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The Ultimate Breakdown of Pricing (And What They Don’t Tell You About Pricing)

The Ultimate Breakdown of Pricing (And What They Don’t Tell You About Pricing)

Just how much should I be charging?

The bane of every starting freelancer out there.

I remember that was the very first question that I typed into Google when I decided to turn my art skills into a freelancing career.

And it was horrendously frustrating, because this is what comes up when you search about pricing:

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But what if my operation cost is too expensive?!

blah

Okay, that sounds legit... but WHAT IS MY RATE.
Okay, that sounds legit… but WHAT IS MY RATE.

Oh.

My.

God.

JUST GIVE ME A NUMBER ON HOW MUCH MY WORK IS WORTH. TELL ME HOW MUCH SOMEONE STARTING SHOULD CHARGE. WHERE IS MY CLEAR PATH TO BECOMING A COMPETENT FREELANCER???

It sounds stupid now that I have written it out.

As I matured as a freelancer (you might not need to mature as a freelancer to see how unreasonable those wishes were), I realized why those articles were written the way they were.

And I get it, as an experienced freelancer reading them, I nod in my sage wisdom about how true those articles are.

Oh, yes, definitely, that’s how the young ones should freelance.

Because by the end of the day, no one can tell you how much your work is worth. After all, it’s annoyingly subjective.

And it is frustrating because all you want is a number, so all of those don’t negotiate your rate or don’t price yourself too low advice can fly over your head. What is too cheap?! What is too expensive?! How do I know?!

But I am terribly sorry. I can’t tell you what your rates are. Because I am probably not your potential client. That’s really just it. I can’t tell you the numbers because I am not the one paying you for your work.

You need to do research on your own about that.

What I can do for you is to break down on when I personally have done free work, work that didn’t paid as well, and work that paid very well. When did it worked and when did it not work. Because I’ve been there and I tried it.

Before you read this article, I heavily recommend that you do research what your market pricing is first.

Otherwise, the stuff below can fly over your head.

Why free work?

“Don’t ever work for exposure!”

If you ever ask any freelancer for their opinions, their first advice is usually to warn you against picking up projects that offers to pay you in “exposure”. There’s good thinking to that, but as it is with everything else, it is not as simple as black and white.

Why?

I am going to be honest upfront, I got my start by doing free work.

And I am not the only ones out there that got their running start due to free work.

But what I did is very carefully chosen free work.

One of the problem with the concept of free work is that there’s a bunch of opportunists that are pretending that they have exposure to pay.

And exposure is great! The problem isn’t in exposure, but the fact they are usually lying about the exposure (either they have no exposure to give or that they are actually unwilling to give exposure).

Exposure also doesn’t put food on your table.

These opportunists also doesn’t understand that if it is free, the involved artist is also not obligated to meet any standards required since the work is done as a favor.

When I first started, I worked for authors that I admired, knowing that I will enjoy the process of bring their stories to life. They also understood that as I wasn’t demanding any payment, they can’t set any standards to whatever work I throw at them.

And it worked great because we didn’t expected much from each other, but they got artwork they loved (because I did love their stories in the first place) and I got their money the next time they wanted to hire an artist.

This article by Ryan Holiday is one of my favorite about how careful you have to be about free work. He also talks thoroughly about how you should approach it and when to use the “free work” card.

Pros

  • If done right, it can be a great way to getting yourself very exciting projects that you actually love and can learn from.
  • It can actually be great for exposure. It is also a great networking method.

Cons

  • If you aren’t careful, you can literally end up in a project that’s actually just work, but unpaid.

When should I work for free?

  • If you noticed a project you really want to work on and you feel like you can deliver value to that person.
  • If you are trying to expand your portfolio while doing a little bit of networking.
  • If you are working for your own creativity.

When should I not work for free?

  • If someone is offering you “exposure” instead of pay (make sure that you are the one that makes this call, not your potential client).
  • If you have no idea what you are doing and decided to just do something random to appease a big company or a popular figure.

Why offer a lower rate?

“Make sure you get paid what you are worth.”

I am going to be slightly controversial for a second.

I will tell you why — sometimes — you want to aim for something lower than the dream rate you want to go for.

And no, it’s not because your potential clients will tell you that they can find cheaper help elsewhere.

It also won’t be because your work isn’t valuable.

The simple truth is this — charging high requires a ridiculous amount of self-confidence. Or bullheadedness.

I see many extremely talented artists and freelancers fall into this trap. They can hardly believe they can be earning premium… so they just don’t ask for it.

Also, there is a surprising amount of freelancers and artists I’ve consulted that told me how they have trouble starting because of this advice:

Get paid a high rate or don’t do it.

So I tell them that if they have trouble stating what seems to be a high price without wincing at themselves, they should simply start by charging low.

Then they gawk at me.

“I can do that?”

Yes, yes! You can charge yourself a lower rate. Yes, there’s a lot of some higher moral ground crap about how charging low is killing your fellow artists’ livelihood… but that’s all just mental bullshit.

The unspoken thing about charging high rates is that your #1 enemy is yourself.

Ramit Sethi even coined a term for something like that and how it sabotages you. He calls it mental barriers.

If you are one of those people that hesitates to start because you simply don’t feel ready to ever charge someone, start low.

Because it is better to be charging something, even if it is just $1, than sitting there and doing nothing. At least you are getting yourself started and making small progress.

There were times when I was offered projects that seemed like uncharted territories to me, so I offered a lower rate than the usual market rate. And it helps because it allowed me to genuinely figure out what my work’s value is at for that market.

Then the next time a similar project is being offered, I just increase the price. There is no problem with that.

I am going to repeat myself, but I can’t emphasize enough that you should be researching about the average pay for your service. There is comfort in knowing the solid market of your chosen market.

And by that, I don’t mean just surfing in Fiverr, because it is easy to find freelancers that charge cheap just for the sake of it. I mean research as in go out there and talk to the people that made it in your specialty. Their perspectives are priceless and they can really paint the picture on what it takes to be successful with your craft.

If you are an illustrator or artist that’s looking to work for a company in a major project (marketing, concept design, etc.), I highly recommend picking up this book (I don’t get affiliation for this). It covers almost all sort of graphic artists jobs and the average payment for the job as well as the average freelancing price.

