In this column, we will look at two strategy areas—budgets and negotiating—and talk with some illustration professionals to give us their tips and techniques when pricing their services.
A new factor in today’s marketplace is to find out how much money can be dedicated to the illustrations for a project. Often, money is set aside and called the illustration fee, but that is just one small line item on a very big project budget. Technology today allows you to be more involved in the creative process, but clients’ budgeting allocations are not accounting for this critical factor. There are often other line items named in that project budget that can be redirected towards your creative fees and expenses. Check on items such as pre-production, research, any and all retouching, post-production and prepress to name a few. Different types of clients handle illustration budgets differently, but the money is there to pay—though you will probably have to help the client find it for you.
Ann Field of annfieldimagesinc (www.friendandjohnson.com) says, “I make a point to familiarize myself with the client and their assigning habits before I give them my answer. I do this by calling fellow illustrators or reps I know. I think of the money behind their company and their past purchasing habits. As a rule, in editorial, the budget is the budget. With publishing I have found there is a twenty-percent variance, depending on how much work the project develops into, which means I sometimes end up with twenty percent more than the budget as it was first discussed.”
Richard Tuschman, Richard Tuschman Images (www.richardtuschman.com), comments, “After we’ve discussed the other particulars, such as the nature of the job, the schedule, etc., I’ll try to get the client to give a figure first. Usually I’ll just ask straight out, ‘What’s your budget?’ If it’s a corporate job, I always say ‘I need to think it over and I’ll call you back.’ At this point I do some research, looking at past jobs I’ve done, the GAG pricing guidelines, and I’ll usually poll two or three illustrator friends. By then, I’ll usually feel I have enough info to negotiate intelligently. If it’s an editorial job, it’s a little more cut and dried, but there usually is some wiggle room. I’ll sometimes say, ‘Hmmm...that seems a little low, I was thinking closer to x.’ Usually they’ll have a little more to come up with. In a case where I think the budget is low, I’ll try to negotiate for maximum creative freedom. Lately, it seems many clients are interested in saving money above all. Often in these cases, rather than settle for a lower fee than I’d like or walk away, I’ll try to steer them towards stock, for all or parts of the job. This has worked out for me in several cases. And of course, sometimes you just have to walk away.”
Brian Ajhar, Brian Ajhar Studios (www.ajhar.com), talks specifically about an important area for illustrators, children’s book publishing. “When I first started out in children’s publishing, the publishers definitely had the upper hand in the negotiation process. Without a track record of sales, it was very difficult to sell them on my ability to move books. I have been working with two publishers; one publisher pays me an up front on royalties that they hope my books will recoup in future sales. I have done two books with them that are currently on the market and were both collaborations with authors.
“This basically means that the publisher must pay both the author and me and we must also share in the royalties. The third book (for release in September 2004), which is still in production, for a story that is in the public domain. This means that there is no author to pay. Because of that I was able to secure a better up-front payment on future royalties, as well as a better royalty percentage. The hope is that all three books will take off and the royalties will start pouring in. My decision to stay with the same publisher will allow for backlisting my older titles if one of the books becomes extremely successful. That’s really the only way that an illustrator can make a decent income in this business.”
Cathleen Toelke (www.cathleentoelke.com), adds her comments, “I work in all areas of illustration and have a fairly good grasp on what clients will pay in the editorial and book areas. I have a time-intensive style and a certain reputation, so the usage fee negotiation falls in a fairly narrow range for me. The budget has to be at a certain level or I can’t afford to do the job. Advertising or collateral can be more challenging and there seems to be a wider range of budgets, especially in advertising. In those cases I ask more questions about the end client, and try to find out the level of quality the client has used in past advertising. I try to sense how important style and quality are to them and how important my particular art is to them (do they want my art or just a pair of hands?). Sometimes I ask the names of other artists they are considering. All of these things can be clues to the budget level, and I offer an estimate based on those clues and the usage requested. If my estimate is met with surprise as being very high, I might ask point blank what their budget is. If it’s ridiculously low, I know they’re ‘fibbing’ or they’re hacks.”
Negotiating a price
Help your client understand further the importance of negotiating a fair price. When they want to pay less money, ask the client to look at the added “hidden” costs. It could be their own time, energy, attention—even their prestige and esteem. The bottom line is you do not accept less money for the same amount of work. So, what is there to negotiate besides money? Learn some successful negotiating techniques to get the best return on your creativity and your business!
Lisa L. Cyr of Cyr Studio (www.cyrstudio.com), talks about negotiating, “Before even pricing a job, I look at a project from several perspectives: usage, time, secondary market value, exposure benefits and the opportunity cost of turning down another project to do this one. For me, money is certainly not the only thing of value. I also look to see if there is any room for barter. Since I work with agencies and design firms, I’ve had design work done on various promotions of mine. I’ve gotten things printed when an advertising agency threw in my work along with a client’s job on press. Bartering is an interesting way to supplement any insufficiencies in budget. Sometimes you have to think outside the box to come up with an arrangement that is mutually beneficial.”
Marc Burckhardt of Burckhardt Studio, Inc. (www.marcart.net), adds, “If a budget is too low, I’ll look for ways in which there might be some flexibility. For example, many clients initially want far more usage rights than they will actually use, so by looking at reducing the distribution or breadth of usage, the budget can meet the needs and expectations of both parties. Simplifying the imagery, extending deadlines can all be ways of making smaller budgets work equitably. I recently negotiated a few thousand dollars worth of wine as partial payment for some labels I illustrated for a California vineyard—great for parties or client gifts! By determining what the job should be versus what they had budgeted, I was able to make a trade offer on the balance in wine. Now if I could find a client that needs a cheese label illustrated, I’d be set!”
Ann Field adds some excellent tips, “When the client first says they want to pay less, I always act sweetly surprised. I want them to think their answer does not make any sense. Then I ask why. Then I give comparisons of similar work I have done. Often it is a question of explaining something as if the client doesn’t understand. Breaking a project down into components or usage helps explain the value behind the price. Mostly, it is a question of the illustrator assigning realistic value to the work. Never lose your temper. Angry just doesn’t work. You are in a relationship with the client, however short; remember everyone on both sides wants to rely on and enjoy that relationship. If you don’t establish this with the client in the first place you will not be able to continue on in a discussion and negotiate.” ca