How to be a Freelancer Not a Bill Collector

If you’ve done freelance work, your ears are no stranger to the phrase, “we can’t pay you, but you’ll get exposure!”  When first starting out as a freelancer with no experience, free work may be the way to put yourself on a map. Exposure gets you connections and puts your name, your work and reputation in as many places as possible. However, don’t take on just any free work, choose your “exposure” gigs wisely.

Design for Food

Lynn Harris puts it point-blank, “If you’re going into something where creativity and work intersect, you can’t let people take advantage of you. Because there’s this prevailing notion of ‘You’re doing what you love—why do you need to get paid?”‘

If you’re a serious creative professional you will be paid for your work:

Know your client—This is not a blind date.
Research them. Do a Google search, email your freelance friends and inquire if anyone has worked with so and so?  Do the detective work before saying yes!

Before you name your price know what you’re getting into—Ask Questions.
Understand who the client is, what they want and how they want it. Before signing or drafting a contract Michelle Goodman from My So-Called Freelance Life advises to ask the following:
•Who will be your go-to person for the project in case you have questions? (if not the contact you’re talking to now, then who?) Client

•Who else will you be working with and in what capacity? (who will get you all the photos and testimonials for the website you’re being hired to build?)

•What type of feedback can you expect? (Is the main concern that you get the client’s “voice” and branding right, or are the reviewers known for their heavy-handed markups?)

•What’s the deadline for each stage of the project (first through final versions?)

•What’s the copyright situation? (For may commercial jobs, the client will want all rights to your work. But when creating your own essay, song, or photo for publication, performance, or exhibition, you absolutely want to retain ownership.)

Ask as many questions as you need to.

Naming your price—All about the $$$
•Devise a personal budget

•Draft a budget for your first year’s business expenses—include monthly expenses, supplies and startup/one-time purchases you’ll need to freelance to your heart’s content.

•Track personal and business expenses separately, you’ll thank yourself for doing this when imagestax time rolls around!

•Get ready to pay quarterly taxes, save your receipts, know your deductions, collect your 1099s, and dot your I’s and cross your T’s. The IRS is notably dubious of freelancers, making them prime for auditing—searching for unreported income or overstated deductions. Not sure about any of this? Hire yourself a tax professional.

•A magic formula? If only it were that simple, however each freelancer’s situation is unique. To help determine what you should or could be charging look at current job ads, connect with freelancer’s in your field or use a freelance rate calculator to help clue you in. A personal fave is this rate calculator from Freelance Switch.

Sign on the dotted line—Get it in writing.
Have a written contract and not just a sign here and the deal is done. Factor in every possible contingency of the project including what you agreed to do and what you’ll get in return, SPELL IT ALL OUT. Establishing clear expectations helps avoid problematic hassles down the road.
The Freelancers Union offers resources, benefit and insurance info, rights and legalities—basically sage advice on all aspects of freelancing, including a handy-dandy Contract Creator.  When drafting your own contract they outline the following:
What work will be done? What are the specific tasks to be completed? What are the deliverables? If applicable, include specifications, such as format, quantity, size, color, material to be used, etc. Be as specific as possible.

When will it be done? What is the timeline for the project? State when work will begin, and if there are specific milestones or deadlines over the course of the project. When and under what conditions will the final work be delivered?

Who will do what? State what your responsibilities are and what the client’s responsibilities are. If your work is dependent on receiving materials or direction from the client, be sure to specify those dependencies.

Where will it be done? State whether work will be performed on the client’s premises, and whether the client will provide specific materials or equipment.

How will work be judged acceptable? State how and when the work will be considered complete

On a sidenote: Yours or Mine?
Organizations who typically don’t outsource will likely have you provide your own contract. Larger organizations and firms that do outsource will likely send you their own contract (typically written by lawyers to protect the company) makes sense. When given a contract to sign, take time to look it over or have a legal advisor peruse it. Don’t sign that dotted line until everything you agree upon is included—contracts can be negotiated don’t be afraid to speak up!

the hustleWhen a payment deadline is past due—The check is MIA.
•Because you are a savvy freelancer and did your research and asked your questions, you know who the accounts payable person is and how to contact them. Call them.

•Charge a late fee. This will be outlined in your contract. Send your client a revised invoice including the agreed upon fees + interest.

•For larger projects, request a percentage of the payment up front with installments for project milestones. If the client doesn’t keep good on their payments put the kibosh on it until they keep up their side of the bargain.

•Still not getting anywhere? Send a letter stating the agreed upon amount, length of time overdue and your intention of taking the matter to court or hire a lawyer to draft one for you.

•If shit really hits the fan, as a freelancer you are not covered by most federal employment laws and legal protection. To get paid you’ll have to turn to the court system. With small claims court there is no guarantee that you’ll recoup what you’re owed but perhaps you’ve set the stakes high enough to have the client hand over the cash.


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