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Possibly Useful, Probably A Rant

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

In July I will have been a freelance illustrator, designer and artist for 10 years. Like most people who have freelanced for a while I have had my share of good experiences and bad, those experiences are generally defined by the client you work for and not the work you create. To keep my business running I need clients to hire me to create work for them. Your work might be known for a specific style or subject but your experience is very much defined by a client and there brief. I have had some incredible clients and I have also had some that can only be described as, genuinely, scum. This is common across all creative disciplines.

Over the past 4 years I have found it increasingly difficult to find paid work, I know I am not alone in this. I know my work and my skill level has improved in that time, I also know my business sense has improved and I believe my rates are reasonable. I have talked to countless other freelancers across a range of disciplines who all have the same experience. Everyday I see on Twitter immensely talented people venting their frustration towards clients not paying invoices, ghosting on emails or them just struggling to get any job lead whatsoever. Someday’s I do that as well. So why are we struggling?


None of this pays our bills!!

Like everyone we need money to survive and to keep being able to create work. No one would expect to eat for free in a restaurant or shop on the high street without spending money. But for some reason people think its acceptable to expect creative people to work for free. It’s not! More and more companies are trying to use ‘exposure’ and ‘credit’ as a payment method, we should already be credited and we will gain exposure anyway through the work we create. You see well established companies advertising for interns with 3+ years of industry experience, that’s not an internship, that’s a job!

When you have experienced this month after month, year upon year you start to question yourself, start to doubt your ability and worry about financial stability. You are left wondering when the next paid gig is coming in, how you are going to pay rent, how you are going to be able to afford to eat. At 33 I shouldn’t be spending less on food than I did when I was a student because the last 3 prospective clients who got in touch wanted to pay me in Instagram posts.

Now I don’t just want to rant about the state of the industry, I want to try and improve it. For me the main way we could do that is by being open and honest about what we charge and why. So freelancers being open with each other and with clients. Hopefully then clients will see the amount of work that goes in to there projects and understand the costs associated with that.

My standard rate is £30 per hour for illustration/design work, this can change slightly depending upon the client and the job. I prefer to charge per hour rather than day because I might be working on multiple jobs in a day. I have a good understanding how long different jobs will take so I quote for the length of the project, then break it down for the client so they know how long different parts of the job will take. So for example say a hand drawn A4 t-shirt design I know will take roughly 15 hours. So I quote £450, but then break it down to 2 hours sketching, 12 hours inking, 1 hour Photoshop/tidying. If I go over the time limit I have agreed I do not increase my price. This to me seems a fair way to work out the cost of a project for myself and the client. The client knows exactly what they are paying for and what to expect.

For mural work I charge £25 per square foot, so 50 square feet would be £1,250. Like my illustration work all my costs come out of the price I have quoted, I don’t add on money for materials, they are already taken into account. So pens, inks, paper, paint, test prints, scaffolding, ladders, even travel costs are taken into account on my quote.

I believe if every freelancer was open about what they charged we could have a more standardised industry price structure. Clients would understand how much work was going to cost them, how long work takes to create and how much a piece of work costs to make. You hopefully wouldn’t have people new to the industries working for free because they can see how much they are worth and what they could and should charge. Which would mean less clients are able to find people who are willing to work for free, which forces them to accept they have to pay for work. But they also have a better understanding of what they are paying for and how long it takes.

I don’t think this would solve all the problems, there would still be companies who exploit people and don’t pay invoices. There needs to be help from the government to protect freelancers and the self employed. But we also need to stop worrying about other freelancers undercutting or stealing clients and be open because it would help stop the expectation of free work.

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