The Applecado blog

Protecting Yourself

TAGS FREELANCE, CONTRACTS

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A few points on contracts, deposits and take care of your small business.

This article is intended with a different reader in mind compared to our usual content. We’d like to pass on, or reiterate some information everyone in our industry could do with reading once in while.

When you start your own business, or decide to freelance you’ll quickly find you’ve got a lot of new hats to wear. Suddenly, you’re in control of the day job, but you’ve also got to find work, and get paid for it.

Looking after #1

It’s true, you do only hear the worst horror stories, so let me begin by stating in no uncertain terms that nearly ALL people are nice decent people, there aren’t a queue of people waiting to take advantage of you.

However, there may be the one occasion, project, or even client where it’s possible to go wrong, and following these steps will help you.

Contracts

Contracts are your best friend, keep it simple and cover yourself and your client (this works both ways). You’ll need to get across the work you’ll do, you may need to explain sometimes what you won’t do (for example, exclude historic browsers). Your contract will cover tour expectations from your client, the deadlines involved and the financials.

Contracts aren’t meant to trick anyone, but it’s reassurance for both parties. The most important piece of information I can impart here is: GET. IT. SIGNED. You will feel like an untrusting weasel of a person, but it’s useless without this step. Your clients really shouldn’t feel that you’re trying to do anything underhand by insisting on a signed contract before you begin any work.

This article by Smashing Magazine has some really useful information.

Fees & Invoicing

I’m sure like us, you constantly review what you’re charging your time out for, there are a lot of things to pay for once you start running your own business. This calculator from Mud is a really useful tool if you need help working out freelancing rates.

We use Freshbooks for our online invoicing, and I would definitely recommend them although others do exist. It’s so much easier to filter, view, and generally maintain invoices using something like Freshbooks compared to a folder of invoices stored on your harddrive.

Using these systems, you can keep track of aging invoices, and also double check how may days a client takes to pay, which can help you prepare your cashflow. Freshbooks (and I’m sure others) also allow time tracking which makes sure you’re noticing (at least) the hours you’re working.

Deposits

This one varies between any given person/company. Although your client has to trust that you won’t leave the country and not answer the phone as soon as they’ve paid a deposit, no-one can afford to work for free. We certainly can’t work developing a complex online application for a few weeks and not be compensated for it, a deposit will go some way towards paying for your mortgage/rent/software licences/coffee subscription (delete as appropriate).

What happens if it all goes wrong?

Despite all of this careful preparation, you may want to kick yourself for a bad decision. I won’t go into too much detail here, I really hope you won’t need it but there are services that exist to help you out.

You may want to consider researching potential clients before you take on any work from them, services such as Company Check, Due Dil and Companies House can be useful if you see anything that constitutes as a red flag.

You should really make yourself available to discuss any problems with your client, if you remember my point above - most people are nice! Your client probably wants to avoid any disagreement or bad feeling just as much as you do.

Sometimes, there’s a disaster in their cashflow that couldn’t have been avoided, you may choose to wait, or offer instalments so that you can both remain in good terms.

As absolute last resort, if you’re in the UK and for any reason (that isn’t your fault) you haven’t been paid you can start your own small claim using the government’s Money Claim Online website.

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