People idolize the lifestyle offered by a freelance career, but few consider how difficult it can be to run a freelance business. In fact, freelancing can be downright risky. If you don’t keep your clients in check they can quickly take advantage and walk all over you. This happens for all types of freelancers, but it is especially potent for nightclub flyer designers. The low-cost nature of flyer design projects coupled with the intense competition in this space can lead clients to believe that they’re the ones in control.
In many cases, unfortunately, they are; because the freelancer has failed to protect themselves.
In this article we’re going to explore 8 ways you can help protect yourself as a freelancer, and more importantly, how you can keep your clients in check.
1. Use Contracts
If you’ve read any amount of freelancing advice, you’ll no doubt have come across people preaching the virtues of contracts.
There’s a reason for this: contracts provide a legally binding framework designed specifically to stop you being taken advantage of.
The problem though? Most freelancers don’t protect themselves with contracts. The word “contract” sounds scary, like something only for big businesses to use.
Don’t be scared of contracts, and don’t be scared of asking clients to sign a contract before you start work. It can certainly feel aggressive to present a client with a legal document, but most will actually think more highly of you for the professionalism.
But what about the cost?
Just like we provide readymade templates to help you with your design business, there are websites out there offering boilerplate legal templates that can cut the cost of hiring a professional lawyer.
Check out these additional resources:
2. Fire Negative Clients
Just because a client pays you money doesn’t mean they get to set the rules.
Freelancers often end up feeling beholden to clients just because they pay their invoices. At face value this can seem great.
But if a client constantly nags you for changes without fair compensation, or a client is consistently negative and bringing you down, it’s time to get rid.
You’re a freelancer. You should wake up every day loving the freedom of your job. But if you have clients that seem to suck the life out of you, weighing you down every day; regardless of how much they pay, you need to fire them.
There are plenty more big fish in the sea waiting for some of your time.
3. Take Payments Up Front (deposits)
I’m often struck by how reluctant freelancers can be to take a money upfront. Asking clients for down payments or deposits is common practice in many industries.
Want a builder to fix your house? He wants a down payment. Want a photographer to take your portrait? She wants payment up front.
Taking payments up front guarantees you get paid, and any client worth their salt will have no problem paying you a deposit.
I would argue that you shouldn’t risk working with any client who is unprepared to pay a deposit. They either have the funds to pay you, or they don’t…
If you already have a trusting relationship with a client, a deposit may not be necessary, but for all new clients: either get a deposit or don’t take their work. It’s not worth the risk.
4. Raise Your Rates
My girlfriend freelances full-time. Her chosen billing method is hourly. For the first couple of years she was perpetually overworked and underpaid, a tradeoff made to build her portfolio, gain experience and grow a client list.
For months I pestered her to double her hourly rate. She didn’t have the confidence to do it right away, but eventually came a tipping point where she was exhausted, burned out and needed to make a change.
Reluctantly, she doubled her rates.
Around 25% of her clients were upset with the change and unwilling to pay the increase in price. The other 75%, however, where more than happy to support her – some even applauded her for their personal growth.
By simply doubling her rates, overnight my girlfriend lowered her workload by 25%, but increased her income by 50%. Not bad, right?
Here’s the thing: Cheap clients are the worst clients you can have. You probably already know this.
When you’re working for big businesses and clients who truly value your work, they’ll be more than happy to stick around when you up your rates. In fact, for most, it’s too much of a hassle to find someone else to work with.
They already trust you and like your work, so why would they give it up for a fair and incremental price increase?
For non-freelancers, pay increases are common. The same should be true in your freelance business.
Doubling your rates might be too much of a jump for many clients, but an increase of just 10% every few months can be a great way to weed out cheap clients and keep your business growing.
5. Limit revisions
“hey, can you just make one more change? Oh, and one more please? Just a small change, it’ll only take a minute…”
Unless you bill hourly, you should be limiting the number of revisions you’ll include with any design project. You should also be very clear about the additional cost per revision thereafter.
Any time spent on revisions is time you should be paid for. If you don’t have clear rules and rates around your revisions, unscrupulous clients can quickly suck up hours of unpaid time.
Make sure you put this information in the contract your client signs before starting work.
6. Let Clients Select Designs
Most designers don’t tell clients they use a base template. Over the years though, I’ve seen many FlyerHeroes PRO users being completely transparent with their clients about templates.
Instead of starting a design from scratch and surprising your client with the results, giving them a selection of pre-made designs can remove any chance of the client being unhappy with the final results.
In Paul Arden’s book “It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be”, he says that letting the client create their own design guarantees they won’t reject it.
The same is true when you let clients choose from our range of templates.
If you’re a FlyerHeroes PRO user you can download as many templates as you like. There’s no per-template cost so you can give your clients as many options as you like. More info here.
7. Use Only Email
Keeping communication between clients limited to email is not only more convenient, it’s more professional and helps you keep a record of of everything that’s been said.
Having a written record of conversations with clients will be invaluable should you ever need evidence against a client. Sounds horrible, but trust me, it happens.
Furthermore, if you have clients asking for things across Facebook messenger, SMS, phone and email, it’s easy to lose track of exactly what they asked for.
Email provides a single unified thread for all your project details and comments.
Be very clear when you start working with a new client that all work related conversations must take place via email. If a client is mid conversion and asks about a work project, politely ask them to send you a follow up email to confirm the work.
8. Use Streak
When it comes to email, Streak is my hidden weapon.
Currently Streak only works for Gmail, but there are alternatives available for other platforms.
So what does Streak do?
Streak adds hidden tracking to your plain text emails and then alerts you when a recipient opens your email.
This may sound a bit creepy, but it helps you gauge when clients are giving you the run-around.
How does it help?
You know when clients take 3 weeks to get back to you on a simple question? Or when clients “didn’t see” your email requesting payment?
With Streak you know exactly when, where and how many times someone has opened your email. This helps you know when a client is avoiding replying.
Whenever I see someone has opened an email but not replied, I’ll follow up the next day with a friendly message nudging them for a reply.
An important tip for using Streak, though, is to never tell your clients you use it. The minute you tell a client you track your emails, they’ll never open them unless they’re prepared to reply right then.
Keep Streak your little secret and let it show you who is avoiding your payment requests.
As with any businesses there are countless ways to keep yourself protected. For me, these 8 tips are some of the simplest and easiest ways to protect your freelance business.
But what can you bring to the conversation? What tips do you have? Share a tip in the comments below and help a fellow freelancer!