The Art of Denying: Why being able to say 'No' is important as an artist. / by Kasandra Murray

I am so tired of people asking for free work!
— Every artist trying to make a living

Many artists seem to run into this issue of friends, family, or sometimes even clients asking for free work. If it hasn't happened to you yet, all I have to say is brace yourself.

 

Being able to say no helps prevent your business from failing and helps maintain a healthy economy for the creative world. 

Now I know what you are saying, "What a negative article! I was taught being a yes man/woman is the best way to progress in life!"

I would like to take a moment to disagree with you. I have been designing for a few years now and being only agreeable with every client or person you work with can be toxic. Many people won't take advantage of you and will work with you and whatever terms you set, but in some cases, people will try to squeeze anything and everything they can from you. As an artist or designer you need to be able to identify these people before it is too late.

Here are a couple of warning signs to look out for:

The client always changes their mind.

How to deny: Put together a contract and keep well-written records of every change your client requested. The contract is to ensure both parties agree on the allotted time needed to produce the work. With the contract, you can periodically update your client on how much time they have utilized of yours and how much they have left. Contracts are a way to help your client think more critically of what changes they want to make. I also encourage you to write an email after every phone conversation recapping what you and your client spoke of and give them an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings. When the time comes that the client begins to blame you for their inability to make up their mind (trust me that time will come) you can easily refer back to your contract and previous emails to ensure you are not the problem.

At this point, your client will have two choices: To recognize they are probably being difficult, or disagree and continue the argument that you are the issue. If the latter is their preferred choice you can kindly explain how you may not be the best fit to produce their job and end the relationship there.

Why you should deny this client: If you continue to work with a picky or indecisive client under no contract you are likely to do hours of work for free.

The client, family, or friend says, "It is only a quick little project! I am sure you can do it for $X.XX (or free)!"

How to deny: Have a base price that is standard for the market and your skill set. 

I want to dive a little deeper and talk about predatory pricing. Normally this is described as an intentional and shady business practice but I tend to believe that in the artist community it is caused by lack of confidence. Predatory pricing is the practice of pricing your goods so low that it undercuts profits of competitors (and yourself). Additional effects of predatory pricing include price wars which normally pushes people out of the market and a disconnection between consumers' idea of what price points should be versus what they actually are.

Currently, this is what I believe to be the most harmful business practice among the artist community. When someone asks you to do work for less than you normally charge or for free the best way to respond is letting them know your standard rate. If they feel that is too expensive for the project they want to produce you can easily recommend them to an artist with fewer skills or who may be in need for more work and is temporarily offering their skills for less. 

The client, family, or friend says, "You should totally draw X it would be so cool and you would make so much money off of this."

How to deny: Tell them you would draw X for $XX.XX

I tend to get this request often. Normally it is a well-intentioned suggestion, but I always like to clarify that what I do is not free and if there is something someone really wants they will likely pay for it. When you draw a clear line that you are running a business people will respond with either, "Well that's ok, I just thought it was a good idea!" or "Oh! I am willing to pay that if you produce it!"

Don't be afraid that a bridge will be burned because you are asking to be paid for work. If someone does decide to burn a bridge over the standard concept of exchanging money for a product they are probably not someone you want to have a relationship with anyway.

There are many other situations where you may need to deny someone for the sake of your own well being that I most likely didn't cover but these are the few examples I have run into during my professional career. Remember when you have made the decision to say no to someone to always remain professional. 

Continue to work hard and get paid for that work, because that is what I want for all my fellow artist.

Your biggest fan,
-Kasandra