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April 4, 2013 - No Comments!

Pricing: the key to not destroying everyone’s career

OK, so the title sounds a little melodramatic, but on some level, it's pretty damn close to the truth.

Whether you're a recent graduate, a veteran freelancer, or an out-of-office-hours illustrator doesn't matter – we all want to be paid a fair rate for what we do. You do. I do. It's a given. The only problem is, a lot of us are out there working, but without knowledge on what's fair, so when a client comes along and offers to pay you a fixed fee for a job, or sets a daily rate for the same thing, it's all too easy to smile, shake their hand and be their new best friend for a while.

If you're young and a recent graduate, it's pretty likely that you might still live at home and don't really have a good grasp of what it takes to pay bills and probably don't have too many regular outgoings that need to be met, so there's a temptation to accept any offer of work without negotiating so you can get a foot in the door, build a client list, gain credibility and whatever else you think might push you to the top. This is probably ok for a while and most of us did it at some point, but sooner or later you will become frustrated when you can't seem to raise your prices while your friends are out living it up, or worse, you'll believe that this is what all illustrators should be getting paid and accept it. After all, we're doing what we love right? Can we really expect to live comfortably too?

Well, yes. We can, and we should. It doesn't matter if it's fun, it's still a job like any other and we're providing a service that people can't do themselves, otherwise they wouldn't come to us in the first place. So treat yourself and your skills with some respect and charge accordingly. If you undercharge, you're sending out the message to the client that the price they're offering is acceptable, and as a result, they'll offer the same amount to the next guy, and so on until someone says no, by which point the client will quite possibly feel that the dissenter is just some guy looking to rip them off. If this happens to enough clients, then you can kiss any hope of making a good living goodbye, and you've just helped to lower the incomes of a lot your contemporaries. No one wins but the client, who banked a lot more money than they probably thought they would – because you didn't find out what your work was worth.

Resources like the AOI can help you educate yourself on the wonderful world of rights, usage costs, and licensing to help you get a fair pay for your efforts. Getting an agent can also be a Godsend, as it's their job to know the ins-and-outs of pricing, and while they take a percentage of the earnings they bring you, they generally more than pay for themselves as they'll negotiate better rates than you might have done yourself.

I'm not here to tell you the price of everything, as that would be a long and ridiculous exercise (and to be frank, I don't know the price of absolutely everything either), and organisations like the Association of Illustrators have excellent resources on pricing structures for various things, but it should be known that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to illustration.

Here's a rough stab at the main points to think about:
Licensing is important

When you design an image, you can charge for the time involved in creating it, but you can also charge for the various uses the client has in mind for it. This is important information to find out, as the more uses the client has, the more you need to adjust your quote. Things to ask include where the work will be used. One country? Two? Worldwide? How long will it be used for – do they want it for six months or forevermore? What will it be used for? Print, television, advertising? Every application carries a price. Think of it this way; if you create a character illustration for a customer and they pay you £1000, then go and use it on a poster, you'd probably be happy enough right? But what happens if that client then takes the same character and makes it their company mascot, selling plush toys, tshirts, posters and whatever else, and they make tens of thousands from it in the process? Still happy? Take the time to learn the value of licensing images and you'll gain your worth, or as near as dammit. Some clients will flat out refuse to pay for licensing, only bringing you in as 'work-for-hire', meaning they own anything you produce. If this scenario comes to you, you have to decide if you're comfortable with that, or whether you want to walk away.

Hourly? Daily? Fixed fee?

Personally, I don't have an hourly rate. Some clients have tried to give me one by dividing my eight-hour-day and coming up with one, but that doesn't mean I'll abide by it. Here's why: some clients think they know how long something should take. We've all had it; the client emails and tells you that the revision is easy and will only take you ten minutes. Will it? Maybe it will, but then again, maybe it won't, and you can be damn sure that if the client starts dictating how long something takes you in minutes, they won't want to pay for it by the hour. Also, what happens if you're a quick worker? Does that mean that your worth on the job is less than someone else's, simply because they take longer to do the same thing? For me, and at the risk of being melodramatic again, hourly rates are a confusing and soul destroying hell-hole we should all run screaming from.

