“This is probably the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my life and going forward, everyone should sign a contract if I am making something for them” explains Manar Shams, an emerging fashion designer from London, Ontario who was not correctly reimbursed for designing a stunning white and gold luxurious ballroom gown for a beauty pageant contestee she had previously worked with.
Photo: MB Photography
The Dress: The bodice has hand embroidered Laurel leaves and hand-painted feathers that melt from gold to white, finished in a glossy varnish for a metallic effect. The skirt of the gown has three layers: white silk, patterned metallic gold silk bought from Paris, and hand-beaded lace on top. There are 9 rounded pleats that are covered in fluffy white feathers for an “angelic” effect.
Unfortunately, the dress was returned soiled from tan-stains and dirt from an outdoor photoshoot leaving Manar feeling helpless in the situation.
Discussing transactions first as an artist
Many creatives are passionate about their craft which sometimes leaves no room to think about the business side of things; “I was so focused on the design, that I put the transaction last. I didn’t follow up about payment, and I didn’t request it until she was done using my dress.” Manar explains. You all probably know how that feels to not want to seem too ‘salesy’ and pushy. In an ideal world, as a creative business, you shouldn’t have to watch your back but it seems that the most common mistake that designers make when starting out is to assume that everyone is going to behave well.
About 30% of the working-age population work for themselves, with 58% Of freelancers having experienced not getting paid it shows how universal this issue really is. It’s not only the problem of getting paid but the feeling of helplessness for those self-employed, which can lead to stress, depression and anxiety.
Thankfully, Manar reached out to social media and with a breadth of unlimited support from her network, who empathised with her experience, she was given a lot of advice that she wanted to pass on to other creatives.
What can freelancers do to protect themselves?
Here are some quick tips to research into prior to closing that deal. It can save you and your client the embarrassment of miscommunication when any issues arise.
- Talk value, then talk price.
- Never undervalue your work
- Write a contract and include everything you are offering.
- Establish your rights
As soon as you create something it is by law yours which you should document. If you work for a client you may have to hand over these rights so including this in your contract would be beneficial for both parties.
- Ask for a deposit
Taking a 50% down payment is a great way to secure some finances to show your client is serious. You can charge the rest once the project is completed to showcase your credibility and trust in your work.
What can I do with no contract and my client won’t pay me?
- Follow up
Personally, I have made the mistake of not following up for months. If a client has not responded, they could also actually be busy or forget. Try not to be afraid. You’re not pestering someone when you’re requesting what is rightfully yours. Send them a friendly yet firm email reminding them that the invoice is past due and ask if they have any concerns with the product or service that you provided and offer any additional assistance with the payment process.
- Speak up on social media
Although, not the best solution, if they are clearly not responding, a call-out to social media about your issue to make it public may round up some back-up. Like Manar, you may receive support from your network in ways you wouldn’t get if no one knew what you were going through. It may come to the attention of the client. Beware, if they’re a big client they may accuse you of tainting their image so be mindful of how you showcase your issue.
- Hire a collection agency
Think about how much you are owed and whether it is worth hiring a collection agency to deal with the issue on your behalf. A quick online search will help you find professional services trained to deal with these situations to take the hassle out of your hands.
- Speak with a lawyer
Once you’ve tried everything else and you definitely feel it’s worth pursuing, you can try hiring a lawyer to initially write a demand letter. A lot of businesses and individuals do not understand the legal obstacles involved in collections and so when a letter turns up they may pay you without analysing further to avoid future disruptions. If a letter does not surface then requesting legal guidance on taking it to a small claims court yourself can be put into action.
You also want to be careful not to overstep the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act so involving a legal professional will help you avoid getting into any trouble when you make attempts to collect your debts.
Onwards and upwards
Despite going through this experience Manar is pushing past these setbacks to look forward to implementing the lessons learnt as a talented designer. She has filmed 40 hours of footage for the making of the beautiful Miss Universe ballgown and will be releasing it early December on her own YouTube channel to show the process from sketch to finished design. Her channel was created as a source of creative inspiration and to educate people on all the work that goes on behind the scenes. We are really excited to see what’s next install for this talented superstar of a fashion designer and will be covering more of her over the next following months.
Header Image: Fashion illustration drawn by Manar Shams
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