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I’ve been freelancing for around seven years now, but I’m not sure how to handle this situation. I have a startup interested in me for an interface design position, but they want to do a trial project to gauge fit and all that. However, the “trial” project is actually a logo redesign. They’re offering me $300 up front. When the CEO mentioned it on the phone, he said he knew that was low, but that it was meant to see how we work together, and asked if I’d be okay with that.

It’s a really interesting company, and the full-time position sounds like exactly what I’ve been looking for, but for $300, I couldn’t provide the same level of research, multiple rounds of revisions, etc. I’m also a little uncomfortable with the idea of a $300 trial project resulting in a mark that represents the entire company.

I’d be really grateful for any suggestions/advice on how to handle this.

  • 18
    How much are you billing per hour? I don't find $300 (10-15 hours) to be that unreasonable for a simple logo revamp. From my experience, they are probably not expecting you to do much research or anything, just take existing logo and make it less... shit. – Davor Nov 17 '15 at 12:19
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    It depends what you think of the price. If you needed to rewire your house, you wouldn't say to electrician "change all the socket covers for half price to see if you're a fit". He could turn around and say "Sorry, you're not really a fit, but thanks for the cheap logo." You might be able to draw up a contract that says if he uses your work he agrees to use you exclusively for X, Y & Z – Prinsig Nov 17 '15 at 15:35
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    @Davor with freelance, $30 an hour after taxes and etc is closer to $15 an hour. They're not just wanting a simple revamp either. By redesign, I mean, they don't think the current logo represents them and want to go in an entirely different direction. – Andrew Nov 17 '15 at 16:21
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    Take the money, draw a logo on a napkin, hand it back, say "that's what you get for $300 of my time." – DA01 Nov 17 '15 at 20:51
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    I'm only a design graduate, so it's very easy for me to say this. But this is exactly the kind of situation that annoys me. Until designers learn to refuse this kind of "trial" situation, businesses will keep thinking that it's acceptable. This culture of spec work is damaging to the field of design. – johnp Nov 17 '15 at 21:54
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Pretty much all Gen-Y or young "startup" use that "let's see if we're a good fit" catch phrase. And promise "more work coming" blablabla. Seriously.

In other words, it means "we have no money and we're still struggling paying off those 200 nice cups and T-Shirts we ordered with our Word logo on them, and fancy photoshoots of our team of 3, etc.".

You could always accept the project and give them an inferior logo. You can always work with that budget and not get "personally" involved in this logo as your best piece of art. Surprisingly, they might be very very happy with it. But from experience, I can assure you that when projects start this way, they usually stay this way. It doesn't mean it's bad, it might lead you to some good places. As you said, it's their logo and that's how much they care about it. Imagine the web banners and flyers... If you're the kind of designer who cares about your "art" and isn't used to doing "commercial" designs, this company might not be a good fit for you or get prepared to often be forced do less than what you truly want.

Forget about the promises of future work; you'll see if they're serious when it gets there or offer them a bigger package deal if you want to "hook" them. Honestly, if you don't need the money, I really think you should test them before getting too involved anyway.

You can consider it a test for yourself too but promises are often just promises; so you do that work if you really gain something else out of it (eg. fun, practice, nice logo for portfolio, network, etc.)

Also, a lot of startup talk about full time position: read this differently.

  • Often they mean "become OUR exclusive designer on call 24/7", it doesn't always mean 40hr/week of work at $20-30+/hr from 8 to 5; it means work on weekend or overnight on cheap digital projects because they're not organized and have low budgets. Often they're just dreaming of that ideal solution and won't even have a budget for this position until their business is 3-5 years old.
  • Often it can also mean "once we get a virtual assistant or intern at $8/hr, we'll ask you templates so this person can do half your work"!

So ask questions and try them within some conditions. Don't act like a guy who needs a job, act like someone doing them a favor. Serious business people don't promise things, they go straight for what they need.

Source: Worked with TONS of startups and young entrepreneurs. There's obviously strong patterns hard to ignore.


