I like to think that I’ve experienced most of the surprises that freelancing has to offer, but don’t count your chickens – or your clients – before they’re hatched. I recently ticked off a brand new one for the journal by firing a client.
The client wasn’t a difficult person; they weren’t hard to get hold of or vague in their requirements. There was just one thing we couldn’t agree on and that was money. Or rather, we had agreed on it and then subsequently it turned out we hadn’t. And then after all that was resolved, we ended up in some spooky Twilight Zone re-run of the first issue.
It played out a little like this… (and you’ll have to imagine your own Twilight Zone music tinkling in)…
The client and I swap a few emails and agree terms for the freelance writing and editing. As part of that agreement we have a two-hour ‘trial’ which the client agrees upfront to pay for. I try to avoid spec work as there is a tendency for spec to end up being an abbreviation for suddenly proves economic catastrophe.
Anyhow, I do the work and the client is happy and we speak on the phone – not skype, but the real phone and long-distance too. And the bluebirds of happiness are dancing over the keyboard because they know that the freelancing faeries have cast their magic spell.
Shortly afterwards, the Paypal faery shows 4 hours payment, but the email says that’s for four hours in advance. I do a double-take and check back and sure enough, I did the writing I thought I had. I also know this because those bluebirds are still on my keyboard. So I email my client and ask what the dickens is going on.
The client says they ‘sort of thought my original two-hours of work was a way of me selling and showcasing my skills to get the gig’. Being both organised and twitchy, I keep all emails and quickly dig out the ‘I’ll pay you for the trial’ email and ping it off with a sense of concern.
But it’s fine. The client emails back and says ‘no problemo’ or something similar. I finish the second two hours of writing and editorial work and clear the decks for the next four hours, reasonably reassured. So which of these scenarios do you think occurs next?
1. The client asks me to work for four hours and then send an invoice for payment.
2. The client asks to pay in advance for another four hours of work.
3. The client pays for four hours of work in advance, but says I owe them six hours because there’s still two hours to be done from the first payment?
If you answered number three, award yourself a cookie, a piece of chocolate or some other sugar-filled delight. Yes, that’s right, ‘no problemo’ has gone on a diet and become just ‘problemo’.
What I did was go back through all the emails to give the client a chronology of our exchanges, including work and payment. I also pointed out we were having our second disagreement about the same two hours in a matter of days (okay, a couple of weeks), and that consequently I was returning their advance payment and ending our work agreement with immediate effect.
And that, dear reader, is how I came to fire my first (and potentially lucrative) client. And the lesson here? Even when the money is good, know your own boundaries.