Thursday, June 20, 2013

Diary of a Freelancer

I don't normally post multiple "Diary of a Freelancers" in a week, but I learned a REALLY tough lesson that I would like to share. I'm hoping by telling you about it, it may prevent something like this from happening to another person/artist in the future.

Basically, I was taken advantage of by a large corporation.

So here is the story... A company contacted me for a rush project. They needed ten fashion illustrations in three business days. I was so excited, thinking "I can't believe this is happening" that I didn't verbalize any of the obvious questions like "why did this magazine wait until right before it was going to print to contact anyone?" Logic literally went out the window. And to further this lack of logic... I didn't follow my usual protocol. I ALWAYS send corporations a contract and have them sign it prior to starting work. It wasn't written by a Lawyer, but at least I have one. The trouble with my current contract though is that it involves a lot of editing per client and project, and since this was such a rush job, and I was worried about getting it done in time, I never created the document. In addition to the signed contract, I require a non-refundable minimum of 50% upfront.  I won't even start drawing a line until payment has gone through. Well I'm sure you can already guess but I didn't do that either.

They contacted me on a Wednesday and needed final illustrations no later then Monday. It's late Wednesday night before I have the "go-ahead" from them and it's late Thursday afternoon before I have all of the information on the job. (Red flag number 1, I mentioned above but, Why did they wait until three days before to find an illustrator? Red Flag number 2, if this project is such a rush why are they being so slow to respond?) But I didn't ask any of those and since I didn't receive the information until late in the day Thursday it forced me to work on the illustrations through the night. I wanted to make sure that they would have the first draft when they got into work Friday morning. By noon Friday I still hadn't heard from them, so I email them to check the status. I finally hear back from them late Friday afternoon. I spend Saturday working on updates. I never received comments from them Sunday... and I didn't by Monday at two. By then I was really nervous. Maybe I should call my contact at the company? (Red Flag number 3, I realize that my contact at the company has no email signature, so I have no way to contact her other then email! wtf, what kind of company doesn't have an email signature!?) So I email her, again. (Red Flag 4, this is the due date and they have been so unresponsive if it's not perfect I'm in trouble) At 4:30 pm on Monday they finally email me. They decided the illustrations did not go with their branding and they would not be using them, and since they wouldn't be using any of the illustrations they would only pay me $200 (This is a tiny fraction of what I had quoted them to do the project). I was so insulted by this number! They knew the time I spent and the hoops I jumped through for them. I almost told them to keep it. I wasted all that time and since I did not send them a contract or make them pay up front I had nothing to protect myself with. My only option was to take the insulting amount they offered or get absolutely nothing.

I was used because I was naive and never sent a contract to protect myself. I feel like the worlds biggest idiot and spent a few hours shocked and sad, and then I called a lawyer and got proactive... this will NEVER happen to me again. I'm meeting with my Lawyer to have him create a contract/agreement for me that can be used for any and every client. It will also be nice knowing that I have some type of backup, beyond the contract, if I run into trouble again.

Lesson learned... ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS SEND AND HAVE A CLIENT SIGN A CONTRACT BEFORE YOU START WORK!  And Always (times infinity) make them pay a non-refundable minimum of 50% up front and 75% up front for a rushed job!

Has anyone else had an experience like this? How did you handle it?


  1. Michelle So sorry to hear about this but thank you so much for sharing. I have been so excited about a project I have let the important things slide as well but have learned the hard way like you to get a down payment before starting and then have them sign first (preferably in blood). ;)

    Early on my biggest mistake was bidding a flat fee for work way too low. In the end making next to nothing for my work. So now I make sure I charge more and if someone else gets the commission then I can live with that.

    1. Thank you so much for your comments! It makes me so sad, it seems like so many designers go through this! And yes, I know exactly what you are saying about the flat rate! I had to learn that lesson the hard way as well. But I completely agree with you, if someone else gets the job over me, it just wasn't meant to be. We need to believe our time and talent are valuable!

  2. that is not cool! it really makes me sad that someone did this to you! i know how hard you work!

  3. I'm so sorry - people are so terrible. I guess the positive is now you know it'll never happen again and you'll have new contracts to protect yourself!

  4. Even though I'm grateful that you shared your experience, I'm so sorry to hear that you had to endure that kind of treatment; hopefully, the silver lining will having the easily accessible contract/agreement form that you are drawing up with your lawyer (AND having lots of appreciation and empathy from your fellow artists who look up to you.)