How Not To Get Screwed Over As A Freelancer [Video]

the-big-screw

Crappy clients. We’ve all encountered them. In the best scenarios, we manage to cut ties with our dignity intact, and make a mental note to never make the same mistake again. In the worst scenarios, we spend months or even years sending invoices to no avail, trying desperately to collect payment for work delivered.

Despite the fact that there are over 30 million freelancers in the United States, legal mechanisms to protect us from deadbeats is almost non-existent. Ever tried to leave a restaurant without paying for your meal? The consequences are swift and embarrassing. Accept work from a freelancer and then fail to pay? No one bats an eye. Except of course for the freelancer, who complains to everyone who can listen while simultaneously wondering whether she’ll be able to make rent.

Kinda like these people:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-lY9Nl8QrOA

The good news is that there are ways to avoid getting screwed over that don’t involve waiting for the government to wake up and treat the mobile workforce like an actual industry.

1. Speak softly, and carry a rock solid contract.

Docracy, the creative organization behind the video, specializes in providing free, open-source legal documents that are socially curated by the communities that use them. That means instead of trying to adapt a template contract for services to reflect your unique business, you can find specific documents created by lawyers that know your industry.

2. Power in numbers.

There are organizations and professional societies that exist to help protect freelancers like you. If something bad happens, they can step in to help defend your honor. That way, if a client tries to ignore your rock-solid contract, you’ll actually have the legal means to afford it. ‘Cause unless you’ve got one in the family, lawyers can be expensive. A few to start with: Freelancers’ Union, National Writers Union, United Scenic Artists, Professional Photographers of America, American Photographic Artists, Council of Fashion Designers of America, Industrial Workers of the World (includes Communications and Computer Workers Industrial Union 560).  Added bonus! Joining these organizations can often net you other awesome perks, like dental insurance or discounts on services.

3. Cowork it out.

Jumping into a new situation without doing your homework is almost always a bad idea. Thinking about signing a contract with a local firm? Got a queasy feeling about a client? Talk about it with your fellow coworkers. Collectively, Cohere boasts decades of self-employed and small business experience. Our members have been through it all before, no matter what it is. We especially like sharing tales of failure, because it brings us together and increases our collective knowledge. Also, we like helping our friends succeed. That’s what this is all about after all–being stronger together than we are on our own.

Got other tips for not getting screwed over? Share them in a comment!

Image via oskay/Flickr

5 Ways Twitter Can Help Freelancers Find New Work

Twitter. Love it or hate it, this social media  tool helps connect online communities, breaks news stories, and drives thousands of visitors to the world’s best websites 140 characters at at time.

But with all the other things we have to do, should freelancers really be wasting their time on Twitter?

Short answer? Maybe. Depending on your industry and personality, Twitter can be a completely free way to attract new clients and generate buzz about your business.

Here are 5 easy ways to turn your tweets into new work without spending all day staring at your stream:

1. Choose a handle and bio that reflect your professional self or business.

Your handle is sometimes the first and only thing that a potential clients sees. Choose your business name if you can, or something that reflects your expertise, like @CopyQueen or @NeverStopsCoding. Don’t leave your bio blank, and try not to be too cute with it. Twitter users want to be sure you’re worth following, and if you’ve got a bio that’s empty or full of personal likes/typos, you’re making  a bad first impression. Save that stuff for your personal account.

2. Remember that Twitter is about conversation, not followers.

Marketing gurus want to convince you that building massive lists of followers will exponentially increase your chances of retweets, clicks, and ultimately sales. That might work for celebrities or international sites like Mashable and TechCrunch, but its unlikely to have the same effect for John Q. Freelancer. But you have an advantage that those mega-tweeters won’t ever have–you’re a real person, free to use your account to connect with current and future clients in a personable manner. Ask questions, post interesting links, and provide suggestions when others ask for help. If someone likes your short reply, they might pay you for your long answer.

3. Follow #hashtags related to your industry.

If you’re using Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to manage your Twitter account, set up a new stream following keywords in your industry. This is a great way to find people who are asking questions or seeking advice on a topic related to your business. It’s also a great way to find other like-minded Tweeters to follow and chat with. Some tags you might want to try include: #jobs (such as #designjobs, #writingjobs, etc), #jobs, #projects, and so on.

