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Top 10 Tips When a Client Requests a Refund or Threatens Non Payment
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Top 10 Tips When a Client Requests a Refund or Threatens Non Payment

Freelance SEO Consultant, Web Designer and Internet Marketer.

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“We’ve just received our ranking report for this month, and we’re very dissapointed. According to this report our rankings have actually dropped lower than they were last month. I cant understand what we’re paying you for. Our management team has decided that unless you can improve our rankings, that we won’t pay, and if that’s not possible, we’d like a full refund.”

Let me tell you, if ever you’ve received an email from a client like this, you’ll know just how terrible it can feel. I mean, you’ve invested your time, resources and efforts towards helping your cleint with best intentions, and then suddenly you’re hit with threat of either non payment or worse, a refund request.
It can be a sickening feeling, especially if you’re just getting started in your business and every dollar counts. I mean, we’ve all got bills to pay, right?
Thankfully, I’ve never been in this position, but I do know of other freelance seo consultants that have. Instead of running around trying to put out fires when it’s all too late, here’s some solid advice that can help provide a solution or perhaps prevent this from happening altogether.

1. Your contract is your only saviour.

Unless you’ve clearly outlined exactly what your payment, cancellation and refund policies are within your contract, you’ll find yourself sitting in some smoke filled bar sipping cheap bourbon, telling everyone how “SEO was a tough racket”.
Failing to specify these clauses clearly within your contract before getting the client onboard will only leave you in this position later on. It’s vital that the client has a clear understanding of these terms, and they sign off on them – both within the seo proposal and the contract.
To be sure of this, I always have the client not only sign the last page of my contract, but much like a real estate contract, I have them initial each page too (usually just on the side of each page). That way, they cant say afterwards “Oh, I didn’t see that”, or “That page wasn’t there before”
Here’s a small snippet taken from the seo contract that’s included in the business kit. 

“The Client agrees to pay monthly, in advance, without set-off or deduction either via EFT, Cheque or Cash by the xxth of the month preceding the month in which the SEO service commences. Non-payment of the fee will entitle XYZ SEO Company  to immediately terminate the SEO service, until such time as all amounts due to Company have been paid in full.”

If you don’t specify your payment terms and cancellation clauses clearly in your contract, you will have no option but to grant the refund and swallow your pride. But for crying out loud, if you do make this mistake – only make it once!

2. Clearly define expectations.

So you agreed to rank this clients 2 week old weebly model train website for the term “credit cards” That’s fantastic. I hope they realise it’s more likely that they’ll win the lotto or see Elvis before that ever happens.
Instead of making promises you can’t uphold simply to land a project, be realistic with your clients and clearly define expectations before you have them sign the contract. There’s little point smiling, nodding your head and saying “Sure, no problem”, when they’re of the understanding that they’re about to outrank Ikea for the keyword “furniture”. It’s just not going to happen. You know it, so be honest with them and don’t lead them on.
More importantly, it’s absolutely vital that the client understands that search engines own the algorithms, not you – so you cant gaurantee anything. The client should be completely aware of this before shaking hands.
Oh, and lastly, don’t talk in technical jargon about page rank, algorithms and glow in the dark onions. They wont have any idea of what youre talking about and as a result, will most likely have no idea of what to expect. This of course, can, and will most likely result in an issue with payment later on. 

3. Clients must implement your recommendations.

This one usually always comes up at some point. Clients resisting changes to their sites because they don’t want to lose that warm and fuzzy feeling that the 4,000 line code non browser compatible javascript dropdown menu gives them.
Have you ever had a client say this? 

“We’ve considered the changes you recommend on our website, but we like the big giant dancing teddy bear flash animation. We understand that it takes 2 minutes or so to load, and that it could be hurting our conversions, but all of our customers think its cute, therefore weve decided to keep it.”

If this is the case, then there are 2 pressing issues.
Either ;

  • You didn’t specify client obligations clearly within your contract ; or
  • You aren’t being firm enough about what needs to be done in order to achieve the desired outcome

In either case, you’re headed for disaster. You must be firm with clients and have them understand that the changes you recommend, must be implemented, otherwise everyone is wasting time.
There’s little point having to argue with someone that won’t take your advice. Youre the expert, that’s why they hired you.
Clients like this are just waiting to deny payment due to poor performance, but if theyre not willing to implement your recommendations, then its just a train wreck waiting to happen.
Be sure to cover this indepth within your contract. Here’s a short snippet taken from the seo contract included in the business kit.

