Freelancing lessons better learned shaving someone else’s beard.
The oral contract
On legal shows, an oral contract is enough to win a case. In real life, the client knows you’re not going to sue them. A conversation about consulting terms leaves plenty of room for loopholes. The client takes advantage of you, claims it was all a big misunderstanding, and then they do it again. You blame yourself, and plan to get it in writing next time.
The follow up email
As soon as you’re done talking with the client over the phone, you send them a follow up with a recap of the terms discussed. You even get a reply with a confirmation (Exhibit A for your imaginary court case). Only your follow up email didn’t clearly specify the payment schedule. You expect payment at the end of the month. They pretend it’s understood payment is due once they decide the project is done. You blame yourself, and plan to include payment terms next time.
The invoice payment terms
At the end of the month, you send an invoice with a note at the bottom that says “payable within 10 days”. They ignore the note. You wonder if they didn’t scroll all the way down. They didn’t even open the PDF. Net 30 becomes net 60, and soon 6 months pass (eventually the statute of limitations passes). You blame yourself, and plan to send an official contract next time.
The unsigned agreement
The client sends you their standard contract, and you read every paragraph. Twice. You amend the payment terms, and ask them to remove a non-compete clause. They make the changes. You sign the final version. They never do. You read about acceptance by conduct, and wonder if you should keep working. They stop paying. You blame yourself, and plan to get their signature next time.
The profit-sharing plan
You turn the wheel while the crowd cheers: “How won’t they pay?!” The answer: a profit-sharing plan. When it’s time for payment, the client suddenly has zero profit. Or so they claim. Their engineer never built the promised internal dashboards. You don’t understand why it couldn’t be done on a spreadsheet. They never share their financials. You stop blaming yourself.
The shady client
Even when you do everything right (and learn how to better communicate), some clients are from hell. Instead of only preparing for worse case scenario, you need to work on preventing it all together. The next step isn’t charging the client before you waste your time. The next step is weeding out bad clients (which I’ll be writing about next).
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