Working as a freelancer is certainly not for the faint of heart. There are quite a few pitfalls that anyone- and I do mean anyone– can fall into, and there are plenty of people out there who wish to take advantage of you as a freelancer. I’m not sure if certain clients think that all freelancers are new to the game, or they relish the thrill of ‘getting over’ on someone, or they simply think that quality work can be obtained for an extremely unfair price. Whatever the case, it’s up to the freelancer to protect them when it comes to doing freelance work. Here are a few tips.
Tip #1: Always ask for a good faith deposit.
Believe it or not, asking for a good faith deposit of between 5-10% of the total purchase price is a fantastic way to weed out those who want you to do the work without getting paid. I learned the hard way that if the person is legitimate, they will have no problem with paying a 10% upfront fee, which is deducted from the final cost. Those who try to convince you that “a fee isn’t necessary” or “don’t worry, I’m good for it.” usually are not. For me, regardless of the size of the freelance project if it’s a new client, a deposit of some type is required.
Tip # 2: Negotiate and Obtain a Signed Contract
I cannot stress this enough. Every single project, no matter how well you know the client needs a signed contract at its heart. This is to protect both you and the client if heaven forbid you run into a disagreement. I put together an article for Freelance Writing about how to put together a contract. You can read it here. Also be sure to check out the rest of the site– it’s a fantastic resource.
Tip # 3: Written Correspondence is the Best
Another lesson that I learned pretty quickly was to do all important negotiations and correspondences via email, mail or fax- in other words- written down. Even when I need to work with a client via phone, I always try and do a follow-up email, and obtain confirmation that my understanding is the correct one. Why do I do this? Well, a few reasons. First, it is much easier to misunderstand someone over the phone, then it is in an email. It happens all the time. Second, by doing business in a written format, you have a record of what has transpired. That way when disagreements arise, the evidence is right there. Third, it can also be a fantastic reference for the likes and dislikes of the particular client.
Tip # 4: Obtain the Name and Contact Information of the Person Handling the Invoicing
Many times, the point of contact for you as a freelancer isn’t the one paying the bills- especially if you’re working with a larger company. It’s important to obtain the name of the person handling the invoicing simply because contacting them might be necessary for the event of unpaid bills. While your point of contact is your go-to person for approval of work quality, they can- and often do drop the ball when it comes to getting you paid. Often it’s a case of them being too bogged down with work. By having an alternative name for billing, you have the opportunity to raise your concerns about payment to another level.
Tip # 5: Research Your Client
Believe it or not, some clients aren’t always what they appear to be. Some are far from legitimate, and often will prey on unsuspecting freelancers who simply want to work and get paid. Unfortunately, for many freelancers who have yet to establish themselves there are very few cost-effective ways to deal with these people once the ball gets rolling. Therefore, it is important to do a bit of research when it comes to new clients. Ask yourself these questions:
- How did they learn about you/How did you learn about them? Was the client referred? Or did they contact you out of the blue?
- Does the company have a physical location?
- Has the client been associated with any other company? What is that former companies reputation?
- Does the client have a website?
- When reviewing their website, is there anything that sounds too good to be true, or sends up red flags?
- Does an internet search of the client name or company name reveal any complaints about non-payment or scams?
If at any point in your research, you start to feel uncomfortable, it is best to either confront the client about what you’re finding and see if there is a legitimate explanation (i.e. Former partner at old company was a louse, they didn’t notice the red flags in their website wording, etc.), and decide if they are worth the risk. The other option is to politely refuse the contract offer, and wish them the best of luck.
I hope you’ll keep these tips in mind when looking for freelance clients. Also, please keep in mind that these tips apply to a client-freelance relationship, not necessarily the relationship between a magazine/newspaper editor and a freelance contributor. That’s a whole other relationship with its own set of requirements and tips. I’ll focus on that in my next blog.
© 2014, Laura Seeber. All rights reserved.