Posts Tagged ‘contracts’

The Top 7 Lies Prospective Freelance Clients Tell — Don’t Fall for These

Posted in Blog on May 13th, 2013 by Carol Tice – 77 Comments

Man lies and his nose grows like PinocchioLet’s take a quick poll, writers: Hands up, who’s gotten screwed by a client?

Yeah, I figured.

There are a lot of shady businesses out there that take advantage of freelance writers, particularly Internet startups.

If you don’t watch out, you could put in a lot of work for a client and find yourself without a paycheck. Often, these lowballers turn out to be nightmare clients, too, who are annoying and never satisfied.

What are some of the typical b.s. lines you should watch out for (besides the classic “Your check is in the mail”)?

Here are seven of my favorite tall tales clients tell:

1. Do this project cheap and we’ll have more work for you

Ah, the lure of ongoing work. It’s been used to drive down prices for so many freelance projects!

If you hear this, ask for details. What sorts of work do they have coming down the pipeline, and what rates might they pay for those assignments?

If they can’t provide any specifics, this is likely just a line to get you to drop your rates.

Even if it isn’t, try to tie your low-priced project to a firm commitment for additional work. Otherwise, you may well be giving up income for no real gain.

2. If we like your early work, we’ll raise you later

When you get this one, see if you can make them define when that “later” will come.

A better scenario is for you to say, “I’m doing this project at a discount rate because I want to work with you and get in the door. But I expect to review my rates and raise them to my more normal levels after this project.”

If the client is vague on when exactly it might be possible to earn more with them, assume it’s an empty promise.

3. We’ll do a contract later

Stalling on signing a contract usually means none will be forthcoming.

The dodge here is to get you working and pregnant with the project, usually under the guise of the project’s being a big, urgent rush job: “No time for paperwork, we need you to start writing immediately!”

Once you start writing without a contract, they’ve got you where they want you.

You keep writing in hopes of getting paid, and they wiggle out of having to define important stuff like how long they have to cut you a check after you turn in your work.

4. We don’t need a contract — we’re friends

You never need a contract more than when you work for a friend!

Defining the terms of the working relationship will make sure you don’t end up losing a friend if there’s a problem down the line.

5. This sample will be paid if we use it

Requests for free samples are often a flat-out scam. Next of kin to that is the promise that if they decide to use it they’ll throw you a little cash. It’s not worth the risk unless you’re writing for a very well-respected publication or business.

Be sure to know or negotiate the rate at which it will be paid if used, too. I’ve had writers email me all excited because they heard their piece was accepted, and then ask, “How much should I bill them for?” If you don’t know the answer, it’s never going to turn out to be a good rate. You don’t have much negotiating leverage after the fact.

If the client tells you they decided to pass, set up a Google Alert to scan for key phrases in the story on their site — often, you’ll find the piece pops up as published anyway. In which case, send an invoice.

6. This will be a great opportunity for exposure

This is usually code for “there isn’t any pay” — and the vast majority of sites that make this pitch in fact don’t have a ton of traffic. Be sure to check on Alexa or similar Web-traffic ranking tools and find out.

There are plenty of websites that pay for blog posts. Concentrate on pitching those and getting exposure while you earn.

If you do an ‘exposure’ gig, be sure you’re clear on what exposure you’ll get — how many links are you allowed? Will they let you build an author page on their site? Could you do a series of posts, which would help build more recognition?

I once had a writer come to me all excited because she placed an article on Salon, which has a great reputation for quality, but pays little.

At the time, she had yet to put up a writer website! She had no other online presence where Salon readers could find out more about her and easily contact or hire her.

I’d submit that this means the Salon piece was not good exposure. It was a waste of time. First, put up a writer website — then, you’ve got somewhere to send those readers you get exposed to, and they can get in touch.

Also, ask yourself, “Exposure to what?” Does this site’s audience fit well with the people you would like to attract? If not, take a pass.

7. If it works for me, this will get you lots of great clients

This one isn’t exactly a lie, just a dodge used to pay you less.

