I got duped by a rogue client. Here’s how you can protect yourself from one

This is a story I have been wanting to tell for the longest time. It’s an incident that occurred during the early days of starting up. I had just begun my content writing business and had started sinking my teeth into the hurly-burly of business, content deals, client payments, negotiation meetings etc. We were doing fairly well with a small team of five odd writers and me editing most of the lot. The going was good – I was swimming through, getting orders, executing furiously and establishing a platform for Justwords.

Then one day, I got a call from a client who called him Mr. Shah from somewhere in Gujarat. He had found us out through the Internet and said he wanted lots of content. He ran 1800 websites he claimed and wanted around 3000 articles written every month. He had his own army of writers, he mentioned, and wanted more and more of quality articles. Then, next 15 minutes he spent describing how he ran his business, how he dealt with clients across the world and how he knew what the in-thing in “content” was.

When I turned skeptical, he probably understood and moved the conversation into how much content he could give us to create every week. When I asked him about his website and payment methods, he said he ran his business based on guest blogging and payment would never be a problem. I told him, we would think about it and get back to him.

He called back within half an hour to ask me whether I had made a decision and he needed around 50 articles within three days. It was an urgent requirement and the payment would be done, as we wanted it. He was ready to give an advance too – 25% of the total amount and the rest would be done within an hour of getting the work.

Knowing our work policies, I knew that this customer didn’t fit our bill. Also, we never started work without agreeing on payment modalities and signing off on official work agreements. I deliberated on what to do – maybe we could get him to sign the work agreement within the three-day deadline and also get him to pay the advance amount. The 1000-article order had stuck on to my head. As a start-up entrepreneur, that’s something you cannot really ignore. I decided to call the client again and ask him if he was ready for the above.

Mr. Shah was ready for all of that. He agreed to send us the advance amount and sign the work agreement. With the basic hurdles cleared, I decided to take up the order. The work was sent, the guidelines explained (actually, there were hardly any guidelines). I asked him to send us a work order and confirm the order and pricing through a mail. He said he would be able to send us everything by Wednesday. There was also the request to get work started.

Cut to Wednesday morning. I had convinced myself that the work could be taken on without violating the work policies that I had set for my business, spoken to my team members and got them to agree to the deadline. Basically work had started. Since I had received no mail from Mr. Shah or payment, I called him up again to confirm on the payment. I made it very clear that nothing would be delivered until the conditions were met. Mr. Shah agreed to everything, and confirmed that everything would be done. Assured that things were moving at a proper pace, I told my sixth sense to shut up and go for a walk.

On Thursday morning, the client called to ask me whether I had already started the project. Yes, I said, and asked him what happened. He said that he was managing to get the whole stuff written at a much lower rate and whether I could manage to give him that rate just for once – only for the first batch.

After 30 minutes of negotiation, we finally settled at a one-time rate that would apply for just the first lot. There was something that didn’t feel right. I decided to finish up this order and not deal with this client anymore. The team had already written the content and there was no point in not getting paid at all.

My business partner thankfully saw my point. We agreed that the only condition for this job would be – getting the client to pay the advance before we deliver. We both concluded that this was not worth continuing.

I made a call again to Mr. Shah, who said he had been unable to make the payment because of some emergency condition, but would definitely make sure that transaction happened before the articles were delivered.

Friday morning, I finished my other client follow-ups, and decided to check whether the payment from Mr. Shah had arrived. Nope. Genuine concern had officially started worrying me. My sixth sense had also started bothering me, providing me very mixed signals. When I called the client asking for the advance payment, he said, “Please send me the articles first. Send me atleast a few so that I can see the quality and then I will make the payment. If I make the payment and don’t like the articles, then what?”

I now clearly understood that he would not pay us a penny without seeing the articles. I tried to reason with him, but he was in no mood to listen. I suddenly realized I had very nicely stepped into a trap of which there was no way of getting out. Since all the 50 articles had been written, it made no sense to not send him a few. Atleast, that way, I hoped he would pay, and I would atleast make something.

