Freelancers are often a one-man show, facing an array of challenges: late or missing payment and unpleasant clients, among others. If you're a freelancer, here are some steps you can take to protect yourself:
1. Prepare a Mental List of FAQs
Freelancers tend to get the same few questions, so be mentally prepared for how to respond. For example, most freelancers have horror stories of clients asking for free or heavily discounted work.
Avoid giving in and undervaluing your time and work. Try sticking to a solid standard reply to politely inform them that to be fair to your paying clients, you cannot waive or reduce your rates. If possible, you can also highlight past experience or noteworthy achievements to justify your rates.
Sandwiching your answer also helps soften the tension - this means starting and ending off on a positive note, with the "negative" element in between. For example, "I know you have a tight budget, and I appreciate you trying to make it work, but my usual rate for all my clients is $XX. Is there any way we can meet in the middle?"
2. Always Have a Contract
Do not start any job without a legally binding agreement. Take some time to research and understand your legal rights in Singapore. For example, did you know that freelancers are eligible for maternity leave?
If your client is preparing the contract, read the terms carefully. Keep your eyes peeled for specific details such as contract duration and renewal terms.
Look out too for an indemnity clause — this effectively clears your client of responsibility if things go wrong, and could put you at legal risk. If your job is of a more high-risk nature (example: food delivery rider), take note of what the company will and will not cover in the event of an accident.
If you're preparing the contract, be diligent about including the following:
- Scope of Work: Be specific about the agreed deliverables, number of revisions allowed, remuneration and project schedule. Be clear about late payment charges, to guard yourself against this common problem faced by freelancers.
- IP Rights: Especially relevant for the creative industry, this contract is to specify who owns the intellectual property (IP) rights for the work. This can be tricky to negotiate but as a bare minimum, ensure you add a clause stating your right to include your work in your portfolio.
- Termination: Clearly communicate the next steps, in the event of a job getting cancelled. This includes the cancellation fees your client will incur.
3. Explore Different Billing Structures
If you tend to be involved in a wide variety of projects, be flexible. Different remuneration models suit different types of jobs to make it worth your time.
For example, a one-time fee makes sense for projects with clear timelines and fixed deliverables. However, for projects where details are still up in the air and more fluid, an hourly fee may work better.
For projects with a longer timeline, you can consider adding interim fee caps. These require the client to pay you once the money owed to you reaches a specific limit. Without payment, work will not continue. This is an effective measure that works better for new clients you do not have a relationship with yet.
4. Don't Be Afraid to Enforce It
Unfortunately, one of the most common issues freelancers face is scope creep. This is when the project scope and deliverables grow without prior agreement.
If your client breaches the contract and asks for more than what was agreed, be direct and honest without being rude. For example, you can try saying "I can come up with some ideas. If you like any of them, we can talk about the fees as these are outside of the deliverables. Let me know how can I help fit it within your budget?".
A simple e-mail can also work wonders. For example: "Just wanted to check, as our contract is for 36 hours of work to be used on these projects, going ahead with this will increase the number of billable hours to xx. Are you okay with that?"
Most importantly, keep it impersonal to maintain professionalism. This is especially crucial if you are on friendly terms with the client to keep proper boundaries.
5. Plan Your Finances Wisely
At the end of the day, there's only so much you can do to prevent bad situations. Build up a rainy day fund to tide you through, in the event of scenarios such as late payment.
Do make an effort to regularly contribute your CPF — if you earn an annual Net Trade Income of over $6,000, you are legally required to contribute to your MediSave. This helps cushion your medical expenses, to make up for the fact that freelancers do not usually enjoy medical benefits.
Another way of doing this is with Freelancer CashPlus. It gives you daily cash benefits for up to 60 days if you are unable to work due to hospitalisation, among other benefits. Plus, enjoy flexible payment options that suit your freelancer lifestyle best.