“This will only take you a few minutes!” The dreaded words that your client will say to you as a freelance creative. More likely to be heard if you released an hourly rate you use as an estimate for client rates. It doesn’t matter if they are right about the time estimate or not, what they will never see are the hours, days, weeks, months, years reviewing the fundamentals of the creation they require. If something takes thirty minutes, it is the end result of YEARS of struggle and art fundamentals plus… their thirty minutes.
As creatives, we need to brace ourselves for this phrase and prepare a polite, diplomatic response. Like it or not, this phrase IS coming. If you haven’t heard it yet, you will. It’s like a teetering bucket of water over the door. No one knows when it’s coming, but it’s certainly coming!
As publishers it is important not to dictate to an artist the time they will take them to do your job before you have revealed the requirement. Leading with “This will take you XXX time” puts up a guard in your creative and unnecessary pressure that will only harm the end product. You have no idea if they will need to research some specific anatomy, posing problem, or other area they haven’t encountered. Saying how much time it will take is the job of the artist, not the person requesting art.
If you have accidentally released an hourly rate somewhere, I would suggest you go out and pull it back right now!! keep it secret, keep it safe. We often do this rough guideline to create estimates for clients, but once a client has it in their hands, they will start estimating your time and work for you. Every publisher out there would happily take a dozen 15 minute sketches when they see you charge $20/hr. Inevitably they will also start overestimating the quality you can produce in 15 minutes. Then you have a publisher steaming later when they budgeted an entire project on your $5 pieces of art. “These should be 15 minute pieces and you said $20 / hour!!”
You can give estimates in a per-piece rate, or per X number of pieces, a per project rate and contract each out for review individually. Releasing an hourly rate is the fastest way to misguided and miscommunicated rate expectations there is.
This week I have spent a number of hours reviewing fundamentals. Just to keep them strong in muscle memory. these studies are things that clients never see, nor do they need to see. You can’t let clients start setting your rates for you though, they don’t see your overhead. Hours spent reviewing these basics can seem tedious, wasteful to some, especially those who want to get things to print, but to the creative they are the daily workout that keeps the muscles strong. I keep sketchbooks intended for no one. Just for practice of fundamentals. They don’t get saved, or treasured, or even looked at much after that day is gone.
As creatives, we need to keep control of our business end. No other self employed business owner let’s clients call and set the rate at which they will work. Get in the habit of giving clients estimates, bids for jobs, and keep track of the demand on your own time. If you produce holiday items, and the holidays are coming, the demand on your time is higher. Clients often need to be in a queue, keep your timelines written down, leave time for days off. a creative needs to control their business.
when someone calls or approaches with “This will only take you a few minutes….” put the brakes on, politely and diplomatically respond to that statement specifically,”I need to have a closer look before I decide how long it will take to turn this over for you. Let’s have a look at the details before I take a stab at how long I need.”
A writer can write the words,” The five heroes emerge atop a mound of dozens of dead bodies!” in a few seconds. Illustrating 5 heroes with specific armor, anatomy and equipment atop a dozen or more dynamic anatomical poses and lighting challenges does not.
Often though, we don’t treat our creative field as a business, and when we don’t, neither will our clients. If someone is about to pay you money for art, you are in BUSINESS and it will truly behoove you to start running your illustration jobs as a business. Give estimates and bids on jobs. put timelines on estimates (Rate valid 30 days after estimate) is standard. Offer clients your best work, at your best price, but be sure to not undervalue what you do.
If you are struggling to put a price on your work or give estimates for design and illustration, The Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines is an invaluable resource. It also has boiler plate contracts that cover revisions, deadlines, and how to bill.
“This will only take a few minutes” might be something you say to yourself, but isn’t for anyone else to say FOR you.