“You’ll be getting a great clip from me, so I shouldn’t have to pay you!” is the rationale.

To sum up, treat what prospects tell you skeptically.

Does it sound like it might be bogus?

Trust your gut. It probably is.

What lies have clients told you? Leave a comment and add to my list.

Cash Flow 101 for Freelance Writers: Or, How to Never Feel Broke Again

Posted in Blog on April 19th, 2013 by Carol Tice – 57 Comments

Laptop cashHungry writers do terrible things.

We take gigs we know we shouldn’t, because we’re desperate and need the money. A few months later, we realize this dysfunctional low-payer is sucking up too much time and making us go broke even faster.

Worse, some writers end up having to give up and go crawling back to those day jobs we hate.

Why do so many writers report feast-and-famine cycles and times when they’re out of cash and scrambling for any sort of gig?

Two main reasons:

  1. Not enough marketing to get a steady stream of leads
  2. Lack of understanding of cash flow

What is cash flow? It’s the movement of money through your business. What you want is cash flowing out of your business slower than cash flows in. That leaves you with cash on hand.

When things go wrong, cash goes out too fast and comes in too slow, and presto — you’re broke.

Often, I meet writers who early quite well, but still have cash crises. They make enough, but the money never seems to show up fast enough to cover the bills! The timing is off.

With some careful management, you can improve your cash flow, even if you don’t get a raise or more clients.

Here is my primer on how to change your business so that your cupboard doesn’t get bare:

Earn more

I know, I just said you wouldn’t have to get a raise or new clients. But in fact, one of the easiest ways to have more cash is to get paid more. So if you can ramp up your marketing, do it. If you have clients you’ve worked for over a year and you have a good relationship, consider asking for a raise.

If you’re sloppy on some of the cash-flow management tips I give below, simply having more income will help keep you from running into a cash-flow problem. (I promise all the rest of these tips you can do no matter what your client situation.)

Charging appropriate, professional rates for your work instead of rock-bottom Craigslist-ad type rates is a quick route to growing your income. Replacing even one lower-paying gig with a better-paying one will improve the picture. And that will help you stave off Empty Bank Account Syndrome.

Spend less

Unless you are living off the grid in a yurt in rural Idaho or something along those lines, there are probably expenses you can cut. For instance, our family made the decision to go down to one car about two years back, even though we’ve had three drivers at home. It takes a decent bit of juggling and taking the bus, but the savings from not insuring and maintaining a second car have been well worth it.

We’ve also become fans of shopping Goodwill for kids’ clothes before we hit the retail stores. I saved $300 doing that recently compared with hitting Target first last fall.

I recently met a writer who informed me she has no home phone, Internet, or cable TV bill. She gets by using the library computers and her cell phone.

To cut expenses, take this challenge from Your Money or Your Life: Write down every cent you spend for three months. Analyze your spending patterns and see whether you feel you get a good value for each cost. If not, chop it.

Liquidate assets

Do you have a garage full of vintage movie posters, antique toys, or other valuable stuff? Hit eBay and create a savings account from what you make. I have friends who’ve taken this large scale in the downturn and have sold off boats and second homes to lower their nut.

Whether you take it large or small scale, getting rid of things you’re not using frees up space, saves on maintenance and storage costs, and give you cash to put in the bank. Speaking of which…

Save more

Once you grow your income, raise cash from selling off belongings, and/or learn to live on less, you should begin to have excess cash — money that doesn’t have to be spent immediately to pay bills. Don’t get all excited and go to Disneyland with it…at least not until you build up a six-month emergency fund.

If you have no cash cushion, it’s time to cut back on any dinners out and movies and trips and such until you’ve got one.

With money in the bank, your lean times become less of a cause for panic. You have money to tide you over.

Feels less scary already, hm?

Get paid faster

As the years went along in my freelance business, I became increasingly obsessed with asking prospects this question:

When will I be paid?

