As a freelance creative designer, developer, or writer working either self employed, towards being self employed, or simply with a good side hustle, you will often run into people who seek to extort creativity from you. This may come in the form of outright extortion, or it may be veiled.
Make no mistake, succumbing to extortion tactics is a recipe for disaster in your business. But handling it poorly can be equally destructive.
In Part 1 of this series, we will look at the types of users to watch out for. Then in Part 2, we will address how to deal with these issues and work towards not only positive outcomes but how to flourish with your freelance work.
In my freelance work, I’ve seen a lot of creativity extortion and it generally comes down to two groups of people:
- The Overt Blackmailer
- The “Just One More”
The Overt Blackmailer
There are two types of blackmailers every freelancer is likely to encounter. There is the type that threatens you with a bad review if you don’t give them what they want, and then there is the type that simply says help me and I’ll pay you when I’m satisfied. Let’s look at both of these.
The Bad Review
This person asks you for help yet threatens a bad review of your work. This typically affects developers, but it can affect designers and writers as well.
Often, this person will have access to something you’ve provided freely, such as open source software or a creative piece you give away. To them, free is not enough. They want more and they are willing to bad mouth you to force you into getting it.
This person will certainly make you undeniably indignant; but that negativity will not gain you anything. Responding in kind will only serve to give them what they want, which is for you to look bad. The best thing to do immediately is to let yourself cool off first.
The Promise to Pay
Honestly, this is the single issue that made me move away from the “donation-ware” open source plugin model. This person will offer to donate to your development costs – but only after a specific problem is solved or feature is included. If your freelance work offers plugins, themes, or other products that operate on the donation-ware model, no doubt you will see this occur many times.
Giving them what they want is giving into extortion for your creative work. You will never see a dime from this person.
There are a few exceptions to this. There are honest folk out there that will gladly support you and pay you. But the honest ones will respond positively when you suggest an alternative that isn’t 100% on the backend.
Just One More Thing
This person is almost as bad as the Overt Blackmailer. Much like Columbo, they always ask for “just one more thing.”
This is the client that didn’t blackmail you. You had an agreed-upon scope for the project and it is nearly complete. You’ve asked for them to review the project and provide a punch list of items that need to be addressed.
This client will not provide you the list you ask for – or if they do, the list will not be complete. They will slip in something that is out-of-scope or suggest, “if we could just change this one little thing…”
Be tremendously cautious of this!
This could be a good client – either now or in the future. Honestly, unlike the blackmailer types, you’ve got a legitimate project with them. But their unwillingness to provide you what you need can suck a tremendous amount of time out of your availability. What’s worse is that if you give on the “one little thing,” more will certainly follow.
Stand firm on this. If they are going to become a good, long term client, (1) they will comply with your request to keep it to a single specific list of changes relative to the project scope; and (2) you will train them in the way that you need them to work on future projects. Bonus: some of those “one little things” may be assembled into a larger, future project.
Dealing With Creativity Extortion
If you work as a freelancer or small business, no doubt you will deal with one or more of these types of issues at some point. Sometimes it will be often.
The best thing to do immediately is be guarded in any public response. Protect your reputation at all costs. Yes, negativity hurts – sometimes it digs in and is very personal – especially for freelancers because as a creative, you put so much of yourself into your work.
You will learn to work with this as part of doing business. Do not roll over and submit to every jerk out there; but be careful and deliberate.
Tomorrow I will post Part 2 of this series and tell you some specific ways to deal with the negative and turn it into positive. Until then, stay strong!