What are you worth?

When you’re first starting out on your path to becoming a professional illustrator, when projects are thin on the ground, or your business is struggling, it’s easy to just take whatever you’re offered…

Agreeing to work for peanuts, serving less-than-ideal clients who clearly don’t value what you do, charging by the hour rather than pricing based on value and, ultimately, compromising on your principles seem to be necessary evils to do what it takes to survive, pay your rent, meet your bills and support your family. However, if you want to thrive – not just survive – there’s a harsh lesson to be learned in undervaluing your worth: If you don’t value what you do and fight your corner, why should anyone else? If you’re not happy with what’s on the table or in the contract, say so.

All Right, My Loves?

There is almost always some flexibility with clients when it comes to deadlines and budgets – but if you never ask, a client is unlikely to offer more of either. I know this is tricky, especially if you like to avoid, or fear, confrontation. The illustrator who inspired this article had asked their client, with whom they were about to start a sizeable illustration project, for more time and a higher fee – and guess what? They were flexible on both counts with an additional quarter of the original fee added to the budget and a few more weeks added to the deadline. Were they nervous about asking for more time and money? Definitely, but it taught them a valuable lesson – if they believe in the value of their own work, so will clients.

Higher, Lower

So, how do you ask for more than you normally would, because you’ve undervaluing (or have previously undervalued) your own worth? Ask yourself, what fee would you be happy working for? And if you ask for more and the client says no, you need to be ready to turn the project down or find other compromises to agree upon. You’ll find it difficult to produce your best work if you’re feeling negative and resentful about a project or client due to the terms of the contract.

Play Your Cards Right

State your case honestly and politely. Don’t be demanding. Show you’re human and have financial responsibilities just like they do. If necessary, break down the project into approximate segments to show what the license you’re selling the client is worth and its value to them. However, watch your tone and avoid sounding whiny – this won’t get you anywhere.

Be sensitive to the client’s needs too. Their hands may be tied and their margins may be very tight. They are running a business too. If there really isn’t any wiggle room in the budget area, consider what else would lighten the load from your perspective. Maybe you have part of an old Illustration that they would allow you to re-use in their project to lighten the workload? Or they might not need reproduction rights for everything mentioned and the license is too far reaching, so can be reined in and costs reduced. Find a compromise which works for everyone.

It’s the Moment of Truth

Be prepared to walk away from the project. You have a choice. If you accept it this time, you’ll find it very difficult to ask for a higher fee next time with the same client – they will likely now know that you’ll accept what’s offered. Don’t forget they’re also a business, so if they can protect their margins, they will.

I don’t say all of the above lightly – many find it hard to do – but thanks to a thriving illustration community that encourages us to see the value that we bring to commercial projects, and believing in the value of our own work, we can learn to stand up for ourselves.

Don’t forget if you’re a member of Hire an Illustrator, we’re happy to offer you one-to-one advice on contracts and your professional practice, along with pricing and contract advice when you need it. You just need to get in contact. Non-members can apply for membership here.

Artwork © Richard Dearing 2020 | Thanks also to Jonathan Woodward for his input.

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