Freelancers: Four Tips for Avoiding Terrible Business Advice
A response to Dann Petty’s tips for making your clients love you
The concept of assigning value to any kind of creative work may be an extremely daunting and scary thing to you. Let me tell you why that’s okay—it is for everyone else, too.
I get at least two or three emails each month with questions about pricing and quoting projects. This always kind of surprises me, because I don’t ever remember saying or doing anything to suggest I have a single clue what I’m doing either.
Point is, there is no formula, and no one handles things exactly the same. Every artist/designer/whatever is different, each of their clients is different, and each of those clients’ projects is different. How could your approach to each be exactly the same every time?
I have a few things I try to focus on when quoting jobs. I’d never say they were “the best” methods. I don’t think there are any, but they have done right by me. And I’d love to share them, but that’s a whole other article.
There may not be a specific right way to handle this stuff, but there’s definitely plenty of wrong ways. I think Dann outlines several of them for us in his post.
Recognizing terrible business advice
Are you being directed to intentionally accept less or even no money for your work?
Seriously? That doesn’t just sound fundamentally flawed to you? Don’t let words like “being flexible” make devaluing yourself sound any less horrible than it is. And we wonder why so few people have even close to a realistic idea of what good design is worth.
Not only are there young, scrappy designers doing work for next to nothing because they don’t know any better, but well-known, “respected” ones are doing it too to make their clients love them? At least they’re not telling those who look up to them to do the same—wait, they are? OH GOD!
Don’t let words like “being flexible” make devaluing yourself sound any less horrible than it is.
You want to know the best thing about being flexible and doing free work for clients that love you? They’ll totally keep coming back to you with more free work! As long as they love you and send you gifts at the end of the day, that’s all you can really ask for, right? Just last month, I sent over a few wine bottles I’d received from a client in lieu of my mortgage payment. Feels good to not need actual money anymore.
Is it being suggested that you stop using industry standard legal agreements because they make your clients unhappy?
I don’t really care what you do for a living. Whether creativity-oriented or not, if you’re running your own operation and working for yourself, I’d be wary of any advice to be less professional.
This might be great for landing and keeping cool clients that totally love you. And if you want to keep being “that cool dude who doesn’t make us do anything and is mad flexible with his rates” for clients like that, then this is definitely the way to go. However, if you aspire to work with companies that look for professionals and pay accordingly to work with experts in their field, a good place to start might be actually treating yourself like one.
Remember, like Dann said, “…lots of people are getting screwed over. To be honest, not that many, though.” I guess it’s all relative, really. It probably looks like a lot less people are getting screwed over when no one’s getting screwed over more than you.
If you aspire to work with companies that pay accordingly to work with experts, a good place to start might be actually treating yourself like one.
I could definitely tell you more than two or three stories about people getting a raw deal because they didn’t have an agreement in place, but maybe I’m just not well-known enough.
Are you to believe that letting clients pay their balance in whatever they feel is a reasonable timeframe is somehow good for your business?
Being “easy to work with” and letting clients walk all over you are not synonymous. If a company is smaller and doesn’t have a “full-on financial team”, that only means that you should expect them to pay sooner.
In fact, if the client doesn’t have an accounting department and pay all their vendors net 30 or something, there’s really no reason you shouldn’t be collecting half up front and the rest before handing over any deliverables. Especially if you’re a cool, flexible person that doesn’t use those pesky contracts (You are? Hey, use a fucking contract).
The founders or CEOs of these smaller companies have to take time out of their busy schedules to pay for their office spaces, to pay their employees, and everyone else they work with. Why should you be any different? You may not be asking them to settle your invoices in a timely manner, but I guarantee another vendor they work with is. Who do you think is getting paid first?
Hey, use a fucking contract.
Remember, if you’re a freelancer, chances are pretty good that you’re busy too, and probably not just working with one client at a time. This is their one project. Why should taking care of it and the people involved be any less important to them than it is to you?
There’s no doubt that your client will never forget how loose you are with collecting your fees. They’ll remember you every time they need something, but don’t necessarily have the means to pay for it right now.
Giving a client your expectations for when they should pay you doesn’t have to involve threats of an increase after a certain period. Hell, offer a small discount if they pay sooner than your desired timeframe. It’s called an early payment discount, and it’s only one of the most common practices in business. Use it.
Are voluntary enslavement to your client and being on call 24/7 considered necessary elements to making them love you?
My wife and I had an amazing doctor that delivered both of our children. He went above and beyond the call of duty throughout both pregnancies, and was available whenever we needed him. And we loved him for that.
Are you an awesome doctor? You’re reading a post addressed to freelancers, so if you are, that’s pretty concerning. For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume you’re not a doctor, and you aren’t pulling down doctor money for the occupational obligation of being on call for your clients at all times.
I have two kids, two dogs, a cat, a wife that has a pretty demanding job, and I work from home in the middle of it all. I’m probably losing out on a ton of work because I’m so inflexible.
You aren’t pulling down doctor money for the occupational obligation of being on call for your clients at all times.
The clients that need flexible designers don’t love people like me, so I’m forced to get that love from other places like my family, friends and clients who value me as a person and care that I have a life outside of their project. Full disclosure, though: these clients don’t send near as many gifts.
If you really want to make your clients love you—and by all means, you should—then do it by being fucking incredible at what you do and wowing them at every turn with the skills you’ve worked so hard to develop. They’re worth something, you know.
I’ve been an independent designer for just over two years, working with clients like: Samsung, Target, Capital One, Sutter Home, BlackBerry, Evernote, and many others, and all of them paid me handsomely and in a timely fashion for doing so.