Does being a starving graphic artist suck?

Does being a starving graphic artist suck?

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Does being a starving artist suck? Even if you are not starving, you should get yourself familiar with the books & resources of Jeremy Tuber, a designer & author based in Arizona, USA.

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Jeremy and myself have been in contact via email & twitter in a very on and off fashion, though over the conversations we have had, I’ve found Jeremy’s pragmatic & practical knowledge in business to be quite profound and this is clearly shown throughout his books & resources.

About four months ago, Jeremy kindly sent me two of his books (Verbal Kung Fu For Freelancers and Being A Starving Graphic Artist Sucks) and over these last four months have found them very handy – below are two short reviews of these two books.

Verbal Kung Fu For Freelancers

Verbal KungFu For Freelancers

Although I am not overly fussed by the design of the book itself, the information inside is invaluable and I have referred to it many a time. This book tells you how to talk and deal with your clients needs, but done in a very to the point way. It’s basically a ‘questions and answers’ book.

For example, pretend you have a client asking you to lower the price of your original quote. How would you respond? If you refer to the pricing section of the Verbal Kung Fu book, it would tell you exactly what to write and in some cases, it gives you two options to choose from.

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Verbal Kung Fu For Freelancers is essentially about “how to talk to clients” and if you’re like me and the vast majority of your communication is done via email, you have all the time in the world to refer to this book to find out how to appropriately & effectively deal with your clients needs, without jeopardising your income or dignity.

I haven’t come across a book like this before and I highly recommend it. Its 166 pages are well categorised for easy referencing and is a ‘keep in your top draw’ kind of book. You also read what Steve from LogoFactory had to say about Jeremy’s books.

Being A Starving Graphic Artist Sucks

Starving Artists

Being A Starving Graphic Artist Sucks (500 pages) is the second book I received and is much larger than the Verbal Kung Fu book. It’s a “complete resource” on how to be a successful freelancer.

It deals with such things as how to find clients & how to run your design business including thorough expert advice in areas that designers struggle in: pricing, marketing, negotiations, customer service and sales.

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Although I didn’t read this book from front to back (I’ve already read similar books) it is clear that Jeremy knows how to run a design business and is certainly a book worth checking out. It really is a “complete resource”.

Discounts & Freebies

Readers of this blog can get 25% off any of Jeremy’s digital products OR get a free ebook when you purchase a printed book from Amazon.

You can click through to view all products & discounts.

Jeremy also offers free email support to any and all questions that you may have! How many authors offer that?

Free Giveaway

Update: 13/10/09 – Competition Closed

Congratulations to Jaz who will be receiving the prize pack below. Thank you to everyone else who entered – there are many questions here that will provide good ideas for posts in the future.

Jeremy has also been kind enough to donate a grand prize to one lucky winner. This will include the digital copies of:

  • Being A Starving Graphic Artist Sucks
  • Verbal Kung Fu For Freelancers
  • Work Smarter, NOT Harder: Contracts & More

To win: simply let us know what area you find most troublesome when freelancing and a question you would like answered relating to that area. The winner will be announced in this post on Tuesday 13th October.

Good luck!

More book recommendations:

45 thoughts on “Does being a starving graphic artist suck?”

  1. Ugh – pricing for sure! That’s definitely the hardest part of freelancing to me. I read everyone’s articles and suggestions and still find it hard to know what to charge people.

  2. Thanks for the reviews Jacob. The Verbal Kung Fu book sounds very interesting indeed. I always find it a challenge to strike the right kind of tone while still being true to your base nature. See I am a very friendly, fun, outgoing kind of a person. I could never be too serious or too formal. When dealing with clients, I have to really reign in my whimsy, happy spirit 🙂

  3. Sneh,
    Yeah I usually reply with my own natural reply, however, there are some times (mostly with negotiating) that I need a helping hand just to see how you can go about getting a result that will satisfy own parties. Even the most happy, whimsical spirits, can come across as nasty dragons sometimes (even if they don’t know they are doing it).

  4. Im gonna go with Adrea and say pricing too. I get almost paranoid over that issue. Charge too much and no one will use my services. Charge too little and I undervalue myself and either way I price myself out of business.

