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.