The key to a successful independent contractor-client relationship is communication. Both parties need to be able to freely discuss thoughts, ideas, needs, and changes related to the project at hand. However, some topics can be difficult or uncomfortable to bring up. Here is our advice on how to address three touchy subjects with clients.
Money is often an uncomfortable topic of discussion and this can be especially true when collecting payment from a client. In this case, an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure. Before you even begin work on a project, make sure the client thoroughly reads and signs a contract that outlines your billing rate, estimated time to complete, and total project cost.
A written contract may also include setting a milestone payment structure, where you are paid after completing various phases of the project. Stating ahead of time that the work will not continue beyond a certain point without payment can be helpful in motivating clients to pay on time without reminders.
If your client does fall behind in payments, however, start with a gentle reminder as they may have simply forgotten the first time around. If you continue to experience late or delinquent payment, you may need to escalate your efforts. Whenever possible, communication regarding contracts and payments should be in writing to maintain a paper trail for future reference.
Although creative differences may be more prevalent in particular industries, independent consultants in nearly any field may be faced with this touchy subject. Clients who have a clear vision of their desired outcome of a project can be extremely helpful in giving a detailed outline from which to work. The problem arises when what they want is not, in your professional opinion, what is best for the success of the project.
This is an issue that must be handled with care so that you don’t directly insult the client. Instead of taking a blunt approach, essentially telling the client that they are wrong, handle the problem by suggesting alternative solutions for them to consider.
Be prepared to provide thorough explanations of your proposals, and be comfortable talking about how your professional experience and expertise brought you to suggest these options. Successful case studies that support your ideas are also very helpful when communicating the rationale for your point of view. Remember to assure your client that all of your suggestions are being made with concern for the project’s success. A word of caution: listen hard for the client’s input, even if you initially disagree with it. Perhaps they have good instincts about their own end-user base that may change your creative opinion along the way.
It is important to remember that everyone does not share the same values and morals that you live by. When issues arise around governing principles like these, be cautious when handling discussion of behavior or requests that you find unethical, because your client may be unaware that they’ve done anything wrong.
Rather than aggressive confrontation, start a conversation by explaining the issue and why it is a problem for you or for the project. This will give your client the opportunity to explain their thought process without unnecessary accusations or embarrassment. If the situation is not easily resolved, explain the ramifications you could both face by acting unethically.
In the end, be polite but firm as you explain to your client that your morals and professional reputation are too important to risk. Remember, your business is a commodity, and you will need to weigh the long-term benefits of either siding with your client or walking away from a difficult ethical situation. While you may lose money today, you may gain from your decision in the long run by protecting not only your reputation but that of your peers in the industry as well.