Transcript: Unpacking Navigate Well Webinar


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The webinar transcript has been edited for clarity. We have omitted the last names of those who generously shared their experiences, so the focus is on their words, not identities.

Jim Rimmer (Head of Program, AWC): Hello and welcome to another in the series of Arts Wellbeing Collective’s free webinars. Thanks for joining us. My name is Jim Rimmer, I’m the Head of Program here at the Arts Wellbeing Collective, and I’ll be book-ending today’s session. I identify as he/him and I’m wearing a black shirt over a white T-shirt, with a tangle of long grey hair that my wife says I should cut.

I’d like to begin today’s session by acknowledging the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nations as the owners of the land from which I’m presenting today. I recognise their continuing connection to land waters, communities, and culture, and pay my respects to elders, past and present, and through them to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, especially to those joining us today.

I’d welcome you acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land you’re on today because we have people participating from all over the country. This session is being recorded and will be posted to our website with a transcript in coming weeks. So you don’t need to scramble and take notes unless you really want to.

In early March, we launched Navigate Well, the latest instalment in our long-running ‘Well’ series. It’s a career mapping tool that prioritizes our mental wellbeing in our performing arts and creative industry careers.

I’d now like to introduce the author of Navigate Well, Susan Eldridge. A classical musician and educator who is on a mission to foster safe and empowering creative spaces. She is a champion for the power of self-advocacy and self-worth. Susan is a lecturer in music entrepreneurship at Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. She founded her consultancy, Notable Values, in 2017, and as a consultant she helps organizations that train and employ creative people to be safer and more effective so that they can achieve their full potential. Over to you. Susan.

3 mins

Susan Eldridge (Notable Values): Thanks, Jim. Wominjeka and welcome everybody. My name is Susan Eldridge, please call me Susan. My pronouns are she/her. I’m joining you today from beautiful Gadigal land on the people for the people of the Eora nation, and I pay my respects to their elders, past and present, and acknowledge any First Nations people today. If you can’t see your screen or need an audio description, I’m a Caucasian woman with short silver hair. I’m wearing a very multi-coloured bright top of green and orange. So welcome, everybody. I’m just so glad you taken time out to be here today. I know there’s a lot of pressures on all of us at the moment.

Here’s a little slide to guide our attention today. Before we get too deep into this, I’d really like to acknowledge Jim Rimmer, Head of Program at Arts Wellbeing Collective and Johanna Hayes, whose beautiful eyes brought life to my hundreds of words. And also, all the previous members and team from the Arts Wellbeing Collective for the extraordinary work they’ve done, not only on Navigate Well, but just in shepherding these really important conversations into industry. The Arts Wellbeing Collective is an initiative of the Arts Centre Melbourne, promoting positive mental health and wellbeing in the industry. It looks to design solutions and provide resources for all of us to be better and safer at work.

Today, we’re going to chat about why we may need Navigate Well, because why do you need a career guide? What does career planning have to do with mental health and wellbeing?

We’ll talk a little bit about how it’s structured, how you might want to use it, and then very quickly, some key takeaways about you and your values. Then the bulk of our time today is comments and questions from you. I’d really like to hear from you. If you have looked at the guide, what stood out for you. If anything’s made you curious if you haven’t had a chance yet.

So, Jim and the Arts Wellbeing Collective team had approached me to say, we know that mental health and wellbeing is a very gnarly topic. That, like an octopus, it has lots of tendrils and tentacles that go everywhere, and particularly in our industry, where so many of us are freelancers, or work with freelancers, that the career element around financial sustainability, creative practice and the precarity of what that can be like has a really big impact on people’s mental health. So, we’d like to be able to add something into the Wellbeing Collective that addressed the particular realities, opportunities and challenges of working in the way that we work. That’s why we decided to write it coming from the place of mental health and wellbeing, but looking at the ways that we work and what work looks like for us.

I decided to structure it in 2 parts. The first part is how the industry works, because sometimes we can be right down in our specialty area and maybe not realize that there are some similarities and challenges and opportunities that we all face. Also with that introduction is a presenting of the choices, lots of choices that you have, that you may not realize that you have, particularly as freelancers. As individuals, we do have choice and control in what we do. The first 10 or 15 pages of the Guide was just to set the scene.

