Adam Baney

Will Design for…Free?

I was recently reminded of why I have procedures put in place. No matter how much I may want to deviate / bend the rules for a potential new client, I simply should not.

It starts out as it usually does. Someone contacts me either through my website or social media platform asking to collaborate in some form with design / advertising. I give them an email, a call, or DM them back. They introduce themselves, and give me the brief.

As the conversation goes, they talk about their project, what they’re wanting to accomplish, and that we could even form some sort of partnership. All sounds good and exciting! A new design project! Yay!

Then it comes in…the word trust. It’s right there that a red flag typically goes up. Trust is a good thing. We need trust when it comes to any sort of relationship, whether business or personal. It’s how relationships function and thrive.

We need trust when it comes to any sort of relationship, whether business or personal. It’s how relationships function and thrive.

The potential client seems sincere. He also wants to do a test run, which he says he’ll pay for. So, I agree—because he also promises future projects from his clients to me. I give him a timeline (even though he says there’s no date specifically he wants it completed…this is also a MUST!). I outline major steps in the process, and shoot for a self-projected deadline.

I start the work without a 50% down payment on my estimate and no definite due date. The mistake is made: no down payment.

A month later, the project is complete! He’s happy with the work, and wants to use it. However, he wasn’t totally happy that it took a month to complete. I explained at the beginning the whole process of producing custom illustrations (4 sets in total) of a specific style, that they typically take longer than a business card or social media graphic because of the many elements that make up each illustration. I also informed him that I have other projects going on at the same time. It’s hard to prioritize potentially-paid projects with paid projects. It’s a constant game of balancing workload and deadlines.

And just like that, he stops emailing me. He doesn’t return my phone calls. He used my time and effort, wasn’t happy about one thing, and decided to not pay me after all. Yeah, it sucks. However, I was partially to blame. Not that the project took longer than he expected (I informed him that illustrations take longer), not that the quality of work wasn’t what he was looking for…but that I didn’t get a down payment before starting. If he bailed on me (which I’ve had happen in the past, but was smart enough then to get 50% down), then I’d at least have half of my estimate.

Is it worth it to take him to small claims court? Unfortunately, no. With the time and money spent there, I’d basically be spending extra money and time which just isn’t worth it. Also, maybe he’ll come around (doubt it), and we can work together in the future. Small claims court would just make this more difficult. It’s hard enough being a small business owner, it’s even harder when people aren’t trustworthy themselves. That’s probably why a red flag went off in my head when he talked about how important trust is, and kept going on about it. Maybe he was burnt in the past? However, he probably isn’t a trustworthy person himself.

After all, what would be the worst thing if I lost the project at the beginning if he said he wouldn’t pay me 50% down? And I can’t begin a first-time project without 50% down. Someone who’s not willing to give 50% down on a first-time project is probably not going to respect your work, your time, your talent, and probably isn’t trustworthy themselves. Requesting 50% down (or some sort of down payment) is a great way of weeding out the serious from the non-serious. No sense in spending time on someone who doesn’t respect you or your work!

The moral of the story: “It’s never a good idea to stray away from processes. They are there for a reason.” Especially if they’re a first-time client.

It’s never a good idea to stray away from processes. They are there for a reason.

BTW, here are the illustrations:

3 years ago | Apr 08, 2020 | Leave a Comment

About the Author

Adam is a visual communicator (currently Sr. Graphic Designer) at Calvary Church in Albuquerque, NM. He has been designing for print, web, and digital advertising for over 15 years, and is passionate about helping small and large businesses succeed through advertising and brand identity.

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