Conventional wisdom in the arts suggests that we should take any and all projects or gigs that we can get. But there may be times when it would be a better decision to turn something down. Here are just a few signs you should turn down a project or a gig.
The gig or project falls far outside your professional field.
One easy place to cut down your workload a bit is to turn down those projects that have the least to do with the art forms you practice. Getting involved in several art forms is wonderful. It can help us see our work from a different perspective, generate new ideas, and introduce us to new people. Or it can wear us out until we don’t have the energy to do anything but flop over on the couch and binge watch Netflix.
There is nothing wrong with taking on gigs or projects outside your usual field, but if you need to cut down on your workload, the projects to turn down or put on hold might be those the farthest from your heart.
The work would make your schedule overwhelming.
This is not to suggest you should turn down everything that does not provide the perfect balance in your life, or sit around and wait for “ideal” opportunities. Most of us would never do anything if we waited for those times. But it is important to avoid overloading yourself with so many of the same type of project, you cease to do your best work on any of them.
Working on four novels at once, or insisting upon making an album and helping three friends with theirs, or focusing on your comedy routine while giving workshops for other comics may be too much all at once. It’s better to have one or two projects done well than four projects that fail because you wore yourself too thin.
The project is something you do not feel called to do right now.
This does not mean “Give up anything that isn’t fun.” It means turn down a project if you feel called to complete another one now. When faced with several projects you might work on, choose the one you believe to be the most beneficial to those who might see, hear, or read it. Choose the one that focuses on themes that keep weighing on your mind or coming up. Everything else may need to be pushed aside, or at least postponed.
The monetary costs outweigh the benefits.
Most artists don’t do what we do for the money, but there is often a point where something can simply be too expensive to fit into your life right now. Collaborations that require travel you won’t be reimbursed for, steady jobs that mean you will have to purchase a new wardrobe, and parts that require alterations to your appearance you cannot really afford may not be the right projects for you during financially lean times, even if they are something you would love to do.
The person or organization offering the work has a shaky reputation.
It would be naïve to think that what you hear “around town” about somebody is always true. Baseless and unfair rumors do get started, and everybody with an opinion is not knowledgeable about a situation. But if you consistently hear that this club does not pay musicians without a fight, or that art collective has a pattern of cancelling events or exhibits on a whim, and the information is coming from people who have worked with them in the past, it may mean the project isn’t worth your time.
Taking on the project would require deeper involvement in the group than you want or need right now.
No matter how many vlogs, blogs, podcasts, radio shows, and newspaper feature articles are produced to explain that an independent artist is not an employee, we all know that some projects require us to become part of a team. And if you need to be independent right now, or you need to have plenty of energy to focus on other projects, joining a club or collective, agreeing to a collaboration, or taking on a client known for regular gatherings and a “team” or “family” attitude is only going to cause stress and conflict down the road.
You are worn out, run down, or exhausted much of the time.
As much as artists love our work, we all get burned out sometimes. Everyone gets tired. We all need to rest. If you are coping with health issues, including stress and fatigue brought on by the current public health crisis, it is especially important to know when you may need to turn down the offer to collaborate on that album, join that online concert, write that article, or schedule that lecture.
Family and friends who are usually supportive seem hesitant or upset when you bring up the project.
This may be politically incorrect to say, but everybody who doesn’t jump up and down over every gig or project that comes your way is not a “hater,” or trying to discourage you from doing your best. Sometimes, people close to you can see things you may not be able to see, or think of things you may not be thinking of in your excitement over the offer. At the very least, ask the person why they think this is a bad idea before brushing them off.
Turning down a project or gig may feel scary at first. It’s common to wonder if nothing else might ever come along the first time you do it. But learning to focus our time, money, energy, and attention where it needs to go is a skill we all have to practice, in all fields, including the arts.
Novel excerpt: Current work in progress
By Jess Szabo
In the novel tentatively titled Baxtalo (a romany word meaning “happiness” or “luck”), fifty-something Utica artist Heather Toth has taken what she believes to be a writing job for a local businesswoman in the process of building a business themed podcast. At first, it feels like the perfect way to supplement her day job as an online tutor and earn some extra money to support her slowly emerging creative writing career. But soon, signs that something might not be right begin to emerge. Below is an excerpt from chapter four of the third draft of the novel:
Chapter 4: Not Suited
By the end of my first week at Baxtalo Business Seminars, I’ve only managed to write one article for the blog. Seeing my name up there, on an article somebody actually wanted again is a thrill. It really is. I feel like the actual writing part of my writing career is taking off again.
Michelle doesn’t seem to mind that I’m writing awfully slow. At least it feels like slow writing to me. I come in and do my writing, but Michelle and Courtney don’t sit out in the front. They both sit back here where I sit to write, and the two of them like to talk. And then there’s the phone. Answering the phone is not something I ever want to do again. I’m here as a freelance writer, not as their new receptionist. But every time it rings, Michelle goes, “Heather, get that,” and continues texting on her phone. I’m afraid to tell her “no.”
I can already tell I’m not going to get much done today, even though the phone is not ringing so far. Michelle and one of her podcast hosts are having a loud conversation in the room right when I need to add the final touches to this second assignment and go over it one last time for edits. I wish the two of them would at least go out in that empty lobby. Or go sit in the podcast room. Surely that thing is somewhat soundproofed.
“You want me to tell you something about who doesn’t make it here at Baxtalo?” Michelle suddenly yells. I jump. I can’t help it. She seems to get loud when she’s worked up about something, but this has just progressed to flat out screaming.
The podcast host, a tall skinny white guy in a suit, nods, as it is clearly a rhetorical question. She only wants him to acknowledge that he’s hearing her. He looks like half of him wants to get right up in her face, and half of him wants to take off running. I’d go for running if it were me. He selects to stand there and stare down at her.
“Lazy people who make excuses,” Michelle declares, still yelling. “The ones who say, ‘Oh, I can’t because I work too hard and I’m too tired to prepare’ but turn around and spend half an hour with their coffee at Starbucks every morning. Or the ones who claim they don’t have time to work after hours because they have kids, but they have all evening after the kids go to bed to binge watch Netflix.”
What Michelle is berating this man for sounds like relaxing before and after work to me. Of course I don’t know this man, but he sounds like he’s done nothing more than leave this job at this job. Plus, it’s podcasts. Surely he has something else he does to make a living.
The podcast host finally responds by explaining that he needs some time to relax, and some time to do his own thing, that he’s studying to be in sales, in college, and he needs time to do his studies and work his day job. There it is. I knew it. This only seems to irritate Michelle a little more.
“How are you going to be in business, in sales, if you have the opportunity to promote yourself by promoting us.. but you won’t take it? We’re launching careers here, lifting people up to do their best work, live their best lives, but I can’t lift you if you keep weighing us all down.” Michelle has backed down a bit physically, but her voice is still loud enough to make the guy step back until he nearly topples over the desk next to Courtney.
