Six lessons I have learned the hard way

Posted on: August 8th, 2011

The other day I passed the milestone of having been freelance for 20 years. (Yikes.) So I thought I’d use this blog post to share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Lesson 1: Don’t start work with a new client until you’ve got the go ahead in writing

I say in my terms and conditions that ‘work will only start once I have received an email or purchase order confirming the budget’. And, when I start work for a brand new client, I only start when I have 50% of the project fee cleared in my bank account.

Also, make sure you have a clear, written brief so you both understand what the parameters of the project are. Specify exactly in your quote what your price covers – including the number of meetings.

Lesson 2: Planning your schedule is a waste of time

Sod’s Law says that no matter how carefully you plan your work and try to schedule in different projects, it all goes out the window. A project gets delayed or gets cancelled (or both) and, just when you thought you’d be nice and busy, you’re left twiddling your thumbs.

Lesson 3: It’s always a yo-yo of feast and famine

In June, I was wondering how on earth I’d cope with the two big web writing projects I’d landed. Then, both got delayed (see Lesson 2), so I had a very quiet month. Now, in August, everyone is phoning up and giving me work. In fact, so much so, that I’m working weekends and having to turn some stuff down. And you know what? It’s always been a case of feast and famine.

Lesson 4: It’s OK to turn work down

If you’re asked to do a job that a) doesn’t really interest you or b) doesn’t play to your strengths, then say you’re not really the right person to do it. It’s much better to be upfront. But do try and find another person who can step in and do the work, so your client/potential client isn’t left in the lurch.

Lesson 5: Gut instincts are always right

If you have an uneasy feeling about a new client or little warning bells are going off in your head, you must listen to your instinct. Don’t be enticed by the thought that it’s a lucrative project. You’ll live to regret it.

Lesson 6: Don’t work with companies that want to beat you down on price

Professional work demands a professional rate. And potential clients who want to hire you on the cheap always prove to be demanding/difficult/slow to pay. Not only have you got to put up with a troublesome client but, since your time is taken up working for less money, you have to turn away other work that would pay your proper rate.

These are all lessons I learned the hard way. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned since you’ve been freelance?

4 Responses to “Six lessons I have learned the hard way”

  1. Arne K. Haaje
    August 8th, 2011

    It’s nice to see this from a veteran! I’ve only been freelance for 11 months now, and I can already recognize some of you points :P Particulary “2: Planning your schedule is a waste of time” seem to show up every other day.

    I’d like to add a lesson 7: “Don’t quote a fixed price without a detailed job spec.”

    With one client I did this, because I understood I would not get the job otherwise. Their requirements were rather vague, and I ended up making countless revisions to the work. When finally done, there were no problem with payment, and they have now become a client that give me occasional work at hourly rates.

    So it did not turn out to bad, but on that first job I did a lot of work “for free” ;)

  2. Carole Seawert
    August 9th, 2011

    Great point, Arne. When I quote a client, I also include a bullet-pointed list stating what the project includes. (eg: three meetings at the client’s offices in London, up to two sets of amends etc.)

    Then, in my terms and conditions, I say that ‘any change to the agreed brief may incur addtional charges’.

  3. Jo Ann Sweeney
    August 15th, 2011

    Hi Carole – Thanks for sharing these. Like you I learnt them the hard way and am celebrating 19 years working for myself next month.

    Lesson 6 applies even today when there is less work around. Clients who focus too much on price won’t value the great service we deliver.

  4. Carole Seawert
    August 15th, 2011

    Congratulations for next month, Jo Ann!

    I agree, Lesson 6 does apply just as much in the current climate. There may be people prepared to write an article for a few dollars on elance, or other similar freelancing sites, but that’s not our marketplace.

    I know some companies who never choose the cheapest quote. They think that person can’t be as good if they don’t charge as much.

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