BuzZ: Freelancing for Friends, Family, and Trade; Is it Worth it?
September 02, 2009 Filed Under: Events 0 Comments
The topic of the September AIGA BuzZ was freelancing for friends, family, and trade; is it worth it. I, John Howard a local freelancer hosted the BuzZ that was held at our new meeting location at Amelie's Bakery in NODA. Maybe it was the environment, or perhaps it was the topic, either way everyone was very engaged and there was a lot to say whether it's worth it.
Below are some of the questions asked to the group as well as three stories of nightmarish situations that have happend to my friends.
Question 1: Who's the worst to do work for, friends, family or probono?
As we went around the room everyone seemed to lean towards family. Working with family members is tough and complicated and it usually comes down to them not separating you from the kid you once were. Family members also have a special way of bringing their issues into the project that makes the whole experience a bit of a headache. Friends seemed to be the second trickiest because they also don't have a clue as to what you do. And Pro Bono was the last on the list, but still a tough one because most Pro Bono clients design by committee which can turn into a huge headache of passing the buck. Below is a story of when trade can get foggy.
No Contract Nightmare Story - By anonymous friend
Our agency was located two blocks from a popular lunch and happy hour hang out. Needless to say many people from the agency went there for both. I got to know the manager and the wait staff pretty well and as we were chatting one evening while I was waiting for a friend, I said that if he ever needed anything done such as his menus re-done, or table tents to promote specials that I was sure I could con an artist into helping me out and working for trade. A week later we were doing newspaper ads, table tents, gift certificates and were going to redesign the menu in a month’s time.
For our services, the restaurant would give us trade, not in a specific amount, but as long as there was work and we didn’t abuse “the system”, we ate (and even sometimes drank) for free. Of course, it was agreed that third party costs would be paid for by the restaurant.
I was the writer and go-between for the artist, getting assignments and information, etc. Several months went by and we were doing great. I didn’t pay for a single lunch or dinner but made sure I always left a good tip since I didn’t have to pay. I ate there two, maybe three times a week and things were going great. Soon it came to my attention that the artist I was working with was eating breakfast, lunch and dinner there almost every day. So I had to have a word with him about what he was doing and it did affect our working relationship – not for the better. He soon left the agency for other work and things were back to normal.
Was it worth it? I think so. Given the circumstances, the agency relationship and friend relationship did suffer, but he left soon after I spoke with him about his indulgence so it wasn’t so bad.
Question 2: How important is it to set up ground rules?
As designers this seems to be our biggest problem. Because we are doing trade we have a relaxed attitude to towards the process. We don't write it up expectations in a contract so down the road we mutually get confused as to what the project was worth. If we had priced it out as we normally would and then applied it to what it would be in trade we could have wrote it up in a contract and completed the project free of confusion.
Question 3: Should you treat them like a paying client?
Freelancing requires repeat business. It requires that you grow your client and help them be successful. In return you do good work and create a steady stream of revenue. Just because you are doing a project for a friend or family member doesn't change the way you should work. It's also said that when you do any work for friends/family/pro bono you shouldn't do it for free either. It's business so you should figure out the cost of the job and figure out a good trade agreement. For example, wedding invitations = wedding gift.
Trade Nightmare Story - By anonymous friend
About a year ago a friend of mine recommend to a local landscaper that he should partner with me, landscaping of my yard for a new logo design and identity materials.
It all started out just fine. I did 5 original logo sketches and then went through 6 rounds of revisions. I was beginning to get a very bad feeling.
He had begun work on my yard, clearing out old bushes and debris. I went on a trip to Boston right after I send him a quote for writing and designing the website. When I returned, the harassing phone calls began. He went INSANE over the price of the website design, scream and yelling. He called me names not to be repeated in mixed company. He said "what am I paying for?! The electricity to run your f*#king computers?!"
He decided to sue me and put a lien on my house for the work already done to my yard (which was minimal.) He said he had done over $2500 of work to my yard (BTW not a plant or tree was planted. It is a barren yard to this day.)
We went to court. I met a group of other people who also had been sued by this guy. This guy had a long laundry list of arrests in multiple states including grand theft auto, driving under the influence, harassment, foreclosure, tax evasion, drunk and disorderly conduct just to name a few.