  5. Jon, Andrea, Diana,
    Pricing is certainly one of the hardest areas to overcome in the design industry – finding the right balance between being too expensive or undervaluing yourself is not an easy task. You may have read this article on how much to charge for design work? It will give you an idea of where to start.

    You may like to read a first hand account of how another freelancer got started, it may push you in the right direction. As for finding work in the desert, have you tried marketing out to the rest of the world? The internet makes the world a small place indeed.

    I can agree with you regarding the contest sites – have you read this article? The pros & cons of spec work – it outlines all the negatives associated with spec contest sites.

    Good to hear you are doing design for the love of it… is there any other way?

    As for the push in the right direction… how about some inspiring quotes?

  6. One area I find rather troublesome when freelancing is dealing with new clients’ inquiries. I’m a web designer/developer, and client education can be very time-consuming for me, especially with clients who don’t know much about the web. I’ve had many clients with whom I spent so much time discussing requirements, technical details, best solutions, etc. who didn’t hire me in the end. My question is: How do you educate your client enough to have them trust you and hire you, but without wasting too much time in the process?

  7. Thanks for pointing out those books to us. I just started bidding for jobs at That verbal kung fu will definitely help kick my bidding style into shape. I will check it out at amazon or ebay!

  8. Those books look good. Thanks for giving us the heads up.

    I know I’m probably just flogging a dead horse, but quoting is always the most frustrating part of freelancing for me.

    Actually pricing a job at the end is the easy bit, it’s getting some numbers together at the beginning which is painful part.

    And in saying that, it is even more troublesome when it’s a job you haven’t done much before. You don’t even have a job which to reference back to.

    Such is life I suppose.

  9. those look like some helpful books!
    One aspect of freelancing I find difficult is time management. It sometimes gets difficult to make sure I put in a solid 10 hours of work when I have no boss or superior making sure things get done. It’s a bittersweet thing. It’s nice being in control of your work schedule but it’s hard making sure you don’t slack off :]

  10. I can’t wait to get my hands on those books!!! They’re on my Christmas list for sure.

    One of the toughest things to deal with for me is dealing with more than one client on the same project. You first start talking to one person, then that person passes it along to everyone in the company and all of a sudden everyone has opinions!!! And they want revisions. Lots of them.

    I’d really love to know how to deal with that situation and what to tell them? Should my original quote go up because of all the revisions? How do I tell them this?

    Great article!


  11. I would love to know he would react if the client wants something that is totally against everything you stand for as a designer. How often does a client come along with something “the logo could look like this!” or “can we use this font?! yeah, right, that one from word on my PC!” (yeah… comicsans…) What is more important: satisfy the client or yourself and what you stand for?

  12. I probably go with the majority – the problem of estimating the pricing. Should I invent an hourly rate, should I rise the price if they want too many revisions? It can be very frustrating, just like Jon said.

  13. I don’t freelance at the moment, but would consider it should I have a gap between regular work. The thing which bothers me, is like everyone has said, pricing. How does one earn enough to live through freelancing? Everything surely takes longer when there aren’t other people to share the load. I guess my question is how does one NOT be a starving graphic artist? Those books definitely sound interesting to me!

  14. Hi, Jacob, what a great books!, the hardest part for me, being a freelance is pricing (I’m a illustrator) and talking with clients via email, and of course I really want to know how to get more clients! 🙂

  15. There are two things I find troublesome about being a freelance designer.

    One is how impossible it is to start a freelance career in this economy, especially when you have no means to venture out into a more thriving city. I live in the desert in CA and it is impossible to find work out here.

    And work I do come across tends to fall through when clients think my services are over priced.

    Second issue I have is how doing freelance work in this day and age is starting to feel like creative prostitution. I’m only 20 and I’ve already felt violated by the freelance world.

    Contest sites that devalue our work as nothing more than some quick collage of images. People who call themselves professionals just because they can string together a few simple filters in photoshop. And again, this economy, which forces some of us to have to lower our prices to the point where you can barely buy something off the dollar menu at McDonalds.

    The reason I keep doing graphic design is because I have no other skills and I’m virtually unemployable in any other field.

    And because I love it.

    That and I already paid those blood suckers at Adobe for CS4.

    So my question is: Can someone push me in the right direction?

