I have been in the advertising and design business for over 30 years. Most of it as a sole-practitioner or working with a business partner. During that time I have had many prospective clients come across my door, and I have had many that I have entered into long-term working relationships with. I have enjoyed working with most all of them and have enjoyed their company as friends. Most have taken care of paying invoices on time, and for that, I consider myself lucky.
From time-to-time, I have come across some business people who don’t seem to work under the same ethical guidelines that you and I work with. These people will take advantage of you. Probably not from any malicious standpoint, they just feel they are special and should get a deal.
To help you as you continue on your business journey, here are a few business types you should look out for on your journey, especially as a designer.
The prospects to watch out for
The I need a deal — “If you do this logo for cheap, then you will be my guy on all the other projects.” Nobody wants to pass up on a job, but a lot of times we grab the work like we are buying a lottery ticket at the corner Jiffy Mart. The odds are 1 in 175 million, but we are willing to chance it in hopes of being the one. These clients usually pay off the same way. It is rare that your new “client” will pay you the going rate for future work. You have proven that you will give away your work and it will always be valued that way. When they are ready to pay going wages, they almost always go to a larger agency.
Early in my career, I was freelancing for someone who had a one-person marketing firm. Her client was a real estate company that needed a new logo. She talked me into doing the mockups for $25, yes you read that right, $25. She promised me that once she sold it, I could charge more for the final layout. She sold it alright and went straight to the printer who finished the artwork for free. That logo is still in use 20 years later.
The Logo Cage Match — “I used a service where I had 20 designers design my logo for free. I chose one and paid him $40.” Sure, you can get good logos from these types of services. A hundred other companies might have the same logo but that doesn’t matter, it will only cost you $40. These potential clients do not value what you do and the services you bring them. Don’t be surprised when they ask you to lower your fees because they can get a website produced on Fiverr.com for $5 or they could do it themselves using Wix.
In my experience, the upside of the Logo Cage Match client is that you may work with someone who feels they got burned when they had their logo designed. They are now looking for a designer who can help them improve their brand in spite of their logo.
The Phantom (client edition) — There is always a client who has to have it now, to meet a deadline and if you don’t get it done they will find someone else, and there will be hell to pay. Oh, did he mention that he doesn’t want to pay a rush fee? That is a pretty typical scenario; the phantom is the one who makes the demand and then disappears. Need approval for a photo or text change? The phantom can’t be bothered. Do you need FTP access to his original web site? The phantom is nowhere to be found. Of course, you still need to make that deadline.
The designers to watch out for
In all fairness, there are designers that you the client should be looking out for as well.
The Side Gigger — Is your prospective designer working for you as a side gig? They are working somewhere else from 8-5, so what could the problem with that? First off they are working somewhere else from 8-5, and your job will be worked on later in the evening. I don’t know about you, but most business decisions are made between 8-5.
Before I come down too hard on the Side Gig, I have to admit that is what I did the first few years of my career. It worked for my clients and me. You need to decide if you are comfortable with the decreased attention to your project.
The Learn on the Job — Fake it till you make is an unspoken business practice, and that’s true in design and advertising as anywhere else. Technology is ever-changing, so your designer is bound to be behind the technology curve on some things. Just make sure the designer you choose is not learning it ALL on your project. Here is a helpful hint, if you got a really good deal on the project, you might be the guinea pig.
The Phantom (designer edition) — The meeting started off with a bang, you and your designer got along great, and you liked his designs. You set some deadlines, and your designer heads off into the night to create your website or brochure and… nothing. One week goes by then two. You call and can’t get him on the phone. Your deadline passes, and eventually, you get him on the phone. What was the excuse? His dog was sick; maybe he had another job that took longer than he thought. Maybe he wasn’t as fast as he thought, couldn’t make the deadline and was too embarrassed to admit it and hoped you would go away.
So how do you deal with these types of clients or designers? Communication. Talk to your prospective client or designer and get to know them. Do you have a gut feeling about them one way or another? Trust it, a lot of time your gut is usually right. Do they have expectations that you are not comfortable with? It’s better to back out now. Define the scope and deliverables of the project and get it in writing in a signed contract. My answer may sound simplistic, and it could be a whole other article on that subject alone. Think about it, if I had told that first client that yes I will do the comp for $25, but I would get $500 if it was sold and got it in writing then maybe I wouldn’t have felt a need to lead off a blog post about it decades later.