Freelance No-No: How To Not Get Taken Advantage Of

Posted: January 24th, 2009

Every freelancer has gone through a trial period where they learn what works and what doesn’t work in order to make money in the business. The hardest lesson to learn is arguably how to keep your clients from walking all over you. I’ve experienced this myself and, unfortunately, still see this happening to some of my freelancing friends.

The result of having a client take advantage of you is obvious. You lose money, time and a bit of your pride. It’s usually not the intention of clients, however, to bilk freelancers. You have to remember, though, they tend to see the services of freelancers as costly and try to keep costs down to a minimum.

On that note, here are some ways to keep this from happening in the first place:

Tip #1: Be 100% clear on what your client needs sre and make sure your client is 100% clear on what you are going to do.

Your client has a clear picture in their head of what needs to be done for any project. Any time you give that client an estimate, they expect exactly that to be done: what is in their head. It is your job to find out EXACTLY what that is and then clearly communicate back what you will do to achieve this.

Most often, clients leave vague project requirements so it is important to start out by asking questions to get a clear picture of their needs. Also, get down to the finest details as you can and communicate those as well. Your clients do not tend to get down to the finer details so take this upon yourself.

Tip #2: Get EVERYTING in writing.

Now that you know the project scope and exact needs, you need to put it in writing. This is very important since it covers you in the case a dispute arises over work done (or not done). Once these are outlined and agreed to by both parties should you then start any project. The first thing needed is a project agreement which defines the following:

  • Project requirements
  • How you will provide the solution
  • Your estimate and payment terms
  • Milestones for completion and payment if the project is large. Milestones are points where a percentage of a project is completed.

A lot of times, clients will have changes in store for you which can lead to more time you will need to complete them. In this case a change order should be used which documents the changes necessary and additional charges required for them.

Here is a sample template of a project agreement.

Here is a sample template of a change order.

It is always recommended that you seek advice from an attorney regarding the legality of these documents you create. In the rare case that a dispute comes up, it is always good to have your bases covered when trying to settle it.

Tip #3: Be diplomatic, but stand your ground.

Sometimes clients will try to “sneak one past you” with a revision or some new “favor” you can do for them. You have to be firm and let them know there will be a charge for your time and, if necessary, tell them it wasn’t in the original project agreement (you did make one right?).

The key here, though, is diplomacy. Remain calm and be polite with any exchanges with your clients. Otherwise, you could set yourself up for a nasty dispute which benefits neither you nor the client.

In some cases, it may be best to give in a little to a client’s demands but only if it doesn’t cost you significant time. This is always preferable than to have your client eventually complain and give you a negative reputation, even if you are in the right.  Just don’t make it a habit, especially with the same client.

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I hate to see freelancers fall under the mercy of their clients, but it happens all too often. Following the above tips can keep this from happening to you and keep you from losing money and time from your business. After all, the point is to earn a living, right?

More on the author, Johnny Spence
Johnny is the founder of The Freelance Rant and a freelance web programmer with 8 years in the business. Have a visit at his company Oscarrr!web or see what he's up to on Twitter.

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