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How Picasso charged 10 stacks for a 30-second drawing

There was an interesting anecdote Ben Settle shared in his December 2023 issue of his Email Players newsletter which I thought was ripe for discussion here. 

The story? 

Some time before Picasso joined the choir invisible, he was approached by a woman at a restaurant who recognized him. She asked him if he would scribble something on a napkin for her, and told him that she’d be happy to pay whatever price he felt reasonable. 

Picasso agrees, and takes the next 30 seconds scribbling on a napkin. 

Then, Picasso tells her: “That will be $10,000.” 

A bit agitated, the woman replies: “But you did that in thirty seconds.” 

To which Picasso drops a truth bomb on her: “No, it has taken me 40 years to do that.” 

The point of this story? 

Well, it’s interesting on a couple of fronts… 

First, it may be a completely apocryphal anecdote, meaning it’s not authentic or true. The first time this story appeared in print anywhere was a decade after Picasso passed. 

But true or not, it’s a powerful story with an important lesson. 

(Lesson in there for my fellow copywriters reading this… I don’t recommend using this story creation secret for evil, but stories don’t have to be 100% factual to be true.) 

Second, if this tale is apocryphal, it’s similar to something a James McNeill Whistler, well-known painter, did utter during his life. 

Whistler wound up in court, and had to justify his outrageous prices for a painting he completed in just two days to a lawyer. 

Their court conversation went as follows: 

“Oh, two days! The labour of two days, then, is that for which you ask two hundred guineas!” asked the lawyer. 

To which Whistler replied: “No;—I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime.”

And you know what? 

When prospective clients or customers scoff at your prices, want you to work for an hourly rate, or worse, for free or “exposure,” it’d do you wise to remember these anecdotes. 

Here’s the rub: 

You have a unique skill set. You have probably spent untold hours becoming the master at your craft. Plus, if you mix in your personality with your unique skill set, you have something that literally nobody can copy, which means… 

You can charge whatever you like. 

There’s plenty of people in your target audience who would be happy to pay outrageous fees for even more outrageous results. Which is how I “get away” for charging more from one client alone than many people make per month. 

I don’t say that to brag, but to inspire you: 

Don’t sell yourself short.

Half of the battle of raising your prices is having the cajones to raise them, and state your prices with total confidence. 

It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to do something. Many of the emails I write (both for myself and for my clients) only take 20 minutes, for example. 

But you don’t get paid for time invested, you get paid for results delivered. 

Some food for thought. 


If you’re okay with paying outrageous fees to double, triple, or even quadruple your business’s revenue over the next 6, 12, or 18 months… hit reply, and let's chat. 


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