The second half is a workbook that’s asking you to do the work – not because I’m lazy – but because I don’t have the answers. I believe you have the answers. The workbook is structured with prompts to get you thinking, and then questions to you, for you, to reflect on. It’s structured to dig into your values, the things that matter to you, because they’re not divorced from the way we work. It’s critical that those things align.

Then it asks you about your relationship with time and money to play a role in your professional life. There’s a section asking you to think about the kind of people that you want to surround yourself with so you can thrive. So there’s those 4 components – values, time, money and people. The last bit asks you to reflect on all of that and put it together to map out what would an ideal scenario looks like for you. Where are you now in relation to that scenario, and what changes might you like to make. That’s the way that the guide is structured.

I just wanted to share a couple of key takeaways that, as I was preparing for today, jumped back out at me about the guide, or also things that I’ve had people say really helped them to think differently about what they are doing.

The first one is that every choice has a cost.

When we choose according to our values and the things that matter most to us, you might miss out on something right now. But you’ll be much happier in the long run. This first one, critically, is that we do all have choices that we make, and the choices we make can align with the things that matter most to us.

Professionally and personally, I found this has only actually led to better outcomes for me when I say no to the things that don’t align with my values. I feel okay about doing that. It helps people to know what I stand for as a whole person, and how that relates to my work. Like I’ll give you an example. I’m a classical musician. I play the French horn in orchestras. When I have people ask me if I will play in a concert for them, I’ll take a look at the program, the music that’s been selected. And if that music that’s being selected is not very diverse, perhaps it’s only representing male composers of Northern Europe from 100 years ago, that’s not aligned with my values about diversity, equity, and representation. I will say to people, ‘Thank you so much for asking me to plan your concert. I hope it goes well for you. I’m not available to play, and I’m just letting you know that I only play in concerts that have programming that’s diverse and representative. If that’s where you want to take your programming, I’d really love to be on board and be a beautiful French horn player in that in that orchestra that’s representing diverse voices. At the moment, if the program is structured but it’s only representing these kinds of people, that’s okay. That’s not for me.’

I’m much happier in the long run, because I’m actually only playing things that really matter to me. And it means that people who are looking to program more diverse concerts know that I’m someone who’s going to be really on board for that. So that’s takeaway number one about you and your values.

Number two: Chronic overwork is not success. This can be a hard one, but often we wear our busy-ness as a sign of success. That’s not necessarily a sign of success. It could be a sign that you need some boundaries or need support figuring out how to price your time in a way that you can work less and look after your mental health.

I want us to challenge this notion that busy is a marker of success in whatever part of our world that you work in, it because it’s not really success. It is chronic overwork it’s one hundred percent a path to burnout, and none of us want to do that. We all want to be here doing this work for as long as we can. I challenge you that when you start saying to people, ‘I’m so busy’, what is that? What are you actually saying?

And then the third takeaway is when we turn down work, we are saying no to the request, and not to the friendship or the relationship or the person. This can often be really challenging for people. When we’re not just work colleagues, we’re friends, or also sometimes we’re married to the person. In my case, I’m married to the conductor. Sometimes I have to say no to the conductor, and I’m not saying no to my marriage. I’m saying no to the work or the request. Being able to say no to things that don’t align with your values and know when we structure the response, we say no to the work, not to the relationship. Sometimes we can get sucked into people pleasing and that may not be very beneficial for our professional development in the long run. Or our mental health and well-being.

