Doing Work For Free – Unexpectedly

I just read this piece in AdAge about a web designer who got stiffed on a project.

Has that happened to you?

Okay, in retaliation, this guy took over the client’s website and aired his issues. One section here caught my eye. Well actually, it’s pretty glaring if you’ve been in business a while

“Give a barren advance, rake up a huge bill and ignore every invoice. Rush fees, heavy overtime and weekend work are expected to be free.
You don't get to sleep for days on end, but you do get to wait on your money forever.
It's people like this who cause company after company to go bankrupt.”

Well, whether this guy was legit, or performed badly, there’s a lesson here. And it seems from the comments in AdAge, independent web designers/developers just aren’t getting it.

What it is…good business sense.

I was a freelance designer and illustrator for years. And yes, I got stiffed. More than once.

But I learned.

What is good inside an agency or an in-house marketing department is good for the individual entrepreneur – you must consider it a business. This isn’t some hobby to fill time.

It doesn't matter where you work or what your role is, you have to take into consideration the scope, budget and timeline. And it has to be in writing. And signed-off by the client.

This is so bloody basic I can’t believe I’m saying it. But the parameters of scope, budget and timeline in the creative business are repeatedly ignored.

It’s not just a CEO or partner who should be watching the books – it should be every individual.

So, little one-person-operation, hear this: Get scope in writing. Provide an estimate and get it signed-off – and make sure payment terms are clear. Provide a timeline and stick to it. AND clarify what constitutes a chargeable change and what doesn’t.

If you receive payments incrementally, make sure they’re on time. And be prepared to stop work if the client does not pay. You are not a bank. Here’s a nice little read about sunk costs. You know, you put so much into a project that you think you should keep going.

You are a fool – whether agency or independent – to keep working for a client if you do not get paid.

Send that deadbeat client on a hike, don’t give them assets, and don’t let it get to the point where you’re nuking bridges.