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December 30 2013

15:59

What You Need to Know Before You Expose That Bad Client

If you’ve had a bad experience with a client, you may have thought about using your blog or social media to shame them.

The practice of client shaming seems to be growing. Just in the past month, I’ve seen at least four blog posts and social media complaints about companies who did everything from not paying the freelancer to using the freelancer’s work without permission. And let’s face it, it some cases making a client’s transgressions public can feel pretty good to a frustrated freelance web designer.

Of course, there’s the popular Clients from Hell website that could also be fueling the trend. While the clients are not identified on Clients from Hell and the stories are posted anonymously, I always wonder if clients ever read it and recognize themselves.

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While the decision to publicly expose a bad freelance client is a personal one, you should be aware of the benefits and drawbacks of doing so before you decide to do it yourself.

In this post, I share three reasons why some freelancers choose to expose a bad client publicly and three reasons why you might not want to do it yourself. I also list five alternative to going public with your client problems.

If you liked this post, you may like How to Evaluate Prospective Clients and Choose the Best Ones.

3 Reasons Why Freelancers Expose Bad Clients

Personally, I don’t recommend publicly shaming a bad client in most situations. My own opinion is that shaming is usually unprofessional and can easily backfire. That being said, I also understand why some freelancers do it.

Here are three of the most common reasons why a freelance web designer or developer may choose to vent publicly about a bad client:

  1. Puts pressure on the client. Some freelancers hope that the pressure from publicly shaming a client will pay off–literally. They want to embarrass the client into paying them the money they are owed. Sometimes the tactic works, but not always.
  2. Warns other freelancers. This is the altruistic reason why a freelancer might shame a client–because they don’t want others to have the same bad experience. This could be a valid tactic when you believe a client has behaved in a fraudulent manner.
  3. Feels good. The plain truth is that venting publicly can feel pretty darn good to a frustrated freelancer. Getting “even” by exposing the bad client may even feel like a form of justice.

You’ve just read some of the reasons why freelancers decide to expose a bad client. You may feel tempted to expose a bad client yourself, but hold on. There are some definite negatives to calling out a client publicly.

3 Reasons Not to Expose a Bad Client

commercial or legal concept, selective focus on a part of gavel

Venting about a client in social media or on your blog may feel like the only solution to your client troubles. But, in some cases, exposing a troublesome client could actually bring on even more problems than it solves.

Here are some negative results that you should consider before you expose your bad client in public:

  1. Ends relationship. Calling a bad client out publicly is almost certain to end any relationship you have with that client. So, it’s not a good strategy to use if you want to do business with that client in the future. Also, remember that what you put online is there for a long time. Even if you delete it, someone else may have made a copy.
  2. Could have legal repercussions. In some cases, companies have sued people who shared negative content about them on social media or blogs. The article, 5 Easy Ways to Get Sued for Social Media or Blogging, from Deb McAlister on the blog Marketing Where Technology Intersects Life has some good information. So, unless you want to be sued, be careful about what you say.
  3. Scares away prospective clients. Many freelancers don’t think about this, but publicly shaming a client can scare away other clients–and not just the bad ones. A potential client may wonder if the company you are shaming had a justifiable reason for not paying. Or, the prospective client may think that you are a troublemaker.

It’s a good idea to take these reasons into consideration before doing something rash.

