Skip to main content

Fees & Negotiation

Lesson 8 from: Working Successfully with Clients: A Class for Illustrators and Designers

Lisa Congdon

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

8. Fees & Negotiation

Lesson Info

Fees & Negotiation

Negotiating fees. This is where things get interesting. Okay, a few things about fees. Jobs are typically paid in flat fee or royalties and not by the house except if you are doing maintenance work and these will sometimes different for designers but, generally speaking, in the world of illustration and design, if you're taking a job with a corporate client or a business for a job, they wanna pay you in a flat fee or royalties for the sales of something. Now, why would that be? Why doesn't everybody just pay by the hour? How is paying you a fee helpful to them? I guess it depends on the styles of illustrations. Some style might take, like, 10 hours versus two hours. Yeah, exactly, some work is just really labor intensive, right? Were you gonna say something similar? I was going to say that way, they can also set a budget if they know how much they want to pay you regardless of how much it's gonna take you, they have a good budget they can. Yeah, exactly, they are working in a b...

udget. And we're gonna talk about budgets in a minute but budgets are super important so both of those points are really true. There's like, some work work might take the same person three times as long, maybe because it's a more intensive style but also because some people just work more quickly than other people. And there's no way to predict that and they wanna be able to put a cap on it. So, I've done hourly work but it's usually after, and I think it's more typical if you're a designer, maybe designing a website, right, and you have to do maintenance after the thing launches and you go in and make updates and you make, a lot of times that's what the developer does but sometimes there's design work that needs to be done and sometimes that's paid in hourly rates but typically, these jobs are paid in flat fees. Another thing to understand is that industry standards for fees vary between segments of the industry. So, you could do the same exact piece of art or take the same exact photograph or make the same exact design for one segment of the industry and be paid 300 dollars or 500 dollars and you could make the same exact piece of art, the same exact design or take the same photograph and be paid tens of thousands of dollars more so there is very little correlation between the complexity of your work, the quality of your work, the amazingness of your work and how much you're paid. How much you're paid is really determined by what segment of the industry you're working in. Publishing, books, magazines, online publications tend to have lower budgets and are sort of, unfortunately, and I think even people inside of the industry don't like this about it either. They wanna be able to pay artists more. It's not because they're cheap, it's just because less money goes into publishing. So, typically, and there are exceptions to this, you're going to be paid less money in publishing. The other end of the spectrum is advertising. Budgets are often huge, you will make the same amount of money or sometimes product launches, product illustration can pay very well and that's sort of considered under the umbrella of advertising to a certain extent. So, getting familiar with the different markets and what they pay in general will help you come up with fees, I'm gonna talk a little bit more about contracts and I cover contracts a lot in my book, Art, Inc. This book also talks about the different, at least illustration markets, and talks about which are the sort of lower paying ones verses higher payer ones. Some people, that doesn't matter, you can still make a decent living being an editorial illustrator or a book illustrator but you will make more money for the same work in some segments of the industry. You really wanna work hard to build your community of mentors and colleagues that you can consult around fees because over and over again in your career, you are going to get curve balls from people asking you to quote fees or offering you a fee for a job and you're going to have no idea if it's fair. How many of you have been in that situation before where somebody said, "I'm gonna pay you this," and you were like, "I have no idea "if I'm being screwed right now." This might be really good, it might be terrible, I don't know and so, I'm gonna tell you about another resource in a second but one of your resources is sort of like building a community of people who've been in the world that you're in for a little bit longer and know the industry standard for what you should be paid for different kinds of work. Another great, and you just go to those people, I have fellow illustrators and artists who I go to and they come to me all the time and we say, "Hey I just got this opportunity, I don't know, what do you think?" And we bounce it back and forth. Another great resource, I highly recommend, everyone gets this book or downloads it, The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook to Pricing and Ethical Guidelines, it's a fantastic resource. This is the website address. It gets updated every few years but you open that book and they cover contracts to and other sort of ethical issues but one of the things I love about it the most and I use it for the most is to determine a range for what I should be paid for something. So they have categories of different segments of the industry from, like, album cover art to book covers to, oh gosh, you name it, licensing, bedding and all kinds of things. And they'll give you a range for what you should be paid and then you have to sort of place yourself inside of that range. So getting to your bottom line is really important. Your bottom line is essentially, I mean obviously your goal is to get top dollar for whatever work you're doing, right? Ultimately, that's your goal but at minimum, you wanna know, what's the least I will take for this job. You don't tell the client that, you just have it in your head. What's my bottom line, what's the lowest I will go and still take the job? Okay and that will be important in negotiating fees. So, typically, there are two offer scenarios. Scenario one, the client tells you the fee straight away or after you ask, "What's the fee?" And the great thing about scenario one is that there's no guessing, you know what they have in their head and you can go from there so much better place to start. Scenario two, they'll ask you to quote a fee for the job. Okay, so that's the more stressful situation. So scenario one, best case. No guessing, whew, relief. Okay, and if they don't tell you straight up, do what I did in the sample email and say, "What's the fee? Just wanna know." However, still important to do research, like, is this a good fee 'cause sometimes you'll get offered a fee but