I’ve been freelancing for over a year now, and in my experience, there are a lot of bad clients.
One bad client of mine in particular, was a client that ended up never paying me any money, even after I had invested 10 hours of my time into their project. The project was moving along just fine, and it was nearly complete, yet the client suddenly stopped responding to my messages. Why? They never told me. Maybe they found a free solution while I was working, maybe they changed their mind, or maybe they just didn’t feel like paying any money. Either way, I had invested a significant amount of time into building what they had asked me to build, and I ended up never seeing any money for it. This is why I now have a policy of requiring money up front.
I’ve recently had a potential client come to me and ask me to do some work for them. Having learned from the past, I asked this person, “are you willing to pay money up front?” and I even informed them that they could pay in $30 increments. $30 is my hourly rate. They did not want to pay even $30 for an hour of my time to get started. This basically told me that they are sweatshop-budget, and they don’t really have much intention of paying. I tried to explain to this person that $30 is a small amount of risk for them, compared to the amount of risk that I would have to take by hoping that they still feel like paying me after the project is complete and I’ve invested 20 or 50 or however many hours into their project. If I don’t ask for any money up front, then this person could simply walk away at the end, for who knows what reason, without paying me any money at all, and without caring that I invested however many hours into their project. I actually asked this person, why should I risk 20, 50, or 100 hours or however long it takes to complete your project, when you would only have to risk $50-$100 up front? To me it makes much more sense for the client to pay in hourly increments, than it does for me to sink 20 hours into their project and possibly walk away with nothing to show for it. The fact that this person was unwilling to pay such a small amount of money for initial consultation told me that they might not have any intention of paying me at all, or that they have a sweatshop-budget. There is no way I’m going to risk wasting 20 hours of my time, which apparently a lot clients have no problem with!
These experiences have shown me that there are bad clients out there, and they should be avoided, and this is why I have a policy of requiring money up front. I had initially started out by doing the work first, and then asking for payment upon delivery. But once clients started to whimsically say “nah” and then walk away without paying, that is when I started requiring money up front.
When you buy services from a freelance developer, it isn’t like buying a product from the store. It’s a business relationship. You’re working with an actual person who has to invest large amounts of time building what you want them to build. You have to know what the hell it is you want built. You can’t have a contractor come over to your house, start building, and then change your mind after they’ve already built what you asked them to build!
The solution to this problem, is to simply ask for money up front. If you get a client who is unwilling to pay even the slightest amount of money up front, they’re probably a bad client, who wants the moon and the stars and the whole world and wants it for sweatshop prices.