I was recently contacted by a potential client to help them finish a website that's in a near-completed state. The initial conversation went well. I let them know about myself, how I work, what I thought was the best process for them to finish this site; He let me know what he was looking for, asked me a few questions about why I'm the right person for this type of project.
It's a typical conversation I have - I just try to be as straight-up as possible and talk to them person-to-person, not as a salesperson or anything like that. I saw that I could help and that he could benefit from my help, so I decided to proceed with the next steps in the process. This is where he informed me that part of his onboarding process, before hiring someone, is to get a scan of the person's passport and another form of ID.
I hope that most of you reading this now realize that this is pretty sensitive information, and outside of government entities, certain financial institutions and the occasional case like getting employed full-time in the U.S., you shouldn't provide this information to anyone. I'm sure you've all seen the news and how identity theft is on the rise. Even if the person you're handing over this information to is 100% trustworthy, you can never be assured that they will be able to keep it out of the wrong hands at all times. In short, it's just a horrible idea to give this information out unless absolutely necessary. And it's definitely not necessary for landing a short-term freelance gig.
I let him know that I had never been asked to provide this type of proof to any of my previous clients. He reasoned that the last person he worked with seemed to have left him high and dry (hence the need to hire someone to finish his website), so he's trying to take extra measures to minimize the chance of this happening again. I'm assuming that means to be able to take legal action if something happens.
While I can understand that being swindled in any way is not a fun experience, there's something that irks me about this type of behavior. I feel like it's a case of being unjustifiably punished due to the wrongdoings of someone in the past. And it just breeds distrust between two or more parties when there's no reason in doing so. This may be a somewhat naive point of view, but my belief is that there's no need to distrust somebody unless they give you a reason to distrust them.
I'm in a business of providing services to others, but my personal belief is that I'm also in the business of providing trust. Charging someone for working on websites is pretty straightforward, but if you think about it, there's trust that must be given to you for you to do your best work. The client must trust you with their business. The client must trust you with virtual elements like server access, payment processor credentials and databases full of customer information. Above all, the client must trust that you know what you're doing and that you'll do it well.
But don't think that all the trust must be given to you as the freelancer. As the saying goes, trust is a two-way street. You must trust the client is setting you up for success. You must trust the client for compensating you on time. You have to give them reasons to trust you, as well. You need to give them trust that you're doing your absolute best and have their best interest at heart. High levels of trust always need to be earned.
Vouching for someone who you can't meet in person can be tricky, but when deciding whether to work with someone who's thousands of miles away, there are a couple of quick checks you can make to ease the comfort level:
- Make sure the parties involved have a website, or at the very least a place online where they have samples of their work you can check.
- Do a brief search on Google and check if the information you have about the other parties matches up with what they said. My preferred sources of info are social networks.
- If the people involved are not willing have a quick phone call or Skype chat, I would not deal with them at all. Believe me, this actually happened to me once.
- Always trust your instincts - if something doesn't seem right to you, there's a big chance that there will be problems down the road.
I know there are some shady characters out there, trying to take advantage of anyone that they can, either by doing shoddy work or portraying yourself to be somebody you're not or some other reason. But I truly believe that for working relationships to flourish and work out well for everyone involved, some faith and trust should be present from the very beginning.