What’s the cost? Creatives tell us what they actually charge for projects
Five honest contributors outline three top tips they’ve learned in regards to pricing work, and also tell us what they’d charge for three hypothetical projects.
The Next Generation (formerly known as The Graduates) is a new annual series highlighting the freshest talent new to the creative industry. Whether you’ve recently graduated with an undergraduate degree, or if you’re about to this year. Or, alternatively, if you didn’t go to university at all but are less than a year into your creative career, you’re eligible to apply. Applications are open until midnight BST on Monday 2 August. We want to celebrate a diverse range of talent no matter what medium you work in. From graphic design to fine art and everything in between, wherever you are in the world, please do share your work with us. We can’t wait to see what the next generation of creative stardom has in store!
In the run-up to the showcase, we’re publishing a series of advice articles dedicated to making those first steps in the industry that bit easier. A few months ago we launched a survey calling all emerging creatives to tell us what advice they need and from who. The advice series is a direct response to this survey. It aims to answer the most pressing questions, directly from the voices that wish to be heard. We hope you find the content insightful, useful and inspiring; whatever your next step ahead.
Money. We rarely talk about it but it’s something we all undeniably need. It’s a murky topic that makes many cringe and clam up, as what one earns can become a judgement for success or arrogance. But for newcomers to the industry, particularly the ones that want to go freelance, pricing work is essential know-how. Many newcomers go at it alone and work out the value of their time through trial and error. This inevitably leads to some mistakes and sticky situations which, if we were collectively more honest and discussed the topic more regularly, could be avoided.
There are a few resources out there, Rate Sharing is a great place to get a feel for your industry’s standards. Alternatively using time tracking apps such as Toggl can help you understand how much time a project usually takes, and therefore how to cost it. But knowing what to charge is nuanced, individual to each person depending on experience, the tools used, the time taken to complete a project and where they are in the world. To give you an idea of how five practising creatives price their work, and to demonstrate that money is a topic we should all be talking about, we’ve asked them to tell us what they would charge for three hypothetical projects. They also provide a run-down of what they’ve learned about money in their careers to date.
Harry Butt is an animation director, repped by Blinkink in London, who’s freelanced for several years boasting a client list that includes Boiler Room, Chloé, MTV, Nike, and Warner Records. He sees how fear on both ends of the spectrum – those making large amounts of money and those who aren’t – stops people from candidly discussing the topic. On the one hand, he explains, “there is such a huge pressure to be on a hustle, and we are pitted against each other in competition [so] that the fear of judgement stops people from talking openly about money in case of perceived failure.” Then, on the other hand, there are the people who are making the big bucks who are cautious to divulge their financial status because they’re worried about losing a sense of authenticity and selling out. “The problem is that this mystery is only benefitting the clients – we’re in a situation as a community of creatives where we’re accidentally playing ourselves off each other and gambling our way into precarious financial situations by guessing numbers,” he adds.
For Harry, the main issue when it comes to pricing is the fear of not being paid. What is more, when working out what to charge, there’s a lingering trepidation that the client won’t stick to their promise. “Often the details of a project change, perhaps more work from you is needed, and you need to be quick and confident in making sure you’ll be paid fairly,” says Harry. “I used to be very cautious about coming on too strong about issues like this over email, but I’ve lost so many thousands of pounds from clients, it pays to be polite and firm about payment. Don’t be afraid to ask for 50 per cent upfront,” he says.
With this in mind, Harry’s top tips when it comes to pricing your work are:
- The most basic formula for working out your day rate is to work out your expenses (rent, bills, food, etc – e.g. £1600) and work out how regularly you can get work (ten days a month?) and work backwards from there. For ten days of work, you’d need to charge £160 per day to cover the bare minimum, so you would want to make it up to £200 to cover extra costs like savings and work upwards from there depending on your experience. My current day rate is about £300-£400.
- In addition to the above, the most basic formula for working out your project fee is working out how many days it will take, add another 20 per cent or so in case the project drags on or you need to buy some things like materials, digital assets, or fonts.
- Get a contract from the client or download a template online. It’s boring and weird to be official but it means things can be way more informal and easygoing from that point onwards. It’s the most consistent way to get fairly paid, I promise!
