Steady work is survival for a freelancer – it means paying your rent, keeping the lights on, and eating. So, when you snag a regular client you want to hang onto them.
I was thrilled when one of my clients referred me to a new prospect. He owned a successful company that provided websites and content to attorneys. A niche I had considerable experience in, and knew well.
After a quick phone call, I landed a steady gig with enough work to cover my monthly nut. The regular work would take the pressure off of scrambling to pay the rent every month, and give me the time and space to go after quality clients to expand my freelancing business. I walking on air, and couldn’t wait to get started.
Promises, promises – you can’t take those to the bank
But, despite my happiness about the job, there was a downside – based on the volume of work promised, the client convinced me to reduce my rate. I wasn’t crazy about the idea but I thought that the guaranteed 50-100 blogs per month would lessen the sting of the lowered rate. We agreed that I’d do the work, bill at the end of the month, and receive payment within 30 days of billing. And I was told a contract was forthcoming.
How wrong can things go? Let me count the ways
As I began to work with this company, red flags popped up. And, I started to see that this wasn’t the awesome job I’d thought. There were numerous problems but the most noteworthy were:
- Despite repeated requests, the workflow promised never materialized.
- There were no staff editors – only project managers who assigned work and gave no feedback or guidelines.
- The assignments were very general like: “I need six posts on personal injury for Smith & Jones Law Firm.”
- If they had an editorial schedule, it was never shared with me, so there was no way to predict and schedule work.
- Assignments were given slap-shot by multiple project managers who never gave due dates unless I asked for them.
- I never knew when or if work was coming or who would assign it.
- Receipt of work was only acknowledged if they wanted revisions or edits.
- No contract ever arrived.
- Payment never arrived on time.
- It required repeated calls to the client to receive payment.
- The bookkeeper was never available, and didn’t respond to emails or phone calls.
- The client regularly dodged my calls rather than returning them.
The end of a not-so-beautiful relationship
Despite repeated conversations with my client, none of these problems resolved. In fact, things only got worse. And, I realized that the company was poorly run, didn’t keep its agreements, and had cash-flow problems. After three months of being put off, I refused to do any further work until I was paid. Even that didn’t elicit a response until they were desperate to get a rush project done. By that time, I’d had enough and I wasn’t about to take on another project and risk being owed even more money.
Eventually, I did get paid – but it was exhausting and I’m not ashamed to admit I shed a few tears in the process.
Looking back, it’s clear I made mistakes from the start. I could’ve checked out the company more thoroughly. I assumed that this fellow was a good guy because a great client referred him to me. I could’ve pulled out sooner but I needed the income and didn’t have a client to replace him. Coulda, woulda, shoulda…
But, the good news is I learned some valuable lessons from this experience:
- Never agree to lowered rates based on promised work. If you have to prove yourself to get your regular rate, but agree to work for reduced rates, you’ll never be paid what you’re worth.
- Never proceed without a contract. Without a contract, it becomes your word against theirs. And, it’s difficult to make a small claims case if you have nothing in writing.
- Trust your gut. If you feel like you’re being fleeced, you probably are.
- Some people just take advantage. The truth is some people will work any angle they can. They may promise and charm you but they’ll never value your work.
- Don’t back down. Stand up for yourself. Value your own work and insist on payment.
Experience is a damn good teacher
If you’ve had a similar experience, realize that you’re not alone. Unfortunately, this happens to most writers at least once in their careers. And, it doesn’t mean you deserve it – it just means that it’s time to fire that client. Even if you’re worried you can’t replace the income, the stress and anxiety of this kind of situation isn’t worth any amount of money.
There is no magic test for determining which clients will exploit you and which clients will be a god-send. Sometimes, only experience can teach you what to look for when forging relationships with prospective clients. However, if you protect yourself, use contracts, and get paid for your hard work, you have a better chance of developing a roster of great clients.
When a client does not offer you a contract, you should be ready with one of your own, just in case. Here’s a sample of a generic writing contract that you can reword for specific projects. Remember, don’t start work on the project until you receive a signed contract back from the client!
Anita Rodgers is a published author and freelance writer in Los Angeles. She grew up in the Midwest and learned early on that she was good at making stuff up so writing was her obvious path. You can visit her blog at http://writerchick.wordpress.com.