So that’s my three key takeaways out of the about you and your values. Then there are 3 takeaways that I thought were most important about other people and their opinions, because this was an important part of the guide. There’s a lot of assumptions about success and work and when we take a step away and evaluate those, they just make no sense. We just haven’t taken the time to evaluate them, or someone important in our early career development told us a thing, and we just adopted that as truth, whereas now we can write a different truth about other people in their opinions. The 3 key takeaways for me were that number one, you can’t control the behaviour of others. Any of us who are parents will know this. But you can set boundaries for what you will and won’t tolerate at work. We can be clear and consistent in maintaining those boundaries with others. The sector is moving towards psychological safety and wellbeing and has been for a while. Things that we might have been able to get away with in the past, certainly is not the case for the future. The organizations that we work with know that they have a legal responsibility (let alone the fact that it’s the right thing to do) to keep our people safe from harm. If you are seeing particularly emotional dysregulation from other people, it’s not our job to calm them down, or to tell them that their behaviour is not okay. But we can choose to remove ourselves and be clear about the fact that that’s unacceptable for us.

The second one is that toxic workplace cultures can happen where the people are nice and friendly. It’s important that we are able to tell the difference between those two things. This is something that I’ve had first-hand experience of. I was working in an organization where I was feeling really unwell, and the practices, the way the organization ran was on goodwill, not on a proper structure of finances. They didn’t have the technology to run the creative practice that they wanted. But the people were nice, we got on well, and we used to go for drink after work every Friday, and I was stuck there for quite a while. I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling so unwell. Then I realized there’s a bit of a toxic workplace culture here of expecting people to give up too much of themselves and overwork. When I was able to pull those 2 things apart, the relationship and the work. I was able to see what was going on and choose to remove myself from that situation.

And then, thirdly and finally, when we say, ‘Oh, gosh! I’m just so busy’, what are we actually saying when we say that? Is that shorthand for trying to help that other person think that you’re having professional success? It’s normal in our industry. It’s like we have a tap. The tap turns on and off sometimes. Sometimes we’re not working because we’re in between gigs, or the next thing isn’t lined up. Sometimes we’re underworking because there’s not quite enough work in our creative practice. Sometimes we’re working outside of our creative practice. But there’s a culture of not feeling okay to say that. So when we say ‘I’m so busy’, firstly, is it true? Or is it a cover story because something else is going on and it’s challenging to speak your truth? That’s my three key takeaways for other people and their opinions of what you.

Now I’d really love, as I said, the bulk of our time to be focused on you and what you need today. This is now over to us to have a beautiful conversation about the guide, or anything about sustaining your mental health and wellbeing and the balance of career stresses in the arts. You’re welcome to unmute yourself for a lovely small group today. Or pop your questions in the chat as well. Even if you don’t have a question, if something has made you curious. Everything that you contribute today, will just be met with kindness and gratitude and respect. Mark, yes, jump on in.

18min 34sec

Mark: Hi Jim! Hi Susan! I’m afraid I haven’t read the guide, but I’m going to, having heard about it. This is something that was on my mind, the relationship between creative work and other jobs that we have. Not everyone’s in this situation but balancing different types of work and the pressure. We talked about this online a bit, Jim, but the pressure to feel like you need to be moving to full time creative work to feel successful. Speaking for myself, I have made choices to do less creative work, to make a bit more money outside of my creative practice. Also to do the type of work I really want to do rather than to have to take creative jobs that don’t really suit me, but I need for the money. And for me, that’s been a path to wellbeing. But it also has challenges, because of course I have to balance those different jobs. I’d like to hear anyone else’s experience of that, too.

Susan Eldridge: That’s awesome, Mark, thank you. I actually did a really interesting podcast interview where I was talking about this. Why do we have to believe that full time is success? Something for us all to do is decide what success looks like. Success, for me as a creative, means being able to say no to things that are not going to keep me safe and well, and where the people are poorly emotionally regulated. I could say yes to plenty of big fancy gigs playing the French horn but that’s not what success looks like for me. Success for me looks like being safe and doing my best work. I think we’re at a time where the pressure to be a full time creative is just so difficult for many of us. Particularly those balancing caring responsibilities. You need to bring it back to yourself to say, ‘Well, what matters most to me?’ and to be able to just speak your truth to people, and not expect validation from anybody else, because it’s not their journey to have. It’s your journey to have, and I think probably a lot of us had models of what success looks like presented to us in our training. Being able to see that for what it is. That was somebody’s version of success, but it may not be mine.

So just bringing that back to figuring out what success looks like for you and being able to articulate that clearly to others when you do get offered work. If you go to say no to it, you don’t need to over explain but just say, ‘Look, thanks so much, it’s just not right for me’.

