Tips for Designers: How To Avoid Being Taken Advantage Of

As a freelancer for going on 8 years now, I’ve learned something that anyone in the design and art business should know: How to avoid scams, or more likely, how to avoid being taken advantage of.

So here’s the difference; a scam is someone trying to get something for nothing through knowingly deceiving you and taking advantage of the fact that you may not know everything. Compare that to most people who are just going to take advantage of you because of your skills, and most likely aren’t out to harm you, but just don’t understand how a business works.

I’ve learned how to sniff out both fairly easily. Really, more than anything, just trust your instincts but other than that there is some things you can do to stay on the lookout for someone out to get you:

1. They want something for nothing, or at least close to it.

OK, lets start with an easy one.

“Hi! I want an amazing website that has Flash, great SEO, and the most cutting edge graphics EVER! Now, I can’t exactly PAY you for this awesomeness, but I can make you a partner! You can only imagine the demand for a website that tells people how ugly their baby is!”

I’ve had this happen a lot; someone has no start-up money and instead of paying a designer or developer for their thing, they instead offer a partnership. I rarely, ever, ever take an offer like that because potential income isn’t going to pay my definite bills. If something looks insanely promising or if you believe in the cause then by all means go ahead. But if someone in vague or just has a lousy idea, don’t go for it.

2. They want someone “fresh from school”.

“Hey there! We want the most amazing fashion designers possible to create designs for our new line of t-shirts! We want someone just fresh out of school who’s hungry for work! Just someone who can’t wait to explode with the best designs ever because they went to school and are just so darn fresh! So what if we expect you to work long hours and do the work of 3 other people we laid off? We want the best people! SCHOOL!!!!!!”

Whenever I see someone stress they want someone out of school, it means one thing; They’re cheap. People want cheap labor, and in this economy that make sense. I’ve seen a lot of people looking for a freelancer who was fresh out of college because they know that they need the real-world experience. Even in college I knew what to charge per-hour and per-job shouldn’t be too low, so if you are still in school, always consider what you need to pay for your loans and if you’d rather eat Romane Noodles or at least a pizza.

3. They’re TOO nice.

I had a conversation with a potential client that went like this once:

“WOW! Your work is amazing! I love it! Its the best thing EVER! WHY AREN’T YOU WORKING FOR A MAJOR COMPANY?! YOU KICK ASS! I wish I could draw like you, I can’t even draw a straight line! I am unworthy of your greatness! NOT WORTHY!!!!!! ….oh, and I can’t really pay you what you deserve…. BUT YOU’RE AWESOME!!!!”

“Kill ’em with kindness,” right?  I had a client try that once and they failed, miserably. First, my work is amazing, but I’m no Peter Chung (the dude who created Aeon Flux).

Second, as much as I’m glad someone is to like my work, let alone actually reach out and try to get me to create something for them, this level of praise just isn’t professional. If someone compliments you, that’s great, but if all they do is heap praise and barely, if at all, tell you what they want and are willing to pay, they’re not worth the time. Just walk away.

4. They’re not professional.

Or, at the very least, they don’t TRY be professional.

In your career, you’ll have clients who may not know what they want, how to properly communicate what they want and expect from you, may have poor grammar and spelling, and countless other things. So when I say “Not Professional”, look at the three things I already mentioned and think about that.

Someone who is serious about getting a designer isn’t going to ask for something for nothing, or next to it. Not only that, but they should be able to just plain communicate. In fact, after getting paid, COMMUNICATION is the most important thing in deciding to go with a client. The main thing is to make sure you’re working with a client and not just for them. A good client is like anything else in life; there should be a little bit of give-and-take.