Freelancing has challenges that are unique to the trade. In my previous article Freelance Advice I Would Give My Younger-Self (Part 1), we discussed the principles of choosing clients, keeping good records, and getting paid for your time. These are more of the lessons I wish I could send back in time to the younger-me:
Under Commit and Over Perform
This is a principle that I live by in everything that I do. When you make a commitment (verbal or otherwise), consider it a done-deal – your clients will. Clients don’t hear “maybe” or “I’ll consider it”, they often interpret that information as a “yes” or “no”. This means that you must be very cautious when communicating with people you interact with on a professional level, and chose your words carefully.
If you have been a freelancer for any scope of time, you know that things are easier said than done. Deadlines are one of the biggest areas of concern with creative work. Even some of the best designers I’ve been able to work with have issues with creating realistic timeframes for themselves. Since this is so often the case, you are better off erring on the side of caution. In other words, if you think it may take a week, say, “it will take two”. This will accomplish two things. Firstly, it will give you the flexibility to deal with those unforeseen problems and distractions that so often occur in life. Secondly, it will leave you with an impressed client. Presenting work ahead of schedule will only reinforce the confidence that your client has in you as a professional.
If you think it may take a week, say, ‘It will take two.’
In regards to the quality of your work, expectations are everything. Your client must be assured that the work they are getting is high quality. However, I have found that clients often get in the way of your work. There is an eternal battle between freelancers and clients, and it goes like this: the client knows what they want from the freelancer, and the freelancer knows what the client needs. Unfortunately, those two perspectives rarely mix. This means that you should not predict the score until the game is over. Unless you can truly make the claims, do not guarantee your clients an increase in online traffic or sales because of your work; finish the project and let your work speak for itself.
Learn How to Communicate and Negotiate
Do not make the assumption that you will always be interacting with people who know what you’re doing. As a designer, you may answer to a media expert (which is great!), or to an old executive who says things like, “So what is the Facebook?” (Not so great). This forces you to know how to communicate skillfully with people of many different mindsets and styles.
Prepare extensively for each meeting you have. If possible, speak to your clients briefly on the phone, and try to discern who they are, and how they think. Are they interested in quality or price? Do they want to know all the details, or want you to take care of the details for them? These are the types of questions that you must be able to answer very quickly when meeting with clients, as it changes how you will interact with that client for the remainder of the project. A quick tip is to talk to employees or contractors who have worked with that client in the past. They should be able to give you insider information that can save you both time and money.
Negotiation goes hand-in-hand with communication. Again, there is that eternal battle with clients that you must be able to win. Clients can be overly opinionated about your work (which begs the question “why did you hire me in the first place, if you already know what you’re doing?” – but that is for another time), they can ask for unrealistic deadlines, and most commonly they will try to convince you to drop your prices. Be prepared for all these challenges. Sometimes it only takes an hour for you to negotiate the work you will be doing for the next 3 months. Make sure that you are ready to explain every aspect of the contract to your client before you enter a meeting – I can almost guarantee you that the client will do the same.
Never Stop Learning
I have discovered that a majority of people learn how to do a particular task, find a good job that pays them for that skill, and then neglect furthering their education. Success with always elude you if your mindset is mediocrity. Always look for opportunities to challenge and improve yourself. Learn from those who have gone ahead of you. Strive toward excellence in everything you do, and refuse to settle for “good enough”.