Daily rates are better, but make sure you're realistic about what that rate is. I've known some people to go freelance and set a rate by dividing what they'd like to make in a year by 365. Firstly, you won't work every day. In fact, it's possible you won't charge out half those days, so bear that in mind when setting a rate. Not only do you have to account for time spent working, but you also have to account for time not spent working directly. Administration, hunting for more work, emails, promotion all take up time. Of course, this doesn't mean to say you can aim to work one day a week and charge a fortune for it. It's a tricky thing to balance and if you're asking clients to be fair by you, you need to be fair by the clients too. Ask friends what they charge – you'll be amazed at how candid some people are about it amongst friends. You'll soon start to see a pattern emerge, and that's generally a fair rate.

Fixed fee is also good, but you need to treat it carefully. Don't be pressured into accepting one too lightly. You need to figure out how many days you think it'll take to complete the project and see if this fits inline with your daily rate. If it does, fantastic, but be mindful to let the client know how many days they're paying for and that any additional work will incur further charges. This should all be in your contract of works, but that's another issue and a whole other article.


You'll find certain types of work don't leave a lot of room for negotiation. For example, editorial work is fairly flat-fee based, and while there can be a little wiggle room, most of the time you pretty much take what you're offered, as magazines have budgets they need to stick to based on their circulation and their own production budgets. Publishing budgets work in a similar fashion. In both cases however, it's often wise to check whether the rights for the work extend into use in other imprints or territories as you really should look to retain those rights in case you can sell on the artwork elsewhere later on down the line. Pitch fees are similar in that a client is paying you to help them try to win work, so there's not a lot of room for negotiation.


I do wonder if there's anything we can do longer term though. Maybe colleges and universities should be teaching more about the business side of the industry to their students so more are coming out better prepared for the financial side of things as it can often be more stress-inducing than the work itself. If you're a student, why not ask your lecturing staff if they'll seek out a working illustrator in your area to come in and discuss the realities of working life with your intake, maybe it will be an eye-opener, and maybe, long term it will mean graduates entering the industry and making better wages from the outset, helping to keep a good standard across the board for us all.


June 13, 2012 - No Comments!

I should have listened at school

I’ve been writing out the answers to a couple of magazine interviews this week.

I really don’t mind doing them at all – in fact I’m actually very grateful when someone asks me for my thoughts on something. It’s a bit of a compliment that someone out there thinks my opinion is worth a damn – and the publicity never hurts either.

However, they do serve as a reminder to me that I should’ve listened a bit more at school. Where is it appropriate to use semi-colons? How many times can I get away with using the same word in a paragraph? Why are my fingers so clearly dyslexic? That sort of thing.

They are a great way of forcing your thoughts onto paper though. If no one ever asks you about your opinion on what design trends are this year (and do I care?), or whether you think clients are receptive to startups, would you ever really sit down and formulate your definitive opinion on the matter? Or would you merrily go along and just get on with work? I find they are a good way to focus on where I see my own business going; a way to break everything down in my head and channel all the random crap into some sort of plan for the future.

Just don’t tell the grammar police.

June 13, 2012 - No Comments!


Anyone who knows me will be aware of my opinions on speculative work. It’s a strange practice that seems to be accepted in our industry for some even stranger reason. I’m personally in an odd position, because although I don’t take part in pitches when approached by private clients (I prefer to politely refuse and give my reasons for doing so), it’s not uncommon for me to work on them as part of my coommissioned work. In those situations my reasoning behind it is that I’m being paid to do the work, so if the hiring agency chooses to free pitch, then that’s entirely their decision. Some agencies have built themselves up from nothing using the free pitching model so it’s not my place to chastise them, but personally, it’s not for me. It's not as if I can look down from a position of smug superiority as there have been times in the past where the lure of a great client has been too much to ignore and I’ve dumped my principles at the side of the road and jumped in with both feet. A failing I’ve addressed in recent times.

