Learning to spot red flags is just a skill that everyone has to develop over time when you work in creative services.
I believe in using social networks as a way to get your work out there, and potentially get new work. An old co-worker from when I lived in Chicago saw me posting my art on facebook and contacted me. She was now the Art Director of a Legal Magazine, and started giving me work.
The chances of this happening are small, which is why you should use every venue that you can. But doing so will also attract more people you probably don’t want to work with.
Recently I was contacted by someone through an online social network, who saw I was an illustrator. He was in need of such a person. We talked, and over the phone, and he said he would send me an email later that day.
I got the email, which raised a bunch of red flags.
The first red flag was that without looking at my stuff, or anymore conversation, I was on the project, or at least talking like I was. The quicker they are to hire you, the more you should take a step back and wonder. More so when you are starting out, and have no name recognition. There are people out there that do love hiring people new at this, because they can take advantage of them.
If they contacted you, knowing your work and can tell you where they saw your work, that is a different story. Them just stumbling onto you, and after a brief conversation, they are telling you that you are the right person for the project, more so when you know you are not (but could do the work), is a red flag.
The second was the time in which they needed the work done. In this case, midnight. The tighter the deadline, the redder the flag. This guy’s plan was that we hole up at his office, and just bang it out, because he needed files by midnight, if these pieces were going to get to the printer on time.
Professional people that work with illustrators and designers a lot, generally have a network of such people they contact in advance of starting that stage of the project. Chances are, this guy could have been stepping outside of his job to try and show what he can do. He never said anything along the lines of “My old designer had to leave the project, or I fired my old designer”. Both of which are also red flags.
If you are ONE day from the completion of a project, and the designer/illustrator is getting on your nerves, a professional just bares it out, gets the project done, and then never hires that person again. There does get to be a point in a project where firing the person, is going to screw the project over.
The third red flag was that there wasn’t any talk on how much I would charge, or how much he could pay. It was all, lets get this work done! take a step back. Before you spend a whole day, holed up in an office with anyone I don’t know, I want to know for how much. And more then likely, I need half up front, just in case you forget about how I gave a whole day up for this.
Again, professionals always bring up the subject of money, even if it’s just, “Can you give me your rates?” While what to charge is a whole separate subject, being hired or given a project without that conversation, is a red flag.
Other things that raised red flags. Why did I have to come to his office? Does he have all the software I would need to do the project? What if I would need illustrator or Photoshop and all he has is Microsoft Office? Anything he would need, I would be able to do from home, and heck, we could even Skype and he could see what was on my screen. If the deadline is that tight, why waste time with me traveling?
There are many, many, many red flags. Each one is unique to the situation. For example, working in an office has it whole own set of red flags you might not encounter as a freelancer. Most of the time, it takes experience to learn to spot them.