Glancing over at Courtney, she looks upset, but unsurprised. She’s wearing a black and white pinstripe suit and a red blouse today, and the only moves she makes are to slip the jacket off and adjust the cutouts in the shoulder of her blouse so her bra strap doesn’t show. I expect her to stand up, to intervene somehow. But she stays seated and watches Michelle and whoever this guy might be.
“I show up ready to go online” the guy finally raises his own voice to match Michelle’s tone. “You see me?” He holds out his tie. “Here and ready to go.”
“Yeah today,” Michelle snaps. “But what about the way you talked to our listeners? I’ve had two people request a topic, and twice now you’ve given them some line about how you couldn’t do it.” She’s not yelling anymore, but she’s not calm either. I half expect her to reach over and smack the guy. “Interacting with our audience is one thing that differentiates us from radio,” she’s lecturing. “If you want to do that, you might as well just go find a radio station and be a DJ or something.”
Courtney, the podcast host, and I all stare at her. Radios have had call-ins on their shows, and taken requests for decades now. Baxtalo Business Seminars Podcasts are literally only different from a radio station in that they’re on the internet instead of the airwaves, and the focus is narrower. The three of us exchange glances, checking to see if anyone dares to tell Michelle she’s not making any sense.
“When I started here…” the podcast guy says instead, backing out the door. “I made it clear that I am taking business classes online, and I need time for those. You knew about my other job. I believe I gave you my schedule.”
“Well, things are different now.” Michelle’s tone is almost worse than yelling. It’s condescending. “We’re starting some new things, some new growth, and we need you here to grow with us.”
“Well I can’t grow with you.” The presenter makes “grow” sound like the concept could not get more ridiculous. “I’m here to do the job I agreed to do.”
“That macho attitude doesn’t fly here with me, and you know that,” Courtney snaps. She’s loud again, loud enough that it’s giving me a headache. “I can’t believe you don’t want to do this,” she says, her voice in what would be a whine if it were not so loud, “You watch YouTube. You see how big some of those channels get. We could be bringing in millions of dollars in a year or two, but you don’t want to do the work needed. You don’t even appreciate that you have an advantage here. You have a whole team working with you.”
“You know what?” The podcaster maneuvers until he’s backing out the door.
The above content is property of the author, Jess Szabo
On many things, Artist Cafe Utica is firm. This is strictly a Christian, politically liberal, and pro-arts and artists website. It is written for and about Utica artists, and there is no goal of expanding the audience. That will never change. But every once in a while, there is a specific issue where the stance of the page may shift. This happened gradually over the past year and a half with the issue of direct selling, also known as network marketing or multilevel marketing.
Artist Cafe Utica began as an “anti-MLM with Avon as the one exception “site. The more I learned about the current culture and some practices of Avon, the more I came to believe that there were no exceptions in MLMs. The site grew into a strictly anti-MLM online space, and I considered myself a part of the anti-MLM community…..a tiny local niche part…but a part.
Over the past several weeks, anti-MLM education and activism has taken a hit, and a well-deserved one. The latest trend in anti-MLM videos and articles is “We attended a multilevel marketing party so you don’t have to.” In order to write or film their content, the anti-MLM activist either joins an online sales party for a multilevel marketing company, or obtains samples of the product and watches a filmed party or training session.
Some of these are useful for anti-MLM education, as the content creator points out the aggressive recruitment tactics, inflated income claims, and other features that are legitimate criticisms of most MLMs and many of their representatives. But a recent social media trend has taken a disturbing turn.
A few weeks ago, a new anti-MLM video was posted on YouTube. In this video, a well-known anti-MLM YouTuber participated in this social media challenge with her best friend by trying some of the MLM company’s products a fan had sent her while watching a filmed party. The vlogger and her friend appeared in the bottom corner of the screen while the party video played above them. The particular company they chose to highlight sells lounge wear, lingerie, and bath and fragrance products, along with more intimate, adults-only items in the back of their catalog. The details are left intentionally vague to keep this a “safe for work” article.
Rather than focusing on criticisms against multilevel marketing, the vlogger and her friend shrieked, giggled, and made cruel remarks about the MLM sales representative’s body and sexuality, engaging in behaviors such as putting the products on their hands, sniffing them, and shrieking in horror because they now smelled like the MLM representative’s body parts….including her “private parts.”
The YouTuber/vlogger’s comment section was full of fans cheering her and her friend on, and requesting more videos like this one.
It is true that the content creators have the legal right to produce the content, and the fans have a right to enjoy it and to support it. They are not inciting a riot or any other criminal activity, and therefore have the first amendment right to say whatever they want. But the first amendment protects you from persecution by the government for what you say. It doesn’t protect you from your actions having consequences you didn’t want, or from other people disagreeing with you or disliking you based on what you say. I’m not suggesting the content creators be arrested, fined, or denied government services for creating the content.
Artist Cafe Utica simply does not support or condone behavior like this. This is not activism. It is not education. It is bullying.
Was I wrong about MLMs? Did my support of the anti MLM community only serve to support internet bullies? Let’s look at each of my arguments against network marketing, and their rebuttals.
Network marketing, direct selling, or multilevel marketing is based on a flawed business model. It sets most people up to fail. The only way you can become a top earner is to recruit a team of people. Eventually, you are going to run out of people.
Honest network marketers openly admit that most people do not reach the top levels when signing up to sell for these companies. But everybody does not join to become a millionaire. People may join with the intent to use their sales and even team building, as a side hustle to make some extra cash. Or maybe they want to make enough money to build a small vacation fund, or ease the burden on the family finances by paying a single bill. McDonalds has run ads suggesting that their jobs are launching pads for amazing careers, and every job there certainly isn’t a guaranteed road to fortune. It is possible for someone to join a network marketing company, and still be levelheaded enough to tell the difference between corporate hype, claims from more naïve co-workers, and reality.
The products and services offered by these companies are of lower quality than those offered by retailers at the same price point.
The quality of many of the products offered by these companies is subjective. One person may swear by the store brand nutrition shakes they get from Walmart, while another will only drink what they buy from GNC, and yet another may honestly like something from an MLM. Some people insist makeup and other cosmetics from the Dollar Tree are as good or better than high end brands. While it is fair to criticize any company whose products have caused consumers harm, such as Monat’s series of lawsuits due to hair loss and scalp burns, there are certainly traditional retailers who have produced similarly harmful products. Claiming that an eighteen dollar lipstick from an MLM is only as good as a two or six dollar lipstick from a retailer is unfair, because it only means that I liked the one from the retailer better, not that it will perform better for anyone else.
In the time you put into working for an MLM, you could have worked a minimum wage job and earned more money.
