Let's talk about defensive tactics. I don't know anything about martial arts, so I'd love to do a karate chop, but I shouldn't cuz I don't know what I'm doing, but I do have some defensive tactics I've learned over the years. That work really well for me, that may work well for you in your business. As you try to avoid red flag clients and convert those yellow flag clients into green flag clients, here are some defensive tactics charge, a "kill fee."
A "kill fee" is a great idea that I only learned about a couple years ago, basically writing into your contract. a "kill fee" makes it such that if the client has some hiccup or hang up in their process or something bad happens to their business and they want to call off the contract and say, we don't wanna do this project anymore.
It doesn't matter to you because you still get paid. It's not the entire contract amount. Obvious. But the point is if you have a $10,000 contract and it's taken you time to work on that sale and to get this project ready in your pipeline and schedule it, and you're ready to project manage it and start the project kickoff, and you're excited about it.
And they say our CEO decided we're not going to do this project anymore. That's going to hurt you significantly. If they try to pull the plug, it's going to hurt you more than it hurts them. So let them feel a little bit of pain. If you have a $10,000 project charge, a thousand dollars worth of kill fee or 2000 or something like that, talk to a CPA about what that should be.
But the point is they shouldn't be able to waste your time by getting you all set to work on their project. And then if for whatever reason they decide the project, doesn't go forward. That's okay. Because you are still getting some money charge, a kill fee, never, ever, ever give money back ever. One of the weirdest things that I've seen freelancers do many times over the years is for whatever reason, a project goes funky.
The client doesn't like it, or it's taking too long or something like that. And the freelancer will give the client their money. , this is insane. Never give money back. Now, let me be clear. What I don't mean is if you haven't done the work, never give money back. If you haven't started the project and they gave you a down payment on something that never saw the light of day, maybe, you know, charge a kill fee, but that's very different than doing the.
And then giving money back. It's so weird. I've met many people, uh, who have gone and built an entire website or designed an entire brochure or something like that. And at the last minute the client says, you know what? I just don't like it. And then the creative pro will say, oh, I'm sorry. And they'll refund their money.
That's crazy if you've done the work, no matter whether they like it or. Do not give them their money back. That's dysfunctional. As I said before, freelancers act like dysfunctional partners in romantic relationships. Sometimes almost abusive ones. If you've done the work, even if the client doesn't like it, don't give them their money back.
Now your contract should already specify this. You should have a pretty serious, uh, legalese section in your contract to state this ahead of time. So there are no surprises, but. Do not give clients their money back just because they don't like it, or you did the work and then they weren't clear that they actually hired somebody else to do it or crazy things like that.
If they've given you more money, like for the entire project and you only finished half the project, okay. Maybe give them half the money back because you didn't do that work, but never, ever, ever give clients money back for work that you have done on their behalf. Don't break your own rules. How many times when you've set a rule in your mind in your life, let's say, you've said to yourself, I'm never going to do this again.
Or, uh, I'm always going to do this. And then, you know, it's like new year's resolutions, right. They come and they go and you say, well, I'm never going to drink alcohol again or something like that. And then, you know, Valentine's comes around and you're just back to your old habits. That's part of what the 10 commandments is all about.
It's a more serious set of rules than. Resolutions. Don't make resolutions for your business. Make rules, make commandments, make them unbreakable, and then don't break them yourself. Oftentimes we'll make rules for our own business. And then our client will say, well, can I do it this way? And then we'll just ignore the rules.
We set up. Don't do that. The whole point of writing out those rules in the first place is you've put them there because you know that they're there to protect you. So don't just say, well, I'll ignore that rule. This one time, do everything you can to not break your own rules. Don't work for free, please.
The biggest rookie mistake in freelancing is the client who says, Hey, if you work on this project for free, we'll tell our friends about you or think of the exposure you. That's a lie, whether they intend it to be a lie and they're intentionally tricking you is debatable. Sometimes they might be usually they probably aren't.