Pros

  • Good to build your confidence — starting cheap is a good way to start building that confidence.
  • A good way to start getting the feeling of being paid and how freelancing feels like.
  • If someone isn’t sure if you are the person for the project, offering a small project to try things out can also help.

Cons

  • Attracts mostly bad clients.
  • Create a psychology barrier for you to increase your rate later on your career.

When should you price your work lowly?

  • You are just starting and you are worried you cannot deliver the value expected.
  • You have no idea if freelancing is your thing and you don’t want to owe people a massive amount of money if you fail to complete the projects.

When should you not price your work lowly?

  • You’ve been at it for awhile and you have a steady amount of clients – learn to increase your rate here.
  • You are actually confident that your work is better than the same people that charge far higher.
  • You are getting way too many low quality clients.

Why Charge a Higher Rate?

“Premium prices mean premium clients.”

This is where every freelancer’s ultimate dream is.

One big fat paycheck for one quality project.

The funniest thing is that good quality clients want that to be true too. After all, if you aren’t distracted on other projects, you are putting your best in their work. And they would pay premium for that sort of attention and care.

 

So sometimes when you are not getting customers or you noticed that potential clients seem to walk away as soon as you named your price…  maybe increasing your rates is actually the solution.

That certainly happened to me. When I charged a modest $25/hour rate for my art commissions, I got 0  sales. It was only when I took an almost reckless and desperate attempt of raising my price to $60/hour that I actually started getting clients.

Same service. Same market.

Different price created different results.

That’s why researching your pricing is important. Your market might actually have price expectations. When something matters to your clients, the last thing they actually want is a cheap service, because people don’t usually think highly on cheap services. They also don’t trust cheap services.

And you can capitalize on that.

 Pros

  • Usually gets the best quality clients.
  • You can focus on delivering better work instead of spending time and energy in outreach.
  • Clients usually have more confidence in your work if they are convinced to pay you a higher rate.

Cons

When should you price your work highly?

When should you not price your work highly?

  • You don’t actually have the technical skills to back it up.
  • You aren’t actually sure if you can deliver the results.
  • You have no idea if freelancing is your thing.

In the end, when you are deciding what’s the best rate for you, I say choose something you are comfortable with. That’s the most important part. A number you truly feel represents your work.

A number that you aren’t ashamed to say to your potential clients.

Because there’s always ways to fix your rates later. Reputations aren’t set in stone either. What is hot news today isn’t going to be hot news tomorrow. There’s also no rule or actual expectations out there that say you have to stay with the first rate you choose.

I had to fixed my rate when I first started. And I had to increase my rate later when I had a steady client base as well.

Was it awkward? Yes. Was it nerve-wrecking? Oh hell yes.

But it always did work out rather well.

Still confused and still tearing your hair out about what pricing your art is worth? I understand that it can feel very life and death and no “just set a price and try” advice can sway you from it.

I encourage you to send me an email. I might not be able to tell you the exact pricing, but I can definitely help you in figuring out how you can find the right answer.

As usual, if you know a freelancer or an artist ripping their hair out because of PRICING. Help them out, send them this article.

“I Want a Refund!” — 3 Things Nightmare Clients Do

“I Want a Refund!” — 3 Things Nightmare Clients Do

So. Funny story.

Just a few days ago, I got an email from a client telling me that she wanted a refund for her deposit. She did it right on my birthday and it really did spoiled my celebration spirit quite a bit.

Which is funny, because just two weeks ago, I just talked about how “nightmare clients” aren’t the end all of freelancing careers and that we shouldn’t be scared of them despite the terror that they can bring.

But as I read those four words “I want a refund“, I felt crushed.

Was it rational? No, it really was quite irrational for me to be so crushed about it. It isn’t the first time a client had asked for a refund. I also know last minute cancellation is a regular occurrence. Shit happens and people cancels appointments all the time.

Still, it didn’t stop me from having crushing doubt about my own freelancing career:

Was it something that I did? Did they find out something indecent in my social media? Did they find someone cheaper for better quality work?!

Maybe she thought I was a fraud.

Then there was also frustration and anger at the client because she has booked two weeks of my work time only to leave me hanging last minute.

Suddenly I have two weeks of a forced vacation.

No matter what the client’s reason is, it still doesn’t change this fact: clients suddenly demanding a refund is one of the biggest nightmares a freelancer can have.

Thankfully for me, I had my contract to protect me, so I managed to get ahead of the situation.

But contracts really should be a last line of defense. Whenever you pull out your contract to make an argument, you are likely also kissing your relationship with that client a solid goodbye. Then it becomes a giant PR damage control fest.

And thankfully for you, you can avoid all of that. You can learn from my mistakes.

In hindsight of this whole mess, I realized that there were a few warning signs that I should have acted on. Such as when she consistently spelt my name as cilena, when my name is Celina. Yes, she never used caps.

I am kidding. That really wasn’t a warning sign.

It was other things that made my gut twitch, but I still agreed to work for her because she came to me as a recommendation. I thought better despite getting the massive gut feeling that she’ll bail out on me.

And it turned out my gut feelings were 100% accurate.

So learn from my mistakes.

Here are 3 signs that might seem like nothing, but are actually huge warning signs:

  1. They don’t have any  questions for you.

This was actually the first warning sign that made me concerned. My ex-client told me that she didn’t have any questions after I asked three times if she had any questions or concerns about the project.

Because I normally get a lot of questions.

Okay, maybe you are much better at explaining things than I am, but the chances are you probably still left out a few details that your potential client have concerns about. And that’s completely normal. Questions are the start to a healthy working relationship!

So you can imagine why having no questions can be a problem.

It can mean a few things:

  • They aren’t actually interested in their own project.
  • They aren’t paying attention to what you are telling them.
  • They have no idea how their own project will go.
  • They aren’t serious about their project.

In my case, she actually had no idea how her project (a website) will actually turn out. She just thought it will happen.

All of this basically boils down to a simple fact.

They don’t have a quality project for you to work on.

And that’s a pretty big problem because you don’t want to work in circumstances where required resources aren’t made available. Trust me, the last sort of people you want to work for is someone that doesn’t know what they are doing and don’t really care to learn. They just think things will… happen.