Taken alone, this statement is true. Even if you spend only ten minutes each day checking your sales page, you spend so much time devoted to your MLM, you could have earned more money by working the same amount of hours at McDonald’s or Starbucks or the phone kiosk in the mall. But is this a fair comparison in terms of the work you have to do? You can check your direct sales page while sipping your coffee in the morning or popping into the break room for your ten minute break during a shift at your main job. To earn extra money with an additional minimum wage job, you will have to stand on your feet for hours at a time, cope with irate customers, and suffer all the other well-documented indignaties of most minimum wage work.
The friendships formed through these companies are false. Your friends you make in an MLM will vanish as soon as you stop devoting all your time and energy to the company. They’re only interested in you for the money they can make from your labor.
There is certainly a lot of anecdotal evidence for this. Stories abound of people who were drawn in with promises of sisterhoods and families, and behavior that could only be described as “love bombing,” only to be insulted, pushed aside, and abandoned when they questioned anything or decided the company wasn’t for them. But perhaps it is unfair to assume that absolutely everyone who joins a network marketing company behaves like this. Most of these stories are found on anti-MLM sites. People who navigate to these pages know they’re not going to be welcome if they have a pro-MLM or even neutral story. Only the stories of cruelty are going to get posted. This would only be a fair claim if the research were done on a site that invited stories of both harm and benefit brought by the MLM.
MLM representatives endanger people by presenting themselves as experts, when all they did was pay a fee and open up a box of paperwork and maybe some products from the company.
This is common, and it is dangerous. You are not an expert on fitness just because you signed up to sell workout programs with Beach Body. You’re not a nutritionist just because you signed up with Arbonne or Avon and they offer vitamins and shakes now, or a makeup artist because you sell Jafra or Mary Kay. Any MLM representative who does this should be avoided. But so should anyone else who takes an entry level job and tries to behave as though they’re an expert. Just because something is a common problem among a group of people, that does not mean everybody in that group exhibits the same behavior, or that the problem does not exist outside that group.
Some claims common to multilevel/network marketing are indeed false. You do not have your own business. You’re hiring yourself out to the company as an independent sales agent. The outlandish income promises help no one but the corporation. And the common tactic of behaving as though anyone who works a traditional job is foolish or lazy is unfair, no matter how much you love your network marketing work. But the anti-MLM community is flawed as well. Making fun of people who may have joined one of these companies for any number of reasons, painting everyone either as an easily led fool or a cunning and ruthless manipulator and user, is hardly fair. Given the sheer number of people who sign up for these things, it must go well for more than one per cent of people.
Which side are you on? Are MLMs cult-like, financially and emotionally destructive, and never a good idea to get involved with at all? Or are MLMs just ordinary companies with an open hiring policy, with your experiences dependent entirely upon which company you work for and who you get involved with? Or do you fall somewhere in the middle? Is it a good idea to support a friend who works for an MLM, but maybe not the best way to earn extra cash?
Tell us what you think on the Artist Cafe Utica facebook page at: www.facebook.com/ArtistCafeUtica
There are a lot of things we believe that are just not true. It is not against the law to cut a tag off of your pillow or say a prayer inside a public school building. Cutting your hair does not make it grow faster. Starbucks does not train their employees to mess up your name on your cup in order to trick you into advertising for them. These things can be used in our art work to make a character seem silly or gullible, or as a piece of dialogue that reveals the gullibility of others.
But there are other things we think are silly, just our imagination, or untrue that are actually reasonable and real. Creating a character or persona who doesn’t believe these six things will result in a very different song, story, play, film, poem, or routine. Use one or more in your next project, or just look them over and find out if you, or your friends, believe any of the misconceptions.
There is a legitimate reason for cashiers to verify if your cash is real for small purchases.
You’re out running errands, and suddenly feel too thirsty to wait until you get home. You already paid for your groceries, but want to grab a soda from the cooler before you go, using the cash you keep stashed in the back of your wallet to pay for it instead of swiping your debit card again. Before handing you back your drink and change, the clerk checks to make sure the bill from your wallet is not counterfeit.
“Come on,” you think to yourself. “ They’re just doing this to be difficult. If I knew how to counterfeit money, and I were willing to risk the jail time, I’d be treating myself to something a lot nicer than an extra soda to drink in the car on the way home.”
But there is a good reason for the clerk’s action. Counterfeiters often do make small purchases with fake money. This is done to get the cashier to give them back real money for their fake bill. If the counterfeiter “breaks” a phony fifty or hundred by pretending he has no other way to pay for a two or three dollar purchase, the clerk is going to hand him $47 or even $97 or $98 real dollars, along with the item, making that item…and the cash he gets back in change…free to him.
Your soda does taste better at McDonald’s.
There is plenty of soda in your fridge. You buy a bottle or two, or a case, from the grocery store every week or so and keep it on hand as a regular drink. Or maybe there’s no soda in your fridge, because you’re not much of a soda drinker. But unless you never touch the stuff, you probably order a soda when you go to McDonald’s. It just tastes especially fresh and flavorful there.
Some contend that it’s nothing more than the power of association. McDonald’s food is a treat for most of us. It’s a break from cooking and washing dishes if we go through the drive through on the way home, or a little treat from Door Dash or Uber Eats if we have it delivered. The soda tastes better because it’s part of your treat. But McDonald’s soda is slightly different than the soda you get anywhere else. The Coca-Cola company ships most of its syrups in plastic packaging. McDonald’s soda syrup is shipped to them in steel tanks. This impacts the flavor of the syrup. McDonald’s also keeps both the syrup and the water much colder than other restaurants before putting the products into the soda fountain, which maintains the carbonation longer.
Those flags for ridiculously small purchases on your debit or credit card are for your financial safety.
The reward points on a credit card can be redeemed for something you’ve been wanting, so you take out the card, promising yourself you will only make purchases totaling the amount of spare cash you have on hand, and will pay everything off before it generates interest. But soon after activating the card, you find such a good deal on the item, you forget about the points and stash the card in your desk drawer. Several weeks later, you decide to use the card after all, and make a small purchase at the mall an hour away from your hometown. The credit card company flags your account and stops the purchase.
Your reaction is similar to the one you had over the counterfeit cash screening. This seems ridiculous. You think credit card company employees simply don’t have enough to do and must be flagging things at random, just to keep busy. Surely they don’t think someone would go through the trouble and the risk to steal a credit card, only to get two CDs or a new set of pans for the kitchen at the mall.
Except that this is exactly what identity thieves do with stolen credit cards. The first purchase isn’t typically the high end designer wardrobes, massive video game collections, or trips to Vegas we think of when we picture identity theft. The thieves start by making one or two small purchases, both to see if the charge will go through, and to test whether or not you carefully monitor your statement.
