Freelancer, I Love You: Part 1 — You Suck at Running Projects

Neil McBean

5 ways you are screwing up your projects before they start.

I don’t expect you to be good at running projects. There are companies out there that do very well teaching people who run projects for a living how to get better at running projects for a living.

You do something else entirely, and running projects is a side gig. A consequence. Even a parasite.

But here’s the thing — you have to deal with it because it costs you money, and time, and stress.

Here are five things you are probably messing up with your freelance projects.

1.You Don’t Know How to Get Paid.

Why are you doing this to yourself?

Freelance projects need cash flow. All projects need cashflow. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen a freelancer get stiffed by a client I’d have at least $1000. That’s not a lot in terms of personal fortune, but it is a lot in terms of numbers of times I’ve seen people get taken. If you got a dollar for every time you’ve seen someone get stabbed, and that equated to $1000, you’d be living in a very dangerous place.

When you are working with someone for the first time you need to structure your payments so that you share risk. Get a deposit and tie payments to deliverables. Pay yourself first.

2. You See Yourself as a Commodity

Services, by definition, are not a commodity, no matter what Donald Trump says.

You can certainly package your services in a way that makes it easier for potential clients and partners to buy, but you cannot treat your approach as an equivalent to anyone else. Productization is not commodification. You are the sum of your unique skills, experience, personality and connections. Freelance projects require unique talents to get done properly.

3. You Aren’t Planning Your Time

It’s all boom and bust. You work 80 hours a week, and then you crater.

Here’s the thing. You’re a human. You are limited like all other humans. You need sleep and connection and food and downtime just like everyone else.

Instead of getting money in short spurts you need to establish systems that bring sustainable clients in sustainable durations. Stop taking on too much, and focus on taking the right amount.

4. You Can’t Say No

You need to make money, so you need every project you can get. I live in that world of anxiety myself. Plus I have kids, so it’s even worse.

Here’s the thing: you need to say ‘no’ when things aren’t right, and you need to look for moments when you feel good about saying ‘yes’. When you say ‘yes’ to a ‘no’ you are hurting yourself and your client. You aren’t a fit. That’s not an indictment, it’s a situation, and the wrong choices will build up in negative ways over time.

Say ‘no’, and move to a place where you can make the best contribution.

5. You Let Clients Manage You

Your client hired you because you are the expert. You are not there to be their surrogate pencil, or their typist, or their legal scapegoat. You are there to provide value, and you need to demand enough agency so that you can deliver that value. They do not know what you know, otherwise they would not have hired you. Take control of the process and everyone will be better off.

I’m starting a new series. Tough Love, written from the perspective of someone who’s made every possible mistake. This edition features unsolicited reference to Louder Than Ten, good people who train good managers.

Neil McBean

Written by

CEO of Kracker and a founder

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