Almost everyday I receive emails, comments, or DMs regarding the ins and outs of my business. From how to send files to print, how to clean up watercolor after scans, to what to charge, taxes, and more! It can be so overwhelming when you first launch into a creative career. It's incredibly hard to navigate the nuances of client communication and problem solving, not to mention the, but how much do I charge in order to feel like I can at least pay my bills?! I started my business almost 4 years ago and the pain and anxiety of just going from one mistake or unknown to the next was at times unbearable. But it gets better. If you put in the time, play to your strengths and have a whole lot of patience, it will work out. You may not come upon the immeasurable success of that one person you covet on Instagram, but you will figure out how to conduct a business without it literally crumbling to the ground in failure.
Below are some of the questions I receive most frequently along with my answers. I can't stress enough, though that my answers and methods won't be what's best for everyone. Hard work and self-awareness is key to really knowing and discovering what works best for you as a freelancer or for your business/agency. Don't ever stop short in gifting yourself with the dedication of long hours spent googling something or the time and dedication to fix a problem or mistake and DO THE RESEARCH. You can't just go from one person's advice and comments to another in order glide to the top. You have to put in the work and time. It's painful at times, but absolutely crucial. So, without further a do, here are some helpful tips to encourage you to put in the sweat and get work done! I hope this helps or encourages you if you're struggling to figure out pricing and navigate the dark world of starting a creative business!
How did I get started?: By pure accident! I found a box of art supplies while moving (it was mixed in with our stuff), and I decided to start painting, drawing and calligraphing with the materials inside the box. It was a release for me, as I was working at a financial planning office at the time and felt like my soul was being crushed. From there I started creating pieces for friends and family, adding my work to social media and pretty soon I was getting paid jobs based on people finding me through HASHTAGS on Instagram. HASHTAGS PEOPLE! Yes, this is the world we live in. With learning design programs, pricing, taxes and just that nitty gritty business stuff, I learned everything on my own. Party of 1, thanks to Google, Skill Share, Lynda, YouTube videos and other websites that taught me how to use a scanner, Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, etc. Being thrown into the lion's den forced me to grow as an artist and business owner tremendously. I learned by making huge mistakes in the beginning, which taught me my strengths and my weaknesses and helped me remember what not to do. I became a student of the business that I was accidentally in charge of and focused a ton of energy on the industry I was in and the people I was reaching. I highly suggest taking the time to invest in yourself and your business by learning as much as possible...always learning. It will be so worth it in the long run! Time and patience is CRUCIAL here. If you want the shortcuts by asking someone who's already successful and in a different league in their business, they can't give you all the answers! Each person and business is different, and learning on your own is hard but is always a good idea. YOU are responsible for your business and where it goes, it is up to YOU to take control and make it extraordinary! This doesn't mean that I don't recommend asking for help along the way. Something that saved me early on in my business was reaching out to someone who was in the right position in their career to become my mentor. Mentors are lifesavers. They're also like therapists in a way too which is GREAT.
How do I showcase my prices?: Once I started getting paying jobs, I felt kind of all over the place. I decided to create base design fees and go from there. I made a pricing guide to show my clients in detail the services I offered and what my prices were. I thought it would be best to show any potential clients my design pricing first (pre-cost of goods/printing/tax/shipping/etc) to let them see if I was within their budget! Like most companies and as my business grows, add inflation and cost of living, my prices tend to increase every year or sometimes every quarter. Know your market. If you don't know what your market is, write down a list or description of who your dream client is. What's their income? Interests? Style? etc. Then create pricing based upon reaching that market. This part is mostly trial and error, especially if you're just starting out. For the newbies, there is some huge benefits to just taking the lower paid jobs or styled shoots just to get your name out there and build your portfolio. HOWEVER, it is never ok to just charge less than what the market is asking for so you can get more work, because that is undercutting your value and the hard work and sweat that's been put in by your competitors within your industry (aka other designers and illustrators in my case). Know your value and know your market.
What if a client wants to know what the total cost will be?: This may seem like a basic question for some, but I get this question quite often! For a client wanting to see a breakdown of costs, I always create a custom estimate. After I find out what the client needs (desired package/design fee, paper, printing methods, quantity, etc.) I create a custom estimate based upon these interests. That's why it's crucial in the beginning to ask the client their color palette, their style and interests, so you can get a better sense for what paper and printing methods to quote for. I add in my design fees based on the requested package, add in paper costs, printing costs and any additional services such as assembly or calligraphy addressing. That way my clients can get a better understanding of what the real pricing is going to be and it is broken down piece by piece! Remember, this is an estimate! This will not always be the exact pricing. A lot of factors move around and change during the entire process from design to assembly and shipping. But always make sure to mark up your cost of goods and factor in sales tax (if applicable to you and where you live). For us, we charge 8% sales tax on any physical goods as that is the percentage requirement for Orange County, CA. Just google your location and what your sales tax requirement is and your good to go! Only charge sales tax to actual product, never to your services. For example, I'll add sales tax to the cost of printing and materials only, not design fees/packages and calligraphy addressing.
What if a client changes their mind?: Once a client agrees to use my services, I have them fill out and sign a client/artist agreement and request a 50% deposit to secure their spot on our calendar. This is protection for both the client and the artist. This ensures that the client has secured to use our services for their needs, and that we do not book anyone else that will compromise the deadlines/scheduling for project. Scheduling is a whole other topic as well, but briefly, factor in how long your different projects take you and schedule out each job accordingly. I always give myself a buffer of 2 weeks for any hiccups within the process. This protects myself as the artist and designer, for security. Sometimes our invitation jobs are booked months or even over a year in advance. If a client backs out last minute, I am without that project for 8-12 weeks. To be honest and transparent, this is my business, my livelihood and this is how I make a living to provide for my family. I cannot afford to risk taking on a client without the security of a deposit.
Once I take on a client, how does the process work?: Each client gets 3 proofs. I get images, a pinterest board or any other inspiration/direction and I go from there. We start with sending them a mood board and overview of the direction before I begin artwork and designs. Then, I create the first round based on the initial requests. From here, the client provides me with their feedback on color, layout and overall design. I make a 1st revision round based on their requests. After that 1st revision, most clients decide that is what they were looking for and we get the production agreement signed and go into printing. If the client decides they need to make a few more adjustments, we can go into a 2nd and final revision round. At that point, the client can decide to sign off on the designs and go to print! If there are still adjustments that are requested after this point, an additional revision round fee is added.
What if a client wants to add in more things during the process?: As long as timing permits it, additional items can be added on during the process. There is another client/artist agreement signed and their final payment will reflect the added costs. Always protect yourself by updating them with costs along the way if they add or take things out to insure that everyone is on the same page and there will be no surprises when the final invoice comes through!
How long does it take to create a wedding invitation suite?: I made a timeline blog HERE. This breaks down timing and how long everything takes FOR ME and the way we do business. I cannot stress enough that you need to book your desired designer/stationer ASAP. Do not wait until 3 months before you wedding to start looking. I request at least a 4 or 5 month advance from the date you need your invitations by to ensure everything is organized, not rushed and there is enough time for last minute items/printing/shipping. But every business is different. Some people book further out in advance than we do, some don't. Some designers work better with a faster turnaround time, some need more time between jobs. It all varies.
This didn't cover everything I'm sure. You can't really cover everything with one blog post, but I plan on devulging more advice and secrets in more blog posts...essentially an "advice column." Comment below with questions, or topics you'd like to read more about from me!