Deborah Tan, Opinions

Because I’m Worth It – Deborah Tan

writing-first-blog-paragraphThe thing about leaving a salaried job to start your own business is that people assume you’ve somehow struck gold and therefore don’t need money. My dear readers, allow me to assure you that the truth cannot be further.

I gave up a six-figure annual salary to start a business dealing in something I am passionate about – quality content.

Two weeks into starting Material World a guy got in touch with me via LinkedIn and requested to meet up. When he asked what my “business model” was, I honestly had no answer for him. Not because I do not know what my business model is but because I knew my “business model” would not interest a mercenary businessman like him.

Business people want to trade in something tangible and to them, content is something people don’t pay for (because there are tonnes of people out there who can do it for next to nothing and because you can highlight what you want from some random webpage and copy and paste). Remember the line Miranda Tate (played by actress Marion Cotillard) delivered to Bruce Wayne’s business rival John Daggett?

I could try explaining that a ‘save the world’ project, vain or not, is worth investing in, Mr. Daggett. But you only understand money and the power you think it buys. So why waste my time indeed?”

Similarly, I could try explaining why good content is worth paying for. But IF the businessman was only concerned about money and profits, I’d be wasting my time explaining to him the story behind Material World.

One of the things I personally find offensive is when a potential client asks me why Material World charges what it charges. I think a quick browse around this website will tell you (1) that we aren’t just some freshly minted graduates with hopes to make it as freelance writers and (2) that we have the 3Es: Experience, Ethics, and Editorial Skills.

This short-sighted focus on numbers, on profit margins, on budgets, often leaves us freelancers wondering, “Do people not care for quality anymore?” While it’s often tempting to go, “Well, how much do you want to pay me?”, I am still holding my ground and insisting that my work be paid on my terms. Because … as one of the world’s biggest beauty companies has taught me … I’m worth it.

If you can pay over $7,000 for a Chanel bag, you should understand the value of The Craft True that there is a great number of people who queue outside the boutique to buy a bag because of the Brand but my idealistic self would like to think that beyond the brand is heritage, quality materials, and workmanship. More importantly, the fact that Chanel can charge this much for its bags is because they take pride in the Craft – the process of putting the bag together, one stitch at a time. While you may not be able to wear a story on your shoulder, a well-written one can enrich your mind and widen your horizons. The Craft of Writing therefore is one that should be paid for just as how many of us would pay for The Craft of a Bag.

If you can pay for Cable TV subscription, for a movie ticket, you should understand the value of Creativity
It never ceases to amaze me how while we pay over $100 a month for movie channels, we stop short at paying for the one thing that makes it all possible: Words. Describing a picture, telling a story, planning a book, writing a proposal, selling an idea … all these would not be possible if a person does not possess the POWER OF CREATIVITY. The movie industry has been fighting, for so many years now, against piracy because the existence of pirated DVDs only leads to people thinking they don’t have to pay a just price for viewing that content. If we all – as a people – think it’s okay to pay poorly for content, we will truly come to a point where there will be no creativity at all because … why bother?

If you can pay for an expensive gadget, you should understand YOUR OWN NEED for Content Why pay close to $1,000 for tablets, smartphones, and ultrabooks if you don’t have stuff to put in them? Apps are never totally free – they have ads to support them. Digital magazines are not free because writers and editors have to be paid. Facebook is NOT free, it supports itself on ad revenue too. At the end of the day, CONTENT is not free. Some of us pay outright for it, some of us pay for it in terms of our “eyeballs”, some of us pay for it with our continued use of the platform. Human beings have proven that they have an insatiable appetite for content. It is just jaw-dropping that they think “free”, as a business model, will keep it going.

CONTENT and the process of CREATING IT are not free. Most importantly, there are those of us who believe that we should be paid a fair price for creating GOOD, QUALITY MATERIAL that supports consumerism, grow brand awareness, and help foster a general environment of creativity.

The biggest insult to a freelancer is therefore asking us why we charge what we charge for our work. Just because we don’t have an actual good to sell (like a pair of shoes or a dress), it doesn’t mean we have nothing to sell. Or, be upfront and tell us what you want to pay and we will tell you if we can accept the amount.

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She likes liquid eyeliners, bright red lipsticks, tattoos, rock & roll, Mad Men, Suits, and believes one day, the world will come round to her idea … Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.