you still don't know it's any good. Don't take anything at face value even if it sounds really exciting, oh my god they're willing to pay me 2500 dollars for this thing. Like, still good to ask and consult. Go to the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook, cultivate a group of experience people you can consult, negotiate if you learn the fee is low. Negotiating, most of the time means asking for more money. And I'll give you an example of what that could look like in a second but negotiating can also mean working within their parameters so if they've let you know that the fee is not negotiable, and often times they will, but you still feel like you wanna try to make something work, one thing I learned from my agent, back when I had an agent, was that you can ask for other adjustments to make the lower pay work for you. So maybe, it's not quite the money you were hoping for, it doesn't seem fair but the timeline's really tight, you can ask, like, "I'm happy to do it for that fee "but can we extend the timeline by two weeks?" Because that's obviously gonna be less stressful for you, we'll make the lower pay maybe worthwhile. You can also ask for product samples or to have them throw in things in the contract to compensate for the lower pay, especially if it's a company that makes something that you might want to have some of. Reducing the number of deliverables for the fee so if it's a lot of work for a certain amount of money, you can always say, "Well, I'm happy to do two illustrations for that fee instead of five." Something like that. The budget isn't flexible, simply ask, "How can we make this work within your budget? "I really wanna work with you." It's okay to negotiate. Here's an example of negotiating for money. Okay, so let's say you get a book cover offer for $1600. You consult a friend who's experienced in book covers. She says the industry standard is $2500 to $ for a book cover. Design or Illustration. You go to the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook, it confirms this fact, you decide to ask for $ and that your bottom line is $2000. You don't tell the client this. That that's your bottom line. Never reveal your bottom line to the client. That's just in your head and you're new to book cover designs, you don't have any under your belt, you're sort of new to the world of illustration so you're willing to go a little bit below the industry standard because you really want this job. You wanna do a book cover because you know the more you do, the higher your pay is gonna go in the future. So that's strategic and $2000 isn't horrible. So you go back to the client and you say, "My minimum rate for book covers is $2500, can you meet me there?" And hopefully, they'll say yes and a lot of times, they will. Especially you say, if you're assertive and say, "My minimum," like, "I have a minimum "and this is what it is." Right? They come back and say, "No but we can meet you "at $2000." And bam, you have negotiated $400 more for a job and you've actually met your bottom line. So most of the time, if you ask even slightly more than you think that they'll give you, you'll always get a little bit of a bump. Yes? This phrasing, when you tell them that your minimum is this and they offer a lower price. Yeah. And you still agree to it. And you still take it. It seems like you don't, why do you work as much because you are willing to go below your minimum. Right and I think that's a really good question. I think what you would then say and I should have included this in the example is, like, then you would say to them, "I'm willing to meet you here "because I really wanna work with you. "Normally, I don't go below $ "but this project is really exciting to me." That's a great question and I do think you should acknowledge it afterwards or you decide that, ya know, if $2500 is your bottom line and they offer you $2000, you have to be willing to walk away. That's a great question, I'm glad you brought that up. Okay, if a fee for a job feels too low, trust your judgment. Even if it might be the industry standard but to you, it's, like, ridiculously low because, believe me, a lot of things that are normal in the industry or in an industry for how much an artist is paid feel ridiculously low and it's okay to be upset about that and it's okay not to take a job even if it's normal for what artists get paid. You are the boss of your business, you get to decide. Low fees affect every artist in the industry so when you take a job for free or, ya know, you are working for pennies or agreeing to take low fees, it's not just affecting you negatively, it's setting a precedent that it's not okay to compensate artists for their skill and talent. Okay. All right, we're gonna talk now about the second, more stressful scenario, when the client asks you to quote a fee. Everybody's giggling because the anxiety level rises because this is the most stressful situation. I know, I mean I've been doing this work for a long time and I have worked with over 75 clients and I have a lot of experience and I still get an anxiety attack when I get an email from a potential client who wants me to tell them how much I wanna be paid and in some cases, I know and I'm confident, but in other cases, I'm not, and so I have to go through this, too. And you, it's sort of normal for everybody, no matter how long you've been doing this. Because we're worried we're gonna be asking for too much, right, and they're gonna be like nu-uh, you're crazy. Or we're worried we're not gonna ask for enough and we're gonna undersell, right? So, client asks you to name your price. Here's my favorite strategy, it works for me about 60% of the time, I encourage you to use it. Just simply ask them, "What's your budget?" Or, "As for a fee, I'm flexible, what's your budget?" You'd be surprised. Once they know that you're willing to work in their budget, whatever that is, even if you're not necessarily willing to work in their budget, but you're sort of communicating that you are, they'll tell you. So this happened to me just last week, or last month. Client, small business, somebody I don't know, I'm now familiar with her 'cause we're working together, she wanted to pay me for something that normally I would charge a good amount of money for but she's independent and a small business so I knew immediately that I was probably gonna cut her a deal. So, I said to her, "What's your fee?" Oh, she said that to me. She asked me, "How much you want me to pay you for this?" And I said, "What's your budget?" So, it's kind of like, imagine we're on two sides of a tennis court, right? She says, "I don't have much money in the budget," and I'm like, that's ya know, I was hoping to get her to say something but I didn't stop there because I was like I don't know how much money, I don't know what not much money is, right? I don't know what that means. It could mean anything, that's so vague. So I went back and I said, me, "I think