What I Learned From Bad Freelancing Experiences

One of the best parts of freelancing is getting to work when and where you choose. These days, I do the majority of my work from the comfort of my home office, though I have been known to hammer out assignments on both a mountaintop and a beach. It’s also nice to know that when I have a project due, I can tackle it in bits and pieces as long as I get it done by the deadline I’m given — which, in my world, sometimes means starting an article one day and finishing it at two in the morning several days later.

Another thing I love about freelancing is the ability to say no to assignments that don’t interest me, pay enough or work for my schedule. (When you have a full-time job and your boss sticks you with the most boring project on the face of the planet, you can’t exactly decline.) But while freelancing does come with certain benefits, there’s one major drawback that’s managed to bite me in the tail on more than one occasion: You run the risk of not getting paid.

Accept Assignments Carefully

The first time a client stiffed me was back when I first started out. In hindsight, it was a rookie mistake. I’d failed to clarify exactly what my responsibilities were to the client, who’d hired me to create an online fitness guide for a website she was building. Our agreement, which wasn’t so much an agreement as it was a brief exchange of emails, stated that I’d provide a certain amount of content for a certain price. But we never talked about things like revisions, and that’s where I got into trouble. With every page I produced, she came back insisting on something totally different. I revised each page, but it still wasn’t good enough for her.

By the time I’d completed my third round of changes, which still failed to meet her expectations, I’d sunk so many hours into the project I was earning an effective rate of $6 per hour. I told her that enough was enough, and she demanded that I finish the project to her satisfaction or forgo compensation. I tried negotiating for a portion of my measly fee, and she told me she wouldn’t pay me a dime until she was completely satisfied. So I had to walk away. But it hurt.

Another time, I submitted a project to a client, heard nothing back and just never got paid. The client ignored my emails, dodged my calls and to this day owes me $300.

A Lesson Learned

But as much as I’ve been taken advantage of in the past, I’ve also managed to learn from my mistakes. These days, I only take on assignments from reputable sources — meaning, well-known companies or publications I’ve actually heard of. If an individual or small company wants to hire me, I insist on a signed contract and a certain percentage of the project paid up front. I also make sure to spell out what’s expected of me before I take on an assignment. For example, if I’m writing content for a website, I’ll usually include one free round of revisions but make it clear that I’ll be charging for additional changes.

Of course, this isn’t to say that I still don’t get jerked around from time to time. Just recently, I had a client take three months to pay me because he claimed he was too busy to address my invoice. But for the most part, I do tend to get paid, albeit somewhat irregularly at times. It’s not a perfect setup, but then again, what job is?

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