Once a month I go to a get-together of designers where we commiserate over clients and share horror stories. We laugh at the stories but it always strikes me how similar… sometimes exact the stories are. It’s almost as if there’s a guidebook for people wanting design work and what to say to designers to get cheap or free work.
Snappy Comebacks to Ridiculous Client Demands
While websites like clientsfromhell.net include some of these ridiculous incidents, there must also be a howtodealwithstupidartsytypes.org, outlining how to approach designers and what to say. Do these promises from clients sound familiar?
- “I don’t have any money now but we’ll all make money in the future!”
- “If you do this for free now, I’ll consider you my in-house designer later!”
- “I can get an art student to do this for free!”
- “This will be a great opportunity for you to gain a terrific portfolio piece!”
- “If my clients like your design, I’ll throw some money your way.”
- “I’ll pay you, depending on the quality of the finished project.”
- “I have lots of rich friends and they’ll see your design and want you to work for them!”
- “I’m your uncle’s friend. Don’t I get the family rate?”
Sends shivers up your creative spine, doesn’t it? How can so many people hear the exact statements from so many unconnected strangers? Perhaps it’s just part of the greed in human nature that formulates these statements. Maybe these clients are saying the same thing to the kid who mows their lawn?
- “Billy – if you mow my lawn for free, the neighbors will see it and want you to mow their lawns, too and you’ll make lots of money!”
- “Susie, if you babysit my kids for free, all of my friends with kids will want to use you when they find out the kids survived the evening!”
- “My friends will be using my toilet when they visit and when they see how well their bowel movements are flushed away, they’ll want to know who my plumber is and you’ll make lots of money because they’re rich and full of…” well, you know how that ends.
Not that clients would want to see this video but it’s frighteningly hilarious how these poor excuses sound when applied to the real world…
It’s amazing how these examples are what we hear almost every day. In every country on the face of this blue rock, in a thousand different languages, clients say the same things.
We are all tempted to use foul language right back, such as this old favorite…
(WARNING: not office safe. Contains robots using foul language)
The problem is, you shouldn’t swear at client requests and you should remain professional at all times. I can’t remember where I heard that but it sounds like good advice I’ll learn to follow one day. Personally, I believe in the power of laughter and cruel sarcasm… the laughter being mine and not the client’s. I’m not alone in my firm belief that sarcasm is good for the soul:
“Sarcasm is the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded.”
– Fyodor Dostoevsky
“What I claim is to live to the full the contradiction of my time, which may well make sarcasm the condition of truth.”
– Roland Barthes
Words Are A Mighty Tool
Many people don’t understand sarcasm or the very meaning of the word. Wikipedia, which is the most valuable source of truthful and accurate information in the known universe (did you get the sarcasm in that statement?), describes sarcasm as:
“a sharp, bitter, or cutting expression or remark; a bitter jibe or taunt.” Though irony and understatement is usually the immediate context, most authorities distinguish sarcasm from irony; however, others argue that sarcasm may or often does involve irony or employs ambivalence.
If the pen is mightier than the sword, meaning the written word can cause more damage than an edged weapon, great sarcasm is the nuclear weapon of the mind and voice.
When I’m asked to do free work, many wonderful comebacks run through my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever said, “of course I’ll do this for free while you’re over at my house having sex with my sister.” I may have but my sister is a slut so it is a selling point. I may have said the following comebacks too but it’s hard to remember what is reality and what just formulates in my mind. I was born without an inner monologue, so thoughts tend to become spoken words.
- “If your landlord provides you with free rent and the phone company gives you free service, then I’m on board, too!” will bring a stare of disbelief.
- “I actually do all my work for free, so don’t be surprised at our next meeting when I show up naked because I can’t afford to buy clothes” is just going to excite most clients.
- “Actually, I’m worth 241 million dollars and do this for entertainment so I pay the clients. Would you accept fifty-thousand dollars?” may give the client a heart attack… when you turn down the job and tell him/her they blew the chance of a tax-free check.
- “Great! And I just got out of prison from what happened the last time someone asked me that” will bring screeching police sirens.