Alternatively, they might be expecting you to do all the work. Because they are looking for a miracle worker, not a freelancer.

And that’s really just as bad.

  1. They talk about wanting the project completed… fast.

This one is one of the biggest red flag.

If a potential client wants you to complete a project quickly or implies that this is a job that you should be able to finish in a few days… RUN AWAY. Double the speed if they insist on you to work on their projects immediately.

This might seem like a reasonable request, especially when you are first starting and are desperate for your very first freelancing job. After all, you do have the time!

Whenever I have picked up a client that wants the project completed “fast” without regards of my other on-going projects, they have always shown that they don’t have actual respect for my time.

This is because when you are working as a professional, you have other clients to care about. Even if you are just starting as a freelancer, you probably have other stuff you got to care about before you can commit yourself to a project.

This is a basic human courtesy that many potential clients surprisingly forget. It is also very basic time management.

If a potential client demands that you cater only to them, the truth is they don’t think very highly of you. That means they will be very unlikely to pay you a reasonable rate or respect your time in future collaborations.

  1. The milestone and expectation of the project are not discussed.

As a freelancer it is your job to discuss about the working arrangements and project milestones. A healthy working relationship means both you and your clients understand the limit of what you are going to do and when you are going to finish them.

Setting up milestones is a great way to communicate those expectations. It also makes perfect project management sense to have milestones.

If a client doesn’t really care about it and decided to wave it off?

This could be a huge disaster for you as a freelancer, especially if you are not working on a signed contract. This is how most nightmares start – when your clients start thinking that you exist only to work without repayment.

So in the scenario where a potential client insists that “you’ll work along the flow”, you really should insist on the necessity of milestones. If they still aren’t interested, make a mad dash and find another client.

But what should I do if I get a bad client anyway?

Unfortunately, bad clients are like ants. No matter how hard you try, you’ll still get to experience some of them. That’s just how it is, shit happens and sometimes – surprise, surprise – it might not actually be under the client’s control.

In these scenario, here is what I heavily suggest your contract to include:

A non-refundable deposit.

This is what kicks in if a client suddenly leaves you without work for two weeks. Or if a client demands a refund because they are suddenly very displeased with the work you’ve done so far.

It’ll save your hide a lot of the time.

This blog post, which is written by a former lawyer, talks about the fine line of a non-refundable deposit, the actual meaning behind it, and why you should be careful when you are exercising this right. He breaks it down perfectly to why you should consider having it and being careful about the phrasing in your contract.

It might seem overwhelming to have a contract, but do know that there’s a lot of templates and resources that can help you with that.

Not sure how to write one?

Click here for the contract template I use for my freelancing work

Point being is you should always have a contract and have a non-refundable deposit clause in your contract. It will give you control over a potentially messy situation.

Of course, whether you exercise the option or not is completely your choice and depends on the circumstances. You don’t always have to be an asshole to someone that asks for refund.

Do you know someone that deals with way too many bad clients? Send this article along and help them out.

Don’t Be Perfect (Because It’ll Kill Your Art)

Don’t Be Perfect (Because It’ll Kill Your Art)

I did something extremely terrible.

A few months ago, I submitted a super ugly commission. Something that was way below my usual standards.

But there was a deadline and that was it. Time’s up.

I remember thinking, “Oh man, this client is going to give me an EARFUL about how I produced such a bad artwork for such a high price. MY CAREER IS DONE.”

This was just going to be a complete disaster. She’d tell her friends and post on social media what a fraud I was… and I’d have to pack my freelancing career into a coffin.

And then… I received a message from her. I was saying goodbye to my short-lived career…

She told me she LOVED my work and she will continue to tell all her friends to check me out.

Wait. What?

CAN’T SHE SEE EVERYTHING WRONG? IT IS THE UGLIEST PIECE OF CRAP—

She didn’t care.

I learned a very important lesson that day.

People gives very little shit about what you think or do as an artist.

That can be a very depressing revelation, but it wasn’t for me.

Before that, I demanded all my work to be perfect before submission. It’s how I thought I delivered the value that they paid me to do. So I only did one project per month. Pushing all my energy to perfecting my craft for my clients. One perfect little project at a time.

But that was wrong.

Their idea of perfection had very little to do with what I had in mind. They weren’t looking for technical perfection. So I stopped trying to be technically perfect.

And you know what happened?

I got even better as an artist.

By constantly demanding myself to be perfect, it sapped me from the improvements I could have gained.

It was the simple act of doing more that made me into a better artist. Because when I did things, I got active feedback about what was actually going wrong and it wasn’t just a part of my imagination.

As artists, we are trained to make sure our vision of perfection is met. Just the concept of polishing till it gleams, till it is standing perfect to us.

And this toxic mindset translates to everything else too.

My friend (who graduated from SCAD as a graphic designer) spent 4 years refining her portfolio before she applied to her FIRST design job. All because she wanted to submit a “perfect portfolio”.

Her mentor, which she found later in her job, told her it wasn’t actually a good portfolio and she was crushed.

4 years!

That’s a very long time to put your career on hold simply because you were trying to pursue a perfect version of yourself. And it didn’t even turned out good.

Is being a perfectionist stopping you?

With the amount of horror stories out there about freelancing, it can feel like that you are only a step away from a nightmare.

But you can’t be better without trying first. And that might mean failure in some levels or it might mean small errors that you can do better in your next opportunity.

Until you try though, theories and practical strategies mean nothing. That’s the important part. Theories and strategies are all tweaks to something that you’ve tried and are just feedback to how you can be better.

And I get it, mistakes can seem like the end of everything:

  • What if your bad portfolio chases that one important client away?
  • What if no one will hire you because you have no website?
  • What if you priced yourself too low and you become known as a “cheap artist”?
  • What if you priced yourself too high and everyone remembers that one time?

I’ve done every single mistake that a freelancer shouldn’t do and I’ve simply bounced back from it. Know that every single mistake you might make IS COMPLETELY REVERSIBLE.

So, I am going to challenge you today. I’m going to give you permission to fail.

Embrace failure.

What’s that one thing you’ve been stopping yourself from doing because you keep thinking you aren’t ready? Take that one thing, give it your best shot, and see where it goes.

You might just surprise yourself that it won’t be as bad as you thought.

