Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Five Comments Every Freelancer Needs to Prepare For

As a freelance professional storyboard artist, art director, illustrator and designer, at one time or another I have heard comments from potential employers that make me squirm.
Here are some of them, along with my professional responses.

1) "We have nothing at this time, but we'll keep you on file in case something comes up."

This may seem like a stock answer, an easy out for any art buyer, art director, or recruiter.

But is it?

Having spent a great deal of time as an art director at prominent publishing and entertainment companies, I've had to give this answer myself to prospective freelancers. I’ve picked up the phone, they caught me off guard, and Mr. Nice Guy Freelancer was there, asking for work. Unfortunately, no matter how much I may like an individual or their work and want to hire them, If I didn’t have jobs to hand out, then all I could do is be truthful.

If you get this response from a prospective employer, be polite. In this economic downturn, it isn’t easy to hear. Chances are they hate turning you away, so thank them for their time, and ask if you may keep in touch with a phone call now and then. Leave a good impression by saying a cheerful goodbye. They'll remember you were a good sport.

2) "Your work is nice."

Really? My mother is nice. So is my librarian.

We all remember the art teacher from college who would give this response when not committed enough to critique our work. What they really mean is "Your work is well designed, illustrated, and is accomplished (or something like that).”

Because a potential client doesn't have time or the luxury to sip tea while discussing your work, this is the shortest way to give you the thumbs up and move on with their busy day.

As artists, we all hope our work impresses our potential clients enough to get them to say:

“Your work is amazing! I must hire you." Until then, be happy with “nice.” It is a compliment.

3) "What are your rates?"

Uh-oh. What if I give them a rate and they don't call back? Was I too high? Did they get someone cheaper?”

Most clients who want rates are going to shop around. Some potential clients won't discuss their budget, possibly because they don't know it yet. They are trying to get their resources secured while checking your availability. They may sometimes come back with a price and ask if you can work within it.

I like to give clients an hourly rate, a day rate and a flat rate, so they have options. It shows I am flexible to help them achieve their targets.

Have the rates ready if asked - it shows you have standards.

4) Can you do some examples in this style?

Spec work. Plain and simple. If they like it, they will hire you. Maybe.

For storyboard artists like myself, story tests are common in the animation industry. Most of us have done them because all the studios call for them. The results may secure us months of work, or full time positions. For a working artist whose day is booked, these tests are unreasonable in their scope, never mind impossible to spend one or two weeks on. To add insult to injury we may never get a response regarding our submission.

Advertising is more urgent. Where a big animation studio has to schedule a director or the head of story to review your submission, an agency needs a candidate ASAP.

Making the call to crank out a quick submission (I’ve banged out samples in one hour that got me good paying assignments later that same day) can sometimes be worth it.

Beware of the inexperienced client! Or the crafty experienced one!

They are easy to spot.

They may be callous or uneducated in industry behavior, enough to ask you to create customized samples for them (so they don't have to pay for concept art.) They use your free samples and those of other artists to determine what works for their project. They lure you with promises of “lucrative steady work for the right artist once the project takes off.” Also known as “crowd sourcing,” you will never get a straight answer from them, or a paycheck.

I learned this the hard way when fresh out of art school. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice… .

As unethical as it is, spec work is still a reality for some of us. As an artist, learn to make the call “to spec or not to spec.”

5) "Can you make this deadline?"

Be honest. If you can’t make a deadline but really would like to make the job happen somehow, It is better to qualify your answer than to say a flat out "no."

Before you decide to pull an “all-nighter” when you are running on fumes, tell your client what you CAN deliver by the deadline. Can you deliver low, medium, or high fidelity under his deadline?

I once delivered a job to a trusted client, which required me to seal myself up in my studio and pull an all-nighter, coming in dangerously close to the deadline. I felt overworked and underpaid, but I wanted to keep my client for his repeat business. He loved the finishes, which were highly refined storyboards, but I found out later that he would have been equally happy with medium or low fidelity boards delivered a half-day earlier. The lesson: give your client options to match your honesty. Good communication works better for the end results, for both you and your client.

Well, these are my top five comments. What are yours? Feel free to enter them in the comments section of my blog.