We’ve had to produce printed pieces for clients in just one week. I’m talking concept, copy, revisions/vetting, and printing. One week.
But because we have existing relationships with our clients, compensation and invoicing aren’t even issues we need to discuss. However, the situation is a bit different for new/potential clients.
Let me explain. I had a potential client contact me on a Tuesday evening for an editing job they needed completed by close of business that Friday. My contact at the organization forwarded me the documents along with editing instructions. We’d never spoken over the phone. We’d only exchanged maybe two emails each.
Of course being the Picky Penny I am, I emailed her Wednesday morning to let her know I’d be calling in a few hours for more information. No answer and no return phone call. I wondered if she expected us to perform the edit and discuss contracts and compensation later.
Not to my surprise, this is indeed how a number of my colleagues have gotten burned: performing work for a new client in a pinch on the assumption that payment and future work will come later. We’re nice guys, but we’re not fools. And that’s not how we operate.
Before working with new clients, the same rules apply as always. No matter if the deadline is two weeks or two days away:
- Speak to the client either in person or over the phone. Instructions can be misunderstood via email. The paper trail is great, but sometimes clarity comes from conversations between you and the client.
- Be clear on vetting and how it affects the timeline. Don’t let clients blame a stalling project on you—the vendor—when their issue is clearly in-house.
- Make sure compensation/pay rates are understood. At the very least, you should be able to tell the client your hourly/per project rate over the phone.
- Set up payment based on project milestones when possible. For larger jobs, it’s okay to break up payment. For example, say the client will owe $6,000 for your work on a project. You may require them to pay $2,000 to begin work, another $2,000 payment once agreed upon milestones are met (toward the middle of the project), and a final $2,000 payment once all work is completed.
- Draw up a short contract. Once we get the verbal green light from a client to proceed with work, we like to provide them with a short 2-3 page contract that outlines the estimated cost of the project, scope of work, agreed-upon deadlines, milestones, and expected deliverables. This document should also include language about invoice terms, ownership/retention of materials, and confidentiality. You can find simple sample contracts online.
- Keep the client informed. Let them know well in advance if you run into snags or if a project will take longer than anticipated. It’s better than giving them an invoice in the end that’s alarmingly higher than expected.