Carrying on somewhat sequentially from last week, today’s post covers some tips on handling enquiries, and the back-and-forth that precedes a possible job.
It’s always a bit of a thrill when an inquiry pops up in my email about a job that sounds really interesting – or a positive reply after responding to a job ad. But that’s just a first step, a maybe. Neither of you are committed to working together yet. So it’s worth thinking about how you handle things from there.
Just as with job hunting, communicating with possible clients takes time (another reason it’s not worth responding to jobs ads that aren’t quite right). It’s an investment you need to be careful with, but also one that can be very worthwhile – as even if things don’t pan out or the job goes to someone else, by having a positive interaction with the other party, you may have grown your network, won a new supporter of your work, or gotten on someone’s file for possible future work.
Speaking of things not panning out, this will never stop being an option. There will always be some jobs that don’t work out, even if you really want them to. So there’s a bit of a balance to be had here…while I think we shouldn’t be shy to show potential clients our interest in or enthusiasm for a project, I also have to keep a check on my emotions, and not get too excited and invested at the prospect of that cool job or, heck, that extremely useful paycheck, at such an early stage.
Pre-job communication can be a bit of a dance, with sometimes a lot of back and forth as both parties decide whether the other is someone they want to work with. During this time you’re gathering information on the job (see below), but you’re also gathering impressions of the potential client (and they you!)
In terms of your impression of them, this, just like job ads, is a chance to assess their professionalism and look out for the same sort of red flags (and save yourself some time by extricating yourself early on if you need to!). Even for those who give a good impression, it’s a chance to assess what they need. For example, a lovely possible client may not have commissioned anyone before, and it can be worth going through some info about how it all would work that you wouldn’t need to with a more experienced client, to save any confusion coming up if you do work together.
You’ll be able to get an impression of their tone and professionalism, their understanding (or lack thereof) of the amount of work the job involves, their promptness in responding to communication (this can be a biggie!), whether they address what’s actually said in communication, etc.
In terms of their impression of you, think about what you want your communication styl to portray. In my case, I want to come across as professional, respectful, pleasant, and very enthusiastic about what I do, but also as having boundaries. For example, I want to make myself accessible, so I’m open to the occasional call at odd hours if a client in a different time zone wants to talk about their project. But – and admittedly this is something I’m working on – I’m also learning it’s fine to wait until Monday morning to reply to an email received on Friday night. It’s okay to say “this is my schedule”( just as it’s okay to say “these are my rates/terms/whatever else”).
In general, I want them to leave with a positive impression of me regardless of the outcome, because you never know who might be a client in future. When it comes to possible clients who really are unprofessional, unpleasant, or have ridiculous terms or expectations, I’m likely to be far less warm in tone, but personally I’d still try to be polite. You never know, so in my view it seems safest to just keep a blanket policy of politeness as far as possible.
There’s really quite a lot of information you need from eachother before decisions are made and contracts negotiated, and I’ve had inquiries that, despite never going anywhere, took ages to get to that point.
So I think it can be very worth keeping a list of questions that you need the answers to to assess a job. If any of this information is not in the initial inquiry, send the relevent questions over right away in your response, to significantly cut down on back-and-forth time. Here’s the info I’d be looking for:
-Description of what is needed (eg. Four full-colour illustrations of ______)
-How it will be used, and what sort of usage license they need (also useful to get a sense of their knowledge and expectations re: usage, copyright, etc)
-What is their budget (always preferable to get their budget rather than quoting, as it could be higher than you would quote – or way lower, which you’d also want to know early on!)
-What are their deadlines, and their availability up to those deadlines for feedback, signoff, communication, etc.
-What sort of style they’re after, preferably with links to particularly relevent samples in your gallery to avoid confusion (especially important if you’re someone who works in a couple of styles, but also avoids general surprises and helps you evaluate whether you can (or want to) do the job)
-For a larger job, whether they need development work as well (character designs, etc)
-What format they will provide whatever it is you’ll be working from. Eg. If comics, whether they’d provide a comic script, or whether they need a story adapted from another form, or even developed with them (added to my list of questions due to this biting me on a previous job! I enjoy adapting, but it does take longer)
My list is constantly evolving, as you can see from the last question – and I’ve probably missed some that are very worth asking early on (would love to see your own lists in the comments!). List them clearly in bullet points, so they won’t get lost in a string of emails and are more likely to all be responded to. If people respond to emails without answering all of the questions asked in them, it can be a bit of a red flag, but it can also mean they’re busy and stressed and missed something, as happens to all of us. Use your judgement and experience over a few emails/phone calls on that.
As well as letting them know what information you need, you may want to offer some information early on to help their decision and/or establish your boundaries. Eg. If they’re an individual, a new client, or anyone you’ve reason to doubt, you may want to mention that you require a __% deposit. I like to mention that I generally include one round of changes at each of whatever stages are relevent (eg. Roughs, pencils, inks, colours), with extra adjustments available at an hourly rate, to make it clear I don’t do limitless revisions. If I’m sure that someone hasn’t commissioned someone before, or if they ask, I may offer more info on licensing, etc. We’re not at contract-negotiation stage yet, but there’s still a lot of info that can be useful to good potential clients, and scare away bad ones.
This is all an imprecise art, and I don’t add extra info to be aggressive or patronising. It’s all about getting a sense of the person on the other side, and helping both of you get all the information you need to reach a decision about working together as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Extra note: I’ve spent a lot of hours over the years explaining things like usage rights to potential clients, and have been meaning to spend some time writing up some documents that I can keep on hand to send to those it might be useful to, like a simple copyright/usage overview. I’ll try and get this written up for next week’s post, so anyone else who wants can also make use of it.