A kinetic logotype for a chain of fast-food restaurants. It’s probably not going to take you long to make, as the logotype has already been designed, but the animation will appear in ads across Instagram and TikTok in East Asia.
“When I was starting I would charge £1,200 to £2,000 for this. Often the “quick” jobs do end up becoming longer projects and I would try to gauge how much time I should make for multiple rounds of revisions etc. Larger corporations should have the right to be picky and so I would charge the right amount to be able to be patient with them in that process.”
A four-min music video for an up-and-coming band – you already listen to their music and like what they do. The job requires techniques and processes you’ve worked with before, you’ll be undertaking the whole thing on your own and have a month to complete it.
“This one’s really hard to price when you’re starting. This particular scenario could be anywhere between £1,500 and £4,000 – the lower end would cover my time and any materials needed to produce the animation, the higher end would be executing a higher quality piece by bringing some extra help on board. Any higher than that and it may be asking too much if the band is very small.”
An ad for a global sports brand – they need you to create three to five scenes that will be edited in among live-action footage of a national Men’s football team, to announce their squad for the next World Cup.
“As a new or junior animator, I would expect to be paid at least £2,000 for this, up to £4,000. This is another huge bracket in terms of an estimate but it depends on the details of what’s needed here – how involved the animation work is, whether an art direction needs to be established from scratch, etc.”
Jo Zixuan Zhou
Jo Zixuan Zhou is a freelance illustrator living in Shanghai who is a master of editorial work. Her beautifully tactile drawings – inspired by printing textures and simplistic compositions – have appeared in the pages of The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Businessweek and too many others to note. Jo agrees with Harry, stating that the lack of transparency around money occurs through fear of judgement and that this happens in all industries, not the creative ones. “We run the risk of being judged for how much money we make, for talking about it and asking about it. Am I not successful in making so little? Am I boasting for attention? Am I being impolite?” she questions. The difference when it comes to our industry, she remarks, is that making creative work is inherently intimate and so trading that for money (especially a lot of it) “[can be] easily associated with greed and inauthenticity”.
Luckily for Jo, she connected with friends and professors while studying and in turn, they became her go-to whenever she was confused about pricing. With plenty of experience now under her belt, her tips today are:
- Know how much you’re worth and don’t be taken advantage of.
- Some clients don’t have much experience working with illustrators. So you’ll have to explain why you’re charging this amount of money for this amount of work.
- Make sure you know what rights you own when it comes to your artwork. List your services and rights clearly before signing your contract. The devil is in the details.
An illustration for a book cover – the author’s previous book was their debut, a best seller and you loved it, so there’s a lot of anticipation for this upcoming release. The book will be launched in London before rolling out in bookshops up and down the UK.
“The premise of these quotes is that I don’t collaborate with any third party agency. So no other party is taking a cut from the price. I assume the contract only buys the usage rights to my cover image in the UK, not in other countries. My quote is $3,000.”
A series of three spot illustrations that will run alongside a feature in the magazine of a newspaper. You’ll be working with their art director to visualise the editorial, in your style. You’ve worked with them before and know they always go through at least three rounds of feedback, plus the deadline is five days from now.
“The keywords for me here are five days, three pieces and three rounds of feedback. It’s quite a rush. It’s also for a feature of a national news outlet. So my initial quote will be $2,400.”
A character illustration to feature on the branding of a new soft drink company, launching in Shanghai. It's going to be sold in some of your favourite restaurants and cafes across the city and the brief sounds fun!
“$2,000-5,000 USD depending on the size of the soft drink company and how important this campaign is for them. Advertising jobs usually have slightly higher budgets than publishing and editorials. And there are more elements involved in the creative process.”
Aurélia Durand: Solange (Copyright © Aurélia Durand, 2021)
Aurélia Durand for Amazon: International Women’s Day (Copyright © Aurélia Durand, 2021)
Aurélia Durand has made a name for herself through bright, empowering illustrations, animations and paintings through which she celebrates diversity. Her focus is on Afro-descendants, who she depicts with joy and pride. Colour is a major facet of her practice; one that’s embedded within her work for Adidas, the BBC, The New Yorker, Pinterest, Refinery 29 and countless others. Through such a varied practice, it’s no wonder she’s experienced when it comes to figuring out what to charge for her work.