PS: Do you know someone that keep waiting to be perfect before they start their goal? Send this to them and give them permission to be imperfect!

Why I fucking love Starbucks

Why I fucking love Starbucks

Here is a somewhat well-known fact about Starbucks, actual baristas hate them.

The barista that taught me how to brew a perfect coffee told me to “stop drinking that crap unless you wanted to die.”

So, I know how to pull a supposedly perfect latte that’s not too harsh or acidic and all that coffee mumbo jumbos. I do not have to spend $3.65 for a latte.

I love Starbucks though.

It’s a deeply shameful secret of mine.

Regardless of your opinion of Starbucks, I actually think coffee brewing has a lot of similarity to any artistic endeavour. An actual good cup of coffee takes a lot of work surprisingly.

Which is why it is baffling how in blind taste tests, even McDonald’s is reported to have better coffee than Starbucks.

So what happened there?

Once upon a time, there was a guy named Howard, who was struggling to make ends meet. One day, he was drinking a cup of coffee in Milan when he realized something: the owners there knew customers by name. The café he was at was homely, and the customers were encouraged to lounge and enjoy their time. The skies opened up and the angels sang to him.

Hallelujah!

Just kidding.

But something similar did actually happen when Howard Schultz (who was struggling to make ends meet) was drinking a cup of coffee in Milan when he realized that the café there was simply nice. And he decided to import the culture of that coffee shop to America. And that was the beginning of Starbucks as we know it.

Yes, Howard Schultz went into the coffee business wanting to focus on bringing a certain lifestyle to America. He wanted to show how you could enjoy a cup of coffee instead of just downing it as a source of energy. As many marketing gurus would say, he wanted to sell an “experience”.

Now many people go to Starbucks, knowing that they can spend $3.65 for a cozy seat and a table (if it’s not packed) for their own purposes. People go to Starbucks to work, to read, to study, to catch up with an old friend.

As one of my friends said, “Where else can I pay $3.65 and spend four hours at the same table without being shooed out?”

Coffee might be what Starbucks sell as a product, but it isn’t why people buy it.

You might be asking… how does this apply to you as an artist?

As people that love our craft, we run into a very similar situation as the baristas that hate Starbucks. We have a great appreciation for our craft perfected. It’s why we became artists after all.

However, it is important to remember — art is only a medium to what we really want to say. And we are doing ourselves a huge disservice if we don’t learn from the people who succeed. No matter what their technical skills are.

We all went into art and stuck with it because we have something inside of us that we want to show the world. But in the pursuit of perfecting our technique, we forget that people simply just care more about the message that your art has. Of course, a perfectly polished art piece is only one of the many ways you can showcase your message.

The truth is unless you are planning to sell your art to other critical artists, you only just need to be good enough.

For example, look at xkcd comic.

Stickmen.

It’s simple, but yet it has won awards simply because the artist understood that geek humor is the focus. People don’t care if it is stickmen or a properly rendered comic, their audience only cared about the jokes.

Why should people care about you? Why should they look at your work when there are so many other artists out there?

Of course, you can always wait for social media jackpot to choose you, but why should you when you can do more to create more exposure for yourself?

What is the experience you are trying to sell? What is that little extra something that will connect you to your prospective clients?

Think outside of the art you create.

3 Things That the Best Artists Do to Make a Living

3 Things That the Best Artists Do to Make a Living

It’s not easy being a paid artist. Actually, we have a reputation for suffering for our art. Any child (or worse, adult) who says they want to be an artist immediately gets asked whether we are scared of becoming one of those “artists in the streets” who will die a cold wintery death huddling their canvas and bottles of paint to the last.

It makes me sick.

This myth of the ‘suffering artist’ is something that should be burned thoroughly in the biggest bonfire out there. You do not need to suffer to create art (Elizabeth Gilbert has tackled this in Big Magic in a wonderful way, so I won’t delve into the subject here), and if you so choose, you can actually make a living out of making art.

It will take time, but let me repeat that again: you can make a living by making art.

Once you’ve accepted that, we can move on and learn how to become a paid artist, and maybe even a well paid one. You may not be sipping pina coladas at a beach, but you may, with time, become the artist who works in coffee shop on her own schedule.

I should forewarn you that this is not some “5 ways to get fabulously fit” articles that you can read and just “note down in your head” (that is, promptly forget it after you article-hop to the next thing). I’m revealing the system I actually used when I first started out as an artist.

You will need to actually do the things I’m saying to make it work for you.

Ready?

Identify Your Offer.

When you’re selling your art, or anything for that matter, you have to know what you’re selling. It sounds apparent and simple, doesn’t it?

“Oh, I sell my art skills. I can draw XYZ really well. If only people would give me a chance, heck, or even properly look at my portfolio…”

or

“I can draw (insert appropriate words) really well! And really fast!”

Okay, if you just said something like that, please stop. Here’s the thing: when you enter into the real world, there’s a break from your previous school approach. Your skills are important, sure, but your ability to convey your value is equally if not even more important. You are never just selling your art. You are always selling something else with it. That is the value of your art.

So what value do you bring to a business or person who is buying your art? What are you actually selling, along with your art?

Here’s a simple exercise: Get a pen and paper and jot down 10 things that Apple ‘sells’ with ONE product. This can be an iPad, MacBook, whatever. When someone buys an Apple product, what else are they getting? (Protip: It doesn’t matter if you don’t owe any Apple devices and don’t understand the hype. You can easily research and see what and how people actually talk about these products online. Apple fans are blessedly open about their reasons on why they’ll insist on buying Apple products.)

Some ideas that comes immediately to mind for me:

  • Convenience,
  • A suite of beautiful products
  • Prestige
  • Social currency (look cool in front of their friends or colleagues)
  • Good customer service

Now think about 10 things that you’re selling with your art. When people come to you to buy your art, besides from the finished product, what are they buying?

Guiding questions for those who are stuck:

  1. Why are they buying it? Is it for an occasion? To tickle their fancy?
  2. Do they have to buy it from you? (If it’s a ‘no’ make the answer a yes. There’s only one you. What do they get by buying it from you?)

Don’t skip or skimp on this exercise. Strain your idea muscle a bit and list out 10 ideas.

A lot of people, especially smart people, conceptually understand something and move on, saying they’ll come back to it (oh I’ll list out the values I provide later). But when is later? Never.

