LISA MALTBY Illustration & Lettering


Welcome to my blog where I post about all things creative, from my latest food illustrations, design work and hand lettering doodles, to articles about freelancing and creativity. I hope you like my posts.

Should all freelancers be paid by the hour?

hand drawn lettering

My last post provoked some question into what is fair (and what isn't) regarding pricing creative work. Quoting creative work is always going to vary, especially within different creative fields. In fact, you will probably find that even many experienced creative directors will still find the issue of pricing difficult (those that admit it to me at least). The problem for me is that i'm not just an illustrator, I have also been a graphic designer for the past ten years and a lot of my work merges between the two creative fields. Why is this a problem? Because the two are charged differently. If you speak to The Association of Illustrators, they will advise that all illustrators should charge their work per project, taking into account the size of the client, how widely used the illustrations will be on the advertising or publication and how long the artwork is being used for etc. Unlike illustration, It is standard practice that freelance graphic designers charge an hourly rate (at least when they are hired by agencies) and they usually do not charge any license fees for using their work on any future advertising. On the occasions that designers are hired by agencies, the designer does the artworking, leaves and gets paid (albeit after a few chased invoices!). Everything the designer creates during that time belongs solely to the agency - they own the copyright, regardless of the type of design they undertake. Transaction done.

But here's what usually happens when you give an hourly rate when hired by an agency: it is highly likely that the creative director will want as much 'physical' work from the designer as possible. This is why, when most agencies hire designers, they usually hire them for their artworking skills: laying out brochures and adverts quickly over creating brand identities and anything that involves too much 'thought' or creativity. Ideally they want a design job done accurately, but heavily art-directed by themselves (correct me if I'm wrong, creative directors!). 

Many design agencies ask illustrators what their 'day rate' is. The association of illustrators advise against this. Why? Partly because illustrators are not being asked for general artworking, they are being asked for their unique interpretation of briefs; their unique style of image-making, (perhaps unless the agency in question just needs generic visuals or storyboards that are heavily art-directed, and that anyone who can draw well can do). Besides which, how do creative directors know how long an illustrator will take to do something? They probably don't, because each illustrator is very different. Most graphic designers would probably be able to layout a twenty four page brochure in roughly the same time, but ask a number of illustrators to draw an apple and they'll all take different times with different results. But is it fair for an illustrator to charge more because their work is extremely detailed, simply because it takes them more time than someone who has a sketchy style, even if the use of the illustration is going to be exactly the same?

What happens when you charge your own clients with an hourly rate as a freelancer? Then they will ask you to create a logo in one hour (yes, I've had this happen). And if they don't ask for it as quickly as possible, they want to know how long everything will take you, making you squeeze your work into hourly segments and produce work you are less than proud of. When you take on your own clients you are not only artworking, but art directing too. You are being asked to solve a problem using creative thought – with your knowledge of advertising trends, target audiences and creative skills. You are being asked to be a consultant; an adviser – to give various design options and make amendments. But the boundaries get blurred with what each creative person can charge. What constitutes a freelance art director? A freelance illustrator? A freelance designer? Should they all charge the same?

And what of design agencies? How do they charge their clients? As far as I understand it, design agencies take into account their overheads, how many members of staff they have to pay, their experience and reputation etc. and equate a much larger hourly rate (though this is just for their own calculations - they would always quote per project to the client). Agencies also account for the size of the client before they quote a job (and I have known of design quotes being rejected by larger companies because they sounded 'too cheap' so it does happen!). Many think it is unfair to charge a client more just because of their status, but you are not just charging for the work that's input, but the scale of the advertising. A multibillion pound company expects to pay a large sum for their advertising, not solely for the quality and originality of work, but because the designs will be reaching billions of people worldwide. Design agencies take this into account and charge a higher one off fee (please correct me if I'm wrong). On the flip side an agency would be willing to charge far less for a start-up business.

So what of illustration license fees? A similar comparison is of a musician who records an album. Do they have a right to get royalties every time their song gets played on the radio? Most people don't have a problem with this: that's just how it is, yet when an illustrator does this with something visual it is questionable. An illustrator, in theory, is creating something in a very unique style that even other illustrators may not be able to do (because they're all very different!) and that is what you are paying for. A graphic designer is often approached for his or her ability to be versatile (though there are many more reasons why you'd choose one over the other, but that's a whole other blog post!). The problem is that the boundaries are blurred; what of a graphic designer that has a distinct style? Or an illustrator who has multiple styles? 

Is your head hurting yet? Mine is.

Here's what I think: that there is a distinct difference between being a freelance artworker and a freelance creative. Are you being paid for your knowledge of software and your ability to kern text, or are you being paid for original ideas and designs? And that is in no way undermining of the former, but if you can offer both is that not more valuable? Perhaps many freelance 'designers' aren't paid well enough – say the word 'freelance' and businesses automatically think 'cheap' and try to tell you what you should be charging, cramming your skills into tight timeframes. But start your own design agency and you're considered an expert overnight, despite your years of previous experience (forgive me if you think me too flippant, I'm open to discussion on this). 

But what if, as a freelancer, You don't offer an hourly rate but a service? What if you strive to deliver that service really well? What if you want to be the best in your field? To offer, not only designs, but well thought out proposals and considered suggestions? What if you're not just about some design that needs doing, but that that design is the result of in-depth preparation, developments and passion? What if you're personable and take time to get to know your clients? What if you want to go the extra mile for them? What if your experience makes you quicker than someone else? Are you worth less because of it? Suddenly you're not about being squeezed into a timeframe; you're not a transaction, you're there to exceed expectations (hopefully!). What's that worth? 

So, What do you think about pricing creative work? Do you think all creatives should charge the same? If you're a design agency, what are your experiences of hiring freelancers? What would you be willing to pay more for (if anything!)? Are you a freelancer who thinks charging by the hour is better? I'd love to know your thoughts.