There are plenty of benefits that come with freelancing, but it’s not all home made French press coffee and WeWork offices. Any time a client has an issue or objection, there’s only one person around to handle it: you.
In an ideal freelance relationship, you’ll be well armed to deal with these problems before they arise. The best way to protect yourself from scope creep, unreasonable timelines, payment issues, or multiplying review cycles is to get everyone on the same page from the start with an iron-clad contract. Having seen thousands of these things at Bonsai, we’ve detailed below how you can use your own contract to prepare for and answer five of the most common client objections.“You still have more work to do.”
If you’ve been freelancing for a while, you’ve inevitably encountered the dreaded scope creep. This is when a client asks you to do work beyond the original agreement, or requests round after round of endless revisions—without further compensation.
Sure, it’s possible that they’re doing this to squeeze more work out of you. Much of the time, however, a client simply doesn’t realize how much time and energy you’re putting in. This is why your contract should clearly define which tasks you’ll complete, how many revisions are included, and the date by which the project will be finished.
Here’s an example clause about project scope and schedule:
Project: The Client is hiring the Contractor to do the following: The Freelancer will write a blog post with one round of revisions included.
Schedule: The Contractor will begin work on July 19, 2017 and must finish the work by July 28, 2017.
If your client asks for work outside of the contract, present them with options. Let them know you’d be happy to discuss expanding the project to meet their growing needs. Offer a quote for the added services, then allow them to decide if they prefer to increase the budget or stick to the original plan.“You are not available enough.”
Sometimes clients have boundary issues. They might ping you constantly with emails and Slack messages, or require you to work during specific business hours. If they’re used to working with employees—as opposed to freelancers—their expectations might be a little unrealistic.
Here’s the thing: independent contractors cannot be required to work within certain hours or locations. Those kinds of rules only apply to employees. So, unless the client is willing to officially hire you on staff, you have the right to work whenever and however you like.
These example clauses define the nature of your employment:
The Client is hiring the Contractor as an independent contractor. The following statements accurately reflect their relationship:
The Contractor will use its own equipment, tools, and material to do the work.
The Client will not control how the job is performed on a day-to-day basis. Rather, the Contractor is responsible for determining when, where, and how it will carry out the work.
Asking you to follow employee expectations—without providing employee benefits—is called misclassification, and could lead to very expensive legal issues. Let your client know you want to protect them from the risk. You’ll further establish your expertise, and let them know you’re looking out for them.“We have up to 30 days to pay you after receiving an invoice.”
With net-30 payment terms, clients have a full month to pay you after the project is completed. This doesn’t include however many weeks you’ve already spent doing the work, which means it can take quite a while for you to get paid. If your client isn’t used to working with freelancers, this may seem totally normal on their end, but it’s bad business for you.
As a freelancer, you can state in your contract how and when you accept payments. You can require full payment on the day you complete the project, you can ask for a deposit up front, and you can set penalties for late payments. No matter what you decide on, make it clear from the very start.
Here’s one example of a clause on payment terms:
Invoices: The Contractor will invoice the Client at the end of the project. The Client agrees to pay the amount owed within 15 days of receiving the invoice. Payment after that date will incur a late fee of 1.0% per month on the outstanding amount.
When a client objects to your terms, don’t back down. Simply explain that your business model as a freelancer is a little different, and it allows you to provide them with the best service possible. If they aren’t willing to agree, you’ll have to pass on the job, and that’s okay. You may have just dodged a client who would have paid you late—or not paid you at all.“We can end the project at any time and not pay you for some portion of the work.”
Projects don’t always pan out. Companies may decide to go in a different direction, or cancel the project entirely. So what happens if you’ve already put in a lot of work, but haven’t been paid yet?
First of all, as mentioned above, it’s wise to ask for a non-refundable deposit at the start of the project. Beyond that, your contract should outline exactly what happens when a project is terminated early. Define how much notice needs to be given, as well as any compensation you will require for the time you’ve put in.
This example clause lays out the process for early termination:
Either party may end this Contract for any reason by sending an email or letter to the other party, informing the recipient that the sender is ending the Contract and that the Contract will end in seven days. The Client will pay the Contractor for the work done up until when the Contract ends and will reimburse the Freelancer for any agreed-upon, non-cancellable expenses.
So, in the event of a cancelled project, what do you say? First of all, tell your client you’re sorry to hear that things didn’t work out. If they owe you money for the work you’ve already done, gently remind them that you’ll be sending that invoice over. If they ask for a refund on your deposit, kindly remind them that this fee is non-refundable. However, you’ll keep the work you’ve done on hand in case they ever decide to resume the project with you.“We paid you for the work, so it’s ours.”
Clients may believe any work you create for them becomes their property. They might ask for your source files and iterations, and even tell you that you can’t display the work in your portfolio. However, you are not required to provide anything other than what is specifically spelled out in your agreement.
With employees, yes: the company typically owns the rights to their content. In the case of freelancers, though, you are the default owner of all the work you create—unless otherwise stated in a contract. Many clients are unfamiliar with this setup, so it’s up to you to make sure they understand from the start.
If you do decide to give ownership to the client, your clause might look like this:
Client Owns All Work Product: As part of this job, the Contractor is creating “work product” for the Client. To avoid confusion, work product is the finished product, as well as drafts, notes, materials, mockups, hardware, designs, inventions, patents, code, and anything else that the Contractor works on—that is, conceives, creates, designs, develops, invents, works on, or reduces to practice—as part of this project, whether before the date of this Contract or after. The Contractor hereby gives the Client this work product once the Client pays for it in full.
Contractor’s Use Of Work Product: The Client gives the Contractor permission to use the work product as part of the Contractor’s portfolio and websites, in galleries, and in other media, so long as it is to showcase the Contractor’s work and not for any other purpose.
Have this conversation before the project starts so you can avoid conflict. If your client wants to change the terms after the fact, you’ll need to sign a new contract together. In situations where they want to obtain full ownership of your intellectual property, you should absolutely negotiate additional compensation for those rights.
Unless you’re a lawyer, contracts may seem a little intimidating or confusing at first. They don’t have to be overly complicated, though. At Bonsai, we’ve worked to set up full contract templates, built just for freelancers, to make sure you’ve got all your bases covered. Whether you use an online system or just type it up by hand, always work under a contract. It’s essential to keeping your business—and your clients—on the right track.
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