My client referred me to another potential client living in North America. We had a call and agreed on a project to work on. However, as far as I can see, there is no guarantee that he honors his end when I am not in the continent. Worst case, I deliver the code and he can disappear.

Normally I have Freelancers.com / Upwork to take care of these. What are my options without them?

  • 44
    A contract?....
    – joeqwerty
    Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 13:51
  • 11
    Or bill weekly and stop work if not paid within X days.
    – David R
    Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 14:12
  • 15
    There is a Freelancing SE. Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 23:14
  • 16
    "Normally I have Freelancers.com / Upwork to take care of these." Then, you should stick with these services in this situation. Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 4:57
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    @joeqwerty: In most legislations agreeing verbally or by email to the scope of work and cost already forms a contract. The problem here is not about having a contract but how to enforce it (if needed) when you are in a different continent.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 6:51

3 Answers 3

  1. Have them sign up on the freelance sites you mentioned, most offer 0% commission on clients you bring to the site. They then make a deposit and the site holds the funds in escrow.
  2. Bill incrementally - To build up trust agree milestones just as you would on those freelance sites and start off extremely small, something that might take a few hours/day (depending on the size of the project). Once the client pays, you can increase to large milestones. This avoids handing over a completed work and the client disappearing.
  • 3
    There are also independent Escrow services that can hold the money, and usually charge less than freelancer sites. Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 16:07
  • @JackAidley strictly true if things go well, but the payment protection / arbitration are not covered, so you'll end up at a loss if things don't go well.
    – Nelson
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 5:07
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    @Nelson: Sites like Freelancer.com also charge for arbitration at 5%. Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 6:51
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    @JackAidley I'm pretty sure one hour of a lawyer's time is more than 5%
    – Nelson
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 8:08

Contract is only worth as much as your willingness to sue and then collect on a judgement. What you want is at least partial payment up front. How much partial depends on how much risk are you willing to accept, and desperation to get the job.

  • 6
    In my opinion, phrasing a contract can be useful anyway, because it is a useful communication tool to make sure that both parties are on the same page regarding the terms of the agreement they enter into. Conflicts between clients and freelancers can be attributed to miscommunication as often as they can be attributed to malice.
    – Philipp
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 9:43
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    @Philipp quite so! That can also resolve issues of venue, and pre-resolvew some disputes. Downside is that this will take time and money, and it can be quite a bit if you want to clear all the details of communication before signing (besides the obvios issue of the need to be written with understanding of law on both sides, even if you want to set the venue clearly as just one country). So it can help, a bit, but it's expensive and then it offers only as much protection as enforcing.
    – Aida Paul
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 10:33

What are my options without them?

You take the risk, just as the client is taking a risk on you. It's one of the potential hazards of freelancing. To mitigate against non payment it's normal to invoice for half the quote at the start, or at least a substantial portion for operating costs and to make sure the client has an investment in you.

You can also invoice at set points in the project but this creates overheads in time and effort that I have never found necessary.

Once you have established your credibility with a client you can sometimes just invoice for the whole project before you start. This is what I do these days, but when I started I just wanted half up front.

  • 1
    "You take the risk, just as the client is taking a risk on you." I agree in general, but this here is nonsense. If the client pays after the work is done, as OP implies, the risk for OP is way bigger than the client's. Worst case, if OP's work does not perform as expected the client can just not pay OP, hire someone else and get the same result for the same cost, only later. Worst case for OP, if the client does not pay for the work done, OP cannot "un-spend" the time spent on it, nor sell it to someone else for the same price. Both sides risk losing time but only one risks losing money.
    – walen
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 8:29
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    @walen if I hire someone to do a task by Tuesday, I need it done by Tuesday, not look for someone else to do it on Wednesday. I also risk money that the work is sub standard. The people who pay unknown freelancers do not have huge companies, lots of time, and plentiful resources. They're taking a risk. I did this for years from both sides. I was always risking money either side I was on. I only want work done that benefits my revenues streams, not hiring people for fun
    – Kilisi
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 8:46
  • Practically, did you ever bother with smaller frequent payments, like 3 days of work paid day-by-day? 3 months of work paid week-by-week?
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 12:51
  • @EarlGrey no I want a lump sum so I don't have to grub around looking for food etc,. and can concentrate on their project. I've invoiced over 50k just to get started more than once in later years after earning a solid rep. Nowadays I either invoice on completion or invoice the whole lot at the start depending on client. There's no risk anymore.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 19:56

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