How to spot red flags when collaborating with other artists and companies.
This happened to me not too long ago, and for some reason it has not left my mind since. I’m sure you have thought about partnering up with other artists and/or companies. Some are dream collabs and it doesn’t even feel real when that email pops up in your inbox.
This happened to me and I was over the moon. I was eying this business and I was planning on sending an email to see if we were a good fit. After a few weeks however, I get a message from one of their reps asking if I wanted to interview and see if maybe we can work in partnership. Of course I accepted immediately and tried to hide my excitement by not adding to many exclamation points in my response.
The first red flag.
It happened even before our meeting. I ignored it even though my gut feeling was telling me not to. I guess I wanted to see how it would go. You are probably wondering what was the red flag? Well, the meeting was going to be via zoom, and they made it sound that other artists were going to attend, which is totally fine. The time wasn’t ideal for me, so I asked if there was another time we could meet. The answer was no. They have these meeting one day a week and the next one would be 3 weeks from that day because of other events. The lack of flexibility kind of threw me off. If you want to work with me, why not give me a little bit of room to attend this meeting? I made it work, but I couldn’t ask any questions at the time because because I was driving and my daughter was on the backseat. If you have even attempted to show up for a meeting with a two year old, you know what I’m talking about.
The meeting was great, everyone was so nice and I was so excited. They take a big chunk of your profits but they also take care of all the marketing. This makes sense to me and it’s actually common if you are looking to teach workshops, or rent a venue for those workshops. I don’t particularly like the marketing side and I would have to pay for that anyway, so I would just rather pay someone to do it, so this was the perfect match.
The red flag I could not ignore
Towards the end of the meeting, one of the people presented started talking about the contract. All the terms were reasonable and I was prepared to do extra work, because they said their mission was to elevate my brand, and they mainly support female entrepreneurs. “I want your business to succeed” is what they said. Only to slap me (and everyone who wanted to sign up) with a NON COMPETE clause. My heart sank. This wasn’t just a red flag. It was a mile long red banner with streamers and fireworks kind of red flag. I thought no one did this anymore, and being a supporter of “community over competition”, it just didn’t feel right.
After thinking about this for literally weeks, I went and ask a friend. Mye (De Leon) is an expert in the art community and teaches a few courses and also coaches creatives. I wanted to get a second opinion and I knew she would give it to me straight. She wrote back in all caps: DO NOT DO IT. DO NOT SIGN UP. It turns out she had a former student who signed up with them, ended the contract (which you can do at any time, and that’s a good thing), and now is stuck waiting for the time period to elapse. PS.: I never mentioned the name of the company to her, and she knew exactly who I was talking about. Such a nightmare.
Not All Non Compete Clauses Are Made Equal
If you’re wondering what the the terms were, they were simple. I was not to teach my own classes for TWO YEARS after terminating the contract. Two years. If you rely on workshops, classes, or events for income, that is a huge loss of revenue. I would definitely have signed up if the non compete was DURING the time I would be under contract. But this was a punch in the stomach. That’s when the statement “we want you to be successful” was just bullshit. The phrase really meant, we want you to be successful and make a lot of money, but not more than us. Maybe that’s not what they meant to do it, I don’t think it was malicious. But it definitely came across that way to me. They were probably trying to protect their business. But a non compete clause will drive a lot of people away.
Not all non compete are the same. Some are very reasonable, some are a stretch, and some are not even enforceable because the terms are a bit ridiculous.
So how do you spot red flags? Well, every situation is different, and it’s a mix of gut feeling with industry standard terms, contract terms, and who would be benefit the most under those terms. I created a little list with just 4 things i always pay attention to, so read below for some pointers.
Flexibility. Or lack of thereof.
If a company or another artist is not flexible on when we can meet to talk about potential partnership. If they’re so excited and willing to get me onboard why would they make it so challenging to schedule a meeting? In my case, it was not just the lack of flexibility but also the lack of any information (more on that below). If there’s little to no effort to work with your schedule, then this could be a sign or more challenges to come along the way, and it’s really just not worth my time and sanity. I never expects anyone to be available around the clock, but you should always be given a couple of options for scheduled meetings. This time, I had zero options in a span of 2 weeks besides the time they had given me.
