Wednesday, January 14, 2009


TIMES ARE TOUGH.  Folks can't find jobs.  Apparel companies are laying off designers.
As a result, a few of my students are going freelance.  But they are nervous about what to do and how to make sure they get paid.  This is something most design schools don't seem to teach.  So I thought I'd share with you what I've been telling them.
Have a written contract.  My lawyer husband says there are 3 elements to make a contract.  But Sam, one of my business teachers, hammered in my head the five C's of contracts.  Here's how he defined them:
1) Consent.  A mutual understanding of what the contract covers.  E.g., we are talking about a dress.
2) Creation, or offer and acceptance.  E.g., I am going to make this dress in this picture for this person.  You are going to give me money.
3) Consideration, or an exchange of something of value.  E.g., for delivering this dress on May 3, 2009, you are going to pay $1,000.
4) Completion.  The dress is delivered on time and the check cleared the bank.
5) Competence.  Basically, don't sign a contact with anyone younger than 18 or of doubtful reputation.
Now here are some details.  Contracts can cover many subjects, but mine all have these things in common:
- The names and titles of the principals in the contract:  The client and the contractor (you!).
- A specific description of the item/work to be done.
- The deliverables.  E.g., illustrations could be hard copy on a specific paper, pdfs of a certain resolution and a disc of said pdfs in a specific format.  Deliverables can come from the client as well as the contractor.
- Date when the deliverables are due.  This should be done in increments at natural progress points, e.g., sketches, draft illustrations for approval, final illustrations.
- The payment.  This often is done on the same dates that the deliverables are due with increments and totals given in $numbers and percentages.  BTW, save your receipts and time logs!
- Signatures of the principals, along with the titles and date of signature.
You may also be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement.  This just means you won't blab about your client's work.  One page is enough.  Go on the web to see what such agreements look like.
Bear in mind that most clients want to hear how much a project will cost in total.  They don't want to hear a price/hour with the number of hours left open.
Creating such an estimate is tough at first.  With luck, you've tracked your hours in doing similar projects for yourself or school.
Don't expect more than minimum wage ($8.40/hr in Oregon) if you don't have the tools or good skills.  But if you are experienced, just new, charge $20/hr.  Go up as your client list grows.  If you can sew a custom-sized lined skirt with zipper, hem and waistband in two hours, you should charge at least $50/hr.  Thus your bid for such a project would be $100 -- for the sewing only.  Illustrating?  Patterning?  Consulting about designs and fabrics?  Fitting the client once or twice in a muslin?  Your price goes up depending on the number of hours you allot for these activities.
Oh, and BTW, if you get a client who says the project is very simple and straightforward but can't give details, don't do it.  If s/he starts changing her/his mind, drop 'em.  If it's a wedding dress and she starts bringing her bridezilla mom, drop her.  If it's a friend/relative, set the stage, give a written estimate with options on the number of fittings/drafts and get money up front when you sign the contract.  Then send invoices and exchange money at each deliverable point.
Be brave.  Be professional.  Believe that your time and skills are worth something.

I'd love to hear your experiences in freelance.  Send them in! -- Sharon Blair, and portland

NOTE:  My friend, Laura, from Nike and I plan to offer apparel business classes Spring 2009.  Stay tuned!

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