Member News November 17, 2016
by Lauren Festa
Are you a creative? A freelancer? Ever been frustrated with a (non-paying) client? Does the word “exposure” make your eyes roll? Then this is for you. Lauren Hom, ADC Member, freelance hand letterer and illustrator working under the studio name Hom Sweet Hom, believes that everyone’s time is valuable, and that creatives should be paid fairly for their time. We could not agree more, which is why we wanted to get in touch with Lauren and talk to her about #FollowHerLead, an initiative she started that’s become something of a social (media) movement. Summoning the power of Beyoncé and other female creative powerhouses in her industry, Lauren is making waves all in the name of getting paid. (You go girl!) Read our revealing Q&A below and join her in getting what you deserve.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a freelance hand letterer and illustrator working under the studio name Hom Sweet Hom. I used to work as an art director in advertising. In 2014, I started a side project called Daily Dishonesty that changed the course of my career, and now I make a living doing lettering for advertising, editorial, and more. Previously based in New York City for 6 years, I packed up my studio and started traveling around the world in February 2016.
Where and how did the idea that freelancers should be paid fairly (duh!) come about?
It should be a no-brainer that everyone across every field should be compensated fairly for their time, but over the years I’ve noticed that it’s creatives that seem to get taken advantage of. I think it’s because society has a misconception that art is easy because it’s fun and therefore takes no time to make. Since time is the metric by which the world values labor, this misconception is detrimental to creative professionals making a good living.
This whole “Stop Trying to Pay Creatives Next to Nothing” movement started when FabFitFun asked me to do an illustration for them in exchange for “an incredible amount of exposure” (a sugar-coated way to say NO MONEY FOR YOU!). They then came back with an offer of $50, which I found almost more inappropriate. You can read more about the honest exchange on my blog. I had a flashback to 5 years ago when I was just starting out as a freelance designer, and I realized that, at 21, I might have said yes to an offer like that. I noticed in the original email that I was just BCC’d on a (presumably large) list of illustrators, so I felt compelled to speak publicly about this because it could be educational and empowering for younger creatives to know that it’s okay to say no to requests like these. I just felt like I had a responsibility to do it.
Who did you call upon to help spread the word?
Honestly, I played Beyonce’s Formation a couple times with the volume turned all the way up and began to tap into every connection I could think of. I summoned my creative ladies back in New York with a passionate email. Next, I reached out to a few of my friends from the creative Instagram community to help spread the world. I ended up partnering with my friend Claire’s organization Ladies Get Paid, which aims to helps women close the wage cap. Everyone was so quick to say yes because let’s face it: as creative women, we’re all on the same team. Lucky for me, living in New York connected me to so many incredible women. Unlucky for FabFitFun, they just happened to put a particularly passionate, outspoken woman on that list of illustrators.
Can you tell us a story about a time when you were unfairly paid or not paid at all?
The very first freelance project I ever worked on was a $50 logo from a gig I found on Craigslist, and the guy never paid me. Granted, it was a pretty crappy logo, but it was a really terrible way to start my freelance career. I slowly started getting small, paid jobs throughout college, and by the time senior year rolled around, I was ecstatic to be charging $35 per hour. One day over lunch I was telling my friend Minah about how proud of myself I was to be charging that much, and she sheepishly looked at me and said, “Oh uh, my teacher actually said we should be charging $50 per hour as seniors at one of the best art schools in the country.” Had she never told me, I would’ve kept $30 as a baseline rate and kept underpricing myself for who knows how long. The next project that came along, I asked for $50 per hour and the client accepted immediately. This is why, as a creative community, we need to start talking honestly about more uncomfortable topics like money and sexism because knowledge really is power; it ignites change.
What do you hope to achieve with this initiative?
I hope that speaking out about my experience and standing up to a disrespectful client will give other female creatives the courage to do the same. There is so much community and strength in shared experiences; it’s really humanizing and empowering to know that we’re all in this together. Like I said, we’re all on the same team. When one of us wins, we all win. I also hope it’s educational for people on the client side too and that companies take note of this example and stop trying to cut corners by cutting budgets for artwork.
Is this more for ladies or is it more of a general, “I’m a freelancer who wants to be paid for my work” thing? (inclusive of exclusive)
I think creative skills being undervalued is a gender-blind thing, but the contest I’m running and message I’m spreading is mostly for women. Women are more at risk for being exploited for cheap work because we’re typically not taught to be confrontational and stand up for ourselves in the way that men are. But men are more than welcome to chime in and be allies to the cause, like my friend Zipeng Zhu did.
From your own experience and the stories you have heard thus far, can you give us some quick and dirty tips for not being ripped off/safeguarding yourself from a difficult client?
I’d say the red flag keywords to watch out for are: “exposure”, “collaboration”, and “up and coming”. Always make sure you clearly outline the number of revisions and rounds you’re willing to do for the agreed upon price. When someone asks you for an estimate or quote on a project in an in-person meeting or on the phone, never answer impulsively on the spot. Tell them that you need a day to consider every aspect of the project, and then send your estimate via email. It can be easy to get nervous and lowball yourself on the spot because you’re trying to be nice and want them to hire you. A client who respects your work and skills will hire you for your normal rate.
I think this is something that you don’t get taught in schools. (maybe I’ve been out for too long.) What other sources can a newbie creative turn to (if one didn’t have an agent) for advice on how to handle their business?
I’ve had an agent for the past 3 years, but I’d recommend poking around the AIGA and Freelancer’s Union websites. I’d also recommend following all of your favorite designers/creatives on social media to stay up-to-date with their work and business practices. You never know who’ll post an article or tips on how they run their business, and you don’t want to miss it. People are more generous with information than you’d think.
We’ve seen a lot of posts on Instagram already. Will this be posted on other channels?
The contest is running on Instagram, so it’ll mostly live there. I just recorded a Facebook video outlining my experience for those who’d rather listen than read.
Can you give us the relevant hashtags that coincide with the movement?
The contest’s main hashtag is #FollowHerLead. The whole idea for this movement came to me when I saw that FabFitFun had hosted an Instagram contest to “empower women” asking people to post photos of inspirational women with the hashtag #FollowHerLead. I found it incredibly ironic that a company who wants to empower women would try to underpay female illustrators, so I decided to playfully give them a taste of their own medicine by taking over their hashtag with our photos and stories. We took over the hashtag within a day, receiving over 60 submissions so far, and the contest isn’t even over until 11/20! The supporting ones are #ladiesgetpaid and #fuckthewagegap from my partnership with Ladies Get Paid.
- Let’s say I am a freelancer who has experienced this. How do I get involved?
Be brave and enter our Instagram contest by posting a photo of yourself holding up a sign with something that someone has said that was offensive and questioned your creative value & sharing your story in the caption using the hashtag #FollowHerLead. More contest details here!
What are some other kick-ass initiatives that you are digging right now? Or other strong leaders who are advocating for creatives?
Reading Jessica Hische’s Should I Work for Free flowchart and Dan Cassaro’s I don’t work for free Twitter retort definitely helped give me the confidence to speak up and advocate for creatives. I honestly really admire the work that Claire Wasserman is doing with Ladies Get Paid in New York: giving women community and resources to gain confidence and make more money.
Any stories you’ve heard so far that have surprised or shocked you?
Honestly, I’ve been able to relate to a part of everyone’s story so far, which is actually pretty sad and speaks volumes about how sexism still runs rampant in the industry. This one submission from Gin Chen really hit home for me, and I think her caption embodies how a lot of women are feeling right now, especially after Hillary Clinton’s concession speech when she spoke directly to little girls watching.