The dark side of freelancing - whats your experience with bad customers, scammers and alike?

Dear Blender Artists,

with this thread i’d like to discuss on how to deal with all types of bad experience you might have gone through during commercial/ freelancing projects:
Clients who don’t pay, vendors who don’t deliver, trolls who posting lies about you, scammers,
copyright infringements and alike.

I’d like to start this thread, because recently somebody used my models against the license agreement for his own online store.Luckily, the person was comprehensible and the situation could be clarified without any escalation.

Post all your experiences - and hopefully the good solutions - here. But please dont use this thread to denunciate anyone. This thread should be about solutions, not accusation.

i once fell for a scammer who was an employee at a company but acted himself like a company and sourced all of his work out to freelancers. he had no skills at all (well except for scamming :)).

i was a bit stupid back then and continued to work for him for too long after he didn’t pay me and always put me off… just this one more thing then i will pay you… but after a while i figured it out and contacted his boss. he got fired and i get good freelancing jobs from his boss since then. :slight_smile:

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Nice Story. How did you find out for which company he worked?

i think its nowadays more important than ever to find out who your customer/vendor is, before you start working or start paying. How do you usually make your deals? First payment, then delivery of work? Or vice versa?

when i got more and more suspicious about him i started googling a lot and found the project i worked on on the website of the company he worked for.

i usually first deliver the work and then get payed. for bigger projects we negotiate milestones i get payed for. in the meantime this is no problem because my network of customers is very trustworthy but when starting out maybe you should be more careful. :slight_smile:

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Its probably a good idea never to deliver work without payment unless is is someone who have worked for and developed trust. Then it can also depend. Sometimes you just have a good gut feeling and go with that.

In general, when doing a job with a new client I always ask for 1/2 up front. Or if it is a large project, as mentioned, some money up front and then milestones.

It is always good to keep an even balance of risk/trust between you and your client. If you find someone is demanding all risk for you and no trust in you and zero risk for them and all trust of them, it is a very bad sign. When negotiating a deal always look at it with this in mind and expect an even risk/trust assessment.

The funny thing is, if you have a real good feeling about a client, it will be no problem also asking them to assume some risk. The good ones will understand and have no issue with that at all. The bad ones will always try to reason their way out of it. And at that point you might as well just drop them and save your energy. Move on.

Regarding “tests”. Here is another one. If any client - no matter how rational they make it sound - asks you to do a test to prove you can do the work and not pay you for it, understand that this is a complete imbalance of risk/trust.

There might be a number of reasons for this, ranging from flat out lying to you and trying to get as much free work out of as many artists as they can, to simply seeing if they can control you, and put you always under their thumb. In this last case, they are vetting artists based on how gullible they are and the degree they can be manipulated and shift the blame/responsibility always on the artist. This puts them always in control and you always working hard to finish the job so you can get paid. But in doing that, they have set you up into a position where they keep asking for endless changes.

This can happen with any client. But it always happens with any client who wants a test and won’t pay.

What’s wrong with this arrangement is that it is a complete all risk on you and none for them. They don’t have to trust that you can do it based on your portfolio. Usually they are not that knowledgeable. They make it sound like they are. But usually they are inept at being able to see potential. So rather than putting in the work and time and effort to learn to read potential by being willing to experience some bad work and learning where it went wrong, they shift all off that on you.

A good client can see potential and considers your basic worker rights and allows time and money to train you on their process. That is their responsibility not yours.

Example. Your portfolio shows that you can prep assets for a game engine and you have shown all the elements of the work. Good retopo, UV, baking, textures, rigging etc. You can show lots of examples of work brought into Unity or Unreal etc. It’s clear. You can do the work.

But…

They have a special process. They use specific naming conventions and have special scripts and so on and ways to set up the assets that support the app they are building.

So they ask you to work your way through their process at your expense to “see if you can follow instructions and carry out the work”, or some other such nonsense.

Don’t be fooled. You are in for a ride. Unless…

They tell you they like your work, and want to set up a temporary arrangement and pay you your rates while you learn the process of a few tests runs. If it works out, they pay you, and you continue on the main project. If not, they pay you, no hard feelings and you part ways.

