There’s so much to think about when starting out as a new freelancer. Who is my ideal customer? What’s my level of expertise? How much do I charge? How do I redirect all the inevitable yet always ridiculous “why don’t you get a real job?” questions from family and friends?
One of the most pertinent tasks to consider, though, is how you’re going to run your business when it comes to customers. Now that you’re the CEO of your own business, you have to make some tough decisions. Many of these tough decisions will be about clients who may decide they don’t want to pay you.
Contracts, Contracts, Contracts
Contracts will be your best friend in the world when it comes time to settle a dispute. You may not want to deal with them, as they can seem like annoying impediments when you’re chomping at the bit to get started on a project. Some clients will even see them as an insult. However, when push comes to shove, you want a contract on your side.
The trick is to be nice and detailed with it. Don’t just put that you agree to do work for one mural or website or blog post – write out exactly what the mural or blog post is, what your duties are, what the client’s duties are, and the timeline in which you will complete the work. Consider contingencies, such as when the client asks for more than the scope of work. The more detailed you are the less worry you have when someone tries to back out of the deal. If the contract is for a vague “write some blog posts,” they may say you didn’t do the job correctly.
As far as “insulting” goes – anyone who doesn’t want to sign a contract because they feel like you shouldn’t need one with them will probably be trouble. Yes, I’m including close friends and family members here. Make it your business practice that everyone gets a contract, no matter what. A true friend will respect your methods.
Get a Deposit
You want to get paid; the client wants their work done. If neither of you trusts the other, you’re at an impasse. How do you resolve it?
Having the client pay a deposit up front is exactly the situation the process was designed to solve. The client doesn’t pay the entire sum right away so you can’t exactly run away to Bolivia, yet they’ve paid you a large enough sum that – if for some reason they should run to Bolivia – you still have something to work with.
Make sure the money is in your checking account/hands before you start any work.
Trust Your Gut
This tip is unteachable, as it’s something that just comes with experience. Basically, you need to trust your instincts when talking to a client about a job. This really is a trust your gut thing, but a few signs that a client might not be all they say they are:
1.) They don’t want to sign a contract
2.) They bounce you around from contact person to contact person
3.) They pay you from different bank accounts
4.) They’re slow to pay but quick to demand the completed work
Seriously, if a client puts you through all this hassle, are they really worth the money.
There’s a feeling when you start out that you need to take on every assignment just to keep the ball rolling. It’s understandable, but try to fight it when talking to someone who clearly doesn’t know he or she is doing or seems like they’re going to cheat you. After all, if they end up “dining and dashing,” you’re out the money either way, right? Plus, you could have spent that wasted time finding an honest client.
We all have a freelancing horror story. What’s yours?
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