The Pros and Cons of Having an Agent
I'm gonna talk for a second about agents because agents are sort of like having legal help. So you might be sitting here thinking isn't there someone out there who can just do all of this for me? Do I have to do all of this myself? I didn't realize this was part of being an artist. And the answer to that is yes. And there are different ways that we can get legal help. One of those ways is, like I said, going to a local- Some cities have organizations that give legal advice to artists or they have Saturday open houses where you can bring issues or call in and talk to a lawyer for free, even sometimes, about getting legal advice. So there's always help out there for you and there's a lot of resources online too. That are, you wanna make sure that they're legitimate but there's a lot of places to get advice. But one way to get advice and to help be protected is to sign with an agency and having an agent can be really amazing for people who don't want to deal with negotiating contracts, wh...
o don't want to deal with negotiating fees, don't want to deal with billing. Right? And invoicing, and all this sort of work that comes- The administrative work that comes with being an artist. So, I'm going to talk for a little bit about the pros and cons of having an agent. I started out my career with an agent. I was with an agent for six years. I haven't had an agent for the last several years. So, I have both experiences. I had a really positive relationship with my agent. I left because I was sort of, at the place where I could manage my career on my own and I was getting a lot of work coming directly to me. It didn't make so much sense for me to have an agent anymore, but I also had a really positive experience when I was with an agent. So, I think I can speak pretty fairly about the pros and the cons. Okay. What is an illustration agent and what do they do? I know we've got a photographer in the audience. I know there are agent for photographers too. The benefits of having an agent. The benefits of working without an agent. They're pretty simple. What is an illustration agent? An illustration agent is a person who manages your work. They deal with things like negotiating contracts and taking care of billing. They promote the work of the artist they represent. They also take anywhere between 15, I'm sorry, 25 to 40 percent of your fees for doing the work that they do. This comes with a price, for many people it's worth it. The pros to working with an agent. They can make connections with big name clients. This is one of the best parts of having an agent. Is that as the agency grow and develops they're establishing relationships with all kinds of people that they can potentially connect their artist to. And if you're somebody who is new to the business or you're not so good at or don't like the hustling part of trying to connect with people that you want to work with or promoting your work. Having an agent is great because they can make those connections for you. They pitch and promote your work for you. They can refer you when a client comes with an opportunity. So, a lot of times, agencies have relationships with existing businesses and corporate clients. So, they come and they say, we're going to do this advertising campaign. Or we're going to make a new line of bedding for our home decor department and we want a artist who works or maybe makes work that's really kid friendly. And the artist will say, "Oh!" Here's some artists for you to choose from and maybe you're one of the people that got picked in that client never would've known you existed if it weren't for the agent. So, agent can really connect you. They handle the contracts and billing. They collect payments. Payments usually go through the agent. The client pays the agent, the agent take out their 25 to 30 percent and the rest goes to you. They should have knowledge of the industry standard for what you should be paid for a particular kind of work. So, remember earlier, we were talking about industry standard and trying to understand that. For the most part, this sort of eliminates that conundrum. However, I remember there was a couple times I was working with my agent and she was like, look this is a good fee for this job. And I was like, this sounds terrible. Ultimately, she would say to me, you get to decide if you take this job or not. I think you should do it because this is a good fee, but if you're not comfortable or this doesn't sound interesting to you, you get to walk away. And my agent was great that way and not making me feel pressured to take a job that didn't- You know, somebody was interesting in working with me but I wasn't that interested. But some agents might make you feel pressured and they might not necessarily know what you should be paid, so, you do give up a certain amount of control when you have an agent. They do all the back and forth negotiating with clients which is great. Good agents intervene whenever things are ever sticky or weird with a client. This is one of the best parts. Yes?
[Female Audience Member] I was just gonna ask how did you go about finding your agent and is it something that they found you or do you interview them?
[Female Audience Member] What's that process?
I, when I was first starting out as an illustrator, I had no connections in the world of illustration and I sort of was starting to make art. And starting to gather a following online, but I knew if I was gonna make money at it, I actually had to start getting paid jobs and I didn't even know agents existed. A friend of mine who was an illustrator said you know, it might benefit you to find an agent and I said, well what do I need to do to do that? And she said, well, first of all your website is terrible. You should invest a few months in, hiring somebody to make your website look professional and get your portfolio together with all of your best work. She said, I have a few recommendations of agents that you might want to look at. She'd been in the industry for ten years at that point. That's what I did. I spent some time working on my portfolio and she recommended a few agencies that I should look into and one of them was Lila Rogers, who was my agent for a few years. For six years, actually. I was like, I have no chance of getting- Signing with this agent, she represent some incredible people. I just started out. There's five things in my portfolio. I got really lucky. I reached out to her and I heard back pretty quickly. She flew me out to meet her and we had a meeting and I ended up signing with her pretty quickly. I think she must've seen something in me that she felt was promising. But sometimes, it's a matter of literally doing research on- What I always tell people to do and I do talk about this a little in "Our Ink". I tell people to go look at the websites of illustrators you admire and if they are represented by an agency, look into that agency. Or the artist that agency represents and could you see yourself fitting in there. Because you don't want to be a duplicate or your work can't be too similar to somebody else that they represent but do you sort of fit into the genre of artists that that agency represents. That was how I started and I stumbled on Lola's site and felt I might be a good fit for her and then I reached out to her. I was really lucky to hear back. I knew somebody who was represented by her and I also emailed that person to put in a good word for me. So if you have any connections, use them. Most of the time, if an agent isn't taking on new artists they'll say that on their website. We're not taking submissions. But they are a lot of agencies that are large and represent a lot of artists and those are, not necessarily, easier to get signed with but there's more of a chance. Then there's some agencies that are very small and very niche. The world of art agenting is really exploding right now because there are so many people trying to make a living as an artist. So, people who are happy to and have skill in doing the work of being an agent. Maybe they haven't been one before but they know what it would take are forming businesses all the time. Just keeping your eye on the pulse of the community and seeing what new agents are out there and if they might be interested in representing you. Always talk to people who are already represented by them 'cause you want to make sure that people are happy working with them, get some references. Yeah. [Audience Member] My follow question is what's it like working with an agent for a few years and you enjoy working with her, she enjoys working with you. Was it hard firing her? And going on your own because you've learned enough from her to be able to do it yourself.
