Guest post by Del Mauricio
There will be a time in your freelance career when you will encounter a difficult client: a hard to please individual with a tendency to either get distracted from the agreed upon project goals or someone who does not follow through with their commitments. As freelancers, acquiring new clients is hard enough and the last thing we want is to deal with a terrible client. Fortunately, there are ways you can spot this kind of client and, more importantly, protect yourself from being taken advantage of.
A contract between you and the client is not simply a formality, it is a fundamental document wherein both parties agree to specific terms and conditions of the work relationship. In other words, it defines basic ground rules such as what services you will provide, your compensation, who owns copyrights, etc. A contract solidifies the relationship and keeps both parties focused on the end result. If you are not utilizing a contract now because you feel it may scare away clients, then you could potentially be setting yourself up for failure.
It is not about whether you trust the client or not. It is about establishing clear guidelines that not only protect you from exploitation, but also protect the client’s investment. A good way to spot a potentially difficult client is whether they sign a contract or not. If a client refuses to sign one, then it is probably best you avoid doing business with them. How would you expect them to respect boundaries when none are set? You will have clients who will not hesitate signing a contract. Those are the people who will appreciate, respect your value, and with whom you should establish a lasting relationship.
Scope of Work
It is important to identify precisely what services the client requires from you. Before agreeing to initiate any work, you should interview the client. Ask them as many questions as you must to get a clear understanding of what you will be doing for them. Once you have a solid grasp of their needs, you can use that information to define the scope of work. Outline each one of the deliverables in your proposal. This will let the client know what they can expect to receive from you and it also defines when your work is complete.
Some clients seem to think that once they have hired you that you are at their mercy. That is never the case. Any additional work outside the scope should require you to charge an hourly fee. In some cases, if the scope of work changes drastically, then that should prompt you to issue a new proposal to reflect the new requirements. Make sure to add a clause in your contract that specifies this. This will protect you from surprises and unrelated tasks to spiral out of control.
Think Like a Business Owner
Remember that you are a professional and your time is valuable. As mentioned above, defining a scope of work will keep the project focused. If the client insists in adding extra work, then do not be afraid to let them know that additional work outside of the scope of work agreed upon in the proposal or contract will be charged at prevailing rates. Often freelancers fall into a trap when a client asks them to do a few little things extra. However, as small as those may be, and even related to the project, you had already estimated a specific fee based on the scope of work. By giving in you are allowing the client to get away with free work, and they will think they can keep doing so. Think like a business owner. Your time is valuable, and billing for it is how you make a living and prevent you from being exploited. Do not undervalue your time.
It is invaluable to keep records in writing of everything your client agrees to or approves. If agreement or approval is done through a phone conversation, then send a follow up email listing what you discussed and/or what the next steps are. Keeping records is important to ensure work relationships remain honest and committed. When a client denies a claim or does not follow through with a commitment, having written proof should motivate them to rectify their actions.
Sometimes your rate is a good way to filter away terrible clients. If a client thinks your rate is high in comparison to others, then they are not the right client for you. This is not to say that clients with lower budgets are all bad. The difference is in how they treat your services. Clients who commodify your skills will never appreciate the value of your expertise and output. You worked very hard to get to where you are professionally, therefore your rate should reflect that. You will have clients who will think your rate is high, and that is perfectly fine. However, you will have clients who have no problem with your fee. Those are the ones you should do business with because they likely best fit your target customer. They will also recognize the value of your professional services and expertise.
Del Mauricio is CEO/Owner of Aesthetic Philosophies, a marketing and graphic design company that specializes in developing brand identities and marketing communications. Del has over ten years of experience helping diverse businesses build stronger and more engaging brand experiences. He joins us with expertise in branding, graphic design, marketing, and advertising.
Twitter: @aesphi, @delhmauricio