They have good intentions, but it doesn't work out that way. Do not work for free for a couple reasons. Number one, you're a freelancer. Your time is worth. a lot. It's very, very valuable. And again, every minute or every hour you spend working on something for free is an hour you've wasted that you could have been working on a good paying project with a better client.
So keep that in mind, but also keep in mind the fact that people do not value work. If it's free, what is it worth to you? If somebody gives you something for. it's probably worth something, but it's not worth the full value. If I gave my daughter a car that cost me $5,000, she'll probably just say, thanks for the car, dad.
She doesn't know what $5,000 feels like because she's never had $5,000 before clients are the same way. If you give them things for free, they won't appreciate it to the extent that they should, because they'll feel like, oh, it was free. Don't get in the habit of giving away your work or working for free, especially under the guise of, but instead of money, you can get referrals or impressions or you're going to, there's going to be a lot of eyeballs on the work that you've done.
Don't do that. It's false. It's fake. It doesn't work. Embrace the power of no. If I ever write a book someday, an inspirational book, it's going to be called the power of no. People are way too positive in our American society. They're way too excited about saying things like, yes, we can do that. We should, we will be positive.
When you are a freelancer and you're working for yourself, the more you say yes, the more you can potentially hurt yourself, embrace the power of no it's time to exercise that. No muscle I've talked with people about this before, and I ask them, how often have you told a potential client or a client? No, like just straight up.
Told them? No, usually the answer is never. We're in the business of saying, yes, clients ask us questions. Like, can you do this? And we wanna say, yes, yes. I can. Even if we know that we shouldn't right. It's very important for you to strengthen that no muscle muscles are going to atrophy. If you don't use them, no.
Is a muscle. Use it, strengthen it, get good at it. Practice saying it and not apologizing for it. There are many times when I was fortunately in my past where I was able to say no to something, and then I looked back afterward and said, wow, that was a disaster averted. I'm glad I said no. And didn't apologize.
Another part of that is standing your ground and knowing to walk away, there are some times where clients will ask you to do something and you wanna say yes, because they're not asking for anything wrong. It's just. Slightly outside of what you do or it's slightly outside of your expertise or they're asking you to work outside of your environment.
Here's a great example. When I first started my company, I met clients who said, oh, you do websites. Great. Can you also design my brochures in the beginning? I was young and dumb and poor and desperate for money. So I said yes to everyth. What I learned very quickly is I am not a print designer. I do not like print at all.
There's nothing wrong with print, but for me, that's not my bag. I do not understand offset printing and four color process. And C M Y K, and dots per inch. I live in the world of digital. Communication pixels per inch RGB colors. Right? It's a different world. So whenever I said yes to people about, yeah, I can do your business cards or your brochures.
It was frustrating because I would usually deliver something and it would be wrong. Or I didn't exactly know what I was doing. So the card stock was not exactly what they wanted and then I felt bad and then they felt bad and it was just bad. So you need to be willing to stand your ground and know when to walk away.
Even if it's not about something bad, they might think like, Hey, as long as you're in here and doing this, can you, um, can you be our photographer? Hey, we have a company camera over there. Can you just take a picture of us if that's not your thing? And if you don't know what you're doing. Say say no as I've mentioned, but also.
Know, when to stand your ground and say, you know what, it's in my best interest and yours that I not do that because I am not good enough at that. Or I would disappoint you. So let's bring in a different professional. I think the point is obvious. There are many instances where it's good to say no, and it's good to stand your ground and know when to walk.
Another part of walking away is knowing which jobs to walk away from. There are some times where, as I've said, you can look at, you know, if you have a proposal for $15,000, let's say, and you just don't like the client, but you're looking at those dollar bills thinking, you know, like you're a cartoon character, like boy, oh, I could do so much with that money.
It could do me so much. Good. It could. But if this is a red flag client, you're going to regret it. And then later on, you're going to say, I shouldn't have done that. Don't do it. You've gotta know when to walk away, meet my friend, the retainer. If you've ever seen the movie Goodwill hunting, one of the characters is a genius and is being courted by the CIA for his genius skills, but he's not good at negotiating.