5 Alternatives to Exposing a Bad Client

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Fortunately, there are some alternatives to publicly humiliating a client who doesn’t keep up with their end of the bargain. Here are five of them:

  1. Pester them. You have their email, their phone information, and maybe even their Skype address. If they are seriously late with their payment (usually over 60 days late), or if they are using your work without paying you, start to ask for the payment often. You can contact them at least daily using one or all of the above methods of communication.
  2. Charge in advance. I’ve always recommended collecting at least a partial payment from new clients before beginning work. Due to how common the problem of non-payment has become, many freelancers have adopted the practice of requiring clients to pay for 100% of the project before work begins.
  3. Small claims court. Depending on where you live and where your client is located, you may be able to take a non-paying client to small claims court. The advantage of a small claims court is you don’t need a lawyer. Dollar limits for small claims range from $2,500 in Arizona to $25,000 in Tennessee. (See this chart at Nolo.com for more information.)
  4. The Freelancer Payment Protection Act. The Freelancer’s Union is supporting a bill to help freelancers and other independent works get paid. From what I’ve read, the bill would only apply to freelancers in New York–but it could also pave the way for national legislation.
  5. Use an attorney. It’s expensive, but if you are owed a great deal of money suing your client could be worth it. Just make sure you have good documentation (such as a written work agreement or contract) documenting your grievance.

Your Turn

Personally, I’ve never shamed a client. In fact, in all my years of freelancing, I’ve only had one client who didn’t pay me for the work I did (because they went bankrupt).

What are your thoughts on exposing a bad client? (Please don’t leave any client names in the comments.)

November 26 2013

15:08

10 Ways to Say “No” to Bad Clients (How to Refuse Bad Projects)

We freelancers are well aware that there are bad clients out there. There have been plenty of posts describing how to identify a bad web design client or a bad web design project. We’ve even mentioned bad projects on this blog in this post for new freelancers. There are also plenty of posts encouraging freelancers to say “no” to bad clients.

However, there aren’t too many posts that explain how to turn bad work offers down. And turning work down is harder than you might think (as any freelancer who has ever accepted a bad project will tell you).

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For one thing, we’re not used to turning work down. Everything about our business is geared towards finding clients and bringing them on board. Also, if you are accustomed to working in a traditional corporate environment, you’re probably not used to having the freedom to say “no” to a client or a project.

In this post, I provide ten ready (and truthful) responses you can give when you’re asked to do a project that’s not right for you. (Because, after all, you don’t want to spend too much time on projects you aren’t going to work on.)

Response #1: I’m Too Busy

Have you ever accepted work you shouldn’t have even though you’re already too busy? I know that I have.

It’s easy to say “yes” to a project when you should say “no” when you’re busy because:

  • You may not take the time to really think about the project.
  • You may not research the client.
  • You may be feeling overly optimistic about your business.

If you’re busy, avoid answering an inquiry too quickly. Try to put the prospect off until you know you will have time to really consider what they are asking of you. Try saying something like:

“My schedule’s pretty full for the rest of the week. Can we discuss this on Monday?”

If you’ve had time to really consider the prospect and their project and you feel it isn’t for you, remember that being busy is a legitimate way to turn a project down.

Response #2: I’m Not the Best Freelancer for the Job

Sometimes you will be asked to do work outside of your freelancing specialty. It may be work you don’t know how to do or work you don’t have any interest in doing. You may be tempted to accept the work just to keep the client or prospect happy.

Don’t do it.

Almost every time I’ve accepted a project outside my specialty, I’ve regretted it. The best way to handle this is to let the client know that you don’t do this type of work. You can also use Response #6 and refer them to another freelancer.

Response #3: I Never Accept a Client without a Contract

NO sign painted in yellow on a the asphalt. Toronto, May/2010.

This statement weeds out a lot of bad clients right away. You should make it a practice never to do work for a new client without a contract or work agreement.

If a prospect refuses to put your agreement into writing there’s usually a reason for that. 9 times out of 10, that reason isn’t a good one.

Response #4: I Never Start Work without a Down Payment

New freelancers are sometimes hesitant to ask a client for money before a project begins. However, there’s really no reason not to ask for a down payment. Professionals in many fields (including web design) already ask for prepayment.

When combined with a contract, a prepayment is nothing that a client should be afraid of. A prepayment shows good faith on the client’s part. I also make the prepayment one of the terms of my contract–as in, the work can start when the prepayment is received.

