Mutual trust is the foundation of any relationship between freelancer and client. You really don’t want to be suspicious. But not receiving a penny at the end of a project is a freelancer’s worst nightmare. So, how do you recognize a scam and how can you try and protect yourself against it?
The story above has probably happened to every freelancer in his/her career, I also lost quite a sum of money because I trusted people too much! I’m not saying you must never trust a client in your life again, but there are ways you can try and protect yourself from a future scam, rip-off, or even worse .. a court trial against you!
But first things first, how do you recognize a scam? Here are some ‘hints’ for designers and developers to be aware of:
- the project description is just ‘too good to be true’
- this project is: .. “ideal to boost your exposure, cause this is gonna be huge!”
- your client wants to make a new Facebook, Twitter or Ebay-ish site
- your client has placed this specific project on more freelance websites
- your client wants you to deliver a detailed example first before starting the project.
If one or more of the above mentioned points seem to occur, you should be seeing red flags just about everywhere! But the best way to feel more ‘secure’ is to write a contract, this can help things run much more smoothly and preventing much bigger problems in the process of the project.
I know that most freelancers find it an unpleasant issue to have to write contracts when it comes to getting the job. Freelancers often take jobs from people they know, trust and/or are good friends with. And on the other hand it’s because clients have urgent needs and there may not be enough time to write a formal and professional contract before the deadline passes.
Healthy business wisdom suggests that no business arrangement should be started with unless a signed contract is in place. A contract also should outline the work to be done, the timeline for deliverables, the price, etc. – so it helps both you and the client to outline exactly what to expect of one another!
The biggest issue with working without a printed contract is simply this, if there is a dispute about what was meant or how it was executed, it will most probably end in an arguement of your word against the clients’ word?
Okay, Step 2! What to include into your contract ..?
So, contracts are an essential part of freelancing, but when you’re starting out, it’s not always clear what you must include. I guess it’s fair enough to say that every different project needs a different contract. But there are some points that you can see coming back in all contracts:
- Price and Payment Terms: .. Duh, this should always be included in a contract!
- Number of Revisions: When you are going to design a logo or brochure for your client, always set a maximum of revisions. Give the client some room to ‘experiment’ but don’t let it become a never ending story where the clients never stops changing and altering your design.
- Timeline for Deliverables: always include a planning/timeline for the client where the milestones and deadlines are mentioned. Make sure to remind the client his/her responsibilities and what the consequences could be when they don’t deliver the text or images within time.
- Agreements Made: who delivers what and when, how many times will there be a meeting or sessions to educate your client using specific software needed for the project.
- Scope of Work: protects the freelancer from changes in the scope of work and the client from work that doesn’t meet the contractual requirements.
- Downpayment in Advance: ask for a downpayment for upfront expenses, the remainder being paid upon completion of the work, and just before final artwork is supplied. A downpayment will give you more security the client is serious about the project and trusts you.
- Ownership and Licensing Questions: make sure to include the ownership and copyrights in your contract. Normally you give this to your client when the remainder of the full price has been payed.
- Terms and Conditions: make sure to include a printed copy of your terms and conditions, or send an email later with the URL to download and print the PDF.
I always write a technical concept – explaining the amount of work, the techniques being used (e.g. web design: static or CMS site), the features/modules that will be included, the service that can be expected, etc. – that I include in the envelope when sending the contract to the client.
I just want to place one important note here: Please don’t write a book, keep it short and simple and try to say the most with less words! A contract, dependig on how big the project is, should fit on 2 to 4 sheets of paper (A4 format). If you need more pages to specify some details or to give additional information concerning the project, write it down separately and sent it together with your contract.
The bottom line is that by using a written agreement, you are more likely to avoid pitfalls in the first place and second, you will have a printed document to protect you and to compensate you for your wasted time if the project stops suddenly. But most important: a contract clearly shows that you are a professional running a business and that you are serious and passionate about your (level of) work.