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I experienced this once while trying to do collaborative work for a video game some years ago. It was not exactly a client-customer relation, but I treated it for one as I was eager to get some projects done to further develop my skills and to add something for my resume.

The idea sounded lovely and I really wanted to do it. I was in charge of the graphics, he of the programming. I was given a lot of freedom, maybe a bit too much. Unfortunately, he did not supply *any* facts and frames to work with. Starting from the resolution the game should be published in, over major game design decisions to the amount of graphics needed. All of that was promised but never given and I was put on hold - my favourite quote was "but can't you just start anyway and then we'll see further?"

It went from a promising project with a lot of potential down to something I hoped I'd never agreed on. He seemed to lose interest for some days just to bombard me with questions and ideas the next day. Inexperienced as I was, I spent much more time on that than I would today, including giving ideas away that I should have kept to myself, but I learned some vital lessons during the process. The mistakes I made might cause some serious amusement among more experienced artists (as well as certain embarassment in myself), but at least it ensured that I learned my lesson well. It also helped me to develop an organized way of approaching such projects (and to make sure to sort out the "dreamers", for business and my own hobby alike), which I couldn't have come up initially as I didn't even know in which particular ways communication and agreements can go wrong. Needless to say, I stopped working with him quite soon - one of the main annoyances was him giving me bits of information I could work with (such as measurements for a starship I was to design along with information that seemed consistant and solid) followed by "but this is not yet known"s oder "no quite finished"s. Today I think he might have underestimated the actual amount of work involved in such a project, while I overestimated the amount of work already done by him. I wouldn't say he was an incurable dreamer, but merely think it just was wrong to ask for graphics at this stage of the process. So maybe dreamers still can be good customers or collaboration partners - as long as enough initial work is done and then a synergy effect goes off. This was the case with some customers I recently had - it all started off very vague and with a lot of polite "ifs" and "only if you're ok with that" etc, but ended in a great project that gave me a maximum of independence and freedom and, as conveniently reflected in additional payment, responsibility and the opportunity to not only "deliver graphics" but to help forming and seeing a project "grow" that I could truly identify with. I admit, I wouldn't have been able to help pushing the project if I had not encountered Mr. Flashgame earlier on my way.

So maybe it's a good thing to have the occassional dreamer or hobbyist among your customers - it all depends on their potential and commitment once the "spark" has flown.

Great story, Sarah...well, great in that does further illustrate the point that dreamers don't often make good clients. I am sorry the project didn't work out better for you. It sounds like you did everything right, but sometimes clients insist on not wanting to put the work in. You were also right by guessing that your client underestimated the amount of work required. Many clients believe there's a new "creativity" button in Photoshop CS6 that designers can push -- with the click of the mouse button, out pops a wonderful project!

Maybe the additional lesson in here (for all of us) is that when you estimate that your client is a dreamer and a hobbyist, make sure you invest some time upfront in laying out the ground rules and the project expectations. The trick is that you have to handle the client gently in this area. Remember, she/he is full of...well excitement about the project, so you don't want to rob them of their initial joy. Instead, praise them for their excitement, but gently let them know that the project will take time and effort on their part. And while you'll do your best to make the project enjoyable, let them know there will be times that they'll need to invest time and energy into it - in those moments it won't be quite as fun.

Anyway, thanks for taking some time to share this story. You learned a good lesson, and it sounds like you won't get fooled again. Good for you!

I know someone who actually has brought clients to her computer and asked them to find the "van graphics" menu...

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    A very small sample of the actual illustrations drawn for the Being a Starving Artist Sucks, and Verbal Kung Fu for Freelancers book. The illustrations were done by: Matt Hein, Rich Arnold and Carlos Ponce - 3 outstanding designers.