I'm willing "to work in your budget, just give me an honest idea "of what you can afford." And sure enough, she came back and said $2500. Here's the thing, I was gonna ask for $1000. That was my bottom line. But I didn't tell her I was gonna ask for $1000. Never reveal your bottom line to a client. But I ended up getting paid $1500 more for something because she actually had it in her budget to pay me that much money. Now if she was a corporate client for the same thing that she wanted me to do, I would have charged triple that. But, you know, a lot of times you make concessions for small businesses or people that you know or friends of friends or whatever. So, can't get the client to name their fee? Through those strategies, again you wanna go to the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook and ask someone in your trusted network of friends. And ultimately, you wanna trust your own judgment about what feels right to you. So one rule of thumb I have about fees is what is this job worth to me? How much do I feel like I wanna be paid to walk away at the end of the day and feel good? 'Cause, ya know, when jobs, when assignments get hard 'cause you're workin' your butt off and you're kind of maybe even feeling a little resentful, if you can at least say to yourself, "Oh, this sucks right now because it's 11:00 at night "and I'm still workin' on this thing and I'm on "my third round of changes but in a few weeks, "I'm gonna get a check for five grand," ya know, and then you're like, "Okay, I can sleep tonight." But if you accept an assignment and you're not being paid for those extra hours you're putting in and all that effort, then you're gonna feel resentful at the end of the day. So ultimately, ya know, you and you alone get to decide what is your bottom line, what is this job worth to me. Again, it doesn't mean what the industry standard is, if something doesn't feel right to you and you feel like you're being underpaid or you're not being offered enough money, it is okay to walk away. Okay. I just wanna acknowledge a distinction you made about pricing that I think is, it elevates the professionalism that much more when you pointed out the difference between saying, "How much you gonna pay me?" verses saying, "What is the fee?" It sort of takes the, it makes it a little less personal so they don't have to feel like the pressure is on them about this payment relationship and it is just a little more subtle. I love that. I never thought about it that way but now that you're pointing it out, it's so true. You're asking for the same information but it's just so much more professional that way. It's like the fee is this sort of thing out there that they would be paying to anybody, it's not attached to you personally, like, not how much I'm worth but what's the fee? I assume you're a fair client, what's your budget for the job, what's the fee for the job? And I think phrasing it that way removes that element... The other way puts a lot of judgment both on what you can deliver as an artist and what the client can deliver as a company. Yes, such a great point, thank you for that. Yeah. I have a couple of online questions, kind of going back to this communication and boundaries. So, Amy Nikola has clients that send hundreds of text messages so going back to, how do you politely, genuinely take that, go off from text messages? Yeah, I think that can happen especially in, again, friend relationships and I think there's also just a generation of people coming into the world who tend to use text more than email. I am not part of that generation so I would struggle with that, too, but I think for some, if it's uncomfortable for you and you really wanna get things on email because it is easier to track communication over email, to search for things over email, I would just politely say, "It's important to me that I track all "the important information about this project, "for my own reference and I'm constantly keeping track "of where we are with things and what you're asking me "to do and the changes you're wanting me to make, "I would so much prefer that we did it over email "because it's just easier for me to keep track "of all the details." And also if you are pretty sure that the person or the relationship starts over text and it's getting, sort of, out of control, I would nip it in the bud right away. Say, "I really, ya know, I like to work over text, "does that work for you?" I mean, not over text, I'm sorry, over email and not text. Texting, I actually am just, like, a terrible texter. I actually use the dictate function because my thumbs are always making typos and I can't do it fast enough and there's all this auto correct stuff that happens so I will literally say to people, "I'm a terrible texter, this is not a good way "for me to communicate. "Would you mind going over to email?" And say that forcefully enough that they'll do it hopefully. This is from Caroline, how would you handle the working boundaries being the other way around and when we were talking about trying to not send things to people at night. So this was meaning that the client is working a lot of late hours, it's coming from the client's side, pushing you to deliver and hear news. Ya know, that's a tough one. I think there's a couple ways to deal with it. I often will, and I've had clients do this with me as well, initially out the gates, I will sometimes say or have had clients say to me, I keep really strict working hours so I work really hard between eight or just, FYI, once you sign the contract and you start working, you say, ya know, I work, "Just so you know, I work between 8:00 and 5:00 everyday "and I've got a few other projects going on "but I check my email several times a day "during those hours and I'll be sure "to get back to you as soon as possible." But just being really clear about your boundaries and I've had clients do that with me too, like, basically, I go home at 7:00 and so if you send me something at 11:00, I'm not gonna see it 'til the next morning. And just establishing that up front so it's not this awkward thing later. It might seem like you're being bossy or something but I think it's always better to be assertive about your style of working and how you work and taking ownership of how you do things as a professional in the beginning and establishing those boundaries and setting those norms upfront rather than having to backtrack later because you didn't set up those boundaries in the beginning. So if not working at night is really important to you or you're fearful that this client might get into that territory, just kind of, like, nip it in the bud in the beginning and let them know. And most people will actually feel, like, "Oh gosh, you're right, I'm sorry." Ya know, so, and I do think most clients don't necessarily expect you to respond, in fact, they're kind of worried when you do. So. Late at night.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Questions to Ask

