In design school (or even high school for those of you talented enough not to need additional education) the future is bright and you’re certain that you’ll be an instant success right out of school! Right?! Wrong. Way wrong. There are people in the world looking for fresh, naive graphic design talent to take advantage of, especially in the freelance arena. Just log on to your local Craiglist.org design listing page and look for those ads looking for a logo for $50, or for businesses looking for free graphic design that will only enhance your portfolio and give your creativity the exposure it deserves! Whatever, these people just want your creative ideas for nothing. You need a finely tuned BS-detector to weed out these types of clients, which you won’t have entering the graphic design field right out of design school.
If you hear these phrases from potential clients, you’re probably going to get swindled:
“I feel uncomfortable signing your contract.”
Red flag numero uno. A contract is a non-negotiable. A contract or design agreement, lays out the ground work for the project and lets your client know up front about payment schedules, how you accept payment, the number of revisions you’ll do before additional payment is required, etc… If a potential client is giving you the run around about signing your contract or down right refuses, run for the hills. Chances are they won’t pay on time (or at all) and will be extremely difficult to work with. The temptation to go forward with a project and work with a new client without a contract will be tempting for a freelance graphic designer right out of school, but resist the temptation! Save yourself the headache and use the time you’ll save stressing about this client to find better clients that will actually pay you.
For help understanding or crafting a design contract or agreement, check out these resources to get you started:
Outlaw Design Blog – Graphic Designer Contracts Agreements Forms and Web Designer Contracts
David Airey – Using Freelance Graphic Design Contracts
Freelance Folder – Do You Need a Contract for Freelance Work?
“You’re quote is a little too high, how about you do it for this (insert measly dollar amount here).”
If your rates are reasonable and your quote is well thought out given the project, don’t budge on price. Do your best to explain how you came up with your quote. I never go into too much detail, but I explain what is included in the quote: research, sketching, designing and X number of revisions. These factors will vary depending on the project.
“I’d do this project myself, but I don’t have time.”
This type of prospective client may have taken a web design class at their local community college 8 years ago, clearly making them an expert on subject of graphic design (in their minds). Clients like this might request a copy of your source files during or after the project is done so they can “tweak” them or make changes down the road. You wouldn’t ask a painter to leave his tools behind after he paints your house so you can touch up spots a few months later. Don’t let clients “tweak” your work.
“Payment upfront? We’ll pay you once we’re satisfied…”
…Or not at all. Many designers require a 50% deposit on all projects upfront, and for good reason. If after rounds and rounds of changes and months of work a client decides they don’t like what you’ve done and goes off the grid, at least you made a little money for your hard work and time. Normally there’s not a lot you can do in this situation, but if the amount they owe is substantial, take legal action (only pursue this option after many e-mails and phone calls to the delinquent client). You’re running a business, not a charity. This is also an instance where having a signed contract in your hands is crucial.
“Do a spec of this project, then we’ll be able to know for sure if you’re the right designer for the job.”
No spec work EVER. There’s a huge movement happening in the graphic design community to eradicate spec work completely. When I first started freelancing, I got roped into doing spec work because I thought that was a standard practice. Veteran freelance designers will be quick to tell you otherwise. Spec work devalues our industry and makes it incredibly easy for potential clients to steal your work and use it for free, or hand it off to another designer willing to work for peanuts to rework what you’ve done and claim it as their own. Yes, unfortunately these type of low life clients and graphic designers exist.
“This project is easy and shouldn’t take you anytime at all!”
I’ve heard this more times than I can count and it makes me cringe each time. There are clients out there that believe you have a magical button on your keyboard that when pressed churns out the exact design your client wants in five seconds. This is an opportunity for you to educate your potential client about you creative process. When I send a potential client a quote, I always include a note that says something like “This quote includes all research, sketching and design work…” to dispel this myth that what we designers do is “easy”.
Always be cordial and quick to explain your processes if you ever hear these phrases from a potential client. We’re professionals and sometimes we have to explain what we do in order for our clients to get on the same page, but don’t spend too much time on a client if there’s clearly no way to get through to them. I look at it this way, if I take my car in to get it worked on and the quote on the repairs is too high, I’ll generally go ahead with it after a clear explanation of what’s being done to my car. Our potential clients deserve the same courtesy.