For artists, or anyone working as an independent contractor, the worst case scenario is having the client or customer take off with the work without paying you. Here are some warning signs you are about to be ripped off.
The client suddenly finds fault with everything you do.
Workplace bullies use this as a power tactic. You feel helpless and discouraged when you have to sit there and listen to everyone else hear how great they are, while all you ever hear is how much you darken the place’s doorstep, and they enjoy the power they get when they make you feel helpless. Clients who are about to rip you off may or may not have been bullies previously, but they often pull the same stunt in order to have an excuse when they don’t pay you. It’s the workplace equivalent of inventing something to complain about over every restaurant meal in order to scam free evenings out.
The client “disappears”
If you show up for a planning meeting or paycheck pickup and the place is gone, it’s pretty clear they’re not going to pay you, but look out for milder forms of vanishing as well. If the client used to email you every Monday and Wednesday to work on the project, or you used to get a daily text to check in, and you suddenly aren’t hearing from them anymore, they are probably not going to give you any money they still owe you.
You find someone else doing your work
Early in my professional writing career, I was ripped off by the owner of a small bakery. Previously, I had only freelanced for a single small newspaper. I didn’t know about making written contracts before I started. The bakery owner liked the feature I wrote about her business for the paper, and was interested when I said I was planning to branch out into promotional work. We verbally agreed that I would handle the publicity for her new shop.
Everything seemed to be going well, until the day I messaged her business’ Facebook page to ask what she wanted done next. I received a reply from someone who informed me that he was the publicity person for the business. When I confronted the owner about it, she told me that he was the one she “originally” wanted to do her publicity. When I asked her why she told me I had the work when she’d already hired someone else, she behaved as though she were doing me a favor just by speaking to me, and disappeared without paying me for the work I had done.
Representatives for the client, or the client themselves, pretend to be confused when you approach them about your pay
Watch out for lines such as, “Oh, did we agree to a hundred dollars per article?” Or “Did you say that session was three hundred dollars on your web site? Because I thought I signed up for the fifty dollar portrait session.”
If you made sure to have a written agreement, policy, or price list in place before you began work, you can come right back at them and quickly clear up the “confusion.” But most people do not hire independent contractors for projects and then forget what they needed them to do. They are likely not at all confused, and are just trying to get a reduced rate in a dishonest way.
They try to pile on more work
In situations like this, you will still get your money. You just won’t get paid for all the work you do. Suppose Artist Cafe Utica took off to the point that I needed to hire staff. If I hire someone with the understanding that he will answer the phone and email for $12.00 per hour at five hours per day, then I hand him a mop and broom and tell him he also needs to clean the office throughout the day, I’m paying him for one job but giving him the work of two. He will wind up squeezing the office work he thought he was going to be doing in between cleaning tasks, essentially giving me the office work for free or very low cost.
A graceful exit is typically the best way to respond to any of these warning signs. Find another project as quickly as you can, do whatever you reasonably and safely can do to get as much money as possible from the current one, and move on to the next round of work.
Prevent this from happening in the future by putting time limits and payment rules in place. Make it a policy that clients must respond to you with edits within five days, or pay a “kill fee” of half the price of the article, or ask for half the money upfront and half upon completion of the project. If someone refuses to abide by your policies, you refuse to write for them.