This is an example of a 50/50 risk/trust relationship.

There are many ways that this ratio can go south. And a classic way is when you are continually asked to make changes without adding more to the rate you are being paid. It’s all your fault of course. You have to deliver. And when you see this start going that way, know there is abuse afoot.

How it works is early on they start asking for changes, and then they get lazy. You show them the model, they sign off on that and you are on to UVs. Then they say, oh well the modeling is wrong. You have to fix it. They are being lazy or busy or whatever. (I have done this because of being busy with my artists. It can happen. But I pay them by the hour. So there is always a balance.) But what happens is once they get away with this once, and you don’t ask for more money, it very gradually over time gets out of hand. Not like one or two fixes here and there won’t kill you. But when this happens over the length of a relationship they start to expect you will be willing to go back and redo work even if it means destroying your UV work. Or trashing the paint job and going back to an earlier stage. It starts costing you tons of time and they take on no risk at all. Usually it is a certain kind of client that will do this to you. And you can start to see the signs of it very early.

On the reverse of this. You should have a very high level of responsibility and quality you expect of your work. And you should never ever ever let work go out the door unless it is up to a high standard. And if you screw up, you fix it. If you find something could have been done better and give the client a better product even if it means more time, and there is no deadline looming, do the work. Always put out the best work you can.

But this level of responsibility also has to be met with a high level of ethics on the part of the client who is willing to pay you when they have overlooked something that caused you more time. And it has to be balanced always.

There is no better joy than that of doing amazing work and making a client happy. That is a work ethic. And it is something you should have.

Just don’t let that become abused. When it/if happens you will know.

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Hi Richard,
thanks for that very detailed reply. Yes, it seems that its a lot about building trust. But sometimes, especially in the beginning of a commercial relationship, you may want to rely on contracts. That is at least what i did and still do. But even with a contract that is signed by all parties, can you still rely on someone who sits somewhere in the world, to far for you to reach? Do you rely on contracts? I mean, in the end its just a pdf. Of course you have something to refer on, but not all of us have an army of lawyers at hand. Imagine you have a contract that clarifies the payment of, say, the amount of money for one or two months of work. Now your client doent not pay. What can you do, if the costs of the lawyer who forced to contract to action would be 50% or 75% of the money we are talking about? Despite of all the hours it takes to fight all the money back in? Do you have any opinion on that?

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Taking about lawyers, a couple of years ago i found someone on youtube who uploaded some works he did for a client. He postet both the final commercial video as well as the source files, besides with the quote:
“This work was done for Mr. xxx yyy - he never paid me”.
I think this i very dangerous to do. Publishing names of someone you are in beef with is definitely something that should be avoided.

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For what it is worth, what I am saying has more to do with the the basis of a contract rather than the contract itself. I always have contracts with my largest clients. Of course. Very detailed. Many times it is they who originate them. Whatever agreement you enter into be it verbal written other otherwise, it will always have a balance or imbalance of trust/risk. Just make sure you don’t agree to anything that is out of balance in someone else’s favor.

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I got scammed twice when I was just starting out with freelancing.
One scam was of the “please make a test object for us to evaluate your skills” to receive lots of paying jobs after that. Of course the first “evaluation” was followed by a second one and after delivering that they wanted a third “evaluation”. It then dawned on me that I was getting scammed. Unfortunately I was too young, inexperienced and poor to get a lawyer.

The second one was kind of funny. The guy simply didn’t pay but it was only about 300€ so not enough to get a lawyer. A year later he contacted me, desperately in search for a 3D guy. He had even payed the bill and wanted me to do another project. It was very satisfying to move his email into the spam folder and ignoring him from then on.

Other than that I was never unlucky. I never make contracts unless the other party wants one and never ask for money in front and it since that second scam with was in 2008, I believe, I have never had the slightest problem.
I never work for clients who are not within legal reach, though. I would never work for anybody outside of the EU for example.

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I don’t really have an opinion because I don’t practice law. But I have heard that you can get lawyer’s fees paid on top of the money owed. But I think that has to be part of a court order. So I would say discuss that with a lawyer on a case by case basis in the location where it would go to court.