Jon Cockley is Co-founder of Handsome Frank, one of the UK’s most exciting Illustration Agencies.  He shares some invaluable insights into the art of negotiation:

The truth is I never went to art school. I never got anywhere near. In fact, I studied Linguistics and after graduating my first real job was in publishing, as a sales executive.

As it turns out, everything worked out great in the end. The publishing house, just happened to publish a wonderful magazine called Creative Review, which for me proved a gateway into the world of advertising and design. However, before I managed to manoeuvre across the office floor to the enticing world of creativity, my initial role was selling classified adverts (the little text only ones) in the directory section of a now defunct direct marketing magazine. So why do I digress? Well, because it was here that I learned how to negotiate, a skill that has proved priceless in the world of illustration.

“When it comes to money, our industry really is a funny place. No one talks about it, there are no guidelines or rulebooks, no rate-cards to refer to, it can be daunting. But in some ways, this can be a good thing for you”.

For one it means no one can ever tell you that what you’ve quoted is wrong. There is no wrong or right. It’s simply a question of what are you prepared to do the job for. Always keep this fact in mind, as it can prove very empowering.

As with any industry, a lot of illustrators don’t like talking about money, which is something that needs to be addressed. The AOI’s campaign is brilliant for this – a great moment for everyone to get on board.  If you want to be a freelance illustrator you need to get used to it. More specifically you have to get used to talking about money in relation to your work. Having to place financial value on your own personal creativity leaves many artists feeling uncomfortable and unsure. This is perfectly natural but something that needs to overcome.

So, what can you do? Here are a few tips that should help…

Expect to Negotiate

Occasionally a client will just come out with it and tell you their budget at the start of the process. When this occurs, it can be very helpful, but on the whole most people want to negotiate and are prepared for it, so you should be too. It’s also worth noting that even if you’re told the budget, it doesn’t mean you can’t negotiate from that starting point.

“Just because a client names their budget up front, it doesn’t mean you can’t ask for more money if you feel it’s required”.

Spin a ‘WEB’

In my first job we were told to spin a ‘WEB’, which meant outlining three figures for you at the point of quoting. W was your starting point, which stands for what you ‘want’ to get, i.e. your opening quote. The E stands for what you ‘expect’ to get (so a figure slightly below the W) and finally the B stood for what you’d ‘better’ get… in other words the minimum that you’d be willing to do the job for. At Handsome Frank this isn’t something we employ on a daily basis, but it can prove a very useful exercise to do mentally at the start of a quoting process. By working out those three figures (keeping them secret from the client of course), you’ve already given yourself a structure to work within. If it transpires that the client isn’t willing to even pay as much as your B, it may be time to walk away from the project.

Price accordingly

Of course, there are many reasons to do a job and money is only one of them. Be pragmatic and price accordingly. Some questions you should ask yourself from the off are, do you want to work with this client? Do you have a good feel for the people you’re working with and are you comfortable with the ethics of their industry? Will the finished deliverables make a good portfolio piece? Will it push you in a new direction and potentially open up new markets? Is the brief realistic given the timings? How busy are you? Do you WANT the job? Do you NEED the job? If the answer to these questions are all an emphatic yes, then price the job to get it. If you’re not so sure, by all means be prepared to price the job a little higher. You’re fully within your rights to do this and it happens in any other industry, so why not ours?

Day rates

Never work to just a day rate, but as a starting point always have a day rate in mind for quoting. Estimate the time it will take you to complete the job and use this as a base structure. If you think a project is going to take you 10 days and the client is offering you equivalent of 3 days of your time, then it’s probably not going to work out.

“The AOIs calculator incorporates this with a ‘sense check’ for fees, which is great”.


It goes without saying though that the price of illustration is not determined by how long it takes to create the work, in fact that is a small part of the job of the calculation. We’ve been known to license images that already exist for tens of thousands of pounds. How is that possible? It’s because fees should be predominantly determined not by your time, but by the usage. The details that determine who, how, what and where your illustrations will be used. You need to know the full list of media (uses), the duration of the license required and territories across which the work will be used. It goes without saying, a UK only, one year, packaging only commission should cost significantly less than a Worldwide, all media license in perpetuity. Keep a record of what you’ve previously quoted and what you’ve been paid for various usage agreements and you can start to build your own barometer of pricing.

There’s more negotiation than money

The usage terms and deliverables should not only be central to your quote, but they also offer you other ways to negotiate if you get stuck on money. If a client is saying “this is what we have, take it or leave it” then perhaps it’s time to discuss some movement elsewhere. Ask them if the number of variables can move? Can they reduce the deliverables? Can you settle on a style that requires less detail and will therefore be quicker to create? Will they agree to reduce the license duration and add an optional extension clause on expiration?

“It’s worth remembering that negotiation isn’t just about money, there are many other factors that can be negotiated to give you a better outcome”.

Contra deals

Finally, something that I learned back at the start of magazine sales career, was the art of the contra deal. Sometimes, there’s more ways to structure a fee than just the money that changes hands. Ask yourself who the client is and what they can potentially offer you in exchange for your services. If it’s a fashion brand, how about they agree to part payment in clothes? An airline or hotel, perhaps they’d consider some flights or a stay in a hotel as well as a fee. This isn’t always a viable option and it doesn’t apply to every project, but it’s certainly worth a conversation if you feel the client has something of interest to offer you. If you do go down this route, make sure you still have a license for your work – and its clearly detailed in a contract. But remember, it never hurts to ask!

16th May 2019

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