Nobody walks into Whole Foods and says:
“Wow, this organic grapefruit is pricey. I work for a non-profit so can I have it for free?”
Nobody walks into Jiffy Lube and says:
“I know an oil change is $30 but I don’t have the budget for that. How’s $5?”
Don’t Be A “McIllustrator.”
Your art has value, Artists.
The easiest way to unmask a bad client is to talk money. If the conversation gets weird, beware.
Bad clients offer low-pay or no-pay because they don’t respect the value of original, commissioned illustration.
“McIllustrators” work for Big Mac prices but constantly complain about how they’re exhausted, stressed and broke.
McIllustrators are desperate and bad clients take advantage of their desperation.
There are so many bad clients and so many desperate illustrators that this industry-destroying cycle will never end.
…unless we all do The Bad Client Diet and get our businesses back in shape.
What Do Bad Clients Look Like?
Many years ago, I was offered what sounded like a nice freelance gig.
An oil painting. A huge portrait of a couple that would be given to them as a gift.
The painting would have taken me about two weeks.
I quoted my hourly rate which was around $35/hr at the time.
2 weeks (80 hours) x $35/hr = $2800
If you ask me, for a huge double-portrait in fracking oil paint, 28-hundy is a legitimate steal.
But the man offering the job did not agree. In fact, he was shocked and offended. He had a much lower figure in mind…
He the offered me $25 for the portrait.
I asked him how much he got paid for his job and if it was higher than $12.50 a week.
…and that’s the end of that story.
Granted, the “$25 Portrait” example, although true, is ridiculous. No sane artist would accept that guy’s offer.
My point here is that bad clients usually look bad right from the beginning.
It’s desperation that blinds us.
It is our desperation that gives power to the bad clients.
Big Mac Budgets Will Kill Your Business:
There are plenty of places online where bad clients can buy royalty-free, stock-illustrations at Big Mac prices.
Send the bad clients to the stock sites and move on.
If they only have a Big Mac Budget, then they need to expect Big Mac Illustration.
The stock-illustration sites are not your competition because you are not a McIllustrator.
So don’t try to compete with them.
When bad clients discover what a Big Mac Budget can’t buy, some of them will come back to you enlightened and ready to do business. With your help they might even become good clients.
You’ll have to just feel it out.
And what about those who don’t come back enlightened?
Let ’em go.
Your art will never solve their business problems.
If the client isn’t successful or respectful enough to treat you fairly then he probably isn’t treating others fairly. And if he doesn’t treat others fairly, his whole entrepreneurial journey is doomed.
“Don’t be a McIllustrator. Working for Big Mac prices will only slow your success.”
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If you’re currently doing business with bad clients, fire them as soon as possible. Since they pay so little, you can probably just bow-out and move on with minimal pain.
…but if most of your clients are bringing you down, you need to seriously re-think your business. Consider a complete business overhaul and take a normal day-job (at Starbucks or wherever) to help ease the transition.
Don’t Mix Dreams and Desperation…
If you’re trying to start a freelance illustration business, keep your day job for as long as you have to.
As much as you might hate your day job, the steady paycheck gives you the power to say “No” to bad clients.
Hold on to the power of “No.”
If you quit your day job too soon you’ll mix your dreams with desperation.
And when you’re desperate, you forfeit the power to say “No” to bad clients.
And when you say “Yes” to bad clients, you say “No” to your dreams.
- Don’t be a McIllustrator. Be proud of your work.
- Don’t work for pennies. Prove yourself with your portfolio.
- Don’t panic. Be patient.
McIllustration is just inspiration-sucking frustration.
Your time, energy and talent are better spent working on personal projects for your portfolio than on low-paying gigs for bad clients.
How About You? How Do YOU Handle Bad Clients?
Share your thoughts in the comments below!