My name is Ben Tallon. I’ve been working full time, freelancing in the creative industries for 10 years, primarily as an illustrator. Alongside this I art direct, write columns and my debut book, Champagne and Wax Crayons and host Arrest All Mimics: The Creative Innovation Podcast. Training wise, I studied graphic design (BTEC) and illustration (BA).
“In 2007 I completed a business mentorship scheme where I had to answer tough but useful questions that as an aspiring illustrator, I did not want to or had not considered”.
Illustration is a business – do you have a business plan? How did you develop it?
I do not maintain an active, tangible business plan on a regular basis, but I have completed several in my ten years in the arts and I would recommend them to anyone in various forms – from an online template, to a guided scheme/course right through to high end professional classes.
They sound banal and perhaps something we should be leaving to more academic or entrepreneurial fields, but whilst they can be confusing, they are valuable, bringing important aspects of running a business, growing, accurately pricing, knowing our intellectual property rights, being paid fairly and making money to our attention.
Much of the things from the two I completed still underpin my thinking and decision making today and set me up well to make a profit and feel like I know what I am doing in more than the image making side of things.
How does your income break down proportionally?
I earn the majority, at a guess 75% of my income from commissioned illustration work.
This would be 100% if I wished it so, but I protect the 25% so I can develop creatively as my character needs variation to stay engaged.
15% is from side ventures including podcasting, writing, art direction and 10% from educating, be it guest lecturing or teaching sessions/workshops.
Freelance income can be precarious. How do you manage your finances? How did you learn this?
I have an average amount that I need to earn each month to live comfortably enough. Invariably, some months this will not be achieved. During others it will be far exceeded. During these months, I bank the excess and leave it alone.
“There is no real sick pay for freelancers that I am aware of and it is important to prepare for that, but also allow yourself to take days off when you feel the need to rest”.
I invest sensibly, in print promotions and the right amount of kit to enable me to work to my potential, attract more work and ensure I have a moderate amount of savings for the lower months, with tax adequately catered for. (25% of any income immediately goes in a specific bank account, since I’ve made the mistake of falling short of my tax bill too many times).
As repp’d illustrator – how do you approach negotiation?
I price each job differently because the variables always differ. I am happy to make the job work for the client’s budget if the project is valuable enough to me and the figure respectable.
Other times, I simply reject the job if the price is disrespectful, or does not balance out the negatives of a brief I feel I’d rather not take on.
My agency and I have an ongoing dialogue. They will suggest a price and sometimes I will ask them to raise it, for example, a recent job was last minute, a lot of work to cram in and it meant I had to work the weekend. For this, whilst the fee was good, it did not reflect the fact that someone, either the end client or the creative agency who wanted to use me had dropped the ball to make this last minute, meaning I had to pick up the pieces during unsociable hours. Just like any tradesperson, I charged more for this.
Other times, if the job is an exciting one and the budget slightly low my valuation, I will compromise and perhaps strip back the rounds of amends they are entitled to, or develop a solution that is less complex. I always let the client know my full valuation and the fact they are getting a sweet deal, because next time, I retain the power to ask my full price.
How do look after your wellbeing?
“Listen to my body and mind, take rest when I need to, keep a tidy studio where possible, do not work silly hours, stay on top of accounts and marketing are a few basics”.
I’m a creative, yes, but I am doing this to earn a living, which makes me a business. It gives me a great feeling to know people are paying me properly to create art, but also to know that I am given the respect of any other business, as the professional I have spent years, money and energy to become.
Ultimately, it is our responsibility alone to run a profitable, efficient operation and there are many ways to find out how if that is not the case.
Top 3 tips for your peers
- Don’t be the classic artistic person – write a business plan, take a course, talk to your peers and put in the hard yards to learn the going market value of your ability. Once you know the going rate, get an understanding of the variables that apply to you. This way you can arrive at fair prices that work. This way, you can always decide to accept a lower, or push for a higher rate according to them.
- Find the right balance between doing this thing you love to do for pleasure, learning the identity and approaching those who will value it the most and spending time on developing the business. Too many talented people remain under the radar because they apply too much energy to only one or two of these things.
This industry is disproportionately full of kind, warm people who are very willing to pass on their learnings and experiences.
Whether it is face to face, over the phone, via email, (depending on your character and people skills), talk to them and make the most of that to ensure you are doing things the right way for you, our wonderful industry’s long term growth and your accounts. It’s cool to be creative and savvy!