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Negotiating Change Requests and Rates

When I first started off marketing my architectural renderings through LunarStudio, I was so eager to obtain that first job that I made two major mistakes:

  1. Creating a whole series of renderings and animations for a very inexpensive price. It was a $12,000 job that probably should have been more like $40,000-$50,000. This was for a major developer for a large-scale, $50 million plus project.
  2. Not putting in a clause concerning changes.

Needless to say, the client was extremely happy with my Red Carpet service, but the owner of the development company probably came to the conclusion that the other 3D firms he was using in the past were ripping him off. My rates probably ended up creating a slight disservice to the industry as a whole. I realized that I took a few jobs away from the big guys. I just didn’t realize the amount of work that would be involved. I was so excited to have landed my first job through the door that I had put my blinders on. At the time, I thought $12,000 was a ton of money. The mere thought that I had negotiated this “huge” deal put me on Cloud Nine. In retrospect, it probably all worked out for the best in the long run. At least I had some great portfolio pieces for an actual project that I could call my own. Plus, the fees that I negotiated ended up paying my rent and bills for a few months.

It was a lot of work initially, but with the agreement and obligation came an expected avalanche of changes. I ended up spending three months total on this project – two of which were dedicated to revisions. There were a lot of sleepless night compounded with stress. Since I was so thrilled to have had the opportunity, I pretty much made any and all of the changes that they had requested. By the end of the second month, my finances were nearly evaporated and I was feeling burnt out. Not having any clauses regarding changes and rates ended up nearly tripling the amount of work that I needed to do. And as most people know, time means money.

I think that not having these change clauses and terms in place is a very common mistake for artists starting out. Also, getting overly excited about the first few jobs and working for rock-bottom prices is another. There is a time and place for negotiating low rates, but it should be the exception and not the rule. I’m also not saying to carve someone either – I’m just simply pointing out that fellow artists need to value their time and efforts and not be undersold.

Fast forward to this year. A relative the other day asked if I could take a look at his logo. The woman he originally hired for $10 to create his logo a few years back completely disappeared, and he was stuck with a low-resolution .jpg that needed to be blown up. I’m sure that the relative thought it might take me a few minutes to resolve his issue but this wasn’t the case. What he didn’t see is that I spent three hours trying to figure out the bizarre fonts the original designer had chosen to use. I also spent another hour trying to locate the globe clip-art the she had also used as part of the logo. It would take me about another half hour to reassemble all of these components back together again – adding outlines, shadows, scaling, etc. I called my relative back, told him my story, and he replied, “oh it’s not that big of a deal – I didn’t care if the font matched.” I replied, “well, I don’t take chances. Every time I cut corners, it usually turns around and bites me. Some clients do care about that sort of thing. How was I supposed to know?”

Aside from things turning out to be more complicated than expected, there’s the time element. I think a lot of people figure, “well, you must enjoy being an artist so you’d be happy to do this.” Overall, that’s true, but there’s only so long that any human wants to sit in front of a computer. In my earlier days, I was working seven days a week times 15 hour days. Some of that was studying and developing techniques and other parts involved actual work. With those kind of hours, that’s not much of a personal life. Sometimes when I’ve finished up a project, I just want to move on to something else and that’s where changes often will drag you back in. Changes are expected to some degree but requests can quickly spiral out of control. At that point, something seemingly simple can take an extra day and take away time spent with family, kids, or just going out for a leisurely stroll. Combine that with possibly not getting paid for that extra time, and it can lead to some bitterness or feeling that one is being taken advantage of.

Last but not least, it is a lot more painful to have to go through multiple rounds versus just having one large consolidated round in the beginning. Realistically-speaking, it’s not always possible. However, the benefit is that it’s much easier to focus on one project versus having to juggle between multiple ones. I find that it’s actually more efficient to make changes all at once. You’re saving on time, it’s less items to keep track of, and plus it doesn’t interfere with other projects and schedules.

My main point is that most people don’t understand how much work is involved when it comes to design, let alone changes. Many people think of it as “just a few clicks of the mouse.” There are some seemingly difficult changes which turns out to be easy, and other seemingly easy ones which turns out to be a royal pain. Now, there’s a big problem when we let people get away with assuming “that it’s easy.” It ends up usually creating unnecessary grief. So it often resolves itself in either the artist or the client getting upset. This leaves you with two options:

  1. Suck it up and deal.
  2. Try to explain what’s involved.
  3. Have a contract with a change rate clause that’s mentioned in the beginning.

The first option is to deal with it. There’s times where it’s the only option. In particular if money is tight or if you think that very last round of modifications will send a project out the door. The danger is that you may be setting a future precedent with that particular client but on the other hand you might be happy that you never hear from them again.

The second option above involves trying to explain what’s involved. It’s an attempt to try to explain why something might take several extra hours or even days. I find that a lot of people are pretty busy or impatient. Other times they’re bouncing the images up to the higher-ups, and these are the people putting in the requests without amending their budgets. The main problem here is that it’s often difficult to get someone’s attention when explaining all of things that need to be done. So, any explanation has to be short and consolidated unless you find that the client is very receptive to listening. I end up trying to keep my emails brief and to the point while remaining courteous. It can be a bit of a juggling act at times.

These days, I always have a clause in my contracts which states that I’ll provide one round of minor changes. It’s mostly an attempt to get changes to be consolidated and efficient. These changes are not to be confused with any of our mistakes which we take care of out of obligation. I usually will provide more than that one round of changes without charging additional if I have the time, the changes seem minor, the client is pleasant to work with, and/or the overall pay is fair. However, I’ve had a few instances over the years in which someone tries to take advantage of your services and is demanding of absolute perfection at rock-bottom prices. At that point, I have little choice other than to write a friendly email stating that “X amount of changes were done out of courtesy but at this point, I need to start charging as per contract for all additional requests.” I might add that it’s interfering with other scheduling or some other points. In a few extreme cases, I’ve had to go line by line on dozens of change requests and document the amount of extra time spent.

I think the main fear some artists face is that if they present these change clauses or speak up, that they will be potentially losing a future client. First, I think a contract looks more professional. Secondly, if a client is running excess changes, I think we need to ask ourselves if that’s someone we want to work with in the future anyways.

If I had to make a suggestion or recommendation from all of my years of experience as an artist, it would be the bottom two options listed above. Make sure to have a pretty solid contract before starting on any project as it can help alleviate excess requests. I’m not saying that a person or a company absolutely has to stick by these “rules” but it might save some trouble down the road. Last but not least, it sets an industry standard in which we all can benefit from.