So do it now.

Done?

Good, now one more thing: List out 10 potential people (who aren’t your mom or dad) who will buy your art. You know why people will buy your art, now find out who they are.

Some guiding questions:

  1. What are their hobbies?
  2. How and where would they enjoy communicating?
  3. Where do they live? What is their culture?
  4. How old are they?

That makes sense, right? You find out what you offer, and who might buy what you offer. (It doesn’t matter if things are a little far-fetched now.)

Do you get the idea I’m trying to hint at here? Your offer, your services is what you’re selling, not just your art. As artists, we have the advantage where our art is marked with our style. But that is not enough for too many of us. Art is a matter of taste of the person buying it as well.

Your potential customer is out there, the question you have to answer for them is: Why are they buying your art?

Find a community, and join it.

Now that you know what you sell and who might buy your art, it’s time to test your theories.

Do the people you think will buy your art exist? If you sell portraits of fictional characters, for example, would Sam who roleplays a lot online want a portrait of her own original character? How about Craig who likes to send one-of-a-kind cards to his mom, and just likes the good, old handmade thing? Or Marissa who programs all day and wants a particular wallpaper for her computer monitor?

If yes, where do Sam, Craig or Marissa hang out in their free time? Is there a community out there?

Find these people. Hashtags are good for a reason. Use Google. Use Reddit, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, and Pinterest. Are there forums out there where your potential client base hangs out?

Research. There is no shortcut. I never said this would be easy. But preferably you already know a little bit about where your potential clients might hangout. You can check out my guide to social media and their general demographics + pros and cons here.

This will take you a while. Let’s say at least a week of intensive research, even if you have some idea of where your potential clients hang out.

The goal is to come to a list of 1 to 3 communities, more would be better. Lurk around a bit if you can and see which one you like.

As you lurk, keep these questions in mind:

  • Which one has people that seems more like people you can talk to?
  • Which is more active?

You can probably guess what’s coming next. But the secret is then to actually join the community.

This means you’re going to do MORE than just lurk and ninja around a site with a new account.

Yes, this is going to take time. But this is the difference between appearing like a salesperson and being an artist people have connected with, and want to buy from. People want to buy from people they consider genuine artists.

Protip: When joining a community, be a human being. (You can check out this podcast here with Ben Ee, Art Director of Wymac Gaming Solution since we talk a lot about social media and being part of the community.)

In this case, I’m going to assume there is a community of your target audience on some form of social media. If there isn’t any Meetup groups or social media groups for your imagined clientele, you might want to reconsider your offer and target audience. There are groups for board gamers and horror story addicts out there, for goodness sakes.

I have a whole other post on social media here. But the general rule of thumb is: don’t be a robot. Don’t be a corporate. Don’t post things without letting some of you show through. If you want to join a community, join as a human being. No one connects to robots or to a ‘brand’ like they do to a human.

Some communities will also have events. In such cases, join them. For artists especially, there is nothing like an event asking for artists to pair up (with another artist, a writer, musician, etc.) which will force you to commit to drawing more, and you’ll also have more potential to be seen by that artist’s audience as well.

Joining a community may take you a while. Depending on how active it is, it may be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

The goal is to gain recognition and fans for your work. Artists attract strong emotions from people. Be aware you might get a few haters along the way, but if you do, wear it as a badge of honour. People love to hate who and what they are envious of.

Make the sale.

There are a lot of people in the world turned off by that word. “Sale.” We remember the ‘sleazy’ salesperson who tried to sell us shit we didn’t need. Or that infomercial. Or that annoying ad from whatever website.

Honestly, as if we didn’t have enough to contend with already with the word “art” and the image of the starving artist.

But we’re going to defy those 2 tropes. You are not a trope.

The difference between you and the sleazy salesperson (or unwanted ad) is that you will have been part of the community. You will have gained fans and friends and people who love your work.

Now when you open commissions, or say you’re available for a job, people are listening. You have a layer of fans, of people who want to pay you to draw for them.

You still have to let them know you’re opening commissions. Don’t just post on your social media of choice that you’re opening up commissions. Let your fans know first.

This part should be the simplest part. Just go with something like this:

“Hi [Their Name],

Just wanted to let you know I’m opening up commissions soon. Let me know if you still want that [thing they said they wanted when you were talking to them, or thing they seem to really love] done.

If not, it’s cool, but I’d really appreciate it if you would spread the word when I officially open up my commissions :D.

Cheers,

[Your Name]”

You can edit it in a way that sounds more like you. But the important thing is to reach out to your most loyal fans first. Let them have early access, and if they aren’t interested let them know there’s no hard feelings, but you would really appreciate them spreading the word for you.

That’s it. Not that hard, is it?

Now let’s review what we just went through.

  1. It’s not easy, and it will take time, but you can make a living as a freelancing artist.
  2. You’re going to follow the steps that sounds dead obvious when you think about it. They are:
  3. Knowing what’s valuable about what you sell. Then brainstorming who will buy it.
  4. Finding if your potential customers exist. There’s a community out there for almost everything. Join the community. Be active, be human.
  5. For your most loyal fans (and you will get them as an artist), show your friendship and preference. Reward them in your own way. Sell to them, make them your advocates.

Now, there are probably some of you who scrolled all the way to the bottom to the summary. I SEE YOU. And I highly recommend you to take the time to read the whole article (because it’s packed with information that’s useful to you). A lot of people, especially smart people, skim and dismiss things. They think they understand the ‘gist’ of things and promise themselves they’ll do it. And then they don’t.

Try the whole process. Inevitably, you’ll meet some troubles or hiccups. In this case, you can check out my troubleshooting PDF here. But I highly recommend you to try it out yourself first.

As a final piece of advice, I would recommend you writing down your process and thoughts as you start your journey as a paid artist. Self-diagnosing your problems is one of the most vital skills that will make your career. Good luck.

Questions? Check out this free FAQ that answers the biggest questions artists have about becoming a paid artist.

Social Media: An Artist’s Lifeblood or… a Pointless Endeavor?

Social Media: An Artist’s Lifeblood or… a Pointless Endeavor?

Oh, social media. I have such a love-hate relationship with it.

There were days when I finish an art project and I am superbly proud of it. I think to myself, man, this must be my best work! My followers will love it!

