No matter what the nature of your job, you want to make sure that you keep in touch. Disappearing freelancers are more common than you would think, and the slightest lapses get your clients worrying about your being a scammer. So at every point that you have a chance to touch base with your client, do so without fail. Some important point of contact that you don’t want to miss:
- A welcome email thanking your client for the gig, immediately after you land the job.
- An introductory email clarifying any details that you need, and reinforcing the details of your project, especially the details of cost and timeline/milestones.
- When you are stuck because you need a detail from the client, get that request to them right away.
- When you have an update or a clarification, send an email.
- Send update emails at the end of every milestone, along with any deliverables that you had promised.
- If you anticipate delays, send a notification right away! You don’t want to leave your clients wondering. Especially, for instance, if you are traveling and will be away from internet access for a while, you want to definitely let your clients know. If you call in sick, go ahead and be upfront about it! Avoid delays like the plague, because clients experience them way too often – but what’s much worse than a delay is your behaving as if nothing has happened.
- Payment reminders – if it is time for a payment, then remember to ask for it. If for some reason you don’t get a timely response, send a gentle reminder. If you are not paid on time, and don’t hear from your clients despite reminders, you have the right to suspend further work until a payment is processed.
As you can see, communication is key to success. Get in touch as often as you need, keep your clients in the loop, solicit feedback at every stage, and you should sail through the project!
An important note about payments. The one advantage of working off freelance marketplaces is that payments are less of a headache, even though there is a commission that you have to pay the marketplace. Usually the fee is worth it, because typically in exchange you get access to an escrow mechanism for managing your finances. The way this works is that the client pays for the project in advance to a third-party (typically the marketplace, like Elance, for example), and the third-party keeps the funds safe and releases it to you once you complete the job. With a trusty third party, both the client and the freelancer are safe about the funds, if the client has a freelancer trying to cheat on them, then the funds are rolled back to them, and it’s not possible to cheat diligent freelancers, because even if the client claims that the job is incomplete, the freelancer simply provides evidence of completed work and get their payment as originally agreed.
When working outside the escrow system, make sure to get an advance payment – usually 50% before and 50% on completion is the standard split, but evaluate your situation and your client before you determine an split, and if you are working without escrow, make sure you do your research!!!
Just as clients research the hell out freelancers before hiring them – freelancers should research the hell out of clients too! You can have fraud clients just as much as you can have fraudulent freelancers, so make sure you look up their public profiles and glean as much information as you can to come to the conclusion that they mean business.
Firing A Client: I do hope this never happens to you, but given the way the world just happens to be, you might end up encountering an unpleasant experience. When you get the first hints that a client:
- Is being unfairly demanding (going beyond the scope of the project without discussing or wanting to discuss appropriate pricing amendments)
- is not paying you as scheduled and avoiding your reminders
- being rude and unprofessional
- disappearing every now and then…
The best you can do is to minimize the extent of unpleasantness that you have to put up with. Move on from the project as quickly as possible, even if that means that you lose some money – keeping your sanity and peace of mind should be your top priority.
Be firm and professional – if you have had no payments at all, then you are not obliged to release any deliverables. If a partial payment is made, submit a suitable proportion of your work.
Whatever you do, never resort to being rude or improper yourself – maintain a sense of dignity and professionalism right through. Never write an email when you are in a terrible mood – apply the “24 hour rule” – make communication only after a 24-hour period has elapsed, after which you are likely to have calmed down, and will be more reasonable.
If a lot is at stake consider getting legal advice, and at this point remember that you are in a stronger position if you had your initial contracts in place. There is a middle ground between the extremes of acting on your impulses and hiring a lawyer – and that is to seek consultation from a person or community that you trust. It is not feasible to cover every possible situation in a book, so I strongly recommend that you make a place for yourself in a community of like-minded people that you can fall back on for advice in a specific tricky situation. The communities built right into Elance and Freelance Switch are great starting points.
Damage Control: Well, the client isn’t the only side that creates trouble, much as freelancers would like to believe that’s the case! Sometimes, it might be you who has made the slip, faltered, or made a mistake. In this case, keeping a good relationship with your client and giving them absolutely no reason to complain should be your top priority. So, if you have made a mistake in the project, or suffered a delay, then – don’t kill yourself over it – life gets in the way for all of us and most reasonable people would understand.
However, you need to fix the situation by taking some additional measures yourself, and here are some tips for recovery:
- If you have delayed the project considerably, offer a discount on the original price.
- If you have made a mistake in executing the project, fix it, and if necessary, also offer a discount or a (related) bonus service or product. A relevant product is easier, but do make sure it is relevant (and preferably your own brand) so as to not come across as looking cheap!
- You don’t have to be over-apologetic or defensive, but at the same time, be upfront and don’t hide or pretend as if nothing as happened.
- If you are met with unwarranted rudeness despite your best and sincere efforts to patch the situation, then everything in the previous section applies.