Have a contract or client agreement
You should have some form of contract or client agreement which states, at a minimum, your work hours, your hourly fee (if you charge by the hour), payment terms, a statement regarding confidentiality, your status as an independent contractor, an “out” clause (e.g., either party may terminate the agreement with 14 days notice) and any other data that you feel pertinent (such as an arbitration clause).
If you choose to have a contract or client agreement, it is in your best interest to insure that your client signs and returns it before any work is performed – remember to send your client a signed copy back.
Create Client Service Plans
If you’re not sure how many hours a client will require each month, you may want to consider creating “Client Service Plans” which allows clients to know they have purchased a certain amount of your time for any given month.
For example, if you are a coach, you could charge $X/month for three 30-minute calls and email support. Or $Y/month for three 45-minute calls and email support.
If you are a virtual assistant, you could charge $X per hour for clients who commit to using 40 hours/month and $Y per hour for clients who commit to using 20 hours/month. Each set of hours/pricing would be a separate plan – Platinum, Gold and Silver, for example, where Platinum clients commit to the most hours and Silver clients the least.
Don’t be afraid to tailor your plans to your specific business and your clients. It’s important that they know you can be flexible while still maintaining your internal standards.
Require a deposit or get paid in advance
It makes good business sense to require a deposit before you start work for new clients. The deposit doesn’t need to be prohibitive, but just enough to guarantee that you are paid at least something for your work if the client decides to try and stiff you.
Most coaches I know are paid in advance of the month. For example, clients pay at the end of November for December’s coaching. Many virtual assistants require a percentage deposit at the beginning of each month and credit it on the invoice.
The above strategies are not mutually exclusive. I use all three to a certain degree in my business along with a “Client Intake Form” that I’ve created. This allows me to learn something about the client before we’ve had our first session.
I include all of this information in my Client Welcome Kit along with a one-page informational sheet indicating how I best work. This allows us each to determine if our work styles mesh – thus creating a win/win situation for both.