A Stupid Negotiation That Freelancers Are Forced Into

By Jamie McSloy / April 18, 2018
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A Stupid Negotiation That Freelancers Are Forced Into

Let’s talk about a terrible situation freelance writers (and other variations of freelancer) find themselves in that can be completely avoided.

This situation is as follows:

Freelancer approaches or is approached to do work for a client. The project is large in size, so the freelancer agrees to get paid either in instalments or at the end of the project. Somewhere during the project or after its completion, the client then backtracks and either won’t pay or wants to reduce the pay. The freelancer then tries to negotiate their way out of this in order to recoup the costs incurred and get as much money as they can.

Now… disclaimer here: My very first ever client did this to me. I was naïve and took the money they offered which was about ten percent of what I should have got paid, because they said, “It’s that or nothing.”

Nowadays, the answer would be “Bye.”

Understand – if you spend a lot of your time chasing clients or clawing money back, then you’re doing it wrong.

In this article, I will help you fix it for good.

(Time Out: If you’re enjoying this article, then you should probably sign up to my mailing list, where I give out ideas and business tricks that I don’t share publicly. Click here, fill out your details and get yourself on the list! You won’t leave this page.

Now Back To The Regular Programming Schedule…)

Firstly, Don’t Get Terrible Clients

Alright, let’s skip quickly through this obvious but important step.

If at any point during the “negotiation” process your client is acting in some suspicious manner or is reticent to talk about payment terms, then don’t let them hire you.

This is tough if you’re desperate and need the money, but if a client is bad before you do the work (when they need something from you) then without doubt they will be worse after they’ve got their end of the bargain and it comes to pay you.

It’s better to be starving and have your time to work for good clients rather than be starving and have no time because you’ve wasted it on some scammer who was never going to pay you.

Let’s add to this: I don’t negotiate all that much. Some people do, some people don’t. Some people swear by getting the best rate or haggling people down… I don’t agree with this because I’m a civilised human being.

Generally, my price is my price and exceptions come completely at my discretion. If someone doesn’t want to pay then that’s fine, go somewhere else.

The same with payment terms… if it’s a short job, I ask for payment up front. If it’s a big job, then I ask for 50% upfront and the rest on completion. This isn’t open for discussion generally because regardless of the client’s situation, I still have running costs in order for me to sit in this chair and do the work they need of me.

Now, there’s a bit of leeway as with all things, but if you’re spending ten hours negotiating with a potential client then I’d wonder why that was the case.

They either want what you’re selling at your price or they don’t.

To End All Debate

Let’s talk about contracts, copyright and not having to chase clients.

Here’s the thing; when you sign a contract, be it an official forty-eight page monstrosity or a simple email that says, “let’s get started” you’re entering into an agreement.

That agreement basically equals services rendered = payment received. So in short, if you don’t receive payment the contract is null and void, or at least incomplete.

Now, if you’re a carpenter or someone who gives away a physical product, then this can be a problem.

For a freelancer offering a service, it’s not a problem.

Here’s why.

Wrapped within the equation above is intellectual property.

So I might write a sales page or you might design a website for someone.

Until the contract is completed, i.e. the payment is received, the intellectual property is yours.

Ergo, your client cannot use the work without paying you. And if they are reticent about paying you, you make this clear to them.

I remember once back when I wrote for freelance websites, someone threatened me.

First they tried, “If you don’t give it to us for free, we’ll give you a bad review.”

I said, “Do what you have to but pay me.”

Then they said they’d cancel the contract. I told them that I’d get their account deleted and had screenshotted their threat.

They said they didn’t care and would just use the material anyway.

The Process

I told them, “Good luck with that.”

An important side note here: you might have to be more diplomatic if you’re working with certain clients from certain places, but honestly that comes under the “don’t pick bad clients” thing.

But let’s assume, like in my situation, you had a US client.

I told them that if they used my work without permission, then I’d issue take down notices on their work.

At this point, I don’t care about getting paid. I care about the copyright and the principle.

Here’s what you would do:

  • Tell them they can’t use the work
  • If they try, then you tell them you’ll enforce it
  • When it’s online, issue them an official-looking cease and desist
  • If they don’t respond to that, approach the company they host their website with
  • Issue the host a takedown notice
  • Also, go to their domain registrar and issue them a takedown notice
  • (I’ve never gotten this far without the issue being resolved)
  • Find an attorney from their state to send them a sternly-worded letter that makes reference to whatever information you can find about them and clearly states that they’re in the state

In the meantime:

Put your intellectual property online on a platform you control. So if you’ve built a website for them, it’s yours now. Change the details if you have to. If you aren’t winning on the above legal front then win on the SEO front.

Now, there are other steps you can take, like leaving honest reviews about shady business practices, but I honestly don’t want to give that advice because it quickly gets dodgy.

Needless to say though, I could stop at “Don’t let a client use the work until they’ve paid you” and that’s all there is to it.

If you’ve agreed a fee and have rendered the full service, then get paid in full and accept no less (your discretion excluded.)

You don’t have to beg for money you’re entitled to for having rendered a service. Act like it.

  • Matt says:

    You aren’t kidding here Jamie.

    This is my first 6 weeks trying to grow a freelance copy business on Upwork and no joke, my very first client wanted to go off the platform, handle work by Skype… and now it looks like he’s pulled a runner on me.

    I took the gig because I wanted the credibility, and because I don’t mind doing a little on the cheap side to practice the skill and build some rep. “Cheap” didn’t mean ignore my messages after he got the copy.

    I may have to use these takedown steps soon. Otherwise, great points about not negotiating and pulling the payment strings. I know I’ve been in such a hustle to just get clients that I forget not to let them steamroll me.

    • Jamie McSloy says:

      Hi Matt,

      Thanks for dropping by.

      Yeah, it’s a tough period when you’re starting out and getting the forward momentum. I had similar things early on. Tough to watch for the scammers with little experience, and aside from that you have to deal with the lower end to get your name out there and build experience.

      Will have a think on this because there’s not a lot of information out there about dealing with this period and I think nearly every freelancer goes through the process. Will try and create some valuable stuff about that.


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