300$ and 1x 1000$ which lended me the cover of a magazine, imagine!. So i figured 1000$ was a good price range. Since then, i have landed ZERO jobs. Even with the portfolio and Cover to boot. Everyone says its too expensive, i can’t possibly charge that much. Even 300$ are too expensive apparently, which barely covers the costs of stuff like Chris Lawrence mentions above.

    I think geography has more to do then the price asked.
    But that’s my experience.

    I’d love to get feedback on this, because i feel like i’m taking crazy pills.

    • Chris Lawrence April 24, 2012 at 9:49 am #

      Antoine, most magazines in europe pay from 400 to 600€(500-800$) for one portrait. of course that includes expenses. I agree with that geographic’s have a lot to do with it. England pays more than Spain… I have learned over the years how to travel light to keep my cost as low as possible. I have to agree also with Zack, I have not bought a new camera since 2008 when I bought my hasselblad 22mp. I plan on going to my grave with that baby!! I am lucky enough to have an awesome agent who deals with all of my bookings. Plus, when most art buyers call/email they speak directly with my agent, this means that they know that I am not going to accept a job under a certain budget. But if they really want to work with you, they will pay what you ask.

      I would definitely keep taking those crazy pills!! they help you stay creative!!

  40. dezarae April 23, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    I just got here from england and am looking for a job as a photographer but don’t now exaxtly how much it could pay any help?

  41. Stephane Evras - Photographe Mariage April 29, 2012 at 2:50 am #

    Hello, This tpoic is very interresting. I’m starting my wedding photographer business. My price are low for the moment to win my firsts contracts but after how many weddings or time do you think I can increase my prices ? Brgds, Stéphane

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  48. Leanne Regalla November 8, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    I did this back in 2009. It was very scary, esp. with what was going on with the economy at the time, but I had to do something. I was burned out and ready to quit. In the end, it was the best thing I ever did. I did get better clients, have a lot more fun now, and feel like I’m really delivering value to my people. (music lessons.)

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