Again, no clause is the same, but all of them make me squirm. Well, almost all of them. I participate in a wedding show every few years and they have a non compete. They set up their show as a fake wedding where all the vendors get together and put a fake wedding for a real couple to renew their vows. Their clause is a year. BUT this make sense because I’m not interested in the same type of event more often than that. And The Big Fake Wedding (which I will be a vendor this year again), is the best in their niche, and if I’m going to do another show just like it, I’ll just sign up with them. Conclusion: their non-compete clause is VERY reasonable, in addition to letting me participate in other wedding shows that are different than the TBFW style.
A clause that is too long however, is something I run away from as fast as I can. For example, some designers license their paintings to companies as big as Target and Anthropologie. I’m not sure what their contract say, but some companies want exclusive rights to your design for a specific amount of time. I have never encountered THIS specific demand but was told to always say no. Others have non compete only for the duration of the contract, and some extends to even after. Big no.
In my case, the contract was for a non compete of TWO years after I ended the contract. This means that even after I no longer work with them, I could not teach workshops for two years. After doing some extensive research, i found that anything longer than 6 months might not even be enforceable. But the big question is: would you even want to risk the headache? My short answer would be no. If you have entered into a contract with a long term non compete clause, my best advise is to get legal advise. Every state, country, and industry is different so it might play our different for each person.
It Costs You Money
Depending on the work and the company, you will need to pay some money especially if materials and marketing are being covered by them. This is not out of the ordinary when teaching workshops in collaboration with other companies. You have to pay venues a fee to teach there, so if a company is saying they will cover everything, this means you will probably be paying part of your commission to them. This is the cost of doing business. However, if the fee I’d be paying is much higher than any potential profits, or I have no additional support, then I back out. When entering a partnership or a contract to get work done, you both have to benefit, so that’s something you must pay attention to. You won’t always benefit equally when it comes to money, but there’s a very fair exchange being done, whether it be marketing, art supplies or something else that is covered by them. If you feel something’s up but not sure what, always reach out to the creative community, there’s always someone willing to offer some helpful insight. Make sure to ask legal advice only to people who are in the legal field, as policies, laws and regulations vary by state and country.
Lack of Information
This is not just a red flag, but straight up annoying. Have you ever visited a website where you wanted to find out more about the company/restaurant/business/insert anything else here and find very vague to no information? Sometimes businesses leave out the prices in an effort to get in touch directly with their customers. Another reason might that their prices vary by work or commission so it’d be virtually impossible to post everything online, so it’s best to create a bespoke quote for each request. All understandable. The lack on information on the business itself however, or the partnership that you should be getting into is not. If a business/artist choose to keep that information offline, they should be prepared to have a packet or PDF with important information ready to be sent to whom ever they would like to work with. In my case, there was no info at all, on or off the website, and the online meetings were not recorded. Everything felt very secretive and and that’s probably the reason a non compete clause was included. Fear of sharing their resources with others or just using it for their own gain. The fear that someone becomes more successful than the business itself came across again.
But How Do You Protect Your Work?
It might seem like it makes sense to add a non compete when it comes to your intellectual property. However, a non compete just stops creative people from reaching their full potential, and has nothing to do with competition. Instead of signing on a non compete, I’m much more likely (and have signed) to sign contracts where I am not to share any of the work of X company or their resources with anyone who’s not an official vendor. This is not only acceptable, is highly recommended. however, if I find you buy cheaper ink from a certain store, your non compete clause will not stop me from buying cheaper ink from that store.
The good news is: there are plenty of companies who like to partner with creatives, and are happy to draft terms that make both sides happy. So if you have been thinking about a specific brand you would love to collaborate with, don’t lose hope. It might that the perfect match is ready to find you.
So, just keep creating. They say the more you use your creative muscles the more creative you become (I think I totally butchered the quote, but it’s something along those lines).
Now, let’s talk: have you had any experience with less than ideal contracts or non compete clauses? Tell me in the comments!