Start any thread in the Freelance Jungle about poor client behaviour and it invariably comes back to payments. Late payments, low payments, and the promise of payments yet to be made all make the cut.

So, what do you do when a client is pushing the payment envelope and saying things that could do with a gentle correction instead of another freelance eye-roll?

Here are some helpful phrases to help you communicate and pushback in a professional, boundary driven way

how to pushback on low rates and late payments as a freelancer.

Art by Jessica Harkins of Six Onions

There’s more work where this comes from

If you’ve been freelancing long enough, you know the dangled chop to the hungry freelance dog is the promise of future work. It’s usually used to make us more malleable or as a genuine enticement to do your best and goodest for the client project at hand.

However, it’s also often used to open the door to client payment related problems and:

·        Justify requests for low rates and discounts

·        Excuse poor client behaviour

·        Discourage you to stand up for the project or your rights

It’s also one of those easy to ignore, eye-roll about it later with friends, style statements. But it can set you up in a stronger position and gain you more authority by pushing back, because it sets a tone that says, “we’re collaborating because we agree to it – not because I need you so much that anything goes”.

It’s time to ground the client firmly in the present:

·        “Let’s see how this project goes first before making other plans.”

·        “Other work sounds great – but let’s turn our attention to what we need to do now.”

·        “Let’s take it one step at a time.”

But I can get cheaper on <cheap eBidding website>…

It’s never fun to share your rates or quote on a freelance project only to have a client come back with that old clanger of comparing you with some offshore bidding site offering freelance work for a coffee.

However, a lot of freelancers immediately dismiss these clients when perhaps education might produce better outcomes.

Classy ways to respond to the much cheaper eBidding website comparisons include:

·        Promoting your experience and skills-based expertise

“While I might not look like the cheapest option in town, by choosing me, you’re choosing someone who knows…”

a)      The local market

b)     The industry

c)      The guidelines and best practices (particularly important for finance, legal, health, mental health, disability, government and other regulated industries) 

d)     The production formats

e)     The programs, techniques and platforms.

·         Highlighting the pitfalls

“Does that price include exclusive copyright and assurances someone has not plagiarised the work in the past?”

“What warranty does the work come with if it breaks (or doesn’t meet agreed standard on delivery)?”

“Have you got experience with managing this kind of project across different time zones and potential language barriers?”

·        Advocating for your value

“I understand price is a consideration, but I believe my experience and industry knowledge will end up paying dividends by saving you drafts, time and frustration.”

“I’ve worked with some great clients and I would love to add you to that stellar line up. What do you say?” 

·        And you can also gracefully walk away while adding a little diva velvet rope action to the mix

“Thanks for the opportunity, but there’s no way I can match that price. As a local business with an established network and profile, I charge professional market rates. Let’s talk again once your business matures.”

Here’s my company sob story about why I can’t pay you on time

Accidents can happen and compassion goes a long way in building rapport. However, it’s not your job to subsidise someone else’s mismanagement or make up the shortfall of their issues. You can have empathy for a client’s business situation, but it’s OK to have boundaries. Besides, that empathy will not protect you if that business goes under. And a business that has problems managing cash flow, the risk of their business failing is real.

Two-thirds of Australian businesses fail. You don’t want to get cents in the dollar after that occurs.

Some ways to advocate for payment while also showing empathy for the situation include:

“I am so sorry to hear that. I wish that weren’t your current experience. However, I am counting on the invoice for my business. Can we meet in the middle and create a payment plan over a few weeks? How does a fortnightly payment of $XXX for the next Y weeks sound?”

 “I understand challenges can arise; however, I need that payment to be made as soon as possible, otherwise I will have to halt work. How much can you afford at the moment to keep us both moving in the right direction?”

But I’m an NFP (or arts body)

No disrespect to the NFP and Arts scene, but membership in these scenes doesn’t mean every single organisation is poor. We’ve all worked with plenty of NFPs that have money to burn on sponsoring boat races, but quibble paying for essential work.

But that doesn’t mean you have to beat them up or assume the worst, either.

What most NFPs and Arts bodies experience is a strong tie to scarcity and a fear of allocating money and time to projects. Because they are often doing a lot with very little, they become risk-adverse as well as a tad exhausted. This can increase the chance of doubt, fear, and the need to overcome objections.

When an NFP or Arts body pushes back on rates, consider:

·        Spending more time hearing the challenges they face to tailor the approach more

·        Relieving their distress and concerns by highlighting the benefits of the work

·        Using project stages to build the work – and their confidence in you – over time

And don’t be afraid to push back, either:

“I appreciate the work that your organisation does, but please understand that fair compensation is crucial for me to continue working with you. Let’s discuss how we can make this work within your budget.”

But I’m a startup

A lot of freelancers avoid startups because they have a mix of high maintenance, low paying requests that are as changeable at the startups themselves. It takes a particular stomach to strap in with high stakes dreamers who are rapidly changing (or even disorganised and chaotic). It’s rewarding when you get it right and downright soul crushing when you don’t.

Working with startups is not for everyone. And when you work a startup, you’ll often hear about their desire for low rates, the promise of equity, work requests that outstrip the time allocated, and more than a little bitching about pay rates.

How you manage this is by acting as a mix between a puppy trainer, toddler tamer, and bondage mistress:

“I love what you do and want to help – but freelancing is livelihood – and that’s why I need you to honour our retainer. Can you agree to that?”

“I already have a business of my own, which is freelancing. I cannot accept commission payments or equity in your startup. My rates are incredibly competitive, and we can scale the work and budget to suit. Can we talk about your budget openly so I can see if you can afford my rates?”

“If you want me to wait for the funding to come through, you’ll need to wait for the work you’ve booked with me. Unless you have some other way of paying my invoice?”

“I really don’t want to chase payment with a debt collector because that can have implications for your credit rating and with it, future funding. Can I suggest we start a payment plan to clear the outstanding amount over X weeks instead?”

You are in the driver’s seat

Don’t forget that you and the client are working together on a future. You’re making the magic happen for someone else’s business while they help you with yours. It’s important to remember you are peers and equals, not boss and lackey. Especially when negotiating rates or if the invoice is overdue.

Want more help to communicate effectively with your clients? Check out the Hug a Freelancer campaign now. We’ve got loads of advice to help you!

Thank you to our sponsor, Rounded, for supporting this blog post and making it possible. <3 If you’re looking for more advice to make your freelancing sing, check out their whopping 71 pieces of advice from successful freelancers. 


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