"What will you charge to design a business logo / t-shirt design / an ad for me? I don't want you to spend any more than twenty minutes on it..."
Do you know how many times I have been asked that?
A few months ago I was asked, "Can you do 30 high-end illustrations for my book I hope to publish? I don't have any money but can pay you once it gets published. If. it. gets. published."
My backbone just got a bit tougher today.
Just say no.
Let me tell you about a recent experience. I was hired to do a lot of illustration work for a large toy company. I was thrilled! It was budgeted for $300 for the project and I started working on it at once. It sounded fun and easy enough and I thought I could design it between five and seven hours. What I didn't take into account, was that the creative director was difficult to please and after excessive and relentless amount of changes, it took me 43 hours and I only ended up making $6.42 an hour for the completed project before taxes.
Last week the creative director called me in a panic: "Shawn! I need your help again! I need more artwork! Much like the previous one you did! Can you do it!? I need it on my desk first thing in the morning!"
I cancelled dinner plans and went to work on it right away. I took her art direction from the previous job, and created work I was proud of. I worked through the night and uploaded the project an hour before she downloaded it. Mission accomplished. It felt good she could count on me. I told her I wouldn't let her down and I didn't. I was so excited to hear how her meeting went. I sent her a ton of well wishes.
She sent me off a quick email. "Looks great! Thank you!!"
And then I sent her an invoice for both projects.
I charged her on the agreed price of $300 for the first project that ended up taking me 43 hours and $300 for the similiar project that took me nine hours.
Last night I received a rather cool email from her that left me feeling dehydrated. She coldly remarked that the second project which I worked all through the night was only budgeted in the price range of $75.
Her words made me feel sad and used up. I wrote her back immediately but did not back down on my price.
Freelance business can be a tough business. I've done it off and on most of my life and happily for me, I am employed now and only do freelance on occasion. But it's so easy to say yes to accepting low paying jobs with unappreciative or difficult clients because it pays the bills and it will look good in the portfolio.
About fifteen years ago, I videotaped weddings for a living.
The daughter of a doctor-friend I respected a great deal hired me to videotape her wedding but cancelled at the last minute due to going over her wedding budget. She invited me, instead, to attend the wedding. As a kind gesture and excitement of attending the wedding, I went ahead and with my crew, we videotaped her wedding, anyway, as a wedding present. It didn't cost just our time, but it cost me quite a bit of money in tapes and mics and rental fees and gas for the 3-hour trip. Two months later, I got a call from her brother who I didn't know. "Can you videotape our wedding on the beach in Malibu in September?" I was so excited!
"Of course!" I told him.
For a moment there, I actually believed that my doctor friend who I so loved and admired, would want me to be paid this time around to videotape her son's wedding. I thought it was so obvious, because she knew the endless hours and energy and expense it took to create her daughter's wedding videotape a few months earlier. But. Somewhere during the conversation, he said "I'm so glad! My mother said you'd probably love to do it for free and we don't have any money to pay you for your travels or the hotel... so I appreciate you saying yes..."
I stood there with the phone to my ear, stunned. I could barely speak. Somehow, I managed to choke out the words "I will not do it for free..."
It would have cost me several hundred dollars to do it for free out of my own pocket. I was young and vulnerable and charged cheaper rates to get the job. But I believe my cheaper prices was the very reason why they didn't respect me in the first place.
I stopped that business after one last wedding I had booked and that was it for me.
After last night and much contemplation today, I have decided to be much more selective of my freelance clients. I want to work with people I like and people who value my creativity. Too often in my past, I felt obligated to work on a project simply because I was asked to do it. And because I would feel guilty for turning down a paying job no-matter-the-price.
Being self-employed can be absolutely wonderful and it is for so many artists. It can open doors to great opportunities and financial success and lots more freedom. But it can also be full of distractions and tempting choices that take you away from the very activity that you really want to make time for.
We can get too caught up on doing mundane and low-paying work that pays the bills, but we run out of time to do what we really dream about. At least, it has certainly been that way with me many times.
Today, even though I feel used up and depleted, I'm so grateful I have a fulltime creative job that I enjoy and don't need to rely on outside jobs to put food on my table. And I will focus on that. I will be grateful for the job I have. And for now on, I will only do freelance work that I love by those who value my work.