Secure the bag: Sizing Up Clients to Ensure You Get Paid

A Refugee, a CIA Analyst, and a Freelancer Walk Into a Bar… and Figure Out a Better Way to Get You Paid

What if you had a bank account with all of the cushions that large corporations enjoy? What if you never had to worry about whether or not that client was going to pay—on time or at all? We saw the financial needs of the freelancer, the independent professional, the solepreneur, and we created Joust.

As a former refugee and immigrant, and now as an entrepreneur, I understand the value of ready access to financial services. While working as a federal bank regulator, I also saw an antiquated and outdated financial service system.

I’ve spoken with many small business owners, independent contractors, and freelancers who shared their frustrations about the dizzying array of tools to manage business finances.

I knew there could be a better way.

So we created Joust to offer independent professionals the type of critical services that big banks offer to their corporate clients. Why shouldn’t the solopreneur get the same advantages?

Joust’s platform merges an FDIC-insured bank account, a merchant account for accepting payments, and an invoicing guarantee feature. Additionally, Joust helps you incorporate and saves you time by integrating with many popular business tools for bookkeeping, HR, and tax management.

Getting You Paid

Clients who pay late—or not at all—affect 71% of independent workers at some point in their career. PayArmour, our invoicing guarantee, addresses this problem head-on, including an option for immediate funding.

As a first line of defense, there are some good ways to assess the risk-worthiness of a new client. In fact Rita Crague, Joust’s Head of Compliance and Risk, draws on her past as a CIA officer to suggest how freelancers can use structured analytic techniques to gauge whether or not a new client might flake on you. Her advice on what we dub “my-pay-is-due diligence”:

Determine the intent of an action.

For example, she once had an assignment to monitor troop movements in an adversarial country: Were gathering military forces getting ready to invade their neighbor or just engaging in regular training maneuvers?
She had to make calls based on information that could have many meanings. Using a structured analytic framework helped her guard against typical cognitive biases such as:

  • Mirror imaging—assuming that others act based on the same motivations as you
  • “Best guess” or “this is what happened last time, so it will happen this time” bias
  • Confirmation bias — only looking at evidence that supports the conclusion you want to draw

These structured tools from intelligence readily translate to risk management in financial services. Likewise, they can apply to many other professional situations involving ambiguous data—including identifying possible nonpaying clients. Here’s how structured analytical techniques work:

Actions speak louder than words.

A deceptive or dishonest client may reveal their intentions via their behavior. This can be anything from setting a short deadline to offering significantly higher pay than the industry norm, both of which can be used to create a sense of urgency that pressures you into submitting work without the protection of a written agreement.

Behavioral clues are powerful. If you are unsure of what counts as normal behavior—even experienced freelancers find themselves in new predicaments—ask your peers.

Consider the details surrounding the offer.

Evaluate how the client found you. For example, a referral from a mutual contact, such as a friend or former client, offers you an additional data point.

Inquiring about the client’s motivations can also help you assess their reliability. Can they articulate what it was about your portfolio, style, or prior experience that attracted them?

A thoughtful answer—or the lack thereof—will likely tell you something.

Examine the contact and business details of your potential client.

How established are they? A client with a scant online profile may pose a higher risk.
Most of us will at least Google the name of the client to find their website or social media presence, but you may uncover additional data points by also searching for results on their phone number and email address. To further confirm the legitimacy of the client, check their registration status with the relevant state business license office.

Assess your risk threshold.

A client might fall short on one of these variables, but that doesn’t mean you need to turn them away immediately. Step back and look at the whole picture. Does it add up? And what is your risk threshold if the client doesn’t come through?

Are you really stoked about this project? How much of a financial buffer do you have? Would the project provide a chance to gain experience in a new area? What’s the full cost of taking on the work—from additional childcare expenses to forgoing other professional opportunities?

This framework can help you distinguish between clients who are safer bets and those who are not worth the risk. Perhaps more useful, it can help you gauge and navigate that gray zone. You may be able to mitigate the risk by negotiating for additional protections, such as partial payment up front, with clients who seem iffy but worth the chance.

Better yet, let PayArmour take on that risk.

With Joust’s PayArmour, you don’t have to be a career diplomat to strike a perfect balance and get paid. Download our app and let us fund your invoice. We’ll even make sure your client has a positive experience with incentives and gentle reminders.

You may be wondering: How does this all work?

Joust collects all of the regulatory-mandated information to open an account. However, instead of discarding it, we link it to your history with Joust, your clients’ profiles, and to the details of the invoice. As a result, we are able to near-instantly predict the probability of default. But, since we need to know a little about you, PayArmour only becomes available after your third transaction with Joust.

To keep your money safe we partner up with community banks that excel at serving their respective neighborhoods by extending low-interest loans and revitalizing financial deserts.

When you use Joust, your money isn’t lining the pockets of the Wall Street fat cats. Instead, we are creating a financial ecosystem that both serves our customers and reflects our values.

It’s simple: With Joust you get the same benefits and protections enjoyed by major corporations, with financial tools developed for your small business.

Lamine Zarrad is the founder & CEO of Joust, leading the mission of financial inclusion, and eroding systemic barriers to fair banking and payments.




Joust is a banking platform that saves time, expense, and hassle for the independent professional. Our app combines an FDIC-insured bank account, a merchant account for accepting credit card payments, and the tools to run all financials on one platform. PayArmour, our invoicing guarantee product, mitigates the risk of non-payment and offers an option for immediate funding.