10 things to make clear in a new client relationship

May 23, 2016

So, you found a new client?

All those hours spent networking and exchanging business cards finally brought a high potential project with good revenue opportunities?

Congratulations! ...Oh wait, not yet!

New business relationships often seem promising before any work gets done. The sad truth is that too many projects start quickly, without any sort of agreements, and end up with middle-of-the-night calls and awkward invoicing. If you don't enforce your rules and manage expectations, a friendly relationship can turn into a nightmare overnight.

There's this misconception that freelancers aren't serious businesses, more like disposable manpower that will agree to anything because they need to eat. If you don't break this cycle, you can't blame the client for the lack of respect.

To avoid any ambiguity and develop meaningful relationships that will be satisfying for both parties in the long run, it is mandatory to agree on the specific details of the collaboration. This is where a contract comes in – find a template here.

Here is a quick breakdown of things you should make clear before you touch anything related to the project.

1. Service price

Don't catch your client off guard with your first invoice. Your hourly or project rate is at the very core of the business relationship, and it should be considered a major red flag if you're not asked about it before you start working. Expect unsophisticated clients who will try to lower your fee once they have the work in their hands.

If you don't have time to finish reading this article, just remember one thing: Agree on the fee – and get the agreement in writing – before doing any work.

2. Special fees

Any work done under extreme circumstances can have a special fee. Overtime? Weekend? Late night? Short notice? Charge an extra 25%. You (hopefully) have a life outside work, this will make your client consider it.

3. What's included

Are you charging for the meetings, the phone conversations and the quick fixes? It is pretty standard to do so, but you have to make sure your client agrees with it from the get go.

Bonus: This will also dissuade them from setting up countless unproductive meetings and call you 10 times a day.

4. Billing frequency

Are you sending invoices every week? Every month? At every milestone? ...Every day? Are you working with prepaid hours?

Let the client know, it will make their cashflow easier to manage.

5. Payment delays

The usual payment delay is 30 days. Some clients who aren't working with a lot of providers sometimes aren't aware. If you have late fees, you should also specify them directly on your invoices (for more tips and tricks about invoicing, read this article: Get paid on time: 10 essential tips for freelancers).

6. Preferred payment types

Do you like getting paid? If so, how? Wire transfers, checks, online payments (Stripe, Paypal) or even cash money? Your client might have limitations. Mention your preferred channel, but be flexible if necessary.

7. Discounts and packages

Are you offering discounts to fast-paying clients, like those who pay in less than 10 days? Discounts for long term projects? They'll be happy to know, and you'll be happy to have your money faster.

8. Business hours

Even though some freelancers have very flexible schedules (it's one of the main perks isn't it!) and work whenever they feel like it, some prefer to stick to classic business hours. Your client should know it from the start if you only answer emails between 9AM and 5PM. They might become impatient if you they don't get quick responses without knowing your working hours.

9. Holidays

For long term relationships, you should make sure your client has enough time to plan ahead for your holidays leave. Don't jeopardize a project or a milestone because you didn't feel like telling them you're going to Thailand for 3 weeks.

Are you off-the-grid during Christmas vacation? Working 4 days a week? These are all things they should be aware of.

10. Communication channels

Do you prefer phone calls over email? Do you use any project management tools to track tasks, bugs and change orders? Do you prefer to have meetings in person or over Skype? Make sure you agree on a channel for each context (New tasks, contracts, meetings, etc.)You just want to avoid receiving handwritten bugs over fax (it happened).

You just want to avoid receiving handwritten bugs over fax (it happened).

As a freelancer, earning your client's respect is often a hard task, yet a very fundamental one. Enforcing your rules will make you look more serious and professional.

Let's hope these tips will help you avoid misunderstandings and bad surprises.

Happy billing!

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

Philip Barclay

CMO @Momenteo, a cloud-based accounting solution for freelancers. I have been building and marketing products for the last 5 years (PLÉ, YourExtraLife, ThatIsOP, etc.).