I love what I do. But, lately, I’ve spent way too much time doing math and way too little creating. The problem: money. Everyone seems to be worrying about it. And no one seems to have enough of it. So why is that MY problem? I think it’s because of the subjectivity inherent in my business.

The tough part about working in a creative business is that it IS subjective. Everyone has an opinion on most everything we do. From brochures to advertisements to websites to TV spots, we create work that is constantly subject to approval – and judgment.

The headline is too clever . . .The product photo is too small . . .The logo needs to be bigger. . . The graphic doesn’t pop . . . The list goes on and on.

We face these issues with our clients all the time. We talk about these things. We look at different options. And we inevitably find a way to create powerful work that we both like. Work that positively reflects the brand (and the brand manager).

Before we do a project, we typically create a formal estimate. This lets the client know about how much the job will cost before we begin work. Usually, because our shop is owned and driven by me (a creative), we put in far more hours than we have to in order to make the piece as good as it can possibly be. Those hours do not get charged. So the client benefits. The thing is, sometimes, even when we do an estimate ahead of time, our invoice is questioned.

This surprises me. I mean, we don’t make up numbers and put them on an estimate. We pull comparable projects, estimate our time and production costs and create a fairly tight estimate. Just like every other business in the world.

I recently purchased granite countertops for my home. The countertop company gave me an estimate. And when they came to my house, there were some unanticipated problems that drove the price up slightly. While it KILLED me to pay that bill, I knew the costs were all necessary. I also knew that I couldn’t get granite for the price of formica. (In life, as in branding, you get what you pay for.) So I sucked it up and paid for it. And I haven’t regretted it for a second.

I have regretted other things. A man actually hired us to create a logo for his company, only to tell me that he was deciding between us and one other shop. We were halfway through the project at the time. He received a bill for our time. We do NOT work for free. And we do not typically “audition” for work. Ours is one of the few industries still expected to “pitch” accounts by showing strategic and creative ideas BEFORE being hired. When I hire a lawyer, I don’t expect her to reveal her strategy without charging me for the time she spends on my case. Why should we?

Subjectivity isn’t all bad. It makes life interesting. It makes you really think through what you’re doing – every time. And playing devil’s advocate often results in better creative work. This back and forth discussion can actually strengthen the relationship between client and agency. But just as our clients have their business models, we have ours. And it’s based on an hourly billable rate. So while our work is always up for discussion, how we bill for it is not.