All the data that came out this week about artists, incomes; we can’t ignore the financial precarity that exists in trying to pursue this full time. In my opinion, if you can do something else that pays really well, that fills your cup in some kind of way, that’s fine. Do that because it’s going to leave the best of you for your creative practice. And that’s what all of us want is to be able to come to a creative practice as nourished, whole people and make art that makes a difference for other people.

But that’s my take on that, Mark. I think any work meets your needs in whatever way works for you is absolutely ‘go, do that’. And the more of us that can say that, normalize it. The data is unarguable that so many of us do work outside the industry in some way. We just need to normalize that conversation.

Mark:Thanks, Susan. In terms of training, I fell into mental illness the year after I left my training at VCA. And look, I got heaps out of that training. It was amazing in a lot of ways, but I do think that I was very ill-prepared for that first year, and it did contribute to my mental illness; my expectations of what would happen, and the lack of preparation and support given by the institution. There really was no kind of discussion about ‘What will it actually look like? How will you be realistically earning your money?’

I think those conversations must be had in training, otherwise it’s a bit negligent really. We’re pushing out young people in their twenties and I’m fifty now, and, of my graduating class of 11, there’s less than half that are even still performing at all. So, I think that bringing that conversation into training institutions is a really good preventative move for mental health.

24m 22s

Susan Eldridge: Yeah, I think, for any of us that can, be involved in having a conversation with young people. We all work in sectors where what gets said about success and what success can actually be are often very different things.

In the chat, Louise was asking a question about that. ‘What can we say to other people other than ‘it’ll all be okay’?’ My approach is to say to people (particularly young artists), ‘Look, your skills are valuable and transferable in ways that you probably just don’t know yet. And that’s okay. That’s what the beginning of a career is always about’. What I’d encourage a young artist to be is open minded – To do the work that you can, to get to know what you need and the kind of work that you might want to make, and just be open minded to the fact that the path will not be linear because it isn’t for any of us. But who you are and what you can do has value in lots of different ways. That’s a starting point.

We’ve got some great hands up. I just want to go to Liza in the chat. You were asking about ageism and sexism as an older emerging artist. This is tricky because, as freelances, often we don’t hold the balance of power in a conversation. But if the disadvantage is explicit or getting close to being explicit, put a case to the organization about that. We need to be gently pushing back on our organizations to say, you know, ‘What was the selection process for this? How did how did these people get selected?’ because often that’s unclear, and that’s a bit of a problem. Was there anything or else that we could help you with just on that comment?

Liza: No, that’s fine. That makes sense, thanks very much.

Susan Eldridge: What I would suggest is, if you’re going up for any opportunities that don’t have a selection criterion… and look, as I said, my wife’s a conductor. Welcome to the tangled ball of string that is how orchestras just choose conductors. It’s very confusing, but we will always go back at any opportunity and say to people, ‘I can’t find the selection criteria, which is the how you’re going to choose who gets selected for this, and I’d like to make sure that my application is aligned with the criteria. So please, could I get a copy of the selection criteria or the evaluation.’ And that’s kind of as gently as we can pushing back to. To say to people that there needs to be transparency about who’s going to get picked and why.

Liza: Cool. Okay. Thanks.

Susan Eldridge: You’re welcome. Good luck. We need we need more diversity everywhere. So share your life.  Janet, you had your hand up, and you’ve been very patient.

27m 40s

Janet:  No, no! What a wonderful guide and gathering! I can’t see any of the other participants. But shout out to anyone I know, I’m Janet from Naarm. The webinar format means that you can see our Q&A’s, but we can’t see other people’s Q&A’s. We can only see the chat and we can only talk by raising our hand. So, all you people out there who’ve got a burning question, just raise your hand or put in the chat.

I’m a working performer. I actually do earn my living with performance. My side gig is improvising difficult conversations with medical professionals, and I find that fulfilling. It’s creative and good work, but I want to zoom out to the big picture. What I really appreciate about your guide and what you’ve said so far is you take a values-based approach.