Your hair does grow slightly faster in the summer.
When you said you needed yet another haircut or trim last summer, everyone probably brushed it off as you just wishing you could get out more, hoping that your salon would return to normal soon, boredom, or a combination of those factors. And they were likely right, though our hair does grow slightly faster in the summer. This is due to the peak of our hair’s growth cycle coinciding with the summer months. We are also usually a bit healthier in the summer. The summer of 2020 was of course different, but in most summers, we get out and get fresh air more. We walk places rather than drive more often, or we take walks. Picnics, barbecues, and events in city parks lower our stress level. Increased sunlight lifts our mood. None of this is directly related to hair, but we tend to have healthier hair when our overall health improves.
Binge watching tv shows actually can help reduce stress.
In the past, we watched tv shows once a week, on the day and time they aired. If we liked an old show, we might get to watch two or three episodes each night on a “classic tv” station. The opportunity to watch several episodes in a row only came up if a tv station held a “marathon” of a certain show. Once videocassettes and DVDs came along, we could often rent or even buy whole series and sit and watch them all day if we wished. But all of that took at least some effort. You had to go and buy the tapes or discs. Now, thanks to streaming services, the opportunity to watch multiple episodes of a show in a row is as easy as a click of the remote.
Psychologists and licensed professional counselors repeatedly warn that doing this excessively is not good for our mental health. We’re all seeing the detrimental effects isolation can have on us due to the current public health crisis, and making that even worse by spending entire days completely alone staring into a screen is not going to improve things. And of course it’s never good to sit around for days instead of getting exercise, stay up too late because you’re watching something, or skip showers and meals to watch tv. They note that “I was binge watching my show to relax,” has become an excuse for neglecting important details in your life.
But some experts note that, if done within reason, binge watching really can relieve stress. It does this by taking you out of the world for a while, allowing you to focus on a story instead of the news or your bills or whatever else is weighing on your mind. It can also improve your social life, especially now, when we’re all stuck at home, by giving you something to talk about with others.
Store employees who ask to see your receipt really do have to ask…just not for the reason you might think.
Though the practice has faded down in recent years, with many stores abandoning it altogether, we can all remember when certain big box stores featured “greeters” waiting to ask to see your receipt as you exited the store.
This can feel insulting, as though they’re treating you like a thief. It also seems to be a pointless waste of their time.
“I don’t steal,” you think. “But if I were going to steal something, I would destroy the packaging that set off the alarm and conceal the item, not parade past half the store’s employees with the packaged item sitting in my cart.” And you would be right. Somebody standing in the doorway reading your receipt for tissues, toothpaste, and a new throw pillow is not going to do anything to stop theft, except maybe send the message to would-be thieves that the employees are watching them.
But it is true that the employee is required to check, for reasons that have to do with them, not you. In most cases, the person tasked with checking receipts at the doorway of a store has the lowest level job in that store. They get paid the least, and get bossed around by everybody from the cashiers to the floor associates to the customer service managers who actually are their supervisors. While there is absolutely no reason for any store employee to raise their voice at you, block your path out of the store in any way, embarrass you, or treat you like you’re doing something wrong when you aren’t, the person needs to do something that constitutes “checking the receipt” in order to keep their job. And they are often being monitored by several other employees in the store.
Much of what we read, hear, or experience and think “that’s ridiculous,” actually is ridiculous. Healthy skepticism and critical thinking is a good thing, and is especially important at a time when believing wildly farfetched stories about serious issues backed up by nothing more than other people yelling …or posting..nonsense can be harmful to ourselves and others. But every once in a while, the absurd, silly, or useless turns out to have a legitimate reason behind it.
Articles describing behaviors that annoy doctors, waitstaff, retail workers, and people in other professions are plentiful. We know doctors hate it when you argue with them based on something you learned through an internet search last night. The person waiting on you at a restaurant does not want to be stopped to take a picture of you and your date. And “It didn’t ring up so it must be free” hasn’t been funny to cashiers in a very long time. But what about artists? We hate being left off lists of professions and careers. Here are some more behaviors guaranteed to displease the independent actor, guitar player, singer, poet, writer, photographer, or other artist you know.
Ask us what we do for our “real job.”
A person is a professional once they get paid to do something. If the person has been paid to produce their art work in any form, they are a professional artist and this is their real job. They may or may not have a second career, or a day job or side job to pay their bills. But the work they are doing is real work. If you are working with someone who has not yet been paid for work in the arts, but is working toward that goal, they should not be treated any differently than someone working to build a business in any other field.
Describe our work as “messing around.”
Artists do often say they’re “messing around” or “just playing around” when they experiment or try something out just for fun. That doesn’t mean their entire body of work is just “messing around.”
Refer to us as a “nonessential” worker.
The arts are essential in so many ways. Sometimes, they provide a way for issues in society to be discussed and worked through. They may provide a voice for those who feel they are not heard. Or maybe they simply offer an escape, a way to alleviate stress and enjoy yourself for a while. Artists created the last piece of music you listened to, the television shows you like to binge watch, the novels, short stories, and poems you like to read, and the comedy routines that make you laugh. If you hired a photographer to take your wedding, graduation, or anniversary photos, an artist is responsible for capturing those memories for you. Most people would agree that all of those things are essential to life.
Treat us like we’re a member of your staff.
Staff members are people who filled out a W-4 form and receive a steady wage or salary from you, regardless of the type of work they do. Anybody who is paid by the show, article, or other piece, and issued a 1099 tax form is an independent worker. While there certainly are jobs in the arts that pay steady wages or salaries, the comedian you hired to perform two sets at your company retreat isn’t working one of them. They are not there to help clear the tables, answer the phones, or go find out why your assistant isn’t back from break.
Act like you’re completely unaware of our presence.
We get it that you’re preoccupied at an event or gathering. It is especially difficult to manage anything offline now, as we all have the extra work of making sure to keep the number of people in the space at a certain percentage, keep everyone spread out, and make sure everything is sanitized and everyone is wearing a mask. But when the performer says, “How is everyone doing?” from the stage, or the person bringing their paintings into the gallery walks in and asks where they can place them, responding is still necessary.
Move our belongings around without telling us.
Guitars, makeup kits, laptops or tablets, costume bags, and other tools the artist may bring along should be left alone unless it is absolutely necessary to move them. If you need to move them, and the person is setting up or doing something else that can be interrupted, ask if it’s okay to move their stuff around. If they’re in the middle of a performance or out of the room, move the items quickly and carefully and let them know where and why you had to move them as soon as you get a chance.
Behave as if we couldn’t possibly have a schedule.
