On one of their recent podcast episodes, Client Wars, Kevin Rogers and John Carlton, one of the most respected freelancers of our time, discussed the freelance nightmares they have faced in decades of working with clients.
And while I recommend you the whole episode, just for the fun of it, there’s something that struck me hard. In one of the stories, they point out that it’s not uncommon for freelancers to share their ideas with new clients just to never get the deal, and then see the same idea realized by another freelancer (most probably for a lower price).
Doesn’t sound like much fun, right?
Freelancer women are in danger of being taken advantage of for one simple reason – we focus on building the relationship first, and doing the business second. That’s perfectly fine, successful strategy when the person on the other side is going for the same thing.
However, more often than not the impersonal way that freelancers mostly work, via internet, empowers unethical behaviour like stealing design, copy, marketing and strategic ideas.
So, what should you do? Stop sharing ideas? Set your prices lower? Ask to be hired without introducing what you can do first?
I don’t think so.
6 Ways To Protect Your Ideas As A Freelancer (Woman)
Keep the secret sauce for last
The best way to keep your idea protected is to never share it. But how can you get a prospect to appreciate your talent without getting a sneak peek into your brilliant mind? Well, you can give them all the ingredients but not the secret sauce. For example, if you have a marketing campaign idea, don’t give them all the details but just the basics – we’ll use LinkedIn, rather than the scripts of LinkedIn messages.
Research the hell out of them
It’s common sense to research a business before you do anything for them, but so many women in business miss that important step. A business that has a good, proven track record is unlikely to recycle your ideas. If you can’t find any information on them on social media or a website, that’s a reason to be suspicious (yes, that’s the world we live in if it isn’t online, it isn’t at all). Then, don’t just assume that they’re scamming you – ask. A startup or a solopreneur might not have the presence you expect online.
Send everything in writing
This is the most secure way to sleep well. When you send every idea in writing rather than introduce it on a Skype call, you make sure that copyright can be tracked back to you. And that’s all you need to have your article or design protected. As you most probably know, copyright is automatically granted to you if you can prove that a piece of creative work is yours originally. So keep good records. However, nowadays proving copyright might be harder and more expensive than you imagine, so take a look at the other options here as well.
You don’t need to sign a contract as soon as you contact a prospective client. However, you might want to send them an agreement that states how exclusive is your work before they hire you. A good way to communicate an agreement without seeming too distrustful is to have one posted for clients to see on your own website or even LinkedIn profile. Make it something like “Terms and conditions of working with Jane Austin”. Then make those terms or guidelines available to any new client prior to even speaking to them – put them on your social media, website, email signature or as an automatic response to any inquiries.
Review submission requirements
Sometimes prospective clients will require you to submit a test assignment or a proposal for the freelance work you’ll be doing. They should have submission guidelines in which you can see who owns the work you’re going to submit. It might be that the prospect is trying to get as many submissions as possible and use one of them without reimbursement. If there aren’t submission guidelines, ask for them.
Non-disclosure agreements or confidentiality agreements are a good way to protect yourself if you can enforce them, and that’s not always as easy as you might think. Plus it might get expensive, if you’re working with someone who has a bunch of lawyers on their side and you can’t afford that. I’m not a big fan of NDAs being the first point of communication with your new clients – after all they imply distrust, and trust is what you want to build, right?
As a final note, I want to reassure you that there isn’t very much to worry about – if you have a great logo design idea, the chance that someone can do it better and cheaper is very dim. However, if someone is out there to rip you off, you better be prepared because it’s not a fun experience.
The best way to do that is with pre-hire T&C.
Need help? Join me for the Women In Business: Building a Business ecourse where we discuss contracts, copyright and trademarks in-depth.