- Mary Kearl is a professional freelance writer and marketing consultant.
- When she first began freelancing, Kearl says she made mistakes that cost her thousands in lost potential income.
- Now, she asks for partial deposits from new clients, confirms rates and budgets upfront, and avoids unpaid tests.
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I began my freelancing career while I was still a journalism undergrad and held numerous side gigs throughout my 20s and early 30s as I climbed the ladder in social media, content, and marketing roles. Finally, at 32 I decided to leave my full-time career behind to give freelance writing and marketing consulting a try.
Initially, my goal was simply to travel with my family for a year while working remotely to help offset the cost of visiting 12 countries. But once I got the taste of being able to set my own hours, choose my clients and projects, and determine my own rates, I was hooked.
Of course, it wasn’t — and still isn’t — always easy. I’m continuously learning how to run my business more efficiently, to set both my clients and myself up for success.
Along the way, I’ve definitely had some challenges. Here are some of the key financial lessons I’ve learned, that cost me thousands of dollars in wasted time and potential lost income,my advice for avoiding these kinds of issues altogether.
1. Not seeking out partial payment upfront for new smaller clients
Many of my initial freelance gigs were with major companies, such as Adobe, Zillow, and Target, with formal processes for handling everything from freelance contracts to the invoicing and payment process. While everything was largely on their terms (not mine), I almost never had to worry about chasing down payments.
It wasn’t until I began branching out to work with smaller companies, startups, and solopreneurs that I learned the hard way what I needed to do to ensure I’d be fairly paid.
One of the most important lessons: Whenever possible, when onboarding new, smaller clients, I ask for a 50% deposit upfront for the first project before I begin working.
I began to do this late in 2019, after I’d created a social media strategy, a content calendar, and social media posts for a startup marketing agency client who ghosted me. First, the project was put on hold. Next, my contact stopped responding to my calls and emails about the project and invoicing for the work I’d done. Then the in-house email they’d created for me stopped working. I tried various routes to track down payment, to no avail.
This may be an extreme example, but if I’d asked for a partial payment upfront I’d have $1,000 extra dollars — at least 50% pay for the work I completed.
Since then, I now ask for deposits upfront. In an initial introductory call, I say something along the lines of, “My terms for kicking off new projects with new clients include a 50% payment upfront before I begin working on the assignment.”
Now that I ask…