The stereotype of the artist who only works when “moved” or “inspired” and does nothing else all day has been around for decades. The relatively recent trend of promoting working from home in any field with photos of people lounging on the beach with their laptops didn’t help that. As with anyone else who makes their own work schedule, an artist may work only when inspired, or they may have their day scheduled down to the minute. They may also have second careers, side jobs, family obligations, or other life details that require a schedule. Ask if they can do something or when they’re available, don’t just assume they can meet with you at your convenience, including on Zoom.
Assume our other work is an entry-level customer service or retail job.
The “actors waiting tables” assumption is made a lot because the job and building a career as an actor do fit well together. An actor who secures employment at an upscale restaurant, when the place is open at full capacity, can earn the money they need to pay their basic expenses in just a few shifts, leaving the rest of their week open for classes, auditions, and the other tasks of an actor’s career.
That doesn’t mean everyone in the arts waits tables. An artist may have a second career that’s just as important as their career in the arts. Or they may have a steady job in the arts, such as owning or managing a store related to their art, teaching, working for a non-profit that promotes their art form, or working in the creative department of a company.
Give us job leads we never asked for.
For the longest time, I was the person to ask if you wanted to know who might be hiring in customer service, office work, and news reporting. I didn’t want or need a job in any of those areas, but so many people assumed I did, I got every lead in town. Some people would even greet me with “You want a job?” or “Hey, there’s an opening at…,” which was especially annoying when they interrupted my online writing teaching to do it. Artists who are looking for jobs and want your help finding them will let you know that, just like people in any other career field.
Ask us why we don’t live in Hollywood (or Nashville, or New York City or Paris)
Just like any other career field, artists have different goals. You may meet one actor whose goal is to teach Theater at a university in the area, and get regular parts in local stage productions, and another who wants to go to Hollywood and make it in studio films. One country musician may aspire to be as famous as Luke Bryan or Jason Aldean, while another may just enjoy local success. And even for those who do want to seek “fame and fortune,” moving to an expensive city simply because it’s the center of their art form isn’t always feasible due to finances, family situations, health, or other issues in their lives.
Act like our fee is a gift when you pay us.
Of course we know we should be grateful to be making money for doing work we love. Everybody should be grateful if they get to do the work they love, no matter what career cluster they may be in. That doesn’t make our fee or the price of a painting, book, or album something optional you gave us out of the goodness of your heart. Anytime anyone produces a good, or provides a service professionally, the money you give them in exchange for that is a price or a fee, not a present.
Getting any or all of these responses to our work can range from frustrating to downright demoralizing. What to do if you get them depends entirely on the situation. A snappy comeback to the social media troll who asked you when you were getting a real job might make them go find someplace else to waste their own time. The same response to the person who hired you to play a gig or write an article might not get such a desired result. But we can always use anything that happens to us to inspire our next project.
Welcome back to Prompts, the series designed to generate ideas for characters, settings, plots or themes for all types of creative projects. Previous prompts have explored Las Vegas casinos. Today, we feature people you might find in the casinos in Vegas, or anywhere problem gambling may occur, casino kids.
Casino kids are people under the age of twenty-one who must spend large amounts of time on the periphery of casinos due to a parent or guardian’s problem gambling.
Once a person reaches the age of twenty-one, the legal age to gamble, he or she is free to roam around the casino floor. People under the age of twenty-one are only permitted on the casino floor to pass through in order to access the restrooms, buffets, or stage areas in order to attend shows. They are not allowed to loiter, or to approach the gaming tables or slot machines. Parents and guardians whose gambling has become a problem, even an addiction, often leave their underage children in casino parking lots, restaurants, buffets, shopping areas, game rooms, hotel lobbies, or even on the very edge of the casino floor, in designated seating areas.
Casino kids are not always at the casino with the parent or guardian.
A “casino kid” is anyone who has spent large amounts of time in the designated non-gaming areas of a casino due to a parent or guardian’s problem gambling. They are not necessarily in the casino every day. Sometimes the casino kid is brought to the casino. Other times, they are left home alone, or dropped off someplace else, such as a store, library, community center, or diner.
Casino staff often pretend casino kids do not exist, or treat them as though they are doing something wrong.
One adult “casino kid”, who chose not to be named for their own privacy, remembers spending an entire evening and part of the night stuck inside a casino while their legal guardian gambled. The person was in their mid-teens at the time, and relegated to a hotel lobby and video game room off the gaming area. The teen grew so stiff from sitting on the game room stools, and so tired, they slumped against the video game and began to drift off to sleep.
“You look tired,” a staff member remarked before walking away. The casino kid further reported different staff members kicking them out of gift shops and restaurants, without ever asking if they were okay or needed help.
From the staff member’s point of view, they are likely only protecting their own job. Casino workers are typically low-paid customer service workers, and the guardian with a gambling problem is the customer. The staff member may not intend to be cold-hearted, but may only fear that the parent will complain to management and get them fired. However, adult casino kids who contributed their stories to this article report that even a supportive word or inquiry would have meant the world to them.
Dangers lurk around the casino for casino kids.
On the surface, it may look glamorous or fun for a kid, especially a teen, to get to hang around casinos so much. But casino kids are typically bored, stressed and worried over their parent or guardian’s gambling, and vulnerable to a variety of dangers.
Predators look for vulnerable kids. Adults intent on causing every type of harm, including traffickers, may approach a casino kid and pretend to offer friendship or a supprtive adult role model, in order to gain their trust. Many casino kids are aware of this and know to be cautious around any adult they do not already trust. But others may feel so alone in their situation as a child of a problem gambler, they let their guard down at the first sign of someone who cares.
Casino kids may lack basic resources, even if their parent or guardian has the means to provide them.
A casino kid may be hungry, dirty, or falling behind in school, even if their parent has plentiful resources to their name. The parent or guardian with a gambling problem may earn plenty of money, but gamble it all away, leaving little or nothing to pay for basic necessities like food or hygiene products. The casino kid may attend a good school and live in a home with plenty of room for studying, but have low grades due to stress and exhaustion from spending too much time stuck out in the casino.
There are no specific resources for casino kids.
Community resources such as law enforcement, child protective services, domestic violence centers, and homelessness services can of course be contacted, whether the child or teen’s problems are related to a guardian’s gambling or not. But there are no organizations devoted specifically to helping casino kids.
That is not to suggest there isn’t hope. Therapy and support groups are available for both problem gamblers and for those their gambling impacts.
We have all heard the conventional wisdom when it comes to a career in the arts. Declare yourself an artist and identify yourself that way first. Make sure you have a second passion or strong side job to pay the bills. Don’t let rejections deter you from continuing in your art career. These all sound like the right thing to say, and they usually work out. Then there are those things “everyone” swears will hurt your career in the arts….but might actually help.
Getting random, non-arts related side jobs.
This is often advised against out of fear it will take time away from your art, but it can provide fuel for your projects.