Aurélia believes that getting to grips with pricing your work is fundamental to having a successful career in this industry, and universities should give more attention to the topic when putting students through their paces. Continuing Jo’s observation that dishonesty around money happens everywhere you look, she says: “Money is shrouded mystery not only in the arts; it’s in all kinds of businesses. We often do not see creatives as business people, but we, as artists, create art to be consumed, so we have to price our work. In art school, teachers do not teach students how to be an entrepreneur which is arguably the most important thing to learn, plus how you should market your work, so many students give up on being an artist after graduating.” Having not had that vital education, she says that she instead “learned a lot by making mistakes. Today, I know how to price according to what I am capable of offering but I am still figuring it out.”
So that you can avoid some of those mistakes, Aurélia shares some things she’s learned as well as advice on where you can get more information:
- To be confident, I make art that is valued.
- I learned from the most prominent business people how to price my skills online to have an entrepreneurial mindset. I found answers via podcasts, videos, Instagram accounts, and more.
- To know what my work is worth: when do people comment on it, what do they like, what do my clients want from me, what is my unique skill which cannot be found anywhere else? How much is this worth?
A series of designs for tote bags with a major US retailer. The designs will be rolled out online and in-store and are limited edition. The client is super specific about what they want from you so there isn’t much creative freedom, but you align with their ethical production and use of sustainable materials.
“First of all, I would not take this job because there is not much creative freedom, which is the most important thing I look at in a creative brief. But let’s imagine I need to get money to pay my bills and I can’t say no. It’s still a creative job that I will find joy in. I would ask for $15,000 for one design sold in all their shops on a tote bag. $7,000 for printing on tote bags. $5,000 for digital marketing. $2,000 for the use of rights.”
A poster for a music festival in Barcelona – it will be used across social media but also on billboards, bus stops and flyers across the city. You haven’t heard of it before but recognise a few names on the line-up. It seems cool and you can get a couple of tickets too if you want them.
“My price would be between $5,000-$15,000. It will depend on the popularity of the festival.”
A single portrait of an author who is being profiled in a major US publication – the portrait will appear online and in print and you’ll be supplied a specific photo to work from.
“Illustrations for newspapers do not have a big budget, and they have a standard price. It is usually between $200 to $1,000. I would take this job because it’s good publicity for my work. Also, this kind of job can’t be found, it is usually the art director who is contacting the artists.”
Based in Lagos where she produces warm, velvety imagery is photographer and filmmaker Isabel Okoro. Her work has graced the covers of magazines including Native and Splash & Grab and been published in Dazed, The Face, Vogue US and more. Throughout her portfolio, she explores “interactions between the motherland and the diaspora”. In the past, she’s sought advice from websites like aphotoeditor.com and from friends with experience in her field or who have done similar jobs. She thinks “a major reason people don’t want to talk about money in the creative industry is that there is a large disparity when considering social factors like status, race, gender and sexuality… People don’t want to talk about money because if they did, they would have to confront the roles they play in such an unfair cycle.”
Like many, through this process she’s learned a thing or two and so offers these as her top tips:
- Always ask about usage – where your images are being used plays a huge part in how much you should be charging.
- Aim high during negotiations, don’t lowball yourself.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
A five-page story for a new magazine being published in Lagos. Your brief is super open, so you’ll basically get to do what you want but you’ll also have to source any props, styling, models and scout locations yourself.
“Since I would have to handle the production, I’d charge between $1,500 - $2,500 depending on what the concept is and how many talents are needed. This figure takes into account the fact that it’s a new magazine being published in my hometown.”
A portrait of an actress for the launch poster of a major global film tipped for the Oscars – this poster will be used across Europe in cinemas.
“Considering the usage of this portrait, I would charge about $12,500. $2,500 as a creative fee and $10,000 for the licensing fee (two years, OOH use).”
