Here’s an idea: people – including clients – are generally not bad, bitter, or overall evil. It’s just the circumstance that sometimes result in us – the freelancers – getting screwed during the process.
I really believe this is true, and that there’s just a small number of genuinely crappy people out there who go into a business project with pure intention of screwing the other party.
And unfortunately, there’s hardly any protection from those people.
I mean, if someone wants to cheat you out of your money, they will, in spite of a contract being in place or any other line of safety you’ve set.
So instead of fighting a losing battle, let’s focus on the kind of situations that can be prevented – situations that happen when good people go bad all of a sudden. Let’s try to figure out what habits we can build when working with clients so we don’t get burned on the job.
1. Avoid working for friends and family
Working for friends or family is a touchy subject for most freelancers (and not only designers). In general, we prefer to avoid any sort of such projects. And for a good reason, actually.
First and foremost, I bet you that a “family project” will never be one of your high earners, nor will it be one of your most easy going projects, and probably won’t be the quickest one either.
What’s even worse, it can have a negative impact on your personal relationship with the person you’re helping.
When you look at it, it’s hard to put a finger on any advantage of working for a family member or a friend whatsoever. I really do advise to avoid this type of work altogether.
But immediately, there’s a problem. You can’t just say no, can you?
That is an obstacle, but there is a sneaky way out. For instance, point at your busy schedule, say that you can’t fit another project at the moment and tell the person that you can recommend a couple of other people who will be able to handle it just as well as you would.
In most of the cases, this solves the problem entirely.
However, if the above is not an option for you (maybe it’s your mom asking you for help, or a really close friend) then – wait for it – just agree to do the project for free. I know that this sort of advice might not sit well with you at first, but hear me out.
You might be thinking that some money is always better than no money, right? Well, not always, and working for family is one of those situations.
Dan Ariely – a psychology and behavioral economics professor – writes in “Predictably Irrational” that as soon as any amount of money gets introduced into a given scenario, the mindsets of the people taking part change as well, from personal to business-centered.
Even if the amount is small, which it will probably be when working for family, the “client” is still likely to demand a certain way of handling the project. And since you’re not making much money anyway, you don’t want people making demands. In fact, them owning you a favor is much more valuable than any small monetary reward.
Ariely also mentions a clever phrase you can use when someone wants to at least give you some money. Just say (and I’m paraphrasing):
I’m doing this for free because if I took money, I’d have to charge you more than you can afford.
2. Don’t send the final build until you get paid
If you’ve been following other bits of advice we’re sharing here on Millo then you know that you should always take at least 50 percent of the money up front. In case things go really bad and the client vanishes completely, you at least have half of the money with you.
Now, the only question here is when should you ask for the other half?
And the safest answer is: just before delivering the final build. This saves you from a situation where the client gets the work done but you don’t get the money.
The way to do it is to showcase the results of your work on a server owned and controlled by you, and then roll it out to the client’s server only when you have the full amount with you. If the client is honest then they will have absolutely no problem with things being handled that way. After all, they just want to see what they’re paying for, so a test server will be okay.
When you think about it, it’s actually how buying things at the store works. You can check out a given item on the shelf, but if you want to take it home, you need to pay.
3. When you smell trouble, scare them off with your rates
Simply saying no to a client isn’t always the best solution. Clients are just like 10th-graders – they don’t handle break up well.
Although what I advise is a bit cunning, it does work on more than one level, so feel free to take it or leave it. Here’s the deal. Whenever you smell something fishy, like seeing a big red flag, or maybe you simply don’t like the client on a personal level, or whatever else, just double your rates.
The end. That’s the whole trick.
And here are two reasons why it works:
- If the client says that it’s too much then it’s mission accomplished for you because you don’t have to deal with them anymore.
- If the client agrees then it’s mission accomplished for you as well because you get to work at twice your usual rate, which should be more than enough to get you through the project. And if you are using the 50/50 payment split then you basically get the whole amount of the money that you’d normally ask for right up front, hence getting cheated won’t really take place even if the client vanishes later on.
4. Educate them on everything they need to know
Most client problems are a result of certain situations and scenarios taking place that haven’t been explained beforehand. The client expects one thing, another thing happens, so the client hesitates to pay. Simple. And it actually makes sense.
For example, just imagine you going to a mechanic with your car. You ask the mechanic to do one thing, they do something else. Would you pay?
Now, the main issue here is that you can never know for sure what the client expects and how savvy they are about the way websites and web design/dev projects work. That’s why you need to address every important stage of the project before you get to work. And then, what’s even more important, educate them on the solution you’re building as you’re going along.
Finally, sharing a short quick-start guide or pointing them to beginner tutorial videos on YouTube can really do a lot in terms of client satisfaction. Doing some one-on-one training with the client is also a great idea.
In the end, if the client understands how their new site works, they are much more likely to pay what you’re asking for.
5. Make it clear that there’s a guarantee and support
A very common thing clients do is delaying the final payment until every, even the smallest detail on the site is just perfect. They don’t want to pay sooner simply because they are afraid that it’s you who might vanish the day you get the money, so they won’t be able to get anything fixed after that.
Their worries are surely valid because this is basically how things work in almost every industry.
To get over this, offer a guarantee and a reasonable period of free support. As part of the guarantee, you can offer to fix certain issues free of charge for the next X months. If this is written in the contract clearly and in an understandable way, you can point the client to this clause whenever they’re late with the payments (but happy to send you yet another list of fixes).
You will still have to handle those fixes later on, but you will at least get paid.
Prevent, don’t fix
Fixing a bad client situation is always more difficult than preventing one in the first place. You’ve surely noticed that this post was a bit different from the first one. Instead of listing some red flags that are likely to occur when the client is just about to cheat you, we’re focusing more on putting some things in place that can prevent such situations from ever happening.
Again, this won’t be effective 100 percent of the time, but remembering about handling the above will always improve your chances of getting through a project smoothly, and getting paid at the end of it.
How do you prevent getting cheated by a client? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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