Even if you choose your clients wisely, most often you won’t have much time to get to know them before starting the project that they hired you for. You might find yourself dealing with a client that doesn’t respect you or your work, tries to get you to do more than you agreed for without additional payment, or even trick you into working for free. Most of the time you won’t encounter such clients but in a rare case that you do, here are some ways you can protect yourself without loosing money, time and your nerves:
Sign a contract before beginning work or have your client send funds into escrow.
This might be obvious but some freelancers make the mistake of jumping into a project without any guarantees that they will get paid. These days, most often you will know your client just from written messages, e-mails or a short skype meeting, so you can never really be sure who is the person you are working for until you establish a long-term professional relationship with them.
When working via a freelancing platform you will have the option to request funds to be paid into your escrow account before the job starts. You won’t have access to the money until the work is completed and approved by the client but it will be there waiting for you. The client won’t be able to get their money back until the issue between you is resolved with the assistance of the website (project cancellation or a dispute). Getting your project funded before starting work is an essential and the most basic rule of freelancing through an on-line platform.
If hired directly (via e-mail or in person), make sure to send your client a contract to sign before beginning any work. It should include:
Scope of work – In this section you should describe in detail what it is you are going to provide within the contract, for example: “A logo design based on a rough sketch provided by Client.”
Payment – Specify the exact amount that your service will cost and the payment method, for example Paypal or a direct bank transfer. You can provide the payment information like your account number when sending your invoice after the work is complete. You may also want to be paid a deposit before you start work, which is a good idea when the project is big. It could be 20% of the total cost of the project but you can decide what you are comfortable with yourself.
Duration – This describes the timeframe in which you will complete the work. Your client may request an extension if more time is needed but in this section you need to commit to a deadline and do your best to keep it.
Completion – Here you can describe the procedure upon completing the project. Specify what you will provide after finishing work, such as Photoshop files, other image files or physical products. The client will then proceed to transferring the payment within a specified timeframe, e.g. 15 working days or by the end of the following month.
Revisions – Write how many revisions are included in the price and a possibility for more revisions at additional payment.
Client responsibilities – Here you can request that your client provides all necessary information in order for you to be able to begin and complete your work. This is useful in cases where the client stops contacting you and as a result you are unable to complete the work within the deadline.
Rights – This section identifies what rights will be transferred to the client upon completion of the project. How can the work be used, where, for how long and any other limitations you want to include. Remember that this is the real value of the work you are selling. You are giving your client the rights to use your work and possibly gain profit from it. Make sure you think this one through.
Here is a very basic contract template that you can use as a starting point in drafting your own contract. Note that I am not a lawyer and I don’t take any responsibility for any faults that may be found with the template. I have prepared it myself based on information found online and used it when working directly with my clients. Within the template, all the text in red is where you should place information specific to your contract.
If a client is unwilling to sign your contract it may be a big red sign that they are not planning to be fair to you. It would be wise not to work for them. Sometimes you may be the one provided an agreement and in that case read it carefully and make sure that you consent to all sections within. Don’t be afraid to request a revision if you find something that you don’t want to agree to.
Once you and your client signed a contract it can be useful in various cases. Every time you’re requested to do more work than you agreed to or aren’t getting paid on time, referring to it and reminding your client of its contents can solve your problem. A contract is a binding legal document and if you wanted to, you could use it to perform a legal action against them. Of course, it goes both ways so be sure you hold to your end of the deal!
Keep your cool and always reply in a polite manner.
This one is very important. Even if your client sends you an angry reply, never engage in a fight with them. If you do, most likely the problem between you will escalate and get much worse. It just won’t solve the issue.
Instead, be sure to stay on topic and discuss only matters of the project. Try to think if there might have been something that you did wrong (kept being late submitting work or not responding to messages for a while) to make them dissatisfied. No one is perfect and sometimes we might overlook our own faults. If there is something you should apologize for, do it.
If your client is being rude or treats you without respect, you should definitely consider ending your cooperation with them. If you are already far with your progress on a project, do only what helps you complete it and get paid. This may sound controversial but it could be a better idea to bite your tongue and endure the rudeness until you finish the job.
Sometimes the problem might be that the client doesn’t like the work that you send them and they keep telling you to make countless of changes. Remind them politely that you agreed to a specified number of revisions within the price. If you haven’t talked about it when starting the job, then I would advise you to keep making the changes until they are satisfied but be sure to get a detailed feedback and learn what their vision and expectations are. If their requests seem unreasonable, above the scope of the project and completely unrelated to your performance – tell your client that you won’t make the changes unless they pay extra.
You can avoid a lot of misunderstandings that lead to disputes between you and your client by clearly communicating with them throughout the job. Be sure that they know what is going on with the project and are updated on your progress regularly. With new clients, just as you don’t know them, they also don’t know you and may be worried if you can perform the job that you promised. Keeping in touch and reassuring them by replying to their questions and concerns will help you gain their trust and keep them calm.
Sometimes a client will not reply to you regularly or fall silent for a while but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t going to pay you for your work. Consider that they may be busy with something else or go through something urgent. While it will most likely make you feel anxious, try not to panic or attack them right away. Some amount of patience is needed when dealing with your clients. Before starting a dispute, politely remind them that they need to take action or provide some information to you and give them some time to get back to you. Most of the time they will eventually contact you and resolve the issue.
Cancel the contract.
If you just began your work and the client started behaving unprofessionally, the best thing you can do is cancel the project and save yourself a headache. Don’t ignore the red signs and go along with it anyway, even if you really need the money. Believe in yourself and your ability to find another, much better job that will get you paid and satisfied with your career.
Don’t work for them again.
You may not believe it but some freelancers continue doing more jobs for clients who treat them unfairly. They might feel like they can’t refuse, hoping that the next time will be better. If you had any unpleasant experience with a client but still managed to complete the job for them and get payment, it is time to part your ways and never contact them again. You want to build a list of long-term clients that will behave in a professional manner and treat you with respect. Anything less than that should not be accepted.