The Freelancer Writer’s Guide to Dealing with Clients
As a freelance writer, for me, the work is easy. It’s dealing with the clients that's hard. So, over the past few years I have developed a strategy for dealing with clients, and ensuring I get paid every time!
How to Spot a Scam
There are a lot of scammers out there that would just love for you to write something great, then disappear without paying. You can spot the tricksters with these tips:
They don’t want to tell you their budget in the ad.
Their ad is full of typos.
It doesn’t seem like the person who wrote the ad speaks English very well.
The ad is very vague about what the gig is about or payment.
They try to convince you that your rates are unreasonable and they could get someone else to do it for $3.
They disappear for weeks at a time in-between emails.
Get Paid Upfront
This may be the most important thing someone will ever tell you about being a freelance writer: ALWAYS get paid at least 50% upfront. If a client doesn’t want give you money upfront, then give them a hard pass. You never do work on a promise. If you do, there’s a big chance you’ll never see your money.
You don’t go up to Walmart and tell the cashier, “I’m going to take this food home. If I like it I’ll come back and pay you for it.”
“But, Alina,” you say, “this is a service job and you pay for those types of jobs after the work is done.” Yes, sometimes you pay for services afterwards, but many smart contractors, like doctors, dentists, landscapers, janitorial services and such make clients pay a deposit, or don’t let them leave the building without at least paying a deductible or making payment arrangements.
What should you say to a client who doesn’t want to pay upfront? Tell them that your time is valuable. A deposit ensures a place on your client list and in your schedule.
The only exception I make to my rule is when I work for large companies that pays their freelancers and employees once a month through direct deposit and I have a contract stating when the money will be deposited each month.
Get Everything in Writing
You’ll find that most clients want to talk things over on the phone. I avoid this in most cases. It is much better to have everything written in an email so you can refer to it when problems arise. Taking a screenshot of an email and sending it to a client to prove what they said is much more effective than, “But you said on the phone…”
I had one client decide that he wanted a refund, basically for no reason. He filed a complaint with PayPal. Luckily, I had proof that I fulfilled my end of the agreement. All I had to do was send PayPal the emails with the client.
If a client REALLY wants to talk on the phone, open up a new email and summarize everything that is agreed upon in the phone conversation. Then, add at the bottom, “Please email me back with confirmation that this information is correct. Send the client the email with the subject line: Summary of Our Phone Conversation. This basically works like a simple written contract.
What to Do if You Don’t Get Paid
Unfortunately, this section will be interesting to a lot of you. When you’re an employee and working for someone else, the roles are clear; you’re responsible for doing your job and showing up on time, while your employer is in charge of making sure you get paid. It’s simple and plain. Too bad it's not always that simple when you’re freelancing.
When you’ve told your client that you’d want some of the payment up front and you receive no payment, the course of action is clear. Just tell your client that you’re not doing the work until the payment has cleared.
If you get halfway through the project and another milestone payment is required and they don't pay, stop doing the work.
Give them a friendly reminder. It could have been an honest mistake and you want to keep a courteous tone if this is the case. One reminder is enough, though. If they don't pay up, then remove them from your client list. You don't need someone who is slow in performing the one duty they have towards you.
I like using the invoicing system through PayPal, because I can open a dispute with non-payers and I usually win.
Avoid Scope Creep
Scope creep is when a client keeps asking for more and more without paying you for the extra work. When you’re coming to an agreement, set limits. Here are some rules to prevent scope creep:
Limit how many times a client can ask for revisions. Two revisions is usually standard.
Set word count or page limits. They want it to be longer? Great, then they must pay more. Let them know what extra pages or words will cost them in your agreement.
Charge extra for graphics, photos, video or any other extras or work it into the price.
If the client wants weekly in-person meetings, put that in the agreement and charge him for it.
Don’t Be Bullied
Some clients will try to force you to do things their way. Don’t let them. They wouldn’t go to a doctor’s office and tell the doctor, “Oh, it’s not in the budget to get a colonoscopy, so I’m going to need you to give that to me for free. I’ll give you a lot more paid work down the road, though.” Clients need to give you respect or you shouldn’t do business. Let them go stress out someone else. You don’t need that.
The right clients are out there and they are willing to pay you what you’re worth.
Protect Your Work
Always show clients ongoing projects by sending them a link to a Google Doc that is set as “Read Only.” This way, the client can make suggestions, but won’t be able to steal the work without paying. When a final payment is made, simply unlock the document.
My last advice deals with how you present yourself as a professional. The better you are at building an image of yourself as proper, polite and experienced in the work you do, the higher your chances are of getting high-paying, trustworthy clients.
Stay polite and professional, build an online reputation with loads of great reviews and showcase a solid network of other professionals - it will scare those amateur clients away.
Need more tips on getting great freelance gigs? Grab my No-Fluff Freelance Writing Starter Pack. It has everything you need to become successful as a writer.