TLDR:

  • Only do this if you get something else out of it.
  • Don't make your decision based on the promises of full time work
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    Yeah, that ^ Once a cheap client, always a cheap client. Probably signs his emails with "MBA" too. – plainclothes Nov 17 '15 at 6:08
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    I'm thinking about handling this one of two ways. Since the idea is that this is a trial, thus the reduced budget, I'm wondering if there's a professional, diplomatic way of agreeing to the redesign, but not granting them commercial use and only providing reduced res jpgs for review. If they want to use it, we could then discuss my rate. I know, I know. But maybe it makes sense here? Or I could agree to redesign the logo, but limit it to $300 worth of my time based on my hourly rate. Or I could cut them some slack and do the initial design for $300, but any revisions would be at my hourly. – Andrew Nov 17 '15 at 6:54
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    @Andrew Option 2 & 3 seem good, they'll probably prefer #2. You can offer 1 first proof with 1-2 simple options, then 2-3 rounds of minor revisions depending on your rates. Flat rates can be annoying because some clients always have "just a small tiny update it's-the-last-one-I-promise-please-please" <-- usually after you sent the final files. You could tell them: "I'll put 5hr on the first draft, then the rest on revisions. If you need more, increase the budget later" and you can add to this "if you're super efficient, you might actually save!" (they won't anyway & you'll get at least $300) – go-junta Nov 17 '15 at 7:02
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    You're assuming they're actually going to use your logo. Who says there's not other "Designers" they've sent a similar offer to? They're going to want full rights to the art, no question. If you can get more out of them, do it but I agree with the answer: don't base in this on the grounds of future work. If you're looking for that, then they should also be open to a more permeant position: say for a month while you complete the project properly. – RitterKnight Nov 17 '15 at 21:06
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    Maybe they're using the shotgun approach and have several people, each for $300, trying to fix their label. Then they'll go with the best one? – Elias Nov 18 '15 at 15:20
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If they want to try you out (fair enough), and their budget is $300, offer something else you are willing to do for that price (a business card proposal? A presentation template? a website banner?) that can show off your skills, test your relationship with the client, and give them something of value. It doesn't have to be a logo or nothing.

If they're not willing to accomodate this, then it's not about testing you out, it's about getting a cheap logo.

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    The only issue with this suggestion is without a logo, doing any other marketing material might be a difficult task and even more time consuming since you have nothing to work with and no guideline! It doesn't matter if they want a cheap logo, that's what they want. The price of a logo is not what makes it cheap or not. A cheap logo is a logo using a clipart! I could spend 1-2hr on a logo redesign at $300 and get it approve at the first draft... that's quite well paid and I kept my dignity! – go-junta Nov 18 '15 at 3:44
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    The Stack Overflow logo: 99designs.ca/logo-design/contests/logo-stackoverflow-6774 – go-junta Nov 18 '15 at 4:36
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    Or agree do a logo for a fictional company in their product space, perhaps? Or even for a competetor? If they really want to see skills and approach, getting a logo for Pandasoft (with apologies to Dave) rather than for RaccoonWare should't be a problem, if it's desgned with their stated goals in mind and you can explain the process and how you'd change it to their brand for the final if they bring you on board. But in this model, you don't charge them for the time... and you don't necessarily produce print-quality renderings. – keshlam Nov 19 '15 at 5:11
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it was meant to see how we work together

"I understand what you're trying to accomplish, but I hope you understand that part of making sure we work well together is respecting and valuing each other on an even playing field. I do excellent work, and if I give you a discount without a contract that includes other work that justifies the discount, then, as a professional, I'm only going to work to that rate. That's not going to benefit you, though. By all means, let's try to work something out - it sounds interesting, and the people I've met there are fun to work with, but please don't ask me to lower my standards - it will only hurt our business relationship. Future possibilities are just that - possibilities. If you don't want to sign a contract for further work to justify the discount right now, I suggest we work together on the logo at my normal rate, and then as we work together further we can discuss discounts based on work already done, rather than trying to hammer out a longer term contract now. Alternately, let me recommend designers I trust that operate at the price range you're trying to achieve."

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From your comments on another answer:

Since the idea is that this is a trial, thus the reduced budget, I'm wondering if there's a professional, diplomatic way of agreeing to the redesign, but not granting them commercial use and only providing reduced res jpgs for review.

I wouldn't play that game. I take a more cynical approach. It sounds like they're too cheap to hire a professional to really flesh out a proper logo in the first place. As others have mentioned, startups are notorious for testing the waters. You have reservations about giving them decent artwork without proper attribution. This isn't going end well.

If they are serious, I would counter with a more permanent position, say a month. As someone who's sat on both sides of the hiring table, it's hard to judge anyone's performance on one single project, especially in identity work. What's next, companies looking for typographers to flesh out a custom typeface?

