Valuing Your Self

Recently, several cartoonists friends have asked me for advice about what to charge for doing illustration work, something they didn’t have experience with. It meant a lot they came to me for advice, so I tried to give them the best I could.

But the truth is, one artist can’t tell another exactly what to charge. But thankfully, they just wanted general advice, and to bounce ideas. One conversation took place in a group and someone said “You need to make sure you get value for your work.”

What is value? To me, it’s getting what I feel I should be paid for my work. For some, it’s getting the highest a client is willing to pay. Others have set fees and never go below that.

I do similar style illustrations for two different magazines. The magazines are on completely different subjects, have different ad rates and circulation numbers. One pays about 4 times as much as the other because of that.

For the same amount of work, I get wildly different amounts. For me, that works. You will find illustrators that disagree, saying it devalues the work. I disagree. The lower paying magazine gives me on average 2-3 illustrations a month, and comes out 12 times a year. The higher paying magazine gives me 2-3 a year, and comes out 6 times a year. Over all, the lower paying magazine brings in much more money over the year.

I’m getting value for my work, either way. Ideally, I would love to fill my time with the higher paying illustrations. More of those means making more money, which means having to spend less time looking for work, and more time working on my comics.

But I’ve built up a really good relationship with the one magazine. You never know when my contact there will move on, and because we have a good relationship. Which is how I ended up at the higher paying magazine, because I worked with the art director when they were a designer at the same company I worked at.

It’s a tricky thing, having to come up with a price for your work. Start with asking yourself the following: How much do you want to do the project?

If the answer is, you could take it or leave it, then it gets easier, come up with a price you like, present that, and if they take it good, if not they will pass.

If the answer is, you want/need the work, then you need to strike a balance. The balance is between getting what you think you are worth, and what the client can pay, or is willing to pay.

First thing, how much does the client want to pay? If the potential client tells you what they can afford, if it’s within your acceptable price range, then negotiations will be short.

If they don’t tell you up front what they want to pay/can afford, the first thing to do is ask, or state what your rate is, but that you can work within a clients budget. You and the client then work out the details.

You can set minimums for yourself. For example, the minimum I work for is around $30 a hour. That’s the lowest end. So, if I’m getting say $150 for a spot illustration, then I won’t put in more then 5 hours of work.

Also, the less a client can pay, the less changes I offer. The client that pays the $150, gets thumbnails, they pick one, I flesh it out, they make changes/suggestions, I do finals that include those changes/suggestions, I send final with invoice. Pretty simple, straight forward, and gives the client some input along the way.

The client that pays me $1500 gets thumbnails, revised thumbnails if needed, roughs, refined roughs if needed, tight pencils, final art, one round of tweaks and changes after finals.

Keep in mind, this is also based on the amount of time I have to do the work. A $150 illustration is about half a days work, a $1500 illustration is several days over a few weeks worth of work. If I have a week or less to do a more complex illustration, the amount of changes along the way are going to be less for the client.

Value for your work comes down to you thinking you are getting a good price for your work over always trying to get the most money possible. That means being honest with yourself, and learning to be flexible from client to client.

In the end as long as you are making money, not just covering the cost to do the work, then you are getting value for your work, and your self.

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