Going for the wow. (Not World of Warcraft)

One goal of mine as a freelancer is maintaining clients, getting them to keep using me. It’s not always possible, because their need for your services might be far and few. Either way, frequent illustrator-users, or non-frequent, wowing your client is a must I feel.

Don’t hack. If you take on a project, try your best. I recently worked with a client that probably won’t have a reason to hire me again, but if the chance comes along where they need my style of art again, I know they will come right back to me, no questions asked. Not only that, I’m sure if anyone they know needs my style of art, I’m going to be recommended. One of my best compliments came from this project, were I was told that it was the most professional and impressive leave behind they had done in 12 years.

So I was happy that I was living up to a goal of mine. I hadn’t always done that in the past.

I used to do some map illustrations for a boating magazine, which a friend was the managing editor. When he left the magazine, I thought, there goes that. But he left my name as a resource for maps, and in January, the new editor called to see if I had time to do a map. She asked if I did anything else, I said “Yes, I’m primarily an illustrator.” She looked at my work online, liked what she saw, and gave me an article to illustrate.

She loved the illustration so much, she’s given me more each month. On average I do one map and two illustrations. Each one has been well received. I’ve spent anywhere between 4-6 hours, which includes sketching and pencils, on them. I’m also able to charge a little more then what my friend was willing to pay.

By doing the best work I could, I’ve ensured a long working relationship with this magazine. I billed them $600.oo last year, which is about 5 total illustrations, which were simple ones. That’s about 1 every two months. I’m now doing on average 3 each month, and for more money.

I’ve learned clients seldom have problems with what you charge, if they are very pleased with your work.

There are things you can do to help make a client very pleased with you. I’ve always been an open communicator, it comes easy to me. I often hear art directors list lack of communication as something that turns them off with an artists. Mainly, they want to be kept up to date on whats going on. And if you have questions, send them. Unless you are asking hundreds of questions, I find people generally like answering questions.

I also start on the project as soon as possible. This was something I was very bad at. Oh, it’s not due for 4 weeks, and I wouldn’t start anything for 3 weeks. I start any given project the moment I can. If I get work, and I’m not working on another client’s project, I start right on that.

Several good things come from this I have found. One, ideas have more time to develop making them better and flesh them out while they consider the thumbnails. Then while I’m doing pencils, I can plan out in my head how I may tackle each particular section of the illustration for the final. How much details I may have to give any part, compared to the other, and color composition.

Also, the client thinks I’m on top and super excited to be working on the project, which I am. I may have 4 weeks, and know it will only take 1 total, why not get it done now? If more work comes in, I can take it on, knowing I can re-arrange my work load. I don’t like it when work piles up, because of me.

I also follow through on everything the client asks, so long as they are within reason. Since I always layout the terms of the work flow for each project, we can stay within them. I come across as friendly, but focused, which makes them understand that I’m open to stepping outside the agreement we have, so long as they understand what that means in terms of money. And, I don’t try and angle requests to always fall within the outline extra charges.

When I worked in a retail store, the store hired the handyman husband of one of the employees to do some sprucing up of the store. He hadn’t worked in months and the store hired him partly as a favor to the employee, but it became clear he was trying to milk the store for every penny he could, with ridiculous claims of what wasn’t covered in their agreement. He got them for an extra $400 above the estimate in the end. He also would never be able to work for the store in the capacity again, and certainly wouldn’t get a good reference or recommendation from them. His lost.

All my agreements say that changes to final art costs $XX.oo. If I get a change after I deliver final art, I weigh the request against charging this. Because if the change is minor, say a correction they missed, or a mistake, and it won’t take more then 10 minutes or so, I’m doing it for free. Basically I set out my terms, and then going off of that, see where I can give the client a little more then what they are expecting. So long as I’m not robbing myself. And I never charge a client to fix my mistakes. When I worked as a production artists in publishing I don’t know how many vendors would bill us the hours it took to fix their mistakes.

I have learned not to count the hours I work on any given piece so long as I am working within the deadlines. I’m mindful of the time I spend on a piece vs the amount I am getting. If I’m getting $150 for a spot illustration, and I end up spending 7 hours on it, but making an amazing piece, that will end up in my portfolio, I’m taking 7 hours, even though that means I just made around $21.oo an hour. I believe having amazing wow pieces to put in my portfolio has an investment in myself and future work.

There are lots of ways to get additional work, which generally results in a few extra jobs a year, and you really shouldn’t plan your business strategy on them. To date, I’ve gotten 1 job from a friend telling a client that I would be better suited for the project. I’ve gotten more jobs from just doing good work and people recommending me. Doing an amazing job on every piece has never failed to pay off in some manner. It can be more work from the same client, it could someone new seeing it and hiring me, or getting the attention of fellow illustrators increasing my network, and finally the most important one, improving my skills as an artist.