Too often, writers plunge in without a contract and only a dim idea of payment terms. Many writers make sure they know the rate of pay, but not necessarily when that money has to be forked over.

The fact is, if your contract (you have one, yes?) doesn’t say when you must be paid, then you don’t have to be paid, ever. The client could pay you five years from now and you couldn’t even sue them. This is the kind of stuff that causes major cash-flow trouble!

Moral of the story: Make sure you define payment terms, especially when the final payment is due. It’s easy to keep the checks coming while you’re in the middle of a big project, but often writers are fuzzy on what triggers the final payment.

I prefer “Final payment due within 14 days of turning in first draft if no changes needed or on acceptance of final draft, whichever comes sooner.” That locks it down so if you don’t hear a peep after you turn in your draft — possibly because the client hopes to delay their final payment — two weeks later your money is due.

If your client is a slow-paying magazine, it may be time to try to renegotiate your payment terms. For instance, I got one foot-dragger to switch from paying on publication to paying 50 percent when I turned in my first draft, which made the long wait for final payment easier.

Bill immediately

Many writers are confused about when to send clients a bill, or just feel nervous to hit ‘send’ on it. My answer? I send the bill right along with my first draft.

No, I do not wait to see if they like it. Or to find out if they want changes. My bill goes out immediately.

One reason I do that is I find I forget unless I do it right away! The other reason is to get into my client’s billing system as fast as possible.

At many companies, checks are only cut once or twice a month. Dither around a week or three waiting for an editor’s feedback, and you could easily find yourself waiting until next month’s check cycle. Where you might have had a check in two weeks, now that stretches to six or eight. It’s exactly these sort of delays that lead to a cash crunch.

Contact late payers immediately

After when to bill, the next awkward situation for many writers crops up when the check doesn’t arrive.

Try to keep in mind this is just business. You are running a business, and if people don’t pay you when they’re supposed to, you get into money trouble. So you have to collect on your bills.

I keep strict track of due dates and the day after a check was supposed to turn up, I’m on the phone or emailing the client.

Keep it calm and professional. A typical message from me:

Subject line: Checking on invoice #XXX due 00/00/13

Hi client –

I’m just checking in on my bill sent on X date. It was due yesterday, so wanted to make sure you received it.

Can you let me know when I can expect payment?

Thanks –Carol

Pay bills slower

Remember those old Paul Masson wine commercials? Here the motto is “Pay no bill before its time.”

If you’re having cash-flow problems, instead of paying bills twice a month, note the due date on each bill and don’t send it until the payment is needed. Yes, this can take up a bit more time as you may end up writing checks more often through the month. But meanwhile, the money stays in your pocket.

To extend this strategy further, there are some bills you can pay late without penalty. Utilities and cable bills often won’t penalize you, for instance, and house taxes can go a little late, too. If something must be paid late to keep a bank balance, delay the bills where you won’t be hit with a late fee or interest charges.

Avoid charges and take discounts

While we’re talking bills, some offer a discount if you pay it all up front. If so, you know what to do.

Other bills will ding you with a late fee or charge you interest if you’re slow. Make sure you get those bills to the top of the pile and take care of them first.

Personally, nothing burns me up like knowing I could have taken the family out to dinner, but instead paid a $30 late fee on a credit card and $20 of interest because my payment didn’t get there on time. Watch those credit-card due dates to keep more cash, and mail those puppies 10 days ahead of the date to make sure you aren’t charged — the mail is slow these days.

If you have a big bill that shows up at a time of the month when you often are low on cash, call the company and see if you can change your due date. Often, they’re happy to oblige, and you can smooth out a cash-flow dip with a single phone call.

For instance, here at Tice Hall we make split mortgage payments — half at the beginning and half in the middle of the month. That’s easier on cash flow than having to pay the whole amount at once.

Tracking cash-flow trends

If you’re having cash-flow problems, I strongly recommend tracking your cash flow. Where is money going? When is money coming in, and from where? In the rush of work and family life, it’s often all a blur and you lose track of where the money all goes.

