Based in Chicago, Illinois, The Freelance Beat is a blog exploring the triumphs and challenges that freelance journalists encounter in their early and mid-careers.

7 On-boarding Steps For New Freelance Clients

7 On-boarding Steps For New Freelance Clients

A few weeks ago, I met an Curbed Chicago editor at an NABJ Chicago event. Through the crowd of other talented freelancers, I managed to shake the editor’s hand and get her card. Soon thereafter, I pitched and reported a small story about a parking lot near my home that was supposed to be developed into condominiums.

With Curbed, the whole process was seamless, but that’s not the case with all publications. Now that I’ve freelanced for a little while now, I know that on-boarding problems run the gamut. No contract available, a contract with little to no rights for future use, late payment…. A myriad of things can go wrong.

When I’m working with a new client, there are a few tasks I have to complete in order to make the process smooth. For new freelancers, don’t forget these steps when starting new gigs:

Define the project.

Figure out how long it’ll take you to report the piece, then add a little time onto that. Consider whether the project may require multimedia or travel. Think of how many interviews or how much research is required.

Set the rate.

Once you know the effort required to complete the project, you can set the rate. It’ll be a delicate balance between what your client can afford and what will be worth your while. Agree upon the rate up front, and if possible, leave wiggle room for when projects don’t go as planned.

Get it in writing.

Before any work begins, get the rate and project scope in writing. Editorial clients typically have their own contracts, but sometimes they don’t. Some content marketing clients won’t have their own contracts either. There are plenty of online templates, but here’s one from And Co and the Freelancers Union.

Learn the client’s process.

How does the client prefer drafts to be filed? Do they use a software like Asana or Basecamp to keep track of work? Are they comfortable with Google Drive or One Drive, or are they more accustomed to using Microsoft Word or Open Office documents? Learn the particular ways that the client prefers to receive content deliverables. This is particularly true with editorial clients. Ask editors for internal style guides or checklists they have for journalists.

Establish communication channels.

Everybody’s communication styles are different. Some clients may prefer to have bi-weekly calls. Others prefer a weekly chat on Slack. When you’re on-boarding a new client, ask them about how often they’d prefer to check in. Find out what days and times work best for them, too. Get their preferred phone numbers. Encourage them to let you know when they’re travelling for business or personal matters; and you’ll do the same for them, of course.

Simplify payments.

Set up the payments process as soon as possible. Ideally, your clients will have their own invoicing portal and will pay you via direct deposit. But if they don’t, offer to have them pay using their bank or credit card via your invoicing service. Platforms like Wave, PayPal or Freshbooks are good for this. If all else fails, clients can go the old school route and send payments via paper checks in the mail. But no matter what, get it straightened out upfront.

Send a thank you note.

It’s old-school, but it goes a long way. When I sent my Marie Claire editor a hand-written thank you note for her work on my February and March 2018 stories, she emailed me to thank me for the gesture. Your clients are the lifeblood of your business. You’ve got to let them know how much you appreciate them. Sending a note or perhaps a small, inexpensive gift would put you a step ahead of your competitors.

What steps do you need to take when on-boarding a new client? Tell me in the comments or email me at (Yes, I’ll see your email!)


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