Pricing Artwork, and Other Forms of Wizardry

In two weeks’ time, the floodgates will open once again and thousands of starry-eyes college graduates will enter the mysterious industry known as design.  These new recruits face a quiet, hard truth: over 70% of them will never make it more than a year in the field.  Eleven out of the sixty-five graduating illustrators in my class are still working in the field of art.  When I told this to a colleague who taught at another art college, he remarked that that number seemed, “high.”

Today we will be examining pricing, one of the most common career killers of newly-minted designers and illustrators.  Pricing can seem daunting to most, especially if you are unfamiliar with where to start.  The good news is that there are small, everyday things you can do to retain clients and keep your business churning.

Your early price estimations should be based on typical national salaries.  A designer in the US typically makes anywhere from $45k-$60k/year at entry level (~$22.5-30/hour), and that gives you an idea of where the starting hourly rate should be.  Use tools available to you to find what others their work at, and always determine if you need to price hourly or by the project.  Start to build a price guide for your clients based on the average project you receive, and you can expand out to give yourself a wiggle room for taxes.  The Graphic Artist Guild’s Pricing Handbook is another excellent starting point if you are feeling lost.

There is another, hidden aspect to pricing that everyone forgets: make sure that your work is worth buying.  That includes the behavior you present.  If you don’t pick up the phone or respond to email in days during a critical deadline, or you turn in shoddy work that you know you can do better on, don’t start wondering why your clients are looking elsewhere.

Finally, be firm. The reality is that working full time for minimum wage (and sometimes less, if designers don’t price accordingly) doesn’t work anymore, especially with benefits and healthcare being absent for freelancers.  If you price your artwork ridiculously low in the hopes that someone will pick it up, you’re just hurting yourself and other designers by letting clients know that they can get away with murder because you’re soft.  Art as a profession takes years to learn, and many more years to master.  As strangely as it sounds, highly-priced art is more profitable than cheap, bulk prints, even if it moves slowly sometimes.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by, and I hope this small write-up will be of use. Please join me next time when we examine more tips for aspiring freelancers.

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