What I’ve learned as a freelancer
Being a freelancer is not easy, some people try to screw you over, others just don’t stick to the agreements. Here are a few tips and experiences I’ve learned over the past months/year as a freelancer — some of them the hard way.
Always set up a contract or agreement. If you are not billing hourly, but a flat rate, you should definitely include what your task is exactly. It happens often, that your clients want you to do more than you agreed to, but since you didn’t write it down there is no proof of that , and you end up doing it anyway — for free.
If it is a digital product (websites, photos, …) — specify who the owner of the product is after you completed the assignment. Do you think you may be able to resell the product in the future? Don’t make the client the owner of the product — instead just “sell him your services” by setting it up and “optimizing it for his needs” or just give him the right to use it as he wants but still clear you the right to use it too. Doing this way, you still have full rights over the product and you can sell it to another client later on.
If you think that you are going to have expenses during working on the project (possible license costs, new parts, …), agree with the client who is going to pay for that — is it included in the flat rate?
Also don’t forget to include you terms like possible down payments, when the final product is delivered, how the product is delivered and when and how much your client has to pay.
Whether you have agreed to a flat rate or billing hourly, it is totally okay to ask for a down payment. You can definitely ask for 20–25%, I have even had clients who insisted in paying 50% up front. This is not only a protection for you, but also for him. Why? The client sees it as an incentive for you to actually finish the work to receive the other part, for you it’s a protection, the client has already paid you something, why should he waste that money and don’t pay the rest? But make sure you don’t hand over the product until the payment has been through!
Don’t be afraid to say no! Especially if you have agreed to a flat rate, it is definitely fine to say no to a request. Particularly if it is not something which is done in a few minutes, don’t let the client use you and make you work for free.
Build up a portfolio of projects and references. Are you working in the web development business? Make yourself a (good looking!) website and put a few projects worth showing or references of (known) companies on there. Are you a photographer? Get a few photos or links to newspaper articles you have worked on.
Never lie to your client
Never ever lie to a client. If you are confronted with a problem, you won’t manage to finish by the deadline or anything else, call him or leave him a note. Also, if he asks you how things are going and whether the progress is how he expects it to be, tell him the truth, even if it is not something he wants to hear.
This way, the client realizes that he can trust you and can adjust to possible postponements in the future.
Keep your client up to date
Notify your client every time you have reached a milestone or an important part of the project. Maybe arrange a meeting, so he can take a look at what you have done. These meetings can also be used to clear any open questions — both from you client and you. This also gives your client the feeling that you care about him and gives him safety — imagine you have a project in order and don’t hear back from the contractor in a few weeks? You wouldn’t like that too I guess.
Stay in schedule
Try to stay in schedule as much as possible. If you are working on a bigger project, make up a schedule before starting. This way, you always know when you should have completed which task. If you finish something earlier than planned, continue with the next task. It’s better to finish early — this is one of the best ways to impress a client.
Always notify your client when you are out of schedule! This way you can save both yourself and your client a lot of trouble! But remember, that a client is legally permitted to cancel the assignment and even ask for compensation if you don’t deliver on time!
Keep track of incomes and expenses
Always keep track of your exact incomes and expenses. You can either use a Excel sheet or a software like FusionInvoice (this is not an advert — I just really like their product) for this.
Also, take a look at the laws in your country, what exactly do you need to keep track of? How do you need to keep track of your incomes and expenses?
This doesn’t just save you possible trouble, you will also have a great overview whether you made profit or loss.
Don’t throw away anything — keep everything digitally and physically
Never ever throw away contracts, agreements or invoices! Not even after you have finished the project and received your payment! Not only is it a proof if something goes wrong or your client tries to screw you over, in some countries it is also mandatory by law to keep everything for a few years.
Also, I couldn’t think of any reason other than lack of physical space why you’d want to throw anything anything at all? You can keep everything digitally (just scan the contracts for example). But don’t forget to check your countries laws — in Austria for example you need to keep some things physically too!
What do you think? Do you have any other tips or experiences? Leave a comment or drop me a message on Twitter @floriantraun