As you start out in your freelancing career, it’s a good idea to be prepared for the inevitable “when clients go bad” scenario.
There is no way to avoid a bad client… at some point, one will rear its ugly head!
But if you’re aware and put steps in place to deal with them when they do show their ugly faces, then you get to walk away with your head held high, dignity intact and money still firmly in your back pocket.
The are many things that can go wrong when working with a client.
They might not like your work, you might misunderstand what they want, and they might choose not to pay you.
None of these are exactly confidence-building situations. How you deal with them, though will determine whether you remain successful in your freelancing career.
In this post, I’m going to share you with some actual stories that have either happened to me or have happened to other freelancers I know.
For each story, you’ll find some suggested solutions, aka “what to do about it!”
When Clients Go Bad…
Scenario #1: When Clients Go Silent
This can happen a lot if you don’t have some checks and balances in place…
Once upon a time there was this bright eyed and bushy tailed website designer. He was the type of guy that smiled all the time, to the point where you wondered what was really going on behind the smile…
He had been working as a freelance website designer for 3 months when it happened. This particular project started out as most others, he put his bid in on the job, the client interviewed him and accepted his proposal. Work commenced.
On this project, he was asked to create a website from scratch, based on the clients brief, with images and content provided. The project was scheduled and our website designer freelancer allocated 8 weeks to complete it.
This project was one that our freelancer was doing direct, ie, not using an outsourcing site. As he neared completion of the project, the client became less and less responsive. Website designer guy didn’t worry too much about this though, he was too focused on getting the job done by the agreed completion date.
The due date arrived and the website went live. Our freelancer waited for feedback from the client… 2 days passed, 4 days, 7 days… nothing from the client.
Our poor website designer was left in the dark, no payment in sight. He hung his head and scuffed himself off to bed, despondent and completely disheartened.
If only he had thought of the following solutions!
Solution 1: ALWAYS use a contract
Had our freelancing friend used a contract, he would have had a much better chance of getting the funds out of the client. In my experience, the minute a contract is implemented, the client treats you with the respect you deserve. Never once have I not been paid when a contract is in place.
Solution 2: Create a contingency plan
In the case of our website designer, there are a couple of things he could do:
- Create a ‘kill switch’ that renders the website completely dead, no matter what access the client has
- Put the website into “maintenance mode” so that when a user navigates to the site, that’s all they see
Obviously, this will vary depending on what your skill is.
Let’s consider another example. Say you’re a writer and you’re asked to provide a few blog posts for a client’s site. You deliver the articles and then receive nothing, not even a confirmation that they received the articles. Wait a few days then publish the articles yourself or on-sell them to someone else.
You own the rights and if they use your articles without paying you, then they can get stung for duplicate content…
Scenario #2: When Clients Use Your Work But Don’t Pay You
Our next story is about a freelance writer on Elance (now Upwork).
Once upon a time, a new freelance writer submitted her proposal to a client on Elance to write an eBook. The client accepted the proposal (which was a fixed price) and provided further details on the subject matter for the book. Our freelance writer was to write a 15,000 word eBook on plum trees…
Daunted but excited, our writer set off to research and find out as much information as possible about plum trees: how to plant them, where to plant them, when to plant them etc. The book was to focus on how someone could create their own, small plum tree orchard. Riveting stuff.
The project was to be completed within 4 weeks and our writer delivered the project within 3.5 weeks.
The response from the client? “We were looking for an eBook.”
After checking all her facts, our freelance writer was certain that that’s what she’d produced.
“Yes, that’s what I’ve provided to you. Is something wrong with the book?”
“It’s not an eBook.”
Now, our freelance writer went back and forth a few times until she was exhausted. Initially, she accepted that the client just wasn’t happy with the work.
They promptly left a negative review on her profile.
But, when she was on Amazon a few weeks later, she noticed an eBook about plum trees was available for sale. It came up in her ‘suggested for you’ because she had been researching the topic. She clicked the “look inside,” she was shocked to find that it was her book! The client had changed the chapter titles, but the content was the same.
She immediately reached out to Elance to find out what could be done. Unfortunately, because this was a fixed price project and not an hourly priced project (hourly projects are protected by Elance’s TOS), there was little Elance could do.
Damn, ugly-faced clients!
Solution 1: Ask for 30-50% upfront payment (non-refundable)
When working on outsourcing sites like Elance and oDesk, and working on a fixed price contract, ALWAYS ask for an upfront payment. This ensures that should something happen as it did above, you’ve at least been compensated for some of your work.
Solution 2: Only accept hourly projects
You can stop this from happening simply by opting for an hourly project. You are then required to log your time and Elance will take payment directly from the client. You’re also protected by the terms of service on these sites.
Solution 3: Sell the work yourself
In this case, our freelance writer could turn around and sell the book on Amazon herself, using all her original work. She could then notify Amazon that the other book on there is a copyright infringement… be careful when walking down this track though, you need to be able to prove you’re the original owner of the work.
Scenario #3: When Clients Refuse To Pay You
Derek Halpern of Social Triggers has an excellent video on how to deal with clients that refuse to pay. Watch it here:
I’m sure we’ve all experienced some of the scenarios Derek talks about in his video. He also provides some good tips on how to deal with them.
Let’s look at them in a little more detail.
Solution 1: Work out a payment plan
Sometimes, the only reason a client hasn’t paid you is because they just don’t have the money right now. Instead of getting angry at them, try working with them. Figure out a payment plan or deferred payment arrangement. As Derek says, “kill them with kindness…”
Solution 2: 30-day money back guarantee
Sometimes, client’s aren’t happy with your work. Offering a 30-day money back guarantee on your services is a great way to make this easy on all concerned. But make sure that you find out why they aren’t happy. It could be something you could fix easily. Open communication is essential in these cases.
Solution 3: Implement 100% upfront payments
Similar to requesting a non-refundable deposit, you could ask for 100% upfront payments for all services. This will weed out the clients who want to spend their money elsewhere. Those that really want your service will have no problem paying for it upfront.
No matter what situation you find yourself in, it’s clear that you need to implement some checks and balances before taking on any new project. At the very minimum, you should always have a contract in place, and if you’re working on a project-based fee, collecting a non-refundable deposit ensures that you are never out of pocket.
Have you ever had any of the experiences above happen to you? What did you do to rectify them? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!