Client: So, for my site, I want a Google.
Me: A Google site?
Client: No, like an entire Google.
I work in a central London architects practice. Every time I establish a fee for work for housing developers the conversation goes something like this...
Client: Hi, I've bought an option on a site, can you do a planning application for me? I need it quick before the option expires.
Me: Sure, that'll be £X and we can have it done in Y months.
Client: Hmm, seems steep. How's about I take 20% off but I give you a bonus if you get more than Z homes on the site?
Me: We don't recommend that approach sir, it means we can't give you the best service as we might be trying to get more on the site than is likely to be permitted. That means you're likely to pay us 80% £X and ultimately not get the consent at all.
Client: OK, come on man, share the risk with me here - how's about 80% fee up to planning and 20% if it gets consent?
Me: But in that scenario I do 100% of the work but might only get 80% of the value of that work?
Client: Development is a risky business man, I'm going out on a limb here - I need you to get this, you need to share the risk.
Me: Sure, OK, I'll do the work for 80% but you give me 20% of the profit you make when you sell the site with consent.
Client: Are you crazy? What's the point of me doing this if I'm going to share so much of my profit with you? That's outrageous!?
Me: So why am I sharing the risk if you're not sharing the rewards?
Client: 90% £xx?
Me: F*** it, ok then.
Years ago, when I was working for a Johannesburg weekly newspaper, a colleague asked if I could edit the stories for a Nigerian businessman’s unofficial African Union magazine. I agreed – the pay was about R3,000, a lot of money for a few hours of work – but the stories were littered with multiple glorifying names whenever an important person was mentioned. And it seemed everyone in the entire newspaper was sufficiently important to be labelled “The Right Honourable, His Excellency, The Finance Minister, Doctor Jimmy Dlamini, Esquire” or something like that. Half the magazine would be taken up by these fancy titles because every time the minister said something the attribution would have to include his title (“he said” was not good enough). Often the minister’s title was longer than what he had said, so much of the magazine would be made up of long-winded VIP titles.
Well, I got the job done, if only because the money was quite good. Then came the problem of squeezing payment out of the client-publisher. At first the man couldn’t be reached, then he was out of town, then he returned and had misplaced his cheque-book (those were the days when people still issued cheques). When Uchie, the businessman, finally found his cheque-book it had no cheques left and he would need to get a new cheque-book, so could I wait a day or two. No problem, but he then couldn’t find his pen when he finally got his new cheque-book. That wasn’t the end of the story: when he eventually found his pen, it had run out of ink!
I've never heard so many nonsense excuses to withold payment. Eventually they did pay me, and asked me to come back for the second edition. I graciously declined.
I helped to design the slides for a college professor's class. He also had an academy of business techniques in which he calls himself an engineering "guru". He would prepare presentations by first recording the audio and video as a normal lecture and then sending them as a class to his students.
I was not allowed to know the context of his presentation or the contents of his class as it was "confidential".
Almost all the slides were text dumps of more than one paragraph in 10 pt that probably nobody will read since he switched slides way before anybody could pay attention. These are common mistakes, but the problem was the following exchange:
Client: Could you make the box where I'm going to put my webcam screen bigger?
At this point, he sent me a photo captured with his phone of his screen. You could see a slide with a blue box that occupied 80% of the center of the screen. It covered all his text.
Me: Sure, I'll prepare a template for you and paste it between the slides you want to appear bigger.
Client: No, no. I want my face to be predominant on all slides. It would be easier to edit on Camtasia.
Me: If I do that, it would be almost impossible for all the text to be readable. There's just no room to follow the design guidelines you sent me earlier. Is there a reason for the camera to be on all slides? I would have to shrink your screen a bit.
Client: It is a requirement of the university to appear on all slides.
Me: The email you sent me with the design standards of the university state that the use of audio without video is allowed. If you don't want to constantly change the size of your screen between each slide and let it on one place, I will need to resize your screen or delete part of your text, you just can't have both!
Client: Work your magic! I just want my students to remember my face well! That way it will be easier to advertise my academy.
