Stick the Landing
No matter how well a job is going, how satisfied a client seems throughout a contract, this is no guarantee that it will end exactly as you hope. The reason being is that the end of a job is when money needs to exchange hands. No one likes parting with money, so sometimes clients just don’t. Of course, most of the time a contract will end with more money in your bank account because you and the client agreed on it. Sometimes though, when a contract ends, the result isn’t really what the client envisioned. This doesn’t necessarily mean you did a bad job. What a client wants can change day to day, and if what they get isn’t what they wanted, they don’t feel it merits a good review, or payment. Most clients are not trying to con you, they may just want you to do more work before they pay you, but it’s important that you stick to the agreement you made. Not only because you need and deserve to be paid, but because if you ever want to work with this client again, you don’t want to give them the idea that they can get away with not paying you. The best way to ensure that your job ends favorably is to take steps during, and throughout, a contract to minimize the chance a client might get some crazy ideas when things wrap up.
Before embarking on any job offer, sit down with your client (this doesn’t literally have to be face-to-face) and have a good long chat about your schedule, rate, expectations, deliverables, and any other major terms, details, and conditions. If you get the feeling that a client isn’t satisfied with this agreement, be okay with walking away now. It’s better than walking away at the end, after hours of time and empty pockets.
If a client seems perfectly satisfied with the agreement, you can still periodically remind them of it throughout the gig. Regular, gentle, reinforcement won’t only keep a client to their word, but create a paper trail you can point to if they don’t. If you’re really concerned about client integrity, you can always write up a contract. You shouldn’t only remind a client of your initial agreement, but periodically ask them if the work your producing is still adhering to their vision. Are you heading in the wrong direction? Has their idea for the project changed at all? Make sure you’re on track the entire time so you don’t end up delivering a final product that’s way off base.
ESTABLISH PERSONAL CONNECTIONS.
The best kind of business relationship is built on mutual respect, but also a degree of connection. It’s okay to get to know your client on a personal basis. While mixing business with pleasure can sometimes be perilous, there’s nothing wrong with being friendly and interested. Many business deals are sealed in the lunch room rather than the meeting room because people care about more than numbers, even in business. Having a personal connection (completely platonic mind you) is only going to help your chances of having an honorable client.
Simply ask questions. Ask about their business, their staff, their family, their hobbies. Not only will this endear you to them but it will help you to serve them better. Plus, by inquiring about them, you’re letting them know you care about their success and not just your own. Hopefully this leads to them asking about you. The less they see you as only a business transaction the less likely they are to flake when it comes time to take out the checkbook.
Another essential reason to have a friendly and open relationship with a client is that they’re more likely to voice their opinion freely. The primary reason for a job not well done is poor communication. The better a relationship, the better the communication, the better your work is, the less likely they will have any complaints at the end.
When a contract is coming to a conclusion you want to make sure the work wraps up nicely. Your work should be on time and aligned with what a client wants. You also want to make sure the relationship wraps up nicely. Thank the client for working with you, and request (as respectfully as possible) that a client provides you with a good review, or a potential recommendation, or, if the project went really well, more work. Don’t just hand in an assignment and expect a client to assume the relationship is done, or that you had a nice time. It’s almost like writing one of those “thank you for attending my party” letters. It can seem tedious or pointless, but it can go a long way in this situation. If you haven’t gotten your final payment yet, you can mention it in your parting words as well, but the cleanest way to bring it up is really just sending an invoice.
Undoubtedly, every freelancer will meet every kind of client. When you come across those clients who become dissatisfied at the two-yard line, hopefully the tactics we’ve laid out here will help in some way. We also recommend (especially for larger projects), getting paid periodically throughout a project, rather than one big lump sum at the end. The smaller the amount of money a client has to pay you each time, the more likely they are to hit deposit.