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How to be a successful client

Simply put, a successful client is someone who receives their completed project on time, within budget, to their specifications. You might be surprised at how often this does NOT happen…but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are several ways you can avoid being an unhappy client.

1. Know where to ask.

Some people never get as far as the client stage because they have no idea where to find an artist. Fortunately with the internet, these days there are a lot of ways you can find your artist. Here are a few:

  • Use your own network. Ask friends and family (on Facebook, in person, etc) if they know an artist.
  • Local art galleries have a huge network of artists at their disposal.
  • Local framing shops and art supply stores also often have relationships with artists.
  • Tattoo parlors often employ talented artists.
  • deviantART, Behance, Society6 and Redbubble are all places with a huge variety of artists. Most of them have their contact information displayed so you can easily hire them.
  • You can also advertise for an artist. Communities like deviantArt’s Commission-an-Artist have a place set up advertise your project and find available artists. Craigslist.org and conceptart.org are other good places to advertise for an artist.

2. Get a contract!

Some people are concerned that a contract is only there to protect the “other guy.” I’ve had two clients who know better. In the first client’s words, “It took a lot for me to try hiring an artist again. The last time I did, I paid the artist but they never delivered the art and now I can’t find them.” And another client had this to say when I took on a rush job for them: “We’re so glad to turn this over to you, the last artist flaked out and left us in a bind. We’re out of time!”

Why did these nice folks have such awful experiences? There wasn’t a contract. A contract protects your project by clearly stating a timeline for its completion, and conditions under which the project will be considered “done.” This is your protection as a client that you will get your art delivered, on time. A contract should also define the artist as an Independent Contractor. This protects you because the artist is not considered to be an employee of your company, and thus any inappropriate conduct of theirs does not come back on you.

3. Compensate the artist.

Again, many people assume this is only to the artist’s benefit. Nothing could be further than the truth. Allow me to share more horror stories from people I’ve spoken to: “I’m still waiting on some commissions after two or three years but I don’t trouble the artists because I respect their talent!” and “I’ve been looking for years but I just can’t find anyone to get in on this project with me. I’m starting to worry it will never happen.”

These are two more nice folks. And they’re having so much trouble because they didn’t offer compensation (payment) for their projects. In the first case, the young lady who is waiting years on her commissions is doing so because the artist has no real reason to complete them. There’s no incentive. In the second case, the young man who wrote a great story has no one to illustrate it because he is offering no payment to undertake a huge comic book project. Again, there is no incentive for the artist.

No matter how much you resonate with an artist, there is little chance that they are automatically going to care about your baby as much as you do. There are only two ways to get the artist to care about your project SO MUCH that they will sacrifice their own sleep, family time, cooking, showers, and tools and materials to work for you. You must either make it worth their while with fair compensation (be it money or goods and services), or you must be their close friend and have them so in love with your project that the two of you have become equal partners in a business venture.

The catch is, the second scenario of an artist working shoulder-to-shoulder with you purely for love of the project is only likely to happen if you were such a great client in the past that they came to love and trust you as a genuine friend. And that means you fairly compensated them for their work in the past.

4. Don’t have a million frivolous revisions.

This will negatively impact the time and costs associated with your project. Freelance artists are generally very careful to build revisions into the contract, and set aside guidelines for how long you may take to tell them about the revisions. Within the guidelines, timely revisions are a fantastic way for artist and client to craft the perfect project together. This has in fact been my experience with my clients, even those with a lot of revisions…since those revisions improved the project! But throw in tons of revisions that weren’t in the original scope of your project, or fail to alert the artist about revisions in a timely manner, and you’ll end up paying more for all the extra work and possibly having your project behind schedule.

5. Be available for communication.

You don’t have to be glued to your phone, but if you want to get what you want on time you definitely need to make a reasonable effort to check your email/texts/etc so you can respond to the artist’s questions and suggestions in a timely manner. Again, if you have revisions you MUST tell the artist in a timely manner and then be available to discuss the changes until you’re both on the same page. If not, you risk a late project.

6. Let the artist promote your business.

Your artist will probably want to display the work they did for you on their website or in their portfolio. Unless there’s a business reason not to do this, LET THEM! Get their agreement that they’ll display your link or logo appropriately along with the piece and sit back as you get more backlinks and exposure for your endeavor. If they ask you to do a testimonial, there’s another good chance for a link back to your business, as well as making you look like a swell guy. Artists are perfectly happy to sing your praises and pepper their site with your links if you’ll simply let them display the awesome work they did for you.

To Summarize: Follow the Golden Rule.

In a nutshell, trustworthy and reputable clients are attractive to trustworthy and reputable artists. This is exceedingly important because you want an artist who made sure to obtain font and photo licenses, use legal tools and resources to complete your project, and credit the proper people. If not, you run the risk of your company or project getting slammed with legal fines, or being associated in people’s minds with shady business practices. You do not want this.

Fortunately, if you make sure to get a contract and fairly compensate your artist, you should have this nailed. In the first place, by playing fair you will have attracted better artists. In the second place, that precious contract will protect you. Keeping the communication lines open will also help you notice if anything untoward is going on.

Lastly, if you get a reputation of being a fair client to work with, that good reputation is going to be spread to your artist’s network. This expands your reach to more reputable, professional artists, the kind of people you want to work with. This is infinitely more reliable (and ultimately, time-saving and cost-effective) then plumbing the depths of the internet for cheap artists who are scared of contracts and who may evaporate before a project is completed. “You get what you pay for” is all too true.

Have you had any nightmarish experiences as a client or artist that I haven’t touched on here? Feel free to deluge me with them in the Comments section.

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3 thoughts on “How to be a successful client

  1. This is a fantastic post Heather. You have touched on everything that is so important for both artist and client. This should be on every artist’s website! Very well said.

    1. Thank you so much, Jaime!! It just kind of occurred to me recently that I’d seen lots of advice for artists on how to handle issues with clients, but no advice for clients on how to properly approach an art project and avoid problems. That seemed one-sided to me, so…the rest is history.

  2. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Hiring an artist doesn’t need to be a scary or difficult endeavor. Read this article, by fellow artist Heather Landry of Sandpaperdaisy Art, that explains how to have a successful relationship with artists and a productive project whether it’s freelance design work for your business or a painting commission.

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