I’ve had this issue quite a lot of times and I can’t seem to teach myself a lesson. Here’s the deal: you find a client that likes you and would really like to work with you. The thing is that he might or might not mention that he can’t or can barely afford you.
So what do you do? When you don’t know it’s quite easy: you just work until you notice that he’s becoming more and more stressful. He starts asking you more and more how much time it takes to do that or that. He starts deciding to just do stuff faster, even though it’s not better in the long term. He might even start getting into your work and doing his own modifications.
Still, this is simple stuff. But the next stage is much more annoying and bad. He will eventually start to be late with payments, first for a few days and then more and more. If you’re lucky he might just not give you work because he can’t afford it. At least in this case you won’t work for nothing.
Those are just a few symptoms. So what can you do?
Well, like with most diseases you can prevent it. Working with Upwork is quite nice in this case because you can see his history and see how much he payed the last freelancers. If you’re asking for $40 an hour but he never payed somebody in your field more than $20, then this could be a sign. It’s not always like this. Maybe he has a bigger budget but most people he worked with just didn’t ask for more. But it is a sign you should check.
When you’re talking with him you can also notice that he’s trying to negotiate the budget as much as possible. I hate this, especially on Upwork. The client already knows how much you’re asking for and yet they want you, but for half of that sum. If you really, really need a job you could accept it. But if you don’t, then you should probably just refuse it. Believe me, it’s not nice to work for half and then also notice that the client has pretensions to be the best work you’ve ever done.
To prevent not being payed you should try working on a weekly basis. So every week you must be payed. If you work this week you don’t work the next one until you get payed. This works great for hourly.
For fixed priced projects you can either try getting the money before starting work or you can work with milestones. As many as possible is the best. This way you might work a few days on something and then expect payment before continuing work.
In conclusion I believe that just avoiding to work for such clients is the best approach. It involves less stress that any other method I know of. What are your thoughts?