We have two live group sessions in The HQ PRO ever month which are a lot of fun. In our last group session, we had some great business topics we discussed all around managing clients, dealing with projects that could change scope, billing cycles, and more. I thought our discussions were so fruitful that I’ve assembled some of the questions below along with the thoughts I shared with everyone!
Get paid fairly
Our first question here is as follows:
How should I set contracts up to ensure that I get paid and I’m not overworked or underpaid on a project that doesn’t have a firm scope? Also any advice on how to setup payment terms with new clients?
One of the first things I recommend when it comes to working with new clients, especially those that might be not in your same country, is to have a slightly higher down payment percentage than usual. If you’re not charging any down payment, I’d highly recommend you start. It’s a generally good practice and one that is extremely common as your business and practice grows. I’ve see general ranges anywhere between 5-50%, mostly depending on your reputation, leverage, experience in the industry, and size of the project. Usually it’ll be on the lower side of that if you’re in the early/mid part of your career, but in the case of new clients, you may want to be safe and request in the 30%+ range.
I also recommend setting a healthy amount of billing milestones to ensure healthy cashflow and trust gets built in the new relationship. It’s common that projects with long term clients will only have a down payment at the beginning and a balance payment at the time of delivery. Instead of that, with new clients you could set billing milestones around completion of the following types of activities:
- Technical specifications and computer hardware specs
- Design phase or revisions
- Development prototypes / presentations
- Final code delivery before installation
- Start of installation
- End of installation
You can even get creative and make your own billing milestones around when you have something to show or deliver. Like I mentioned above, this kind of practice ensures that cash flow is steady and you’re getting paid as you work through things. This also gives you the ability to raise flags and concerns as certain milestones are ending.
The final elements I’d add to this is the idea of switching to time-based billing instead of flat-rate budgets. Especially early on in your career, it can be incredibly difficult to make accurate estimates about how long a project will take and how much work you’ll have to do. This means that flat-rate budgets can be rather risky. A trend that is becoming slowly more common is to bill hourly or on a day-rate. The two benefits of this are that:
- If the project goes crazy and you work more than expected, as long as you’re openly communicating your hours with the client then you can still keep getting paid more and more. Usually this also involves trying to keep them on budget with good suggestions and advice, but at the end of the day it puts the stress of the unknowns back on the client instead of you taking them on.
- You can usually pair this with weekly or every-other-week invoicing of the time you’ve worked, which like above, keeps a healthy cash flow based on how much you’re working.
There’s no silver bullet to being paid fairly, and at the end of the day you’ll have to combine many of these techniques and practice them so that you can become better at protecting your time and energy while also providing competitive value in the market.
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Our second question is as follows:
If one artist friend is producing music and I am producing visualizations of that music, I am wondering how to approach copyright on a joint asset such as a hi res video I produce of the experience?
I’ve wrote a few different blog posts about IP in the past:
My general advice on this is that each party keeps the IP for whatever they create. That’s the first step. If someone brings audio to the table and you’re producing a music video, there’s no reason for you to gain ownership over their music, and vice versa, there’s no reason they should have ownership over your visual creations. Now that doesn’t mean that you can’t collaborate! Everyone keeping ownership of their work is the first step of a healthy working relationship. What each person can do with their ownership is grant a license for their collaborator so that they can both use their joint creation. This means that you can both share the work, talk about it, educate people on how it’s made, and whatever else you want…until it comes to money. When it comes to money, I usually suggest a revenue share built into the licensing agreement. This means that the the license would allow each collaborator to do what they like with their shared creation UNTIL they are making money from it, at which point they’d share the earning. Whether or not this is the perfect agreement, it’s usually a simple one that is fair to both parties and easy to follow.
I love our live group sessions in The HQ PRO! They’re always a blast to go through so many real world challenges that our members are going through, both technically and from a business standpoint. Hopefully these ideas around billing, licensing, and IP will help make your business journey a little bit easier. Enjoy!