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Whoohoo! Let’s whip up a posse!
NYChummingbird, the other poster’s have passed you much good advice. The only thing I will add is especially on your large contracts, get everything in writing. The schedule for pre-production, production, post all of it. Another thing that will help alleviate ‘client malfunctions’ is for them to give signed stage completion approvals. That means; upon completion of the elements of the current project stage written approval will be given by the client’s assignee(s) (preferably the person signing the checks or at least a department head(s)). Once approval is given, then you move onto the next stage of the project and so on until completion. Make sure it’s in the contract that upon approval of each stage you’ll be sending out an invoice to be paid within the agreed upon payment schedule.
Working like this forces you to stay on schedule and will let you see fairly quickly whether you’re meeting your goals in a timely manner. It will also make it easier to show your client how last minute changes or delays on their part are adding to the cost of the production (which are not your fault!)
Getting gigs is great (which is why we all do it!) But you must contain your initial excitement to do the job and weigh out realistically whether you can complete the work within the client’s expected time frame and with your available personnel and resources. If for any reason you feel you may be unable to work within said time-frame, you probably can’t. If the client is unwilling to extend their initial deadline to a mutually condusive time-frame, pass. Better to move onto the next gig than get caught up in one like that ‘burning bed’ scenario.