I was browsing the internets and noticed that people keep posting this question about getting started in the advertising world with regards to fees, rates and other variables. I have seen questions like this show up time and time again, and, to be honest, the answer is not usually a straightforward one. I had started writing a response that turned into an epistle… and after reading it, figured hey, it’s 2012, lemme dish out some HONEST advice that people can hopefully use in this New Year. Be warned, there are some swear words here and there…So Here we go:
The commercial world is where most creatives aim to get into, because big companies pay big bucks…or so everyone always thinks. First of all, it’s all down to what the CLIENT is willing to pay, and if YOU think it is fair based on the amount of work YOU know you are going to have to do. Secondly, we do not have a Union in Jamaica for graphic designers and motion Graphic artists, so there is not an overall set base price. Individual artists usually have their prices, but they typically do not divulge such information based on two facts:
ONE: fear that someone is going to undercut them and take the work.
TWO: Fear that maybe someone will tell them they are charging too little and now THEY have become the very under-cutters they complain about.
Let me tell you this…most people starting out, think that the best way to get into the “biz” is by undercutting everybody else….TRUST ME when I say, they are not doing themselves or anyone else any favors. Once you spoil the client into thinking they can get a Bimma (BMW) for a Lada money, you are screwed.
If you need to undercut to get a job do not undercut by slashing off two-thirds of what their last graphics person got paid. Be realistic!
So for EXAMPLE…if YOU think the job is worth a certain amount to you, and the client says “no we can only pay you one third of that” You now have to take things into consideration. Is that a fair price based on everything you have to do? If not, then bargain…tell them that for the amount of money, they can only get X and Y and not the whole alphabet.
Remember this, you cannot buy a Bimma with a Lada budget, and your client is no different. Whatever you do, do not short-change yourself because you are desperate for work, once you charge likkle bit, that client will never pay you one cent more, regardless of how good your work is, or how many extra hours you put in.
Personally, I do not have an hourly rate, because frankly, if I were to calculate all the hours these clients have me up making changes, they would just have to hand me the company. Again, just make sure that you are only doing EXACTLY what is agreed upon…anything else is extra and you let them know that from the word “go”. Allow them a few changes, but if the changes get ridiculous…start letting them know.
Also, here are some extra bits of advice that I have put together based on my past experiences when I was starting out:
1: Realize from early on, in the corporate ad world…YOU ARE NOT BEING PAID TO BE CREATIVE…THEY tell you what THEY want…and if YOU think their concept sucks…well, tough luck. You are just a tool, like a pencil or a pen.
2: NEVER let them force you to give an on-the-spot-estimate. ALWAYS take your time to work out what you need to do. Also, let them spell out exactly what they need. It will not help you, or anyone, if they are being vague with their description of what they want.
3: Make sure you TRY to get a down payment…that is non-refundable in the event to you do work and THEY decide to scrap the project. ( I say TRY…because more than likely this will not be the case. It is easy for critics to look and say “you should do this…make a contract…blah blah blah”…but remember this: He who has the checkbook, makes the rules and if you stress the point they will move on to someone cheaper who wants the money…again, lack of a union. ) Also save all your emails and correspondence, as it may be your only proof of doing business with said person / company / entity.
4: If a client comes to you and says it’s “SIMPLE”…WATCH OUT!…. “SIMPLE” is a word most clients use to throw you off guard in order to coax you into charging a little bit of money. They will make you think it’s a harmless ball of fluff, only to realize, once the job gets started and it’s too late to back out, that it’s actually a medieval battering ram which they then proceed to turn sideways and RAPE YOU up the ass. Again, YOU do the assessment of what is “simple”.
5: Be dependable…Give realistic deadlines for jobs…If a client says they need a job in three days…YOU look at that job and YOU tell them straight away how long it is actually going to take. I find most clients value this over the actual quality of the work. (obviously…just look at the ads out there) Also, back up ALL the files for a client’s job on another hard drive. If the client’s work is going to require a lot of storage, budget the acquisition of a hard drive for that particular job. Also, please make sure you hit “save” often…the files are YOUR responsibility, you will have to pay the client for lost footage etc…I have seen failed hard-drives cost people Hundreds of thousands of dollars and destroy their careers due to loss of irreplaceable footage. If you can, archive finished work on DVDs…you never know when that client will want to do another job and you will need assets from a previous project.
6: For the love of God, Vishnu or whichever deity you may or may not pray to… try not to let the client know you are using a simple “plug-in” to create effects…the less they know, the better for you and the rest of us. Because then they begin to think that EVERYTHING can be done by-way-of a “plugin” or the single click of a button….(a client actually told me that he knows “for a fact” that you can make an ENTIRE transformer with a simple plug-in…I. kid. You. Not.).
DO however, try to educate your client from early on, about the difference between 16:9 and 4:3 ratio, HD and Standard Definition, letterbox and full-screen and the fact that colors do not show up the same on every tv or monitor / display.
7. DO NOT SPEND YOUR MONEY BEFORE YOU GET IT…please try not to act like some claffy when people hand you big-paying jobs…do not get all over excited by all the zeros on an estimate and start “going hard” trying to impress… because a client is a fickle thing…one day the job is here, the next it is gone. That is the reality of production. (I only get excited when it gets lodged to my bank account and even then, it is momentary, as months of backed up bills lie in wait) Also, be warned, you may be waiting MONTHS before you get any pay, because apparently their accounting departments are carving the check on a stone with a chisel. (unless, again, you come to an agreement before-hand…however don’t count on it)
8: Do NOT look desperate…clients LOVE desperate, starving artists…they will dangle things (like maybe the fact that all their staff have BMWs) before you like carrots, just for the sheer joy of being able to use you like a rug and shit on you.
9: In the commercial world, you will not always be doing jobs, so spend that free time improving YOURSELF. Your Portfolio is VERY important. It is the most important thing in your arsenal. It’s your flagship. So trust me when I say this: It is nice to get jobs from Digicel and Lime…but in your free time, work on stuff that makes you look like you actually know what you’re doing. There has to be more to it all than just adding lens flares to stuff and moving text around.
10: KNOW YOUR WORTH! You are not a machine!!!…no one is handing out any medals for staying awake for three days straight…the client will not pay you more because they feel sorry for you showing up strung out on red-bull and coffee. They do not care about you…only about the job…when they are sending you changes at 12:30AM, they are doing so from their blackberry, while at a bar, drinking Hennessy, looking ass, or while they are getting a handy…meanwhile you are in front of your computer drooling on your keyboard, hallucinating about Mario and Luigi. Your health (mental and physical) should be your number one priority. Know this: If you drop down one day from exhaustion, the client is not going to weep over your corpse while their project grinds to a halt…they will simply call up the next available person and move on.
Now, this is not to discourage you…Knowledge is power, and this is some honest advice that I wish someone had told me when I was starting out in this. I have some GREAT clients that I have a wonderful working relationship with, but trust me, you are going to come across some Grade A assholes out there, and have to cut through a metric ass-load of jungle before finding Shangri-La. In the end, experience is your best teacher and some things can only be learned through “baptism-by-fire”. It’s tough, but stick to your guns and it will pay off.