4. Find and follow thought-leaders in your industry.

Search your favorite blogs or professional sites for Twitter handles to follow. Engage these experts publicly by asking advice or commenting on something they wrote. If you become a Twitter friend that they trust, they just might recommend you the next time they encounter a project that’s not right for their business.

5. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself.

When Twitter first exploded, everyone cautioned against being a one-note Tweeter. While it’s true that you should avoid sounding like a used car salesman every time someone mentions needing a web developer, there are times when it’s right to offer your services. If you see someone looking for professional help, offer to discuss their project offline, or direct them to a satisfied client for whom you completed similar work. Offering free quotes or consultations is another non-invasive way to say, “I’m here and ready to work for you” without being annoying.

Have you ever landed a job (directly or indirectly) because of social media? Share your experience in a comment!

 

Image Credit: epicute.files.wordpress.com

Freelance Issues: Dealing With Deadbeat Clients

“Take chances. When rowing forward, the boat may rock.” -Chinese Proverb

If most freelancers were honest, they would tell you that they got into this game without much of an idea about how to run, grow, or market a business.

No business can survive without revenue, and getting clients to pay (on time and in full) is one of the hardest elements of self-employment. You are just you, but you are also a business. Freelancers deserve no less respect than giant companies. Unfortunately, there are lots of skeezy clients out there who will try to convince you otherwise.

Crappy clients deserve to be fired (and here are 5 dignified ways to do that). But firing a client mid-contract sometimes means kissing that last invoice goodbye.

According to a December 2010 poll of 1,600+ independent professionals by Freelance Switch, a whopping 48.8 percent of freelancers have had a client refuse to pay, and never recovered a penny. Thirty-three percent eventually managed to get their money, and 18 percent are still waiting.

Deadbeat clients are a reality of freelancing, and it’s ESSENTIAL that you have a plan for dealing with them. Under no circumstances should you surrender payment just because you don’t want to rock the boat (see kick-ass Chinese proverb above).

Basic Strategies For Dealing With Deadbeat Clients

1. Use A Freaking Contract

Never, never, NEVER start a project without a contract. These documents are your first and sometimes only line of defense against a deadbeat client. A contract can never be too detailed, especially when it comes to payment rate and terms. Make sure it states due dates for payment explicitly. If it’s an ongoing project, make sure it includes details about how long the client has to pay after an invoice is issued, and how you will handle it if payments are late. When dealing with a brand new client, it may also be advisable to require a certain percentage to be paid upfront.

Cohere Perk! Local Attorney Kevin Houchin now holds a FREE open office hour in the Cohere conference room twice a month so members can come in and get business/legal advice at no charge.  Kevin can review your contracts, help you learn better negotiation skills and more.

1st Tuesday of the month at 9:30am
3rd Wednesday of the month at 2:00pm

2. Remember The Golden Rule

Always deliver work on time. This leaves no room for excuses when it comes time to get paid. Issue invoices within three days of finishing a project, or on the same day of the month for ongoing work. If you’ve got a Net 15 in your contract, make sure you have a system in place to notify the client of their delinquency on the morning of day 16.

3. Cease and Desist
Don’t keep working for free. If a project has an outstanding invoice and the client keeps piling on more work, refuse (politely) and be frank about the reason. If the client appreciates your work, they’ll pay to keep you. If they don’t, do you really want to keep them as a client? Also, know that in some cases, it is permissible to repossess work for which the client has not paid.

4. Drop The “L” Word

Every freelancer should have someone they can turn to for solid legal advice. In most cases, the mere mention of involving a lawyer will scare deadbeat clients into quick payment. But don’t issue empty threats. If they continue to resist, commission a lawyer to write an official letter citing “breach of contract” and any other terrifying legal jargon they find appropriate. Lawyers will usually do this for a percentage of the recovered funds, and if you’re owed more than a couple hundred dollars, it’s usually worth it.

