Money: Clients, contracts & payments
DISCLAIMER AND WARNING: I am not a lawyer or legal professional of any kind. All information or advice given in this book is my opinion only. Use this information at your own risk. Nothing in this book has been checked or verified by any legal professional.
This is a tough one, and this will be very different for different people, different areas of the industry and different jobs. These are recommendations that may not apply to every situation, but should still give you some good tips. The intention of this chapter is not to scare you, but to make you aware you should be protecting yourself. As a creative person and a freelancer you are an easy and tempting target for people who are, frankly, pretty huge assholes. I’m writing this bonus chapter because I believe this is extremely important.
I would also like to make clear that even though what I am writing about here sounds like I’m having constant arguments with my clients, it’s definitely not the case, issues are rare and my clients are very happy with my work. I am always polite and explain my rules to them so they understand why they are strict. Most of them are happy with these rules, although I have refused big and small jobs where the client wanted to work by different rules.
I don’t do a single thing without a contract, with the exception of working with very close friends and family. I don’t even confirm that I am booking in the shoot before I have a signed contract. No matter how small, even if it’s just one photo, I only ever work with a contract, and that must be signed well in advance.
Why? Because while most people are great and most jobs go smoothly, there can be problems. So what does my contract do? It sets an agreement between me and the client that protects us both, although it is mostly for my own protection. Some clients will pay very slowly or not at all, which, unfortunately is not at all uncommon (more on this later) and some may even try to extort you for money or free work using various methods and even lawsuits. This is less common, but does happen, and you guys in the USA are even more at risk of unfair lawsuits.
You can view an example copy of my own contract below. This is only an example of what I use, it may not be suitable for your needs.
I accept payments upfront, and only upfront. Why? Not just because of assholes, that’s only the first problem. Also because in the past, when I used to accept some payments after the shoot, it sometimes took a while to receive it. Sometimes a few days, a few weeks, and one time even close to a year. Sometimes it is waiting for cheques in the mail, waiting for that company’s financing department and sometimes the reason is something like “I don’t have enough to pay you this month” or “Sorry, I forgot, I’ll do it next Tuesday.” So even with clients I trust, all payments must be completed in advance.
One thing to watch out for is “I’ll pay you cash when you get here” - No. They won’t. At least, you can expect that 50% of the time they will have some reason like that they have to go to the bank and sometimes you will just be too busy shooting to arrange the payment. Having to chase these late payments is a waste of my time and a pain in the butt.
Many of my clients are happy with upfront payments, but if someone makes a funny face at the idea, I tell them I work like a shop - I accept payments, then I provide the product or service. It’s worth mentioning that this is more acceptable for someone who is already established and has good work and feedback to show. If you are still starting out, half upfront may be a good option for both you and the client.
So what does all this mean for me? It means that I refuse jobs if the client does not want to sign the contract or pay upfront. I also refuse jobs if the job/client feels “iffy” (By iffy, I mean that there’s a feeling that something’s not right), secretive or mentions illegal activities (it has happened). Dodgy people aren’t very fun to work with, and in my opinion the trouble they can cause is really not worth it.
Personally I go with my “instincts” - If it doesn’t feel right, I don’t do it. I think many people would feel the same way I do after having to work with a few assholes. In my opinion, no amount you could reasonably charge for a day is worth getting abuse for a month from some asshole.
So, am I losing money? Well, yes and no. I am loosing that job, but gaining time I can spend on other projects, and reducing potential issues as much as possible. At the end of the day, it’s your decision.
This brings me to an important point. It is important for any individual to have multiple sources of income. As they say, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. How can you do that? Well, it’s not something I can figure out for you, but I can certainly recommend learning more than one skill set. I would recommend looking into what the people or businesses in your area need, and of course by “area” I mean both the location and/or the area of the industry.
The more time I spend working with these strict rules, the more I am happy with them, because I have pretty much reduced client issues to zero. The time I spend working with my clients is now much more enjoyable.