People talking about freelance work

How Freelancers Can Protect Themselves Financially & Creatively

Whether it’s being a Grab driver at night or an illustrator on the weekends, anyone can be a freelancer. We work ourselves to the bone to make ends meet, but it’s all worth it when the end of the month comes! However, many freelancers have now severely internalized capitalism


One ‘side-effect’ is believing that our main priority is to make ourselves profitable. Hence, freelancers tend to take up as many side hustles as they can to add to their resume. What happens then is that we may easily be short-changed for our hard work, so here’s how you can protect yourself financially and creatively against greedy clients! 


Your contract is something that can save you from being cheated, that is why you need to know how to make it as solid as possible.


1. Lock Your Contract

Person signing a digital contract as a freelancer

Freelancers don’t need to immediately sign a contract when it’s given. If you need more time to comb through or run it by a friend, just inform your client that you need a time extension. Then with that time, see if you need to add or change anything. Yes, you can definitely make amendments where you seem fit! 


However, contracts are full of legal jargons. So, what should you look out for? First, confirm the start and end dates of your contract – are they feasible to finish your task? If not, request an extension! Note, some contracts state that you can’t claim for any work submitted after the contract’s expiry date. Hence, try to get work done before it if that’s the case. 


If you or the client go past the deadline, you should discuss starting a new contract with them. This is so you would never be ripped off by a client saying something like “Sure, I told you I’d pay despite the contract being expired, but I changed my mind.” Speaking about payment, ask how long the payment process is. Most contracts have a standard term of  30 days from the date of the invoice. Some companies are more laidback and you can ask to expedite payment within 15 days or earlier. Also, payment is usually processed only during business days, so ask your client if payment will be inclusive or excluding this. That way, you won’t get a heart attack if your money hasn’t been banked in yet. 


2. Always Set A Deposit

Deposits aren’t just for car or housing loans, we can do this with all our side hustles and gigs as freelancers too!

Deposits are a form of ‘insurance’ that both clients and freelancers use to show they’re both committed to the job. If things go south with your client, you at least have the deposit still. Albeit not all professions like doctors normally do this, but you could always add it to the service you’re offering. For example, if you are offering graphic design services of proofreading a legal document, you could ask for an upfront first which is the deposit!


But how do you set a deposit? There are no rules on this, it depends on how you quantify your work. Some people ask for a deposit of 20, 30 or even 50% of the total payment. Ensure you give leeway for the payment to go through processing too, as said before that it could take 15 or 30 days for it to appear in your bank account.


3. Be Wary Of Competitions

Freelancer working hard in front of a computer

Sometimes a competition pops up around the corner, and the prize money makes your eyes glisten like Mr. Krabs. However, they aren’t all great.


Make it a habit to read all the terms and conditions, although it can be lengthy and boring. Some competitions, especially in design, writing or even thesis submissions have a tiny clause where your rights to whatever you submit for the competition will cease and be handed over to their organizing committee or company. Not all do this, but please do keep an eye out for it!


What essentially happens if they do have the clause stripping you of your creative or intellectual property rights is that they can then claim your work as theirs. Not only can they then rebrand it, but they can also redistribute or reprint it without giving you any compensation!


4. Always Get Visibility

By visibility, I don’t mean exposure but more on you getting to look at the final draft of how your work looks like!

People talking about freelance work

Always try to get a look at the final draft or edit before it’s published, whether it may be an article, a video or even a soundtrack you help produce! This way, you can control how your name, image or work is being portrayed and used. It may sound intrusive, but it’s actually a right you should take ownership of!


This is because you can then have a say on anything about your work. At the end of the day, it will still reflect on your own personal image as a freelancer. For example, say you are directed to make fun of a product, you then have to ask yourself a question: will you ever work with this company or person in the future? It’s hard to gauge, but best to be wary as you want to also avoid severing ties with any future sponsorship or job opportunities. Considering that we are always trying to get more connections, taking care of your image and credibility will help you when meeting with future clients or employers. Another example would be, if you are going to imitate or impersonate someone, let’s do it with a little more tact so that you don’t get charged for wrongful impersonation or anything of that sort!


5. Anonymity Is Possible

Lastly, we can strive to be well-known or ‘famous’ as freelancers and STILL have a personal life. Just be anonymous!

Person holding up their hand to the camera

One day, you may not really meet eye to eye with a client, disagree on a discussion with them or don’t like how a project turned out. However, you can always opt to withhold your name from being credited! Sure, you may lose exposure and credits, but as long as you have the invoice or contract that states you worked for that person, that’s all the proof you need! 


If you don’t want to be anonymous, feel free to take up an alias as well! This alias can cover up your real name in most cases, except for instances like formal paperwork such as your bank account details. It’s great to lead a double-life if you feel like you need to keep your work and personal identities separate. At the end of the day, ensure that it’s still your work regardless if your name isn’t there or if it’s under an alias! Double-check on this when you get into a mutual agreement with your client. It’s best to also have it written either in the contract or confirmed via email. 



All the tips above are from me being a freelancer for 4 whole years. Although I wholeheartedly support you in getting that bread, please ensure you are also taking care of yourself. Whilst it’s true that money happiness, sufficient cash can definitely help reduce our stress levels when it’s time to pay the bills.

A realism artist and an aspiring filmmaker. She’s also a devotee to R&B music and an advocate for racial equality.

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