I won my case but I will never do trade again without a legally binding contract. I also do research on every client.
Also, I've done my fair share of wedding invites, baby showers, etc. My advice is, unless you love the person more than life itself or you owe them big time, "don't do it." No one understands how much work it takes to design and produce an invitation.
Question 4: Is it smart to setup a contract?
Clearly it is, with out a contract you are legally leaving yourself open to anything. As mentioned above you should always know where the project is going and how much work it's going to be on your end. Plus if there's ever a dispute you have an agreed upon contract that will protect you in a court.
Question 5: How do you educate the uneducated without wasting your time?
The immediate reaction within the group to this question was that it's never a waste of time. Educating people on design only improves the process, plus creates a better solution for the client. Of course nobody want to be on the phone six hours of the day explaining why green on pink isn't a good idea. So you have to be direct as well as use some tactfulness in how you educate. At the end of the day it just challenges you to be a better defender and speaker of your work.
Speaking Honestly Nightmare Story - By anonymous friend
My wife has an aunt that’s a very gifted artist. She uses an ink pen to hand illustrate one of a kind designs on converse shoes. She had already done some for a couple celebrities and realized that she needed a website. She apparently paid a lot of money (don’t know how much, but I was told that it was a lot) to another family member to design the website.
The site whet live and she immediately emailed the entire family and say how proud she was of it. But and there was a "but", she had some reservations. So my wife of course asked me to take a look at it and email her my thoughts. I explained that this was suicide and there was a big chance I might be offensive without meaning to. But my wife said that it would be fine and that I should be honest. So I took a look at the site, it was horid, crap, ineffective and I don’t think half the links worked. Well what should I do? So I wrote a positive and constructive email giving praise where it was due and outlining the issues, plus ways it could be improved upon it. Just to be safe I had my wife read it and I sent it off.
A week goes by with no word. Then another week still no word. My wife gives her a call and just to get blasted by her aunt who is apparently still fuming and wanted to know why I was so mean and offensive. Why I couldn’t be more positive and recognize all the hard work that went into it. Of course my wife apologizes and I get told off. All I could say at the time was I didn’t do anything wrong and next time someone asks my opinion they should be prepared for an answer they might not like.
Two months later, her aunt calls my wife and say’s, “your husband was right, I was wrong”.
Question 6: How honest can you be with friends or family?
Although it's difficult you have to be honest with them. How else are you going to be able to give them what they need? It's not easy but once you get to a place where you are able to speak freely about the project then you can actually create successful solutions. It's when you aren't honest and keep your opinions to yourself that you can easily create a divide. It's also important to note that being blunt never helps, a certain amount of tact and TLC is important no matter who the client is.
Question 7: Does doing work for family/friends or pro bono lead to bigger payable jobs down the road?
Work that you don't get paid for and may or may not may lead to winning a job or maybe getting paid is considered speculative work, aka spec. AIGA is trying very hard to stop this type of work but unfortunately it's done everyday. Be it a competition where you might win a $1,000 for designing a logo or creating a cereal box. This type of behavior takes advantage of designers in such a despicable way. Once you provide the concept there's nothing to say they won't use it and pay you nothing. Our work is all we have so we shouldn't hand it over so easily. Can you imagine calling a five of plumbers to come out and fix your sink and the best one to do the job gets paid? It doesn't matter if its a business client, friend, family or pro bono you should always get something for what you do that's fair to you and the client.
To learn more about spec, contracts, freelance and AIGA check out some of the below links courtesy of Rachel Martin.
1. AIGA standard agreement
2. AIGA Center for Practice Management
3. AIGA Design & Business Resources
4. 12 Points to Include in Your Design Contract
5. 17 Tips for Designers on Starting a Freelance Business
6. No Spec Work (defines what Spec work is in addition to AIGA's stance on the subject)
So in conclusion, is it worth it?
It's absolutely worth it providing you first protect yourself, communicate clearly and treat them professionally. If you are unable to do any of these then you should walk away and leave on respectful terms. Better that than doing all the wedding invites for your cousin and not going!
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