Q+A: Starting out as a freelance illustrator in Malaysia – what do I charge?

Hi Amy,

I just graduated from design college, and got offers to do some illustration projects. Since this is my first one, how do you usually charge when you do a freelance job? Do you have any guide or advice? What is the standard price charged by illustrators in Malaysia?

~ Kat (via email)

Dear Kat,

I don’t have a straight forward answer on what to charge as it varies from client to client and also industries. For editorials in magazines, it can go anywhere from RM300 to RM1000 for an illustration (depending on factors I mention below), and the numbers are vastly more different when it comes to advertising.

What helps is getting a book like the Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. The rates on there are a good indicator of what people usually pay, and it’s relatively accurate to assume that USD1 = RM1 in most cases.

There are a lot of factors that go into a tabulation of a fee, such as competition, experience, duration, size, and also ultimately, what you can live with. So here are some questions to ask yourself:

Competition

Are you the only one pitching for the job? If you aren’t, think of reasons why clients should go with you. With client work, while it can be complex, most of their decisions will weigh on price (high vs. low), experience (quick/slow turnaround) and also how pleasant you are to work with.

Experience

People with experience are able to charge more because of many reasons: they might be quicker, have more knowledge of the industry and what it demands, and also the network that they’ve built. A common strategy for those who lack experience is to offer a more competitive price to build their portfolio, and it’s one I advise graduates. But after you get your foot in the door, it’s time to knock their socks off! Too many people remain unhappy about the discount they give clients that they turn in sub-par work. Turn in anything less than stellar will ensure that your name will stay at the bottom of the pool – along with your price.

Duration

How long will the project run for? Is there a cut-off for delivery of artwork? Or are you going to be working on the project for a certain amount of time? This will determine if it’s going to be a one-off fee or a retainer – both of which can have different implication of deliverables.

Size

Always, always know what size you’re going to be working on. The level of detail in an A4 sized artwork is going to be vastly different from an artwork that’s A1 in size. And that translates to more time used, which means more billable hours or a lump sum that takes into account the time you’ll need to spend. Don’t know how long you usually work? Measure, measure, measure. Here’s 10 apps you can use.

What you can live with

Some people need money right away. And some people don’t. I’ve personally done projects for free (mainly for charities) and I’ve gotten so many word of mouths and new projects from it that it pays forward many-fold. You’ll hear a lot of people say “don’t do things for free”, which is rather true. But what I advocate is to listen to yourself instead. A lot of people have worked for free (and have kept quiet about it) for a chance to break into an industry. It’s become a dirty little secret that the term working for free is an invitation to unnecessary vilification. Don’t listen to others. Only you know if it’s something worth doing – and if you’re doing something for free, make sure it’s your choice, not that you were co-erced into it. Strategy, long-term thinking and a focus on building relationships are things that will lead to more opportunities down the road, instead of just a one-off transactional affair. Here’s a great article to put things into perspective.

And as a bonus, here’s a brilliant article on how to land your dream job.

Lastly, here’s a personal tip for you: when someone answers your questions via email, remember take 2 minutes to follow up with a thank you. While I’m always happy and willing to dispense advice, it would be nice to get a reply! Communication is a big part of being a freelancer and you might just find yourself losing out to people who take the time to hone their PR skills. Make it a point to say thank you whenever you can. After your interview/meeting with clients/when you get your cheque. Write a thank you note/email. Make sure you follow up. I didn’t think it was necessary to mention it at first, but I think it bears reminding from time to time because it makes a world of a difference and it’s a learning opportunity for young graduates everywhere.

It’s always the little things that matter.

SHARE WITH US:

Do you have any tips you’d like to offer Kat or advice on what to look out for in terms of pricing? Let us know in the comments below! Also, if you’d like to send me a question, get in touch with me right here!

  advice, illustration, Q+A


5 thoughts on “Q+A: Starting out as a freelance illustrator in Malaysia – what do I charge?

  1. Hi Amy,
    Thank you for writing this article and sharing the links. It arrived exactly at the right moment for me, after a great talk about a future project, which would be fun, but would mean working for free.
    I am a silent follower of your blog after following a visual journalling class from pikaland back in 2011. Time to speak up and thank you for your inspiring and motivating newsletters!

  2. Hi Amy, thank you very much for the article! Just some weeks ago I was looking for this kind of information because I was asked for the first time how much I would charge for some illustrations and I had no idea about how much would be fair. I think I’ll get the Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines, everyone seems to consider it a must!

    Thanks again, take care! 🙂

    Rosa
    Rosemary Notes: Fashion Illustrations | Blog / Instagram |

  3. Excellent!
    This is a very difficult topic, and applies to all kinds of art, and I get many questions from artists around the subject of setting a correct price, but never was able to put it so nice and simple as this.

    This one got me totally:
    Too many people remain unhappy about the discount they give clients that they turn in sub-par work. Turn in anything less than stellar will ensure that your name will stay at the bottom of the pool – along with your price.

    Will definitely check back here regularly, thank you!
    Heyme

  4. Hi, do you know where I can buy the Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines in Malaysia?

  5. Hi, Amy.

    I’m sorry becauses i can’t write or speak in English properly. But i want to ask you a question. I were year 1 at Diploma in Early Childhood Education. So, what course should i take if i want to continue my studies in degree level?

    Thank you.

    Sincerely, Sabrina

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