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When it's time to fire your client

Scope Creep  when to fire your clientAnyone who has freelanced for a period of time knows that they're out there - the nightmare client. In fact when you're green and desperate to build a good client base, you'll find yourself in a lot more nightmare situations than you anticipated. Even with a good business management qualification behind you.

The Biggest nightmare: Scope and scope creep

When starting out as a freelancer you need to assert your value. While there will always be people looking to  get something done for as close to possible as free, the real clients you want to attract are the ones who know that while you are not the most expensive kid on the block, you offer value for money and dont do anything free.

It may seem a little irritating to have to break down every piece of work and cost it to the client,however rest assured if you havent considered absolutely everything, the client may request work that they believe should be "included" in one of the specs already detailed in the agreement.

You may provide x amount of images or graphics at £x per graphic at x size at x resolution and think you have all possibilities cornered, but one of the biggest pitfalls newbies experience is when the client asks for revisions. Suddenly the original piece of minor work, whether it is artwork, design, coding or development becomes a major leech in terms of time and overhead costs.

It is critical to make it perfectly clear that a piece of work is allocated x amount of time and you will allow for so many revision with a clearly defined scope, after which you will be paid either per revision or per hour to complete further development of the project, depending on how you cost your work.

When building a new relationship, we often want to impress or please the client, but you should be careful about setting a precedent. You may design a webpage and then the client expects you to provide the images or other graphic elements. Many freelancers provide a certain number of images/graphics of scripts only to be asked if they could just redo this or that, change a colour, or image and the creep on time and cost begins.

It is always best to politely explain that you have done what they have agreed to pay for, but any extras will be charged for and when the project is new to the client, occassionally it helps to offer a small revision but to mention that any further revisions will be charged for.

Then there are those clients that see a new freelancer or small businessman coming from a mile away and simply decide that they'll try to squeeze for every last drop. Beware this happens not only with small to medium size corporate clients, but also large corporations that enforce tight budgets in all their departments. If you find that you are being squeezed at every turn, particularly by a large corporate whose name you really want to put on your client list, then you may want to reconsider your priorities over the food on your table or sustaining a loss to build reputation. Always rememebr though that once you have been marked as a cheap and easy target, you will struggle to enforce your value with that client.

When you you know that you have value don't drop for substantially less in price, because it will also affect how others in your industry fare. In the beginning you may well do a lot better to have several smaller clients looking for an easy to construct (and deliver) service agreement over one or two large corporates that are going to be exceptionally demanding.

And always, and I mean always under promise and over deliver.

When you have a client that is repeatedly demanding more than the agreed number of revisions, or asking you to do extra little jobs "that will only take a few minutes" (If thats the case why dont they do it themselves), at the original quotation and despite your assertion that extras are charged for - Its time to fire them.

New or Legacy

The single greatest lesson I have learned is that when I am engaging in a discovery session with a new client, that the first question that I ask is whether the project is new, or Im inheriting a legacy from a previous agency. When there have been several previous agencies or freelancers working on a particular project before you - red flags should be waving and you should request that contact details for previous contractors be made available in order to establish black holes in the project. If the cllient is reluctant to divulge the details of a previous developer or freelancer or agency and/or there is evidence of several that preceded them, it would be prudent to establish who your predecessors were and discreetly contact them before signing the contract.

I have worked for seemingly reputable businesses only to discover after payment defaults have occurred that in fact they have a long history of the same with a list of predecessors.

Regardless of whether you are satisfied that a legacy project hasnt brought inherited problems with it, I mark it up 25% and request a higher deposit. If the client is unhappy with this, it may be better to fire them before youve even started. As we all know prevention is better than cure.

Jargon busting

Every industry has its own jargon. Don't assume that the client knows what youre talking about and even more so when they start using common jargon, such as PPC, CPA and words such as pixels and resolution. It will astound you how many clients fear looking stupid in front of a contractor and therefore use jargon that they dont understand. So when the client says something and they actually mean something completely different, neither of you may be the wiser until the time comes to settle the bill. By all means use the jargon especially if it defines the job, but when signing a service agreement or a contract, ensure there is a glossary or a definition for every single industry related term, so that there are no red faces when billing comes due.

Go through the agreement with client and when discussing elemets of the work define it as you progress through the contract. Explain what is meant by content, aggreagtion, curation and marketing terms such as CPC, PPC and CPA. One hour with the client breaking down the contract may well save you hours of payment recovery.

Payment Structures.

Any business agreement involves a level of trust.In a new relationship trust has to be built. It is not unreasonable to ask for a deposit to be paid in good faith when you dont have a relationship of trust. The deposit the client pays is the first gesture of trust. When clients want work on spec they are refusing to trust you. Its not a good place to start a new relationship from.

With new clients there should also be a payment structure. I recommend a deposit and then payments to be made at various stages of completion. This will prevent misunderstandings and refusal to pay at the end. If the scope changes suddenly and it hasnt been defined in the agreed terms of work, then you have an opportunity to address this before the next payment is due. Sometimes the client will request different work to be done that has not been defined in the agreement prior to progressing to the next stage and then refuse to pay the agreed fee, because the original work in the  agreement has not been completed, while refusing to recognise the alternative that was done as a result of change in instruction. The moment a change in instruction occurs it is critical to refer to this , and set out the costs related to it as additional work, which may in fact lead to a delay.

As soon as there is a pattern in late or default payments act accordingly. If payments are repeatedely late then prioritise your clients according to those that pay on time. I would of course suggest that you enquire as to whether there is a reason for repeated late payments. SOmetimes there are reasons that can be easily overcome,

Once a payment has been defaulted on, I usually contact the client on the date of default, then again within seven days and after fourteen days all work ceases until the matter is resolved.
 If a late paying client is having a knock on effect where you are paying premiums because you have to additional overhead costs then ensure that you have placed a clause in your agreement that you may add a premium for late payment. And enforce it.

Once a payment demand has not been met, and should it appear unlikely that resolution will be found, termination is often the best solution. The more time spent on a non paying client or indeed a slow payer, the more it'll eat into your margins.

Ruthie Richards-Hill

Ruthie Richards-Hill

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