So, I go and post it… excitedly waiting for the feedbacks, likes, and shares to roll in.

And then…

Nothing.

My brain implodes with shame and I am left wondering if my art just really sucks.

I am sure I am not the only one that has gone through this feeling. Social media as a whole seems like a giant enigma. One day, you’ll throw a half-assed sketch on Twitter or Tumblr and people will worship it, showing it with likes, comments, and shares. The other days, when you put up your best polished work and by the end of the day, you can count the likes on one hand.

It makes you wonder what the special secret ingredient to social media fame is, right? Why do some artists get a bazillion likes and shares with whatever they post and why can’t you be like them?

You might even think to yourself, man, these artists that are getting so much social media attention… they aren’t even good. I am better. I should get more attention.

Clearly you will never be the next artist that becomes famous through the use of social media, so you throw in the towel.

I’ll be honest here; the chances of you becoming the next Sam Spratt or Alice X. Zhang is rare.

Or at least, it’ll be rare because you will literally be waiting for the opportunity to fall into your lap. The chances of an art director coming across your work in the vast internet is abysmally small – considering how much junk the internet has in general.

Does that mean social media is useless? Maybe we all should just give up on social media?

Well, no. Social media is still immensely useful even if it won’t be your one ticket to fame. In fact, you shouldn’t consider using your social media just to create viral content. There is so much more a social media platform can do for you. Especially if you choose the right one.

I’ll like to figure out which social media platform is best for me!

Social media showcases the artist behind the art

Do you know what an art director’s #1 concern when it comes to choosing an illustrator to work with?

It is that they are good with deadlines and that they are capable of being collaborative.

The thing is when you show a portfolio, it only shows the best of your work and very little of the process behind it. Even worse, most portfolios out there don’t even show the personality of the artist.

As the name social media says, a social media platform is the best way to showcase your personality traits and your work process via being social through communities. It can do the heavy lifting that your portfolio or website cannot.

Additionally, social media also brings even further authenticity to your work as you showcase your projects consistently. It gives an idea to how your true work ethics is as a person and these are all things that good clients are on the lookout for.

Social media platforms are the best way to get instant feedback to your work

When you use social media platforms in the right way, your work can get instant feedback to whether you are on the right track or not.

Just where else will you be able to get feedback within a few hours of posting your work?

The key is of course that you have to utilize it in the right way. Make sure that you take part of art communities. With various search functions in social media, it makes it superbly easy to find where artists are gathering to post their art for constructive criticism.

Same thing with DeviantArt, which is a great place for starting artists to find their footing. You could invite people to submit criticisms in form of scores to see where your art is lacking – but first, you have to find the right communities!

Art directors are looking for their next illustrator on social media

And of course, the big one is that there are big time clients out there that are looking to hire for their next upcoming project.

However, in order to increase your chances of being noticed by them via social media, you should try to use social networks that are specialized for art directors, illustrators, and designers. Using social media platforms like Behance and Art Station will increase the likelihood that an art director will see your work.

Additionally, a 2014 survey has shown that art directors will look up your social media presence, if you have cold pitched or applied for a job in their company.

So, everything that we mentioned above comes into value then.

In the next blog post, I will talk more about how to utilize your social media platform to its maximum potential.

But first, I’ll love to hear from you about your experiences on social media. Do you have success stories with social media? Or have you been discouraged by social media? Do let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

ARTIST FEATURE: Rachel George

ARTIST FEATURE: Rachel George

Hello people! In Art of Commissions, I personally really want to try making this place the area where artists can get resources on starting their own freelancing career.

It is an overly intimidating idea and there are a lot of rabbit holes people can get stuck in while exploring this massive field of freelancing.

Hence, I decided one of the best ways to get resources on this site is to hear from other people that is not me. I will have other artists talk about their experiences and what is that one thing they really want you to know about freelancing.

With that said, we do have our first ever artist feature: Rachel George!

Rachel George is an amazing freelancing artist that specialized in LGBTQIA+ publishing houses. However, as you will find out soon, she didn’t exactly found her start to be easy and that there were definitely some missteps in her career before she finally found a niche that she LOVES working in. There are some cautionary tales and some insights to why passion and money might not be exclusive items in the equation.

With that said, I am very happy to introduce Rachel George as our first guest to Art of Commissions.

 


 

First of all, a little bit about yourself — how did you found yourself in freelancing?

I’m a freelance illustrator from England, I’ve been freelancing for over 10 years now.

When I’m not working, I’m playing video games… I really like retro games and frequently visit car boots/swap meets to try grab some bargains. Additionally, I will also be attempting to get through my backlog of unread books (and buying more to add to the pile, it’s a problem)  and hanging out with my wife – probably playing video games together.

I got into freelancing when I was around 17, I’d been doing a few private commissions here and there and decided I REALLY liked getting paid to draw. So, I enrolled into university to learn how to illustrate/sell my skills professionally. While I was there, I sent out hundreds of email enquiries to various different companies I wanted to work for.

There were hundreds of “no thank you’s” but I stuck to it!

Eventually I got a “Yes” from a small indie publishing house, and everything started from there.

 

The Fire Witch, Fantasy Book Cover
The Fire Witch, Fantasy Book Cover

 

What are you doing now as a freelancer and what were you doing before that?

I’m working fulltime as a Publishing Illustrator now.

The bulk of my work comes from LGBTQIA+ publishing houses, something I’ve wanted to do since I started reading Lesbian Fiction at the tender age of 15. Before I got into it fulltime however, I started off working as a graphic designer for NHS health pamphlets. The sort that you’ll find in a doctor’s waiting room. Back then, I’d taken that graphic design job as it was the only thing I could find at that time. I needed to pay bills and took the first thing that came along (even though I disliked it as it was the furthest thing away from what I wanted to do).

Eventually, I got a gig working in a publishing house focused on children books in Canada, where I worked for 2 years before moving back to the UK and freelancing again.

 

When you gave up what you thought was a more monetary-awarding freelancing career to one that you actually have passion for, was there any sacrifices you made? Was it worth it in the end?

If anything, I don’t think I gave up money over passion. It was actually the opposite for me.