Takeaways:

  • Know your rights, and take steps to protect yourself by using a solid contract.
  • Keep it professional, but don’t be a pushover. Clients are clients, even when they’re friends.
  • Don’t wait too long to take action. If you don’t stay on top of payments, who will?
  • If you’re unsure, ask for help sooner rather than later.

Have you ever had a deadbeat client? How did you deal with it? Share your experience in a comment!

Image Credit: Flickr – steven depolo

3 Ways To Zero In On What You Do Best

Zero In On Your Target Offerings

Recently, I read a great article from the folks at Freelance Folder (a fantastic resource to bookmark if you haven’t yet). The post was called “25 Easy Ways To Fine Tune Your Freelance Business” and it contained useful tips about how to keep your business fresh and avoid becoming bogged down with bad projects or the boring “business” side of things.

Most people who read the article seemed to hone in on tip number 4: Decide on a niche.

“I started making a lot more money and got a ton of clients after I decided to put myself into two niches: working with freelancers and agencies only and only doing HTML, CSS and WordPress work,” says the author. “Find out what part of the process you really enjoy and only do that kind of work.”

It was this last statement that really seemed to resonate with readers, so I wanted to explore some ways to segment your talents and zero in on what you truly enjoy.

1. Pay Attention To What You’re Doing: This is sound advice in almost every aspect of life, but you might not realize how easy it is to stop paying attention once you’re a seasoned freelancer. If you’re not in the habit of making an editorial calendar, to-do list, or tracking your hours, give it a try. Pay attention not only to the things that MUST get done today, but to the differences between list items. Do you avoid certain items because they’re more or less creative/structured/logical than others on the list? Do you dread writing content for one type of business, but hate it for another? Do you find joy in creating the architecture of a website or fine-tuning it for usability purposes rather than designing the logo or figuring out the best color scheme? These are clues about what make you happy and successful. Note them.

2. Revise Your Elevator Pitch: I’m not sure there are any freelancers that really think their elevator pitch is winning them clients. Reassessing the short version of how you describe yourself and your professional offerings is a great way to start manifesting the type of business you really want. If you call yourself a marketer, but what you really enjoy is creating and growing online communities via social media, it’s time to revamp your pitch. If you say that you offer market research services but what you long to do all day is write grants for non-profits, it’s time to think about changing how you talk about yourself.

3. Do Some Weeding: It’s all fine and good to notice the parts of the process that you truly enjoy, and mention them in your tag line, but if you continue working projects that miss the mark, it will only heighten your frustration. Once you’ve zeroed in on the elements that make you and your clients the happiest, it’s time to start weeding out the projects that don’t belong. Most client work has a rhythm, so the next time an undesirable project is winding down, it’s time to find a way to fire that client. It doesn’t have to be dramatic or negative. In fact, if you’ve got a good rapport with the client, try to leave it open ended. If they like you, they’ll be willing to give you some time to explore other avenues of your industry. If they start to panic, try to refer them to another freelancer that can handle the job.

It’s hard to let go of work, especially since many of us fight so hard to find it in the first place. But as you zero in on what’s best for you and your business, you’ll find that the right projects appear when you need them. Fine-tuning your business is a never-ending process. Worry about being great at what you do, and the money will follow.

Image Credit: Flickr – ogimogi

5 Reasons You Should Fire That Crappy Client

Trump says you're fired!

We’ve all had those clients. The ones that act like you couldn’t possibly have a life outside your work. They change their minds mid-project, send you three emails a day asking when things will be done, hint that your prices are too high, and then act like your work’s not good enough.

For one reason or another, they are the clients you dread working for/calling/meeting with but think you have to tolerate because of the money.

News Flash: You’re the boss! It’s time to find your balls and practice your best Donald impression, and here are 5 reasons why:

1.They always pay you late. If you don’t pay the electric company, your lights get turned off. At the grocery store, they don’t let you work out a payment plan: if you can’t pay you don’t get the freaking groceries! You too, are growing a business. What makes people think they can take your hard work and then make excuses about why they can’t pay the number agreed upon in the contract? It’s bullshit and you shouldn’t stand for it. You’ve gotta eat and pay the bills this month, not next year.