However, pitches aside, the thing that’s been concerning me more and more lately, is the increase in people not only asking for free work, but trying to convince us that they’re actually doing us a favour. Seriously, I get at least half a dozen emails a week from companies asking me to spend time and effort on the basis that it will be a great opportunity for me to bolster my folio. Really? Sorry but if I want to bolster my portfolio, I’ll do some personal work. It’ll be completely driven by me with no input from anyone and will be my vision – not theirs.

Then follows the promise of exposure. Why didn’t I think of it before? I’ll do some free work for a small startup company, then more small startup companies will see it. They’ll then ask for the same thing and at some point it'll all pay off because eventually, somewhere down the line, one of them might actually pay me half what the original fee was worth. It's foolproof.

Anyway, how many companies have you seen telling anyone who'll listen that you did the work for them? If you want exposure, ahem… expose yourself.

During one masochistic moment a few years back, I saw the 'opportunity' to design a new, exciting magazine on a creative community site. I emailed them to ask for more details and find out what budget was attached so I could make an informed decision on whether to apply or not. The reply I got back was that there would be no financial rewards but it was an “exciting opportunity to see your creative work in print”. They wanted concepts, research, art direction, layouts, style sheets, production and artwork for free, but wait, I'd get to see it when it came back from the printers! Hold on, isn’t seeing my work in print just the end product of me doing my job? Well, sometimes it’s screen based but you get the gist. It’s not a perk, it’s part of the process.

Out of respect for the site that hosted the project I won’t mention any names, there needs to be greater care in what is allowed to be placed under the banner of an opportunity.

The sooner creatives realise that doing these projects just proliferates the notion that spec work is acceptable, the better. Between spec work and crowdsourcing (don’t get me started on that), we’re digging our own graves. Time to throw away the shovels.

June 13, 2012 - No Comments!

Keeping an eye on time

When I first began working, I’d go into the studio at 9am and would usually leave again at 6.30pm, missing the odd lunch hour on the way. At the time, I thought these were normal hours, and still do, despite my 9-5 friends telling me I should’ve been walking out the door at 5pm regardless of whether the work was done or not. I left business development to the heads and waited on projects being handed to me. Bliss.

Now as an independent things are different. You’d be forgiven for thinking that a designer’s role is now that of business development first, and actual design second. To an extent this is true, as the sheer number of other creatives out there looking to secure the same clients as you can be overwhelming. One look at twitter and facebook is enough to tell you that – and that’s before you even get into the creative-focussed portfolio sites and social hubs baying for your attention. Just to keep up, a creative can be fooled into thinking he or she has to become a social media whirlwind.. I got suckered into them all. A Behance account. Twitter; Facebook, Krop, Carbonmade, Veer, as well as all the usual routes of self promotion like good old letters and mailouts. This constant barrage takes time, and while used well it can feed back into client gains, you still need to find time to do that work too which means tipping into an unhealthy life/work balance. Suddenly the good old days of 9-6.30 seems far away.

So now I'm scaling it back and being more strict with how much time I spend online. It’s time to find a more targeted promotional track and take some time back for me and my family. The behance updates are less frequent, and there are days when you just don’t see me on twitter. Facebook is gone, as are the other, superflous hubs. I don't need them, and I don't miss them. I’ve gone back to a more personal way of reaching out to clients. While you press the ‘like’ button on Facebook, I’m sketching out ideas, and refining my work to make it better. For me, the route to better clients isn’t social media, it’s good work. If the work is solid, the word will get out there regardless of how many followers you have on Twitter.

As the Mighty Pencil says: “The key to illustration success isn’t Twitter, it’s talent.” Use it, but don’t rely on it.