Archive for July, 2013

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Of Friends and Benefits

July 4, 2013

This is going to be a ranty post so apologies in advance for that.

Actually, no. Fuck it. I’m not going to apologise for the rantiness of the diatribe here, partly because I think a lot of this blog’s readership come here for rants and also because under the vitriol there is an important point for freelancers to take on board:

Don’t do work for friends.

Actually, let me qualify that. Don’t do work for friends for cheap.

Actually, no, that’s still not right. Don’t do work for friends for cheap when they don’t respect what you do.

Now you may think why wouldn’t they respect what you do? They know you’re a filmmaker or a videographer or some other creative sort who does this for their career and earn a living from it- why wouldn’t they respect it? Because they don’t really understand that it’s your job. You can see it when they introduce you to their friends. There’s that almost patronising tone to things, where they say “Dan’s a filmmaker” but it comes out on a subtextual level as “Dan wants to be a filmmaker when he grows up.” I’m 32 years old, motherfucker! I’ve been doing this shit in some form or another (granted with varying degrees of success) for eight years. That’s longer than you’ve been an accountant or a manager or an engineer for British Gas… yet somehow I’ve got the career that needs humouring. Like I’m a four year old with a foil-covered box on his head, claiming he’s an astronaut.

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So, why, might you ask, has all this bile come up?

Well, over the last few months I have had a few instances of friends asking for video work- sometimes it works out fine (like with a martial arts training video I’m doing and a music video I have in the pipeline) but a lot of the time it creates more problems than it’s worth (in my case, they seem to be wedding videos and no-budget business promos). An illustrator friend of mine has also had the same problems. You see, if a non-creative-industry friend wants you to do some work for them, there are usually two big reasons to avoid the whole shebang:

1) They have all the same quality, time and cost expectations and demands that any paying client has…

2) But they also think that because you’re friends, one of those in particular- cost- is magically reduced, while the others stay the same.

And therein lies the problem. They are just as demanding on your time, want just as many revisions and alterations, want a high quality product and don’t want to pay full whack for it. Just like most clients. The only difference is that they think that because you’ve been to school/parties/the pub together, that gives them carte blanche to take liberties.

Actually, you know what, that’s not right. That’s too harsh. Unless your friends are utter arseholes, they don’t actually think like that. Not really.

But they do have a difficulty understanding the nature of your job.

For most people, their job is a place they go to for 40 hours a week and do the same thing day after day in order to get a regular chunk of money at the end of the month. It’s a hard concept to grasp for them that, as a creative freelancer, your work life is nothing like theirs. They don’t naturally equate it with a money-earning job that puts food on the table and electricity in the Xbox. In fact, particularly if they’ve known you since before you started in this game, they probably see your career as a hobby you happen to be particularly good at. As such, they assume you’d jump at the chance to do their little project. From their point of view, they’re doing you a favour rather than the other way round.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it was a fellow creative looking for a favour. If you have tradeable skills (eg your friend is a graphic designer) then you can probably come to a mutually beneficial skill exchange. But if your friend is a postman what’s he got to offer in trade? That you get your post early and no-one steals your amazon packages?

So, what’s the solution? Avoid working for friends?

Well, that’s probably the safest option, to be honest, even if it isn’t the most practical. After all, work is work and friends and family are probably the first contacts to mine for gigs when you’re starting out. But once you’re semi-established, if you do decide to do favour-grade work, don’t devalue yourself by doing it for free or stupid cheap. After all, if you worked in PC World they wouldn’t expect you to give them a laptop for gratis would they?

Alfie Meme

So what do you charge?

As mentioned in a previous post, I suggest adopting a three-rate structure. You have your standard rate- what you charge most clients (in my case £35 p/h). You can apply special rates or bulk pricing to this to give clients a sweeter deal and for most instances, this is the only rate you’ll ever need to quote. Then you have your budget or “friend” rate which might be 20% off the standard rate. Whatever you do, try to avoid dropping below this because it’ll only hurt your worth and damage your friendship if you’re not careful. The third rate is the premium rate- maybe 20% up from the standard- and this would be used to pitch for a higher grade of work or if you know the client is going to haggle you down. Start high so you’ve got somewhere to go…

The other way is to figure out what your friend wants to pay and divide it by your hourly rate so you know how long you’re going to take on it! So if your hourly rate is £25 and they only want to pay £100 for your services, that’s four hours you’re going to spend on it. The downside to doing it this way is that the quality of your work is likely to suffer because you’re rushing or only getting so far with it and not polishing to your usual standard. Most creatives hate this because they’re perfectionists at heart, but honestly, it’s something you really have to learn how to do- push aside your perfectionism and learn to live with a just-good-enough approach to some things. Remember, true perfectionists rarely get paid. Just make sure the client or your friend knows what their price choice means and what they’re missing out on by scrimping. Point them at the quality-speed-cost triangle if need be!

cost speed quality venn diagram 2

For those of you who haven’t seen this before, it basically boils down to “you can only have two.” If you want it done quickly and cost very little, then quality has to be sacrificed. If you want it good but cheap, then it’ll take ages. If you want it high quality and fast, then be prepared to pay handsomely for it, arsehat!

It’s tough as a newbie freelancer though if you do tailor your work to their budget, because you have to let the project go at a lower quality than you’d ideally like. It bites, but you have to either be willing to do sub-par work for the low fees or you have to turn down those jobs to keep your standards up. Trying to give a job your usual attention to detail and hard graft when they’re not paying for it is devaluing you- and in this case it would be you doing it to yourself. The client would not be at fault.

So, my advice? Only take friends’ jobs if you’re starting out and need the experience or the credit. Otherwise, by all means give them a discount, but make it clear to them that they are a client in every other way- no liberties, no demands, and a decent wage for you. If they don’t go for it, don’t push it or hold it against them. It isn’t worth losing your friendship over.

And in case any non-creatives are reading this and are still confused as to what the problem is, have a look at this:

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Make sense now?