Having this policy also tends to weed out a lot of bad clients. If they hesitate to make a prepayment, they may not really be committed to the project. They may even be planning to rip you off later.

Response #5: I Charge (Ridiculously High) Amount

Personally, I don’t recommend this response. However, I’ve seen it discussed in blog posts and on forums. So, it is worth mentioning.

The main problem with this approach to saying “no” is that the client might agree to pay the ridiculously high amount. If they do, then what will you do?

Before using this approach, ask yourself if the additional pay is worth taking on a potentially troublesome project. If it is, at least you’ll be well compensated.

Response #6: Refer Them to Someone Else

It’s a good idea for freelance web designers to build a network of freelance professionals whose skills complement your own. That way, when a client asks you to write web copy you can send them to a competent writer. Likewise, if they need some programming done, you can point them to a good programmer.

Ask your contacts in related fields whether they would mind if you occasionally sent work to them. Also ask them whether they would mind referring any clients who need web design work to you.

Response #7: I Never Work for Less than $X

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This is another response that tends to filter out the bad clients. In particular, this eliminates those who are trying to get by with paying very little.

Using this approach is simple. When you quote a price to this client, they typically respond by trying to get you to quote a lower price. That’s when to say:

“I never work for less than $X”

End of story. Then, it’s up to the client to decide whether they want to pay you what you’re worth.

Response #8: What You’re Asking For Isn’t Possible

You’ve probably been asked by a client to do something that really can’t be done. There are typically two reasons why something can’t be done:

  • The tools don’t support it. For example, a client may ask you to design a website and request that the website users smell fresh-baked cookies each time they access the site. With current technology and tools, this isn’t possible.
  • There’s a legal or ethical problem with doing it. For example, a client may ask you to design a social media platform exactly like Twitter. Well, of course there’s a legal problem with making a site that duplicates another site.

Either way, you need to be honest with the client. If tools don’t support what they are asking, let them know. If there’s likely to be a legal problem, they need to understand that as well.

Response #9: No Response

What most freelance web designers don’t realize is that no response can be a way of saying “no.”

Typically, I respond to all serious requests for projects. But some requests seem a little spammy to me. The sender may address me generically (as though they have sent out a bulk mail) or the request might seem a bit like a scam.

I tend to ignore spammy or scammy inquiries, and you can do the same.

Response #10: I’m Sorry, I Can’t Help You

Don’t forget that you don’t have to give an elaborate reason for saying “no” to a prospective client.

You may be going through a personal crisis that you don’t want to share, but that will keep you from working. Or, it might be too inconvenient to draft a longer response (such as when you’re traveling).

One of the perks of freelancing is that you can say “no” to work that you don’t want to do, so don’t be afraid to exercise that perk.

Your Turn

Have you come up with another way to say “no” to web design projects you don’t want to do? Share your responses in the comments.

November 07 2013

12:55

How to Evaluate Prospective Clients and Choose the Best Ones

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You want good clients and not bad clients, but how can you tell the difference?

If you’ve been a freelance web designer for a while (and especially if you have a strong online presence), this has probably happened to you. Out of the blue, you get an email asking about your web design services from someone you have never heard of working for a company you have never heard of.

Yay! You might think it’s time for a celebration. But as an experienced freelancer, you know to be careful. You know that it’s important to evaluate prospective clients. You shouldn’t agree to work for every single prospect who contacts you.

First of all, you want to make sure that their inquiry is legitimate. And you should also consider whether they are the right client for you.

In this post, I’ll list five steps to help you evaluate a prospective client. At the end of the post, share your tips about how you evaluate clients.

Step 1: Know Your Ideal Client

It may surprise you to learn that the first step to evaluating a client is to know your own business goals better.