I just find that approach so helpful, even just starting to think that way I find very grounding. I’ve got a few sayings and one of them is ‘relationships first’. When I’m trying to decide whether to do a not very well paid or even an unpaid job; or when I’m trying to decide how to engage with an independent filmmaker’s film that might be fabulous in some ways, but then also very challenging in others. I say to myself, relationships first, and it helps me guide me about how to be in all these sticky, murky situations, and it also helps to guide me how I say yes and no. I think ‘I value this relationship. I’m going to keep it intact. I’m going to say what I need to say about safety, or joy, or respect’. Anything I’m going to say, I try and say that to myself first.

I don’t know if other people find it helpful, but I’d love to ask the group, and especially yourself, Susan – What things do you say? What is your north star? What’s your guiding light?

Susan Eldridge: That’s a great question. I love that – relationships first. I have a same-same but different model. My model is the rule of three, so three things. Number one that sits at the top of the decision tree is the people. The second choice is the project, and the third choice is the profit. That’s my rule of three. Number one is unarguable – are other people safe for me to be around? And do I want to be around them?

I don’t know if anybody else on this call plays the French horn, but it’s not a very easy thing to do. So if I don’t feel safe, my body just hijacks me, and I’m going to make a mess of the things. So the rule of three, it has to be two of those three things for me to say yes. So, people first, relationship first, as you’ve said. The second thing is the project – Is the art something that I’m really going to feel connected to? And the thirdly, the profit. Some people, they don’t have the privilege of that profit being a negotiable, but those other 2 things might be moveable for them.

Also, Janet, I can hear great regulation in your voice. We’re talking about a very complex and feelings-laden topic, but I think not rushing to say yes or no to a thing as soon as it lands in our inbox is also a really good tool, especially when it comes in, you go ‘Oh, they picked me!’ and then you see ‘Oh, there’s no women composers on the program’. I think taking a breath, to just let the feelings come through, let the feelings be, have the feelings, and then let the feelings go. Then applying that rule of relationship or those 3 to the decision. Those things are very practical tips to help people just be able to come at it from a place of regulation and their needs guiding the decision they’re making.

Janet:  Hmm, thank you so much. Listening to you just now, the other thing I use is other red flags. Trust myself if it’s a red flag, even if it sounds good. Trust myself.

Susan Eldridge: Yeah, and I think, Janet, there’s so much evidence coming out for all of us. If you love knowing how people tick, about the gut feeling, or something in the pit of the stomach, there’s a lot of data and science behind that signal from our processing systems and our Vagus nerve. You might be feeling something in your gut, but your body’s giving you signals about those things that are red flags as well. So trust, knowing that the science behind a gut feeling is actually true now, so you can listen into those things with good confidence.

Janet: Thank you so very much.

Susan Eldridge: Thanks Janet. Karen, be lovely to hear from you.

33m 51s

Karen: Thank you for all those things to ask yourself. I’m just wondering. After a phone call I had this morning with an amazing artist who was very, very distressed, the frustration seems to be with the companies understanding independent artists. My thing, my calling, is to help artists keep creating. I’m in the dance world, but I’m a third-generation visual artist, so I’ve been brought up with a learning about the inner world of artists which doesn’t get talked about very much. And that outer world where success is not always making artists happy, which is exactly what you’re saying when we’re asking ourselves about values. But what I’m hearing is that, if someone’s on lots of different jobs and they’ve got to pay this high rent to stay in Sydney (I’m out of Sydney now) but if they’ve got to pay rent, and then they’re not given contracts… They’re not able to make those choices you’ve mentioned because they’re worrying about surviving, and about their future because there’s no safety net.

It’s quite interesting, I’ve seen amazing artists from Sydney now living in New York, given a 3-bedroom apartment for $50 a week, so there’s some safety net over there that we don’t seem to have. I’m hearing the struggle of artists thinking about their future and also right now. It seems to not be helping that, with all the things they’re working with, people aren’t considering that they haven’t got a secretary. There’s just so many things you do yourself as an independent artist. For example, one thing I’m doing next Saturday, I just found out this morning I’m going to have to start advertising myself because there’s not many people signed up, and it’s free, and it’s quite a big thing. It’s things like this. I don’t know how we can get those companies to understand the pressures on those independent artists. They’re just doing so many different roles to stay alive and keep practicing. And they’re very successful (what’s called successful) but it’s not always making them happy and the amount of stress is just not good. I’m sorry I bring this in, but that’s why came on this call today. Because I wanted to share that background that I hear.

