Terrible Clients I have to thank. (no names mentioned)

If there's one thing I hate about the creative business is the money side of things. I never had a stronghold on how to go about quoting jobs for companies or setting standards for the value of my time, but when freelancing became my occupation I had to settle on a number, well a few numbers. Those numbers probably have scared off half of the business that has come my way in the last couple of years and I'm happy to say that at this point in my career you can "Take or Leave it" because I've been through some pretty shady situations and I won't put myself through them again.

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I'll let you know a few interesting stories (sorry if it's a little long) that would explain why I can charge what I charge and why you should find someone else if you think I'm too pricey or why I flat out rejected you as a client.


Going back to when I was living downtown in Toronto, working a retail job at the Eaton Centre and making just enough to pay my share of the rent, I dabbled in freelance. After school was done, I sent out postcards with my artwork on them to a number of companies that I thought would be a great fit. One was Thrasher Magazine. Somehow, someone at Thrasher sent gave it to a buddy of his, and turned out that guy was an Art Director for Tony Hawk's Skateboard Clothing line. He emailed me and asked if this was my work, and if I'd be interested in doing a few designs for him. I jumped at the chance and started drawing. I nailed down a few designs and one he really loved and put in front of Mr. Hawk himself along with a bunch of others he had spread out on the table. Tony then said to him :"I want that one on me in the game". The game he was talking about was his 4th installment of his very successful franchise games of Tony Hawk Pro Skater .

So it got chosen to be part of the clothing line and represented on him in his game. The thing about all this was that I found this out AFTER I bought the game for myself! I knew that it was a greenlight for the clothing but this game thing was a total surprise.

What I made was a messily $150!

Now if I played my cards right today, I would have made around $300 - $500 for the initial design, and then I would have set up a permissions agreement along with a fee for the usage on the video game for N. America/Europe/Asia and would have been sitting pretty happy.

What I made was a messily $150 and a free T-shirt that took me calling up their wearhouses in California to find one for me. So this taught me to have everything upfront but did I learn my lesson? No - because I love doing work, and I hate when someone isn't happy with my work.

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Here's a pic of a framed Tee along with the game it was on framed and sealed. It was my first real big gig that I got on my own. So she sits in my office well displayed and a reminder that I did something huge, for pennies.


A few years later, I was living with my now wife at her home to save money to purchase our home and I found a few start-up clothing companies. Their subject matter was a tad offside, but I didn't care and I needed money. This kid that I did the job for ended up having more then a dozen designs, and logos to choose from and ended up paying a surprising $400 for the lot. Not a bad gig I suppose, but God knows where he is now, and God knows what's happening to the artwork. Today, he would have got maybe 2 or 3 Designs/logos for that.

Below is some terrible samples I made for this kid.

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Enter two years later. I'm found by some guy who runs a tattoo shop and is starting a band in some small town not so far from here. He loved the work I did for a local band that started making it big in Canada.  He wants two things, album artwork for an album that isn't created yet, for a band that isn't "Staffed" completely, and some t-shirts and signage for his tattoo shop that he and his brother ran.
The guy is nice enough to hand me half of the album artwork in cash up front. I'm thinking, this will be fun. Guy has a roll of 20's and 50's in his pocket and he just handed me this without me asking.

I have more work for you. No worries

So as you might have guess, the band doesn't form, artwork is done, project killed, I ask for a kill fee, he says "I have more work for you no worries" I, for some reason, continue doing "business" with him. He wants a logo for his tattoo shop. I pull through. He wants signage where I had to copy an illustration that exists, I finish that. I create a t-shirt design for his shop, he loves them. Done. He gets me to start copying some tattoo he sees online, I stop halfway and say, can I get paid for my past jobs so I invoice. He gets back to me with "I have to see what my brother thinks". He comes back says his brother hates them. I say, ok, but you have to pay for all this. He comes back with "Well if someone doesn't like the tattoo I draw them, they don't pay for it"!!! Are you kidding me!??? Hahaha  Do I look like I'm working in a greasy tattoo shop (do they call them parlours nowadays?). I can understand not liking the work but not paying a dime for it?? He said that he would get me more work down the road (No thank you) and that he would get me paid because he was "... a man of my word".  I could have taken him to court, but it's not worth my time. I can publicly bash his business on his Facebook Account, but I'm not made that way.

So what did I make from that ridiculous job? The initial $400 for his killed album cover for a band that existed for one stupid night in some basement. (as far as I know/care)

Here's some samples of the work I did for this guy.

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I will go on the record to say that 80% of the jobs I've done in my career have been for people that know nothing of business and all about taking advantage of someone and their good heart and great work ethics.  Are these people to blame for my demise? HELL NO! This is part of creating a career. Don't get me wrong. I won't be shaking their hands, but they all taught me some valuable lessons. That my time is worth something. That I won't be suckered. That the next clients I have will get something great and something they can be proud to say "I paid a guy to do this for me". 

Now if you have asked me recently to quote a job and have not returned an email. I understand. I'm too pricey and you were expecting someone who doesn't have a mortgage to pay. A baby to feed. A land tax to fufill at the end of the year and someone that just needs some money in his pocket to pay for milk for Christ sakes. Either way, I get it. You want great work for cheap but that's not how it works. It works that way for people that have the time to spend on making you look amazing and in the end of it all have only enough money to make pay for that latest XBox game that just came out.

Here's a popular graph that us designers with a spine actually live by.

Tells it all.

Tells it all.

To those who are reading this and actually did work with me as a client, I hope you learned something from what happened. I hope you never make those mistakes again with the next person that you are lucky enough to find to do work for you.

Oh and if you're that guy that still owes me $350 and gave me every excuse under the sun for not paying it up for work rendered, (he even gave me the "Death in the family" excuse) - Keep it!  Put it into your site that has yet to go live in the last 2 years and no, I will not be adding you to LinkedIn so stop sending requests. Just know that you're embedded in my brain as a person that didn't pay up. I might forget about jobs I've done in the past but you never forget about someone that owes you.

I really could have used a video like the one below. If you are just starting out, please watch this video. Your school may not send you off with all the right tools because hey! you're a designer/artist not a business person! Well guess what, clients don't care and will take you to the cleaners. This video will get your head straight when it comes to doing what you love... and getting paid for it.

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