If you haven’t already done so, you should build a profile of the type of clients you prefer to work with. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do I prefer a laid-back client, or a more formal relationship?
  2. Are my clients my collaborators, or do I prefer clients with a more hands-off approach?
  3. Is my ideal client technologically savvy or do they need some help with technology?
  4. Is there an industry that I usually work in?
  5. What type of web design do I typically do (and what type do I prefer to do)?

Once you understand what type of client you prefer to work with, you can take steps to target that type of client in your marketing. Most importantly, you can use your ideal client profile to evaluate potential clients.

Step 2: Check the Social Profile

One of the first steps I always take when someone contacts my about my freelancing services is to look at their social media profiles. While it’s true that once in a while you’ll encounter someone who has no social media presence at all, most people do have some sort of profile on one or more of the social media platforms.

Here are the social sites I look at and what I look for:

  • LinkedIn. You can learn a lot about a prospect by looking at their LinkedIn profile. You can tell what their area of expertise is, what their past employment has been, and even what their skills are. I recommend also looking for recommendations.
  • Twitter. If the person has a Twitter profile, I look to see whether the profile is filled out. Do they have an image with their profile? Does their profile link back to their website? Finally, I look at what sort of tweets they are sharing. Are the tweets professional?
  • Google+. Google+ is known for a more technical audience, so a presence here could indicate a more Internet-savvy prospect. Again, I look to see if the profile is filled out and whether it links back to a website. It’s also important to look at what the prospect is sharing.

If the person’s social media profiles or shares are unprofessional, that can be a red flag about doing business with them.

Step 3: Check the Existing Website

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If the prospect passes the social media hurdle, it’s time for me to look at their website. Since you’re a web designer and presumably the client is interested in hiring you to change their web design, you don’t necessarily want to be too critical of their current design. In fact, they may not have a website yet.

If the client has a website, here’s what I look for:

  1. Domain. Does the client host the website on their own domain? It’s a huge red flag if the client website is hosted on someone else’s domain like WordPress or Tumblr.
  2. About page. I always read the About page of a prospective client’s website to learn what the client thinks is important about their business.
  3. Blog. If they have a blog attached to their website, I read a few of their most recent posts.
  4. The rest. You may also want to read about the company’s product or service, any executive bios they have posted, and anything else on their site that catches your attention.

As you can see, a client’s website can tell you a lot.

Step 4: Check the Online Reputation

Another step you can take to check out a prospective client is to find out what others are saying about their company. Your first line of defense is the search engine. I typically type in a phrase like:

“Complaints about [company name]“

“Review of [product name]“

Even though the results will indicate what clients think of your prospect’s company, they may indirectly indicate how the company will treat a freelancer. After all, if they don’t treat their own clients well, how likely is it that they will treat a freelancer well?

Here are some other places to check:

  • Better Business Bureau. In the United States and Canada, the Better Business Bureau maintains a directory of accredited businesses and charities. They also keep a listing of complaints against businesses. While not every business is listed here, many are.
  • Google Apps MarketPlace. If the company creates software applications, you may able to find customer reviews on the Google Apps MarketPlace.
  • GlassDoor. Officially, this site is for potential employees of a company. However, if they treat their employees badly, how might they treat a freelancer?

Step 5: Ask Questions

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The final step in evaluating a potential client is to ask questions about the project. You may even wish to schedule a phone call or (if you live nearby) a face-to-face meeting. An advantage to doing all the homework in Steps 1 to 4 is that by now you already know a great deal about the prospective client.

If you still have questions about the client, it’s important to ask them before you start to work with them. Naturally, you want to get all of the specifics about the project you will be working on.

To get an idea of how the client works, you can also ask the following questions:

  • Do they prefer frequent progress updates, or will you work mostly independently?
  • Will they be available to answer questions?
  • What is their preferred method of communication (IM, phone, or email)?

A final filter to help you determine whether a client is a good fit is prepayment. I always recommend that freelancers require a new client to pay some or all of the project fee upfront. Most good clients will have no problem doing so.

Your Turn

How do you evaluate prospective clients?

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