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How Do You Price Yourself?

Have you ever received a request from someone asking to use your work online? For most of us the answer would be yes. If not, if you keep creating good work, someone will ask you. What would be your response?

As we all know, it’s a great feeling when someone asks to use your work in their project, be it a book, online advertising, a website, social media sites, etc. Many artists are just so happy for their work to be shown that they say “YES”, you can use it. They believe that it will help them in the future, make their work better known in order to get more work. Is there any truth to this? Will having their work used without payment help them or hurt them in the future? That is the question we will answer.

Using a real request as an example, a few weeks ago we received this request.

Dear Sir/Madam,
I am writing you in inquiry for the Japanese professional in calligraphy.
We are ********** advertising agency, located in *****. We are looking for a professional person, who can draw Japanese hieroglyphs (they mean kanji) for our content in ******* and international social networks.
I noticed your website and saw really good examples of what exactly we are looking for.
Looking forward for your answer.
Kind regards,
*************

Generally, we get these kinds of requests every couple of weeks. This one had a twist. The request came from an advertising agency. The agency was creating work for a very high profile company, and, of course, we were very interested in finding out more in hopes of getting this work for one of our calligraphers. I am guessing that most calligraphers would be interested in this project also and would have said yes right away without finding out the details.

However, look before you leap. From my experience as a photographer and web designer, I have learned over the years to never say yes until you understand fully what the client is requesting. So after a few emails this is what we learned.

The request came from an advertising agency with a project for a corporate client who wanted help in creating brand awareness for the new product they were releasing. This agency focuses on a digital format, and they help create brand awareness over social networks like Facebook but in another country. They explained their strategy for their client and what they wanted us to do.

“Each week we plan to produce content which would include a photograph in plan – this including post picture and context. We have a wide range of topics, one of them is Japanese hieroglyph. The example of post of the Japanese hieroglyph ( in the letter). We ask people to find the correct of the meaning of it.”

How Do You Price Yourself

They proposed to send each week a photograph or a word and asked us to create the Kanji for it and send it back to them in a digital format. Then their designer would create the image using our work. Our contract with them would be for 52 weeks.

I contacted several of our artists to write the calligraphy as we thought it would be better to have different styles for the project. (Yes, we pass the work on to our artists and authors).

Now that we had the calligraphers on board, we designed a workflow. The project having been explained to the client, all that was remaining was to agree on the price.

Pricing is always the most difficult part of the process. The client has a budget in mind but has not revealed it and also usually has no idea of what actually goes in to producing what they wish. Of course, that is why they are coming to us or anyone else with their request.

From my past experience, I understand clients want an actual quote for the project instead of hourly rates, but we use hourly rates as a good starting point to decide upon the correct pricing. This also helps in not pricing our work too low. If you price your work too low, the client will think that the quality of work will not be very good.

What is the hourly rate of a calligrapher? That is a hard question to answer. Unfortunately, most calligraphers almost give their work away for free. Yes, you heard me right, “FREE”! Now some of you may be thinking, I don’t give my work away for free as I charge 4000-8000 yen per work (not scroll size but standard hanshi). I suggest that you think about it this way.

We all know that no one sits down and writes a Masterpiece or finishes a project on the first try. We take time to setup and get in the right frame of mind and even design the look of the work in our minds or make sketches on paper. This might take up to 1 hour or more, and our brushes haven’t even touched ink on paper. By the time we start writing we might be in our 2nd or 3rd hour for the first time writing of the art. Being artists, we are never happy with the first one, so we try writing the same thing a few more times. This might take up to another hour or more before we are happy. So, as it stands, if you charge 4000 yen per work you will have to divide that by 4 hours so you would be making 1000 yen per hour. Or if the project took two hours, you would make 2000 yen per hour. Now, that might sound ok, as you are making a bit more than minimum wage or are you? But wait, have you factored in your materials cost and general expenses? And are you happy earning not even minimum wage? General expenses are rent, utilities, telephone, internet access, insurance, taxes, to name but a few things. Once you factor all that in, you might make more money working at a McDonalds.

Now, I know many of you might be saying I don’t have to factor in all those general expenses as I have a day job. So the 1000 yen/hr is a bonus. That is fine but is a terrible mistake. As your side calligraphy business grows, you might be thinking of quitting the day job to do solely what you love, calligraphy, only to find out that you cannot make a living because you have priced yourself too low as your starting rate. This is yet another topic to cover in a different article.

Getting back to the project, since it was not sensible to use an hourly rate of calligraphy, I decided to look at the hourly rate of a graphic designer, as I would consider a calligrapher on the same level as a graphic designer.

The number suggested in the book was between $70 and $150 as the common hourly charge. When I factored in that the calligraphers I had asked were all teachers with both certification and with many years of experience, I set their hourly rate at $125. Some people might say that is high, others might say it’s low. I believe that it is an average number for the project at hand. So the final cost of the project would be around 125 x 2 hrs = 250 x 52 = $13,000 USD. It’s not that much in the grand picture, as this is for one year of work. If you are doing it once a week, you want to be happy doing it for the price set, or after a few weeks, you will be fed-up with it.

Most people would be happy to give the client those numbers and call it a day. Please think carefully about this because that would be a huge mistake. That number only includes the calligrapher’s part of the project. There is no mention or factoring in how this work would or could be used by the agency and corporation. It is imperative that you need to factor in the licensing and correct management of the work being given to the client. Since the agency did not use the wording “work for hire”, payment for licensing fees has to be used in the proposed price. (If they had used that wording, I would definitely not have bid on the project, as we would not own any rights to the work.)

The agency specified that they were going to use the work on social media for a period of one year. With that in mind and a total of 52 images, we would have to add on another 10,000 USD for that portion of copyright use, bringing the total to 23,000 USD. These prices might seem completely outrageous to you, but they’re actually pretty reasonable when we take into account who the client is and what kind of rights they are asking for. Plus it gave both parties room for negotiation.

The proposal was sent, the agency did counter offer, but let’s just say the offer was insulting. It was not only insulting but showed complete ignorance of what is involved in doing the project they proposed at their price.

Don’t worry if you get your pricing wrong when you are starting out because everyone does. Just stick to what you think you are worth. One last thing, don’t ever think you are the only person who has a hard time pricing your work.

Here is a way to approach pricing by no less than Pablo Picasso.

Picasso was sketching in a park when a bold woman approached him.

“It’s you — Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist.”

So Picasso agreed to sketch her.

After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the women his work of art.

“It’s perfect!” she gushed. “You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?”

“Five thousand dollars,” the artist replied.

“B-b-but, what?” the woman sputtered. “How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!”

To which Picasso responded, “Madame, it took me my entire life.”

——————————
Here are some resources to help you in pricing.

Pablo Picasso is found here.

If you want to understand the world of advertising, I highly recommend reading “Ogilvy on Advertising” by David Ogilvy . It’s packed with so much information that the mind goes into overload.

You may also wish to read “Value-Based Fees, How to Change and Get What you’re Worth” by Alan Weiss.

If you are unsure of the range of hourly rates for a particular job, there are many resources to help you. One is a useful book about Freelance Graphic Artists.

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Dave Gosine

Dave Gosine is the founder of Beyond Calligraphy an e-magazine exploring particular aspects of calligraphy around the world.

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