Finding Just-Right Clients...

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© Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios 
...seems to be about finding neverland.

Yes at first it seems impossible, but over time it is not just possible, it is vital to get just-right clients.

Remember the quote from Randy Pausch´s last lecture?
"When you see yourself doing something badly and nobody’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a very bad place to be. Your critics are your ones telling you they still love you and care."

I don´t think it is necessary to be a criticizing client, but if there is a set of given frames for the artist, a healthy boundary in which he can reign, this is most likely the best environment to bear great results for both parties.


Work like you don't need the money.

I think Randy Pausch knows what he was talking about as he had achieved nearly all of his childhood dreams. When it comes to quotes, I gained also pretty much from the following:
"Work like you don't need the money. 
Love like you've never been hurt. 
Dance like nobody's watching." from Satchel Paige.
In fact, the first part is the most important one, I often find myself asking, if I´d pull out the money of a project, is there still motivation that would keep me moving?
Often times a client is also a critic, he/she has a right to critizice if it supports the project and constructive critique that leads to a great result is a big motivation factor for me.

True words from Anton Ego


Besides that movie being a totally great piece of art, it delivers a great message too.
The part where Anton Ego has to confess that his perception of things were wrong he became the "Just Right-Client" to Remy (or Linguini). This also shows that the most unpleasant people can be the best clients if you meet them in eye height
 and also that honesty is the only way to achieve such a level of trust.

Honesty is crucial

Back in the day when I worked in a factory I actually had a case where I had to denounce a superior in front of the whole personnel in order to gain the respect needed, that actually ended up in having said superior favoring me wherever possible from that day on.
I don´t say that denouncing superiors is always a good idea, it takes courage, confidence and a reason.
I had a damn reason, at least as much as anyone else in our division to do so, but I was the only one saying what all others were thinking. This could have ended up totally different, but I´was eager to take the whole responsibility with all consequences and the only thing I couldn´t foresee was the fact that the exact opposite would happen.

Working with clients is often a compromise

Molly Gordon has some nice blog posts about the just-right clients that I´d recommend, because she is absolutely right about that matter, she devotes much time to this topic. Her blog / newsletter is also where I started a few years ago. I can honestly say that I have 90% just right clients because of her knowledge about that matter.

Working with clients is always a compromise, because they want something from you, you want something in return and you´ll meet anywhere in the middle. But a few percent from that middle can determine if a relationship is doomed to fail or just right. It doesn´t has to be as dire as clients from hell, it depends on how we perceive a collaboration and where our limit of tolerance is located.

I´d say it always takes one commission to see whether if someone is a match or rather not. However, one commission isn´t sound enough to label someone, but it can be an indicator for long term projects.
For that matter I have a list that shows me if a client is a possible match:
  • Where does he/she knows my work from? 
  • Is someone out for cheap or free work?
  • Is someone over-demanding during a commission?
  • Does someone change their mind very often?
  • Does someone accept / rejects every output regardless of the quality?
  • If I pull the money out of the project, what else is there? Fun? Challenge? Exposure?
In fact it is hard to determine if someone is just right, it takes experience and also some guts and as mentioned before: at least one contact / commission to gather enough information for a big picture.

Sometimes it is in fact a gut feeling if I like to work with someone or not, this seems to be not fair, but I had worked with clients where I initially had a bad feeling and it turned out to be a waste of time, so this one is not without reason. It is always important to have a similar wavelength, it is not necessary but it makes things easier.

Communication is the key

When it comes to communication, I prefer email contact as this allows me to align 100% of my time to one person only and it makes things visible that a phone conversation can´t. Let´s be honest, when talking on the phone you do not always make notes. We are often confronted with at least one other thing and if there is something you have a question about it comes most-often after you hung up. Mostly because you simply forgot about it, even if it is professional to follow up, it is sometimes annoying to ask again and again....

In a mail conversation I can go back, take the time and also read between the lines. I get if something is important from top to bottom. If a client doesn´t respond to a thing I stated earlier, it doesn´t matter much to them, which allows me to proceed, if it would have been important to them, they´ve answered. Simple as that. Sometimes it is just that missing information that is a nod, but it is up to us to read the information clearly.

Working with directors requires an advanced level in communication, they don´t want huge information, just short information brought to the point that don´t waste their time. Exactly the opposite of a gallery or museum director and audience.

Forget what you learned in artschool

As a freelancer and especially as artist freelancer it isn´t easy to gain honest feedback. But honest feedback is important in order to grow on a personal level. This on the other side requires the artist to be objective as possible when it comes to his/her work. Not a thing many artist can tell about themselves.
In communities where art can be shared, feedback is mostly to flatter the ego, not to force someone to think. If you expect to learn through the community you´ll fail.

In artschool I have learned most through my fellow students not much through our instructors, but that was helpful because in my freelance reality this still is true, I constantly learn more from my fellow artist friends and with what they come up, than from any instructional video or course. That´s why I´m eager to teach and learn from my students.

I met Dru Blair in Antwerpen this year, someone familiar with him knows that he´s a really great guy, known for his realistic and traditional paintings, but what makes him great is the fact that his credo is:" I´m still a student".

Another important factor is attitude.

Your inner attitude will always manifest in outer circumstances. This is a universal truth. You know when you smile you often get a smile back, this also works when communicating on the phone (standing is more dynamic than sitting) and even per email, where your state of mind shapes the written word. If you are in a frustrated or depressive mood, this might not be a perfect time to give a quote, wait until the mood is better and an outcame can significantly improve.
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Oliver aka Fantasio is a creative blogger who likes to share his insights about art, marketing and social media. Follow Fantasio on twitter or facebook

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