Many of us have lost day jobs, or at least seen a reduction in our steady income. For some, this is an opportunity to focus more on our art work and our side hustles. This can mean needing to attract new customers or clients. While the majority of people who express interest in your art or in your side hustle genuinely respect and want your product or service, a dishonest client can derail the best career plan. Watch out for these anytime you are offered a project from a new client.
The client is vague about the project.
If someone told you they had “a job” for you, and you needed to come in and fill out a W-4, you would not immediately agree to be their employee. You don’t go to restaurants and ask the waiters to bring you “some food.” Yet independent artists regularly find themselves in trouble because they agreed to work on a project without learning the details beforehand. Before you agree to anything, ask for the title of the project, the goals of the project, and what your daily, weekly, or monthly work might entail. An answer such as, “I own a beauty salon with four chairs, and I need a painting of a woman’s face with a fun hairstyle at each chair, plus a mural of beauty supplies around the back wall. I already have sketches prepared. You could set your own hours, but it should take a total of forty to fifty and I need to have this done in four weeks”is a solid answer. Those terms might be unreasonable or not, depending on the specifics, but you still have a clear place to start. “I need some pictures in my salon,” is vague and leaves you open to the client changing the details on a whim.”
Putting things in writing is resisted.
Anyone I write for already has an agreement in writing. It’s here on Artist Cafe Utica under Services for Artists. Anyone I write for on a freelance basis must read and agree to those terms. If, like me, you’re too shy to approach people with contracts and agreements, then make one for everyone, post it on your site, and stick to it. Anyone who tries to talk you out of setting the terms in writing should be avoided. And if they try to brush you off or act like those terms don’t apply to them, don’t accept the project.
The work has little to nothing to do with your skills or interests.
If you’re a sculptor who always wanted to branch out into painting, or a singer who has been meaning to go back into acting and someone is willing to give you a chance on their project or show, that is wonderful. If you’re a guitar player in a band, and have a second career as a dog sitter and groomer, and someone wants you to serve as a nanny to their five kids, that is probably not a good match for you. Someone who wants to hire you for something completely outside of your field wants to hire you for reasons that have nothing to do with your abilities and work related attitudes. It could be another one of the old “creeper who hires people he or she finds attractive in order to hit on them” tales, or the person could see you as somebody easy to bully or scam or get rid of on a whim without a fuss.
Your client is flaky or irresponsible.
Ghost writing a book on the history of the local music scene might be a great project for a musician or writer. It isn’t so great if the person you’re writing for hasn’t shown up the last three times you scheduled a meeting to go over the outline.
Whenever I am not sure if the situation seems legitimate or not,I like to use a “three strikes” rule. The first time you miss a meeting, forget my check, or leave me alone in your office when watching the office is not part of the job…it’s forgiven and forgotten. Emergencies come up. People have bad days. The second time, I am going to take note that this seems to be a habit with you. The third time, it starts looking like a pattern and it’s time to tell you that you need to find someone else.
The client has an odd history of not being able to keep people for the project.
Some projects are meant to be done by one person, and then someone else. If I have a building that needs painted, I could reasonably hire one person to paint trim for me one summer, then hire somebody else the next time I need a touch up. The business may also be a small operation that can only afford to hire college students for a few months at a time between semesters, or has a program designed to help people get on their feet then move on. But if the project is something that should be long term, and they’ve gone through four people in the last three years, ask yourself why nobody seems to work out here.
You are expected to beg for work.
I once received a freelance writing job offer that should have been one big red flag. The woman hired me based on a few comments I made on a Facebook group. She wouldn’t tell me exactly what I would be writing until I agreed to work for her. No agreements were put into writing. Sometimes, I was expected to log in to her web site, wait for her to post a project, then join the many other people currently on the list in going, “I’ll take it! I’ll take it!” until she finally gave me one. Occasionally, she would post a project for a specific person in front of the whole group. I quickly caught on that she was giving people projects she knew somebody else would want. Another writer kept getting the arts writing. I kept receiving assignments related to marketing and business, even though many others described themselves as business writers. I suppose it comes as no surprise that I had to threaten to report the place in order to get the $150 they owed me for the small amount of work I stuck around for.
While it is impossible to know how any project is going to turn out, keeping the telltale signs of a bad deal in mind can help you avoid losing money, time, and energy that could have been spent on more worthwhile projects.