Every year for the past three years I have picked up a 6 week contract with a training organization to develop their marketing materials for the year. They pay really well and have been quite good to work for.
This year I came in and saw there was a new GM. No biggie - he seemed pretty normal. I spent my first day being “on boarded” as I do every year. The GM’s deputy presented the code of conduct and the agreement to sign. I had a hunch that I had best have a read through just in case.
Sure enough, a new section appeared in this years edition: Prohibited Business Relations. Essentially it provided a list of every LGBTIQ+ affirming business in a 30-mile radius and stated that if we engaged with any of these businesses either privately or on behalf of the company, we would be dismissed. Amongst the businesses listed was my brother’s salon and my cousin’s tattoo parlour.
I declined to sign and ended my relationship with them there and then.
An entrepreneurial "guru" paid me to manage his academy Instagram page that he would use to attract people to his talks. He had a phrase that he kept repeating to me:
Client: Don't tell me you can't do it, tell me how I can do it so it can be done.
Sounds cool, but he usually used this for things like writing more than the allowed limit, trying to change the quality of a blurry image or having a million followers through his personal Instagram account in one day.
Client: We only want 20-word client testimonials, not 100. Please revise your quote to reflect this change.
Me: No. The prep time involved is the same and it's tougher to write a 20-word high impact testimonial than a longer one.
Client: But it's fewer words!
I'm a photographer and a woman just contacted me over Instagram about doing a job in the afternoon tomorrow. Anyone that contacts you about a job that's to take place the very next day and doesn't acknowledge the fact is suspect. They should say something like "I realize this is super last minute"; translation: "I know this is my fault, but I'm asking for your help.
I gave her my rate and explained my COVID precautions.
Client: Okay - well I'll give you [$rate - $50] because to be honest I've worked with many photographers and that's what I feel comfortable with. I'll give you a call if I need you.
As with anything in life, it's all about the approach. Generally when people preface a number less than what I've quoted but are polite, I'm inclined to work with them. They should say something like "I realize this is lower than what you've offered but my budget for this isn't super high and I really apologize but would you be able to do this for $x?" Translation: I'm begging you, please, just this one favor.
This person ignored all of that and acted like they were throwing me a bone.
Me: Actually, my rate is non-negotiable and includes a $75 travel fee.
Translation: f*ck off.
This story takes place sometime around 2007, after I had graduated college, but before being a full-time designer. This interaction soured me on working with clients so badly that I have not returned to freelance work.
Just after college graduation I was working as a security guard and picking up freelance graphic design contracts. One of my fellow co-workers asked me for my services in designing a logo, letterhead, and business card designs for his start-up company.
Being fresh out of college I only quoted a $300 fee. After a week of design ideas and lots of back and forth we agreed on five design concepts that he would show to his business partners. I fleshed these designs out a bit more and packaged everything into a very nice, very professional, very expensive, acrylic portfolio folder that I was given as a gift from a family member for graduating college.
The following day, when I arrived at my security job, my fellow co-worker called in sick. And the day after. And the day after that... and for the remainder of the week. He then quit. Taking my portfolio folder and all of my design work with him.
After not being able to contact my now former co-worker for well over a month I was resigned to the idea that I was not going to see my work, and my portfolio, again. So, I moved on, using online forums to search for clients.
One of those online clients was looking for a designer to take some of their sketches and convert them into vector designs for use online and for printing. I reached out thinking it would be an easy gig and got an email back containing what they were looking for and images of all of my sketches that I made for my former co-worker.
I had watermarked all of my images when I presented them to said former co-worker; even pencilling in a watermark on my original sketch work. They were looking to have someone remove the watermarks and digitize the work. I emailed from my freelancer account and set up a meeting.
We agreed to meet at a local coffee shop. I made sure to sit in my car until my former co-worker went inside first. I followed behind and sat down at his table right as he was pulling out his chair. He was not happy to see me. Nor I him.
Long story short, after some choice words in a public space, I was able to get my portfolio back. I was never paid. I am so happy that we now live in a more integrated digital age where I don't have to give out physical portfolios.