For Artists: Increase your rates by increasing your value

Pricing creative projects might be one of the most challenging part of being a freelance artist. Knowing exactly what to charge for each project is dependent on so many factors. How busy are you at the moment? Do you really need the work or are you already bursting at the seams? How many rough sketches is the client looking for? How many rounds of revisions? How tight is the timeline? How is the client planning to use the work? What are they used to paying? Are you willing to loose the project? Is this a client you want to add to your book? Does the client really want to work with you specifically? The list of considerations goes on and on.

While these questions are valuable in any pricing negotiation. I think the creative community has overlooked a valuable contributor in the pricing conversation. The client. I’ve been a freelance illustrator (turned agent) for over a decade now and I have noticed that many of us creatives tend to talk to each other about pricing while leaving our clients in the dark. We talk about the never ending supply of un-educated clients. We complain about the stagnation of project rates. We worry about the turbulent times our industry is in. And much of what we talk about is true. Rates have stagnated, as work has left the big advertising agencies artists are dealing with more and more clients who have never hired an illustrator before and don’t know the first thing about licensing or a fair rate for an illustration. This can be frustrating and it certainly doesn’t feel fair. But I think we are missing out on a massive opportunity.

The main challenge we are facing as freelance artists today is the perceived value of art. For instance, if a client sees illustration or design as an expense they’ll do everything they can to reduce costs. However, if they see design or illustration as an investment that is crucial to achieving their goals they will readily pay much more. None of this is right or wrong. It’s just the way it is. But I believe if we can empathize and understand our clients point of view we can actually help them. And by actually helping our clients we can create real value that they are willing to pay for.

If I’m being honest I think the low rates that have become the norm in our industry are the result of our inability to talk about what we do to our clients with their needs in mind. We expect people to just “get it” and in doing so I think everyone ends up with a little bit less. That’s why I’ve put together a few things to keep in mind when negotiating your rates (your works value) with your clients:

  1. Seek to understand. Before anything else. Try to really listen to your clients and empathize with their needs. Get curious. What are they trying to accomplish? What kind of pressure are they under? What kind of challenges are they facing? How do they think you could help them? By doing this you’ll not only be gathering valuable information about the client but you’ll be building trust — this always leads to a more productive and enjoyable relationship.

  2. Collaborate with your clients. Try and align your goals with theirs. Always look for the Win/Win — Or No Deal. Now that you have clear understanding of what your client is looking to accomplish and you know what challenges they might be facing openly brainstorm solutions that serve you both. In the end, you want your clients to see you as a collaborator and not just a contractor. It’ll strengthen the relationship and improve the creative process from start to finish.

  3. Be clear in your intention. I have started making it a habit of stating my intention for a meeting right from the beginning whenever possible. Doing this does a few things. First, it keeps the conversation focused and productive. Second, it provides clarity so that people don’t have to guess what you’re looking to accomplish. Third, it allows people to quickly decide if they are in alignment with you or not. Once people know an intention they can also add to it or clarify it with you. You’d be blown away by how much trust this builds. When you let people know your true intentions so many walls come down.

  4. Make requests. Many people don’t get what they want because they don’t ask. And many of us think asking means demanding because, lets be honest, asking for things can feel scary. When we ask for things we risk rejection. I have found that most people want to help each other if they can. And most of the time we don’t get what we want because the client has no idea what we need.

  5. Create boundaries / Educate. As you learn more about a client or a project don’t be afraid to set boundaries. If a timeline is to short, say so. And then offer one that you can work in. If a budget won’t work for you, say so. And then offer a modified scope or a budget that you could work in. Creating boundaries is just like setting clear intentions or making requests. Boundaries can feel awkward at first but they are crucial for building trust and creating transparency in a relationship. Trust and transparency always lead to better outcomes in a relationship.

  6. Explore your rates. Now that you worked to understand your client. You’ve gotten clarity about their goals and challenges. You’ve explore the project together. You’ve made requests. You’ve set boundaries. It’s time to talk about your pricing. Once I have enough information to really understand a project’s I will share pricing ranges. This puts the client and myself in a productive dialogue. Always do this over the phone or in person if you can because the information you will gather on the spot is crucial. This conversation can be full of long pauses and mental calculations but it gives the client the opportunity to chose from within your boundaries. Sometimes a client just can’t afford your range but many times the client will chose something in the middle and they will use the opportunity to modify the project to fit their budget. For instance, a client may cut out a round of revisions or only ask for specific licensing. Use this opportunity to explore what would make the project worth more to a client or to find out what they can do without. Either way, treat this like the rest of your conversations and you’re sure to learn a lot and come up with a great project together.

Like I said, I firmly believe that most of the time it’s our fault as artists and producers for not helping our clients understand how illustration and design can help them achieve their goals. We don’t get curious enough about our clients needs. I truly believe that this is the key to building long term success. If we can become masters of serving our clients I believe we can raise the value (pricing) of our services across the board and keep our clients coming back for more.

Now I’m curious to hear from you. Have you found ways to increase the value of your services for your clients? If so, what strategies have you used? Please leave a comment below.

Drew MeltonComment