So he sends his friend in to negotiate for him. And there's this famous scene where Ben Affleck is saying retainer, retainer, retainer, retain. He wants a retainer. He wants money down. And it's a very hilarious part of the movie because the guys in the scene are literally like taking out their wallets and, and, and, you know, like forking over dollar bills on the desk.
Right. Just to prove the point, like, okay, you want money now? Now, now, now. Okay. Yeah. We'll give you money now cuz we really wanna hire this guy. Right? Think about that for. Think about retainers, think about deposits. Think about down payments, get money now, especially if your creative career is the type where you have to like clear your schedule to take on a new client, or if you're a photographer where you're looking at your calendar and you're allowing somebody to book time with you, if you do that, photography is just one example that can happen to a lot of professionals.
If you're allowing somebody to book time on your calendar. To the point where you're telling other people, I can't help you on this date because somebody else is, is on my calendar for that date. Boy, they better have paid for that privilege because you have got to get paid for your time. And if they cancel at the last minute and you don't have any deposit or kill fee or retainer or whatever, that is, money down the drain.
Think about what you could have done now that you lost. Charge a retainer. As I said, charge a kill fee. If the project dies, charge a deposit, right? Get money now, whatever you can do to get money now in the website world, what I've designed and built websites, I've talked with people about big projects.
Sometimes they'll have a big web project, like a big customized website with a backend and that sort of thing and complicated logins. And we're going to have detailed photography and videos and eCommerce and all that. But that's like a bigger project that we're talking about later in a couple of months, sometimes I try to figure out how can I get money from them right now?
And so one thing I can do is I can say, Hey, in the meantime, how about I take your existing website? And I host it. So now I am their webmaster. So even though we have a much bigger project coming down the road, I'm now getting at least a little bit of money from them. I'm getting a credit card on file.
I'm getting the, I'm getting them used to paying me on a regular. Something, even if it's something small, get them to pay you money. As soon as possible, ask a lot of questions, a lot of questions. One of the biggest problems that freelancers have with their clients, when things go south is those dreaded words.
Oh, but I thought this is a catastrophe. When you have to say that to your client, it's embarrassing. When the client has to say it to you, it usually costs you money. Oh. But I thought that you were going to do this, or, oh, but I thought that it would be live by now or, oh, but I thought that we were only paying such and such amount, whatever.
form that takes words like, oh, but I thought are horrible. What that is telling us is there's a mismatch in expectations from both sides. So you, as the creative professional, come to the table with a certain set of assumptions. And so does the client, they come to the table with a certain set of assumptions.
And a lot of times they're not the same and we don't mesh perfect. The solution to this is to ask lots of questions. I'm kind of well known for that. When I talk to people for the first time or the second time during a sales pitch, they'll usually say, wow, you ask a lot of questions, uh, or they'll say something like, wow, I don't even know.
Huh? I've never thought about that before, or they'll say, wow, our last webmaster never asked me that. That's a good question. I've gotten to the point where I have a 31 question intake. That's ebbed and flowed over the years. I'm sure sometimes it's had more questions. Sometimes it's had fewer right now. I think it has 31 questions on it.
I wanna know a lot about who the client is, who the stakeholders are, who my contact is, what are their expectations on what I'm going to be doing? The deliverables when the due dates are, if there are any drop dead dates, you know, are there any hard deadlines? They have some, a product launching on a particular day, or there's really important trade show where they want to have their website up by a certain date or something like that.
I wanna know. Do they already have a logo? Do they have the right version of that logo? The high resolution version, not just the, uh, you know, a JPEG version that they pulled off the website. Do they have a branding? Do they have copywriting? Do they have professional photography? Do they have certain policies that I should know about?
Do they work within a certain geographic region? Are there industries that they do and don't wanna work with? I have a lot of questions in this questionnaire and it that serves me in a couple different ways. One way that asking a lot of questions by using something like a questionnaire, is it weeds out the bad clients?