Susan Eldridge: Thank you, Karen, for being a voice for so many others, and I absolutely hear what you’re saying, and that you’re coming at that from dance with visual arts. It’s also the same in other areas. Classical music as well. I always try and come at things from ‘What can we do?’ and there is a bit in the guide. Again, I’m not suggesting that it’s always on the artists to do this because it’s crappy that it is.

One of the things that we can choose to do as freelances is – in the same way that Liza was asking about practices around who gets picked for what being unclear, and there being bias and discrimination – We can go back to the organization and say, ‘could you tell me what is this selection criteria? What expertise is on the panel to evaluate this stuff?’ We can do the same thing with our organizations and outcome might not be different, but we can drive change. We can say, ‘Thank you for offering me the contract. I’m really excited to be part of this. I’d like us to have a conversation about what the fee entails. Because the fee currently on offer is sufficient for the performances of the project, but there’s no load in there for all the creative administration’. All these things that we get sucked into  – ‘Can we have a meeting?’

Karen: That’s exactly right.

Susan Eldridge:  We’ve got a whole section in the guide that says to come up with a price for your time. I do this all the time  – Jim and I have had this conversation. ‘This is what the fee that’s on offer currently would deliver’. I know there are going to be ‘Can we have a…? Can we jump on a zoom call?’ Saying to the organization that we need to agree a per hour fee. Then, if you ask me to jump on a zoom call, we’re clear that I’ll say to you, ‘yep, no problem’. If that’s a 30 min zoom call, that’s half my hourly rate.  We can have some kind of agency in this saying to people, ‘This fee is for the creative work. That’s not enough to encompass all the things – Press calls, all the other duties’. What I would recommend saying to artists is coming up with an hourly rate for those duties and have a session with the administrators because they may never have worked as a freelancer and realized that dollars don’t come in the door for emails. In a kind, regulated way, say, ‘This is what’s going to make it work for me, because it’s not the creative project. There’s all the other stuff that goes on. A way to kind of reclaim a bit of the power. Is that helpful?

Karen: Yes, that’s a good idea. I’ll try passing that on. It’s hard, I’ll try.

Susan Eldridge: I know, it’s a bit like Sisyphus when trying to push the thing. The other thing I found, Karen, is working in this way has meant I’ve only ever had to have that conversation once with a client, and then next project they’ve scoped me properly into the budget. The offer that comes back includes all that stuff. Also, I will not start any work with anyone until I’ve got all of this, agreed. They can be shouting at me about deadlines and deliverables, and I’m like ‘you and your party can go somewhere else, dude. Your timelines are not my problem. My problem is feeding my cats and my children. I’m happy to start this this afternoon. Send me the contract.’

Karen: Love it! All right, thank you.

Susan Eldridge: Thanks, Karen, more power to you. Thanks for being a great ally and advocate. Kathy, you had a question.

42m 04s

Kathy: Yes. Thanks, Susan, for creating this. It’s wonderful, and I love the resources you referenced, especially the book on burnout. My question is a tricky one, and you may not be able to answer it. But as freelancers, often our roles are uniquely created and they deviate from what we normally do. It’s hard to try and pitch ourselves in at a price point to know where we would fit in the industry, what’s acceptable to ask, and what’s not acceptable to ask. And I’ve been finding myself in that position a lot lately working in the mental health space in the arts and being a performer myself. It’s hard to know how to navigate that when we’re talking about roles that are sort of a bit of this and a bit of that. Like Janet talking before. I actually know Janet very well, and we both worked as simulated patients for a long time for the medical and educational sectors. I represented simulation patients for about a year before I became heavily involved with MEAA. Trying to advocate for us to have an agreement and payment and all that sort of thing, and it sort of hit a dead end there. We made some progress, but it’s tricky when we’re navigating and talking about creative roles that don’t fit into, say MEAA paid rates or other areas.