I’ve always had good work ethics, and when I started adding in a stronger, Get-It-Started and Do-Better-Then-the-Client-Expects attitude, things really started to fall into place. Good work is key, and I feel that how you interact with your clients, is part of that good work. It’s just as much my job to make them happy as it is to do good artwork.

UPDATE:

“I’ve learned clients seldom have problems with what you charge, if they are very pleased with your work.”

A few days after writing and posting this, a client asked me if I had time to do more work for them. This time it was a normal illustration, plus 5 smaller illustrations to go with the article. I came up with a price, broke down what that price included. The editor came back and said, she was going over the budget to see where she was.

I replied I am open to going a little lower, because I was really excited about doing the illustrations. She replied back:

“I would love to do all as outlined originally, but I don’t expect you to cut your price like that. I value your work and know it’s totally worth the $”

It’s always great to hear that, and know that by doing your best possible, you have earned someones respect.

6 thoughts on “Going for the wow. (Not World of Warcraft)

  1. James Figueiredo

    Another great article, Timothy – That’s excellent advice, and its really nice to read it from an estabilished profesional’s experience, having some personal notions validated, and others challenged.

    Best,
    J.

    Reply
  2. James

    Mainly this:
    “I also start on the project as soon as possible. This was something I was very bad at. Oh, it’s not due for 4 weeks, and I wouldn’t start anything for 3 weeks. I start any given project the moment I can. If I get work, and I’m not working on another client’s project, I start right on that.”

    And this:
    “All my agreements say that changes to final art costs $XX.oo. If I get a change after I deliver final art, I weigh the request against charging this. Because if the change is minor, say a correction they missed, or a mistake, and it won’t take more then 10 minutes or so, I’m doing it for free. Basically I set out my terms, and then going off of that, see where I can give the client a little more then what they are expecting. So long as I’m not robbing myself.”

    The first one speaks volumes about my procrastination potential, and the fact that the sooner I start the project, as you said, the more time I’ll have to refine it and also deal with any unforeseen difficulties that may appear.

    The second one is funny because I always feel like I’m robbing myself for acquiescing with last minute and after-the-work-is-done corrections, but it’s all in how you pre-arrange things, and correctly judging which corrections are minor ones and which are unreasonable, y’know?

    Best,
    J.

    Reply
  3. Timothy Piotrowski

    It’s tricky James. If you feel the correction requires asking for the extra charge as laid out in the agreement you have with the client, I say present it to them.

    Dear X, I can make the changes you have asked for. The time required to do this will be about X, and as per our agreement, the invoice will reflect the Changes to Final Art charge of $X.oo. If this is acceptable let me know and I will have these corrections back to you today.

    Then it’s the clients choice, and you look professional.

    So far, I’ve never had to charge extra, but have made very minor corrections. Thankfully the way I build my files makes doing these corrections easy.

    Reply
  4. James

    That makes sense, Timothy – In the end, really, I guess it comes down to laying everything out to the client at the very beginning of the work, so the designer/illustrator can, as you said, charge for the corrections and leave it to the client’s decision, acting in a very professional manner.

    For me, personally, a huge strain is always making the client understand that, if I’m charging them for the corrections, I’m not trying to milk them for all they’re worth.

    Thanks a lot for the insight, man!

    Reply
  5. Timothy Piotrowski

    James, I so hear you. When I worked corporate publishing, the editors felt that they could make corrections anytime if they thought of something they might want to changes. They didn’t see the importance of schedules or the impact of extra rounds. All they saw was they missed something and wanted to cover their butts by getting it corrected. Since they didn’t see the money attached to doing that, it wasn’t a factor.

    The truth is, they were just doing their job poorly.

    Definitely having it all laid out before work starts, gives you a firm base on which to make your claims for extra charges. With less informed clients, breaking down the work flow into numbered steps, allows you to indicate what step you are on when work passes from you to the client. So when you send final art, it’s easy to say

    Dear X,
    As per our agreement, Step X, you will find attached the final art. Please review. If there are any previous corrections that we discussed before today that are missing, they will be corrected. If you have corrections outside of those already addressed, or new changes to corrections already approved by you, a charge of $X.oo will be applied to the final invoice.

    That way, the choice falls on them to spend the money or not. It’s a trick we used in production to get Editorial to get in line. We would say, doing X will cost X, and it will effect the schedule. That way, if the crap hit the fan, they got the blame. If it didn’t they get what they want, and no fights between departments.

    Works just as well with clients. Layout the options, let them pick, and move along!

    Reply

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