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 in this on-demand world we live in.
However, the fact that you’re out there on your own does have some downsides. Being a solo entrepreneur leaves you without a lot of the benefits and protections that an employee might have. And it is often those things that leave us at a disadvantage.
One of the biggest resources lacking for freelancers is a legal department that is there to make sure that nobody is taken advantage of. They help to set policies, ensure compliance and defend company interests when needed.
Of course, clients know this. And if you run into a particularly unscrupulous one, your relationship could become fraught with abuse.
In fact, there are a number of 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 all sorts of reasons why a client may not pay. Sometimes, it’s a financial hardship. But there are also situations where someone sees an opportunity to get what they want without holding up their end of the bargain.
If you’ve been in business for a while, you’ve most likely run into this type of person. They’ll keep stringing you along, attempting to get even more work out of you, while continuing to pay you nothing (or next to it).
While you do have some legal recourse, 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 most likely not worth your while to fight it.
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 leg to stand on in court.
And, do some research on a person before you start working with them. While it won’t weed out every scofflaw, you’ll at least have a chance to look for any obvious signs of a troublemaker.
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 work you can do before you risk burning out.
Quite often, it seems that the perception of a freelancer is someone who just sits around in loungewear, working at all odd hours of the night. This is especially the case if you work at home (if I had a dollar for every time someone has brought that up to me).
Now, most clients are realistic about this and won’t expect you to be available 24/7 – except perhaps in a dire emergency. But there are occasionally those who just assume that your availability to work is unlimited.
There have been instances, for example, where clients have expected me to take phone calls after hours or have been peeved if I didn’t respond to a message right away on a Saturday night. Yet, I seriously doubt they’d do the same if working with a large agency. Apparently they think we need them more than we really do.
In all honesty, it’s up to you to set the expectations and boundaries in a client relationship. Therefore, if you start doing work for someone at night, they’ll probably assume that you’re always available at that time.
So, instead of blindly obeying all after hours demands on your time, set some rules. If you reply back, say that you’ll be happy to take care of their request the next business day. Alternatively, 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.
Regardless of how you handle it, make sure that you take charge of the situation.
3. Repeatedly Wasting Your Time
To go along with that aforementioned picture of you in a client’s head is the idea that you have loads of free time. Anyone who just hangs out in their PJ’s all day must be looking for something to do, right?
So, they assume that it’s no big deal to call you whenever they have “a thought” about something. And they want you to attend seemingly-pointless meetings or conference calls whenever another “thought” occurs to them.
Of course, if you’re a one-person business, every interruption takes you away from the things on your to-do list. That places an even heavier burden on your shoulders with regards to getting things done.
Clients who routinely take up your precious time need to be (gently) put in their place – provided you want to keep them. In that case, mention that your schedule is packed and 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 this kind of relationship is vital. Once a client understands this, they are more likely to respect your time.
4. Being Left Out of Relevant Discussions
As a hired freelancer, you shouldn’t expect to be the big decisionmaker throughout a project. But you should certainly have a seat at the table when relevant discussions are being had. You were hired in part for your expertise, and it is needed in these key moments.
Unfortunately, not all clients see you as an important piece of the puzzle. Instead, freelancers can be seen as just the “hired help” and not much more. This can have a negative impact on the project, as a client can inadvertently make decisions that aren’t based on solid ground.
The other side of the coin is that these situations can make a freelancer feel like they’re not “part of the team”. It’s hardly a great motivator for getting things done.
First, realize that it’s okay to call out a bad decision if you see one. This should be done tactfully, but honestly as well. Explain why you feel that a decision isn’t necessarily the best for the final outcome.
And it’s also worth mentioning that you’d like to be involved in the discussion – at least to get a better sense of the project’s needs. Sometimes, just that request to become involved will help a client see the value of your opinion. If not, at least you tried.
Don’t Let It Happen to You
Freelancing gives you the opportunity to work with a number of different people, each with their own unique personality. And while most people will treat you fairly, unfortunately some will try and take advantage of your “non-employee” status.
The best way to both combat and (hopefully) 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 first starting out in the business world. But after some practice, you’ll make it that much more difficult for someone to take you for granted.
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