Biz Features

F*ck You, Pay Me – Why Creative Workers and Freelancers Need Contracts

by . February 24th, 2014

Mule Design’s Mike Monteiro On How Creative Professionals Shortchange Themselves

Money is an awkward subject for many newbie entrepreneurs. A lot of the time, we want nothing more than to create. Unfortunately, many entreps – particularly creatives – fall short on the business side of things. And if you fall short on the whole contracts thing, it often means you don’t get paid.

Mike Monteiro, Design Director at Mule Design and his lawyer Gabe Levine discuss how to get paid by clients that don’t want to pay you. While this talk is aimed at creative professionals – a group forever getting stiffed by their clients – the points discussed apply to all contracting jobs.

We recommend that you watch the whole video – especially if you’re a creative professional or do any sort of freelance work. It’s a bit long, so we’ve included some of the more important points:

This is a Business!


Creative professionals (a general term that includes artists, designers, writers, musicians, photographers who get paid for their work) are stiffed by clients with an alarming frequency. The reason? Many don’t take the need for binding contracts and other business concepts seriously.

If you want to live off your craft, you have to realize that loving what you do just won’t cut it.

Always Have a Contract

A Good Contract Will Have:

  • Clear Definitions
  • Clear Expectations

“Greatest Hits of Bad Predicaments” (That Contracts Prevent)

  1. Company Lays Off Entire Division
  2. Client Goes Rogue
  3. “You Can Trust Us”
  4. Client Brings in Another Designer/Contractor

A Good Lawyer Makes You Money

Mike Monteiro points to his lawyer Gabe Levine “This guy makes me money…This guy has gotten our contracts to such a point that where we’re no longer leaving money on the table. We’re protecting ourselves really well. What I pay him is a pittance of the money I would have lost had I not had him taking care of this stuff.

And secondly, you’re at the point you need a lawyer when you’ve decided to stop being a design amateur and become a design professional…”

Top 6 Things You Need To Know About Contracts

    1. Contracts Protect Both Parties
    2. Don’t Start Work Without a Contract
    3. Don’t Blindly Accept Their Terms
    4. Anticipate Negotiation, But Don’t Back Down on Important Stuff
      • IP Transfers on Full Payment
      • Termination (Kill Fee)
      • Liability
    5. Lawyers Talk To Lawyers – Let your lawyer talk to their lawyer. Never let it be any other way.
    6. Be Specific and Confident About Money

Mule Design’s 3-Point Winning Strategy

  • Contracts Up Front
  • Internal Allies (people who know the client)
  • Advisors

Money can be an ugly subject for creatives who really want to do nothing more than to get their work out there. But if you want to actually live off of your talents – if you want to be taken seriously – always make sure you’ve got the business side down.

What’s your winning strategy? Tell us in the comments section below!

Image Credits:

NobMouse via photopin cc

LOSINPUN via photopin cc


Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.