Susan Eldridge: So what I’m hearing is the curiosities about: Number one, pricing our time; and number two, dealing with the vagueness of how budgeting works with our clients. Is that correct?

Kathy: Yeah, and also not going in there and feeling like I’m pitching too high, but also knowing what your worth is, but not knowing what that is when you’ve got nothing to compare it to. The MEAA rates don’t cover everything.

Susan Eldridge:  I’ve got a couple of suggestions, cause I’m all about the tools. There is a section in the guide about pricing your time, how to come up with an ideal annual earnings target for yourself and then pricing that backwards to work out how much per hour you need to charge. Not overall earnings, because you might have other areas of work. But from my creative practice, this is how much I’d like to earn. And then using the calculator, you can work out how much you need to charge. Usually, people figure out they’re charging half of what they need. In the guide, there’s also some step-by-step ways about how to uplift your rates.

I often do this with clients; they ask me to do some work and they may say, ‘Could you give us a fee?’ Or the fee might not be disclosed. I’ll kind of tennis back, and I’ll say to them, ‘Could you advise me what the budget is, or what is the fee available?’ So pushing it back to them.

Sometimes they’ll come up with a fee, and then I can have a look at that and say, cool, that would buy about X amount of hours of my time. Then I’ll go back to them and say, ‘Okay, so the fixed budget you’ve given me will get about this much out of my time’, and they might say what we need to do at that point.

If they’ve got a fixed budget or fee, then it might be a case of negotiating the deliverables they want. They’re not going to get that from me for that amount of money. But they could have 85% or 70% of what they want, or they could have it but they’re going to get it a month later.

Then it’s a bit of a dance between if your fee is that much, it’s this many hours, which won’t get you across the line for this project, so we can either scale the project back a little bit, or we can expand it out, and I’ll do it over a longer period.

That’s how I do that. If they’ve got a budget and they don’t know how much this is going to cost, I push back on them and say, ‘Okay, we have to start somewhere. Let’s kick this around and see what we can come up with. Can you give me a fee or a project allocation that you think is going to get this across the line?’

If it’s new work that neither of us have done before, just trying to be open and say, ‘Look, I haven’t done this work in this way either. Can we just do a little dance around the money and see what we can come up with?’ I work with quite a lot of creatives who are starting to work in the commercial side of town. This is an exact example; a friend of mine who’s an excellent community researcher and communicator. In her head, she’d sort of thought $75 an hour, and this commercial client came back and said, $4,000. So, she was like, yeah, that’ll be great thanks!

It’d be nice if that happened, but not always so. Anyway, the guide’s way of pricing your time is to work backwards. It’s also got strategies for how to uplift if you’ve realized that you’re not charging enough. Just being open with the client. Most people have got a budget in mind. If they don’t, say ‘Can you start us on this negotiation?’

48m 44s

Kathy: That’s great. I need to put my ethical issues aside too, because I’ve done a lot of free work and a lot of work where I am trying to get the support to people rather than the money. But I’m starting to move towards that, I need to look after myself as well. So, we can only do so much of that. Also, I don’t want to get a reputation out there that, ‘You can call her because she’ll do it for this really low rate, or for free.’

Susan Eldridge: I agree, Kathy, because what happens if this: If the only distinction between us and other people is price, someone will always be cheaper. I don’t want to get in a death spiral, jaws locked around the neck about who’s cheaper. Also, I don’t really want to work with clients where they first thing that they’re thinking about is how cheap is it. I don’t want to work with people like that.

It’s exactly what Janet said about relationships. They want to invest in a relationship where both of us can get the most impact out of this. It’s signalling; if what you value is building the relationship, the quality of the work, the impact, and the outcomes of the work, then I’m the right person for you.

If the most important thing to you is cheap as possible, that’s fine. We’re not going to be on the same page with things. But also, Kathy, I hear what you’re saying about having sometimes having to do the work for free, because as freelancers, we have to build a body of work to show people what we’re capable of doing. Sometimes that’s just the investment that gets made to have the folio of work to show people. Whatever our creative practice is going to be, they need to be able to go to your website and see how you think and what you can do. And sometimes that’s just a cost of business for us.

