Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Clients: Please Tell Me Your Budget

Every so often, someone will come out of the blue and contact me about doing a piece.  These emails are remarkably similar in their content.  The person contacting me will talk about an exciting image they have in mind, trying to hook me on how cool everything could be.  They'll give me specifics about the publication (if there is one) — you know, dimensions, how much room to leave for typography, etc.  Sometimes, they'll give me their credentials to sweeten the deal.  And almost without fail, there is one piece of information that is missing: the budget.

So, I reply.  And in that reply, the budget is one of the very first things I ask about — it's an important part of the business, after all.  Not uncommonly, what I get back is some variation of the following:

Well, what would you charge for that kind of thing?

Now, I understand that the original omission was intentional.  Maybe it's because you're hoping I'll come up with a lower figure than you had in mind.  Maybe it's because you're embarrassed by how little you have to offer.  Or maybe it's just a basic gimmick to get me to email you back in the first place.  I'm not sure what your motivation is, but no matter what you do, the budget is something we're going to be talking about in pretty short order, and I recommend you be prepared.

Personally, I don't know an artist that isn't at least a little irritated when the question of budget is put back to them.  In fact, instances like these often set off a flurry of emails and phone calls behind the scenes where we consult one another on the details of the job and potential fees.  We're creatives — what do we know from money?  Many of us like simple transactions:

Here is a job.  I have X dollars.  If I give you X dollars, will you do this job?

Look, I'm not going to pretend to understand people's motives (or lack thereof) for how you're dealing with the question of budget.  Frankly, your motive is none of my business.  But I can tell you this: we don't know what you, as the client, can afford.  If the job is compelling enough there's a real chance that some of us will work with you on budget, as long as it's within reason.  What we don't want to do is play 20 questions, and I'm guessing that you really don't want to either.

I think it's important to come to the table with a number prepared.  Having that figure ready allows for a faster transaction, and the faster the transaction the better for all.  It either allows for the maximum time for the artist (should they agree) to get the job done, or it allows for the maximum amount of time for you to find a different artist who can give you what you need.

However (and this is the important thing), this does not excuse the illustrator from knowing their fees.

Tomorrow - Illustrators: Know Your Fees


  1. Well put Steve. I HATE feeling like I'm haggling over my own work.

  2. I got all my practice haggling at the dinner table...

    me: "No cookies after dinner"
    my kids: "Five cookies!"
    me: "One cookie"
    my kids: "Three cookies!"
    me: "OK, two cookies. But just this once."

    After fifteen years of that, I can beat any market square vendor in the realm!

  3. @Chris - Indeed. It can be really frustrating.

    @Daniel - Thanks!

    @Sean - I'd imagine such negotiations would fortify your will with potential clients.

  4. Kathleen C. and Jon W. would be proud Steve.

  5. @Kenny - not sure that either would be as this post invariably will bother someone. Tomorrows will likely be a bit more helpful.

  6. Nice move! Can´t wait for tomorrow post.

  7. That's fair, but yet - are you dealing with people who customarily deal with artists' budgets? You could tell me that a piece would cost $500 or $10,000, and I wouldn't know either way whether that was an unusual amount.

  8. Liz,

    Typically, I'm dealing with people who have dealt with artists before, and their ideal figures come out in the wash after being initially evasive. Again, I can't pretend to understand why, but it's a really vital part of the discussion.

    In the cases where the person really never has dealt with artists, it still comes down to what they can actually afford. I would hope that the prices artists quote are honest ones. I'd also hope that the folks hiring the artist did a little research and have worked out a finite budget.

    Fortunately, there's a resource that I will talk about today that is invaluable to both parties when dealing with these issues.

    And, yes, I know I just turned an answer into a tease. Sorry about that.


  9. As a new freelancer I am reading as much as I can about the business side of things and am still wrapping my head around negotiating, what points to consider, what to ask,what to do with the info like a budget once I have that info,etc. A great post. Looking forward to the next one.

  10. Lance,

    Negotiating is a difficult thing — especially when you're starting out. Things do get a bit easier over time.

    Ironically, a lot of the work I've gotten over the years has had no room for negotiation. It really has fit into the category of "here's a job for X dollars. Take it or leave it." I've also been lucky that the rates offered were rates I could live with.

    In fact it's only recently that negotiations and price quoting has become a more regular thing for me, so a lot of this is actually just me talking to myself.



I welcome all comments, questions, and discussion so long as you keep it civil.