So often freelancers worry about trying to get clients. Trying to impress them with demo reels, quick responses, shiny websites and their overall professional approach. There’s nothing wrong with that but many forget that clients also need to impress their freelancers. Or they risk losing them. This blog is both a reminder to freelancers as well as a helpful note to clients. Much of the attention seems focused on the relationship from freelancer TO the client but, aside from a few humourous websites, little attention is given to how clients should be treating their freelancers. Here’s a quick-n-dirty list of some of the biggest offenses I’ve either heard about or experienced directly when dealing with these kinds of clients:
1) Little to no information
Most freelancers work remotely so face-to-face interaction is very limited, if not completely absent. This makes having precise and up-to-date info that much more important. Vital even. Most of my clients have been amazing at providing clear and consistent communication which really helps me do my job well. I’ve had a few, however, that go dark for weeks (if not months) at a time. Radio silence, when a freelancer is already remote, is a very scary thing! Suddenly doubts begin to arise: “Did they replace me with someone else?” “Did they lose funding?” “Is this project even on still?” Part of a client’s job is to keep everyone on the crew, including freelancers, in the loop. In the know. Not doing so is, to put it bluntly, sloppy and ineffective leadership.
2) Not keeping promises
A not-so-secret-dirty-secret about production is that it almost never goes according to plan or schedule. Even the best teams experience a tiny bit of variance from plan to reality during production. Most freelancers are aware of this and completely understanding. But when things start to get too far off the plan, red flags begin to be raised. I once had a project where the client originally wanted all of the music and sound done within one week. I calmly talked him off the ledge and we set up a more realistic and reasonable work schedule. He expected that game to be done within a month’s time or so. Six months later, the game is still not done. So clients, please do your best to make realistic and reasonable production schedules then keep everyone updated on any changes. Most of the time, we’ll completely understand! And if you’re not sure how long something would take, ask an expert on the team! For example, I also offer pre-production services where I can help plan out an appropriate schedule that gives plenty of buffer for changes as well as enough time for review and revisions. But once a certain amount of promises are seen as unkept (i.e. “We’ll have a new build by next week!” “The game will launch on X date!” and so on), faith in that team’s leadership and ability to perform takes a big hit.
3) Promising future work to make up for poor performances today
I’ll gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today. This one doesn’t really need an explanation, does it? I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard this line in my career. Each time I find myself thinking (often with one eyebrow raised) “Okay, so you want me to repeat this process with you, when the first time was so bad?!” Given, I know that each time a project is completed, a team gets better at the job. At least that’s the hope! But sometimes I’ve witness crews making the same mistakes over and over again. Sorry, I’m just not that interested in repeating a bad cycle. I’m interested in making great games with talented crews and always growing as an artist. So, clients, if you find yourself about to make that promise – stop yourself! Instead talk about what you’ve learned and how you’re going to make the next project better.
4) Offering exposure or credit as compensation
This also shouldn’t need much explanation, I hope! Making audio is how I pay the bills, feed my family and support my coke habit. Wait… ignore that last part. 😛 Exposure is only as good as the amount of eyes and ears that will be on the project. Something like Star Wars offers a lot of exposure and that’s worthwhile. A game that might be played by 30 people doesn’t offer that same amount of exposure. Also giving credit, in my opinion, should be standard! Withholding that, as I’ve seen some clients do, doesn’t make much sense and is hardly professional. I totally get that self funding a game is an expensive thing to do – I’m doing it myself right now! But offer some kind of tangible compensation. Offer an exchange of services. Make it a fair transaction instead of offering things that, really, don’t help support your crew.
5) Stick to the contract
Remember KISS? Keep It Simple, Stupid? It definitely applies here. Sure, a little bit of flexibility is fine, even warranted. But should the situation change too much, I’ve found it’s much easier, less stressful and more professional to simply finish out the current contract (with whatever milestones were completed) and then draft a new one so everything is always crystal clear to all parties involved.
6) Keep it professional
Game development can be (and is!) really hard. It can also be stressful. Sometimes egos clash or tempers flare. To an extent, this is just the hazards of working in such a creative and competetive field. But should things be taken to a personal level, which makes you uncomfortable, walk away. It’s not worth taking abuse from someone. I once had a client that I had worked with for five years. He would tell stories about how everyone he worked with was an idiot or a jerk. It took years but eventually he turned that abuse on to me. He was yelling, calling me names and taking it to a level that – honestly – I’ve never had another client take it to. So I walked away. I calmly told him that my time and craft were worth more than that. That I, as a person, was worth more than that. Don’t take abuse – it’s not worth it.
I’ve been lucky enough to work in this field for ten years now (crazy how time flies!) and on over 150 projects. About 96% of my clients have been amazing, fun, super-duper talented and a pure joy to work with! I choose not to work with those VERY few who haven’t impressed me. So to you freelancers out there – keep fighting the good fight. Know that your time and craft are worth something – often more than you think! Be picky about who you work with! We’re freelancers, not servants. Clients, keep thinking about ways to make hiring and managing a freelancer more streamlined and effective. Look for ways to include that freelancer in the production so they don’t feel so in the dark. The better the communication, the better everything else tends to go. (Most of the time, anyway)
Nate is an established composer/sound designer, based in Austin, TX. Aside from making various kinds of noises and music, he also teaches private lessons (saxophone and piano) and performs with live bands.