A favour for a friend. We’ve all been there. I certainly have when I was a freelancer, and things didn’t end well. The same can be said for this freelance copywriter who took on a client as a favour for a friend. Let's look at where it went wrong as well as talk about preventive measures.
“I took on a client as a favour for a friend with the hope of getting more work from them later on. There was no contract and the client bartered on price. It was pitched as a small copywriting job with a fast turnaround."
"This project has lasted about 4 months, during which I’ve received daily requests for updates. Being micro managed on a daily basis hasn't helped my motivation and I’m close to walking away."
"I’ve been sucked into 3 hour interviews with the client. Normally I’d have billed per hour for this, but without a statement of work or contract my hands were tied. They also asked me about doing some back-end stuff on their website, and best practices for content and SEO. I was happy giving some direction, but the questions have shifted into consulting level stuff."
"I'm now actively ignoring any parts of emails that ask about work outside the current project and have cut my communication down to being terse with them.”
Even favours need boundaries
Projects that you do as favours have a tendency to become difficult projects. Why is that? It’s not a coincidence. It’s because there isn’t infrastructure in place to treat it like a proper job. For example, a contract and statement of work.
A favour implies the boundaries haven’t been set. Without those boundaries some clients will overstep the mark.
In this case it was pitched as a small job with quick turnaround, but without a contract and statement of work the scope gradually changed. It now involves consultancy work and writing code.
The freelancer knows they don’t want to be doing this extra work for free, but without a statement of work to refer to they've found it difficult to refuse. With a statement of work, it’s much easier to highlight when something falls outside of the scope and requires an additional fee.
Your statement of work should be comprehensive in covering what is and isn’t included. How many drafts will the client receive? How many revisions are included? What's the impact to budget and delivery times if the client wants to change the scope?
This helps to set boundaries, means you’re not doing extra work for free and reduces the number of “Hey, can you do just one more thing…” emails.
Working as a favour for a friend doesn’t always turn out badly, but offering your services as a favour shouldn’t mean the client gets whatever they want.
So, contract. Statement of work. Boundaries. Happy freelancer and smooth project.
Mates' rates and micromanaging
There are other issues with this story. Let's start with the client bartering on price. A client looking to lower the cost doesn't necessarily mean they're a bad client. However, when a client’s budget is lower than your rate, you then have to reduce the scope of work.
Those two things go hand in hand. Reduced budget means reduced scope.
The micromanaging is also a problem. Micromanaging clients tend to fall into two categories.
This client has been burnt in the past. In a bid to prevent that from happening again they become overly involved in projects.
It's in this client's nature to want to control every aspect of the project and be involved in everything. This client is potentially more damaging to a project. I’ve had one of these clients before and it’s the quickest way to drain any enjoyment from working on a project.
To deal with clients in the first category you need to step up and lead the project to instil confidence in them.
Are they micromanaging because there is no clarity around what work is being done and the dates it’s to be completed by? Again, that’s something a statement of work and contract can define and help to put their mind at ease.
Clients who fall into the second category are trickier to deal with because it's in their nature. Firmly remind them why they’ve hired you to do the job. This is your area of expertise, you are the one with the skill in this area, and micromanaging reduces the value you've been hired to deliver.
I’ve found the best way to deal with micromanagers is to set my own boundaries. I've done this by making it clear to the client when they’ll receive project updates. Some of the freelancers I’ve worked with have used Trello boards to communicate what tasks have been completed, what they’re currently working on and what they’ll be doing next.
Some clients will need their hand held a little more than other clients. Micromanagers take this to a whole other level, but setting boundaries and being communicative should make a big difference.
You can still be professional without a contract
This freelancer’s antidote was to actively ignore parts of the emails that ask about work outside of the current scope, and cut communication down to being terse with them.
This isn’t an approach that I would recommend. Despite there being no statement of work or contract to refer to, you can still set boundaries and be professional. I think being firm with your communication is the best approach.
For example, “The consultancy work is beyond the scope of this project and agreed rate. I can book this is in and get started next week. I’ve attached my contract and a quote for the consultancy work”.
At this point they can say “Yes, that’s something I want. Let’s go ahead” or decide against it.
If they continue trying to blur the lines, you can take the same approach. “This work is beyond the scope of this project and agreed rate. I can book this is in and get started next week. I’ve attached my contract and a quote for the this work”. Simple!
Can insurance help?
Is there anything insurance can do to help in this situation?
Well, there is no legal issue. whilst there is no demand for compensation or claim for damages, there is some help to be had from the legal expenses product.
As part of your legal expenses insurance you have access to legal documents, including contracts. This story and many more highlight the importance of contracts in outlining the responsibilities of both parties and keeping clients in check.
If you’re unsure where to start, there is a template available with your legal expenses insurance. For an additional fee a lawyer can even review your contract.
If you stick to your contract and have clients stick to your contract, your projects should run a lot smoother.
The legal advice helpline can also provide some tips in dealing with client problems. There is no contract or client dispute currently—it's more of a project management issue and is unlikely to escalate into anything else. But if you did have a client or contract dispute, there is a helpline you can access to talk to a legal expert.
To recap, here's how to ensure your project run smoothly:
- Favours tend to become difficult projects because there isn’t infrastructure in place to treat it like a proper job. Have a contract and statement of work to ensure boundaries are set and not overstepped
- Your statement of work should be comprehensive in covering what is and isn’t included. How many drafts will the client receive? How many revisions are included?
- If a client barters on price you should reduce the scope of work. Those two things go hand in hand. Reduced budget means reduced scope
- With clients who try to micromanage, step up and lead the project to instil confidence in them. A statement of work and contract can provide clarity around what work is to be done and help to put their mind at ease. Trello can also be used so clients can follow your progress without breathing down your neck
- If the scope starts to change, keep your response simple and highlight that it’s beyond the scope of this project and agreed rate. “I can book this other work in. Here’s my contract and a quote for the work.” Reiterate this every time they shift the goalposts of the scope
- As part of your legal expenses insurance you have access to legal documents. There is a contract template available with your legal expenses insurance. If you want to take your contract to the next level, you can even pay an additional fee to have a lawyer review it
- If this does escalate to a potential legal problem, you can use the legal advice helpline that comes with your legal expenses insurance to talk to a legal expert about client disputes