Creative Curmudgeon Commentary 2.2: Client Rules

There’s an old saying that differs in anatomical detail from time to time but the “G” version goes ” Opinions are like arm-pits; everyone has them and they all stink”. With that in mind I’d like to pass on a couple of lessons I have learned about finding and working with clients.

1. Make sure there is some common ground with a new client. Research the company before you approach them in the same way you would if you were looking for a job…because that’s what you are doing – looking for a (short term) job. Have something pertinent to their business in  your portfolio. You may do the very best rendering (ever) of the USS Enterprise but that means nothing to a company that makes tractors.

2. If they are signing the check they are your boss. You’re not doing them a favor by working for them. Remember – there is an over-abundance of creative types out there looking for work.

3. At the same time don’t let a perspective client walk on you. It is extremely unprofessional for a client to ask you to do something “on spec” as a test. Doing multiple roughs is one thing – it just might take a while to figure each other’s thinking – but demanding a finished piece (as a test) is date-rape.

4. I would advise against “chasing clients” – going back again and again to see someone who keeps turning you down. There are times when being persistent can work, but there are some folks who will keep you dangling for years when they have no intention of using your work. These are usually people who never got to go the prom.

5. There is a life-span to a client-artist relationship. Times change. Styles change. People get tired of your jokes. There can be a change in personnel with the incoming people bringing in their own stable of favorite freelancers. This life-span thing is especially true if you have a very individual & identifiable style….or when you’ve been heavily associated with a particular company or product. When you’re hot you’re hot and when you’re not. Norman Rockwell got on famously with Saturday Evening Post for decades but  for me it has averaged about five years per client

6. I would be very careful about a client who becomes your “buddy” kind of quickly. You’ll find that soon you are asked to “help out a buddy just this one time” by turning a job around on an impossible deadline or lowballing your rates “just this one time”.  Those one times will crop up again…and again…and then one day you can’t get past the receptionist to “your buddy”.

Ever again.

7. Always get something in writing no matter how nice they may seem (see #6). If they “just keep forgetting” write up a “Memo for Record” of the project parameters, rights transferred, deadline and rate/date of payment. Make three copies; sign all three and send two to the client asking them to sign and return one. You might not get it back, but it will give you some leverage. Please, please, please avoid thinking that pushing for the paper will give you a bad reputation in the market. If they’re going to talk nasty if you ask for a contract, they will talk nasty about you without one. If they balk outright at a contract or your memo they don’t intend on paying you anyway.

8. I will take a heartbeat a client who pays a lower rate on time over a client who promises top dollar but is always late – and I will do everything I can to keep that first client happy.

9. Be careful about a company that promises big money down the road if you can just cut them a break to begin with. What usually happens when that “big money” finally happens is you get cut loose and they find someone younger and cheaper.

10. There is no #10.

Some of these “rules”  might sound harsh but every one of these “rules” have been drawn from personal experience. I have had  some wonderful clients in my career like GDW and Patch Products  but I have had some clients-who-will-remain-nameless that….well, the only reason you can’t say they robbed me is because no firearms were involved.

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