When I was a graphic designer for the health pamphlets, I was trying too hard to force what I thought; that what a client would want wasn’t the health pamphlets. I also tried too hard to do everything at once; photo manipulations, photo touch-ups, graphic design, and illustration. I was stretching myself too thin and ended up making mistakes and getting in over my head – all just because I was taking on work I hadn’t a clue about because I was desperate for money. I ended up completely screwing it up.

After I stopped trying too hard to do work in what I THOUGHT would lead to money (it didn’t), I focused on what I really wanted to draw. I actually ended up gaining a lot more clients for it.

I think when you actually have passion for your work, it reflects in your art as well. My work reflected my love for the work I do instead of a monetary necessity when I started working for publishing houses.

Not to mention, when you have love for your work, the clients became equally as enthusiastic about paying me for my work.

 

FINISHED-CARD-SMALL600pix
Winter Christmas Holiday Owl Cards

 

So, when things were difficult and you were going through that particularly tough moment in your life and you thought you were in over your head, how did you bounce your mentality back into a positive career progression? 

At one point, I was juggling three jobs just to make the rent, I worked two part time jobs and, at the end of each day, I’d come back and work on my freelancing until I had to go to bed.

It was tough and mentally taxing, but I pushed through out of sheer determination to finally drop one of the part time jobs to work on my illustrations more. After a good solid six months of non-stop work, I was able to drop down to one part time job. And then after 12 months, I had enough returning clients to go solely freelancing. It was worth it for sure.

What kept me going was honestly the enjoyment that my freelancing brought me and knowing that no other job could bring me that level of satisfaction. I think it helped that I’m obnoxiously stubborn too!

I went from working on NHS pamphlets to the children’s publishing gig by chance. However, it was mostly due to talking to people and making connections. I knew someone in Canada and I took a gamble on going out there to try something new.

While I was there and looking for a job, I did a lot of networking online. Then through my networking, a children’s book author found me via Hire an Illustrator. She contacted me and we chatted and I ended up working with her. I’m still working with her after 5 years since the initial meeting! She’s one of my best clients.

Sending out a TON of promotional mailers helped direct traffic to my website and allowed for my client to find me. Building a web presence is really integral to my marketing strategy as well. I was really active on Hire an Illustrator, Twitter, Facebook, and some Canadian based social websites — all promoting my work. So, I think that really helped kickstart my freelancing career!

 

Wolf's Eyes, Book Cover
Wolf’s Eyes, Book Cover

 

If there is one advice you wish you knew when you were first starting — other than the one about passion, what else will you want to tell your past self?

TALK TO PEOPLE.

Get on twitter, talk to other illustrators, look at what they’re producing and be inspired by them.

I made the mistake of being anti-social as hell and not reaching out to my other illustrators for a whole year and it resulted in me not having a clue about what I was doing and not learning from others.

Also, DON’T EVER DO THAT CRAPPILY PAID OR UNPAID JOB. You will regret it, you will hate your life. If there’s one thing I can be 100% sure about, it’s every single client I’ve worked for and received little or no pay from, I’ve hated it, and they never treated me with respect.

Without fail, I can say that clients that pay properly will treat you with more respect than those who pay nothing/next to nothing, it’s not worth it, ever.

But honestly, if you’re mulling around the idea of taking your enjoyment of art/illustration to a professional level, go for it! It’s honestly the most rewarding job I’ve ever had, I’ve had a few jobs in my life and nothing has come close to the satisfaction of holding a product in your hands with your work on it.

It takes a lot of hard work, perseverance and really thick skin. However, if you put the hours into not only your art, but with promotion as well, talking to people, sharing your work, building a presence, and networking, it’ll pay off. There’s no secret formula in this, it really comes down to hard work and it’s honestly worth every hour you put into it.

 


 

I just want to add an add-on to what Rachel is talking about and that there is a lot of good points she brings up.

As a starting freelancer, you’ll be tempted to make a lot of sacrifices. And if anything, you’ll think that is the right way. This is including taking up free jobs, doing projects for a niche that you don’t really like, dealing with nasty clients, etc. The list can go on forever, because there are a lot of people out there that thinks design and art is cheap.

Don’t let them fool you, don’t let them convince you otherwise. There are also a lot of people that believes that art has value, design has value. You just need to be patient and spend the energy to finding them instead of catering to the wrong crowd.

Secondly, Rachel is actually one of the biggest reason to why I started freelancing as well. She is right, don’t be hesitant to reach out to your fellow illustrators. We are here to help and we understand how hard it can be!

If  you want to see more of the amazing Rachel George, her website is www.rachelgeorgeillustration.com and she also runs a blog. Do check it out!

Of course, if you have any questions, do leave a comment below! She will try her best to get to your questions.

Wondering how to pitch to potential clients and get them interested in your service? The Five Components of a Killer Pitch gives you insight on how a client’s mindset works behind the scene.

I am ready to get some A-class clients!

The 5 Steps Guide to Getting Your First Art Commission… All Done Without a Website

The 5 Steps Guide to Getting Your First Art Commission… All Done Without a Website

Did you know I once knew an artist with 16,000 subscribers and she only earned 24 USD per month?

It was horrendous and I remembered it filled me with dread. It was like…

If someone so internet-famous can’t earn her share of money, how could I?

I could tell you how you can start making more money than that. Right now. Without even having to set up your own website.

It was a struggle before I realized what I am about to tell you though, I did all the stuff that senior freelancers told me to not do.

I did free work aimlessly (hoping it would create exposure as it was often promised), I charged my freelancing rate atrociously low, because such good artists are out there doing 50 USD per character design sheet, I felt the market was too competitive.

Just who am I that I could charge premium cost? I wasn’t as good as an artist as them, I am simply this nobody!

And you know how many clients I got in that period where I was willing to low ball myself and I even offered to work for free?

0.

That’s right. I got 0 clients.

And I was horrified. Was I so bad that no one would want my work even if it is free?!

I tried everything. I believed that maybe that I was advertising my skills in the wrong medium. I thought maybe if I try these different shiny platforms, surely I will be able to find some clients.

I tried Fiverr. I tried ODesk (which has now merged with eLance to form Upwork). None of it worked. I remained penniless from my efforts. No one acknowledged me.

Does this sound like you? Did you tried all these conventional tactics, tried all sort of platforms, and found no work?

