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Fees and payments

Negotiating a better rate of pay

Getting paid a fair fee is not suggestive of a revolution. So why does it sometimes incur resistance, both from those who pay and from ourselves? This guide by Rod McIntosh introduces ideas towards getting paid what you want and indeed deserve.


Getting paid a fair fee is not suggestive of a revolution. So why does it sometimes incur resistance, both from those who pay and from ourselves?

Working towards asking a higher fee should not curtail, but encourage you. It may require some changes to your thinking and doing (behaviour). Indeed this uncertainty might be fearful. But the returns outweigh the inertia.

This practical guide introduces you to some ideas towards supporting this change and getting paid what you want and indeed deserve.

It is simple. It is knowing you are worth it, and asking for it.

Getting Paid – Something is Better than Nothing

The artist’s career path often goes along the route of: working voluntarily to then becoming an intern, to getting paid something (for all the hard work that you do), through to at some point asking for a fee.

You have been gracious in accepting some money, any money, for your time and labour. Hoping you would not lose the job to another willing to work for less.

Although in other professions unions tend to advise members on rates of pay, most UK artists must take on this responsibility for themselves. However with a-n’s new research into artists’ fees and payments you are provided with the resources to champion your rights.

You are worth every penny. It is their responsibility to find the money to pay you if they want you. Not yours to subsidise them from a loss of earnings.

What are the costs to me?

It is critical to any business (large or small) to understand the bottom line costs of running that business. It is the same for you. What are your fixed costs and expenditures and what is the minimum required to meet these outgoings?

Knowledge of your expenses incurred day-to-day will give you a base line cost of your time and services. Once known it is possible to see where you are not valuing yourself at a break-even rate. a-n’s Establishing a Charge Rate for a Working Artist by Richard Murphy and the accompanying interactive The artist’s fees toolkit clearly explain and provide a calculus for this.

There are many costs for you in ignoring this financial detail.

Knowing a daily charge rate and what you need on a monthly and annual basis, to pay your bills and eat, can often be a sharp awakening. A strong driving force to encourage you to seek more work or ask for more money from the jobs you have.

Is it worth it?

You may have worked and will continue to work for less than you are worth, seeing the other benefits as adding value on top of the fees or expenses:

  • To gain experience
  • To work for that particular profiled organisation
  • To network and make contacts
  • To see what more work it can bring

A time does come around to stop this. The indefinite ability to accept work for less than what your costs are will do two things:

1. You will lose money, unless you are subsidising your art practice and career with other income/jobs.

2. You run the risk of undermining yourself and your profession.

Surely the message it sends to yourself and your partners in accepting work for less pay is that you are worth exactly that and no more.

Value for money

A further motivating force for you in making a case for a higher fee is to appreciate and value what your worth is. This can come from a close examination of self. Alongside knowing and positioning amongst peers and colleagues.

Undertaking a skills audit on a regular basis is good practice. It assesses your current position, identifies your strengths and weaknesses and provides a framework to look at developmental needs. From doing so grows confidence. Recognise what you have in your tool kit, from past experiences and acquired wisdom, in addition to what is required.

    To start with look at the numerics:

  • number of years experience
  • number of projects worked on, exhibitions, residencies, commissions
  • number of groups worked with, types of groups

Next list your hard skills. These are ones that you have learned through training, or have picked up on the job. They are skills that you can demonstrate. For example; plaster casting, teaching life drawing, word processing, budgeting and planning.

Lastly identify your softer skills or qualities. These are ones you are less likely to be able to qualify with formal learning. They are an invaluable asset to you and implied through CVs or supporting letters. Name and claim them. Such as; facilitation skills, listening, responsive to needs, flexibility.

Whilst looking at this recognise the transfer of skills from previous or parallel professions and other aspects of your life where appropriate.

Sum up your skills and experiences in short statements. Do not story-tell. In marketing terms it begins to define what differentiates you – your Unique Selling Point (USP). In this instance it qualifies your cost with value for money.