If you are working with a potential client where in my case, I'm going to be working on a website or doing a marketing campaign for a company that can't even be bothered to answer 31 questions about their business, which are very relevant to the project we're doing. That's a bad sign. They're probably going to be a bad client if they can't spend the time on answering questions, like who's your target market?
What are your top selling products? What is your marketing messaging? What are your calls to action? going to be all those kinds of things. If they haven't even thought about those and aren't willing to give me the answers to those, I really can't work with them. So it automatically weeds out the bad clients.
And the best part is if they have thought about all of that and we can get to the bottom of that form. Now potentially they're going to be a great client because they've provided me. With a lot of information. So now I'm going to be able to succeed in the project that I'm doing for them. So ask a lot of questions ahead of time, ask questions that might even seem stupid.
Don't be afraid. Err, on the side of asking more questions, then fewer questions and don't make assumptions. It's the assumptions where that is where that mismatch happens and that results in confusion, frustra. um, heartache heartburn, lost money, uh, a poor reputation for you. If you start to take on a bunch of clients and you're not clear about exactly what you're doing for them, and you start burning bridges, that's words going to get around.
You want clients that wanna hire you again and ultimately refer their friends. And you know, colleagues to you, right? So asking a lot of questions in the beginning is a great defensive tactic to prevent confusion in the end. You'll know you're on the right track when they answer those questions with things like, Hmm.
I don't know. That's a good point. I haven't thought about that before. Once you start to hear things like that, you're making them think, and you want a client, that's thought a lot about the project before you start that project. Something that larger businesses are pretty good at that. A lot of freelancers don't even know about is a concept of paid discovery.
Picture this a client comes to you and they say, I wanna build this really complicated website. I'm using that as an example, cuz that's what I do. I wanted to do this, this, this, and this, but it has to integrate with this CRM and we want to use this analytics tool. And when the form submissions come through, we needed to send notifications to here.
And they're talking about this complex web, like a rubber band ball of a really complicated project. They're going to look at you. The client is they're going to look at you and say, how much is it going to cost to do that? And they're going to assume. That you can just give them that answer. You probably can't really complex projects like that.
You are going to spend a lot of time doing research ahead of time before the project even starts. That's where paid discovery comes in. Paid discovery changed my life. When I learned about it. It again, clients don't do this on purpose. They just don't know any better. They come to you with what they think is a reasonable request, or they wonder, well, how hard could that be?
Or you're a web professional. So it's your job to tell us how much this cost. They don't know that their distinct specific list of requirements is really complicated and really unique to them. Meaning it's not something where you could just scratch your head and say, you know, I think I did a project just like that two years.
You probably can't, they have a distinct uniqueness to their business and their process. So how do you provide them with a proposal for pricing and how do you even budget for that? When there are so many questions that haven't been answered yet, paid discovery. Here's a great example. I met a client one time where they said our website that we just had built has some problem.
We know that it has some problems. There are some technical issues we've identified our question to you is can we fix them or should we start over? I didn't know the answer to that because I didn't build that website. So I thought, I, boy, it's going to take me some serious time to answer that question. So I build them paid discovery.
I said, here's the deal. I estimate that it'll take me eight hours to answer that question. And you know what they said, great. So they paid me for an entire day and I sat down and I did meticulous tedious line by line code analysis to figure out exactly what the issues were and then try to come up with the conclusion.
Can we use what we have or do we need to start over? They paid me hundreds and hundreds of dollars for that. And guess what? I told them at the end, you're screwed. You need to rebuild the website. and guess what they said. Bummer. but okay. How much would it cost to build a new website? Bingo. Now this is a win-win, so I'm not irritated at them because they're asking such complicated questions and they're not wondering, like, why it's so hard for me to give them a solid proposal, because I've put the time in to answer that question and I'm happy to do so because they're paying me for that.
That is the magic of paid discovery. And I highly encourage you to embrace it because even if you deliver bad news at the end and they. Oh, darn it. We didn't want to hear that. Well, never mind. We don't want you to build our website. You've still been paid. So what do you care? Try using paid discovery.