Ratings and Reviews

Caroline Fidelaire

Great class packed very useful tips for entrepreneurs in illustration and design and great email examples on how to: - respectfully and gratefully communicate with clients in the diverse phases of the production line - negotiate a contract and your fees - how to proceed to bidding for a work contract Lisa is a wonderful speaker. A wonderful class well worth its 3 hours length.

Scavenger Annie

Right from the start of class Lisa offers up her pearls of wisdom. Absolutely jam-packed with information on working with clients, illustration agents & art directors in the commercial world. All very relevant to other careers in the creative realm too, especially when Lisa talks about the language & negotiation of contracts. Clear, concise teaching & my fingers are burning from typing so fast as I made notes! A wonderful class that has motivated me to pursue commercial illustration with my brand Northern Bird Designs. Thank you for the top guidance & inspiration Lisa! Looking forward to the next class on managing workflows.

Neelam Kaur

Lisa has immense knowledge about the industry and she shares the same with Artist Community in the form of Books, E-courses, Workshops. This class is jam-packed with great information which as an Freelance or as an New Illustrator we struggle and feel we had someone to help us understand. And I must say, the Skillshare & CreativeBug Classes other than Creative Live Classes, she focuses it all from an artist standpoint. As a Freelance Illustrator Artist I struggled managing the other aspects of my Art Business which I feel so confident after this class. And most of all I know my worth! Thank you Lisa!

Student Work