Knowing when to walk away - Part One

You've been selected as designer for the perfect job, but now it's time to negotiate the contract ...

What do you do as a creative professional when the job that you have worked hard to land starts to slip from your grasp? You've done your research, you have the experience, you know what it takes to get the job done, and you know your rights and what standard industry practice is for this type of work. You know you are the best man (or company) for this particular design job.

You were patient, managed to get invited back for three interviews with various team members and upper echelon executives. You did your research and spent dozens of hours studying project schematics in order to put together an airtight proposal. Your estimate of hours is realistic based on your past experience, and your pricing is far below what even a mid-size agency would charge. You have done the best job you can to prepare and are confident that your proposal will be accepted.

You get the call. They want to work with you, and now it's time to begin the contract negotiations. Then your original contact passes the approval process on to the one man who rubbed you the wrong way in one of the interviews, and you get a feeling that all the work you did to get to this point was only a pre-approval. It no longer matters that you have experience that directly parallels this particular job. It only matters where the decimal point lands and how much you are willing to give them. You send your proposal to your new contact. A couple days pass, and you receive an email with a laundry list of "issues" your potential client has concerning your proposal. Upon first read, you don't notice anything out of the ordinary but put it aside to clear your head and think about potential solutions.

You consider your options and draft a generous solution that is more than fair to your potential client but still protects your interests as a professional creative vendor. You submit your first attempt to bridge the gap and wait. A day passes and another response is returned with more issues.  The cycle gets repeated a few times, and you begin to realize that your contact is intentionally rewriting your solutions and ignoring your own concerns in a deliberate effort to strip every protection you have as a creative vendor.

The project scope gets slashed. They no longer see the value in retaining you for the length of time they originally specified and demand that you accept an hourly rate over a project fee. They don't understand why they should have to pay an additional fee for your "original" source files and materials. They ask you to remove specific clauses designed to protect you if they decide to kill the project (or your involvement in the project) mid-stream. They make demand after demand but never acquiesce to even one of your demands or concerns.

Sooner or later, the reality hits: This client is giving you the run-a-round in an attempt to break you down.

This client, that looked so promising, isn't interested in working with you. They are looking for a designer they can manipulate (because we are all starving, right?) This client is only interested in getting the design they want, cheaply, and with no restrictions of any kind.  Truth is, employers will always try to own everything. You have to be able to recognize when their demands start to infringe on your rights and on your business. Even in contracted jobs, you need to be able to negotiate terms that provide you with enough security to hold the company accountable for their portion of the agreement.

As an independent creative or small business owner, it is critical to know when a job is no longer worth your time and effort. Do the math. Know what is and is not standard industry practice. A company that refuses to acknowledge your concerns is not a company you need to risk working with.

Know when to walk away.