Resources & Inspiration for the Artistically Curious
Making the decision to “fire a client”, as we freelancers call it, can be a difficult situation. On one hand you may be frustrated with the progress (or lack there of) with a particular project and severely doubting whether or not it is in your best interest to continue working with the client. And on the other hand, it may mean the difference in paying a bill on time, or maybe getting new work in the future. It’s important to break out your trusty (albeit metaphorical) balancing scale and really weigh your options.
Allow me to give you a real working example.
Last month (as in more than 30 days ago) I was approached by a client to do a two-sided, folding business card. Nothing super heavy on design, in fact most of the work was already done for me. I had some images I needed to place, content that I needed to flow, and the most work I had to do was figuring out how to incorporate their logo with an existing one. I also had to do some research on printers and design a template for the card based off the info I gathered. Again, nothing too serious.
Here are some of the project details:
Client profile: Low (regional)
Hourly rate: $50/hr.
Hour estimate: 1-3 hrs.
With projects like this there are a couple of red flags that went off from the get go I strongly suggest you become familiar with:
• The client was recommended from a former employer who warned me it would most likely be a “headache”
• Initial communication was hesitant and slow (as expected)
• The client was speaking on behalf of another person (a co-worker/superior) and wasn’t 100% about they wanted
• The person on behalf of whom my client was representing went on an extended vacation in the middle of the project (2 weeks no communication)
• The project still had not been approved before the client left and I was left to twiddle my thumbs
• I invoiced the client but did not receive a confirmation email stating they received it
Here’s where the weighing comes in.
Within the past 24 hours I was contacted by the client saying that they’re ready to move forward with the design and that they want it done for a trade show next week, which to them now constitutes a rush job.
It’s now been over 30 days since I started this 3 hour project, and more than 2 weeks since I’ve heard anything from the client. Now they’re back in the picture demanding a rush on the project.
What would you do?
I’m not exactly “mad” at the client, but I’m kind of perturbed that this small project has been strung out so long. As a designer, I prefer my projects to be engaging and interesting, both of which this has been not, and on the whole I had pretty much written this job off as a lost wage. I only ever do this when I’m no particular financial straits, and am happier leaving the project alone. In this case the client had shown no prior desire to have the project done quickly, and as far as I had known it was abandoned. At some point I probably would have followed up about the invoice, but I wasn’t planning on doing in the near future.
The next step, after deciding not to ask “What the hell happened?” is to speak with the client (remembering to be courteous and polite) to find out the remaining details of the project. Assuming the final changes aren’t too grand, I’m probably going to finish this project up as quickly as I possibly can and bill accordingly. I’m not really the confrontational “What the hell!?” type, but I do feel disrespected and strung along.
What I’ve learned.
In the future I will add in some sort of “extended pay clause” into my contracts that will ensure rate increases if a project is “mysteriously put on hold” or if a project that was estimated to take a certain amount of time and ends up taking “considerably longer” (say 1-3 hours over a month). It’s just not worth it in my mind to keep revisiting a project over a long period of time for such little money.
I believe it’s important to do this because as a freelancer I’m budgeting my income based on the projects I anticipate to be completed and paid for in a given month. With a project like this going so far beyond what was initially expected I’m left with an inaccurate budget that may leave me in the red when it comes time to pay my own bills.
Additionally, since making my full-time move to freelance designing, I’ve learned this: I don’t want to design business cards unless they’re part of an entire branding strategy.
Again, it’s important to know when something is in your best interest. When you enter a field as broad as graphic design, it’s a lot like finding your soul mate. For some of us, we know what we want in a good working relationship. For others it’s about trying different projects and figuring out what kind of work we’re most interested in, or more often, the projects we aren’t interested in.
Sometimes these little projects give us the best insight into what we want.
Would you do something differently? What have you learned from small projects like this?