I’ve held back posting this story in the dim hope that the matter would be resolved. I’m one of those bouncy eternal-optimist types who believes that every story has a happy ending, etc etc. But it looks like I’m never going to get paid for this job, and as the client is apparently broke, I don’t have the heart to go down the legal route. And I’m so proud of this logo I can’t just leave it on the shelf, gathering dust. I want you to see it!
A woman called me up and asked me to meet her to discuss a possible branding job for a little coffee van she’d bought at great expense. Twas a cute little thing which she could drive around to festivals and markets and what-not, and instead of an urn and a large bucket of Nescafé, within the van was housed a proper Italian coffee maker. She was a dramatic type of person and loved burlesque and the circus, and wanted a fun, family-friendly logo that reflected all this. She’d asked a few designers and agencies to come up with ideas before choosing who to go with, as she didn’t want to get messed around (oh, the irony, huh?
I was confident I could give her a good idea, but didn’t want to waste too much time on something that I wasn’t going to get paid for (ha ha) so I sketched her the rough below and sent her a description of how the final would look in my head.
She loved it, it was exactly what she wanted, and so she commissioned me to go ahead with my idea. She had a lot of fantastic ideas about what she’d also want from me – business cards that would look like a Tarot card, a whole Moulin Rouge-themed coffee shop branding, a chain of coffee shops – and, if I’m honest, alarm bells started to go off. The people who get too far ahead of themselves and are not focused on the very next step they need to take are often the dreamers. It’s one thing to think about the big picture and have an aim, but you can often tell by the way someone talks how grounded their dreams are in reality.
Anyway, I re-drew and firmed up the pencil sketch to her requirements and started to create the illustrator document you see at the top of this blog which would form the outlines of the logo. About the time this stage was coming to completion (the lettering still needs a touch of work), I started to get signs from her that all was not going well financially. I’d invoiced her 50% of the total when the pencil sketch was approved and this was becoming late, despite her repeated assurances that she would pay me “tomorrow”. I felt sorry for her as she was obviously going through a rough time emotionally, but said to her I was concerned I wasn’t going to get paid at all, so invoiced the full amount, which she said she was fine with. I said I would complete the logo as soon as I’d been paid. That was in November 2009. In March 2010, with end of tax year in mind, I emailed her and said if she didn’t pay me by the end of the month I would write off the invoice as a bad debt. She begged for an extension and promised to pay me in July, the time of many outdoor festivals where her van could potentially earn her money. Suffice it to say I never heard from her again.
So here is the logo as imagine it would have looked. The van was painted crimson red, and we planned to have the hand-drawn lettering in gold. It’s a sad story as it’s probably my favourite of all the logos I’ve done, and I was looking forward to seeing it on the side of her little van. Such is life.
- – I now ask for 30-50% up front from all new clients, depending on the size of the job. All of my regular clients get the usual 30 days’ credit. If someone is serious about me pouring my heart and soul into something for them, they won’t resent this.
- – Proceed with caution when dealing with dreamers. If their heads are in the clouds, check their feet are on the ground, too.
- – If clients start to dawdle and keep delaying the completion of the work, they may well be attempting to delay your invoice.
I’ve been too bloody nice about things in the past, and I suppose it’s a testament to luck that I’ve only been messed around two other times like this in the seven years I’ve been doing this. If I’d been a bit more business-like from the start at least I would have got paid for half of the job. It’s a difficult balance – you don’t want to be seen as too hard-nosed, but on the other hand clients have got to understand I’m not in this job for the benefit of my health, and that I expect them to take the effort I put into their work seriously.
I’d love to hear about how other designers have handled similar situations. Do you insist on money up front? Have you had lawyers draw up a contract for you, or have you had to use them to get money you’ve earned? Feedback welcome!