Get it in writing

It’s been a while since my last post and there have been several factors influencing this. First, and foremost was a spout of writers block and not having much to actually write about. And secondly I have been super busy with my main project at the moment.

One thing that I have come across several times while freelancing is the “Moving of Goalposts” by the client. This is not only with my own clients, but I see it frequently with the creative agency I share my desk with. So this lead me to write some of my musing about this potentially touchy and taboo subject.

Get it in writing

As the post title suggests, this is the number one rule when working with other businesses or people. The reason for this is to not only protect yourself, but also to protect your client. Having the agreed work written down in plain English makes it easier for both parties to understand what is expected. This doesn’t always have to be a formal written contract which hundreds of solicitors have gone over with a fine tooth comb to make watertight. This makes sense if you are working on multi-million pound/dollar contracts, but for most freelancers a simple document explaining what work is being asked for and detailing out what work will be delivered and by what date is all you need. This document is in effect a working contract between you and the client but more importantly it gives you all the ammunition you need to protect yourself.

For example; Yourself and a client agree to deliver a three page website by 16th December 2013. On the 6th December the client says the website should actually be five pages but should still be ready for 16th December. What do you do?

Here’s two examples of situations you’ll end up in depending on your written agreements.

No written agreement: You are left in an awkward situation where you have already started working on the website, but now the client has asked for more pages; which means more work. They’ve not agreed to increase the budget, but if you refuse to do the work then you’re putting yourself at risk of not being paid at all. So you end up having to agree to do all the extra work for no extra money just to ensure payment. You’re left feeling sad and slightly taken advantage of. And you’re also skint and eating beans on toast for the rest of the month.

Detailed written agreement: You are left in an awkward situation where you have already started working on the website, but now the client has asked for more pages which means more work. You consult the written agreement between yourself and the client and you see that a three page website was what had been quoted for and agreed. You then show the written agreement to the client and present the argument that this wasn’t what you had both agreed. Of course you want your client to be happy so you agree to do the extra work, but they would have to increase there budget in accordance to the original quote to take into account the extra work. Otherwise, yourself and the client should stick to what was originally agree to in the document else it puts the project at risk of not being completed by the agreed date. The client acknowledges that they originally asked for three pages, but they REALLY need the two extra pages, and because they need them, they agree to the extra budget. You’re left feeling a little bit stressed from the negotiations, but you’re left with a bit more work, and ultimately a bit more cash. You still eat beans on toast as you’re a scrooge and don’t like spending money.

You may think that I am taking a dig at clients and I’m trying to make them out to be evil, sadistic and fickle people. But I assure you I completely understand the situations from the clients point of view. Every single person on this planet tries to get as much as they can from the money they spend. But also, projects are living, breathing beings. They can change from day to day and what they need may change drastically. This is why it’s just as important for the client to have the agreement as it is the freelancer. It brings focus the client’s project. If they have agreed to three pages, and the project then requires five, it will persuade them to look long and hard at those two new pages and help them decide if they do REALLY need them.

I wish that was the way every project ran but of course every situation is different. There are politics, feelings and sometimes friendships to take into account which are huge grey areas when working on design and development projects. (Sadly, I’ve seen many a project being driven by the politics rather than the requirements and it never ends well. Never). But, if you are working as a freelancer your one of your priorities is getting paid. Those 36ft speed yachts and diamond encrusted grills aren’t going to pay for themselves!

Seriously though, you need to make sure you get paid, but you also need to make sure you’re not overworked. If every project you had overran by just 10% then you would need 13 months in the year to be able to fit it all in.

Protect yourself, and your client. If you’re overworked, stressed and underpaid then your work will suffer for it. And ultimately you’re clients will suffer too. Get it in writing.

 

Hi, my name is Glenn Flanagan and I’m a Web & Print Graphic Designer and Front-end Web Developer based in Bristol, UK. If you’d like to take a look ay my full portfolio website, please visit glennflanagan.com

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