Friday Archive Dive: What’s Your Time Worth? Negotiating Tips to Get Your Best Price
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It’s something we professional artists are often called upon to do: Name a price for our work. And, for many of us, it’s one of the most daunting challenges we face.
When I was teaching my weekly class at Hussian School of Art in Philadelphia, I asked my class, “What’s the worst thing you can hear from a prospective client after you’ve quoted them a price?”
“‘That’s too high,'” offered one student.
Incorrect, I countered. (That’s actually a very good response.) So what’s the worst thing you can hear?
I gave them the correct answer: “‘Yes.'”
What’s the worst thing you can hear after you quote a price? “Yes.” — @Webcomicscom on negotiations http://wp.me/p4lKly-38x
Because a rapid (and often relieved) “yes” is often an indication that you’ve quoted yourself too low. And it’s impossible to negotiate upwards.
It is, however, possible to negotiate down. And that’s what you’re aiming for in a price negotiation: A downward negotiation.
That doesn’t mean some kind of bizarro-world auction in which you start downward bidding:
$250? No? Do I hear $225?
$225? $225? Do I hear $200…?
Rather, what it means it that you begin identifying and modifying the variables involved in the project — and in so doing, reinforce the value (and the scope) of what you’re being commissioned to do. Some common variables I identify include (but are not limited to):
- My investment of time
- Their deadline
- Usage rights
- Editorial / Art Direction changes
My investment of time
This is a great indicator of the whether you should accept the job or not: How much time is it going to take? If this is simply a reprint of one of your existing comics, then there’s almost no time involved for you (and your opening price should reflect that). But if you’re being a commissioned to do a larger project, you have to realize that this project will take valuable time. It’s time that you would otherwise be (a) enjoying your life or (b) working on other jobs that could be bringing in a greater amount of money.
If there’s a significant time aspect to this project, it’s going to likely block you from taking other jobs (or doing other things independently… such as develop merchandise) that could potentially generate revenue.
If your opening price is too high (and if the time aspect is too great), you may offer an alternative. For example, instead of doing an original illustration, you might have something in your archives that would work. Or you might offer black-and-white art instead of color.
Say it with me:
Your inability to plan does not constitute an emergency for me.
The tighter the deadline, the harder you’ll have to work to hit that deadline. That means you’re well within your rights to charge a higher rate for you work. And, in all seriousness, it means they have very little time to screw around with haggling a price. You have the upper hand in a negotiation like this, and it’s OK for you to exploit that. You’d better believe they’d do the same if the roles were reversed.
Conversely, if the deadline can be adjusted to allow you more time to work, you’d be justified in lowering your price.
We discussed usage rights in detail in this post from the archive. If your client is requesting a wide array of usage rights (print, electronic, ongoing use into perpetuity, etc.) then she should expect to pay a premium for those rights. If your price is considered too high, then perhaps it’s suitable to restrict those rights. For example, adjusting on-going rights to one-time rights would allow you to drop your price considerably. And restricting the rights from universal to print- or electronic-only could do the same.
Editorial / Art Direction changes
I always walk through this process with someone who is commissioning me for my work. There’s a definite process to what we do:
- Final Approval
- Final Art
At every step along the way, the client has a chance to help to shape the final art into something that he will find useful and appropriate for his needs. After the final approval, any changes made to the art will have to come with a new price. If the client wishes to avoid that cost, it would be wise to tune in during the initial stages of the development of the piece.
Taking the “I’ll know what I don’t want when I see it” approach should not come cheap. Again — this is a time-investment issue for you. The time a client like this costs you by making you chase your tail is time you could be earning more money. If you don’t recoup that revenue, it is lost.
But it’s unfair to spring these expenses on an unsuspecting art director. Be sure to make this process clear from the very start.
It should go without saying that once you arrive at a fairly negotiated price, you should codify all of the variables into a contract that both parties sign. Contracts do not indicate distrust. Rather it’s a perfectly to polite way of saying, “this is the process we’ve agreed upon and here are the outcomes that will be generated.” It’s there to protect both sides from misunderstandings and unwanted surprises.