Taking temporary jobs, getting side jobs on the side of your day job, and performing other money making tasks can generate ideas for your art work. You may decide to fictionalize a restaurant or store and use it as a setting in your next piece. Maybe that rude, frightening, or just plain odd customer will say something you can use for your next villain. You may overhear a conversation that sparks a new song, or see something you feel called to paint or draw.
You also get to keep the money from random jobs, so they provide some extra income as well. Having a little more money helps to reduce financial worries, and frees up even more energy for your creative work.
Getting a job that allows you to practice your art, but also provides a steady salary or wage.
People typically warn against this out of fear that your art work will be taken over by someone else. You’ll sell out. You’ll become a corporate drone. This could happen in some cases, but if you keep your focus on your overall goals as an artist, and make sure you’re doing something you believe in, it can enhance your art career.
My own career in the arts has three parts. I teach writing skills to adults online, write novels, and write and run Artist Cafe Utica, designed as both a resource/online space for other artists in Utica and a portfolio for me. The teaching job is what pays my basic expenses. I am on the faculty of a university and I earn a salary. Most of my teaching is done through creative writing. I wrote, and continue to revise and update, a short story about a character named “Ellie” and her classmates at a fictional university. When I first got the idea to try this, I hesitated. I was afraid I’d spend all my time on the Ellie story, and neglect the rest of my writing. I feared the students would find it ridiculous. As of the writing of this article, “Ellie” has provided plot ideas for two novels, and I’ve been nominated for a teaching award four times. A solid ninety percent of the compliments I receive from students are for Ellie, not for me….but…..that’s okay.
Having non-art interests and hobbies
If you’re an artist, much of your activity naturally centers around your art. This is true for anyone in any type of career.
It is also not uncommon for an artist’s hobbies and interests to be other forms of art. My second passion, along with creative writing, is music. My favorite hobby has always been singing. I also enjoy watching films, theater, and seeing and learning about paintings and sculptures.
Languages also fascinate me. While language is a building block of many forms of art, it is also a separate field. One can be an expert in linguistics, or speak multiple languages without being an artist.
Like taking on non-arts related side work, studying languages often generates ideas for my art work. It helps me understand the sounds and patterns of language better overall.
These three activities may have helped my arts career when I expected them to be detrimental, but there are a few other guidelines I no longer follow, because they resulted in a drain on time, energy, and money to devote to my art.
Taking any work that allows you to do anything even remotely related to your art.
Most of the time, I encourage everyone to take any opportunity they can to practice their art, but if the situation is unsafe, or if you are spending so much time and energy on one event or job that you’re neglecting other aspects of your career, there’s nothing wrong with turning something down or walking away from an opportunity.
Conventional wisdom dictates that a writer should take any writing job. If you’re really a poet, but someone wants you to write an email drip campaign for window cleaner, do it. Work as a reporter even though you have no interest in journalism and you’re a screeenwriter. Take that job writing ad copy, even though what you really want to do is write about rock bands for a magazine.
This remains solid advice if you are new to writing, but after earning a graduate degree in writing and working as a professional independent writer for more than a decade, I no longer accept any writing assignments that are not linked directly to the arts. It gives the wrong impression. Potential clients think I’m new to writing, or that I’m making a career change from the arts to their field.
Working only in a dedicated workspace
Those fortunate enough to have a studio, or an office in their home should absolutely take advantage of it. Setting aside a space as your workspace in a smaller home can be helpful too. Just don’t take it so far that you begin to think of that as the only place you can work.
“Set up an office, it will help you take yourself and your work seriously,” is great advice, but it is not completely necessary. As long as nothing in the environment distracts you continuously, you should be able to get work done in a variety of places.
Sometimes, a change of scene helps rather than hinders creativity. Getting out and working at your favorite coffeehouse, or working at a diner or in the library (once it is safe to do so again) can give you the jolt you need to come up with a new idea.
Working all hours
When we picture someone doing work they love, we think of them working around the clock, stopping only for things like meals, showers, and other obligations when they absolutely have to. We often think that a “true” artist wants to sing, write, dance, act, paint, or work on their act all the time, and feel guilty or neglectful when we get tired or temporarily bored with our work.
In reality, nobody is enthralled with their work every moment of every day. Everyone, artist or not, has tasks they don’t care for, or days when they just want to get done and go sprawl in front of a t.v. show marathon with a big helping of their favorite snack.
Rest is necessary. We all need that time to just relax, and we all need sleep.
Multilevel marketing is on the rise as people have lost jobs or seen their hours cut due to the current public health crisis. Even if your career has not been impacted any more than any other artist, and your salaried work is secure, it is often tempting to talk yourself into joining one of these companies for a little spending money to give yourself a few little treats during this stressful time. Some people even join as “personal use” consultants. This seems safe. You sign up as a consultant just to get the discount on the products. At best, you predict you may get a few pity sales from close friends and family, making your products free to you. At worst, you get to pay a lot less for products you wanted to treat yourself to anyway. But even signing up as a personal use consultant will only waste your time and energy, and possibly even cost you more than you save. Before signing up “just to get that discount” or “to earn some free products,” consider the following about multilevel marketing companies and their goods and services.
Even if you’re a “personal use” consultant, you still have to sell enough of the company’s products to earn the discount.
Many MLMs are a good deal at the very start, as they offer their consultant discount on the first order, regardless of size. This means if the startup kit costs $50, and the total cost of what you were going to buy anyway is $150 with a 50% discount, you just got a nice $25 discount on your products, plus whatever you care to pick out of the starter kit. But that “discount just for being signed up under us” is never a permanent offer. After the first, or at least the first few orders, you will be required to sell the company’s products in order to get that discount. If you can’t sell the products, then you will have to purchase them yourself, and buying things you never wanted just to get a discount on things you did adds up to spending more than full price for the stuff you wanted.
The majority of the products offered by MLMs are of much lower quality than others of their price range. You would save more money by buying products of comparable quality someplace else.
Often, the price of a product has little to do with its quality. In some cases, you get what you pay for, and cheaper products are indeed lower in quality. And in others, the price is so marked up, the cheaper item is of the same or better quality. The products offered by MLMs typically fall into the third category, as it is necessary for the company to mark up the price in order to pay all the “levels” in the multilevel marketing scheme while still making a profit for the corporation. A $50.00 frying pan from an MLM that sells kitchenware is likely to be similar to a $15.00 pan from the store. While an $18.00 lipstick from a non MLM makeup company is a high end product, an $18.00 MLM lipstick is going to be of the same quality as an $8.00…or even a $2.00 drugstore lipstick. Even if you go by your initial, promotional discount, it is going to be cheaper to just go buy a similar product from a traditional retailer.
Your upline is not likely to take your “personal use” decision as graciously and respectfully as they appear to in the beginning.