If I was the CEO, he's probably looking at just ideation. They need to be straight with you at what they want and how they're going to use the artwork. Are they looking for ideation or a complete, fleshed out logo? We all know there's a huge gap between the two and if I were going to bet, they're looking at a few options. Whether there's an actual designer position available remains to be seen.

Now that they have your ideas, and thus artwork, would you be OK with them using that idea(s) and running with them, assuming your hourly rate was paid? Even if you stand behind a contract, that doesn't mean they're not going to breach it and have some less skilled designer take as swing with your ideas. What are you going to do, take them to court based on a copyright clause? That's not something you want to deal with.

You're also assuming they're actually going to use your logo. Who says there's not other "designers" they've sent a similar offer to? They're going to want full rights to whatever you provide to them, no question. If you can get more out of them, do it, but I agree with go-meek's answer: don't base this on the grounds of future work. If you're looking for that, then they should also be open to a more permanent position: say for a month while you complete the project properly.

Let's say you do get hired on based on your concepts, would you be OK with taking someone else's logo—the other designers you were "competing" with—and playing with it and possibly "combining" those elements with whatever you had? That's another possibility as well.

for $300, I couldn’t provide the same level of research, multiple rounds of revisions, etc. I’m also a little uncomfortable with the idea of a $300 trial project resulting in a mark that represents the entire company.

Go read, or re-read Chapter 6 in Mike Monteiro's Design is a Job. This is a classic case of a client trying to break your process. Don't fall for it.

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I've worked for startups before. This is all about assessing how willing you are to go above and beyond expectations. Startups always work people to the bone - it's absolutely necessary to keep investors happy and to meet the ridiculous deadlines to get more funding. This means finding people who are talented and willing to go the extra mile over and over again without getting compensated for it.

They are expecting you to work really hard for little pay, then expect you to be "glad to help", and willing to do basically the same thing in the future. They want to see that you really gave it your all, and that you're passionate enough about design that you'll continue doing the same thing in the future. If you're not comfortable with this, don't do it.

Also, most startup people think that a logo design is a simple task. It's usually a very simple vector graphic with not much colors, etc, and sometimes it's just the company name in some fancy font, so it couldn't take more than a couple hours right? So from their point of view this is very generous - $300 for a logo design that they might not even use, plus the option to get hired. I've been in startups before where the "interview" was: sit at this computer and fix things for us. I'm not joking, we actually got some people to work for us for 3 or 4 hours and do actual development, then we turn them down because they "are not a good fit".

  • 1
    that's terrible – user24102 Nov 18 '15 at 20:16
  • The work-disguised-as-interview thing is not only immoral, but could get the company into legal trouble. A candidate may decide to take action, and although the cost is likely just legal fees plus compensation for work done, having these kinds of legal challenges against a startup is a big turn-off for investors. – Neil Slater Nov 20 '15 at 9:30
  • Good point @Neil, but most successful startups I can think of break many laws, especially early in the process. Paypal, Uber, Tesla are all good examples. Market disruption is never a "safe" investment. – James Watkins Nov 20 '15 at 21:26
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I think people here miss an interesting condition: Tell them you agree but if the logo is accepted, they can only use it if they hire you. That way:
- You get paid for a job application (I'd take 300 USD as a reward to be tried on a job that I want - any day)
- You don't let them get away with a "steal"

About how much effort to put in: I guess if you can spare the time and you think the end game is better for you (you get the job) than suck up the difference between 300 USD and what you would charge for a fully-made logo and make a fully-made logo.

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    What prevents them from hiring you (at will) and firing you the next day? In the United States, at least, the law doesn't. (IANAL.) – msh210 Nov 19 '15 at 18:51
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    @msh210 Nothing in this world is bullet proof. What if the entire thing is a scam and there's no employer and all they want is to puzzle him with an interview condition so that he asks here and then they answer and get points? What if this is all a dream and you are all figments of my imagination? – DraxDomax Nov 20 '15 at 14:34
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To give the benefit of the doubt to the CEO, remember that the priority is to check 'it was meant to see how we work together' vs delivering world changing design that cost $300.

For me, spending $300 to find out 'how we work together' for a bit of work is a fair proposition.

Be professional and manage his expectation on what to expect for a $300 project (eg. 1-1.5 days work max) and go a bit beyond that eventually (e.g. 3 days work) since you are freelancing and still have a lot of commitments.

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