Thursday, April 12, 2018


So many of my Directory advertisers are getting asked to submit proposals and estimates for national and international work they know will pay well...really well - so they ask me for advice. I want to share the best input I've been given from professionals, two leading artist representatives, who negotiate all day long.

Remember the value you bring to the project and be sure to ask the right questions to know exactly how to win the job. And don't give up if the bidding process doesn't go your way. Be positive about the connection you have established with this new potential client and work to build on it for the future.

Here's the complete Q & A: TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR PRICING!! Here are some general questions YOU may have and advice on how to respond...

Scott Laumann   -

Question: I have worked with some major illustration publications. Work has been a bit slow lately and I’m taking on some smaller clients. I don’t really want to adjust my rates, but at the same time I understand that budgets vary from client to client. What is the best way to educate a client on my pricing structure, as well as to charge a rate that is appropriate and not too low?

Illustration is one of those subjects where clients have a hard time understanding the price structure, since there are no hard costs to accommodate pricing, like hard drives, equipment rental, etc. The best way to validate your worth for a job is to base it on industry standards for illustration projects similar to what you’re doing for your client.

The Graphic Artists Guild is a great starting place to justify what rates are acceptable in the marketplace right now. The problem is, editorial and other publications tend to pay editorial rates, not advertising rates, and these rates can be half the costs of an advertising project.

Question: Any tips for building sales confidence in new commercial illustrators? I don’t want my sales inexperience to reflect poorly on my work – and I do want to turn interest into sales.

As an illustrator new to the field, learning how to build sales confidence can be daunting. There are so many variables to consider when working in the advertising, publishing or editorial worlds. In the field of commercial illustration, potential clients don’t want to feel like they are being “sold to,” so effectively “selling yourself” comes from a combination of things you project on the phone or through your emails – once a potential client reaches out to you. When it comes to turning potential jobs into actual sales, the key areas you should be aware of and work on include:

1. Learn How to be Personable and Accessible When Communicating With a Potential Buyer
If you maintain a professional demeanor and are truly excited about the project, buyers will hear that in your voice and know that you want to work with them. There is so much competition out there that how you handle yourself on the phone, your enthusiasm (without sounding too pushy) and your ability to help them with costs – or with more of your work, to help them move forward – will set you apart. In this market, it’s the little things that push you to the top of the list! I have had illustrators who were considered for a job, but the client needed to see more work to help them sell the illustrator to the client’s client. Can you offer this? Are you willing to do a test if necessary, to show them what you can do?

2. Show Confidence in Your Work and Knowledge of Commercial-Project Pricing and Processes
The more knowledge you have in the pricing arena, the more confident you will be. You need to be involved in illustration groups such as the AIGA (, Graphic Artists Guild ( and the Society of Illustrators ( so you can understand what others in your field are going through. By keeping in touch with your industry peers, you will have a better idea of how to price your work, what questions you should be asking and which requests are just unrealistic. When I have interest from a client, the first thing I do is find out the scope of the project, the usage, if they are supplying any reference, what in the artist’s work inspired them to think of that particular illustrator for this job and, last but not least, whether they have a budget in mind.

3. Listen – One of the Most Important Skills You Must Develop!
How well you listen has a major impact on how effective you can be for your client. You have to listen to obtain information, to understand and to learn. After listening to the assignment parameters, the goals of the ad/illustration and any concerns the client or art director might have, you’ll be able to offer better suggestions – and show you will be a good collaborator.

4. Learn How to Say “No”
If a project isn’t right for you stylistically, or you can’t meet the deadline, or the client is not willing to pay what you feel is a fair price, you need to be able to say “no.” In these instances, the most helpful thing you can say to a potential client is, “I’m not the right person for the job because…” This builds your credibility. Yes, you may lose a sale, but you’ll probably gain an advocate because you shot straight with them. It’s also a good idea to suggest another illustrator who might be a better fit, to show that you want to help your potential client find the best solution for his or her project.

It’s also important to learn how to bring in more potential clients. Research your competition and find out who they’re working for. Find out what accounts are using more illustration in their campaigns, then research who the creatives are so you can market them directly. They know how to use illustration properly – and they’re not afraid to!

Question: I understand the value of including some personal work on my website, but where and when should I not market personal work?

As agents, we can’t stress enough how important it is for commercial artists and photographers to create personal projects. It’s at the top of the list of most important things you can do to keep your work interesting and evolving.

Personal Work = Personal Connections
Creating personal work not only gives an artist an opportunity to create new imagery for his or her portfolios, but should open the door for experimentation – creating for the pure joy of creating, no strings attached! – and feed the soul by creating work that comes from purely personal passion.
In many instances, potential clients are just as interested in this work – if not more interested – as they are commercial pieces. It allows them to see a broader dimension of the artist and helps them understand the artist on a more personal level. We love showing and promoting most personal work!

The goal of marketing your personal work is to intrigue clients and get them interested in working with you. You want them to move you from the giant pool of artists vying for their attention to the much smaller group that already has their attention and is being considered for work.

Pick Your Spots Carefully
But there are times when personal work should not be promoted within the commercial area of an artist’s business. An obvious example is not promoting personal work that’s not 100-percent complete, technically or otherwise. That’s a given.
Another good example is if the personal work is too erotic or sexual in nature. Although this work can be very interesting on a fine-art level, it’s not appropriate for most commercial venues. There’s a line where the sensual aspect of nudity crosses over to erotica, and it’s best to err on the side of caution.

