Check their Online Presence
One of the first things you should do is to check their website for clues whether or not they are trustworthy to work with. Using incognito windows or VPNs to audit their website for some of the basics:
“About” Page: This should provide some basic information about the company, like how long they’ve been in business, who they work with, etc. Beware of lack of detail or short general descriptions for the company that really looks like “filler text” than a genuine bio. If they cannot put the effort into describing themselves, are they going to put an effort into paying you on-time?
Showcased Work: This could also be testimonials or a portfolio of their accomplished work. Do you recognize any of their customers? Are their “brags” legit? Showcased work isn’t a necessity for your client to have, but even a gesture of taking the time to have one may show they do care about the work they are doing and who they are doing it with.
Contact info: Contact information is one of the most important pieces of information a company can provide. If they do not provide such info, that is definitely a red flag. Why wouldn’t you want to be contacted if you already have a website? You can also use the listed contact info to compare against any communications you receive claiming to be from the company. You don’t want to be used in some sort of phishing or hacking scandal.
SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) Certification: An SSL certification lets you know that the site is secure. This is especially vital if they have payment portals or other information collected throughout the site.
FAQ: A FAQ section is super helpful for any website to have, but especially on that of someone you’ll be doing business with. It should help dispel any questions you may have right off the bat.
Not having these components could be a telltale sign that something is not right with the company. You should also check for suspicious signs like misspellings, strange ads and pop-ups. If anything looks off to you at this point, you should probably tell them you pass on the offer. Otherwise you could be getting trapped by a scam, or risk not getting paid.
Ask Professionals in the Industry
Still unsure about working with these new clients even after auditing their website? Ask your colleagues about them! Talk to others who may have worked with them or have them refer you to people who have. Also look at company review sites like Google Reviews, Glass Door, Reddit or other discussion boards for possible answers. You can even ask some questions yourself on these sites! The most direct thing to do? Talk to the client themselves. You can even ask if they have references you can investigate for yourself.
Ultimately, you should trust your instincts! If you have any hesitations or concerns, it’s better to be safe than sorry. You also may be thinking too that taking all this time to find out if a client is legit is a waste. Will you be missing out on more money if you didn’t just accept jobs at face value? Possibly, but is that a gamble you’re willing to take? Think of it this way: the time you take to evaluate a client’s ethics and behavior is saving you time and money later when they turn out to be unreliable to work with. If you practice your due diligence, you could have been working with someone who would value your work and pay you on time. Money is valuable, but more so is your time and talent.