How does one protect themselves when freelancing?

I’ve been starting to promote myself as a freelancer and ran into someone who seems sincere, at least in terms of wanting something done. But they never asked about how much my work is going to cost them. Or at the very least wanting to connect for proper correspondence. They want to back-and-forth email. Which is just… err, no thanks? Too caveman-ey for my preferences. :laughing: I only mention that to so everyone can understand what type of person this is. Anyway, they told me what they want “OKSOIWANTITTOLOOKLIKETHIS!” without even telling me the breadth of the work they want done, let alone how much it will cost.

I just don’t want to start working with this person and have them rip me off after I send them some preliminary work or something towards the end. How do you go about presenting work to clients when freelancing, so they don’t simply take it and say “thank you very much”. Followed by a The Simpsons running gag of just hearing tire squeal in the distance. I’ve worked with local people and have done client work for local businesses that i’ve seen in-person, but nothing like this before.

I reckon small, low-res images? Covered in a watermark? I’ve also never changed my billing terms. They’ve always been simply “payable on receipt”. But I was thinking in these scenarios to have folks pay 50% up-front when I start, and the remaining 50% when the final work is delivered.


Do you really need work from clients like this?
Is it worth the hassle?

I’m not sure what you’re saying. I handle the vast majority of my work with clients via email.

For me, that would be a bad sign. They’re looking for a laborer with software skills to build what they’ve designed. If I couldn’t steer them away from that, I’d turn them down, but that’s just me.

Have you considered that it’s your job to ask?

You get a written contract before taking on the work. If you have doubts (and it sounds like you do) about them paying you, require a deposit to cover the initial ideas, and don’t start the work until the check clears. For that matter, with seemingly clueless, sketchy, small business clients that I know little to nothing about, I never take on work without getting money upfront to cover the costs. If they don’t agree to that, I tell them I can’t do the work.

If a legitimate, experienced, honest business person (a client) refuses to agree to reasonable terms related to payment, that person is probably someone best avoided.


Err… A contract? I’m not even going to pretend to understand. But isn’t the lack of a contract what entails freelance work?

But onto showing ideas/progress. How do you usually go about doing that?


WOOPS. Yeah, rather backsliding on what was expected. They mentioned signage and never mentioned it again, which was kind of strange. Or elaborating. They seem like they drank a case of Red Bull when getting in touch with me.

If you aren’t using contracts in your freelance BUSINESS, then you are doing it wrong. Especially if doing design work. You are a contracted professional.
I might even go so far as to say that if you haven’t explored becoming an LLC you might want to consider it.

No, absolutely not.

With a client as sketchy and iffy as the one you’ve described, I wouldn’t touch the job without my full contract being signed and delivered along with a paid deposit. For that matter, I wouldn’t start work on it until the check cleared.

Every client is different, though. A purchase order from an established and reputable business that briefly spells out the details can be as good as gold. A simple signature on a work order can also be a contract. Even a simple exchange of emails detailing the work and what’s expected in return can serve as a contract. It might not be as rock-solid as one drawn up by an attorney but it’s often good enough when dealing with a responsible business with a good record.

A contract is much more than something to take to court in case a client doesn’t pay. A contract is a document that both parties can refer to in case there’s a misunderstanding about what the job entails.

A contract protects both parties by spelling out the details of the job, what payment will be made and when, and what remedies can be implemented in case one of the parties to the contract fails to live up to the contract’s obligations.

This statement tells me that you should not be doing this job or any side work / moonlighting / freelance work. Sorry.

Gonna guess the OP isn’t in the US. Things are different in parts of Europe

No, you have it backward.
Freelance work should never be done without a contract, perhaps with some exceptions.
If you were “on staff;” directly employed, you might have some conditions of employment, but that’s when you wouldn’t need per-project contracts.

Ok. I just got the impression Freelancing means you’re in the wild, with nothing but you and your laptop. Well i’ve gotten a contract written up, but now dealing with design issues. I’ve gotten rules/lines for empty space, but don’t know how to write in them. :joy: Or how people will sign digitally.

Well, there’s DocuSign, but it’s $10 per month in the U.S. There’s also back-and-forth snail mail or sending PDFs to sign, scan (or take a photo of) and send back.

Some clients don’t like the idea of formal contracts and seem to respond better to the word agreement. As I said previously, sometimes a series of emails spelling out the details of the job and asking the client to email back an agreement will serve as a contract.

You sort of have to play it by ear. As I mentioned earlier, contracts are more than just documents to legally protect both parties, they also serve as a document that spells out exactly what’s expected of both parties.

When it comes right down to it, going to court to enforce a contract is an exercise in frustration. For example, a designer living in Nova Scotia suing somebody in California for a few hundred dollars is rarely worth the trouble. Even so, the contract (even if it’s just detailed emails) is a good idea. As mentioned, the contract contains what’s expected of both parties, and it lets the other party know that you’re serious and not a fly-by-night freelancer to abuse. The main point is to always get everything in writing and keep those emails to refer back to.

For what it’s worth, I’ve taken only two clients to court in my 40 years of doing this stuff — both toward the beginning of my career. Both times I won, but the clients never paid. Even after a court judgment, a serious deadbeat can easily figure out ways to avoid payment since they’ve usually made a career out of doing so. This brings me to my next point, equally important to the contract is checking out the client. A Google Search can find all kinds of things — both good and bad. As a general rule, I don’t take work for clients that don’t have an online presence that checks out as a serious, established business with a solid history.

Yeah, just saw the damn PDF feature and never noticed it before. :roll_eyes:. So there’s that. Eh, the guy sent me some photos of a ring with the initials he wants as the logo design. You mentioned that’s a red flag.

Well, it would be a red flag for me, but not because it’s a reflection of that person’s honesty or willingness to pay promptly. I don’t take on clients who want me to implement what they’ve already designed.