Working with corporate clients: 4 things you need to know

Working with corporate clients can sound incredibly appealing.

The allure of a consistent paycheck, the dream of having multiple people in a company to work with, and the expectation of a narrow scope of work seem to make for a phenomenal working environment. However, there are a few things you should be aware of when working with corporate clients and how they differ from entrepreneurs. 

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Getting Paid Takes Time

When you send an invoice to an entrepreneur, there are a few things you can count on. One of those things is that if they have money, you’ll more than likely be paid before the invoice deadline (or you can charge your contractually — outlined late fees). When it comes to corporate clients, things get a little stickier. Most corporations require that you are set up as a vendor in their accounting system, which takes time. Once set up, there is also time from an invoice getting sent to it being processed by accounts payable. Oftentimes, corporations operate on Net 30 or Net 60 terms, despite what your invoice deadline says. 

To successfully get paid in a timely manner from a corporation, there are a few things you can do to make sure all parties are on the same page. First, talk with your point of contact about payment terms. Next, adjust your standard contract to reflect the negotiated payment terms for this situation. Finally, adjust the dates of your late fee terms to match up with the new payment terms, so that you are still covered in case of nonpayment. 

Once these payment terms are in place, you can continue to operate your business as you normally would. To that end, you can also enforce your late payment terms as you normally would, adjusted for the new payment terms. Don’t be afraid to enforce payment terms with corporations — they understand as much as you do that this is a business. In fact, the few times I’ve had to enforce payment terms with a corporation, I’ve been more successful than I have been enforcing them with entrepreneurs. 

Be Prepared For Redlining

Outside of payment terms, there will likely be other terms in your contract that a corporation may attempt to redline. “Redlining” is the process of adjusting or revising a contract to mutual agreement — there may be literal red lines in the contract (via Microsoft Word track changes or other tools) or simply a back and forth on the terms via email. This shouldn’t be a scary or intimidating process, but you’ll want to be honest and upfront about your needs. For example, if a corporation wants you to waive your right to include them in your portfolio of work, there should be a fee associated with that. Inherently, there are marketing properties attached to the ability to say that “X Fortune 500 Company” is a past client and you deserve to be compensated for giving that up. 

person using smartphone and MacBook

The Balance Between “You” and “Them”

As mentioned above, there are inherent non-monetary benefits to having corporate clients. That being said, you shouldn’t become a pushover just because of a big name or a big contract. If you’re a side hustler, be explicit about protecting your time and availability needs. Depending on your client load, be explicit and upfront about your SLAs (service-level agreement) or responsiveness. The downsides of corporate clients can become just as pronounced as the upside and you must be conscientious of that. 

Manage Expectations

Corporations are inherently more socially conservative than entrepreneurs. To that end, you may have to make adjustments when working with and visiting your corporate clients. There may be restrictions on or expectations for dress code, use of language, and other considerations that you need to be prepared for. These are expectations that can be discussed in advance during contract negotiations and proposals — at that time you’ll need to decide if those expectations are worth the contract value and scope of work.

Working with corporate clients has tremendous upside — the exposure, the potential for stable long term contracts, and the ability to produce wildly visible work are all attractive components to these working relationships. However, being mindful of the four considerations above will make your work more successful and seamless, negating mixed messaging and uncomfortable situations.