For Artists: 5 Things to think about when pricing your work

We all have heard the the question, “What are your rates?” If you’re like many artists this question can get your heart racing pretty quickly. If you know your pricing and you’re confident then this might not be a helpful blog post for you. But for many artists that I’ve worked with, pricing is one of the biggest challenges they face on a regular basis. Clients usually want to know your rates before telling you anything about the project. Artists want to know more about a project before sharing their pricing. It can easily become a stressful process for both parties.

Since starting Closer&Closer I have had to have the pricing conversation hundreds of times. I can tell you this, it hasn’t gotten any easier to know the actual value of an illustration, animation or lettering illustration. Each client and project brings their own set of expectations, challenges and unique features that keep us on our toes. The most important skill I’ve picked up over the years is the ability to talk openly about pricing with artists and clients alike. Turning this conversation into a positive engagement allows us to seek a Win/Win scenario if possible so that we can quickly get on to the work.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about pricing creative work with clients:

1. Never assume
I remember my first inquiry from a major agency. They wanted me to do a lettering illustration for a large car brand. I was ecstatic! In my 22 year old brain this was my payday. They wanted 3 pieces and I had a very short turnaround. I still remember the pricing for the project, $1,200 for all three illustrations. Full Buyout. I was shocked but I wanted the work so I took it on.

The lesson I took from this experience (and many others) is never to assume that a project with a big name is automatically a big pay day or that they are working with a huge budget.

As I’ve developed relationships with these clients over the years I’ve interviewed them to learn more about the circumstances of their job. What I have learned is that many of them want to pay the creatives as much as possible on every project. However, they are usually given a budget from the client to make the project happen. Sometimes the budget is healthy and sometimes it’s not. But it's not their money so they’d rather see it go to the talent if at all possible.

When you go into these conversations always remember that they are also dealing with outside factors that may be playing a role in the budget they present. This might sound crazy but I've found it helpful to ask them about the budget they are dealing with so you can look for a way to work together. You'll be surprised at how transparent they can be. You might not always be able to work within their budget but you might be able to share your pricing for future projects.

2. Educate your clients
This leads me to my second tip on pricing. Educate your client on what something should cost. In my interviews with Art Buyers and Producers I’ve learned that many of them want to know what something actually costs so they can share it with the client or the people who are creating the budgets. Sometimes pricing is set low because a previous artist did a project at a low rate and now it's considered the “standard rate”. If you present well thought out pricing with a client they may look for ways to increase the budget now that they know what something should cost.

For this reason, I would highly recommend creating some standard pricing that you use for yourself. Many artists set pricing based on what they think the client can pay. This keeps the pricing conversation guarded and opaque between both parties. If you have pricing you believe in you will save yourself a ton of time and stress during the negotiating process by sharing it with the client. Also, if a client knows your pricing and can rely on it they will build your pricing into future budgets before ever calling you! Imagine a client coming to you with your budget ready to go?! You might lose the project but get a future one at your rate. A big win indeed!

3. Provide options
Whenever you’re pricing a project always try to give 3 options. I know this might feel like a lot of extra work in the moment but I can tell you that contrast is a powerful tool. Seeing how much a copyright buyout costs makes 2 years of licensing look reasonable. Another benefit is it allows your client to choose. People love having choices. Even if people don’t like the options they are given, they still feel better if they have the ability to choose an option rather than being forced into something.

Presenting multiple options is also a great opportunity to negotiate. Now that the client can see your range of pricing and the options you offer they might make suggestions that work better for both of you. Great things to negotiate might be the licensing, number of revisions or rough concept phases as bargaining chips to reach a fair price that you are both happy with.

4. Be flexible
Rarely does a project inquiry come in with the perfect budget, timeline, scope or creative direction. Look for ways to make every project your dream project (within reason of course). Don’t miss out on opportunities to practice educating your clients and doing great work no matter what the circumstances. Use these experiences to become an artist who brings excellence to every situation no matter what other people do.

That being said, if you sense that a client or project is not a great fit. Do not try to force a relationship. You’re actually doing a disservice to everyone involved. Passing on a project that isn’t a fit can actually be a great way to build rapport and trust with a client if you do it graciously. It could lead to more opportunities down the road if you do it right.

5. Look for the Win/Win
Try to come to every conversation with your potential clients with curious mindset. It’s easy to quickly size up a project or client and make assumptions about them. Ask lots of questions and seek opportunities to serve them through what you do. Whenever I’m talking to clients I ask them how I can serve them or I’ll ask them how we can help them avoid a problem or achieve an important goal. You’ll be surprised at how much trust and freedom you can create for yourself  by seeking to serve. When a client feels you are truly looking out for their best interest they will fight for you on the project and seek to help you succeed. These turn into the most rewarding long term client relationships that will pay dividends over the years.

These are some of the things that I keep in mind for every conversation with a new client. As with all good things. Great habits like looking for a Win/Win, seeking to serve and staying curious are built over time. I've developed these habits and strategies over hundreds of phone calls. Nothing beats repetition when it comes to getting good a negotiating with clients.

I’d love to hear how you handle the negotiating conversation with your clients. Share your experiences negotiating pricing with your clients. What have you learned? What challenges do you face with pricing and negotiation? How do you feel the pricing conversation could be improved? Comment below.

Drew MeltonComment