- “That’s what your wife asks me!” will end negotiations right there.
- “May I first use your pen to gouge my eye out to take my mind off the pain your request is causing me?” Chances are, you’ll be handed a pen.
- “Mr./Ms. (client’s name here), I’m actually an undercover investigator from the IRS and receiving free work is considered taxable compensation for this firm. We had reports of this occurring on several occasions and now see that it is true. We will be indicting you on tax evasion charges and will be subpoenaing all company financial records. Please inform your employees that they should go home until further notice and lock your doors.” It helps if you have a fake IRS card tucked away in your wallet for just such an occasion. By the way… this usually causes the client to commit suicide. HA-ha!
Comebacks That Clients Will Understand
“Are you insane?” is not a comeback clients will understand. “I can’t afford to work for free” is another reply they just can’t fathom. Let’s look back at the original opening lines in this article and really sarcastic remarks to blow clients away.
- When they say: “I don’t have any money now but we’ll all make money in the future!”
You reply: “I hope it’s by December 21st of this year because the world is going to end and money and websites won’t stop the searing pain of death we’ll all feel!”
- When they say: “If you do this for free now, I’ll consider you my in-house designer later!”
You reply: “But will you consider me something even more special?” (wink and blow a kiss).
- When they say: “I can get an art student to do this for free!”
You reply: “Well, if they were like me in art school, better catch them between tokes on the crack pipe!”
- When they say: “This will be a great opportunity for you to gain a terrific portfolio piece!”
You reply: “I was actually hoping for a great sexual opportunity!”
- When they say: “If my clients like your design, I’ll throw some money your way.”
You reply: “Great! I hope it’s enough to buy some of my anti-psychotic meds because I need them soon… REALLY soon!” (start to twitch).
- When they say: “I’ll pay you, depending on the quality of the finished project.”
You reply: “And if it’s bad quality, do I get a special naughty-boy/girl spanking?” (then breath heavily).
- When they say: “I have lots of rich friends and they’ll see your design and want you to work for them!”
You reply: As a sex slave, I hope!”
- When they say: “I’m your uncle’s friend. Don’t I get the family rate?”
You reply: As long as you’re not a registered sexual offender, too!”
A Real Solution For A Real World
Unfortunately, I once gave some advice in an article about what to do when a new client insists on free work and it was wrong. Very, very wrong! I suggested a way to settle on payment for meeting time fees by stealing from that client. I wrote that you should place your briefcase or computer case over something valuable on the client’s desk and “accidentally” pick it up with your belongings.
I also advised people to place their coats over the client’s coat on the coat rack when first entering their office so you can remove both yours and theirs as you leave. You can then place the coat on the exit gate of the company parking lot, just throw it down on the road so the client will see it after it’s been run over a few hundred times or donate it to a clothing for the poor organization and have the receipt sent to the client.
None of these ideas are acceptable behavior. They are illegal and degrade you as a professional and a person. It is acceptable, however, to steal all the toilet paper in the company bathroom.
It is better to explain that you cannot do work for free due to the fact that you have hard costs that need to be covered, such as electricity for your computer, printer inks, gas for meetings, internet costs for emailing progress reports, rent for an office and other costs that need to be covered by each project. If the client still insists on a freebie, go back to the toilet paper stealing idea and satisfy yourself with the messy chaos that will ensue.
If you can convince the client that money is a needed commodity in any business transaction, you may be able to negotiate small payments over a period of time, with the copyright remaining in your name until all payments are received.
I’ve heard of at least two designers who worked out a plan where they held onto the copyright for company branding, etc. and, in return, received a small percentage of the company’s net profit. It never worked out for them as the companies went straight into bankruptcy within their first year but imagine having a small part of Apple or IBM. The amount of money you would have to sue them for after a few years would be a small fortune!
All the arguing and rational reasoning in the world won’t convince someone who wants free work to pay you. When faced with these people, just smile, thank them for their interest and leave behind your business card. It’s very true that you get what you pay for and chances are you will hear from them again, offering to pay you to clean up the mess made by the designer who worked for free… or to ask if you’ve seen two-dozen missing rolls of toilet paper.