I am going to share my techniques to break away from the freelancer’s cycle of doom in this post. I’d like to show you how I went from no clients and 0 USD per hour to having at least 5 clients per month and charging 100 USD per hour.

1.   Start Small

It is easy to get desperate when you are first starting. You want to work for anyone — and even think you will do anything!

But don’t.

Trying to appeal everyone is a death trap that most beginners end up falling for.

In order to start, you must first focus on a really niche market. Figure out who exactly will be your clients. It is only in this method that you can really tailor yourself to accommodate their every needs. And by tailoring and accommodating their every needs, that’s how you get premium clients.

And when I mean find out who your clients is, I mean dig deep and find out who your client is. Don’t settle with a vague answer of “oh, children’s books, I guess” or “portraits, I love drawing portraits”.

Here are some examples at how small of a niche you should be starting at:

  • Portraits for babies that were recently born
  • Paintings of family pets in watercolor style
  • Ceramic flower vases for upper-class Chinese-Asian families (I am serious, we love our flowers and every family I know would quite happily have a fancy vase at home for their flowers)
  • A live drawing of caricatures for newly married couples

All these are super niche markets that I have seen artists thrive in. That’s how focused your target market should be too.

Here is how you can come up with your own hyper-small niche. The best way to figure if your niche is small enough is if it fits into the formula of

[Demographic] + [Interest]

This might seem super simple, but who your audience is affects a lot to why they have an interest on some things. For example, ceramic flower vases for a Japanese middle class family will ask for a vastly different style from your upper-class Chinese-Asian family.

How do you figure out whether if your niche is profitable though? It’s in the next step…

2.   Socialize socialize socialize

I already know what happens whenever I mention this. Massive groaning and about how socializing and networking is hard and sleazy.

But don’t ever underestimate the power of a human connection.

And most importantly, you are socializing to not sell yourself but to understand your identified target market. You need to find these people and understand their needs first before you should even start selling your service.

How do you start doing that? The best way is to start figuring out where your target market hangs out at. It can be a local event or an online Facebook group.

Here is a few examples to where artists found their target market:

  • Upcoming couples being wed were found by collaborating with wedding event planners
  • Expecting mother were found in something actually called the Mom Forums
  • Facebook groups for dog and cat lovers

And the surprising source of information…

  • Craigslist
  • Upwork

Once you found out where they hang out, you could then take part of this group and start taking some serious notes. As said in the previous step, socializing is how you realize what do your market actually wants and whether they will actually pay serious cash for the service.

Which brings us to…

3.   Do your research

While socializing is important, the most important part of that is you have to survey your client base.

What do they actually want? Why do they actually want it?

This is where most artists fail is that they usually identify what they want. Hell, some of the freelancers (I am sure some of you guys accidentally think this way) will identify what the client wants based on the freelancers themselves want to do. And that’s a big no no.

You want clients. It is all about them. Hence, you better dig deep with your research. Some of this might seem really obvious, but most artists do forget about it.

Why do they want that portrait drawing? What do they hope the new logo will achieve? Why would they even want their family pet in water color?

These are important questions to answer, and if you want a steady stream of clients, you should never skimp out on answering them.

The best way to finding these questions is to ask yourself why five times.

By asking yourself why every time you find an answer, you’ll quickly find the real questions that are secretly waiting to be asked and that’s how you get to the real desire of your potential clients.

4.   Identify your ideal client

This loops back not choosing everyone as your target client… because if you do that, they end up deciding whether if they will choose you instead.

This part helps you dig deeper to your audience, because you need to find a way to identify the people that will pay away from the people that will not pay the amount you want.

So, choose your clients! Write out what you think your ideal client will be like.

  • What is their characteristics?
  • What do they do?
  • What are their hobbies?
  • What demographics are they in?
  • What made them different from everyone else in their niche?
  • What caused them to pay premium?

Even more important questions to answer, but it totally matters. A hobbyist writer hiring you to illustrate for their story is very, very different from a young teenager that simply wants a sexy pin up of their favorite comic character.

Hence, figure it out! Write a thorough an ideal client profile. Once you have that in your hand, it is literally a matter of going to the places you found in the previous step and appealing your service to them.

5.   Pitch yourself

Now comes the hardest part of this… but also the simplest.

Oh, I can hear it already. Even more collective groaning!

But it goes back to the whole concept of choosing your clients instead of letting your potential clients choose you.

I have experienced it before, you probably have tried to post some commission page up, highlighting the price for your service… gotten a quite few reblogs, retweets, and shares. You excitedly rub your hands together, thinking that maybe someone will send an enquiry… and nothing. You suddenly feel like you are not good enough.

It isn’t about being good enough. I have seen artists of varying skills succeed. Likewise, I have seen some really amazing artists fail.

This is why pitching yourself to your potential client directly is so important. In my personal experience, whenever I pitch to a potential client directly, I have gotten a resounding success of a 75% chance that the potential client will commission me. That means 3 out of every 4 potential clients have agreed to work with me.

That’s the power of a good, direct pitch.

Below, I share the pitch I use to get my clients. Mind you, this is an example and a product of all the research I did with my target market, which are story writers:

“Hi [insertname], I -love- your character in [insert story name] and I think s/he are very interesting in these aspects of [point 1], [point 2], and [point 3]. I’d love to have a chance to portray your character and story in those manners as a commission.

I just wanted to see if this is something you’ll be interested in. If so, would it be okay if I can send a few ideas on how I’d like to start this commission?

Completely alright if you aren’t up to it!”

You might note that I don’t mention price yet. Never talk about price until it is the last thing left to talk about. Otherwise, you’ll scare your clients away before being able to propose your expected rate.

So, grab all that knowledge you have about your target market and your ideal client and roll it all into that amazing pitch. Make it short and sweet, don’t ramble… and send it to your list of potential clients.

To sum it up, your five steps to starting is:

  1. Start small
  2. Get to know your market
  3. Do your research on your target market’s wants and needs
  4. Identify your ideal client
  5. Creating your pitch

If you have done all these steps, I am confident you will be able to land some immediate clients.

Wondering how to pitch to potential clients and get them interested in your service? The Five Components of a Killer Pitch gives you insight on how a client’s mindset works behind the scene.

I am ready to get some A-class clients!