When you are first lured into an MLM, the person you sign up under is going to tell you it’s the perfect situation for you, no matter who you are or what your situation or goals might be. If I tell them I love my job and just want free products, they will tell me of all the people they know who only sell enough to make their products free to them, and assure me it’s no pressure. If the next person who speaks to them claims to want sales training for a career change, that same opportunity will suddenly become an alternative to a degree in marketing. Everybody gets told what they want to hear. Once you’re signed up, prepare for an onslaught of phone calls, emails, texts, and comments on your social media, all pressuring you to get out there and sell for the company. This will continue, no matter how many times you tell them you’re only a “personal use” consultant.
Even if all you ever do is make a few social media posts announcing that you’re selling the products and then spend ten minutes per day checking your email or sales page online, you still could have earned more in the same amount of time with a minimum wage job.
After a year and four months of doing nothing more than making a few social media posts about selling Avon and spending approximately ten minutes checking my page each day for 300 days, I worked for a total of 50 hours. For my 50 hours of work, I earned $200 worth of Avon products and just under $35 in cash. I could have taken a minimum wage side job, worked just seven part-time shifts for a total of 28 hours, and come away with about $250 after taxes.
The people above you in the multilevel marketing “team” will not likely respect your decision should you insist you are personal use only, or even if you decide to stop selling altogether, and may do things you do not agree to in your name.
One common ploy in MLMs is for someone with several consultants under them to fake sales for those who choose to quit selling. They do this by having another consultant purchase products from the lapsed consultant’s page. Most MLMs will continue with this practice, even after they have been told the former representative no longer wishes to be involved with the company.
The “just under $35” I made with Avon was earned in this way. I wrote to Avon asking them to remove me as a consultant. They responded with a form letter intended for representatives who had not sold in a while, talking about looking forward to welcoming me back when I started selling again. I wrote another letter. I received another form letter response, but I also began receiving messages threatening to shut my page down if I didn’t place an order soon. Of course I ignored those too, since shutting the page down was what I had requested. Right before my page was scheduled to close down, someone outside of my hometown area, but within my upline’s territory, just happened to place an order, returning me to active status again. The order was for just under $50, earning me around $10. I responded this time by completing ignoring all correspondence from Avon until the sales page was shut down. Several weeks later, I received another $14 and change in comission, as the same person had placed a similar order, re-activating the closed sales page I had repeatedly told them I no longer wanted to maintain. This may not seem like anything detrimental on the surface, and in fact may seem like a nice way to get a free ten to fifteen bucks every few months. But it still involves someone doing something in your name when you told them they did not have permission to do so.
It was not until the person did it a third time, and I launched another complaint with the company that the sales page was closed down. I’m waiting to see if this individual breaks into my closed page and does this again.
“Personal use” consulting for an MLM will bring on more trouble than it is worth. There are many other ways to cut costs and earn money, without all the trouble these predatory companies bring.
Romance scams, also known as “catfish scams,” are the central theme in the novel “Chatting as Adalee.” They are also part of the plot in the second novel featuring Heidi from “Chatting,” as she becomes a support person and advocate for other victims. Reaching out is a first step, but there are also a few things to keep in mind as you help a friend or family member heal over time.
The person will go back and forth over whether or not the relationship was real.
This can be frustrating. You think they understand that what they went through was a scam, and not a real relationship. They seem to have accepted that the one they thought they loved was not real, or at least was not completely real. Then they reference the time they were “dating” that person.
Remind them as gently as possible that what they’re talking about was a scam. Never play along with the idea that the relationship was in any way real, but resist the urge to correct them harshly, laugh it off, or tease them about it. Your friend may have spent months or even years believing the relationship to be genuine.
Your friend may shed some beneficial habits or practices.
Being scammed is never a good thing. But sometimes people develop good habits or practices in an attempt to impress the person they thought they were with, or prepare for a new life they thought they would soon have. They may have begun studying a language the scammer claimed to speak, altering their appearance in a way that makes them feel more confident, saving up money, or doing more reading or studying or looking for a better job.
It can be a bit jarring when the person abandons these things as they accept they have been scammed. Keep their best interests in mind, but don’t fight them on it. Don’t encourage them to blow their entire savings account, but don’t lecture them when they realize they don’t need to save up to buy a house after all, or stop looking for a better job when the only reason they were doing so was to get money for the scammer. They need to let go of things they took on for the scam.
Expect extremes in attitudes about romance, crushes, and dating.
Once someone realizes and accepts they have been the victim of a romance scam, they often show extreme feelings about romance for a while. Some people want nothing to do with it. They do not want to meet your other single friends of the appropriate gender and orientation to date them, go out in a group, or be flirted with by anyone. In some cases, they do not even care to hear about others’ relationships or even celebrity crushes. Others become fixated on it, wanting to get out there and find a real relationship to replace the fake one right away. Both of these are normal and expected reactions.
Anger or concern for people in stolen photographs or invented stories is normal in the beginning, but should lessen over time.
Even the most levelheaded person will be somewhat disoriented and confused when they first realize they’ve been scammed. Many people struggle to accept that they never were talking to the person in photos stolen by the scammer, or that children, exes, siblings, pets, or parents in the stories they told either didn’t exist, or were very different people in reality. Your friend might express a wish to find and tell off the person in the photo, or wistfully wonder how a child or pet the scammer talked about is doing now. Gently remind them that the person in the photo had nothing to do with the scam, and had no idea their photo was even being used. Further remind them that characters in scammer stories are just that, characters, even if the scammer based them on real people in their own lives or stolen stories. As time goes on, they will learn to accept these truths.
Healing happens differently for everyone.
The healing process is going to vary depending on a wide number of factors. Most of the time, people who spent a shorter time believing they were in a relationship with someone who turned out to be a scammer are going to heal faster. Those with a lot of real friends and supportive family members may need less time. Confident people, secure in who they are, tend to move past the experience of being scammed relatively quickly. On the other hand, those who were enmeshed with the scammer for several months or even years, people with few meaningful relationships, and those who lack confidence or who have a tendency to try to be what other people want or expect rather than themselves tend to take longer. Mental health care needs vary as well, ranging from a few weeks of self-directed learning about the issue of romance scams and a little time to themselves, to regular therapy with a professional.
The wish to confront the scammer/catfish is normal. Actually attempting to do so is potentially dangerous.
MTV’s popular series “Catfish” serves others well in publicizing romance scams, educating the audience about some of the signs of romance scams, and making the public understand that romance scammers, or catfish, to use the term coined by the show’s founder, Nev Schulman, can be from the United States, or even someone the victim already knows offline. Before the show, many people believed romance scammers only existed in countries like Nigeria, Ghana, and Russia, where organized scam rings are based.
