One question that I get asked a lot is this: How much do I charge? That’s a good question because, well, I charge.
The next thing on many of my clients mind is why is it that charge.
Well, I’ll get into it to the best of my ability (which sometimes can be quite lackluster, just to let you know).
I think (at least starting off) one of the more difficult decisions as a freelancer is how much to charge a person/client for your work. I mean think about it – you COULD, if you wanted, draw anything for any amount. And actually, that’s what’s great about being a freelancer. You are the decision maker.
Now, that being said, I’ll explain my approach to pricing.
This does vary as the market adjusts or I may have more ample free-time, however, this is a broad overview of how I generally price my work. Take it as you will.
First off, as I mentioned, when you first get started freelancing, pricing is difficult. On one end of the spectrum, you don’t want to scare away a client with a mega-outrageous price tag. On the other hand, you don’t want to sell yourself short. The way I started was this: I didn’t charge a higher rate than many competitors. Some illustrators may disagree with me on this decision, but when I first started building my portfolio years ago, I had a more discounted rate than what the standard market was so I could build up my credentials. I think it paid off. I didn’t sell things for DIRT cheap (like you would find on websites such as Fivver or Odesk) but I had a fair – but lower – price than other illustrators.
Now that I’ve been in the game awhile, this is how I price things.
For one, I can be expensive. I would be doing myself a disservice and other illustrators as well if I sold my work for dirt cheap. How do I get away for charging so much? Well, one gets what they pay for. I’m a professional, provide professional work and have a very strong work ethic. If someone who hires me enjoys my style and humor, than I believe 100% it’s worth it. I don’t rip anyone off, but charge what I feel is fair. That being said, what is “fair”? There are guidelines I set for myself. As my own boss, I get to set the price tag and I go with more of an feeling of what is fair for the client and myself. There are factors involved. For example, if it’s going to be continuing work (like a weekly comic or monthly greeting card), I will have a lower rate than if I just produced one illustration. Why? Well, it’s continuing work. I would much rather give a great discount for something that is going to continue to bring in business. If it’s a one-time deal, well, the rate will be higher.
I also look at what the rest of the industry charges. No, I don’t go directly off the guidelines, but it’s good to know from a negotiation standpoint when a potential client contacts me (a good source to find out what the current market value for things is The Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market). I can always mention (especially if they think I’m charging too much) that the industry standard is THIS and I’m charging you THIS. See, you’re getting a good deal! Often times you’ll run across someone that thinks art is free or shouldn’t cost much, so it’s good ammunition to have for protection.
When I mention I can be expensive, I say that in regards to illustration work IS expensive. So, it can cost a lot. I’m mindful too that customers have their choice of illustrators. There are numerous professional illustrators out there (and I do mean professional), so I’m not exceeding them regarding price. But they will tell you too that they can be expensive. Depending on who it is, a LOT more expensive.
Another biggie to base rates off of is use. WHO is going to be seeing my work? Where is it used?
If, oh – let’s say Pepsi – wanted an ad done, I would probably charge a premium amount. If it was an ad for a local mom-and-pop shop, it would be much lower. Both ads might even take the same amount of time to produce, but it’s just the way illustrators work (and if I wasn’t happy with the lower rate for the mom-and-pop I might pass on the project). And you have to keep in mind that – hopefully – this ad would bring in much more money for the company than they paid me to produce it.
And speaking of time, that’s something else I add into the mix. Is this going to take a lot of time? I may think of an hourly rate for something like that (which I am $35 an hour, typically). Plus, do they want it NOW or in a year. This can play a role in determining a price.
Also, a HUGE determining factor is the client. I’ve almost taken work with some clients, and then they prove difficult before I even sharpen my pencil. If there’s no contract involved and I get a funny feeling about working with someone, I will kindly pass. Again, I get to make these decisions. This is more of an instinct. Difficult clients will always come along, but I have a good judge of character (at least I think) and I don’t want to work with someone who will eat up all my time and frustrate me. With that in mind, if the price is right, well – I might sacrifice a few headaches and do the project anyhow. Generally though, I work with nothing but good people (currently, all my clients are awesome people!). That’s my standard. And it makes for a much more brighter day.
Pricing is something any freelancer has to get used to because you WILL get asked, “How much do you charge?” Some good advice is, if you feel good about the amount, go with it. If you make it too small of a number, you’ll be miserable working on that project. If you go too high, really make sure it is a fair amount. Or, if it’s a project you really don’t want to do, you can raise the price to an outrageous rate thinking that this will keep them from hiring you. And if – surprise! – they accept that rate, well – it might be worth doing. That might pay for a lot of Advil for the headaches.
Just don’t sell yourself short. Sure, I’ve done FREE things for people as gifts and such, but never work for exposure.
And negotiating, in my eyes, is okay. Again, just feel good about it at the end. Sometimes, I actually draw for fun. An example of that is my new blog, Drawing Around Dayton. I draw different people and places – but I don’t charge a dime for doing this. Also, there might be an occasional illustrations to promote yourself (like doing a guest comic or something for someone) or maybe charity work. Anyhow, it’s your decision. Just know that you have to pay the bills, so eventually, you WILL have to have paying clients (if you want to stay a freelancer).
Every so-often there are times I’ll offer a big website or social media page use of a comic. In return, they link my work and it gets a lot of attention. This is different than exposure. I consider this advertising. Exposure is consider a lot of people will SEE your work, but won’t take action – as in contacting you. Comics can work as ads, but just be careful in doing this and make sure they follow your guidelines with it. I’ve had celebrities and other giant social media pages (I won’t name names here) share my work without a bit of acknowledgement. Use your own judgement on this, but I’ve gotten paying clients off of my “ads”.
That pretty much sums up my illustration pay scale.
Areas I’m NOT going to get into are when someone uses completed work or licenses out a cartoon. This post is regarding work that hasn’t been completed yet and clients. If there’s already comics that are done and want to be used, I have that happen regularly, and that’s a different topic.
If you’re an illustrator, I hope this helps! If you’re not an illustrator, well, I hope you now know a bit more of how we (or I) operate.
There may be sticker shock and more, but I believe that illustrations and cartoons can convey a message like no other medium and depending on what the project is, can often earn back well more than the amount spent on the drawing. Illustrators – just be bold, brave and don’t worry about saying a number to someone who asks, “How much do you charge for that?” Say a number…and leave it at that. Don’t tip-toe around it. If they don’t like the amount, maybe negotiate if it’s worth it. If not, then kindly pass. There’s no harm in that. I’ve yet to have someone call me jerk for not accepting a job.
So, go ahead and ask me how much I charge. I’ve got an answer (hopefully).