As an artist or creator, you may have shared your work with others. Friends, family, classmates, strangers… and they love it! Praised and exclaimed over, some of them may then ask you, “Can you make something for me?” Greenhorn that you are and puffed up with pride over the compliments you’ve just received, you agree enthusiastically. The other party then tells you what they want and then it can go various ways where ultimately it either ends with a) both of you happy or b) both of you unhappy with “b” being the usual ending.
Why does it generally end with both parties unhappy?
1. When your work isn’t good enough and you’re stuck in an endless loop of revisions.
You try your best but whatever you make, it’s just not good enough for the other person. You end up in a situation where you’re constantly being asked to revise your work causing both of you to become aggravated though more likely, it’ll just be you who’ll become fed up and depressed.
How to Fix it: If you’re already in this kind of this situation, stop working on it right now. Just let them know that you’re not doing any more revisions and they can just take it or leave it. If the person tries to make you feel bad, don’t let them get to you. Stick to your guns. They get what they pay for; you worked for free and what it is. At the end of the day, you’re not going to get the time back you worked on the project… though you may be a little wiser.
To stem this kind of problem before it starts, make sure you have a payment system in place with a base price and a revision price. For example, you can charge $20 for the initial rate but if they ask for something to be changed, no matter how small, they get charged $5 per revision.
2. You get guilt-tripped, pleaded, nagged, or (insert tactic of choice here) into working for free.
How to Fix it: Know when to walk away and couch yourself to not feel bad about turning the other person down. At the end of the day, you will have to put up the time, the energy, the creativity, and so much more than the other person ever will. Don’t do favors unless you truly want to and not because you got suckered into it.
3. You’ll gain experience!
This has a 50/50 shot of ending happily or unhappily. It all depends on the previous recommendation of whether you are joining the project because you truly want to or because you got rolled into it unwillingly. Just know that whatever you are doing be it working on your own, with others, for a business, commission, for fun or profit – you will always be gaining experience. If one thing doesn’t pan out, another opportunity will be waiting for you right after so don’t worry about gaining experience too much. Something will always turn up.
4. You’ll get paid!
Who doesn’t love to get money for what they make? This can work both ways in that the customer can screw you over just as much as you can screw the customer over. Where money is concerned, it can get really messy in certain situations. As I mentioned before, it’s best if you set up a base and a revision price right from the get-go. Never be ashamed to post your prices. If you don’t post your prices, you’ll either a) scare away potential clients who may be interested in hiring you but think your prices will be too high (because you didn’t post them!) or b) they can’t be bothered to contact you to check out your rates when they can go somewhere else who does and shop around.
When talking to your client, always specify your rates (base and revision!), the deadline, what they’re looking for to be made, and how and when you’ll be paid. The last one is particularly important. Most artists get paid upon completion but some do a split payment of a 1/4 or so payment upfront with the rest paid upon completion. If you’re doing payment upon completion, make sure you NEVER give the completed work until you are paid. That usually means not giving the larger, completed PSD or other file format image until payment. If you disregard that, then you’ve just basically worked for free.
I did mention earlier that you can screw the client over just as he or she can to you. Always make sure you meet your deadlines, check your email and answer questions promptly. Work on your commission now! If you don’t have the time, be honest and let the person know that you’re booked. If they’re willing to wait, put them in the queue. Also, if a client wants something done asap, ahead of everyone else, then don’t be afraid to ask for more money. It’s a service much like next-day postal delivery.
If a client gives you a run-around about payment, instead of playing a cat and mouse game, give them an ultimatum. Either you get paid by XXX date or else you’re keeping the work and negotiations are over. If unfortunately it ends in the latter case, don’t get down. This happens to everyone so pick yourself up and move on.
These are generally the main reasons that others can hook you into working for free. In the end, if you’re working for free, it should boil down to two things:
1. If you have the time and
2. If you want to do it of your own free will.
If either one is missing in the equation, make sure you get paid. Money is usually a good motivator. If money doesn’t make you interested in the project, then with ask for more or walk away from it. Always remember that you can always walk away from a project! Try not to do it if you’re getting paid but at the end of the day, if you aren’t motivated to do something, made to feel bad, caught in a depressing or negative situation – call it a day, stick to your guns, and just say “No thanks”.