And Don’t Get Stiffed If You Can Help It

Posted: May 18th, 2009

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The Fear of Freelancers

One of the most frequent worries of freelancers, especially the noobs, is how to avoid the hassle of the delinquent client. After all, not every client out there is honest. Plus, given the fact that a lot of work is done over the internet, a rogue client has ample opportunity to go into hiding after receiving your invoice along with your completed work.

The truth, though, is that if you take a few simple steps in dealing with your clients this will almost never happen to you. In fact, the extra time you take with these before you even start a project can eliminate your need to worry about collections entirely.

Step 1: Screen Clients in Advance

It’s quite tempting to apply to each and every offer that might suit you. Inside any project offer, however, offers many clues about the type of client you may be dealing with. Here are a few things you want to keep an eye out for:

  • Bad grammar or misspelled words
  • Vague project details
  • Offers of profit sharing
  • Any mention of wanting the lowest cost possible

Usually these indicate employers that can be shady and/or try to take advantage of freelancers. While not always the case, they are best left alone.

Another simple but effective method of screening clients is to make a phone call or chat over instant messaging before starting any project. Employers that ask a lot of questions about you, your experience and pricing, then go on to explain the project in detail are typically great potential clients. Sometimes they tell you of horror stories working with other freelancers which is another good sign and leaves the door wide open for you.

On the other hand, if an employer focuses solely on how fast you can do a project and doesn’t mention pricing or attempts to lowball you into working for less, you may have potential trouble on your hands. Best to decline the project. Equally, if they decline a request for you to call or instant message, then this can indicate future trouble too.

Step 2: Get Everything in Writing

It is essential that a project agreement be drawn up for every project that outlines:

  • The exact service you will provide in detail
  • Your date of delivery or milestone delivery dates for larger projects
  • Your payment terms or payment schedule for larger projects

It’s pretty obvious that having an agreement between you and your client, you hold the client to pay by the rules you set. Of course, you have to hold up your end of the bargain as well. If you are unfamiliar with the project agreement, you can check out a sample from the Elance website.

Step 3: Deliver What You Promise

All a client wants is to have a job done the way they want it done and when you say it will be done. Plain and simple. Do this and they will reciprocate the effort by paying you on time or even right away. This means that:

  • Always keep a client in the know on the project status. Never keep them guessing.
  • Sometimes mistakes are made. Be prompt to fix them.
  • Many times omissions are made. Take care of these right away and politely inform if an extra charge applies.

Keep in mind that if a client feels in any way they aren’t getting what they will be paying for, then they will put up a fight and could all of a sudden cease all communication with you leaving you high and dry. Always be on their side when disputes arise and calmly diffuse them. You may even be in the right, but in the end, arguing can leave you without a paycheck.

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Hopefully the above steps can ease your fears on client collections. If you have a good tip that you rely on or any questions though, please drop a note below.

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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