This had never happened to me and I was completely and utterly lost as to how to deal with the situation. I decided to take the risk and send him a lot of 20 articles. I knew that once he saw the quality of the articles, all of which had been checked by the editorial team for quality, he would definitely pay up.

Within 5 minutes of sending him the articles, I received a message – “This is extremely poor quality. I was promised much better quality and this does not make the mark. I am going to get all of this edited by my editor. Please send me the rest of the articles and only then will I pay.”

My heart sank.This is what I had been suspecting and all of it was playing out real. I was livid with anger. How could someone take our work and not pay? I realized I was dealing with a fraudster and had been duped. The only saving grace was that I had not sent him all the files.

What followed was a couple of calls by my partner to this client. To say the least – nothing came of it. The reality was we were experiencing a rogue customer who would not pay for anything. It was a scam and this was reality. There was nothing more I could do, except to feel very very angry.

After a week of that incident, I realized I had to change the way I took on clients. If I had to shield myself against such rogues and prevent myself from being duped, I had to follow some rules. And that’s I did. Though this won’t safeguard you 100 percent, it’s better to be wiser than be duped.

Here are 6 ways you can use to safeguard yourself again fraud customers.

1. Try to negotiate an advance or batch payments

Well, this might sound difficult but it’s not impossible. As a rule, try never to work with a first-time client without an advance. This is especially true if the client is someone who has no market credentials or is an individual customer. If the client does not agree to it, then break up the work you are submitting and ask him to pay for each batch. If the client has a bad intention, you will atleast get some of your money back.

2. Do the ground work 

Do a quick background check of the client before you sign up to deliver work for him. Does he have a website? Does it prove that the company is a credible organization with proper clients and market reputation? Does his company have a presence on social media? Does the company have any prior complaints against it?
Be wary of signing up for work if the client does not have proper credentials or does not have a proper work id.

3. Try to insist on a work agreement

Any good company or client will always want some paperwork done. Alternately, they will always be willing to send you an email confirming that work order. It would be wiser to get some sort of a written agreement with your client, where the scope and payment terms have been clearly defined. A dubious client will never agree to a confirmation email or a work order.

4. Do not continue work without getting paid  

This is a no-brainer. If it’s a first time client, make sure you get paid for your first batch of content. If the client has stopped responding before payday approaches, that’s a warning signal. Stop sending anymore work until they confirm payment for that first batch. Also it’s best to understand how the company payment cycle works. Most good companies pay within a month of the invoice being raised. If you have not been paid within that time bracket, you might be in trouble.

Make sure you have two contacts for your client. If one doesn’t pick up, you can at least call the other person. However, this works only if there is a genuine reason for the delay in payment.

5. Do not agree to do more than one sample

Samples are a controversial point. The majority of clients will ask for some of some sort. Some will ask you to develop a free sample and some will pay for it, although the latter is less. To be fair to all clients who want a sample, it’s the only way to gauge the writing ability of the applicant. In Justwords, we follow the middle path. We pay for all samples that we accept. If we reject the content writer for poor quality of work, we don’t pay for his sample.

And yet there are unethical companies who use sample writing as a way to shore up content without paying a single penny. Whether you want to write a sample or not is completely up to you, but if you are writing one, make sure it’s not more than one.

6. Listen to your sixth sense. Sometimes it is correct

Sometimes, you just know. It’s called the sixth sense. Your intuition tells you that something is wrong and you should be careful. I completely vouch for that. If you are not comfortable with the terms laid out by the client, do not go ahead with them. Sometimes, just listening to your inner voice makes sense.

Three things you can do now

  1. Make your own list of dos and don’ts before signing up a client
  2. Share this with other content writers or on LinkedIn and Facebook 
  3. Share your story below in the comments.

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