Whose at fault when a customer doesn’t pay?

I got to watch this play out from a distance recently with a personal friend of mine. The first week of June, she asked a friend of hers she’s in a club with to design a logo for her small plant etsy store.

This artist spends a lot of time making sure everyone knows she is a “professional artist”, so it would not be unreasonable for my friend or any customer to assume the artist knows what she is doing and how this process should go.

My friend asks what her rates are and she tells her “retail” is $45/hour and that she will give her a discount. Later on, in texts, she tells her she doesn’t do “retail” rates on logos and that was a special deal just for her. Wait? Back up…

Now let me be clear here…I do NOT think artists should have to feel obligated to offer a discount for friends/family/acquaintances. Not at all. This is your job, you deserve to be paid for it. What I do expect is a clear-cut price before you put ink to paper…or digital pen to your Wacom tablet.

I don’t even like the idea of giving discounts to friends (unless you’re giving the work as a gift because you just wanted to), because it leads to poor work and often times the end of friendships.

Fine, the discount was offered, and an hourly rate was stated…a “retail hourly rate” (the heck does that even mean?!). The actual discount that would be given was not stated. Do you notice what’s missing?


Let’s back up a bit

Lesson #1 You have to understand that everyone loves the idea of supporting artists but the average customer has NO idea how much time is going to go into our work. They have NO idea how much we spend on our equipment/programs/etc. They. Just. Don’t. Know. It is YOUR job to know these things. This is YOUR profession. If you’re too uncomfortable to give a clear price, don’t take commissions. Better yet, if you have your prices on your website, this takes any awkwardness you might feel out of the equation! And if you feel inclined to give a discount it’s super easy at that point to say “I will give you a friend discount of 20% off that!

So my friend who doesn’t know otherwise is thinking YAY! A discount from $45 won’t be too much, what I want is simple, it shouldn’t take more than an hour, two tops, I can scrape up the money for this, and I’m supporting an artist instead of jumping on fivr (which would have likely given a better logo but we will get to that)! I am telling you, the average person has NO idea how much this stuff should cost. It’s not their fault. It’s YOUR job as the artist to be extremely clear, even if it feels uncomfortable at the time, it’s going to feel worse later.

Ok, moving forward. A month and a half and several check in’s later, the logo is only partially started. This person knows my friend is on a deadline. This is a common issue when people do discount work for friends or family. They don’t take the work as seriously as the customer expects.

Lesson #2. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. It doesn’t matter if you’re giving a discount or if this is a full-paying customer. If you’re not going to put in 100%, don’t agree to the job. This is setting you up for a really awkward family fight or the end of a friendship. If you can’t treat this person as you would ANY customer. Don’t take the job. Say you’re booked. The end. This is why I stopped taking commissions. I couldn’t keep up my standard for customer service when it came to the time issues anymore. Youtube and patreon lessons take too much time to do both.

So weeks go by, the artist sends a half-assed REALLY bad logo design. With CLIP ART. Oh, you heard that right! Now I don’t know if this “graphic designer” of 18 years is just a total hack and uses clip art for logos regularly, or if this was her half-assing a discounted friend job. Either way, it was unacceptable. You don’t use clipart on LOGOS. That should be TOTALLY UNIQUE. My friend asks for a few lines to be changed. More weeks go by.

Why would that take so long? I’m gunna guess it’s because she was putting paying customers first (assuming her full time job isn’t really something else as it should be given the work done). This is why I don’t like the idea of discount art.

It’s now in the last part of July.

The work is finally done. Late. She emails everything to my friend. Nothing has been paid for at this point. No deposit, nothing was asked for. AFTER she sends the crappy work (luckily my friend didn’t realize how bad it was), she sends her the bill. Honestly, the total was a good price for a logo. A bit overpriced for THIS logo, but fine, whatever.

So what’s the problem? My friend had NO idea it would be this much. The artist charged her for 5 hours of work, one of those hours was for EMAILING HER THE FILES! What? Are you verizon with your fees for random crap no one understands? She was now in a panic of “how do I come up with this money”. She should have NEVER had to feel that way. There is NO reason when it comes to custom art or logos that there should be any surprises.

Wait, back up. What should have happened? It’s not the artist’s fault the customer can’t afford it!

No. But here is where things went wrong. This is Lesson #3 Back on the first contact, an actual estimate should have been given. This is what should have happened: Oh, great, I will happily make your logo. It will be 5-6 hours of work at $45/hour. Once I show you the design, I will include two changes for free, additional changes will be $50/hour. I will need a 50% deposit to start. The final payment will be due when it’s complete in 4 weeks (or whatever time frame).

What actually happened was

“sure, I will do the job, here’s a random number that means nothing because I’m not giving you any sort of reference on what the final number will be…or a time frame. And I’m going to make you feel guilty when I spring this on you!”.

I read the texts back and forth, I am not going to post those, but the artist was an embarrassment to all of us. She was NOT a professional. It’s always frustrating to see this. I’ve seen SO many artists post online and on forums complaining like they’re the victim when more often than not they could have avoided the problem in the first place.

When my friend was shocked by her price, she then lectured my friend on how she shouldn’t have to justify her prices and that it wasn’t fair. Agreed. You shouldn’t. You should be upfront about them BEFORE YOU START THE WORK! This WASNT FAIR TO THE CUSTOMER! WHY would you spend the time on the work if you weren’t sure the total price was something she would agree to?!

My friend now felt horribly guilty asking if she could wait till she was paid to pay her, or if she took payments. No customer should have to feel that way. The fun of having her first logo created was crushed. She will lever look at that design with pride. We’re not talking about someone who didn’t want to pay. We’re talking about an artist who wasn’t clear about her prices in the first place.

Ok, so let’s summarize what SHOULD happen when someone asks you to create art for them.

1) Give the potential client your price list. If you charge by the hour, make sure they know how many hours it will take you AND when to expect the final product.

2) TAKE A DANG DEPOSIT! This will weed out the very common case of someone who wants a painting done but has no real intention of paying for it. That happens far too often, but a deposit will normally put a stop to that. That deposit will be non-refundable. If they back out, it covers part of your time and your supplies. YOU DON’T GIVE THEM THE PAINTING OR LOGO UNTIL THE FULL PRICE IS PAID.

It doesn’t matter if this is a friend. You are supposed to be a professional. If they won’t pay a deposit, they probably weren’t going to pay the rest either.

What about the customer who makes a million changes, wasting time?!

I’m glad you bring that up! They do! This is why, whether a custom painting, logo, website…ANYTHING. You have a set number of changes included in your fee. Two changes included, additional changes are $50/hour (or whatever your fee is). This will help avoid too many changes (some customers will make endless changes if you don’t set a limit) and keep the price clear.

If your fees are too high for their budget, the person knows that BEFORE YOU WASTE YOUR TIME! Your work doesn’t need to be a fit for every budget. Don’t feel guilty about what you charge. Feel guilty if you do the work without a SET price the customer has signed off on.

Don’t expect your customers to know your job. That’s YOUR job. If you want customers to stop buying clip art (which she could have done for $5 given that’s most of what this hack did anyway), and actually pay artists for their work…make the experience for the customer fun and pleasant. Surprizes on price are the opposite of that. You may think “well the customer should have asked these questions”. The problem with that is most customers won’t know to ask. So just step up and do all the parts of your job.