How to spot client red flags
During my first two years as a freelancer, I’ve had some great clients. My best clients are open to unconventional story pitches. They respond quickly to emails. Their accounts payable departments pay on time. Despite me being a freelancer, they make an effort to make me feel part of the newsroom.
What people rarely talk about when discussing the freelance life is how to avoid bad clients. I’ve had some awful clients that didn’t pay on time, didn’t want to pay at all and have gotten upset when I’ve asked for payment for service rendered.
If you’re a new freelancer, it’s important to evaluate whether a client will be a good fit for you. The sooner you develop that skill, the fewer crappy clients you’ll have. Here are some red flags to look for when deciding to work with your next client:
They’re unclear when it comes to payment
If the publication completely avoids the subject of money, that’s a bad sign. You’re not a volunteer. You’re not an unpaid intern. You’re a professional independent journalist. Before you start any work, figure out how much it’s going to cost you to put together the story so that you can negotiate the proper rate. If the client doesn’t respond when you discuss the rate, walk away. Once you’ve settled on a rate, get that rate in writing, preferably in a contract or at least in via email. That way, if you have to go to court, you’ll have proof of the agreed upon payment.
They’re hard to reach
This is one depends on how urgent the story is. If you’re working on a breaking news story or a quick-turn-around feature story, your editor needs to be able to return your call or respond to your email within at least a day if not sooner. If it’s not as pressing, he or she should get back to you within a few days or at least within a week. If you have a question or an issue with your story and your editor is hard to reach, it slows the entire workflow unnecessarily. Establish his or her’s preferred communication method first, and get back up contact info.
They’ve stiffed other freelancers
Check resources like Who Pays Writers to see if a publication will pay on time or not at all. In addition to clarifying how much you’ll be paid, it’s just as important to know how long publications take to pay their independent contractors. Who Pays Writers has crowdsourced information about what publications pay and how long it takes to pay them. Look for a clause in the publication’s contract to see when the payment will be sent. It’s typically sent within 30 days, but you can invoice earlier than that if it’s not specified in the contract. Develop relationships with great clients, and avoid ones that will cause you stress down the road.
They want more work without renegotiating pay
This is typically called “scope creep,” which is a term for a project that exceeds its original scope. Anytime you’re asked to do more work than what was initially outlined agreed upon, you should renegotiate the rate. If the editor wants you to switch your angle half-way through the reporting process or wants you to incorporate multimedia into your reporting, ask for a higher fee to cover the costs of that extra work. If your editor is wary of that, wrap up the project and take your talents elsewhere.
What sort of red flags have you encountered when working with new clients? Tell me in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org