Friday Tips For Artists: Relationship First, Contract Later


I recently finished negotiations on a large equine sculpture for a major developer. Erik Beier, sculptural genius, is working with me on this. To date, we’ve had three meetings, and have invested about 8 hours of our time–most of that coming from Erik in the form of renderings, etc. And all of this we did without a contract. Yes, I still sometimes do that, even with all my accomplishments. Why?

Well Erik is rather young as a sculptor, so I’m still in the process of helping to establish him. Also the client doesn’t yet know me, although he’s acquainted with several of my references. The client seems honest, so I’ve been willing to work gratis up to this point. However we recently established that Erik is to be paid for all further renderings, and verbally agreed that the commission is ours.

Look, on small projects, if you try to lock up everything with a contract from the start, you’ll freak out the client, who will then close up, and be more difficult to work with. I prefer earning their trust, and impressing them with our abilities, before insisting on the contract–but only if my instincts tell me to proceed thus. Normally they do, as I’m rather selective in who I’ll invest such time.

Contracts? I swear by them; everything must be spelled out on paper. I just never present them until all parties are in synch.

In fact right now I’m working my butt off on a new project that will require my attention for the next year, and a fair bit of travel, since the client’s outside my region. But the client’s cool, we’re in synch, and I know the contract will be here soon. They confirmed all that in our last conference call. So I’ve already started work. Do they appreciate that? Like you wouldn’t believe. But again I wouldn’t go this route if my instincts didn’t advise me to.

Contracts are not only great, but necessary. Just pick the right time in presenting them, meaning after a business relationship, rooted in trust, has been established. You’re not sure how to assess the trust? That’s easy: go with your instincts. Normally they’ll serve you quite well. But once you do present the contract, make sure all aspects of the project are properly spelled out, protecting both you and the client. When they realize you’re as concerned about their interests as your own, they’ll not only be impressed, they’ll readily tell their friends about you. That’s a type of marketing–the free kind.

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