Friday, December 14, 2012

The Sticky Affair of Startups

It's a common occurrence for me to be contacted by an individual, group, or company who is seeking an artist to help develop aspects of their project, design promotional work, or create 2D assets for their in-game environments. At the end of the year just a small percentage end up working with me, and the others, for various reasons, get the boot. But most often, it's because they expect me to do the work pro bono.

I try my very hardest to be respectful, by requesting that they contact me later when they get a budget set up. But often this is offensive to folks who "Don't have the money" and ultimately see me as some greedy Design Tycoon who just screwed his last costumer to acquire the final gold bar needed to melt down into his golden art throne.

The world can't shake the feeling that because artists love what they do, why not do it for free... for me? It's amazing to me when I hear the arguments people use to convince complete strangers to take a risk on their start-up. It's almost like they all attend the same workshop or something. Here are a list of the common things I hear from start-up companies who want to negotiate a very low rate (including no rate... as in free): 

1. We'll give you a share of the profits: This is a very nice offer, if you where Tor, Blizzard, Wizards, or anyone with a track record I would seriously consider the offer. However, I don't know you. It's hard to convince close friends to help start your business, so why are you trying to convince a complete stranger?

2. We'll give you cash when we get it : I'm not saying I don't trust you or anything, but the truth is, I don't trust you. You seem nice, but that's easy to fake via email. The contract looks well written, it's just missing the penalties you would get if you didn't pay up. And even if it did, I'm not a litigious man, so I think I'll pass.

3. We'll give you credit (on the cover, on the website, in the credits): Ah yes, the coveted credit. Awarded to only the select few who have ever worked on a creative project... ever (there may be a few exceptions).  It always surprises me when people say this like it's a bargaining chip or something even worth mentioning. Yes, you will give me credit, you were thinking that you might not?

4. This will help you develop your portfolio: I have a portfolio... I thought that's why you contacted me. Hey, what are you trying to say?

5. This project is the next big thing! Don't you want to get in on the ground floor? Yes, I sure would. The catch is, I've had this same thing said by way too many people to take it seriously. I admire that you have a lot of faith in your project, but with faith comes risk. It would be foolish for anyone to sit on a sure thing without taking out a business loan or finding an investor to help make it happen. Go do that, and come back to me. That way you don't have to worry about me sharing your profits.

Now, I'm not saying that startups are a bad thing. In fact, I'm involved in one right now (they checked out). All companies need to start somewhere. But there is a clear difference between the ones who are trying to make it happen in a professional way by getting funding set up, finding investors, taking out and pooling loans among the founders, or even the folks who are siphoning money from their other jobs just to get things rolling (you guys are my heroes) as opposed to the ones who think they can mitigated their risk and minimize debt by convicting people to contribute to their project for free. All I can think is how easy it would be for you to walk away if things got tough. Leaving all the people you promised money to count all the wasted hours. Not cool.

The only thing I can do as a freelancer is to protect myself by not signing up for these things. I'm a freelancer, not a venture capitalist.  If you want my design services, I can help you, here are my rates. Yes? No? Schedule? Dropbox? Contract? Great, let's get started. Otherwise how can I maintain my throne of gold.

-Garret AJ

P.s. Here are some helpful links about prices contract and guides on hiring/getting hired:

- Learning how to Commission Illustrations
- Pricing Guide
- Vin Diagram of art