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Always Get Paid!
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I've had my fair share of screw-ups and betrayals.
Jeez, I make it sound like a Shakespeare play; but truth be told, people will always be hesitant to hand over their cash. And if they think they can get away without paying you, they'll be sure to try it (unless they're moral people).
When I first started copywriting, I offered my services for free. This is just one of the many options open to copywriters looking to make a name for themselves. I saw it as a great opportunity to get in with the bigger names in Internet Marketing and get myself on the radars of some of the top guys and girls in the business.
I worked my way up, starting with little-known IM'ers, with small-time info products. I got some great results. from 0 to 5% in a weekend; 10% conversion rates on sales letters in the real-estate niche, 42% and 70% converting sales letters and more. It was GOOD.
But it wasn't all gravy. There were problems. The few times I made an agreement with some prospects about some form of reimbursement or reward for high-performance copy went unanswered.
I've been ignored, blocked, argued with, and more.
I even had one businesswoman ask me for some copy (on the recommendation from a close business friend of mine), with a small fee agreement of $100 (this was awhile ago now - I realise that's a menial fee now). She paid me $50 up front (a 50% upfront fee), and after having received the copy from me, proceeded to run off into the sunset, without so much as a look of remorse or guilt. 50 bucks; I work my ass off for someone, and they run off for 50 dollars?
It's pretty unbelievable, I know. Granted, I'm younger than most copywriters. I was naive at the beginning, and you learn a lot from making mistakes. And boy, have I learned this lesson.
Now, you're going to get screwed over at some point in your career - there's no two ways about that, no matter how many safeguards you use. I still get shafted from time to time, simply because I have too much faith in people. I'm a trusting guy, and I let people get away with murder.
But after having been screwed over again recently, I've decided to become a bit more ruthless with my client choice. And along with that, I've got some lessons for you from my experience:
1.) Don't work for someone unless they're willing to pay you SOMETHING upfront. It shows a commitment by the client if they're willing to put some money on the line; if they don't, they're not sure they're going to make money from the product (meaning you won't get paid). If they're willing to risk a bit of cash on a product, it shows a solid faith in their business and product(s).
2.) Set up a clear agreement with the client. Make sure both parties are clear on what the project is, and what's been agreed. The last thing you want is a client who suddenly needs another landing page doing (and expects you to work for no extra money). It protects you primarily, but it also protects your client.
3.) If you can, fill out and sign a contract. Bob Bly provides a great template in his book "Copywriter's Toolkit" along with other materials. A contract enforces a legally-binding agreement between both parties. And if your client suddenly up and disappears with your work, you can use the contract to get paid what you deserve.
Note: You may need to have some finances for this, since it may cost you some money to go to court and such.
4.) Keep possession of all property rights until the full payment has been made. What this means is, everything you write is instantly your property. No one has rights to copy your work unless you have explicitly given them permission to do so.
Only hand over rights to your copy once you've been fully paid. You could include this in the contract if you decide to write one up to keep things simple. At the very least, you can threaten troublesome clients with a copyright notice and have them take down your copy until they pay you.
There are other safeguards, but these are my first port of call. Protect yourself, and bear in mind the risks of being a freelancer. Another obvious tip is to choose clients who seem like they'd be loyal and trustworthy clients. Sure, there's still a risk of them being douchebags and ripping you off, but if you start with judging them by character, and then enforce the safeguards I've suggested, you'll minimise the risk of you not getting your fee.
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