Creative Client Cons By George English

Freelancers get ripped off every day. Sites like are filled with stories and warnings about people who simply don’t pay for writing or editing or graphic design work. Sometimes the check just never arrives, but quite often these crooks are more creative and more sinister. Some have honed their skills over many years, and if you were to look into their backgrounds, you’d probably be entertained for weeks just reading about their various scams and deceptions: You’ll find a mechanics’ lien on the family station wagon; cell phones listed because land lines were cut off for non-payment; and frequent relocations in an attempt to keep ahead of creditors. Their entire lives are designed around dodging bill collectors.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that, while we are all wary of the new business or stranger who wants to hire us, sometimes people and businesses we know and trust are the culprits. It’s difficult to protect yourself, but before taking on a new client, freelancers should take a look at the client’s projects and websites and see if there has obviously been a string of different creative hands involved.

Another way freelancers can protect themselves is by never sending out work that has not been paid for. Instead, send watermarked proofs. If it’s an article and you’ve agreed to a pay-on-publication contract, do as much research as possible to see if there are any negative reports about the publisher online, and contact the potential client’s local Better Business Bureau. Make sure you have the correct name and an ISP e-mail address for whoever hires you. People writing you as ìThe Editorî from a free e-mail account aren’t running a professional business, so be cautious. There are many types of crooks out there, waiting to take advantage of freelancers. Some of these you might recognize:

The Rusher – Everything needs to be done yesterday. He promises he’ll FedEx the check overnight. His printer or webmaster is waiting. His last freelancer just vanished after being paid in full, in advance. He’s a victim. He needs your help. So, you work all night, send the copy and never hear from the client again.

The Conversationalist – “I can’t really describe what I want in an e-mail, I need to do it by phone.” The problem is, unless you have everything in writing, the client can say you promised anything on the phone and refuse to pay based on the fact you did not deliver. Phone conversations tend to get casual, we agree to do things a little differently when engaging a real person, while writing allows us to filter our thoughts. If you do work with clients on the phone, make sure you e-mail a detailed summary of the conversation to the client and that he acknowledges the e-mail. And, insist on a signed contract that specifies the agreed-to terms.

The Blackmailer – He wants extra work for free. It’s that simple. And if you don’t spend many more hours fixing his errors and making changes that were not part of the original agreement, he’s going to give you a bad review on, post comments about you on his blog, and more.

The Micromanager – This gal (or guy) has no real background in writing or publishing and will slowly, one change at a time, take your professional, polished creation and turn it into something you don’t recognize. You won’t get paid for the overtime or the unreasonable number of changes, but you’ll surely take the blame when other people give this client an honest appraisal of the work.

The Sensitive Person – who’s “shocked” you want more money, even though it’s clearly in the contract, because he thought you were friends and you understood him, and he’s not rich, and he plans to promote you to all of his friends (all broke, too, no doubt).

The Confused Banker (a close cousin of The Rusher) – who doesn’t understand why the electronic transfer didn’t go through. He uses them all the time and has hundreds of thousands of dollars in that account. Well, if you wouldn’t mind, could you just send the file to the printer or designer while he gets the banking straightened out? If you don’t get the file off in 10 minutes, he’ll miss his deadline, and be out $40,000.

The Nice Guy – he knows he was suppose to pay you, but would rather give you something more valuable – a link on his website that’s ranked # 4,998,905 on Google right now.

The Cheap Ego (close cousin to The Sensitive Person and The Nice Guy) – I know a designer whose early experiences as a freelancer were dampened by involvement with this sort of client. After countless hours designing a book cover that included custom images and artwork, she asked the publisher how she’d like to be invoiced. The publisher wrote her a scathing response, expressing utter shock and confusion over being expected to pay. After all, she was the publisher and for merely having her name associated with the publisher, which included a link on the publisher’s website, the designer should be dropping to her knees and thanking the cosmic forces. The designer was never paid. The book was never published and the publisher eventually removed the link to the designer’s site.

George English is a citizen of earth and frequent traveler. His 9 to 5 is in a crowded office where he expresses his creativity with a keyboard and moans about how little money he earns. George decided to moonlight as a freelance writer last year, when he needed new tires for his car. His plan backfired and he realized his net earnings after taxes were less than they would have been had he not freelanced. George now rides a bicycle to work. Visit George’s blog at: