How do I charge for work as a starter illustrator, graphic designer, mural artist, arty project person?
March 15, 2012 11:42 AM   Subscribe

How do I charge for work as a starter illustrator, graphic designer, mural artist, arty project person?

About a year ago, I decided to make my passion my profession. I'm now fully self-employed as a creative-project-doer.

What is a creative-project-doer, you say? Well, I'm not sure either. I started a mural painting business, but it's become so much more. There's no shortage of work (honestly, there's almost too much) but its been really varied. I've done web design, designed wedding invites, done signage, branding work, and illustration - as well as murals. As soon as people found out I'm doing creative work professionally, it seemed like everyone had a project.

The problem is, I'm sort of making up my pricing structure, and it's stressing me out. I don't like charging hourly, because I don't like not being able to give a client an idea of what they're going to be paying up front. I work with a really wide range of budgets, from small start up cafes to big corporate businesses, and I've adjusted pricing based on what I feel like the operating budget of the company *might* be.

Part of what I'm trying to do is make creative work affordable for every budget, as well as bringing on diverse opportunities for myself. But more and more I'm wishing I had a system for pricing, so I don't have to fret about it with each new client.

That's where you come in. How have you structured pricing, across a wide range of artistic tasks? How do you adapt pricing for different types of clients? Any and all advice is hugely appreciated.
posted by torietorie to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
There's a book that's widely regarded as THE definitive guide to pricing:

Graphic Artist's Guild Handbook

Amazon says it's out of stock, but you should be able to find it in any large-ish brick and mortar book store.
posted by plasticbugs at 11:54 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I usually figure out roughly how long it will take me, multiply that by the hourly wage I want, add in some extra, and then that's an up front price. If I go over the time, I eat the overage and I'll estimate better next time. If I go under and still meet my own personal standards of quality, that's a bonus.

When you are figuring out how long it will take do not disregard administrative tasks, transportation, time spent thinking, research, or any other task. It is easy to say "I want 50/ hour, and it will take me ten hours to actually paint, so that's $500. Don't fall into this trap!

That said, when considering any job don't forget any side benefits that you might get from a job. You might be able to justify a lower price if the job will lead to more work, exposure, etc.. Side benefits are side benefits, though, and should be considered as secondary to the actual price of the job in most cases.

Another way to estimate it is by days - will a project eat up a whole day? Two whole days? This can be easier to intuitively estimate than hours. You can then find out what other professions make, and charge a daily rate, plus materials. Don't you think you should earn at least as much as a skilled laborer like a carpenter? A factory worker? People who work for companies generally enjoy benefits - add this in as well.

For any project, I try to keep my price in a certain zone, where it is high enough that I'll be happy to do it, and low enough that it is competitive.

If I know something will be a pain in the ass, I price it higher to compensate for the pain in the ass factor. Picture yourself quoting the project, and then being told "sorry, too high." If you would be relieved that you didn't get the job, your price might still be too low (had you gotten it you wouldn't have been paid enough to cover the pain in the ass factor). Now picture yourself quoting the project, and the quote being accepted - would you be dissapointed that you agreed to do pain in the ass job for so little? Your price is too low. Make it worth your while.

Hopefully you are getting agreements in writing before starting work; if you are, you should put something in there about change orders, and what to do if they make too many changes, the scope of the project changes, etc.

It is also not a bad idea to ask for a deposit before starting work from new clients.

Do not disregard taxes. Doing a project for $500 means that you will end up with less than that to spend after taxes.

Under-pricing yourself, especially when it seems like there is enough work to pick and choose from, can be frustrating. Don't feel you owe it to anyone to do their project just because they want you to do it. Be selective in the projects you take on - the target is to get paid what you deserve, while only doing things that you want to do.

In any case, if your gut is telling you it is too low, it is. Don't rip yourself off.

I know all of this is not necessarily a neat formula for figuring out a pricing structure; it's more like a few ways to use your gut to decide if something is worth doing. Best of luck to you!
posted by amcm at 12:49 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Book linked above. BUY IT TODAY AND REFERENCE THE HELL OUT OF IT.

My approach back in the day was to do phased work with phased payments.

something like this:

Round 1 (50 dollars upon delivery): 25 quick sketches. Out of the 25 sketches, the client decides to move to round 2 or not. If not, I have 50 dollars for my time spent, and I keep all the sketches.

Round 2 (150 dollars upon delivery): Out of the 25 sketches, pick 3 ideas. I make 30 rough drawings on nicer paper, 10 for each of the selected sketches. This round is primarily intended to explore options and help nail down where the client wants to go. They can back out, but I keep all the work.

Round 3 (300 dollars): Out of the 30 drawings, 3 are chosen as finalists. A draft illustration is made for each of the 3 at least legal, usually larger size. At this stage I am making presentable work that could be framed and hung in a hallway. The client can keep the draft they chose, I keep the other two. They can back out here or continue.

Round 4: (500 dollars): I make a final illustration. This is intended to be a high-quality, frame-able work that you would want to display in a main location in your home or business. If intended for print, I do all the pre-flight proofing and work with the printer that we negotiate on and the client pays all proofing costs. At this point I give the client the final work and high-quality copies of all the sketch/draft work streams in an archival "job jacket" that also contains copies of my personal notes related to the work.

So, I end up earning a thousand dollars, and leaving the client with 13-15 pieces of work that the client can refer back to see the "lifecycle" of the work. It also helps preserve the provenance of the project, and gives both the client and myself something to refer to on future projects. This way the client feels that they were involved throughout, they have a tangible good, and I was paid as the pipeline was filled.
posted by roboton666 at 1:18 PM on March 15, 2012

Oh yeah, this whole process was described in work statement that was carefully described to and signed by the client before a mouse ever double-clicked illustrator...
posted by roboton666 at 1:24 PM on March 15, 2012

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