Budgeting for Illustration, Know thy Client
Part of what I do at Hire an Illustrator is have clients send me their job briefs and then make appropriated recommendations about who they should hire for their projects in the form of a list of candidates. As the Little Chimp Society is a community of illustrators and people who love illustration, I though I’d share a bit about how it works when it comes to budgets and negotiations, from my point of view.
If I know a client doesn’t have a budget for an illustration job I tell them they need to find one. If they have a small budget and they’d like to work with a quality illustrator I tell them they need to find a bigger one. If they don’t tell me their budget, I don’t ask them unless I suspect they don’t have one. The thing is, negotiating fees is between the illustrator and client. I can make recommendations or offer advice, but there’s a huge variation in what clients can pay and what illustrators charge. People are normally surprised at how affordable custom illustration actually is, even though it’s a very unique thing and not cheap.
A client is buying a custom piece of work and while it can’t be compared to say a custom piece of furniture, it has a lot of the same attributes going for it as far as it being a unique creation is concerned, so there isn’t an off-the-shelf cost. Plus it’s actually quite complicated when it comes to quoting on a job: there’s the experience and reputation of the illustrator to consider; there’s copyright; there’s usage; and there’s the size of the client and the industry they belong to, along with the value an illustration will bring to their project. As I said, it’s complicated. Life would be so much easier if we were all carpenters, we’d measure the space and then price for materials and labor without ever needing to take projections or alternative uses into consideration.
When a client approaches an illustrator, unless they’re an experienced art director, they should be prepared to have the illustrator ask them questions they may not have thought of. Plus the client should make as much information about the job available to the illustrator from the start. This will allow the illustrator to create an informed quote. It also really helps if the client can tell the illustrator what their budget is, as only the client knows what they can afford. Most of the time a particular illustrator is approached because the client wants to work with them and if the illustrator wants to work with the client, they’ll try to work to the client’s budget. If the client’s budget doesn’t cover the illustrator’s fees, they’ll kindly refuse the job, or try to come to some sort of licensing or other arrangement that’ll make the budget work. Alternatively, if there’s any flexibility in the budget it may go up, it may go down. What it comes down to is both parties needing to negotiate the terms to find something the client and illustrator are happy with. It doesn’t have to be a long drawn out process, but the more upfront the client is and the less fishing they do, the quicker it will be. Illustrators know what rates they need to charge, clients know what they can afford.
Supply and demand is normal in the commercial world, but should be an afterthought when it comes to illustration. Every piece commissioned is custom and for something specific from it’s inception. Not working to a supply and demand model may be a foreign concept to a business-orientated client who primarily works with numbers, but this is why an illustrator should be aware of this and should know how to handle a client with that mindset… if the client’s expectations aren’t already being managed by an art director or middle man. What clients tend to miss is the inherent value a good illustration can bring to a project, not mentioning the creativity and ideas an illustrator may have. This is why a license is always a good idea too, even a simple illustration has a lot of inherent value and if an illustrator was to hand over the copyright, lock stock and barrel, they’re also transferring all of the image’s value and future worth. Clients don’t normally (and vary rarely) need the copyright to an illustration and it’s worth a lot more to the illustrator than it is to the client. This is why if a client demands the copyright to an image it can add 50-100% (sometimes more) onto the cost of a job. But licenses can have varying terms that allow a client to use an image for their needs. With an illustrator retaining some of its value via the way of a license, budgets and costs can normally be drastically reduced.
Finishing up, what I would say is if you’re an illustrator, make sure you understand the value of your own work and be ready to explain that to your clients. You know what you should be or need to charge and your clients know what they can afford. Communication is the key, work it out.