    And if not in the right direction, at least over a cliff?

  16. Pricing and when to say no. There were lots of times when I needed money but the price or budget the client was asking was way too low.

  17. Well, like everyone pricing has been my problem from the start, I never know how much with printing and time plus over project it always seems to be different. Also would like to know how to get much business, I can do ad and my clients like my work, the website is nice and word of mouth does a lot but I need more business more often. I also would like to know how to spot project or clients that I should not do cause right now I take whatever comes in my “door” and sometimes I wish I would have been able to spot a so-called bad client. I would also know if it is wise to stay a freelancer or go to work for someone or even start my over design firm. I know it is a lot of questions but I would love to read these book and figure out all of my what ifs. Thank for the chance from a starving graphic artist.

  18. Pricing is tough, I’ve always felt that my rate was my rate I will not lower it. This is good for the integrity of the design profession. I hate it when a potential client tells me my rate is too high because other designers will work for a fraction of the cost. What are the standard rates out there for web design, print design, web development?

  19. Hi Jacob!

    Thanks for pointing out these books; they both sound very helpful!

    I think the biggist thing I find most troublesome is how to tell a client ‘no’ when they are convinced if I just make a couple of small changes to the logo/business card/flyer I’ve just spent hours desigining will end in something they like. Nine times out of ten it is something that destroys the design, and ends up in a finsihed work I hate!

    How do I tell a client that I am the expert and to stop interfering without offending them?

  20. Hi jacob,

    My biggest problem is pricing as well. I don’t want to charge too much but I also don’t want to charge less than I’m worth. It’s tough getting a good answer to this.

  21. I was reading your article and was thinking to myself how I was going to show these books to my girlfriend so she knows what’s on my wish list for Christmas 😉 but then I saw that there is a chance to WIN these books so my entry is below:

    The most troubling area for me while I freelance is getting some sort of acknowledgment. You might think it’s silly, but what annoys me more than anything else is sometimes I don’t know if the receiving end of my message purposely ignored me, was not real potential, or was too busy to respond?

    My question is: Is that normal? I used to doubt myself and think that my ‘portfolio’ was laughable in their eyes and didn’t think I was worth even responding to. Other times I think maybe my message/e-mail got lost in the process.

    I would just like to know if that’s normal behavior?

  22. I’d love more information on how to get business when you’re just starting out and in a bad economy. Thanks!!

  23. Hi. Firstly I want to say the review is pretty good, I like.

    Now about the freelancing thing. The most troublesome is when and whether should I trust THAT client. I’m usually a nice guy, and I tend to let my clients know it’s not just the money I’m after, but also interested in making a good job so I sometime tend to ask for money later, which is a big mistake as I have been scammed a couple of times before. Other than that, it’s sometime pricing too, but everybody have difficulties with that considering the fact that some people live in some parts of the world where £10 means something, however I usually tend to ask what their budget is, and actually consider it.

    Any tips?

  24. I’ve always struggled with how to establish your going rate when there are so many people who undervalue design work. I love helping out those who have a limited budget, but how do you convince people of the value of design (and not just my design, design in general?)

  25. WOW! I can’t believe how many folks out there have trouble with pricing. Yeah, it can be difficult, but there are ways to figure it out that aren’t so tough. Keep a log of your hours on all of your projects. That way when a similar project comes along, you’ll know what to estimate the cost for the client at. Don’t be afraid to charge what you are worth. While you don’t want to overcharge (you’ll know if you are overcharging) you don’t want to hurt your business or others by undercharging. If you charge too little it brings the price down for all of us starving designers.

    My biggest question is …

    “How can I most effectively market myself to get new clients and keep work coming in from established clients?”

  26. Hi Jacob, Hi Jeremy.
    I don’t know if it can give some idea to talk about in a book or in an article, but sometimes I find really, really excruciating to define when a job is “finished”.
    It could happen because the client continues to ask for little enhancements that “oh, it will take a couple of minutes to you!” or because he thinks it is a smart way to delay the payment time, but sometimes a project it really risks to end unpaid!!
    It’s a great pain to me!

    Thanks for listening,

  27. The worst part by far is the pricing, its awkward and hard to judge each client unless you have seen their car, house, and paychecks.

