TAs Thriving: Tip #5 Account for all work hours at one pay rate

In her acclaimed version of Otis Redding’s original, Aretha Franklin famously sang:


R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Take care, TCB

What is taking care of business as a business leader, and as a Teaching Artist?

From 30,000 feet, creating looks like art.

From ground level, it’s a to-do list.

Ben Arment
5. Account for all work hours at one pay rate.

I often receive requests to review pay rate schedules. What Teaching Artists share with me often mirrors the schedules organizations provide me—complicated itemized tables with differing rates for various project tasks. Something like: planning ($10), meeting ($15), teaching ($35).

Teaching artists must stop fluctuating rates for tasks and end to wasting time itemizing invoices, overlooking the totality of tasks to do the work. Let’s think this through:

  • Why is our planning or meeting rate set at half of the direct contact teaching rate?
  • Have you ever kept a running list of all the things needed to do a project?
  • Does an administrator get a fluctuating salary and benefits depending on their task?
  • Do they clock out when they walk away from their computer to grab more paper from the supplies closet to refill the printer?
  • How about that conversation with their colleague about your contract that happened in the hallway on the way to get the paper? Are they paid for that?
  • Does their salary take a dip when they get in the car to come and observe your lesson?

Your high-quality projects and services demand your full attention to a varied task list. You juggle a lot. At every step, you shine, and that shining deserves compensation. A project may include, but is not limited to, direct instruction or implementation, planning, researching, set-up, load out, driving/commuting, putting gas in the car/money on the transit card (remember you have multiple gigs, more than the average full-time employee), gathering materials, debriefing, marketing, administrating (contracts and invoices take time), corresponding via email and by phone or zoom, and so much more. While you may teach a one-hour class, you may spend 2 hours or more doing all other tasks supporting one teaching hour. As a creative, you may sit and stare at something (research, your artistic tools, or even mere air) until you have an idea on how to begin or midway when a problem arises. Who pays for that time? None of these tasks are meaningless, and all are required to complete a project.

Also, don’t forget to consider that when projects involve youth participants, it is a professional requirement to complete a background check, which has a cost. Sometimes the partner pays for the clearance, but you schedule it and take time off to drive to and complete it. You may spend 1-2 hours submitting your fingerprints. I know I’ve had to complete two already this year! I even watched an online webinar about child protection and completed a test to be granted final permission to enter the school building. These tasks are part of the TA workday. They are requirements to meet a client’s project. Include these business employees and material costs in your business budget.

Independent contractors are expected to provide materials to complete a client’s project. Our clients benefit from this expectation, especially in current norms where they set our rates, undervaluing our work and business. We must actively shift this dynamic and set our rates as business leaders. While clients may not be obliged to pay for our business’s materials and equipment, the CEO and Finance Director of YOU, allocate a percentage of each fee to a fund designated for material acquisition and maintenance. You are a business, and this is standard practice for running a business, strategizing about costs for the current project and capital costs for next year, five years, and twenty years from now.

As an independent artist, it should be a professional expectation to have liability insurance. Note the costs of liability insurance in your business’s budget.

Don’t forget to make your quarterly taxes/FICA payments. When you do, consider how you are building an emergency fund for sick days! Speaking of sick days, do you have healthcare. If not, get some. Finally, if there is anything leftover, and there better be, get a retirement plan going, and pay into it, regularly.

Now, when arts organizations and even teaching artists question the rates listed on the pay rate calculator as unreasonable, we can respond confidently. A high-quality professional teaching artist costs and the pay rate calculator recognizes our value.

Is it realistic and necessary for us to itemize all of this on an invoice? Absolutely not.

Let’s take a new approach. Let’s go elegant with our invoices. Two examples could be:

DescriptionProjected HoursHour RateAmount
5 Session Residency15 $80$1200
Note the figures reflected in this table are for demonstration and are not related to any specific project.
DescriptionUnit CostQtyAmount
5 Session Residency$12002$2400
Note the figures reflected in this table are for demonstration and are not related to any specific project.

But wait, what does an invoice look like with a professional discount?

DescriptionUnit CostQtyAmount
5 Session Residency$12002$2400
Total$2400
Professional Discount (75%)$1800
Amount Owed$600
Note the figures reflected in this table are for demonstration and are not related to any specific project.

Urge clients for full professional pay with the understanding you are operating as a business. Calculate hours based on the totality of the tasks to complete projects—multiple that number by an appropriate pay rate.

Whether self-employed or the owner of an LLC, you should not regularly incur losses to complete work for clients.

Teaching artists shouldn’t have to choose:

  • be a teaching artist or have a family,
  • be a teaching artist or buy a house,
  • be a teaching artist or have medical care,
  • be a teaching artist or sleep at night.

Lead your business.

Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.

Coco chanel

Published by jlridgway

Theatre Teaching Artist | activating artistry and moving the collective soul

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