This month marks my 13th anniversary of self-employment. Based on my experience over this span, I want to take a few moments to share a few tips to help other small business owners, present and future, avoid “deadbeat” clients.

Fortunately, 90 percent of my clients have been excellent about paying their bills in a timely manner. Another 8 percent have ranged from OK to good–they might take a month or six weeks, but they pay for the services rendered in a reasonable timeframe.

Then there are the dreaded 2 percent–those rare n’er-do-wells that can cast a shadow over the multiple bright lights in your portfolio.

These pointers apply to any profession, but especially those in the creative world whose product is often intellectual and susceptible to “leaving the store” without proper compensation.

As I convey these ponts, I will be using pronouns reserved for males. This is for simplicity’s sake and isn’t to imply that I deal only with men—plenty of clients are organizations or are headed by women.

Without further preamble, then, here are…

3 Signs That You May Have A `Deadbeat’ Prospect…So Run in the Other Direction!

1. Hurry up and wait (for the retainer).

He often waits till the last minute to seek help, jumps with zest at your proposal…and then hems and haws about making an initial payment to secure services.

Whether it’s only a few hours’ worth of work or a yearlong engagement, get some money up-front to ensure he is serious and seriously committed to holding up his end of the transaction.

This way, if he gives you the run-around on the back-end, at least you’re not entirely up the creek. How much to ask for at the outset? I suggest 50% on projects, and at least two months’ worth on engagements of six months or longer.

Gird yourself for bullying criticism that you’re only “doing it for money” and lame claims that bureaucratic challenges are preventing him from writing a simple check or passing along a credit card number for processing.

2. Pick your own brain, thank you very much.

He uses the phrase “pick your brain” within 10 seconds of your initial conversation. This is code for “get something for nothing.” I have no problem sharing insights and offering some help at no charge–this is the equivalent of stores giving away samples so that you try a new product.

Every week, I pass along story ideas to local media for non-clients, so I just chuckle when the occasional knucklehead charges me with being a mercenary when I balk at providing service until they make a payment that’s already been agreed upon.

Last I checked, here’s a rather vital ingredient for any business to survive: turning a profit.

So just as grocery stores don’t appreciate seeing “customers” camping out and loading up on a variety of food without buying, I have come to sense when someone is just looking to mooch off my knowledge or connections–and it often starts with variations on the “pick your brain” remark.

3. Beware of 50-Something-Year-Old Men

There, I did it.

I just painted 20 million Americans with a broad brush. Keep in mind, though, that I’m going to be in this group, God willing, in a little over six years.

However, based on serving more than 200 clients over the years, a clear pattern has emerged: men in their 50s, more than any other demographic, have been markedly more prone to a reprehensible lack of fiscal integrity than any other subgroup. (And if you’re reading this, guys, you know who you are.)

I’ve trained the media in numeracy (or mathematical literacy), for more than a decade, so I don’t make this third point idly. It’s obviously anecdotal–my sample size is not nearly large enough for you to take this admonition as Gospel.

But it’s my experience, this is my blog and if you don’t like it, well, then you’re probably a dude in his 50s who still owes Inside Edge PR a few bucks.

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