Professional Geek Girl: Are You Making These Money Mistakes?

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So you want to get rich through gaming, huh? Yeah, good luck with that.

The fact is, the RPG business is no place for people who are in it for the money. Sure, the occasional Kickstarter blows up, or a book sells far more than anyone dreamed, but most of that Kickstarter money is going to everything from production to logistics, and the chances of your project becoming the next Fate or Savage Worlds aren’t great. Relatively few people are lucky enough to make the gaming industry their full-time career . If you’re looking to immediately quit your day job, or to make your corporate rate as a freelancer in the RPG world, step aside.

RPG freelancing keeps many of us up all night after the jobs that pay the bills have closed for the day… and that’s one of the things that makes the industry so awesome. We give up a little of our free time in hopes of making something amazing and bringing our creative visions to life. It’s a labor of love.

But there’s another side to this as well: Your work is worth something. Aside from a few exceptions, I believe you should never work for free, especially if your work is going to make someone else money. Your time and talent is valuable, so don’t fall victim to the classic blunders:

It’ll be a great portfolio piece.”

This can be a very tempting offer, especially if your portfolio is a little lean. What’s more valuable than just a portfolio piece is a quality portfolio piece. If your client doesn’t value your work enough to pay you for it, chances are high that they won’t value their writers, editors, illustrators or layout artists. Do you really want mediocre pieces in your portfolio?

“You’ll be paid once we make a profit.”

Yeah, you can count on that never happening. Period. If they’re so concerned about covering their expenses, you should be one of those expenses, and if they didn’t plan to pay for your services, they aren’t planning their project properly.

“It’ll be great for networking/exposure.”

FACT: In almost 20 years of working as a designer, I have never once gotten a lead from a pro-bono project. 100% of my leads have come from paying customers. Plus, people in the RPG industry don’t want to work with people who don’t pay their talent.

But now that you know that you should be paid, how much should you charge? This is a question I continue to struggle with, and I can’t answer that for you. Decide what your time is worth, decide how much the value of working on a particular project will be to you for creative fulfillment, ask your potential client about their budget and reach out to people to ask them. (You’re here, so you know at least one RPG professional you can ask…)

Additionally, don’t forget the power of bartering! I trade logo design for photography services, brochures for baked goods. It’s about exchanging one thing of value (or a service) for another.

I’ve priced myself out of a few projects by quoting too high, and I’ve done some projects for which I was underpaid. Over time I’ve built a portfolio I’m proud of and developed a sense of what works for me.

Experience has taught me that clients only value you, your time and your work as much as they’re willing to pay you. Unless you’re doing free work as a gift or for a non-profit project that you believe in, insist on being paid.

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