2. They insult you. Making snide comments about your work or level of professionalism indicate a client is really dying to be fired. Maybe they think that because you’re a freelancer, you’re entitled to less respect. Or because they know they’re a big account for you, you’ll take their shit just to keep the money. Prove them wrong. Clients like this make you hate your work, and take time away from the other clients that you enjoy.

3. They question your expertise. There’s a reason why you can support yourself as an independent professional: you’re awesome at what you do. No one decides to leave their traditional job and tackle the uncharted landscape of the freelance world if they have no idea what they’re doing. In most cases, independents fail to be challenged by the comfortable hierarchy of the corporate world, and strike out on their own because they’re tired of restraining their creativity. If your client thinks they know how to design a website better than you, let them try it. Alone.

4. They ask you to do something unethical or illegal. Ok, they probably won’t ask you to cook the books or hack into a competitors website (but it’s happened before). It’s usually something a little more subtle, like copying text from another website, or scraping a competitors directory and claiming it as their own. Maybe they’re just pushing you to make a product that you don’t believe in, or demanding that you use marketing tactics that make you feel icky. Integrity and reputation are everything when you’re out there on your own. Sacrifice them for no one.

5. They drag you away from your goals. As a freelancer, everything you do, from sending emails to creating a website, reinforces your brand. Or not. Think about your dream job, whether it’s getting a photo spread in a national magazine, or writing for the best website in your niche. Now think about that client that’s asking you to spend 10 hours a week photo-shopping pictures for a print brochure (gag) or writing mindless SEO articles for pennies a word. If you stick with them long enough, these clients will force you away from the work that you’re passionate about. And they’ll be taking up room that could be filled by the clients and projects that will take your career in the right direction

What are other reasons that you’d fired a toxic client? Share them in a comment

Next week: 5 Ways To Fire That Crappy Client While Keeping Your Dignity Intact!

Image Credit: kathypsblog.blogspot.com

3 Ways Coworking Makes You A Better Professional

Professional ScarecrowWhat’s the first thing you think of when someone says they want to be “more professional?”

Most envision a freshly-pressed business suit, a noose tie, and maybe an ever-mysterious briefcase.

But these are merely the outer vestments society tells us to associate with a business-person. “Being thought of as a professional is not all suit and tie. It’s not all about qualifications either” (Employee Evolution). It’s about how you present yourself and the environment in which you operate.

As an independent, freelancer, or small business owner, the level of professionalism you bring to the table decides whether your client recommends you to a friend, or asks you back for another project.

Freelancers are constantly fighting the common misconception that we all live in our pajamas and hate social interaction.

So here are 3 important ways that coworking can help you become a better professional and get respect in your industry:

1. An address – Starting a small business often requires you to have a business mailing address, and most people opt for inconvenient (and sometimes expensive) post-office boxes. Many coworking facilities will allow you to receive mail on-location, saving you money, and giving your business a more concrete appearance on paper.

2. A place to meet clients – Ever tried to land a sale on the phone with the kids screaming bloody murder in the background? Or arranged a meeting with an important business partner at a coffee shop only to discover that they were having open-mic night? A perk of many coworking facilities is that they offer clean, quiet conference room space as a benefit of membership.

Note to space owners: if you’re not offering conference space, realize that this could be a deal-breaker for new members. Also, make sure the meeting space you offer is bright, clean, and features tables, chairs, presentation tools, and other things that will make your members proud to bring their clients there. Shoving a table into a dimly lit backroom doesn’t count.

3. Social skills – When you’re holed up in your basement or home office for days at a time, it can be easy to forget that teeth-brushing is a daily necessity, or that you’re not the world’s greatest authority on grammar. Coworking gets you out of the house, encourages showering, and reminds you that you have allies (and sometimes competitors!) in your field. Taking advantage of their collective brain-power can help you make tough decisions and avoid mistakes, but you have to show up first.

Has coworking helped you to be taken more seriously as an independent professional? Share it in a comment!

Image Credit: Flickr – battlecreekcvb

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