A cover image and ten-page story for a major publication with a celebrity; they’re famous for being a champion in their sport, but also widely admired for their politics and activism. You’ve been following them on Instagram for years, and they’re on your bucket list of people to shoot!
“All things considered, I would charge about $5,000 for this project if production is to be covered. Otherwise, the production fee would be added on top of this. Considering they’re a celebrity, I would negotiate copyright with the publication so I can re-license the images in the future.”
Callin Mackintosh is a freelance graphic designer based in London, with a focus on typographically-driven editorial work and visual identity design. He’s worked on projects of all scales, from the identity of Sundance Film Festival to a lookbook for independent fashion designers, so he’s got a lot of experience adjusting fees to different contexts. He recalls the beginning of his career, where he avoided talking about money because he simply had “no idea where to start” having not been taught anything about it during university. He feels “ it would be beneficial for all design courses to have these business skills integrated into the teaching module to ease the transition from university into the industry.”
He understands that often talking about money openly “can be a very complex issue, and ultimately, I think people just want to protect themselves and their privacy.” This is something he’s seen even before entering university, as “many of us are brought up being told that asking about money is rude and invasive. This concept of it being impolite to ask how much someone earns and to never disclose how much you earn can make it difficult to have open conversations about money and often allows people to either devalue themselves or be undervalued by an employer.”
Callin also echoes some of Harry’s aforementioned wisdom, saying that often the difficulty isn’t in the quoting, but contracting. He advises including “a day rate that will be charged should the project overrun the agreed proposal” and that you “always charge a percentage of the project upfront before starting the job.” He adds that “there are so many variables to consider that can be very different each time. It’s never as simple as ‘how much would you charge for this?’, there’s so much more that has to be considered. Also just because someone charges a certain price for a project don’t feel pressured to think you should charge the same. Work to a cost you feel happy about but also that the client feels happy about. Good things happen when you start a project in a positive way.”
Having gleaned knowledge from close friends and through experience over the years, Callin shares some more of what he’s learned:
- Appreciate the value of what you do. Some people don’t appreciate the value of graphic design as a service. Probably more so nowadays when pretty much anyone with a computer or phone has access to some form of design and editing software. But don’t let people take advantage of you and devalue the service you provide. You should be paid for your experience as well as your skills. You wouldn’t ask a plumber to do the same job for half the price they initially quoted so why should a designer?
- Manage your time (and theirs). When quoting on a job, set out some key milestones within the proposal and give yourself plenty of time to meet them. Also, give the client specific deadlines for when they have to get feedback back to you. Without these key milestones throughout the project, it’s easy for waiting times to mess up your project timeline.
- Never work for free. It’s killing the industry.
A custom typeface to be used on the exhibition identity at a major London gallery. They want something stylised and in line with the concept of the identity, but don’t need any special characters etc. The identity is going to be rolled out on social media, in the gallery and in print ads.
“As mentioned above it’s never as easy as just giving a cost for a project without knowing all the details, and it is really important to find these out before you do. For a project like this, on this scale, I would possibly partner up with an independent type foundry or designer. I am a strong believer in collaboration, particularly when it’s something so detailed/specialist as creating a full typeface. An identity and typeface including the type foundry’s cost could be anywhere between £2-8k depending on all of the final deliverables.”
An artist publication – they’re not super well known, but the gallery collaborates with an established imprint on all of its artist editions and is open to you leading the direction of the design and materials. Having read up on the artist, it seems like they explore some interesting themes in their work but they’re complex and the project will require a lot of conceptual groundwork.
“With publications, a lot of this comes down to the volume of content in the book. How many pieces of written text, word count, image count, rough page count, production budget etc. As a very rough estimate, this could be anywhere between £3-8k.”
Branding for a new alcohol-free gin company – they want to position themselves in the craft beer and natural wine scene, so are aiming for a fairly young and discerning audience. They’re based just around the corner from your studio and have a small team. The product will only be sold in London.
“For an identity project, the main thing to help determine the cost for me would be the deliverables. Logo, typeface, website, packaging, products, merchandise, motion work etc. Again it’s impossible to give an exact cost without knowing all of these details. This could be anywhere between £3-15k depending on the deliverables and the costs of external developers that might be needed.”
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.