Whether you have always had a passion for graphic design or you have recently joined a UX design agency, understanding the exploitation of freelancer designers and illustrators is essential before entering the industry as a professional. The exploitation of designers in all mediums has been prevalent since the dawn of time. Unfortunately, individuals in need of creative material too often see a designer or illustrator’s job as a hobby or frivolous, leading to exploitation and in some cases, downright theft. Knowing how to stop the exploitation of freelancer illustrators is imperative whether you work with illustrators daily or if you are a designer yourself.
What is Freelance Exploitation?
Exploitation is never the answer, even if you believe you are deserving of what another individual is capable of delivering. In the freelance industry, artists including illustrators are well-aware of the exploitative nature of their jobs, especially if they are working as a freelancer as opposed to working for a prestigious graphic design or UX agency.
Most often, an illustrator is approached by a prospective client, only to have their rate lowballed or mocked. In some cases, illustrators may send samples of their work or a completed project, only to have them stolen by clients who refuse to pay for their work. Knowing how to spot the signs of freelance exploitation is key to prevent the hassle of taking on a difficult or unfair client.
How to Spot the Signs of Being Exploited as an Illustrator
Exploitation does not always work just one way. Oftentimes, exploitation can appear subtle, or nearly non-existent, especially when an illustrator is approached by a loyal or long-time client. When working with a new project or speaking with a prospective new client, there are a few things to watch for to ensure you are not being exploited. Some of the most common signs to look for when speaking with a new prospective client or customer include:
- Exposure: One of the most common tactics used to exploit freelance artists such as illustrators includes the exposure trick. A client may ask for you to complete work for them in order to receive exposure instead of payment for your time and services. Freelance illustrators with little to no experience in the industry are more likely to take on clients who promise exposure, only to find themselves let down with the results.
- Theft: Theft is extremely rampant throughout the freelance community, especially among artists who do not watermark each individual photo or illustration they create and share online. Anytime you create new illustrations, it is not only important to watermark your designs, but it is important to ensure the watermark cannot be easily erased or removed using a program such as Adobe Photoshop.
- Blackmail: In some instances, a freelancer may find themselves blackmailed in order to create illustrations in exchange for a low rate. Low-balling clients may attempt to get freelancers to lower their rate by threatening negative reviews or write-ups online. In these situations, it is best to simply take screenshots, save your evidence, and walk away as quickly as possible.
Find an Appropriate Rate to Charge Clients
Spend time researching appropriate rates for your illustrations based on your skill level and the amount of experience you have working as a professional artist. Use forums, online groups, and even local events to learn how to properly charge for your services before giving an estimated rate to a new client.
Having confidence in your work and the skills you have is essential to make it as a successful illustrator, even though the industry itself is rife with competition from around the world. Never undersell yourself as an artist, especially if you have skills that are worthy of higher pay. Lowering your rates may quickly lead to taking on less-than-pleasant clientele, which in return is likely to lower your work morale and your drive to continue illustrating.
Work to Improve Your Negotiation Skills
Work to improve your negotiation skills, especially when working as a freelance illustrator. Spend time practicing phone conversations or video chats with friends or family members you trust. Learn how to say no and how to remain firm in your proposals, especially if you intend to charge a client a premium rate. Knowing why you charge your rate and why it is appropriate is imperative when you are in the market for higher-paying clients who respect your work and skills.
Speak Up for Other Designers and Illustrators in Your Industry
It is important to speak up for other designers and freelancers who have also been exploited in the industry. Create local groups or become an online advocate for freelance designers. Avoid hiring outsourced designers that charge a fraction of the price for stellar work.
Instead, use local illustrators who are freelancing with appropriate rates to provide them with additional referrals and recommendations. The more freelancers band together and stick up for one another, the less likely they are to feel exploited when taking on new clients or seeking new projects.
Speak up, speak out, and never allow the exploitation of freelance illustrators to occur in your presence. Stopping the exploitation of freelance illustrators, designers, and artists is essential to preserve the art industries for future generations and career opportunities. Regardless of whether you work with a UX design agency or as a freelance designer, it is never acceptable to exploit an artist, even if you view their work as simplistic or easy.