Freelancing is entirely different than the relative safely of working for an employer. With an employer you will typically have a set role, a job description and expectations to meet to continue to stay employed. These aspects are usually reasonably clear to the individual employee and further clarification can be sought from a manager.
With freelancing, there are many different problems that can crop up and unless you have learned to handle them before, often you can be flummoxed as to how to deal with them.
In this article, we run through some of the main problems that can present themselves, as well as provide some solutions to these. There are always new issues that do arise that require new thinking and new solutions, but once you have a basic understanding of how to deal with the more usual issues, it can then be easier to devise new methods to resolve the new problems too.
This one is more likely to affect freelancers who work in creative roles such as web designers and web developers, rather than other professions. However, roles like one as an architect can also be affected when clients take late objection to something in the design which may necessitate a redesign of the blueprint to accommodate their request.
Scope creep is when a client wants to add new items to a web development, redesign a hallway to a different specification late in the design process, etc. It means to add more to what was expected and agreed for the project at the outset.
For designers and programmers, it is often the single largest issue. For instance, as agreement may be reached for an “automatic login” feature. There is a main login page. The developer understands this agreement to mean a site visitor can login to the site via the right url; the client believes an “automatic” login should be possible when arriving on any page on the site. If the web site is hand-coded, rather than using a blogging platform like WordPress, then this single difference in understanding for a key feature can cause a dispute and possibly much added time to rectify.
The best way to try to avoid such issues is to spell out exactly what is and what is not included in the agreement. It is not possible to include/exclude everything, but it is possible to hit the main points.
It is important to take time to make clear agreements from the outset. Therefore, if you are dealing with a client that brushes the specific details aside saying, “We’ll get to that later” then it’s necessary to be more insistent that the project budget and process cannot move forward until the requirements are nailed down.
How can you budget and provide a final quote appropriately if the specifics of the task are not clear? Rest assured that if this isn’t done and you quote based on only the known facts at the time, then the client will keep adding more tasks to the project, whilst still expecting you to keep to a fixed budget. This kind of thing is clearly convenient for them, but is really a slippery practice where they’re trying to get something for nothing.
The clearer the agreement, the fewer problems you will have. Even with corporate clients who are usually unclear about what type of freelance writing they are ordering, the content type, the writing style, the direction and emphasis of each piece. Asking for sample titles and examples of writing that fits the style and content they’re looking for is a good way to deal with this.
If you don’t ask those all important questions and get answers you can work with, you’ll be wasting your time. In such a scenario, will they pay twice for the 2nd block of writing because they were not clear the first time around, or are you going to have to eat your rewrite time?
Getting clear about what exactly is needed for all freelance work is vital to reach a successful conclusion.
Cash-flow is the lifeblood of any business, especially a small one with tighter margins and limited income. Getting paid is critically important for businesses to stay in business, and getting paid promptly is almost as important.
With payments, you have to be very careful and read between the lines. This takes time to learn. There is a lot of room for making errors of judgment here and losing money. Unfortunately, that’s part of the learning process.
Generally freelance clients like to feel like the boss. With freelance writing clients, often they are quite young and inexperienced, and this demonstrates itself with knee-jerk reactions if a service provider pushes too hard for payment. With web design clients, the relationship is more integral (more of a partnership) and so there is more room for discussion.
With web design clients, it’s quite normal to pay a half deposit for small projects and for larger sites there is usually an initial deposit, followed by a staggered series of payments as milestones (stages) are hit on the project.
With such standard ways of working, it’s possible to receive regular payments. If the client balks at that, then you will have to question seriously whether they have the money to pay for the project. Especially with design-oriented tasks, clients can have a tendency to dream and not always with the money to pay for what they are dreaming.
With other forms of freelancing like freelance writing, there is no standard methods for payment. Some established writers can request half or full payment upfront. With clients that are new to you, many will refuse to pay a deposit. The way to manage this is to produce a very limited amount of completed writing for an agreed price. This can be as small as a single article. If they won’t take the risk, then you must limit your own risk. This is also a payment test.
From there, the order size can grow slightly, with a further subsequent payment. As trust grows, either the client can be persuaded to pay half at the start (as you’ve shown that you deliver on orders) or the order size can grow at your (not their) discretion.
With freelancing, whatever you do, do not let the amount outstanding grow to more than you can afford to lose. This is the cardinal rule of freelancing. Clients who previously paid you can suddenly stop, run into cash-flow difficulties or sell their business (or the web site the content was to be published on). Then payments dry up and they stop answering their email. Assume nothing. Protect your downside.
Dealing With Family and Friends
This is always a tricky one. Family and friends often will expect to get a “friend” discount. There are two ways to look at this: a nice thing to offer or as undercharging.
In either case, the same rules apply when it comes to work-flow. You need to run through what your requirements are, come up with a project plan, get them to sign-off on it, etc. No different from any other project.
It is a good idea to agree on the pricing, state any discount separately, but to be clear that you work in the same professional manner with them as with anyone else. You provide the discount (if at all), but you don’t offer special favors on scheduling the work, etc. They are a valuable client just like any other client.