Trial by Fire: What My First Freelance Job Taught Me About Client Relations

I had stopped looking for it, but then there it was and there was no escape.

I'm talking, of course, about my first freelance gig.

I got the gig through a friend I had stayed in touch with after completing an internship. I'd been working in the corporate world full time for about a year when I got asked if I wanted to pick up this project on the side.

The project at hand was an authored DVD for a big company. They would hand out the DVD to customers. The tool was DVD Studio Pro. I stopped by the production house doing the work, got a rundown on what they wanted, and when asked if I could accomplish it, I obviously said oh yes, no problem.

(Funnily enough, I had attempted to become certified in DVD Studio Pro about a year earlier, and I had failed the test. But that's a story for another post.)

Anyway, I had done my research and I was pretty familiar with DVDs, but they wanted a really complex authored DVD. The structure was more like a Flash interface, to be honest. When I went into the meeting and was told what they were requesting, I had some doubts but I was pretty sure I could accomplish it. I kind of killed myself trying to learn DVD Studio Pro, and it was a learning-by-fire situation for a couple of days. I don't think you can go into that kind of situation without ANY inkling of how the software works though, but hell, I'd try anyway.

And I did figure it out. It was cool and they liked it but ultimately went a more conventional route. But that's where the problems started.

You see, they had an in-house graphic designer making all the DVD graphics. I was simply assembling the structure of the DVD and making the buttons based on their assets. I was getting graphics delivered to me that were uh, a little bizarre. They were huge. Like 3000x2000 px or whatever is actually rectangular. Massive stuff. 300DPI. Basically, I think I was getting print quality images. I was so confused, and my first instinct was to email back and question the guy. Besides all this, the text was far too small and serifed, the colors were off, and it wasn't going to look right on an interlaced screen.

But then, the seed of doubt. I was new, I hadn't authored many DVDs, and this guy was employed with this multinational corporation specifically for graphics. Plus he was super nice. He had to know what he was doing, and I was just going about it all wrong, right? I tried using the images or scaling them, and it didn't work. I was a little freaked, but I went back into the DVD spec list, wrote down some bullet points, and emailed back a nice note explaining that DVDs are 720x480, among other stipulations for designing a solid menu. I copied a couple of people and suggested he examine the graphics and make a few adjustments.

What ensued was an epic email thread of complete and utter confusion. It finally resolved itself after a week or so and I delivered the DVD on time.

This project ended up teaching me a lot more about client relations than I expected it to

If there's an issue or question, address it immediately

I didn't. I second guessed myself and tried to make it work, and that was the wrong move. If the deadline had been tighter, I would have screwed myself. Communication is important.

Just because someone is older or more experienced than you doesn't mean they know better

People have all different types of experiences. Just because a guy does graphics for a corporation doesn't mean he ever does DVD graphics. Always get a read on if guidelines are needed when someone else is producing assets. A simple, quick conversation would have avoided all this mess. Maybe. Not always, but worth a shot.

Don't question your instincts

If your first thought is that something is wrong or needs to be changed, address it or fix it. Don't let it sit and fester, and don't just leave it. Chances are the client will notice it and want it to be changed, or you'll eventually hate it anyway.

It worked out pretty well for me though. I got hired for a few more of these gigs. Plus, I can now author the HELL out of a DVD. If there's one thing about learning by fire, you REALLY learn your stuff.

Too bad nobody wants DVDs anymore.