Keep a profit-and-loss statement that records your cash on hand at the beginning of the month, income and expenditures, and cash at the end. After a few months, you’ll begin to see trends.

Ask yourself: Is cash increasing or slowly draining away? Is there one client whose consistent late payments are the main source of trouble?

You might also track hours for a month to see which clients is truly your lowest hourly rate. How many hours are you giving that client? Maybe it’s time to make a change.

Getting a raise from one low-payer, or finding one new client who pays more promptly can make a big difference.

The whole secret of how I built my income to six figures was consistently analyzing cash flow and adjusting accordingly. I dropped low and slow payers and replaced them with better and more prompt payers – simple as that — until I had the income I wanted.

How’s your cash flow? Leave a comment and share your tips for keeping more cash.


5 Freelancing Lessons I Learned the Hard Way: Avoid These Career-Killers

Posted in Blog on October 17th, 2012 by Carol Tice – 36 Comments

By Erika Dreifus

Several years back, I was freelancing full-time. Or trying to.

With hindsight, I’ve realized I made several mistakes.

Some of them doubtless contributed to my return to full-time staff employment.

If I ever again attempt full-time freelancing, I’ll keep these lessons in mind:

1. Get it in writing

I know this. You know this. We all know this. And yet, sometimes the mere promise of a byline and a paycheck can make us so happy that we don’t insist on a contract, or at least, an email spelling out the specifics. Including that all-important kill fee.

Without those written assurances, we run the risk of doing the job without ever laying eyes on the byline OR the paycheck. Plus, there’s the lost opportunity cost: It may be too late to scramble and place the idea elsewhere.

2. Read the fine print—even with a repeat client

After writing print articles for one client many times, I got lazy. I stopped reading what seemed to be a “boilerplate” contract.

Thus, I failed to notice when the contract evolved from promising a certain extra percentage of my fee for material also chosen to appear online, to promising a smaller percentage, to stating that online rights were part of the deal.

Naturally, that’s when I started noticing more of my work appearing online, making it much harder to resell elsewhere. Definitely my bad.

3. Make negotiable demands

Several years ago, I pitched an idea to a major magazine. I’m not sure what possessed me, in the negotiations that ensued, to state brazenly the fee I wanted.

When asked what I was hoping for, I should instead have followed the smart advice I’ve since heard from a number of expert freelancers: “Answer with a question: ‘What’s the most you can manage?’”

That way, I might have sustained the negotiations, rather than giving the editor a reason to end them.

4. Run from the crazies

Ninety-nine percent of the people you’ll deal with in your writing career will behave in a perfectly rational and respectful manner (as you do, of course!).

But every so often, you may encounter someone—an agent, an editor, a fellow writer—who may be rude, threatening or simply incomprehensible in their correspondence or conversation.

LET THEM GO. You don’t need to have the last word (it may not be possible with some of these folks anyway). Move on.

5. Put your freelancing eggs in multiple baskets

I can’t help suspecting that my foray into full-time freelancing would have yielded better results, not to mention cash flow, if I’d diversified my income streams.

For instance, instead of focusing so intently on freelancing for magazines and newspapers, I should have acquired copywriting skills and experience.

I should have attempted to engage corporate clients. I should have investigated ghostwriting.

What freelance lessons have you learned? Leave a comment and share yours.

Erika Dreifus currently freelances on the margins of a full-time staff job. She blogs about writing and publishing (especially for poets, fictionists and writers of creative nonfiction) at Practicing Writing. Follow her on Twitter @ErikaDreifus.

5 Weapons for Fighting the Evil That is Scope Creep

Posted in Blog on June 22nd, 2012 by Carol Tice – 27 Comments

Businessman with too much workDoes this happen to you? You get a freelance writing gig, and it sounds great.

But as you start to do the project, things begin to change.

You thought you’d be writing one 300-word blog post a week, based on a little quick research. Now, there’s pressure to do interviews, ghostwrite for team members you need to talk to first, and they’d like 1,000 words per post, please.

