Trust me, I’m a professional

>A friend of mine recently had an unpleasant experience with a company who hired him to perform a service and was dissastisfied with the service he provided.

This does happen, especially with creative work, and usually the differences between the artist and contractor can be worked out amicably, especially if the artist hasn’t invested a great deal of time and energy in the work. It’s a sort of no fault separation, where both sides agree the work is not going well and decide to terminate it–the artist is paid for the work ou has done and the company goes on to find someone who does suit their needs.


You’d be wrong. In this case, the company decided to wait until after the work had been completed and delivered to complain, declaring that because they weren’t satisfied, they would pay him a fraction of the agreed upon fee and retain the work. I argued with him that he should repossess the work, explaining to the company that if they wanted rights to it they would have to pay him in full, and reminding the company that their behaviour in the situation was far from mature. They had contracted him to do work, he had billed them at an hourly wage, and at no time did the company express displeasure with what was going on–only after the work was delivered did they think to complain about it. I cry foul. This is the same sort of attitude you see from the table that eats all their pasta, complains about it, and expects the dish to be comped.

Now I know that none of you, dear readers, would engage in this sort of behaviour, but I ask you to consider the following and perhaps share it with others, in the hopes that we can stamp out unprofessional and impolite behaviour. For make no mistake, especially in a situation where one company is asking for a service from another and one of the parties breaches contract, it’s not just impolite, it is unprofessional, and it makes the breaching company look bad.

So let’s have a talk about the professional trades.

Lots of us need things from professionals at some point in our lives, because not everyone can do everything. You may at some point in your existence hire someone to tattoo you, build a website, perform surgery on your animals, feed you, entertain you, diagnose your health problems, print wedding announcements, paint your house, and so on. Now, as the person hiring you should dictate certain expectations and make sure they are outlined in your contract–in the examples above, you may wish to specify what kind of tattoo you want, the general look you desire for your website, the outcome you expect from the surgery, etc. But you need to remember something: the people performing these services are professionals. They have extensive training and education in the field that you don’t have. This is why you are hiring them.

As such, they may make recommendations to you which will affect your long term pleasure with the work. It might behoove you to follow these recommendations, considering the fact that the recommender actually knows what they’re doing. Should you allow yourself to be pushed into something you don’t want by the person you have hired or contracted with? No, of course not. But it’s really a superb idea to pay attention to their contributions to the work–they may have a better idea of what kind of website they can actually build that will serve your clients, which colours would work on your house in terms of colourfastness and aesthetics, realistic sizes for invitation envelopes that will work with the post office, and so forth.

I’ve noticed that every time I push a professional into doing what I want, I’m not pleased with the outcome, and every time I say “hey, I trust you, you are a professional,” I am delighted with the work. It’s a good idea to come to someone with an expectation and goals in mind, but perhaps you should let them lead you on the journey. Tattoo artists, for example, know how designs will look on the human skin–even if you are a really talented artist, you probably haven’t worked in the medium of human flesh before, and you don’t understand the limitations contained therein. A medical doctor has gone through school and training for a minimum of eight years–it is conceivably possible that they may have a better idea about how to approach your health problem than you do. A web designer can tell you which of your goals are achievable and which are not because ou understands, intimately, the medium being dealt with. It’s excellent to have a firm idea of what you are expecting, a skeleton, so to speak, but let the professional supply the flesh and skin that turn it into reality.

Relax. I’m assuming that when you go out to seek any kind of professional services, you ask for recommendations first. Listen to what your recommenders say, and if they like the quality of the work they have received or you have seen the work yourself and appreciate it, you are probably dealing with the right person. I also assume that you have met with the person you intend to hire several times about the project you have in mind, and you probably have a good idea about whether or not you two will work well. Most professionals, especially those in the arts, encourage a consultation meeting where both parties can feel each other out, no hard feelings if the project won’t work. Medical professionals will happily refer you if you feel you’re not a good fit with a particular clinician–although yes, you will have to pay for the office visit. Especially in the middle stages, a project can seem murky, like it’s not going where you want it to, but remember–it’s not until you tie up the last loose end that you can call a project done. Don’t fuss about the colour of the house when all you can see is the primer.

Do differences with professionals occur? Sure thing. Sometimes you are simply not a good fit with the person you are working with, and it’s clear that they can’t realize your vision for you. And that’s fine, but it’s something you should address as early as possible. The time to complain is the beginning, when you say “gee waiter, this is really not what I was expecting, I’m terribly sorry but could I send it back?” And when you do terminate services, you need to pay for the services rendered thus far. Not only because it’s rude and unprofessional not to, but because it’s bad karma. People need to be paid for the work they have done, regardless as to your ultimate satisfaction with it, because those are lost billing hours never to be regained. Payment for services rendered is about respect, and just because you don’t like the service doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have to pay for it. Especially if you are actively using, digesting, or wearing it. A tattoo can’t be “taken back” by the house. Services are very different from goods, in that they are non-returnable, because services are a concept, hours working towards an ultimate product, not a concrete item. That’s why you terminate services early, rather than late–so you and the provider don’t lost time, money, and resources.

Work done on your project and not paid for isn’t just lost billing hours–it’s lost materials, and depending on how far into the project the artist got, they may be forced to pay people for services rendered which relate directly to your project–and it’s not fair to ask them to eat it. Another friend of mine, a graphic designer, recently finished a very large project with a client, sent the work out to make films so that it could be printed, and was told only after the films were made (and the $2,000 bill arrived) that the company “wasn’t happy” with her and they would be choosing another designer after all. Luckily she had charged a non-returnable deposit, and was able to pay the processing company and herself for the time spent on the project.

For those of us in more conventional jobs where one is hired and an hourly wage is paid, the thought of not being paid for a day work is anathema. As well it should be, because if an employer has a problem with the employee it should be worked out–the employer should not be getting the employee’s work for free. Likewise with a hired professional–it’s a matter of basic respect between two parties.

How can you avoid problems like this? Start with recommendations, as I mentioned above. Don’t go to the person who will give you the cheapest or fastest deal, unless this person has been recommended. Take the time to look up references, ask for previous examples of their work, and so on. Once you have settled upon a provider, meet with them to discuss the project. If, at the end of your meeting, you feel a good match has been made and both parties are enthusiastic about the project, ask for an estimate. Please remember that an estimate is just that–a guess at how much the services you are contracting for will cost. This number may change as the project will change, and a professional will make you aware of this (and check with you before embarking upon a subproject that will drive your estimate up). Finally, get a contract. In the case of a veterinary surgery, it might be something simple like signing the estimate and confirming the services you want. Or it might be something more complex. Make sure that both sides understand what is desired in terms of final product, delivery time, and so forth. And then…trust the person you have hired. Ou is a professional, and ou is every bit as dedicated to a positive outcome as you are. More–for the person you have hired, a reputation and a livelihood rides on your satisfaction.

There’s a term we in the industry like to use when talking about situations like this: getting shafted.

[working with professionals]