One of the most common complaints about freelance work is pay issues. From low pay to late pay, to no pay, it's a "work-related hazard" that impacts writers of all levels and genres. It's so pervasive, in fact, that watchdog efforts through "Writers Beware" and "Whispers and Warnings" became necessary to protect freelancers and enforce our rights.
Adding insult to injury is a tough economy, where collections of all kinds have become problematic. This is why businesses are doing their "due diligence" to make sure that customers have a history of timely payments, and that they are in good financial health before signing on the dotted line. This is determined by their collective F.I.C.O (Fair Isaac and Company) credit analytics.
As business owners, freelancers should follow suit. Late and missed payments can impact our quality of life, cause undue hardship, and make it difficult to provide for our families. And though you can't obtain their credit information per se, there are ways for you to easily research and analyze the backgrounds of potential clients to assess the likelihood of future pay and profitability. (Crystal ball optional).
F - Feedback
When you perform a Google Search on the individual or company, do you see any complaints? Are Blog comments typically positive? How about reviews through Amazon or consumer websites? Be wary if there's a lot of negative press or shady activities reported.
I - Image
Is their branding smart and savvy? Is their marketing message clear and effective? Would you "buy into" what they're selling? Does the company have a blog? Is it updated regularly with quality posts? What are the analytics at their site? Do they get a lot of visitors? To check and assess visit http://www.ALEXA.COM for details. These are a few things to consider in your evaluation process.
C - Continuity
How long has the individual or business been in operation? Has it been under the same structure and affiliation? Or have they been in and out of different projects and pursuits under different names or titles? You don't want to be affiliated with a "fly by night" or someone who is still experimenting to find a successful business model, at your detriment. For relevant details, you can request a "Reliability Report" through the Better Business Bureau.
O - Openings and Opportunities
This typically means business growth. A "We're Hiring" ad or website section listing positions to be filled indicates prosperity, expansion, and success, (at least on some levels).
Here are a few other important measures to ensure your "bottom line" is protected, and to avoid unnecessary risk.
Require a deposit. Depending upon the type and scope of project, requesting a deposit simply makes good business sense. I find that when clients are "vested" financially at the launch of a project, they're typically more committed to follow through. Why? During these tough economic times, few people can afford to waste or lose money. A (non-refundable) deposit covers you for initial research, time, and creative input. While this practice may not be applicable when working with magazine editors, I've often used it with copywriting, editing and ghost writing projects. You should too.
Make it easy to have invoices honored. Invoice in a timely manner. Provide various payment options. This should include snail mail, PayPal, and wires. PayPal is my method of choice, in that clients across the world can easily transmit payments in a matter of minutes online. PayPal even has a user-friendly invoice system for tracking and follow-up. There's a bonus here. Even if you don't have an existing account, senders can transmit payments through your email address. For details, see PayPal.com.
Don't overlook the legal protection afforded by contracts. Gone are the days when one can rely on a firm handshake to seal a deal. Establishing a signed contract that specifically outlines the terms of freelance projects, and agreed upon terms of payment, shows that you mean business, and makes clients accountable. It also makes payment enforcement efforts easier when dealing with dead beats. Clueless on how to draft a contract? You'll find an easy step-by-step lesson here: http://www.wikihow.com/Create-a-Freelancing-Contract
Be careful when providing "free consultations." In an effort to drum up new business, sometimes freelancers will provide no-cost consultations to prospective clients, whereby they'll review marketing strategies, analyze a website, or provide guidance and recommendations on a book query project. Sometimes this can backfire. If too much info is given, it eliminates the need for future help, as the client may capitalize on provided suggestions, and contract it out to someone who is cheaper, or do it themselves. In other words: "Don't give away the farm."
Avoid projects that are "contingency"-based. In the past, I've been approached by potential clients to do work and collect a fee when (and if) their project is funded and they get paid. I am not a lawyer. Neither are you. Most scribes can't afford to wait months or years down the line to be compensated for their services. The exception here is grant-writing for a cause for which you are passionate.
Get re-hired by past clients. When possible, work with clients who have worked out successfully in the past. There's great validity to Dr. Phil's motto: "The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior." Though I love meeting and working with new clients and businesses, there's great confidence and comfort in doing repeat business with individuals and organizations with whom I know I can rely to pay an honest wage for an honest day's work. It simplifies the "madness" and saves time. It will for you too.
You've worked hard to land work. But, if you can't collect what you've earned, you've toiled in vain, wasting valuable time you can never recover. Though there's always a degree of risk when applying to freelance positions, you can protect yourself by following these timely tips, and by reporting unscrupulous clients that seek to take the word "free" in freelancing literally.
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Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Brown Banks
This article is not available for reprint without the author's written permission.