  • That the Client make the required changes to their website as requested by Company, within a 2 week time period from the date of the request
  • That the Client is completely open, honest and upfront in terms of the website and all issues surrounding the website
  • That the Client ensures that the designated web developer cooperate with Company in terms of the website changes for SEO requirements

4. Don't take on clients that are only interested in rankings.

Google rankings emotional rollercoaster
Image rights Big Oak - Art by Kelly Ishikawa

I remember speaking with a client once and every time I mentioned conversions, site layout, social media and user engagement times, his response would somehow always go back to ….
“We just want to be number one on the Googles…”
Clients need to understand that rankings don’t somehow magically equate to earnings. Just because your client wants to rank first for “Elephants in pink high heels” doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be rolling in hundred dollar bills – and it’s important that they understand that ahead of time.
Clients that are obsessed about rankings, will most likely be the worst to work with, and typically the first to complain or argue about payment if they slip even just one spot in the search results.
To prevent issues with outstanding payments or refusal to make payment, you really need to either 

  • Skip these types of clients completely, or
  • Educate them as best you can during the initial consultation  

It’s important that you measure what’s important. And it’s equally important that the client understands this as well.
Just as you wouldn’t pay a surgeon based upon the outcome of an operation, the same principles apply to seo – you’re not selling rankings, youre providing optimization.   

5. Get paid in advance.

When to get paid always makes for an interesting debate.
I’ve always wondered what determines when a person is eligible to receive payment. I mean, a mechanic services your car - then receives payment. A plumber fixes your toilet - then invoices you. But for other services it’s the other way round. You pay first, then receive the goods or services afterwards.
When it comes to search engine optimization, some consultants choose to receive payment in advance, others upon completion of certain work.
Myself personally, I always prefer payment in advance. That way you’re being paid for your time, and not having to worry about whether or not you might be paid later on.
At the very least, it’s always wise to request a deposit up front if you’re not comfortable asking for payment in advance or choose not to use this method.  

6. Your sales pitch sucks.

If a client is refusing payment, then it’s likely that you screwed up big time during the initial consultantion. And if that’s not the case, then your proposal or contract must suck. Either way, something has gone wrong somewhere, and you’ve allowed yourself to be in this position – unless of course you have an absolute nightmare of a client, in which case, you should be able to begin proceedings based upon your signed contract – you have a contract don’t you?  

7. You don’t own the algorithm.

Before you start making gaurantees about rankings, be mindful that you don’t own the algorithm, the search engines do. How can you possibly gaurantee something you have absolutely no control over?
Making gaurantees has the potential to leave the client feeling dissatsified with the service you’ve provided, and in turn, leave you chasing up unpaid invoices. 

funny google algorithm 

8. Prequalify your clients.

I’ve spoken about this numerous times. Infact I mention prequalifying clients here in this article. Always use your gut instinct when meeting with new clients especially. If you meet with a client and it just doesn’t feel right – you might want to reconsider the job.
I’ve sat with a few clients have said “I’ve been through 5 web designers, 2 different hosts and countless SEO firms, and they’re all useless”. This is a big red flag for me. Sure, some service providers mightn’t be that great, but all of them? It’s not likely.
I believe the success of any project relies on both parties. Not just the seo consultant.
Chances are if they’re whinging about their hosting provider, their web developer, and Google, it will be just a matter of time before they’re whinging about you too. Avoid them, its not worth the hassle.  

9. Be careful with your reporting.

You may not have given this much thought, but the monthly reports you’re sending to your clients might be sending the wrong message - especially if they’re focused soley on rankings.
Your monthly reports should include every metric that is critical to the project objectives. This should include, conversions, time onsite, return visitors, enquiries and so on.
There’s little point showing just rankings. Rankings are only a small part of the overall equation. If you’re just sending ranking reports to your clients, then you’re entire business is going to be one algorithm change away from a lot of angry customers.  

10. Educate your clients.

Okay before you roll your eyes and say “Hey listen, I’m just here to land the job, I don’t have time to be lecturing Barry about his hardware store about keyword research, anchor text and guest blogging techniques” – hear me out.
By educating I don’t mean, sitting down in a training room with a handful of text books, an overhead projector and a laser pointer. I mean, provide the client with a reference guide or handbook that they can read over in their own time, that will provide them with useful information about what’s involved during the seo process.
I include one within my seo business startup kit. It’s nothing fancy, it’s just a 4 page document that covers why seo is important for online business, how it can be beneficial, and a breakdown of what the process involves.
This simple handout answers some of the most common questions, and helps bring the client up to speed. Of course, the more information you provide to the client, the less likely they are to be demanding refunds or refusing payment.
Simple things like this can often give the client a much better understanding of whats involved, what to expect and how the seo process all pieces together.
I usually give it to them during the intial consultantion, (before I compile the proposal and quote for the job) and say “Hey, have a read over this, you might find it useful towards understanding more about what we do and the overall seo process.”
This can really help not only prevent monetary disputes later on, but also help towards landing more projects because the client feels more comfortable.
Don’t forget, all of the contracts and required documentation that I’ve mentioned here in this article, are all included within my SEO Business Startup Kit, that you can purchase, download and have immediate access to for a one time payment of just $97.

Gary Ruplinger
Freelance SEO Consultant, Web Designer and Internet Marketer.

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