Kissimmee, Florida — The second part in our series regarding “When Should Freelancers Walk Away From A Project” targets the 3 key reasons why a freelancer or independent contractor agreement goes bad. In most cases, this is avoidable. In some instances, avoidance requires never entering into the contract in the first place. But the 3 primary reasons why a professional contract goes bad for freelancers, independent contractors, and small businesses alike are:
- A Bad Contract
- Bad Communication – A failure to actually understand the project
- Poor Project Management
These are the three fundamental reasons why freelancers, independent contractors, and small businesses often experience issues that can be extremely difficult to recover from. But for now, let’s start from the beginning —
A BAD CONTRACT
Freelancers, independent contractors, and small business owners typically do not have or cannot afford for an attorney to draw up formal contracts or to review contracts that they are about to enter into with a company or government agency. They are generally unfamiliar with the language within the contracts yet desperate for the deal. So many enter into these contracts basically by virtue of the professional equivalent to a handshake and a warm smile. Unfortunately, this can also be a fatal misstep for the freelancer.
Contract language can be very confusing. But here’s a small bit of advice that may sound incredibly rudimentary but many individuals fail to incorporate into their presentation: If you don’t understand something within the contract, make a point to ask for the client to verify or make clear.
A trick that I have used for years during business meeting and negotiations is to regularly record our conversations. As a professional courtesy, I generally begin my recording by asking for the consent of each individual in the meeting or the group as a whole that I may record our conversation. The foremost reason that you want to do this is to protect the integrity of your conversation and to have a point of reference in the event you happen to have any questions regarding what may have been discussed or what may have been introduced. But it also serves as evidence in the event the client attempts to suggest that something may have been explained a certain way when, in reality, it was not. I have discovered that most people will take extra precautions by watching what they may say or commit to while being recorded. It’s actually funny watching the faces of your clients when the recorder is placed onto the table. It may make them feel slightly uncomfortable but at least you will have this recording in the event something takes a turn for the worse.
Additionally, it would be wise to contact a few attorneys to find out what it would cost to retain their services or to prepare your business documents. Attorneys specialize in protecting your interest and ensuring that your contracts favor you and your business. The client has someone working on their behalf. You want someone working on yours.
If money is really tight, there are a number of low-cost, online services that will be more than happy to prepare your documents and review your contracts for a modest service fee or nominal monthly subscription. While it may seem like a waste, a worse outcome is when you are fired or sued for doing something or failing to do something that was or wasn’t covered under the contract.
Most of all, take the time to understand exactly what you are signing. To prevent the client from wasting too much time listening to his or her attorney explain the intricate details of the agreement, suggest making a separate appointment with their counsel to discuss the details of the contract. This way they will not be required to sit there, bored out of their mind, as the attorney educates you on the latest legal jargon.
In the areas of contract negotiations, there is no room for pride. Having too much pride or being flat-out desperate for the business can both be fatal to your career or the life of your business. So take the time to understand what you are signing. If you agree with the terms, sign with full knowledge. If changes need to be made, express your concerns. If the company is willing to amend the contract and it suits your needs, go for it! If they are unwilling, it may be time to consider meeting with other clients. This particular client may not be one that you should take the chance working with.
It’s referred to as “bad communication” between you and the project lead or company in general. It’s where you failed to take the time to understand the totality of the project that you have committed yourself to perform. Believe it or not, it happens more times than you may realize. So if you fall into this category, don’t feel bad. Many of your very successful freelancers, independent consultants, and small to medium-sized business owners have fallen subject to the same professional neglect or deficiency.
