As a freelancer, perfecting the craft of negotiating your rates is a crucial but difficult task. Many people in the creative (and all!) industries struggle with this, due to lack of research and preparation, not setting out expectations from both parties, and the general awkwardness of it all.
How about some quick-hit negotiation tips to start off:
- Be sure to accurately gauge what your client wants before you quote them a price. It is impossible to give a fair price without an idea of what the project will entail. Consider how many edits you'll provide before requiring additional payment (the standard is 2-3 edits). Will you have to hire equipment? Are there any other overheads you must price in? Also ask what how they want your work submitted in this could be a file type, multiple sizes, or specific file sharing sites.
- Be confident in what you're asking for. This is mostly a language issue. Rather than timidly saying "I'd like $500, is that okay?", be more assertive and say "$500 is what I charge for this service". If you can explain why your work is worth this much, that's a bonus! Even if you can break it down into time spent on particular parts of the project, that’s helpful.
- Be sure to set a deadline for the work to be submitted. This sounds like a given but trust me, we all forget sometimes. It's also good to establish when the payment will be processed with the client. Do they pay on submission? Or on publication? Within 15, 30, or 90 days of the invoice?
Image by Talenthouse Creative Carina Lindmeier
Calculating your fees
Starting out, it is hard to know your worth. How much is my time worth? How do I charge? Per hour, per project, or on another kind of metric?
It's important to factor in any expenses you have. Some you'll be able to claim back in a tax return, others you won't. Either way, consider if you should charge a little extra to hire better equipment for the project, or for the travel cost.
A photographer and creative director, who has been commissioned by clients like Nike (and wanted to remain anonymous for this piece), reached out to people doing similar work to him to ask what they were charging.
"[Other people in the industry] get asked these questions all the time." He said, "so they're happy to send information and links across to help out."
Image by Talenthouse Creative Mohak Ahuja
The first time the photographer negotiated a price he was scared he'd lose the client. To his surprise, the client respected that he'd negotiated his price and made room in their budget to pay him more.
Unfortunately, not all clients are this accommodating. If the client refuses to budge on a figure and is underpaying you, it is time to consider whether this is a client you want. Will they respect your process and vision? Or are they simply looking for cheap labor? Don't be afraid to turn down a client that is undermining your value.
That being said, if you have some extra time to take on the client despite the bad pay, it could be worth saying yes while telling the client this is a one off. Then ask them to leave a positive testimonial in exchange for the work at a lower rate.
If a client doesn't want to pay the fee you deserve, consider offering a different approach to what they originally suggested. If you break down your work by time spent and cost per hour, it’s easy to see clearly how you can be fairly charged. If the budget is too low but you don’t want to lose the client, you can offer revised work with fewer rounds of edits, for example.
Things to switch up to match a clients budget could include:
- Less revisions
- Reduce the ambition of the project (e.g. only one day or location of filming instead of three or four)
- They travel to you rather than you commit to any travel
- An extended deadline (equally you can charge more for a quick turnaround)
- If it's an NFT project, consider asking for some NFTs
Image by Talenthouse Creative Izabela Olesińska
Sometimes a client disagreeing with you can feel personal, but it isn't, and you shouldn't take it as such. It’s really all about numbers in their spreadsheets. If a client offers a rate far below what you usually charge, don’t give in to temptation and exclaim "I can't believe you've offered so little, this is far from acceptable!" A more mediated response is along the lines of: "Unfortunately, this is not within the pay range that I accept for the amount of work and skill involved. With your current budget, I'm not sure I could offer you something of value. I could, however, offer you the below for the rate of $500 (or whatever you’re charging)."
It’s always a good idea to have a friend in the industry look over your negotiation, if you’re concerned you might be taking things too personally. As they’re not involved in the discussion but will still want you to do well and they understand the industry, it can be so useful to have their fresh eyes and opinion.
Even if you have to turn down the client, you don't want to burn bridges. You never know what the future could hold.
Building a portfolio
Every piece of work you do should contribute to building a better portfolio. This is because your previous commissions will start to help you begin negotiating your prices. It will prove your worth to future clients, making them more comfortable trusting you with their money.
Multimedia Designer Antoine Mingo, most well-known as being the artist for Pudgy Penguins, is adamant that a good portfolio can change your career.
"My portfolio started to speak for itself! I didn't have to explain myself anymore," he said. "Artists are giving people but at some point, you have got to hit back, show [clients] your portfolio, and explain the rates you've been getting."
To amass enough work to build out a portfolio, you may have to work for a lower rate than you may want. Antoine used to make local rappers' album art for much less than he earns now. But this enabled him to prove to future clients that his work is worth the money. You could also submit to briefs on Talenthouse that show clients how you interpret briefs from huge brands, and show off the work you create as a result.
Image by Talenthouse Creative Bethany Morns
A rule to live by is that if you're not getting something from a commission, don't do it. Be it a big paycheck, a great piece for your portfolio, or a client that will provide you with a great experience. Every piece of work you do should push you towards your goals.
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