Or you thought there would be little rewriting involved, but now you seem to be saddled with several different editors who’d each like you to revise it to their specifications.

Or you signed up to write a 500-word article with a couple of interviews involved, and now they’d like a 200-word sidebar with a third source. At no extra charge, of course.

What happened here?

Scope creep happened

You thought you had a great hourly rate going on, but now it’s being driven down toward minimum-wage territory.

If this has happened to you, don’t feel bad. I hardly know a writer who hasn’t encountered scope creep at some point in their writing career.

Because let’s face it — there are some pushy, needy clients out there. They don’t respect boundaries. They’re out for whatever they can get.

If you let them get away with it, they will wring more and more work out of you, for the same money.

The only way to stop scope creep

Just like they say about forest fires, only you can prevent scope creep.

Stop waiting for clients to grow ethics and pay you what you’re worth.

User-type clients will not one day wake up to the wrongness of their attitude and simply volunteer to pay you more money.

There’s only one way the situation will change.

It’s up to you to draw a line.


Confrontation is stressful

I know. It seems pushy and rude to bring up how they’re screwing you, doesn’t it?

Even though they’re really the rude ones.

But you can avoid scope creep without ruining your relationship with your client.

Here are my five tips:

  1. Have a contract. In nearly every bad case of scope creep I’ve ever seen, there was no written agreement. When you have your agreement memorialized and signed, it tends to discourage scope creep right off the bat.
  2. Have clear contract terms. When you’re writing up your contract, don’t stint on the specifics. You agree to write an article of X length (or X-word blog posts three times a week) by X time. Specify if interviews will be required. Payment will be due X days after you turn in your work. Spell. It. Out. Don’t leave unresolved holes in this written understanding, or a sleazy client will later happily drive a truck through them later.
  3. Don’t do more. This is key. The trick is to stop in your tracks, the very first time the client suggests that you do a more work for them than you’ve agreed upon. Refer them gently back to the terms of the contract they signed. If you don’t have a contract, simply point out that this is beyond the terms of what you discussed. Once you’ve delivered more work for the same money, it will be hard to rein this client in, and that scope may well keep creeping and getting bigger, just like a nasty green fungus that’s eating up your earning power.
  4. Offer constructive solutions. Once the elephant in the room has been named, quickly offer alternatives so that the awkwardness doesn’t linger, and the client has concrete choices (that you find acceptable) for how to proceed. We’re not here to point fingers or be nasty, but to find a way to move forward and continue to do business together. For instance:
    “Our current agreement is for weekly 300-word blog posts at $50 apiece. You’d like to move to 500-word posts…I’d be willing to do that for $75. Or if that’s outside your budget, we could stick to the original length we agreed on.”
    Yes, it’s just like toddlers. Two choices is all you want to present, so it’s not too confusing. A or B. Based on their response, you’ll move forward in one of those directions — or they may have their own counter-proposal you can agree to or no. But you’ve laid down some parameters and they get that they’re not going to be able to walk all over you.
  5. Ask for a raise. Sometimes, scope creep just plain creeps up on you, no matter how hard you’ve tried to prevent it. You feel used. That’s when you want to finish the project you’re on as quickly as you can, and ask for a raise with the next one. I personally like to write 60-90 day initial contracts so that there is a natural point at which to raise the pay issue again with new clients, after I’ve had a chance to see how much work is really required. Again, offer a couple of options. Would they like to pay more for what they really want, or go back to the original terms and budget? Keep your tone friendly and helpful as you present these alternatives, and they’ll often go with one or the other of our choices.

Bottom line: It may have taken a bit of courage, but you can stop the scope from creeping. And you need to do that to earn a good living.

Remember, it’s just business. Be professional about it, and you’ll earn clients’ respect…or you’ll part ways, and find a client that sticks to what they agreed. Those are the clients you want.

Have you had a problem with scope creep? Tell us how you dealt with it in the comments.