Monday, May 21, 2012

Freelance post

This is a post I made once upon a time on, I've gotten a lot of postive feedback on it, so I thought I'd make it available on my blog, too.
This post was a response to this thread:

What kind of salaries does concept-artists make?

Just wanted to share a story with you guys, about freelance work.. This is only my experience.. And certainly no facts.. but it might help you get a bit of an insight.. at least when you're starting out!

In a galaxy far far away, when I started to actively pursue freelance work, I was curious to know what kind of money other people with my experience and my level of work was making, so I chatted around and like earlier in this thread (hadn't grown much in that time apparently) I was amazed, and almost in doubt about peoples sincerity, every time I heard what these people were charging for ONE illustration.
Numbers between $200 and $750 were constantly thrown out there, and a lot of "mass" requests for paintings at at least $350 seemed normal. Someone was painting 6 environments for $400 a piece and another was creating character 'sketches' for $200 a piece.

However, I thought that, uhh, that is a lot of money for someone that is still in school studying.. why not charge slightly less, and hopefully be more attractive to clients.
So I started out by charging $150 per environment, and even less for other things that takes the same amount of time to finish(!).

After starting to really promote myself and my own art, and posting my pieces around the interwebs, I started to get a lot of responses, but after telling them my rates, and being a real wuss about it, telling them that my rates were negotiable ( So I wouldn't scare someone away.. sigh) only about 50% replied back, and even less actually gave me a good job that I wanted of course.

So this was going on for a while, actually more than 2-3 months, which didn't really bother me too much, since I was still getting well-paid gigs from 'networking' properly with friends and clients that I had already gotten in that way, but I still didn't understand why I almost had no success with the emailing, was it because I was charging too much? Yeah probably, I thought, and decided to lower my rates to $110 a piece, which is roughly 750 kronor, and just slightly more than minimal wage.
(We're talking 1 day, 8 hours, of actual painting here.. so time wise its way lower than minimal wage since you don't sit down for 8 hours straight and just paint one piece.. you have other things to do too.. as for me.. that was primarily school) Anyways, I kept on charging $110 for a long while, and now with even less responses, the only thing I got during this time was an art-test.

Unfortunately I still didn't understood what was wrong, Instead I was told that I was 'advertising' the wrong way, because all offers I got was full-time/part-time/inhouse positions with really established studios and game companies overseas. But I was looking for freelance, and only freelance. So after getting absolutely no catch except for the one art-test, I lowered my prices a few times more.. from $100 and down to $50 which was more of a joke to see how shitty I must actually be at either painting, or making a good first impression, or just promoting myself. I still got the same amount of responses as when I wanted to charge $150 per piece, but now I got absolutely NO responses after I had told the client about my current rates. One guy at a pretty known advertising-company (I won't mention which one obviously) even made fun of me, after we had discussed things in a 'professional' manner, via his work email, he sent me private mails wondering if I could/would buy my own plane-ticket and come and work for their company for free for a few days.. He also had a lot of fun playing with words. Freelance quickly became 'Free-lance'.

So now things didn't add up at all ( at least from my perspective). I had more jobs at $150, yet no good success ratio, compared to at $50 where I had absolutely no jobs at all. I was getting really confidence-boosting in-house offers, yet nobody wanted to even let me do a solid, paid, art-test for freelance work.

At this point things did start to bother me. But motivation hit me, and I got some of that 'I don't give a fuck' attitude thanks to it. Since to be honest.. things couldn't be much worse at this point.

So being at the bottom ($50 to work for 6-14 hours on an illustration), I thought, What the hell, I'm gonna mess with myself, and send out mails to established companies and freelance offers here on and charge a ridiculous amount of money ( at least seen from my perspective ) and so I did what I was recommended to do at the very beginning. I did not let the client push me around, or giving after for any kinds of 'tricks' or requests, if they couldn't pay $250 per illustration, which is a fairly low price for 6-14 hours of painting, and pay between 35% to 50% upfront, I wouldn't have it.

And here is where the fun begins. I sent 5 mails the first day, where I was very strict, I didn't try to be personal, only 'interest' I showed was having researched the company or their titles etc. Aka being familiar with what they had already accomplished. I was very clear about what I could do for these people and where my skills were at. After having sent these 5 mails, where I charged between $200 and $300 I didn't bother to look at my inbox for a few days. The next time I looked, I had 5 emails in my inbox. 2 Of these ( which were the only two -companies- amongst these 5 ) said they were full at the moment, but said they would get back to me as soon as a position was open again. ( I know, that is usually the line you get when they don't like your stuff, but want to be polite, but its beside the point! )
but the other 3 mails were not only really quick responses, but they also included NDA's and all that other stuff and basically asked me to start painting as soon as they could insert that 30-50% cash upfront on my paypal account.

What did I learn from this? I learned a lot, and most of what I learned can already be decrypted from this thread. If you want freelance work, calculate. Calculate what time it will take to finish a painting.. Include time taken to do research, paint, and so on. Then add 25%. You are DIRECTLY valuing your own work as CRAP in front of your potential client if you label it with a $50 prize-tag, when everyone else is charging $250 for the same level of work. There is definitely 'too' high, but in my experience, the client will tell you if you charge too high. It's when you charge waaay to low, that they won't even respond, since it would just seem to be a complete waste of time on their part.

Hopefully this is helpful to someone out there!

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