I’ve been fortunate that I’ve only had one client to not pay after hiring me for a project. I was just starting out (this was my second online client), and I found the gig on a very well respected job board (I don’t blame the job board – there’s only so much screening they can do so they expect us writers to use our own common sense too). The pay was pretty good and I found the topics interesting enough.
I did everything right, I Googled the company and the websites they were seeking content for. Still, something was smelling a bit fishy for some reason so I only opted to write two short articles for their weddings ezine rather than be greedy (like I wanted to) and take on more. I submitted my articles to the client by the established deadline and followed her invoicing directions. A week later I’d heard nothing. A few more days passed. Still nothing. Finally, I just chalked it up to the game and moved on to better, more respectable clients.
About a month later the job board that listed the dud gig posted an apology to its readers saying several writers had gotten burned by the same non-paying client. Unfortunately some writers were out hundreds of dollars and desperate for answers. We never did recoup our money, and that was my first lesson revealing the dark side of freelancing.
Since then I’ve been doing a much better job of prequalifying clients before working with them. The majority of my clients are very professional and have also been good enough not to create circumstances that cause me to have to chase down my money. Since not all clients are created equal, here are a few tips to heed for BEFORE getting mixed up with a deadbeat client:
Always get an agreement – or use your own. I just won’t do business without a written agreement. That means different things to different people. Some are okay with email correspondence; while others prefer a formal document that clearly spells out the terms of service (you could do this through email too).
Investigate first. Check them out. Google the company or individual (use quotation marks) to find out more information and to see what’s being said about them. Do they have a prominent web presence? Visit their website/blog (although be warned - anyone can throw up and website or blog and declare themselves in business).
Make sure you understand what’s required to complete the project. I once experienced a big time headache with a client all because I thought I understood what they wanted, but didn’t. We were just not on the same page, and in the end the time I spent on the project was not worth the rate charged.
I’ve since learned my lesson and now send a questionnaire to clients that have trouble communicating their ideas (or I collect the information by phone if they’re really pressed for time).
Make sure you’re fairly compensated. If you’re dealing with a client offering impossible rates or turn around expectations, speak up and be sure to explain why you need more time or money, to produce a high-quality final product (e.g. need more time to research the market and target audience). You may just end up with much better terms.