Estimated reading time: 9 mins
Hindsight is always 20/20, and this is especially true when it comes to the world of freelancing. If I had a few cents for every mistake and/or error I made during my time as a freelancer, then quite frankly, I wouldn’t be developing websites. Luckily for me, I have been able to persevere and learn from these mistakes. So, don’t be like me (I’m over rated anyway). Take a look at some of the things I did wrong and turn it into an opportunity for yourself to do things the “right” way.
1. Not Charging Enough
I take solace in the fact that so many freelancers make this mistake, especially when first starting out. Lets be honest, in our line of work its very hard to know exactly how much you and your time are worth. Times that by market forces, the current economy and people’s budget, and setting an hourly rate just might make your head spin. When I first started out, I would write down everything the client wanted done on a piece of paper, and then I would try to “guesstimate” how long each part of the project would take me and then charge that by my hourly rate. There was one huge problem, I always estimated under and ending up cheating myself out of well deserved money.
I decided to stick with charging an hourly fee, and the first thing I did was increase my rate per hour. Next, I decided that many more factors were going to need to go into my final quote price, factors like: my cost of living and rent, spending money, money needed for my business, length of conference calls (in the case of clients that liked to talk for an hour or more) etc. I was worried I may have lost some potential customers with my rate increase and came to the conclusion that this risk was one worth taking. Theoretically, if I double my rate per hour and lose half of my customers, I still make the same amount and for half the work. In addition, start quoting your customers over how much you think it will really cost. This may sound counter- intuitive, but its not. If worst comes to worse, and it ends up costing all of what you quoted, then no worries, you quoted them that price anyway. If however, you come in under-budget (which should happen more often than not if you are over quoting slightly) then you have a happy client on your hand that is more likely to become a return and/or loyal customer. If you are looking for a resource to help you develop a rate, check out the freelance rate calculator .
- DO increase your rate if you feel you are being cheated.
- DO over quote slightly to allow yourself some wiggle room.
- DO NOT only take in project specific factors, keep in mind all of your life expenses and cost of living.
2. Application Hesitation
I have given my second mistake a fancy name, which is really translates into simple confidence issues that many of us have. In fact, I still find myself struggling with what I call “application hesitation.” This is where you find yourself not applying to a job or freelance opportunity because your not sure if you can handle it. If you are a chronic narcissist you can move on to number 3. Do NOT confuse this with being under-qualified, which is a good reason for not applying. For example, recently there was a job posted for a freelance designer for a website/forum. I was very interested in the job, but noted at the bottom the forum they were designing for was a forum I had only designed for once (note that I have designed for many other forums, and they are all similar in layout). In the end, I didn’t apply, using the excuse “they probably want someone who has worked with that forum many, many times.” Looking back, I should have taken that job. I should have applied, told them about what I have worked with in the past and my credentials, and told them I was willing to learn their forum system as well. I really had nothing to lose anyway. So don’t let your moments of insecurity stop you from landing a great job. Fake the confidence if you need to until you have it.
- DO apply to jobs you feel you are qualified for, even if you are not familiar with every single system they are using. Be sure they know you are eager to learn
- DO NOT apply to jobs that you are not qualified for. If a company is looking for a star designer (which you are), who is great with flash (and you have never even used it), then an application probably is not necessary.
3. Making Phone Calls
E-mail is a great way to communicate with your clients. It’s fast, convenient, but very impersonal. There are just some things that you can pick up on when actually talking to that person. Meeting in person is even better if you can. Starting out as a freelance designer, I rarely, if ever, gave out my telephone number to my clients. After all, I started freelancing to get out of the corporate environment and do things on my own time. I quickly realized, though possible, it was much more difficult to get the customers “visions” and desires for their future website via email. This is because some people have a hard time putting their thoughts into written words. When I finally got over my “phone phobia”, I noticed that I had a much easier time understanding the clients goals and wants. In addition, a phone call really adds a personal touch to your services. Your client will be more inclined to think of you as a reliable and friendly person, and know if there is an emergency they can contact you. Of course, no one wants to be contacted all the time by a worried client, so make sure you layout some ground rules about how contact and customer support will work throughout the project and after the said project is finished. Be warned if you offer hosting to your clients and hand out your number to them, you might have to increase your monthly minutes on your cell phone plan.
- DO offer your phone number to clients (if you host clients websites, you might want to rethink this), it adds a very personal touch to your services and gives the client a feeling of security.
- DO call your clients once a job is agreed upon to get a better understanding of what they envision, this will make it more likely that your client becomes a satisfied customer.
- DONT blame me if you have a client that wont stop calling you because they cant get “that one code thingy to work”.
- DO voice any and all concerns/disagreements you have about the clients project. Try to be as clear and objective as possible.
- DO be open to criticism and disagreements from clients and peers. Constructive criticism is the only way to truly improve your skills and realize where your weaknesses are.
- DONT take it personally! Odds are the client just wants what is best for their project, and wants to see it succeed (even if you disagree with their tactics).
- DO take note of what clients dislike about your projects, if they don’t have anything negative to say, then ask them what you could improve on. Write these down every time you have a new client and compare them to improve yourself and your skills
4. Taking too Many Breaks
Guilty as charged. Not that we would ever bill a client for time spent surfing Digg or watching daytime television, but this is really one of my worst habits. Perhaps this would be better demonstrated through a timeline:
- 12:00pm-Start all programs needed for clients website (ftp, photoshop, textmate etc)
- 12:01pm-While waiting for programs to load, click the stumble “just one more time”
- 1:00pm-Realize what time it is and start work on clients project
- 1:30pm-Snack time
- 1:40pm-Get more snacks
- 2:00pm-Back to work
- 4:00pm-I think Oprah comes on, but I would have no idea. Really, I don’t….(channel 7).
- 5:00pm-I think Oprah ends. Time for a break.
- 8:00pm-Continue working, whoops forgot to check my email, check that. While I am at it check every possible email, forum, blog and anything else I am socially a part of, you know, just in case.
- Midnight-Finish work for the day, check test site in IE 6, followed by string of unrepeatable obscenities.
As you can see, there is room for improvement. The point is, just because we work from home doesn’t mean that we should act like we are at home all the time. After realizing that a lot of things around my apartment were serving as a distraction from my work, I used a spare room to setup a separate office containing only my work computer, client documents, and any web design/programming books. If you don’t have a room setup only for web design or development, I highly recommend doing so.
5. Taking Things too Personally
Every freelancer has experienced the client from hell. Or the client who just refused to like or appreciate any of the work you have done. Who doesn’t feel upset or even insulted when they have worked so hard on a project only for the client to say “I don’t know, its just ok.”? Other times, the client really wants something on their website that you know just wont fit or shouldn’t be there. Take for instance, the dreaded “marquee” tags. This is one of those moments for me, when I need to just step away and relax for awhile before replying and/or communicating with the client. It allows me to put my personal feelings and ego aside and see where the client is coming from. I eventually learned to voice any concerns I had about the clients idea, in a clear and respectful manner . If the client still wont budge, swallow your pride and do as they wish. Remind yourself that they are paying you , so its your job to provide them with what they want, even if you disagree. And if its that bad, rest easy knowing you don’t have to include that project in your portfolio. Why not share a mistake and/or experience you have had with us and what happened?