Saying no

An experience of raising your fees is going to be saying no to previously agreeable rates of pay. What might be preventing you from saying no is fear:

  • Fear of losing that income
  • Fear of not being asked for work again
  • Fear of getting a bad reputation
  • Fear of annoying the contact asking you to work

The list of reasons indeed can go on! But they are fears and not necessarily the truth.

Saying no and surviving gets easier with practice.

Qualifying your rejection with a reason has multiple outcomes and vanquishes several of your fears.

Saying no to the rate of pay and not the work. If you communicate that it is the fee you are not happy accepting, there is opportunity to negotiate. You are not saying an outright no to the work. They can see you are interested but not at the level of remuneration offered.

Saying no to the rate of pay and not the person. You are not rejecting the contact offering the opportunity, therefore keeping this relationship open and professional.

When you say no to something you do not want to do, you are saying yes to yourself and your own importance.

Don’t ask don’t get

The opportunities you seek or partners you work with tend not to be mind readers and do not know the price you have in mind. Think about it. Ask for it; manage the discussion and your response.

  • Appreciate you are worth more than you are currently being paid, and why.
  • Decide your new fee.
  • Acknowledge your lowest acceptable rate.
  • Ask what their ability to pay is (mindful that they might tell you a mid-range figure and not the limit).
  • Ask them to qualify what they feel your skills and experiences are worth, relative to the opportunity.
  • Pitch your new fee and await an answer.
  • Do not price yourself out of the market.
  • Emphasise your skills and experiences.
  • Be prepared to negotiate. Careful not to backtrack to accept what you initially said no to.

Asking for what you want does not guarantee that you will get it, but you are more likely to than if you do not ask.

Remember the feeling when you got your first job – getting a pay increase feels ten times better than that.

Asserting yourself

Take time to plan your negotiations. Go armed with facts and clear statements. You will stand a better chance of success if you make your case thoughtfully and confidently. Be an equal. Make your request or state your position in a manner that is friendly not confrontational.

  • Be specific. This involves deciding exactly what it is you want and communicating this. It is important to be as simple and brief as possible.
  • Do your research. Know your worth at the market value and what other like opportunities are paying. See a-n’s Opportunities section to contextualise yourself.
  • Use a-n’s Establishing a charge rate for a working artist supplement or interactive The artist’s fees toolkit – and review your charges annually to ensure they don’t slip behind.
  • Draw comparisons to the salaries and skills and responsibilities of like professions. When appropriate, the daily rate for a plumber might cloud judgement for your case.
  • Define yourself to them within their frame of reference and value system.

Assert and own your experiences. But tread the line of justifying too early.

  • Demonstrate your expertise and mastery of your art practice. Tell of awards, exhibitions or projects of outstanding achievement and your unique role in facilitating the success.
  • Answer for them why they want you, and should pay you more. Create the desire from what you are telling them about yourself and the quality of your work.

Outstanding work does not go unnoticed.

Negotiating a win:win outcome

If your requests initially get refused, do not threaten to leave or have an adverse reaction, it is unprofessional. There may be a further workable compromise worth exploring.

Head for a ‘win:win’ result. One person does not need to win or lose if you negotiate from an equal position and take both needs into consideration. Each person should get enough of what they want in order to give up something without feeling resentful.

Options to negotiate with are:

  • An incremental increase in your fee over a set period of time.
  • Pro-rata – what can they buy of your time with the money available?
  • Barter – what value of services or facilities can they provide or procure for you at no cost?
  • Manage the budget. Review costs elsewhere to release money available for fees.

Most people feel uncomfortable discussing money. But a successful negotiation does not only affect the fees you will be getting – it will impact your self esteem and influence your partners’ perception and value of you.

Good luck.

See Arts Council England’s How to pay artists information sheet.
Listing of artists’ professional development organisations across the UK that run programmes and provide information and advice.
The Scottish Artists Union has published Recommended National Rates of Pay for Visual and Applied Artists in Scotland 2004-06.

The writer

Rod McIntosh is a freelance artist consultant.

He has a wide range of experiences in supporting artists with their careers and professional development, through training and mentoring. He was the Director of the Florence Trust Studios, London and continues to work with Space Studios and Commissions East.

He can be contacted on:

Rod McIntosh

First published: January 2005

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