This post is more of an emotional response to flakey clients and things to think about in the future, but for more in depth information on what exactly to do (contracts, payment due dates, fees, etc) there's some good articles here and here.
How do we as artists deal with flakey clients? This is something I've been thinking about lately as I received an email this morning from a client who no longer wanted the custom listing they requested in my shop. Even though this was a relatively small case that did not inflict too much energy on my part, it still hurts to have to deal with clients that say one thing and do something completely different.
Another case was a client who wanted a complete redesign of one of my paintings to be used as a logo. What they were requesting took hours of work, and through our communication I felt things were going fine. Upon completion and an agreed upon price, the client sort of backed out with which logo they wanted out of the multiple designs I made for them. I ended up with an email saying they would think about it, and never heard from them again.
Why is this so common in the art world? I completely understand having a vision and wanting the artist to create exactly that, but designing custom pieces takes time. Now, I've had far more wonderful clients than flakey, but the negativity and energy wasted with a project that doesn't work out is this: energy, time, and often money wasted. Artists already have to work overtime to make a decent wage and when you add wasted time and energy spent on a client who has no intentions of paying...that makes you feel defeated and have to work twice as hard to play catch-up.
Things I've learned. I've been far too trusting in the past, and part of that is that it's still hard for me to look at art from the business side. I often treat clients like they are my friends, and while there's nothing wrong with that necessarily, I was letting it blind me to the potential of this person not following through with their word. I can't make a living off other people's words so in the future I know now to ask for a portion upfront (I should of been doing this anyway). Often these are small projects and I guess I felt if I could get it done in a day and have their listing ready that the 50% upfront cost wasn't necessary, but the truth is a day wasted on a design I can't use for my own use is a day I could've spent painting something for an upcoming show, packing prints, working with another client, designing new works, etc.
I guess I'm left with this, how do we even handle clients like this? Do we just ignore them and move on or do we say something? When I realize a project isn't going to work out I typically don't get angry, but rather feel sad as if it's my fault, and maybe sometimes it is my fault...I try to be as upfront as possible to clients on what I can do with their vision and how much that will cost, but sometimes I wonder if there's something more I could've done or if this is common for them. I wonder though if it is common for them, do they not realize their actions? Do they message 10 artists and have them all working on the same project and only pay the one they like the most or the one that's the cheapest? This is all so foreign to me that I don't know what to think because my inclination has always been to trust people when they reach out for a project.
I think for future clients my intentions will remain the same to treat each project with the time and energy it needs, but set up a system that protects myself incase things don't work out. It's completely fair to ask a client to pay 50% upfront and explain to them that this is for the time it will take to make their vision come to life. Price things accordingly, and add different pricing structures if they choose to change the design along the way. If things don't work out, you at least get paid for your work. That's how it should be right?! It's crazy to think otherwise.