Kathy: thank you. I appreciate your such detailed responses.

Susan Eldridge: Oh, thanks, Kathy, my pleasure! We’ve probably got time for just one more contribution of some kind. Comment or reflection. Anybody want to jump on in? Everything is welcome. Kimberly! Be fantastic to hear from you.

51m 37s

Kimberley: Oh, Hi, there! I just wanted to jump in and say thank you so much, Susan. I find myself in a position where I’m a musician, an artist and also an actor. I’ve done two-to-three different areas of study, including a Bachelor in music. And I’ve just kind of found myself just coming out of this big, long decade of study and work, and finding myself looking at where I want to go next. So, this resource has come at a wonderful time. I’m so grateful, because even though I’ve done a lot of research and academic work around creative industries, something like this is so succinct. It’s just such an incredible resource to have. I feel very supported. I’ve had a look through, but I’m really looking forward to jumping in and working through it. I know it’s valuable for myself and the different communities that I move and work around in, so I’m going to keep sharing and recommending.

But I just think it’s such a critical thing that I think perhaps I’d be interested in investigating this – and I think it was reflected as well by Mark talking about coming out of studies and not having not feeling that support and feeling a little bit lost. It’s hard. I feel like I see so many people in the different spaces, leaning on well-worn narratives, leaning on things that we’ve just come to learn. Things like this are so transformative and powerful, important stuff. So, not really a question, just, thank you so much. It’s great.

Susan Eldridge: That means a lot, Kimberly. We’re all creative people in the room, and the Imposter Syndrome has been so real, because everything that’s in the guide was in my head. It must be what it’s like for playwrights or composers to make a thing and have no idea if it’s going to be helpful. So, I really appreciate that. And just on ideas about success and training models – are any of you are involved with training institutions or younger artists?

The problem for me is not that our training institutions aren’t doing this kind of work. Because they can’t do everything. No degree can prepare you for what you need to do. It’s not a problem that they’re not teaching us how to do tax. The problem is that they’re not saying, ‘you will need to know how to do tax’. We’re not experts in tax. We’re experts in the craft. Of the small amount of time and resources that we have in this beautiful, precious gift of 3 or 4 years together, we’re going to focus on the craft. You will need to do other things in order to make a sustainable practice. We just can’t do that, but we can Google, there’s lots of resources online. The problem is these institutions are not being explicit. That needs to happen.

And just also, the pictures that are on the front of these buildings  – Are those reflective of the actual graduate destinations? If we had a much more diverse representation of where people really end up which was driven by data. Training as a creative person is amazing, it can take you anywhere you want it to go.

Mark and Janet, I know you’ve got your hands up. We’re not going to have time, but I welcome you to find me on the Internet. Please send me a question or a comment. I really value hearing from you. We haven’t quite got time to get that now, so please send it to me and let me know. And I just want to say thank you so much for the generosity, goodwill, and kindness that we’ve all extended to each other having a sensitive conversation today.

56m 37s

Jim Rimmer (Head of Program, AWC): Thank you so much, Susan, for your incredible work and for your generosity today. It has been a great experience working together. I think we found a groove that really brought this resource together, and glad that people are very appreciative of it.

If you’ve enjoyed today’s session, Navigate Well and a bunch of other really cool free resources of ours are available on the Arts Wellbeing Collective website. We also have 2 training courses coming up in early June, Responding to Mental Distress and Creating Mentally Healthy Workplaces. Information on both of those is also available on our website.

Early this week an organization called Support Act released the newest Mental Health in Music and the Creative industries Survey. We’d encourage everybody who works in the sector to take the time to complete this survey. Support Act also run a helpline 1800 959 500, which is a great resource for anybody that works in the creative industries to talk about issues that they might be facing themselves. It’s better to seek help than find yourself in crisis later.

Thank you everybody again for joining us. We hope you enjoyed the chat and we hope to see you again soon.

End transcript: 58m 25s


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