Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tips for Freelancers

So you want to be a freelancer, eh?  Well, before you launch yourself into a world of freelance, I want to offer you some much needed advice.  When I was first starting out in the world of freelance sculpting, I had a lot of people helping me out from Sandy Garrity to Jeff Grace to Bob Murch.  One thing that was often recommended to me was how to deal with contracts and the business behind freelancing.

Over the years, I have realized that a lot of new sculptors coming in to the industry don't have the same advice that I have had.  In addition, they really aren't sure how to approach freelance.  I know it is exciting when you book your first commission.  Every freelancer from artists to writers, feels that rush of excitement as they sign on the dotted line.  I felt it with my first commission, and every time I commission a piece I am interested in.  My wife, who is a freelance editor and ghostwriter, feels it when she signs a new contract or publishes articles/books with her name on it.

The problem is that during that rush, we often make the mistake of not following some important steps to ensure that we protect our viability when we sign those contracts.  To do that, you should follow some points and this is a universal truth, whether you sculpt, write or paint.

Before I give you those points, however, I should say that I have been called difficult to work with. For those who have worked with me for years, they know this isn't the case.  I do changes when asked, I work quickly and I give input when asked.  I offer advice on building a gaming business and I generally keep to myself.  The only thing that I am firm on is my terms of payment.  When you don't pay, I become difficult.

I think of it in terms of being a mechanic.  If you put your car in for an engine repair, you don't get the car back if you don't pay.  End of story.  Why should a freelance artist be any different?  So with that said, let's look at the tips that I have been given and the ones that I have learned over the years.

Tip Number One:  You are the Provider, not the Employee

This is a huge mistake that many people new to freelance make.  They treat their clients like they are their bosses.  What this means is that they take a lot of abuse from clients and end up working insane hours to please everyone.  The simple fact is that these contracts are not your boss, they are your client.  Yes, you have a responsibility to them, however, you do not have to take any mistreatment and you do not have to work yourself into an early grave.  Instead, you set your own hours, let your client know what those hours are and go from there.

Tip Number Two:  Make your Terms

Before you get into any freelance work, it is important to create your own terms.  These terms should include changes, payment amounts, and payment terms.  Payment terms should have a set standard.  Are you going to be paid in 30 days?  Is payment due before changes are done?  In addition to the terms, you should give deadlines for approvals.  Some clients will procrastinate on approval to delay payment, case in point, my wife ghostwrote a fiction novel and in the process, edits were to be done before payment.  The client took 2 months to get edits back to her...and when she sent it back, there were no changes, the book had been approved.  As you can see, stall tactics are seen in every industry.

Tip Number Three: Be Upfront

Now that you have those terms, don't hide them.  Every new client should be sent the terms and they should sign off on them.  I do allow room for negotiation on some things but I am firm on others.  Be open and honest about your terms and you will find that you don't have as many headaches when it comes time to get paid.

Tip Number Four: Hold on to the Figure

This is one thing that drives me insane; people sending the finished piece before they have been paid.  I have been sent emails asking me how to get a client to pay after the figure is sent.  The answer is this...you can't.  My rule of thumb is that the figure doesn't ship until the payment has been made.  The only exception to this rule is for clients that I have a long standing relationship with.  Keeping the figure ensures that you get paid, if you send it out before you get paid, there is no reason for them to pay.

If you don't feel comfortable holding onto the figure, you need to go the same route as a freelance writer.  Every client, for every single piece, has to sign a legally binding contract with the payment terms explained.  Again, I defer to my wife's policy as it is impossible for her not to send the work before payment.  She creates a contract for everything, even a 10 page editing contract that takes her less than an hour.  In it are the terms for payment, as well as the deadline for payment and where any legal matters will take place.  She never travels for legal matters, all clients have to travel to her and when she has clients as far away as Singapore and New Zealand, people make sure payment never gets to that point.

Still, as a freelance sculptor, my best recommendation is to hold onto the figure until payment is made.

Tip Number Five: Don't Work for Free

There is a rule for artists and that is, "You can't call yourself a (insert your profession - painter, author, sculptor) until you have been paid for your work."  This is a universal truth and while many people start out by doing a few free pieces, you shouldn't.  Name recognition is not necessary in today's world since you can build your own recognition through networking.

Get paid for your work since people are going to be making money off of what you do.  The only time I have not been paid for a piece is when I have done it for a charity or if I offer to add a few extras, such as an extra gun, into a sculpt I am doing. When you do work for free, you are only hurting yourself as people will continue to expect that free work.  Also, I have seen companies load their catalog with free "test" sculpts and not pay out to any of their sculptors.

And those are some of the tips that I follow when I am sculpting.  If you have any questions about freelancing as a sculptor or even as an artist or writer, please ask.  I am always happy to answer questions.


Eric said...

Regarding the comment about you being difficult to work with, from a fan's perspective (me), you've been amazing, especially since I knew practically nothing about the process. Thanks so much James for being patient, explaining everything, and for providing WIP shots every step of the way!

James Van Schaik said...

Thanks Eric. :)

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