Thursday, May 21, 2009

Top 10 Lies Told To Naive Artists and Designers

Certain clients are not worth having. The ones who either lie to you or try to cheat you out of your rightful fee.

I am acutely aware of this because recently, I plunged heedlessly into a project for a man who was starting his own consulting business, and as a result, I took a bit of a bath.

The entrepreneur needed a website, introductory letters, e-mails, maybe a brochure, etc. Like any good creative, before getting into the specific tactics, I began laying the groundwork for the campaign, via a three-stage process: First Questions about the client and the competition; then Marketing Strategy; and I was about to start on the Creative Strategy when I sent him my invoice for the work up to that point, about $600.

When he received my invoice, he phoned me, flabbergasted at the amount. Why, we hadn't actually produced anything -- that he could see. It was then that he informed me that his entire budget for the debut of his consulting business was $1,000.00. Website, identity package, minor adjustments to the (bad) logo he'd already paid for, e-mail letters, introductory letters, perhaps a brochure... One Thousand Dollars. Yikes. Didn't see that one coming.

In light of that, I advise other creatives to begin by finding out exactly what the client is asking you to do. Second, give him or her a bid and explain what it covers. Third, get a signed contract outlining the agreements between you.

I am undeniably at fault in this case. First, I didn't listen carefully when the client told me what he wanted me to do. I heard him, but unlike him, I knew what would be involved in doing it. I didn't explain the thinking part of the process -- the strategy part -- to him so that he bought into it. To analogize, he wanted me to build him a house, but he didn't want me to create a blueprint for it.

I also did not give him an estimate or bid, assuming (wrongly) that since he knew my hourly fee, he could extrapolate and figure out what roughly what his project would cost. He told me he had founded the company he was leaving after 20 years, had done the website, marketing, etc., etc. So I thought he was a sophisticated client. Remember Ass-U-Me? Now I do.

Finally, I did not draft a contract that made each of us aware of what we would do, and what it would cost. Dumbkopf!

In the end, this $1k client talked me down from $600 to $400 (Since, you see, he only had $1k all together, if you can believe that.). As it ended up, he was going to build his own website on Microsoft Office Live -- which has the ugliest templates on the planet. The best farewell advice I could give him was to check out GoDaddy's templates instead. They're boring, but at least they're not garish.

After years working in agencies and working freelance, how could I have made all these rookie mistakes? By being careless. By assuming because I liked the man, I could trust him. By believing all the stuff he told me about being a President of his own company for 20 years and knowing everything he said he knew. Later, I wondered, if he was all that and a bag of chips, how come he only had $1k to start his own business? Something stinks in Denmark... or in this case, Topeka.

You/I have to be extra-careful with entrepreneurs or "amateur" clients. Don't assume anything! Talk about it up-front and get a signed contract. Your client may or may not decide to pay you, but at least you both know what s/he's not paying you for. If your client is in Missouri, I understand, you have to go to small claims court and try to get a judgment in your favor in order to get the client to pay. If the amount is not large, you may decide to skip court in favor of moving on to the next (better) client.

Anyhow, fellow creatives, as they used to say on "Hill Street Blues," "Be careful out there."

Thanks to KC CopyDiva for the link to this article.

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