I was really lucky when I made the decision that it was time for me to go out on my own. Lila is an extremely intelligent and professional woman and she- It's funny, I was a little bit nervous to- I wouldn't call it firing her, but breakup with her to go out on my own. But I wrote, what I thought was a very- You know, at the point, she was like a mentor to me and I had a lot of affection to her. So I wrote an email to her. A very loving email about all I had learned from her and how much our relationship meant and how I wouldn't be in my career if it weren't for her but I feel like this is the situation. I had done such a good job at that point of promoting my own work that a lot of the inquiries I was getting were coming directly to me and not through her. Does that make sense? And I had a contract with her where anytime an opportunity came to me, I had to pass it onto her and give up a percentage in order for her to handle it. A lot of agent work that way and I realized that I could be making more money and managing more of my stuff and that I could afford to pay somebody to help me with a lot of the logistical stuff instead of paying an agent and that I would have more control over the process. Which we'll take about in a second, the pros of not having an agent. She was so lovely, she wrote back and she said, I get it. It doesn't make sense for you to be subsumed under my brand when you've built your own brand and I fully respect what you're doing. Then we had in my contract that I would phase out with her, so it wasn't immediate either. We continued to work together for another year and phased out our relationship over time. It was- Still have a very good, col etial relationship with her. I think part of that was her and part of that was just how I handled it and most of the time if it makes sense, the agent will be understanding. I mean there are people clambering to work with Lilith, she has no shortage of people wanted to be represented by her so I think in some ways it was- This is my perspective too. If I leave the flock, it opens up room for other people to join her flock and be mentored by her like I had. I had learned what I needed to learn and was ready to leave. I want to get back to talking about pros and cons of agents and one of the last points I wanted to make before I move on to the pro of working without an agent is that one of the great things that agents do is that they intervene if things are ever sticky or weird with a client. My former agency, Lila Rogers was the head but she had two or three woman who worked under her and were the actual working- Not that Lila didn't work but they would do a lot of the work of the contracts and negotiations. One time I did have a sticky situation with a client where he- Things were going out of scope. Which we'll talk about in a second and it was a very awkward conversation. I realized instantly, cause he was getting defensive, that I needed to go to my agent. She was like, yes, anytime anything is sticky with a client. Tell me and I will handle it. The artist should never have to deal with that. That's part of what you're paying for. So that was really a great part of having an agent. So the pros to working without an agent. You make 100 percent of the money on a job. If the job pays a thousand dollars, you make a thousand dollars. If you have an agent you may make only seven thousand dollars. Because the agent is taking 30 percent. On big paying jobs it's a huge chunk of money. That was something that was starting to feel painful for me. Another thing I like is you don't have to give up any control over any part of the process. I actually like reading contracts and negotiating fees. I've gotten used to it, it's not as stressful for me anymore. I have a lot of practice for it. I like asking for the money that I want to make on a project and not feeling like I'm disappointing my agent because I'm asking for more than maybe she would have asked.I remember one of the first opportunities I got after I'd made a clean break from her and was no longer working with her. I asked for way more than the client- I'd been on a job but I'd made the bid super high just to see what would happen. 'Cause I'd always wanted to do that before when I'd had an agent but I'd never felt really comfortable 'cause I always let her decide what we were gonna charge. And the client said yes and I was like, oh this is how it works. I need to push the envelope more often. You get to do that when you don't have an agent. You alone get to make the decisions about how much you charge or what your bottom line is and that's really great. Agent or no agent? Depends on your preferences. Of course, finding the right agent for you or even signing with an agent is not simple and is not necessarily something that happens quickly for everyone. But it is definitely something to pursue if you feel like those aspects of the business: the negotiating, the billing, the promotion, are things you would rather pay someone else to do. It's definitely worth it.
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Establishing yourself as a professional illustrator or designer requires a lot of dedication to building skill, brand and visibility. Equally important, yet often underestimated, is the development of client interaction skills. Working with clients takes practice! It’s not easy and it’s not always intuitive. Knowing how to communicate with clients clearly and effectively is a skill that will ultimately set you apart as a professional illustrator.
Fine artist, illustrator and author Lisa Congdon has worked with over 75 clients around the world, including MoMA, REI Co-op, Harvard University, Martha Stewart Living, Chronicle Books, and Random House Publishing, among many others. In this class she will share the knowledge she has acquired during her successful career, highlighting time-proven strategies for working effectively with clients. She will also discuss common mistakes to avoid when dealing with clients.
Lisa will teach you the skills you need to enter into client relationships with clarity and confidence.
In this class you will learn:
- How to communicate effectively and professionally with potential clients.
- What questions to ask when being approached by a potential client
- What to look for in a creative brief
- How to consider phases and deliverables of a project
- How to consider fee negotiation.
- How to read through a contract.
- How to address change of project scope with a client.
- And so much more...