How freelancers are often cheated by agencies! - eNidhi India Travel Blog

How freelancers are often cheated by agencies!

I did freelancing for over an year and had first hand experience working with individuals and agencies. While most deals went well, I also got to observe how brands and agencies try to trick freelancers to get their work done for free or less. I am sharing my observations and experiences so that if you are a freelancer you can protect your interests.

1. Getting large quantity of free samples:

If someone needs a 100 page book translated, they identify 20 people and ask them all to translate 5 pages for free and give to them, with a promise that if the quality is good they will get the contract to translate all 100 pages. However the truth is they have no intention to pay and will get their entire requirement done for free from multiple individuals.

How to counter: Have a community of other freelancers in your field, good relationship with them and if you are doing free work cross check with few trusted friends if they are also being asked to do the same.

Also never give unreasonable amount of free work. Translating 1 page may be OK but not 5 or 10. Try to share existing work as reference

2. Delaying payments:

People who approach for work are different from people who pay- say finance department. If you don't ask for payment process and timeline in advance, you will be looted in the name of process and compliance. While those who ask you for deliverable have extreme urgency, finance department just doesn't care. Below are various tricks played by finance department

  • We need hard copy invoice by post
  • We need your adhaar, PAN and dozen other documents
  • We need approval from ABCD- he/she is on leave
  • We process payment on 10th of every month. Today is 11th, please wait till next month 10th
  • We have sent it via cheque by post, we don't know why you didn't get it
  • Your work was not good, we can't pay full amount
  • You've to come in person to collect it, we don't have provision to transfer online.
Solution: Ask about payment timeline and process in advance, get it on email that payment will be processed online within a reasonable time, not having to send hard copy invoice or dozens of other documents.

Always take an advance or ask for staggered payment on a monthly or phase wise manner. Finishing 100% work on time and then having to wait for months is a painful thing. You won't have any leverage to play and you will be at their mercy.

3. Bargaining unreasonably 

Remember there is always someone else ready to work for less. Any amount you quote someone thinks it is expensive. Don't under quote yourself. Calculate a value for your time and effort and quote accordingly. Depending on how much you trust the other party, how much is the amount of money involved and other things you should take steps to reduce your risk and from being undervalued.

In content writing business there are people ready to work even for 10 or 20 paise per word- that is mostly copy paste work of pathetic quality. Magazines like Jetwings used to pay 10 Rs per word several years ago for top quality content. While you may not be able to command top dollars, never underestimate or undersell yourself. Charge a fair and reasonable amount depending on your expertise, volume and effort involved. 

Our depart can approve only till 10000, if you quote more it has to go regional office and will get delayed further- propose to split the project into two parts and to be taken up separately

4. Barter

Freelancers being offered useless barter deals is still going on.

  • We will promote you on your FB page
  • We will give you a free product (worth 100 Rs?)
  • You will get credit on our website
  • We are a startup, we can't pay
None of these are going to help you pay your bills. At the early stage of your career a couple of barter deals might be OK just to get you started but sooner you come out of this trap it will be better for you.

A few tips to handle
1. Ok, can you take this existing post/content of mine and post it in your FB page? Let us see how many likes and comment it gets
2. Give free products equivalent to my quote in value
3. I have a friend who runs a startup who can't pay. Will you provide your service for free to his company?

5. Citing unreasonable quality issues

Many of the freelancing works are hard to measure in terms of quality. Lot of things are very subjective and at the discretion of people who approve payments. A senior person can always get some new idea and project it as a defect in your work trying to get some improvements done for free. If someone senior says "I don't like it" there is no official way to counter it or prove that your content is likeworthy.

Worst is when people bring up quality issues after you press for payment. Comments they could have given at the early stage if it comes in last phase will cause lots of rework. 

How to counter?

  • Get a few samples reviewed and approved by key decision makers early in the project in terms of design/layout/writing style etc. This will give you strength to counter massive rework later
  • For long term projects insist on a monthly or stage wise payment. This way if there are any concerns you will know in advance or early in the project, not at final stage.

6. Trap of large volume in future

Many agencies say "we have lots of projects coming up, if you do this for free you may get many more such projects". This is usually a trap to get massive discount or free work with no commitment on future work

How to counter

  • Ask to sign a long term contact with approx volume of work and minimum payment guaranteed
  • Offer progressive discount on future projects. Such as "Pay me as per my quote for the first project, I will reduce 10% for next one.. If you pay me for 9 projects on time 10th one I will do for free" and see their response

7. Vanishing people

Beware of people mailing from their personal IDs claiming they are from a large organization. After work is done people may vanish without reach. If you sense trouble ask to be mailed from official IDs, ask to interact with two three other people in the organization, try to validate their profile using information available in public domain, do not commit for long term high value project without proper contracts and periodical payments.

8. Blaming on dependencies

Often the agency which hires you would have got the contract from a bigger client and they outsource a small part of the work to you. Your payment may have dependency on original client paying the agency. That payment can get delayed for a dozen reasons with no fault on your side. It is lot easier for the agency to blame the bigger company and hold your payment as well.

While it is a good practice to assist the agency recover their money, you will have to protect your interest too.

  • Learn to gain a sense how overall project is going on and any major blocker
  • Build good relationship with key people so that if there is a red flag you will know early
  • Never deliver 100% work without any advance. Take advance or insist on phase wise/monthly or periodic payment so that your risk is minimized. 

Anything I missed? Do share your experience.

Also be a responsible freelancer. When someone gives you work in most cases they will have some objectives out of that. It is important that we complete our tasks on time and with quality so that overall objectives are not compromised. Best wishes.

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