One of the big issues, when you’re taking on a new client, is whether you can trust them to pay you or not – so how best do you deal with this concern?
Some people charge a deposit or part-payment up front, but that can be off-putting to customers, who equally don’t know whether you’re trustworthy and might decide to go with a freelancer who doesn’t ask for payment upfront.
Instead, you might want to run a background check – and that can mean everything from purchasing a professional credit report, to carrying out quick web search looking for scare-stories.
Here are a handful of free tools available to you, to find out more about your potential clients.
One of the best places to search for statutory data – if your target is a limited company – is Companies House. The simple company information search will reveal registrations and directors’ names for every company in the UK.
You can usually get an at-a-glance look at their recent financial reports and who their shareholders are.
Once you’re there, check for two things – firstly, that the company hiring you is actually a legitimate, registered trading entity, and secondly that they’re not in dire financial straits.
It might also be worth checking whether the person you’re dealing with is a company director, or further down the ladder – just to give you a clue of how closely their interests should align with those of the company as a whole.
If you’re more concerned about the individual you’re collaborating with, LinkedIn is a good place to look for recommendations and past positions.
Lots of brief career placements might not inspire much confidence about the longevity of the contract, whereas an individual with lots of recommendations and several successful businesses under their belt might be a more productive client in the long-run.
Of course, LinkedIn isn’t the only social network where you can find out about companies – it’s just the most business-focused of them all.
You might also want to check the client’s Facebook page and any mentions of them on Twitter, to see whether their own customers are generally happy or not.
This one’s a little technical, so I’ll be brief – a “Whois lookup” allows you to find out more about who registered a particular web address.
Standard results tell you when the site was registered, who by, and should give a contact address, which might give you a good idea of whether it’s a website associated with a bricks-and-mortar business, or a new business start-up somebody has just set up from their bedroom.
Unfortunately, in recent years, less and less data is available for many registrars of domain names, although you may be lucky.
The go-to place for searching for anything is also your best source of potential information relating to a prospective client. With most of the world’s web pages indexed, you should be able to find a wealth of information on your target. This may include ratings, comments, social media posts by the business, or the people running it.
This ties in with the Whois lookup described above – if you’ve got a contact address for your potential client, type it into Google Maps and see what comes up.
A residential area might be an indicator that they’re still very much in the infancy of their business, or even that it’s entirely new, whereas an address in a business park or office complex can provide a little extra peace of mind.
Just be wary of clients who realise this, and look out for PO boxes and other such pseudo-addresses – former Dragons’ Den star James Caan, for instance, rented a cupboard when he first set up in business, in order to get an impressive address, but held all his business meetings in nearby coffee shops.