How to be a Good Client

7 minute read

by Jon

January 25, 2016

More than one-third of workers in the US are freelancers, according to a recent study by Freelancers Union, and the ranks of independent contractors are growing every year. Hiring freelancers can save your company big money in taxes, benefits, and other costs, but it comes with a different set of obligations that your staff and your HR department may not be used to.  Making your company easier for independent contractors to work with will help you draw the best freelance talent, and give you latitude when you’re negotiating for lower costs in future contracts. Here’s a few ideas to help your organization be a good client.

  1. Be clear with payment terms up front. Freelancers typically expect net 30, and yet often get pushed back to months after the project completion.  If you or your accounting department need paperwork completed, provide this before the start of the contract.  It’s the client’s responsibility to request W9s, NDAs, non-compete agreements, and other documents.  Requesting these documents after the freelancer submits an invoice can seen as a tactic to delay payment. This is especially true if you don’t ask for them until 30 days after the invoice was submitted. Also, let your freelancers know if your accounting department cuts all your checks on the same day every month. Since most freelancers have just a few clients each month, slow payments can be a big deal.

    Pay your bills on time, or I'll have to bring out the big calculator. You don't want me to bring out the big calculator.

    Pay your bills on time, or I’ll have to bring out the big calculator. You don’t want me to bring out the big calculator.

  2. Minimize the people in your organization that deal with freelancers directly.  Freelancers only make money on billable days/hours, not necessarily dealing with multiple emails from different departments within your company. A freelancer shouldn’t be expected to communicate information across your organization. Choose one point of contact within your organization to work with the freelancer. When your organization has notes, comments, and revisions, they should go through that person.  This can make sure that the goals and objectives of the project stay aligned, without sending mixed messages and confusing priorities.
  3. Be clear about deliverables, and how they will be delivered. Should your writer submit a Word document or just upload their work to the blog directly? If you want them to send you large amounts of data like photos or video, will you provide a drive or expect them to bill you for one? Will you reimburse for shipping or provide a label? Freelancers want to finish your project, and then (we hope) not hear from our favorite client again until there’s a new project. Taking time to re-upload or re-ship you something that’s already delivered is a subtle form of “scope creep.” Good clients will keep the scope creep to a minimum, and this will keep the price of future quotes lower.

    good client customer

    “Our accounting department came up with this great graphic to show our customer-centric focus!”

  4. Be clear about how you want them to do the work.  Most of the work freelancers do is about results, and they’ll use whatever tools they are most comfortable with. If a client requires the work to be done a certain way, there may be additional costs involved. That means the “how” is something that should be covered before the quoting process. If you’re very specific about how the work should be done, you may be required to hire the contractor as an employee. But, for the most part, you’ll save money if your freelancer has flexibility to use the tools they see fit.

    plumber good client

    “Yes, you fixed the leak, but you didn’t use the right wrench. I need you to fix it again using the right wrench.”

  5. Clarify who will bear other costs. If you are requiring work to be done at a particular location, it’s often expected that you will reimburse for parking or transportation as required.  A freelance film crew isn’t going to drag multiple cases of equipment across a few city blocks to save $5 on parking. Other costs (like meals, lodging, and per diem) you may not be expected to pay, but if you do, you should let your contractor know. It is often less expensive for you to pay those costs than pass them on, since they’ll end up hidden in your project quotes, but marked up 20%. If your company has people who are great at booking trips and getting great prices, use them. If your organization is required to use a particular vendor for travel or lodging, it’s usually cheaper to let your contractors book their own accommodations.

Being a good client is all about defining the project well at the beginning, managing communication, and keeping the finished project in line with the original proposal.  Not every client/vendor relationship can run smoothly, but recognizing that both sides have a responsibility can help you be the good client who gets the most competitive quotes on future projects.