Resolving this is fairly easy. It simply requires you to listen and ask the client to clarify or explain when or if you don’t understand something. Otherwise, if you are the person attempting to address an issue or convey a concern, the following technique can take you a long way in your hope of a lasting, successful business relationship with the client:
THE PATHWAY TO EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION OR PROBLEM-SOLVING
- Confirm the objection – Make certain before attempting to suggest a solution that you understand what the client’s issue actually is. Inexperienced freelancers often create greater problems for themselves by unwittingly bringing light to other issues by making the wrong suggestions. These are often issues that the client may not have even considered significant or possibly noticed at all. A simple way to confirm the objection or concern is to repeat it back to the client. Ask the individual to confirm that this is what they are explaining. Once they have confirmed that what you have stated is accurate, you can move forward to the next step.
- Address the objection – This is fairly straight forward. Now that the client has confirmed what his or her issue, objection, or concern may be, it is your turn to begin providing the client with ways to the issue or introducing the benefits that the client can look forward to with the solution that you are recommending.
- SHUT UP or presume the answer is acceptable – This is actually one of the most difficult for inexperienced freelancers. It’s where you have addressed the objection, and you now leave it for the client to attempt to conjure up any other objections. Again, it’s about effective communications. You want your client to trust you and to feel confident that you are able to provide the service that you have been hired to perform.
The “Shut Up and wait” approach typically works like this: The first person to speak loses. Occasionally, you will come across clients or project leads that seem as if all they look for are problems. But when you have effectively shut down their every objection, it leaves them with a negative posture that will be difficult to maintain. If the client speaks, he or she will generally be conceding to your solution. If you speak, it can be taken as a sign of insecurity in what you are recommending. We’ve all seen it where that guy simply can’t quit talking. So the recommendation is simple: As much as you may be compelled to speak, shut up and wait for the go-ahead. 9 times out of 10, it will come sooner than you think if you have effectively addressed all of their objections.
The other method is referred to as “the presumptive close.” This is where you presume that everything has been resolved. This is also after you have observed the clients mannerisms, and gotten a physical, bodily “go-ahead.” This is intended simply to get things moving along again.
But make certain that you take steps to effectively communicate with the client and project leads as well as any other freelancers or companies that you may find yourself working with. By doing so, it will lessen the possibility of another professional contract going bad.
POOR PROJECT MANAGEMENT
There are two primary forms of project management: (1) The way that you manage a project, and (2) the way that the overall project is being managed by the hiring company.
Take time not only to become acquainted with the hiring managers but also the individuals who may be overseeing the execution or implementation of the project. You want to make certain that this is a professional who you can work with. Freelancers are often treated like substitute teachers, which occasionally results in permanent employees treating them like really bad school kids. Meeting the project manager will help provide you with an idea as to how the overall team functions. If he or she is a consummate professional, generally the team will act in kind. If he or she is a jerk, quite often this disposition is reflected in the team’s conduct and the way that the project is being managed.
Make certain that there is an actual plan of action or statement of work. You don’t want to find yourself working on a project that has no direction. In these types of circumstances, you can find yourself looking for another project to work sooner than later. Projects that are poorly managed are often projects whose funds run out quickly or whose lifespan is short lived. Beware of this.
Make certain that the project manager or company can clearly define your responsibilities within the project. The worst thing in the world is to have your project responsibilities grow like a weed simply because the project leader or supervisor does not have a clear idea as to what your specific responsibilities should be. Be prepared to explain what your responsibilities will entail in the event that there is ambiguity in your position or there is a threat of the client expecting you to work outside of your capabilities. You want to be certain to perform not only in those areas that you have been hired, but also to keep your efforts restricted to areas that you are competent, capable, and experienced. If they request for you to perform in an area that you are experienced even though it may fall outside of your core responsibilities, and you are comfortable in doing it, go for it. Doing so could effectively lead to future projects. But if you do not have the degree of experience that you believe is required to effectively do the job, don’t do it. Anything less can cause your performance to be questioned in the long run.
These are three of the primary reasons that freelance contracts typically go bad. There are quite possibly a million and one other reasons why you can experience issues on the job. But if you as a freelancer take measures to prevent these areas from being infected or affecting you, you will lessen the chances of your professional contract going bad in consequence.