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7 rules you must enforce on new freelance clients

April 11, 2012

So you’ve decided to go freelance. You’ve picked a smart balance between being a wage slave employee, and the full stresses and strains that go with building a stand alone business.

Life as a freelancer has a range of ups and downs. One of the biggest downs you may experience is when clients treat you in ways that you’d rather not be treated.

Who knows what makes them behave in this way, but some clients treat freelancers as though they don’t have the same human rights as employees! As if, because you don’t work directly for them, you’re not worthy of being treated well.

It’s not that common, but does happen. And at Bytestart we recommend tackling potential problems head on before you start working with any new client.

If you set clear expectations at the beginning of a project, you effectively lay out in clear and simple terms the way you expect to be treated. And doing that will attract more respect.

But it must be done upfront to ensure your relationship with a new client gets off to the best possible start. Here are the seven rules you must enforce on new clients:

They must brief you correctly

This is the biggest crime clients commit. They give a very vague brief and ask the freelancer to fill in the gaps… then naturally don’t get the work they really wanted. Plus they will probably blame you for this. Freelancers are amazing at many things, but mind reading isn’t one of them! If your client isn’t able to create an accurate brief on their own, get in the habit of interviewing them to get a verbal brief. Record the conversation so you can check details later, and have something to refer back to if the client changes their mind. Vague briefs from clients are OK when you know them well enough to guess what they actually want, but can be very damaging at the start of a relationship.

They must be clear how your work will be used

This is to help protect your reputation and the work you do for a client. You might want to spend twice as long designing a corporate logo, for example, than you would designing one for an internal project. Knowing where and how your work will be used goes hand in hand with a good brief.

They must state a clear and realistic deadline

Part of the challenge of freelancing is juggling different projects for a number of clients. You can’t do this properly without accurate deadlines. Force clients to set a date when work must be delivered. If it’s a big project ask for the work to be broken into chunks with a series of deadlines. Not only will you find it easier to prioritise work, but with deadlines to hit you will find the work tends to get done more quickly.

They must be willing to pay your extras

If your client demands a face to face meeting, will you charge them mileage and a fee? Will you be claiming costs back or is it built into your freelance fee? Agree exactly what you will charge for up front and then claim it if you’re entitled to it. Never do something without you and your client knowing who is paying for it. A few minutes sorting this out at the beginning will make your life every easy throughout the project. Ensure you have a written copy of your charges that you and your client have seen and agreed to. An email could be enough, although it’s better to ensure your client has agreed your rates by putting them into a contract and getting a signature.

They must respect your time

The client who phones you out of the blue and chats to you for 30 minutes is not respecting your time. It is not practical to drop everything for a long in-depth chat about a project. That kind of meeting should be booked and planned in advance. Make it clear to new clients that you have other work, and you strive to give every client the best possible work you can do. That means that sometimes you won’t be available on demand. Any client that expects focused work from you should respect your desire to deliver this to all your clients.

They must respect your expertise and experience

The whole purpose of hiring a freelancer is to get expertise into a business quickly. If a client just wants another pair of hands, perhaps they would be better off getting a temp. It can happen that freelancers are hired for work that is clearly below them (normally because the regular employees don’t want to do it). Ensure you are clear with the client up front what level of expertise you have and what type of work you can handle. The danger of turning up just to take the money is that it will damage your reputation in the long-term.

They must pay what they promised on time

Being a freelancer means you are running a business. When you do a piece of work and it is accepted, you should be paid for it on time, every time. Would an employee complain if their wages were two weeks late? You bet they would! And you are within your rights to demand invoices are paid on time. Explain how important this is to clients upfront, and enforce your right to interest payments on late payments.