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Protecting Yourself as a Freelancer

As freelancers there are things we absolutely MUST do to protect not only ourself, but freelancers who may be coming up behind us. Freelancers who do NOT do these thing are hurting all of us.

1. Have a Contract for All Work! I can not believe how many freelancers do not use contracts. Then along comes somebody who does have a contract and the potential client does a song and dance about how s/he has never used one before and don't you trust them? and so on and so forth.

Not only that, but when the job is done .... is it? How many times have freelancers gotten done with a job just to have the client add on to it? Even WITH a contract this will happen. But the difference is that with a contract, you have a legal leg to stand on to refuse to do more work that is not covered in the contract.

2. Leave Notes This helps not only those who come after you but notes are really for YOU. I know I can work on a project and come back later to do more or change something and can't remember what or how or anything else. I look at the code I wrote and wonder "what was that all about?" Not only that, leave notes for other things such as who created the page and the date.

Leave an email address that you know you will have for a long time. so you can be contacted ... unless the client forbids such contact (which should be an alarm bell in your head). Then if you go in and edit the code, leave a note as to exactly what you did and when and why. This keeps a nice trail going for everyone.

One note I want to see more people use is the one saying if the client has paid for the service yet. I always put a note in saying "Edited on [date] Paid for on [date]" If the date for paid is blank, then I did not get paid for it or was paid and then blocked before I could put in the date. Either way, the next person looking at it should take that into consideration.

3. Upfront Payment Every once in a while I let this one slide and just about every time I end up regretting it. Even if you are going to do a month-to-month contract for somebody, get a "setup" fee or some such to start work.

If you are being paid by the project, then get at least 25 percent up front. I recommend 50 percent upfront, 25 percent at beta testing, and 25 percent on completion.

When you don't get an upfront payment, you are taking all the risk on yourself and the client is risk free. An upfront payment ensures the freelancer gets SOME money from the project.

Times you can think about not taking an upfront is on projects that are only going to take you a day or less. Where the time to get the upfront is longer than the time it will take you to complete the project.

4. Development Server Do all your work on a development server, NOT on the client's server. They may fuss and fume about this, but you are setting yourself up for a real pain in the butt if they refuse to pay. They have the product and you have no leverage other than a drawn out legal battle ... IF you had a contract.

There will be some exceptions to this but you have to be careful with it. Like maybe the client is wanting something on Oracle and you don't have Oracle available for development work. Or they are a local company and you can sit in their office and use their equipment for development work.

5. Document Everything Get everything in writing. Email is great for this. Even if you discuss something on the phone or in person, follow up with an email or a letter that details the discussion. Make sure the client signs off on it somehow.

I use the email receipt to prove the person has opened the email. That doesn't always work of course but it is a simple way to start out. Of course usually the client will respond that something is not right and explain what they think it should be. This shows they read it. If you have ever been in court, you know that being able to show a paper trail is 99 percent of the battle.

There are many more items to think about and I'm sure other freelancers can add to this with more excellent information. These five are what I consider to be the most important areas for protecting yourself as a freelancer.

Hey, if you ignore these tips and get really mad, go to for Anger Management techniques. Otherwise, view my site DonOmite and make suggestons, comments, throw potatoes (baked with bacon and cheese please), whatever.

Visit my site DonOmite and make suggestons or comments.

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