Planet illustration studio company blog 021 / How to take a brief by freelance illustrator Adrian Cartwright
27th July 2015
How to take a brief...
A Brief is the start of a project, but preparing yourself for the brief is very valuable, and will massively increase your chances of winning the contract and getting a clear understanding of the commission. This is possibly one of the most important elements during a brief, and it starts before you even take the brief!
As a freelance illustrator, I've taken briefs for 25 years this year, 2015. In that time, I’ve tried different methods over the years, and have learnt to apply different techniques for a diverse customer base here in the UK and abroad, for instance the United States. Customer Reviews
Now there's different ways you can be notified about a brief, for example it could be posted publicly, like on a freelance job listing, commonly found on the Internet.
You might be approached directly via telephone, and given a verbal brief or email with a written description of what they want.
If it's written, this is a good sign, showing the customer has taken time to compile a clear and informative description of what they want, well hopefully!
Not to say that a verbal brief isn't clear, but normally the process of writing down what you want does help to get a clear understanding of your needs. Either way, don't reply with a quote without taking time to find out about the subject, and the Customer.
During this first stage, you'll find out more about the subject in general, which will empower you when asking relevant questions before or during the brief. Don't be shy, you're not the expert in the subject, but your customer is, and having a little understanding will flatter them.
Taking the brief:
Depending on how you're carrying out the brief, but typically it's face to face or over the phone. Either way you’ll need to Make Notes!
If your taking the brief on the telephone, try to be professional, especially if it's your first commission from this customer. Make sure you’re not disturbed and you can hear them clearly.
Try to think about the bigger picture, considering the need for the commission, and whom its target audience is. This shows that you're customers needs are being carefully considered, and you have an interest to achieve the best result for your customer. Besides it's nice to think that people are on your side and have your best interest at heart.
Listen to your customer, and let them say their part. And did I say... Make Notes!
For more information on this subject and others relevant to being a freelance illustrator, visit planets extensive page of information "How to be a freelance illustrator" or email Adrian if you have a quesiton, and we'll do our best to reply. Follow us on the social networks below.
What to note down:
Write down key elements, like customers name contact detail, ie email, or direct line. Date your notes and title it with a project name.. There's nothing more annoying to the customer than getting their name wrong after spending time with them in a briefing. Then depending on the brief, note down items you think are important, and obviously any questions you might have to ask once the customer has finished briefing you.
After the customer has said what they want to say, it's your turn, reading from your notes things that sprung to mind during their description. I recommend writing down your questions in your notes too, It’s valuable to aid your understanding of the answer. If you don't, you could end up staring at a 3 word answer to a question you asked verbally a week ago, that doesn't make any sense. If they don’t know the answer, make a note to remind them to find out. It can me a simple “Customer with get back to me” or “waiting on answer”.
Sketching things out if it's relevant to the brief is helpful at times. Customers love to see an illustrator drafting something out. I guess it reassures them, that you can actually draw and already working on the project. This is more helpful in a face to face meeting, but with options to email images, and even share your screen with others remotely. It’s an option to consider.
Understanding and visualising what a customer wants and is expecting is tricky if they're not describing it well or their motivation in the commission is low. If this is the case, you'll need to drive the briefing and ask as many questions you need, and call back if you think of more… Many years ago, I had a customer who use to lose interest in the brief after about 5 minutes, this was hard, and at first I use to allow them to close the brief, often wanting more information for the illustration. This left me feeling like I was wasting their time, and procrastinating. I learnt that they simply hadn't thought that deep about the illustration needed, and couldn’t answer some of my questions, because they didn’t know.
I found compressing the briefing into a 5 minute basic quick questions worked better, then I would contact via email, and ask questions from their first answers in the 5 minute meeting. It gave them to time to think a little more, and by asking them questions in writing, it gave them time to think before they answered.
Key questions to ask.
Ask about a budget, but some customers will clam up and give you a Poker Face, but it's helpful to the project to know the budget, simply because it allows the illustrator to offer alternatives, if the customers expectations are un realistic. Quite often they don’t know how much, and this can lead to you quoting a very low price, and they get a low quality illustration, but good for the low price. You get what you pay for. Perhaps asking them “How much do you want to spend” is a nicer way to put it.
Ask about the use of the illustration and any future plans. If they want to sell it on or profit from it, they’ll need your permission or buy the rights (Copyright) Visit my website where I cover this in more detail. Copyright
Normally when they commission you to create an illustration for them to use, they have exclusive rights to use if for the purpose they’ve said. Be mindful of how they will use it, it might not be ethically something you wish to be associated with.
Finally, get a deadline, or provide an estimated delivery date... Confirm this in your quotation. See How to be a freelance illustrator on planet’s website.
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