  28. I honestly find that getting the proper resources from clients tends to be the area where I struggle the most. I try to be as specific as possible, but when I finally receive material, its usually incomplete or completely different than what I asked for. How can I ensure I’ll receive what I ask for—with out talking down to clients—or at least not seem like I’m badgering them when I come back asking for the right stuff? Thanks!

  29. haha starving artist. that caught my eye. from what i pesonally feel. nowadays, anyone who is determined to pursue design can learn his way to being an expert with all the information on the internet.

    this results in supply and of course a downward pressure in prices.

    as such, it pretty lies more on relationship building with the clients.

    my 2 cents


    The most frustrating part about design is having clients who make about 50 changes. The end product being one that you just don’t wanna look at anymore!! Your only consolation is you are getting paid for it.

  31. Aside from charging the heck out of someone, what is the best way to keep revisions to a minimum? Sometimes it is ridiculous the amount of revisions this person might go through.

  32. These books look like a great resource for helping out with my freelance career. I’ve found a few things to be difficult: pricing, project managing and most of all the act of communicating with the client. I’m a bit shy and talking/meeting with clients has been one of the hardest things that I do and have yet to fully be comfortable doing with clients.

    However, I do understand the value and benefit of having a strong client relationship! I hope to just continue improving in that regard.

  33. these books look really good 🙂 My biggest challenge is selling myself – convincing clients that I can do the job – and convincing them that they do need a vector logo and that gif from word clip art is not going to cut it. I know I can do it, but I have a hard time explaining it to clients… hopefully there is a neat explanation in one of those books.

  34. I have to agree with Andrew B. It is getting harder and harder to get appreciation (thus a fair rate) for design work. Folks seem to think that owning a copy of Photoshop makes them a designer.

  35. Wow, that sounds like an incredible book.

    I’ve had a few issues with not knowing how to respond to clients within the last week alone, one including an IE6 issue. I ended up dealing with it pretty well, you can see what I wrote here –

    I’ll definitely have to look into the Verbal Kung Fu book as that seems like it’s exactly what I need.


  36. Gee, we can only ask about one?? There are many frustrating points I’ve stumbled across during my freelance adventure. I would definitely advise anyone who is still in a job to try and pick up some freelance work along the way – never hurts your portfolio and keeps you in the know of how it works out here so there’s no surprises (kind of a test drive for those thinking about making the jump).

    I think the biggest stumbling block I’ve come across is myself, actually. I’m not a business major, and while I’ve learned a great deal this past year I know I have more to learn in the coming years, but getting around myself and my own doubts has been the hardest: where to find work, how to market, what networking groups/functions to attend, what groups are good vs. “money-suckers”, whether or not to take on “production work” for backlog, how to not come across as desperate – that and more. I’m better at remembering that I won’t get every bid, and if I did there may be something seriously wrong with my pricing.

    I love graphic design! It’s like looking at a new puzzle with every client’s challenge, and trying to figure out how many ways I can put it back together without breaking it, and finding the one way to make it POP! I love the creative more than I enjoy the production, I wish I could find more clients like that. Building a business takes time, I do understand that – guess I’m way too impatient! 😀

    I know I’m late, but I would appreciate your input, Jacob. Did you ever have self-doubts as you started your journey? How did you manage to overcome them? Thanks!

  37. Thanks for the links to these great resources, Jacob. I just invested a few dollars and have downloaded both these books. Sure I would have preferred the printed version but why wait until Christmas – I need help now! I haven’t had chance to read much as yet,only got them a few hours ago.So far I’ve had a few helpful emails from Jeremy and I’ve learned a couple of really good strategies that I am sure are going to help. Such as, how to deal with the ongoing revision process. Jeremy’s advice seems to be the most pro-active advice I’ve had to date. I’m really thrilled with my purchase and to top it off – the e books didn’t cost very much at all. So thanks again for the recommendation

  38. Designers dont have the leverage to make a decent living anymore. Everyone and their mother is a designer. This occupation is for the young only. Its a cool thing to be a designer while your in a band or something like that but dont kid yourself, all people have a shelf life in this industry similar to an NFL player. Have fun while you can and dont spent your hard earned beer money on fantasy strategy books like this one.

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