Special Considerations for Working with Clients New to Freelancing
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Client work history is an important factor for assessing the likelihood that you’ll have a good experience with a project. All else being equal, long-term freelancing clients are more likely to be good business partners than new ones. They have an established track record, are familiar with this method of doing work, and are less likely to be a problem when it comes to payment.
But while this general trend is an accurate one, some freelancers jump to excessively broad conclusions based on it, declaring flatly that it’s a bad idea to do any work at all for a client who is new to online freelancing. I think this is a mistake, for both philosophical and practical reasons.
As a matter of principle, I believe in the power of opportunity; I feel that each person should have a chance to prove himself or herself in any field of endeavor. Everyone who is experienced at something was once new at it, and those who are seasoned only got where they are now because someone was willing to give them a break when they were green. You may be a first-time freelancer, or if not, you were at one time. You should give a client new to this environment the same chance you’d want (or have wanted) an experienced client to give to you.
From a more practical standpoint, new clients can be an excellent resource. They are often more enthusiastic and less jaded than long-term clients, many of whom may have had bad experiences with poor-quality freelancers. They are usually looking to set up long-term relationships with freelancers, and don’t have an existing stable of contractors they’ve worked with before. Doing work for a new client gives you the chance to “get in on the ground floor”, so to speak.
Are there more difficulties and risks when you work for someone new to online freelancing? You bet. But many of these can be ameliorated if you are prepared. Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind.
Someone who is new to a site is not going to be as familiar with its workings as a client who’s been using it regularly for years. Even though sites do provide help files and customer service assistance for clients, it sometimes isn’t enough for newcomers, who can tend to feel overwhelmed, and won’t even take advantage of what’s there. Many clients will assume that if they have a problem, they can just ask you how to solve it. Even though that is technically not your role as a freelancer, you should expect that you’ll be called on to play it anyway.
It can be tough to help clients with site issues if you’ve never acted as a client at a particular venue, because some mechanisms are only seen on the client side of the software. Do your best, drawing on your experience and looking up information in the online help if the client won’t do this. If you get stuck, you may have to tell the client that he or she must contact the site’s customer service. Do so politely; most clients will understand. But do this only if it is absolutely necessary: solving the problem yourself takes a bit of time, but helps cement the bond between you and the client that may lead to a long-term relationship.
Continuing with the “patience” theme, be prepared to spend more time communicating with a new client than one who’s been around for a while. This is a new experience for him or her, and more hand-holding may be required. Be sure to explain what you’re doing very well, and respond to questions and queries promptly.
While most people are honest, there are always some bad apples, and you are more likely to run into one when you deal with a client who has no track record. You want to have an open mind about this, because most new clients are in fact trustworthy, but you also need to protect yourself.
Most sites provide tools to help you reduce the risks associated with working for a new client. Check that the individual or company has provided a verified payment method to the site; this shows that they are serious and are ready to pay for the work you do. If you encounter a client who has not yet undergone the payment verification process, politely suggest that they do so: it is in their own best interest, even if they don’t hire you.
I also strongly recommend only doing work for a new client after funds have been escrowed. If the client balks at using escrow, this is a clear warning sign. I wouldn’t automatically refuse to work for a long-term client who didn’t use escrow, but for a client with no track record, it’s a deal-breaker.
Of course, you never want to accuse a client of anything, nor suggest that you do not trust him or her. Keep things on a strictly professional level. Make clear that it isn’t anything personal, that you must take certain steps as a freelancer to safeguard your own investment of time and effort. Also make sure the client understands that what you’re asking for, in terms of payment method verification or use of escrow, is standard operating procedure—it’s not something extra you’re asking for because of the client.
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Last Site Update: February 1, 2012
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