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Working for yourself is a dream come true. The home office lets you blend family time with a schedule that pays the bills. However, there is one unsavory character than can throw a wrench in your home-work juggling plan: the deadbeat client.
The one that lets invoices sit unpaid for weeks, sometimes months or longer. Hours of work go uncompensated, then more hours wasted in pursuit of payment. But before you asphyxiate out of anxiety, consider a few simple steps to address the current problem and prevent similar ones in the future.
Do Your Fieldwork
Every new project requires research, and new clients are no different. That first contact with a customer who you’re not familiar with doesn’t mean you have to accept the job right away. Ask how he came across your name and who recommended you. If the references are solid, you’ll feel more comfortable. However, run an online search for information on this new client. The local Better Business Bureau is always a good source of information, and bad eggs are often the subject of freelance forum discussions.
If you are new to freelancing, you might also consider investing in a professional coaching session or two to specifically cover client relations.
Most new clients are honest, but there are always a few bad apples out there. An experienced business coach, like the ones listed on the Noomii directory, can help you put policies in place that will make you less vulnerable.
Establish Your Rules
Make it clear that your work requires a contractual agreement. You’ll find online contract templates for every kind of freelance work, so have a standard form ready. Make certain that your contract states all rates, and build in a little insurance. Standard stipulations include a project startup fee, another percentage for draft completions and final payment for delivery. Be sure you know who to invoice. Your client may be part of a larger organization, so find out who’s responsible for paying the bills, and be sure to get all of their contact information.
Stay on the Payment Track
It’s easier to get paid when you keep things simple. Don’t give the deadbeat any wiggle room with sloppy billing. Your contract states that payments are due at intervals, so follow up with timely invoices. Invest in software that streamlines billing and gives you instant access to who owes what and when.
Get away from waiting for that check in the mail by accepting credit cards. This often allows you to bill a card directly for payment rather than chase down that contact in the accounting department. The time invested in invoice and billing software pays off when you’re dealing with a client who won’t pay.
Know When It’s Over
Handling the deadbeat client takes patience. By spacing payments over the time of the project, you can afford to send several reminders explaining why you’re suspending the job. Make a friendly, professional phone call your final notice. Depending on the size of the contract and your financial position, you may choose to take legal action.
This is often out of the financial range for most freelancers, so let your fellow professionals know what happened. There’s nothing wrong with politely shaming a deadbeat on social media and warning others in your line of work through forum postings and blogs.
As your own boss, you have to balance a working life with the needs of your family and home life. Making a deadbeat client pay up is time-consuming and expensive. Consider your financial investment in chasing him down, and recognize when it’s time to walk away. Consider it an expensive freelancer’s lesson, but don’t let your home life pay the price.