5 Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Start Any Illustration Project

#1 Have You Confirmed the Full Scope of the Project?

Why Do This?

…because unless you do, you could be setting yourself up for a whole world of hassle later down the line.

…because until you do, you can’t provide a quote accurately or assess whether a proposed fee is worth it.

Will Terry gives this advice about managing scope creep…

“Newer and smaller businesses often do not have a good understanding of how business should be conducted. Creating a good working relationship is even more important when working with these clients because you will often have to take them by the hand to educate them.

For instance, one of the biggest problems you will encounter is “scope creep”.

Scope creep happens after you have signed a contract or agreed what the scope of the project is going to be and then you are asked to create more work.

Example: Your client wants you to illustrate a dog, cat, and mouse having dinner together. You agree on all of the specs, price, and deadline.

After you send in sketches your client informs you that he/she would also like you to include a donkey at the dinner party.

Since there was no possibility of satisfying the sketch on the first pass it is unfair to ask for this extra work without offering an additional amount of money.

If you’re a good designer you know you can’t just “add” an donkey into the sketch without redesigning the entire composition. If I were doing the painting for $1000 I might ask for an additional $50-$100 for the extra work.

The most important thing in handling these situations is to be informative in a kind way.

A careful explanation of your position should help most clients understand their error in expecting something for nothing.

You might even offer to do it for free this time so you can help preserve the relationship knowing that if it happens again you will hold them to paying an additional fee.”

#2 What Are the Copyright & Usage Terms?

Why Do This?

…because all parties need to be clear on who owns the rights and how long they own them for; these terms then form part of the fee.

Brett Ryder shared this advice…

“Some editorial companies will try for perpetuity, which in my opinion is completely outrageous! The acceptable term is one-time use within the magazine/newspaper, and 3 months use on their website and within the article it was commissioned for (there is some movement on this, but it’s pretty standard).

Sometimes – mainly in packaging or adverting – perpetuity is unavoidable and you will need to make the decision as to whether you are happy with this, and that the fee reflects the buyout of the image.”

Here’s a checklist of key aspects that need to be agreed upon:

Usage Rights Checklist

#3 Have You Confirmed the Financial Terms of the Project?

Why Do This?

…so you can be paid what you’re worth!

…so you know what you’ll be paid, and when you’ll be paid it.

Here’s a great article on how to calculate your fees, which includes the following advice on how to set your hourly rate:

How to calculate your hourly rate

[Annual salary + Annual expenses + Annual profit] ÷ Annual billable work hours = your basic hourly rate

Annual salary: What would you like to make a year? Consider this as a business expense (paid out to you as your own boss).

Annual expenses: Includes purchases and overheads for your business.

Annual profit: This is the profit charged over and above your expenses. Our friend Ilise Benun suggests 10-20% of your salary as the norm.

Annual billable hours: 365 days minus vacation, sick time, weekends off, and time you spend doing administrative stuff, and multiply by the number of hours you work a day, approximately.

Basic hourly rate: This is a guide, not a rule. You may choose to share this with a client as your hourly rate, or you may just build it in when you give a project fee.

When you’re calculating your fee, remember to consider the following:

  • Your hourly rate – calculate the number of hours each stage of the project will take (sketch, back & forth, final artwork etc.), to calculate a total. You do NOT have to communicate your hourly rate to a client, nor your time estimates either – but it does enable you to calculate a fee rather than guesstimate it using gut feel 😉
  • Client management time – remember that your fee should include the time you work on a project which includes back & forth with the client (by email or phone), as well as any research or other time spent on that particular project.
  • Expenses – equipment and any resources required to complete the project should be included in your fees.

And finally, be sure to confirm the payment details & schedule which means clarifying what and when you can actually expect to receive the monies from the client.

The following are often up for negotiation:

  • An initial deposit, paid upfront – many people will tell you not to expect or ask for this, but it can be used as a point of negotiation if a client has a tight deadline and/or can’t pay the full amount you quoted/asked for.
  • A kill fee – so you’ll be paid for any work you’ve done, even if the client cancels a project.
  • The final payment – always submit your invoice ASAP upon completing a project and put a note in your diary/calendar (or use followupthen) to remind you to chase up the payment if it hasn’t come in on the day it is due. Even better than this is to send a pre-emptive reminder a few days before the payment is due asking for confirmation it will be included in their next payment run.

#4 How Will Changes & Extra Requests Be Managed?

Why Do This?

…because things change. Always.

…because when they do, you’ll already have agreed the process to manage these changes.

For advice on what to do when things change AND you still want to be paid, watch this (it’s for designers BUT highly relevant). WARNING: NSFW…

#5 Have You Got Everything in Writing?

Why Do This?

…Because unless you do, you won’t have a leg to stand on should anything go wrong.

…Because it doesn’t need to be a scary, legalese document – it can simply be proof of everything that’s been agreed in writing (and emails still count).

Chris Oatley gives this excellent advice…

If a potential client is resistant to the idea of beginning with a contract, run away! Contracts exist to protect everyone in the professional relationship.

The biggest problem, however, is that most artists don’t work with a contract of any kind. They never even have the contract conversation.

It’s easy to villainize clients, but I rarely hear of an artist actually doing their due diligence and ensuring that a contract is arranged at the beginning of a job.

So all that’s to say, always work with a contract and on the rare occasion that a potential client is resistant, don’t work with them.

This is a brilliant tool to create a simple contract that covers all the important bases. Plus read about the red flags in licensing, if art licensing is your game.

And one final but brilliant tip that comes from this excellent article, is this:

Be clear that the written agreement is the final agreement…

“This is the parties’ entire agreement on this matter, superseding all previous negotiations or agreements.”

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