I want things to work between us.
But let’s clarify a few points before we move on to “business.” There are no written rules for client-creative relationships.
I’ve had clients who didn’t appreciate my creative work. I’ve had clients who’ve hurt my feelings, and clients who have really pissed me off. I’ve had projects terminated earlier than expected. Clients who didn’t pay for my work, and clients who didn’t return my calls.
Related: The 7 principles of empowered freelancers
However, this isn’t always the case. Thankfully, it’s mostly the opposite:
I’ve had clients who got the best of me.
Many projects I’m so proud of—I’ve showed them to my grandma.
I have clients who never stop recommending me to their fellows; they keep on coming back.
So, in order to make our mutual venture(s) work, to make us both content, and to avoid drama and unpleasantness, I want to share with you my principles on how good, solid, creative work gets produced.
If you’re game, be assured I’ll play my part the very best I can.
I’m not a product you bought at the store
Hiring a creative isn’t like buying a TV or a car.
You pay me to create something outstanding for your business. Something no one else has. Something unique that fits your unique business.
You hire me to create something that will help you market your services or sell your products. You pay for a bulk of my time, my ideas, and my talent—for creative work I’ll produce for you only.
Please don’t confuse that with buying “me.” I’m not a commodity, so please don’t treat me like one. You can’t “use” me as much as you want and you don’t “own” me.
If the first thing you ever ask is “How much will it cost?”, that’s a big red flag. It’s far better to first speak about your business, your goals, and how implementing creative work could help it grow.
“Freelancers aren’t products you buy at the store.”
It’s important to our business model for you to realize things are the exact same on my part—I don’t see you as an ATM.
I see someone with dreams, who owns a business they want to grow. Someone who puts 110% of their trust in me. I value this immensely and don’t take it for granted. I see someone who allows me to have the time I need to create something valuable. And I appreciate it.
The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten
To produce amazing work I need to dedicate significant time, focus, and effort to your project. The alternative is to work on lots of tiny, low-budget projects at once. I’ll be jumping from one thing to another, and at best I’ll achieve mediocre results.
Good money opens up avenues to allow investment of time and resources into obtaining the research needed. It’s essential to make sure you get something that fits your specific brand.
Good money lets us try a few different things before we hit the nail on the head. We can explore diverse pathways, allowing us to strengthen the end result.
Good money will allow me to dedicate full, uninterrupted days to working on your project. I’ll be dreaming about it, thinking about it in the shower, and when I go for a walk.
Sure, it might not fit your budget. Maybe you aren’t interested in a high-quality end product that will pull in new customers on an ongoing basis and retain them thereafter as paying, returning consumers.
Related: How to write a case study that wins you clients
Luckily, you have alternatives. There are places all over the web that let you get things done for pennies. But the old adage of “spend peanuts, get monkeys” is true in this situation. The work you’ll receive will be worth pennies in return.
It certainly won’t be unique, or derived from deep thinking and research into your brand.
It will be a single try—either you like or hate it—and then it’ll be your problem. There’s a big chance it won’t help you achieve the goal that made you call me in the first place.
“Please don’t ask freelancers to work in exchange for ‘exposure.'”
And no, please don’t ask me to work for free in exchange for “exposure” or other potential benefits. Like you, I’m running a business.
There is no “upper hand”
Don’t be mistaken: I am not your employee, and you are not my boss.
Saying things like “others will be happy to do this work” won’t make me want to work with you. Such a remark is designed to make me feel small, off-balance, and of no value. It’s disrespectful.
We both have to choose to work with each other. Our relationship will be symbiotic if we do.
So, it’s crucial we have clear communication and set up boundaries on both sides that we respect and adhere to.
You might like working at 2AM, but that’s when I sleep. You might answer emails on a Saturday morning, but that’s when I’m having brunch with my wife.
Unless it’s an emergency, please don’t expect me to reply ASAP. We both know it’s hardly ever an emergency.
You might text your employees when you need a quick answer, but I prefer communication via email. To do deep work that requires intense concentration, and to stay focused, my phone is sometimes on silent mode. New emails don’t pop up on my screens.
We should respect each other’s time. Don’t throw me a task at the last minute, expecting it to be ready tomorrow. And if something is delayed on my side, I shall endeavor to let you know as soon as I can.
Let’s sit down and talk about the workflow and set up expectations. It’ll make things so much smoother.
Trust me, and I’ll listen better
You might have something in mind already for the end product.
I guess you’ve already visited your competitor’s websites; you’ve looked what similar brands have done; you’ve watched a million viral videos.
You have an opinion and a taste, and I respect it.
However you must also trust me—this is my profession.
Trust my diverse experience—this is what I do 5 days a week and have for many years now. Please don’t ask to see my work every other hour, and I’d ask you not to micro-manage me. I cannot focus when you’re looking over my shoulder 24/7. It’s stifling.
On my part, I promise to listen.
To look at things you love and understand why. I promise to do my homework and check out your competitors so we can create something different. I promise to be able to explain why I chose this and not that, to break down every salient part of the solution, and to listen to your feedback.
Help me understand your needs, and you’ll get great results
I need to know why you need X.
Please don’t ask me for ‘a logo’ or ‘a viral video. Help me understand why you need them and for what purpose. Help me see the end goal and I can make my work lean towards it.
Explain why you want this website built. Or why you need this copy written. The more you explain, the more accurate and purposeful the work will be.
I’ve worked with many clients before, and I have great ideas waiting for you. You’ll have certain complex problems you won’t imagine I can help you with. You’ll be surprised then, upon detailing these to me, at my level of excitement and enthusiasm at striving to produce a wonderful solution.
Let’s do this. Together.
I want to help.
I chose to be a creative freelancer, not an artist.
I teach myself new things every day for one purpose. I get inspired every day, filling my mind with new ideas, for one purpose.
I train my skills, challenging myself—for one purpose.
Doing great work for you is my purpose.
Let’s do this. Together.
Creative Freelancer and CEO at Prospero
by Lior Frenkel
Lior is Head of Fun and CEO at The nuSchool. He thinks doing business as a freelancer can be fun—he's a mentor at the Designer's Pricing Class and the author of Value For Money.