Getting Paid What You’re Worth … First Time … Every Time

One of the great things about being a freelancer is you get to meet a lot of people … and the vast majority are honest and a pleasure to work with.

Kind of different from the corporate world, where you always have the feeling that there are people who want to get ahead by standing on your back. I think this difference comes about because your client depends on you as much as you depend on him.

You’re not really working for your client; you’re working with him. And you are the expert. This makes for a great relationship based on mutual trust and respect. But there are some pitfalls in becoming too comfortable with your clients. Topping the list is project pricing.

With a variety of projects going at once, it’s easy to get lax about clearly communicating what a project will cost, or how extra charges will be handled if a project expands beyond its original scope.

So, to avoid potential problems, here’s what I do to assure that my clients and I are on the same page when it comes to price … and that we are both happy at the end of the deal. This approach will protect both of you, even if you haven’t had the opportunity to sign a formal contract.

  • Don’t be shy about discussing the financial particulars of a project. After all this time in design, I’m still uncomfortable talking price – whether it’s the initial price or extra costs due to extra work. But to be fair to your clients, you need to be up-front about your prices at every stage of the project and make sure they understand what they’re being charged for.

  • Put it in writing. There have been times when I discussed price over the phone with a client, and we came to a verbal agreement on the spot. But it’s not fair to expect everyone to remember exactly what was said, especially for projects that can take months. So even if you set a project price over the phone – and you’re not going to have a formal, signed agreement – put all the details in an email and send it to the client immediately after the phone call. Ask for a reply confirming that they received it.

  • Use separate emails for quoting prices. I sometimes used to discuss prices with clients in the middle of long email threads that were almost impossible to track down months later. Now, I make sure I put all pricing particulars in a separate email clearly marked with a subject heading like: “Quote for 16-page Oreo Cookie Diet Magalog.” By using a keyword like “Quote” in the subject heading, it also makes it quicker and easier to find if I have to refer to the email months down the road.

  • Keep change orders in your original email thread. If you need to make changes to the project price – if, for example, the project expands from 16 pages to 20 pages – include the additional costs in a Reply to the original email Quote.

    If there is any confusion concerning your final invoice, you don’t want to spend an afternoon searching through hundreds of emails to find price info that may have been buried in an email thread with a subject heading totally unrelated to price.

  • Create new folders in your email program for each new project. If you have multiple projects from the same client, put each project into its own folder. This reduces search time if you have to refer to anything you and the client discussed earlier.

  • Archive (a.k.a. back up) these important emails. Doing this saved me recently when both the client and I couldn’t recall exactly what price we had agreed to months earlier. Because I had made monthly email archives, all I had to do was reload the relevant one – and, sure enough, I found it.

  • Start with a good system. Don’t fall into the common trap that I fell into when I was starting out. I had a method for keeping track of my verbal agreements with clients, but it wasn’t efficient enough for a growing business. Too much was done over the phone or buried in email threads. Now I have things in order. And my advice to you is to set up a solid system right from the start … a system that will easily accommodate the eventual growth of your business.

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Published: November 1, 2007

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