Getting paid for your work is a right. I don't think anyone actually believes otherwise, even the people who try to lure you in with promises of exposure and experience in lieu of money. But the quicker you learn to be up front about your financial needs, the more likely you'll be able to sustain art as your primary business for years and decades to come.Read More
Happy Friday friends! I wanted to drop in with a quick tip for enforcing your right to get paid. If you're a regular reader of this blog (thank you!), or you've attended one of my seminars (double thank you!), or you've hired me to represent you (hooray!), then you know my stance on getting paid for your work: It's a right. Not a privilege, not a luxury, a RIGHT. As crucial and necessary as breathable air and potable water.
The best way to enforce that right - the first line of defense, really - is to get the terms of any job you're hired for in writing. Every time. Without fail. In fact, I say this so much my wife cringes every time the phrase comes out of my mouth, but it's probably the most important thing you can do to protect yourself. But even when you get it in writing, that's not the end of the story; you can still get screwed out of your rightful payment. If you sign a contract that contains a satisfaction clause, you are basically telling the client that they can have your work for free. This is so common and so easy to overlook that I'm betting each of you reading this has signed at least one contract with this type of clause.
A satisfaction clause is a contract provision that allows the client to refuse payment if he or she is not subjectively satisfied with your work. In the law, we call this an "illusory promise" because the client actually has no legal burden to pay you. Now generally speaking, the courts don't like these types of clauses and permit them only in limited scenarios. In most cases, they'll try to ensure that the client acts in good faith and is genuinely unhappy with the work in order to enforce the validity of the satisfaction clause. But that's damn hard to do in reality because you're dealing with a subjective test of quality. After all, how can you really tell if the client dislikes your work or is just saying he does so doesn't have to pay you? See what I mean? That's why I hate these provisions with the fiery heat of 1000 suns.
If your contract contains a satisfaction clause, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES SIGN IT. Period.
There are many other strategies you can adopt to ensure that you get paid for your work. In that light, I wanted to share this article I found a few months ago on Fast Company. It lists ten tips on ensuring that you won't get stiffed by a client. I don't agree with all of these (specifically, number 6: avoid working for friends and family seems unreasonable if you have a generally good relationship with them), and some of these may not be applicable, but I think these are generally pretty sound strategies.
Good luck and have a happy weekend!
A coworker heard about my background in TV production and asked for my help in shooting a documentary about a social justice issue she was passionate about. Since we both work full-time, she wanted to film on nights and weekends. I declined politely, saying [truthfully] "I don't do that kind of work anymore." I'd long since sold off all my production equipment and I've turned down every producing job I've been offered since 2009. Undeterred, she continued to sell me on the project and when she was done, she said what they always say: "I can't afford to pay you, but you'll get lots of great experience." This was my response:
"I don't need experience. I need money."
I get asked to help out on video projects a lot... at least once a month and sometimes weekly. I say no to all of them. That's because most of the time, people don't realize what kind of time and effort these projects require, and therefore, what kind of commitment they're asking of me. The few who ARE aware will offer me "experience" in the hopes that it will be enough to sway me. It never is. I don't produce anymore, but if you're going to convince me to lend my considerable production expertise to your video project, I want - nay, DEMAND - to be paid for it. I'm not shy about it and I feel no shame or embarrassment by telling someone that without $$$ they'll have to look for someone more altruistic.
I've written about doing unpaid work in the past so I won't go into the pros and cons again here. Instead, I'm going to talk about the power of learning to say "No" to situations that don't propel your art and business forward. It's such an important thing for young artists to know, yet so hard to put into practice.
I don't turn down requests to work on unpaid video projects out of greed or selfishness. I do it because I learned from personal experience that it did actual harm to my business. When I was first breaking into the entertainment industry I took tons of unpaid work because I was too afraid to turn down any job, regardless of compensation, for fear of doing irreparable harm to my reputation. "Don't hire Greg. He's not a team player... he [gasp] wants to be paid." At one point, I had three simultaneous unpaid internships, and various unpaid production assistant gigs. I had more jobs than I knew what to do with, but my parents had to pay my rent because my income was $0. I wasn't in control of my sh*t.
In hindsight, I realize that I took all that unpaid work because I didn't understand the value I brought to the job. I didn't believe that I could say "No" and get away with it. One day, I made a conscious decision to take control. I would refuse all unpaid job offers and only accept paying gigs. That was a good decision - a difficult decision because it resulted in a nine month work drought, but I'm glad I made it. Eventually, the paying work came and it paid a living wage.
I understand how tough it can be to turn down a seemingly perfectly good job, especially for young up and coming artrepreneurs. Figuring out what situations are good for your business or bad for your business is a calculus that's different for everyone. And it can only be done through personal research and soul-searching. It took me years to discover that working for free was harming my business instead of helping. So instead of just yelling at you to say "No" to bad situations, I'll give you two real life examples (three if you count mine above) that will hopefully inspire you to be vigilant about what kinds of work situations are right for you.
- An illustrator friend of mine was recently working for a client. The client became difficult to work with and made numerous demanding requests. My friend decided to inform the client that she would no longer be able to work under these conditions. She further told the client that if they no longer appreciated her work, they were perfectly in their rights to find another illustrator. After several conversations, the client decided to discontinue the relationship. When I asked my friend if she was angry, she said, "No. That relationship wasn't working for me and it wasn't working for them. Neither of us were happy. I had to walk away."
- A painter friend of mine was selling his paintings. All the paintings were at a fixed price and he refused to negotiate over them. When I asked him why he didn't negotiate, he said, "I don't like negotiating so there's no point wasting my time doing it. The paintings cost what they're worth."
Both of these people are professional artists who make a living by making art. They each figured out what situations worked for them and what didn't. They each learned how to say "No." And once they learned to say "No," they didn't run from it or act embarrassed by it. They embraced it. And once you learn how to make that choice, your business will be able to take off.