Making the leap into freelancing is a big decision for most. Some do it out of necessity, some do it as they’ve become tired of the traditional 9-5 (or more specifically, their current employer) and some just do it because they crave the freedom that being a freelancer offers. But making the leap is just the start. You then have the issue of finding clients (which we’ve covered here) and managing them on going which is what we’re going to run through today.
Personally, I’ve been freelancing in some shape or form for the best part of 20 years, be it part time, full time and everything else in between. Whilst being a freelancer does afford all of the opportunities listed above it can also become a bit of a burden, especially if you don’t manage your client list (and their expectations) properly.
So today I’m going to run through some of the key considerations new freelancers should make once they’ve landed some much needed clientèle.
Depending on how the job at hand is sourced, you’ll need to agree terms with your prospective client. These will consist of the job spec, the deadline and the fee for the job. It is at this stage you need to lock down exactly what the client expects of you, when specifically it shall be delivered and what the fee you’re receiving actually covers. Most freelance jobs go south when the client expects too much (or the freelancer doesn’t do enough) or deadlines or missed. Then of course you have discrepancies in the payment terms. These aspects are what you need to nail on day one. Don’t just accept the job, agree a price and form the specification afterwards, it doesn’t work. Both you and the client need to form a clear outline of all of the above aspects immediately.
Particularly as a new freelancer, it can be tempting to just agree to take on whatever work is offered to you, even though you know in the back of your mind you won’t have the time available to complete it due to current workload and responsibilities. You think to yourself, what when the current job ends? Am I going to be able to find work? Etc. This is completely understandable but if you want to satisfy your existing clients you must make them a priority. Messing them around on deadlines because you’ve taken on extra work is not going to do you any favours and isn’t going to land you future business. It could even lead to negative feedback if you’re using a freelance marketplace which could end up costing you no end of potential work.
If you’ve agreed a deadline, you must stick to it and must know in advance that all of your current workload can still be managed whilst meeting this target. If it cannot then don’t agree to the deadline and don’t take on additional work. Your clients will respect you a lot more if you’re honest with your delivery timing.
Billing can be another conundrum the freelancer faces. Do you want to bill at the start? 50/50, milestone payments or the dreaded pay on completion? The truth is, each project, client and overall mechanism is different. If you’re working for a private firm who you’ve worked with regularly, who you know are good payers etc then you can probably get away with having them pay on completion (providing your cash flow/budgeting allows for that). But if it’s an unknown quantity you’re dealing with it’s probably best to work with 50% up front and 50% on completion. This spreads the risk across both parties and is a perfectly fair and acceptable way to work.
If however you’re using one of the freelance marketplaces such as PeoplePerHour or Freelancer you’ll be able to request milestone payments to be paid at various points in the project. Sometimes weekly, monthly or after a specific part of the overall job has been completed. This can be great for both parties as the risk of non-payment for work is taken out of the equation entirely and it’s also somewhat motivating to be rewarded for each piece of work undertaken as opposed to waiting until deadline day and hoping the client comes through with the money.
First and foremost, providing you’ve been clear from the outset as to what the job entails. You shouldn’t run into the issue of the client wanting extras. This can be frustrating as you want to please the client in general but you don’t want to be spending hours/days doing additional work outside of the base spec for free either. So it’s a bit of a balancing act.
The same goes for on going support. It’s not unusual to a agree a job, in web development for example and even though you’ve delivered to spec, on time, the client will still be hounding you for changes/additions ongoing. This is something you should avoid. If you think you’re in danger of this happening you should define a clear hourly rate or cost per job for such changes/additions on going. This will deter the client if they were simply plan on taking advantage of you and also protect you as a freelancer.
But with all that said, you do want a good review and future work so don’t be too hard with the rules. A little bit of free help after delivery will go a long long way.
Repeat business is what all freelancers crave (or they should do). Landing new clients is tough so if you can churn out work from existing/previous clients be it on going month to month jobs or even a one off job a few years down the line, it’s definitely what you should be aiming for.
The work (primarily) is what is going to determine if you’re in the running for future/repeat business. If it’s carried out to spec, well priced and delivered on time then the client can ask nothing more of you. This is what you should be aiming for. If however it’s not to spec, you’ve missed deadlines, argued about money or point blank refused to help them because the job is “done” or signed off then you can pretty much forget it.
It’s still fun…
Having read back through the above I’m starting to think this whole article sounds somewhat negative. It shouldn’t be. Being a freelance opens up a wealth of opportunity and the rewards can be significant. The key is to manage all aspects of it properly, don’t let things get on top of you and don’t let yourself or your clients down. That is the challenge. You will find actually carrying out the day to day tasks the easy part and the management of everything the true struggle. But it is only a struggle if you let it become one and hopefully the above pointers will go some way to easing that burden and you’ll become a better freelancer because of it.
And remember, the client isn’t always right.