The Four Ways That Freelancers Are Mistreated


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To many web professionals, freelancing means freedom. The freedom to work on what you please, when you please. It seems to be the perfect career path for this on-demand world.

However, being on your own does have some downsides. Solo entrepreneurs don’t have the same benefits and protections as employees. And it often leaves us at a disadvantage.

We don’t have a legal department to make sure that everybody plays by the rules. They help to set policies, ensure compliance, and defend company interests when needed.

Clients know this. And a particularly unscrupulous one will take full advantage.

There are several ways that clients can mistreat you. Let’s explore four of the more common transgressions, along with ways to combat them.


1. Refusal to Pay the Agreed Upon Price

There are many reasons why a client doesn’t pay. Sometimes, it’s a financial hardship. But there are also situations where someone simply strings you along. They may see it as a way to gain leverage.

If you’ve been in business for a while, you’ve most likely run into this type of person. They’ll try to get even more work out of you while continuing to pay you nothing (or next to it).

Sure, you likely have some legal recourse. But it’s not necessarily cost-effective unless you are owed a large sum of money. Paying for a collection agency, lawyer, or court costs may negate any benefit you might receive. Not to mention all the wasted time in going through this process.

And this is exactly why someone will expect to get away with such behavior. They know it’s not worth your while to seek justice.

Fight Back!
Always work with a contract that sets clear payment guidelines. This can act as a deterrent, as a client knows that they won’t have a solid defense in court.

And do some research on a person before you start working with them. It won’t necessarily weed out every scofflaw. But you’ll at least have a chance to look for obvious red flags.

A client may use non-payment as a way to gain leverage.

2. Expecting You to Work After Hours

Just because you can work nights and weekends doesn’t mean that you necessarily want to. After all, there’s only so much you can do before you risk burning out.

It seems that there is an unhealthy perception of freelancers. As if we sit around in loungewear, working at all odd hours of the night. This is especially the case if you work from home (if I had a dollar for every time someone has brought that up to me).

Most clients are realistic and won’t expect you to be available 24/7. But some don’t respect your time. They assume you’ll jump at the chance to please them.

There have been instances where clients have expected me to take phone calls after hours. Some have been peeved that I didn’t immediately respond to a message on a Saturday night.

Yet I seriously doubt they’d do the same if working with a large agency. They may be overestimating their value.

Fight Back!
You must set expectations and boundaries in a client relationship. For example, performing tasks for a client after hours will lead them to assume it’s normal. They may simply expect you to be available.

So, instead of blindly obeying all after-hours demands on your time, set some rules. If you reply, say that you’ll be happy to take care of their request the next business day. You can also offer to do the work – but at a significantly higher rate. Or, just ignore the message until you get back into the office.

The key is to make sure that you take charge of the situation.

Avoid performing tasks for clients during non-business hours.

3. Repeatedly Wasting Your Time

A client may also assume that you have loads of free time. Anyone who hangs out in their pajamas all day must be looking for something to do, right?

Thus, they assume that it’s no big deal to call you whenever they have “a thought” about something. And they’ll want you to attend seemingly-pointless meetings or conference calls whenever another “thought” occurs to them.

This can be stressful for solo freelancers. Every interruption takes you away from the items on your to-do list. That places an even heavier burden on your shoulders about getting things done.

Fight Back!
Clients who routinely take up your precious time need to be (gently) put in their place. Tell them that your schedule is packed. In addition, mention that it might be more efficient to limit things to a single discussion (weekly, monthly, or, better yet, centennially – sorry, I kid).

Adding structure to your relationship is vital. Once a client understands this, they are more likely to respect your time.

Set boundaries with clients so that they don't tie you up on the phone.

4. Being Left Out of Relevant Discussions

As a freelancer, you shouldn’t expect to be the main decision-maker. But you should have a seat at the table when relevant discussions are being had. You were hired in part for your expertise. The key moments within a project are when you’re needed the most.

Unfortunately, not all clients see you as a stakeholder. Instead, freelancers are merely “hired help” and not much more. This can hurt the project. It could lead a client to make decisions that aren’t based on solid ground.

These situations can make a freelancer feel out of the loop. It’s hardly a great motivator for getting things done.

Fight Back!
First, realize that it’s okay to call out a bad decision. This should be done tactfully and honestly. Explain why you feel that a decision isn’t necessarily the right one.

It’s also worth mentioning that you’d like to be involved in the discussion. Explain that it will help you get a better sense of the project’s needs. Hopefully, such a request will help a client see the value of your opinion. If not, at least you tried.

Leaving you out of key discussions can hurt the project outcome.

Don’t Let It Happen to You

Freelancing allows you to work with different people. Each has a unique personality. Most people will treat you fairly. But some will try and take advantage of your “non-employee” status.

The best way to combat or avoid these situations is by being assertive. Make your policies clear both verbally and in writing. This lets others know that you’re a serious professional and should be treated as such.

This can be difficult, especially when you’re starting in the business world. It takes a lot of practice. But eventually, you’ll be able to stand your ground.

This will make it more difficult for clients to take advantage of you. Even better is the sense of confidence you’ll feel – no matter what you’re up against.


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