However, the show does an even bigger disservice by sending the message that American romance scammers are just ordinary people lacking in social skills, everyday oddballs who will make great friends if someone just sits them down, explains what they’re doing is wrong, and gives them a chance to be a real friend.
Romance scams are carried out for a variety of reasons. American scammers may be after the victim’s money, or trying to trick them into doing something illegal, as the Nigerian scammers are. Or they might be running their scams in order to lure victims for violent crime, including rape and murder. The hosts and producers of “Catfish” display alarming naivete when they check in with the scammer at the end of the show or encourage the victim to build a friendship with the scammer. The person has already been proven to be a scammer, and they are well aware that they’re surrounded by a film crew and about to be broadcast on cable television and streaming services. Nobody…including the people who make the show…have any idea what that person would have done if they’d been confronted by the victim, or the victim and a small group of their friends, alone. And they have no idea if the scammer is telling the truth about changing their ways.
Reach out to the appropriate professional if your friend harms, or expresses a wish to harm, themselves or others.
Self-harm, plans or wishes to harm themselves, and abuse of pets, children, or adult friends or relatives living in the home are not a normal and expected part of the healing process from a scam or anything else. Never brush even the slightest incident off as your friend just venting, or something that will never happen again. Contact the appropriate authorities, just as you would if the situation involved someone who is not healing from a romance scam.
Artists who perform or present their work, or provide lessons or tutoring in private homes expect to be thoroughly screened. We know the client is going to carefully examine our portfolio and social media activity, make sure they know our government name and not just our band or stage name, and even reach out to past clients and other professional contacts for references if we are a stranger to them. Even if the event is held in public, or in today’s environment, online, we would not be insulted if a potential client spent some time reading our social media posts and asking around to make sure we’re not likely to take payment for the music lesson and then never log into the Zoom call, or agree to headline their company’ first post-pandemic party later this year, and then not show up.
But in our excitement to find a paying gig, we often forget that we need to screen clients too.
Take some time to make sure the potential client understands your work and what you offer.
Misunderstandings do happen. Someone might play a single video clip of you doing a ballad and not realize that most of your music is metal. Or they might see “writer” on your LinkedIn page and contact you before reading on and realizing that you do not offer homework help or resume writing services. You don’t need to send everyone a quiz, but don’t be afraid to ask them if they’ve read your website or seen several clips of your band playing.
Keep a paragraph, FAQ list, or even a page on your artist’s website that makes it clear you’re an independent artist and not looking to be someone’s employee. Check and make sure everyone who hires you has read it.
In simplest terms, employees fill out a W-4 tax form and get a W-2 at the end of the year. Independent artists get form 1099. If you get “W” forms, taxes get taken out of your paycheck. If you get a 1099, you are responsible for deducting taxes from anything you make above a certain amount, currently $400. Beyond taxes, clarity on this can prevent a lot of misunderstandings. If you’re an independent artist, you’re there to provide the service you agreed to provide. If you’re an employee, the person who hired you can change your work and ask you to do additional tasks.
Avoid people who seem to think the current public health crisis is a joke or a hoax and refuse to follow precautions.
Crowds should not be forming in person at this time. Audience members should ideally be at the event via Zoom, or if that’s not possible, kept at least six feet apart. Masks should be required. Items should not be passed around among strangers. We all want to pack in to a cozy local cafe or bar, hear our favorite local bands, and cheer and laugh and talk as much as we want, with nothing across our face. But doing that right now is dangerous. It’s better to move the concert or the exhibit or reading to Zoom for now so we can all do what we want later, when the virus is under control, than to go ahead and do what we want right now and create a super spreader event. Anyone who cannot see that does not deserve your work.
Be cautious with potential clients who resist putting things in writing.
Clients who insist they “call you so we can talk about it,” or want you to “come in and discuss this in person” are probably not trying to be your friend, or behave warmly toward you. They’re trying to avoid getting anything written down, so you can’t hold them to what they say. If they insist on talking on the phone, via video call, or in person instead of using the written word, insist they confirm things in writing anyway.
Even the most technically inept person can open an email or DM from you that says, “My band is to join your Zoom meeting at 7 p.m. on Friday night and perfrom three songs of our choosing for your virtual open house event,” or “You have asked me to write a 900 word article about internet safety for your company blog, using your safety director as an expert source,” hit reply, and type “Yes.” If the person refuses to do this, or ignores written confirmation of a project they described over the phone or in person, do not begin the project.
Collect professional opinions on the potential client.
Everyone has people who think they’re the greatest and people who do not care for them, for reasons that have nothing to do with the way they would behave as a client. Contacting the person they play golf with every weekend, or invite over for dinner once a month is of course going to result in a glowing testimonial. And if they just broke up with someone following a series of public fights over social media, that person is going to describe all their flaws for you. But if you keep hearing the same thing from people who have worked with them in the past, you can expect that same thing to happen to you. If their cousin just loves them, but every band who ever played in this person’s bar before the pandemic never got paid, you probably won’t get paid for participating in the online event they organized either. You don’t need to conduct a full background check. Just reach out to a few people who have worked with this person in the past.
Remember that online business reviews are not always genuine.
One way to collect opinions on a potential client is to read reviews of their business. This can be helpful, especially if you are seriously pressed for time, and need to go down this list in half an hour, not two or three days. They certainly can be a good place to start, and provide a glimpse into the business, but online reviews are not always real reviews.
Before I narrowed my independent/freelance writing focus to writing for and about Utica artists, I attempted to build a career as a general freelance writer. I was a freelance news reporter/feature writer, and I was a freelance busines writer, working with a content mill based in Texas to write marketing materials for businesses across the state. Most of the work was what you would expect to be offered; email marketing campaigns designed for people who had visited a company’s website, evergreen content on the dangers posed by electrical problems for an electrician. But one assignment stood out. I was given a first name, the number of stars they wanted, and the key words they wanted in a glowing review for their webage. So “Lauren” and “Annie” from Dallas and Houston, who loved the business and couldn’t believe how “efficient” and “friendly” the service was did not exist. Those words were written by “Jess” from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area, living three hours from Reno, Nevada, at the time, and earning $30.00 for her efforts. This was many years ago. I would turn down dishonest work like this today. But it is still out there.
Trust your own judgment and instincts.
Every safety article seems to end with this guideline, but most talk about a “gut feeling” or “inner voice” that should never be ignored. If you have deep feelings of forboding about a client, of course you shouldn’t ignore that, but trusting your judgment and instincts means more than just heeding your bad feelings. Think the situation through. Is the person asking you to go someplace it might be dangerous for you to go? Are they asking you to meet strangers alone? Was there something about the project or gig, or about the way they behaved on the phone or during the Facetime chat that bothered you? Sit back and ask yourself what it was and what that might mean. If you’re afraid you might be overreacting or misreading the situation, talk it out with someone whose judgment you trust.