The Million Dollar Question: Part 2

  • Nicki Field

Following on from her previous article, Jelly’s Head of Illustration Nicki Field offers budget negotiation tips and thoughts on pricing for illustrators in 2019…

As agents, our pricing skills are honed via our experience – across our knowledge and our rolodex brains of prior jobs of similar scope, size or production scale, complexity, usage and artists. Learning from when we got it right – and sometimes when we got it wrong. Once you’ve been doing this long enough you learn to trust your gut instinct but we still all get together every once in a while when that occasional brain scratcher comes in. And in that brainstorm there’s always one of us that someone feels is too high – or too low – or we each work it out separately and get a ‘snap’. It’s a learnt art but there’s no formula or one size fits all rule apart from making sure you’re covering the art production and a license for how your work will be used. That’s what makes it hard – every single job is different.
Having such an insight into a high turnover of jobs across the whole industry; from global campaigns, branding jobs through to publishing and editorial, give an agent a unique position to do this.
So if you’re reading this, whilst we can’t necessarily give you a number for whatever price dilemna you’re in right now – if you’re in need of some short term tangible budget negotiation tips or some thoughts on pricing below are some things I’ve learnt. Possibly wise or not:
Have a conversation. Remember the client is a human being. Emails can be a default communication in the early stages of a project but pick up the phone or have a face to face. What you can glean in a conversation that you can’t in an email from tone to details, to what’s at stake can be invaluable to your costing. Is it a big job for them or one bit of activity amongst lots? A conversation is always a good way to kickstart a relationship and to fully understand the scope of what’s being asked.

Ask. Outright. Ask a client what their budget is. Again always easier to ask – and better answered – over the phone. Ask them if they have an idea of what their client is looking to spend or has earmarked against this – even if they’ve asked you this first. Or, you can open the conversation, ‘Based on my day rate and license for similar projects, I was thinking about this… or could be anywhere between *high* to *low*  ‘ and get a feel for their reaction. Can’t hurt and you might get a surprise answer.

The client isn’t the bad guy. Remember, they are a human like you. They want to worktogether with you and make the experience a good one. Yes clients can exploit artists fees but this is generally through not having an understanding of your skill, the process or an inexperience of commissioning before. Genuine villains don’t come along often. A decent client will want the best of you and a project. Be kind but professional.
Hold firm. If you don’t think a job is worth your time, it’s probably not. If you feel comfortable with your price and it can’t be met, move on. Negotiations are part and parcel of an enquiry and there’s a fine line between being firm and being inflexible or overzealous, but find your style of negotiation and move between what’s comfortable for you with these conversations. If you quote £20k and they want it for £2k – that’s a massive jump so a reduction that size doesn’t make sense. You need to be able to justify your cost and be confident in how you present it.

Trust your gut feel – if you’ve got the heebie jeebies about an enquiry, move on. Sometimes you just know something’s going to be tough and not in a good way. If something feels out of whack about it, bow out of the enquiry early on and gracefully.

Ask for help. Ditto. Each other, an agent or just talk it out with a willing friend. Sometimes saying things out loud to another person just helps it make sense or justified.

Don’t forget the usage. The. Most. Important. Thing. Whatever you do, whatever job, unless you are contracted in-house you should charge for or at least outline the license that you have given. Be specific and ring-fence what they are asking for; i.e. a one off magazine cover or time period / territory. If they aren’t asking, pursue the conversation and make sure you get it covered. Put these details on your invoice. The value is never only in the production, it is how and where the illustration is used. If it’s an Ad job, ask an agent. If they take a % it will be worth it – you could earn less by not asking for help.

Overthinking is the enemy of the estimate. So many times starting out I did this. Sometimes it makes you massively overshoot it – and where do you end up? Right near the numbers where you first started. If it’s a biggun, sleep on it. Fresh eyes make all the difference but don’t make small adjustments over and over – it’ll send you mad and you’ll lose all perspective. Better to put it in as a punt and have a conversation about it.

Sometimes winning a job is better than no job. We’ve all put in a budget where it gets agreed too soon and we kick ourselves. C’est la vie. Sometimes a job at what you’ve asked for is better than outpricing yourself and no job. Sometimes the job might be worth your original quote but you’ve got a tax bill to pay and the negotiation isn’t too bad. DO NOT TAKE THIS LITERALLY but that whole adage, go in for double and get half, sometimes holds true. We have a responsibility to each other with pricing but only you can decide how you personally feel about a budget.

Everyone likes a deal. If you make a concession on your original budget with a client, show this and reflect it in paperwork. Then no-one is confused about the value of what they are getting and it safeguards further conversations.

Check the paperwork and look after your copyright. If you don’t understand what’s being asked of you, ask for clarification on what phrases mean or ask the AOI or someone else for advice.
And remember;
How do you know if the price is right? You don’t. Often the price is only ever as ‘right’ as what is finally agreed. You have to trust your gut on how you feel about that figure for your time and work.