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How common as a ballpark percent? I’m asking because I’m trying to decide whether to try some contracting this year or not

That can't be answered in a ballpark figure.

It heavily depends on the kind work and the clients you target and accept.

Some tips:

* always demand partial payment up front (usually 20-50%, depending on contract size and length)

* set milestones with additional payment required upon completion (for bigger jobs)

* have a contract that only transfers usage rights and copyright upon final payment

You can always get screwed over or have bad luck (client goes bankrupt, ...), but some prudence in selecting work goes a long way.

When starting, I learned to stay away from anything gambling and real estate related.

The more you charge, the less likely it is to happen. Also, requiring some money up front before you begin weeds out many of the worst clients. Early on, it might be 10% of your clients that try to not pay. As you gain more experience, you can weed these clients out through a combination of the aforementioned things and just getting a better "feel" for when to turn down a job.

Or do like I did and end up working full-time for a client that does pay well. That brought my non-payment rate down to 0%.

Personal data point - in my six years of doing this (not fulltime), zero.

You can mitigate this risk in the following ways:

* Focus on taking in referrals; you're less likely to get hosed if you know a way back to them.

* Fixed contract + payment plan. As much as you can, negotiate one and have everyone sign it.

* Get clients in your geographic proximity. Spend a lot (say, 3 hours) of unbilled time with them in advance of closing a deal. This gives each party a chance to suss out the other. As with the first bullet point, you're less likely to get scammed because you probably know where they work.

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