The Ask Anne Q&A called When Clients Misbehave sparked comments from pros that encourage freelancers to both get advances on work and written contracts.
Devon Ellington put it bluntly and simply: No work is done without a contract and a deposit. Period.
Of course, she’s right. None of us should do any work without a written contract of some sort (an email agreement is fine) and an advance or deposit before the freelance writing work is begun.
As a general rule, advance money ranges from maybe a quarter to a half of the total with the balance paid over time and/or on completion. For big contracts like books, there are variations on this theme.
For instance, I often break the charges out monthly which smooths my income stream and makes the cost perhaps more manageable for the client. But I always get at least the first month’s payment in advance – always.
Ok, so how do I actually get money in advance?
But the question still arises: How do you get a new client to actually send you money in advance?
It’s simple. You ask for it! Or even better you make a statement.
My conversations about getting money up front go roughly like this:
M. Client, I’d want a third up front, a third in the middle and the final payment when we’re done, or, if it would be easier for you I can take monthly payments for six months or so.
Notice, I’ve made a statement with two options, showing flexibility and assuming he’s going to go for one or the other. I make the statement and then:
I shut up!
I learned this sales techniques I ever learned from my father who was a master at selling real estate. He said that more sales people talk themselves out of sales than ever talk themselves in. I don’t even ask if that’s okay with the client or use any other “closing” technique. I wait until they speak. I’ve learned to be comfortable with silence, sometimes a lot of silence..
When you present a choice you’re assuming the client agrees with the premise – in this case the price and that some money will need to be paid up front. Usually the client will agree and pick the option that suits them. Sometimes they’ll present an alternative, and once in a great while this will blow up the negotiation completely. When that happens I know I’m better off without that client.
I expect up front money
You may also notice that I’m not asking if they will pay me up front; I’m assuming they will.
Perhaps it will surprise you when I say most clients don’t balk at paying an advance against work yet to be delivered. The amount up front and/or the way the balance is paid may be negotiated, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had a client simply refuse that an advance of some sort would be due.
I hear of clients defending their right to get a sample before they pay – it doesn’t happen to me. Occasionally I’ll offer a sample, but that’s more to discover if I can really work with the potential client or not.
Getting money up front won’t feel easy the first few times you try for it. That’s okay – none of us were born knowing any of this stuff; we all had to start somewhere. Asking for an advance is just one more thing to learn.
Now it’s your turn. Do you insist on money up front? How do you ask for it? If you don’t, do you agree this is something you should consider? Tell us your experience in comments.
Image from http://www.sxc.hu
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