In 2019 a bit after leaving my full-time job I spent months sitting at a Starbucks from opening to closing with my Avatar Last Airbender sticker covered laptop (this sticker is how I got strangers to talk to me). We’re talking waking up and arriving so early in the morning that people thought I was homeless.

Friends came in-and-out throughout the day because they knew I was there. I had a desk set-up at my apartment but the store energy kept me motivated. I wasn’t seeing them much outside of my work time.

At my full-time job I had implemented new workflow strategies into the design process but on my own, I was still figuring out how to prioritize the activities I did everyday. Should I focus on my art? My blog? Finding new clients? Developing my social media? Everyday was a mix of stuff I thought would help push me in the right direction.

Then came… let’s just call her Karen. I can’t exactly remember how we got to talking but she was a published author who had done a children’s book about a decade earlier.

I was excited because she wanted me to help animate her book for her website. I scheduled a meeting with her but our first meeting went terribly. She was so unfocused on how she wanted to do anything and kept saying things like “I’ll get back to you about that” or went into long stories about her life. After a couple hours of nothing she asked me how much to charge for our meeting and I said it was free. She nodded, thanked me, and left.

She saw me soon after at Starbucks again, immediately sat down at my table and started talking about a brand new project of hers. She was now trying to develop a toy line based on her book. She asked me about marketing and designing mockups and I explained I could do those for her as well. But again, the details kept going fuzzy.

This cycle happened in various forms several more times. I would try to establish specific plans / schedules, and she’d talk about her “brand new idea” and how she’d “get back to me” on specifics.

Then it got worse. She started trying to make me her friend. She’d ask me a lot of personal stuff about my life as she would just sit at my table. I would politely tell her I need to focus on my work and she’d talk again about a “brand new project” that I’d patiently listen to. She would also ask me to get her drinks when the Barista called her name because her leg was “not so good” (an older lady), or ask for help with her phone.

Finally she asked me to lunch (on her) and I agreed. During lunch she explained she didn’t have money but I could get a “percentage of her profits” once her business kicked off. She phrased it as “You’ve shown such an interest in my business idea”. Now all of her “doesn’t that sound fascinating?” “wouldn’t that be cool?” comments about her business ideas made more sense.

I politely declined her and told her I had an hourly rate for work. In the end I got a free $30 meal from her for hours of my time. I didn’t blame her, I blamed myself for not establishing a payment agreement early on.

I decided to create a terms of service PDF to send to new clients so I wouldn’t get caught up in the mess again.

Using a mix of fun cartoons, graphics and legal jargon, I created an easy-to-read agreement that would protect me from these situations in the future. I state payment methods, hourly rate, initial consultation costs (30 mins is free, but if the meeting extends, the client accrues $1 a minute), termination fees, project scope increase agreements, and more.

I stress the importance of using lighthearted graphics, especially if you’re a designer. My invoices are also semi-casual appearing with a little cartoon cat creature holding up a pen and paper thanking for their service (in the cover photo). Legal jargon can seem stiff and uninviting but I’ve received comments on how “cute” my invoices are.

I have yet to also meet another Karen in the design world since.

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