If a personal project is too controversial, you should also avoid marketing it in a commercial venue. Examples of such work include pieces that make strong political or religious statements. Such work might be more appropriate as an editorial statement or as material for your blog. Think about the old adage that tells you, in social settings, to avoid sex, religion and politics!

Another example of personal work to keep out of your marketing materials is work that’s just so abstract a potential client probably won’t see any application for it. Your personal work should be promoted in a commercial venue to not only showcase your talent and creative thinking, but to inspire potential clients. In the commercial world, it’s great if that inspiration can somehow be applied to our business of advertising. Creatives need to see a connection between your work and what they create … a suggestion of how your vision can enhance theirs. If you’re marketing with an image that’s so artistic that it has no real application, you’re going to confuse people and lose an opportunity to shine.

Creatives have limited time to review what’s in front of them, and they continually look for inspiration. When a wonderful eblast or a direct mail piece with an inspiring or influential image hits their desk and they take notice, you have achieved your goal.
You also have to bear in mind how much competition there is out there, doing the same thing as you. Make sure you’re showing your strengths in a way that encourages targeted clients to use you.

Question: Clients always ask for an estimate, and I tend to lowball – any good strategies for coming up with a proper estimate?

Creating an accurate estimate is the best thing you can do for the client, your own illustration business and the industry. Even though no two estimates are the same, most can still follow a general outline for what should be included. Here is a list of questions to ask your potential client to help create an accurate estimate that fulfills both their expectations and your needs.


1. How did you find out about me? Is there something in your portfolio that inspired them to think of you for this project? Make sure you understand exactly what they’re referencing so you can make sure you’re comfortable executing it, and are clear on what they’re hiring you to do. This will also help you determine the level of complexity of the illustration they’re looking for.

Project Description

2. Do you have a layout? How complex are the illustrations? Are they single-spot illustrations or more complex scenarios? Are they providing any references for you to use? Are they looking for you to concept illustration ideas with the creatives, or are you working from a pre-approved layout that will not allow for much change? Is this black-and-white or a four-color piece? Are you working in layers?
3. What is the timing for the initial pencils and the final illustration? Usually, you should have three to four days for the initial pencils, and after client approval, another five to seven days to deliver the final. Two rounds of pencils are standard; anything more should have an additional charge.

Usage, Licensing and Copyright

4. Usage is very important in helping you price your project. Note that consumer advertising will be priced much higher than illustrations for a children's book or direct mail.

Does the client want national, regional, international, web or worldwide uses? How long is the usage? What is the media use: consumer ad, trade ad, packaging, direct mail, billboards, brochures?

5. If clients say they want unlimited use, you should explore if this is really what they need and offer alternative licensing to match their budget. Often times, clients are not “educated” in this area of rights-based pricing; they will be much more understanding if you take the time to outline that they will ultimately save money by purchasing just the usage they need. For example, if they see the difference in cost for a two-, three- or five-year use, this may be more in-line with what they really need vs. unlimited use/time. 
Most clients aren't planning on a consumer magazine campaign or any out of home use, they may just want unlimited collateral (direct mail and consumer or trade brochures and inserts) use. Find out specifically what they’ll use the artwork for and tailor your pricing to match.

6. If at all possible, never do "work for hire," give buyouts or sell your copyright. You’re essentially giving away all of your rights as the creator of the artwork and giving ownership to your client. They in turn can reuse and resell the artwork in any way they want.
You can still retain your copyright even if it's unlimited use, worldwide for an unlimited time and exclusive to them. If they feel they may need the artwork for other uses down the road or for a longer period of time, these extended uses can be renegotiated or factored into the original contract as well.
Remember, they want to use you and you want to work with them. This is a negotiation to give them what they need and pay you fairly for the creation and use of the work. You’re working together to create a fair contract for both parties.

7. Will this image have resale potential in stock or other markets? Does your licensing give you this option?

Keep Budgets & Other Paperwork in Mind

8. Editorial and book clients usually have a predetermined budget. Sometimes you can renegotiate if you feel it’s too low for the amount of work they’re requesting. You should always get a credit line for editorial or pro-bono work.

9. Do they have an allotted budget already in mind? If not, when do they need numbers?

10. Is there a contract? You should have your own contract in addition to anything they supply.

Hang Up

11. Never give an estimate while you’re on the phone with your client. It’s best to hang up and think about what you’re comfortable with.

12. Review your estimate before submitting it. A great source for guidelines for estimating various projects is the “Graphic Artists Guild Handbook” at


13. After you have submitted your estimate and it’s approved, make sure to have it signed and sent back to you.

14. After the project is confirmed, you should bill 50% of the job. This is important for cash flow since illustration projects can stretch over a number of weeks with the back-and-forth for approvals. This is also important with a new client that you don't have a payment history with.

15. In addition to billing upon confirmation AND having a new client sign your contract, you may want to get a purchase order from you client as it is a contract to purchase your services from your buyer.

Now that all the paperwork is in order, relax and have fun creating a fantastic new piece with your client!

Q&A Courtesy of my friends at Friend + Johnson (illustration representation agency) who allowed me to share the best advice they have about pricing that they would give an illustrator. 

Have a successful day!
Jo Ann
Marketing Expert/Illustration Consultant
Founder/Past President ICON, The Illustration Conference