16 Sep 2019, 18:30 — 10 min read
Background: With the emergence of the gig economy, more and more people are turning to freelance jobs either fulltime or part time. The advantage of being your own boss and sometimes even making more money than a fulltime position is attractive to many. In her previous article, Shalini Sridhar shared etiquettes for the workplace. Here she highlights the pitfalls to avoid as a freelancer.
With flexible economic policies to encourage growth, several startups and SMEs are mushrooming everywhere. All of them have one primary need – skilled resources. Be it manufacturing or information technology, skilled workers are more in demand every day. And technology being the key driver behind most industries, there is an abundance of opportunity for short-medium term contract-based employment. Most of the SMEs may not have the budget to have a skilled resource in their workforce full-time. Enter freelancing.
If you are one of the lucky ones with the skills and an adventurous spirit and are getting tired of your 9-5 desk job and looking for work-life balance, freelancing may be the right thing for you. In this article, I will try to highlight five pitfalls to watch out for as a free spirit. A word of caution though, a freelancer is not someone who invests money and starts a business to market a product or an idea, I am talking about someone who has employable skills but chooses to work without the shackles of a corporate world.
I have been working as a consultant for a few years and have taken up several freelance projects such as web development and graphic design among others. Recently I also forayed into online tutoring for Photoshop for beginners. One of the great things about being a freelancer in a competitive world is that you can set your limits, manage your time, choose the kind of jobs you would love to work on and have a meaningful work-life balance – away from the rat-race. In a nutshell, you can work the way you want, as long as you can deliver what the client requires.
However, there are some downsides to working as a freelancer. You may never meet your client face to face, or you may face situations where some clients can pressurise you to get jobs done faster at lower pay.
If you plan to be a successful freelancer looking to make money, then having a formal contract prior to start of any project is a must. This will help you to define project scope, deadlines and calculate budgets.
Here are the top 5 mistakes to avoid.
If you plan to be a successful freelancer looking to make money, then having a formal contract prior to start of any project is a must. This will help you to define project scope, deadlines and calculate budgets. This helps avoid any distaste between you and your customer as the project winds down and keeps the door open for future engagements.
Down payment - One of the most important prerequisites to starting a freelance job (or any job for that matter). Deciding on a non-refundable down payment amount prior to project start will help you ‘secure’ the client. If for any unfortunate reason the client decides to walk away mid project and or the project gets shelved from the client’s side, at least you would be partly covered. This also ensures the client provides the needed attention to the job they hired you for. If the customer is not fully invested in the engagement, the goal post keeps shifting and scope creeps are bound to happen.
The contract should also highlight how extensions to project timelines and revisions will be handled. Clients love posing ideas, but it may not always be practical. Balance costs and effort simultaneously - anything outside of the set agreement, the pricing and/or the schedule adjusted.
A contract is also important on letting the client know how maintenance or continuation after project close will be handled. If the project is long term, it’s a great way to keep the client in your books by agreeing on certain terms together.
Depending on the type of project you may want to choose between effort-based billing and a budgeted total. If your project scope is not well defined or there are multiple external dependencies, an hourly pricing model may be suitable. If your scope is defined or your client prefers to go with a budgeted spend, going with a fixed pricing model will be suitable. Choosing the right model could be tricky. However, do not forget that as a professional you are liable to pay GST and taxes, so factor those in when you do the math. Personally, I prefer time and material (T&M) on an hourly basis if I am unsure on the duration to complete the work. Change in scope and increase in work will not impact your bottom line as you are charging based on the effort you spend.
Underestimating the effort or complexity of the work – Needless to say, getting the exact requirements is key to sizing the work.
Overestimating or over-committing the work – In your enthusiasm it’s easy to over commit. Keep in mind costs and what the client requires vs what are they willing to spend, it is important to stick to what is agreed.
It’s time to choose wisely. Are you a freelancer looking to profit and do business or are you looking to just showcase your skills for free? If you are the former, then you need to think and act like a professional businessperson. This means setting time limits with clients and sticking to agreements no matter what. When I began my online tutoring classes for Photoshop, I had one or two students who were always a few minutes late (sometimes even 15 to 20 minutes late). This affected my daily routines and other work. To combat that, I set hard rules about starting the classes on time at the beginning.
Also remember, if your clients are your close friends or family, you should still treat them like any other client. It is easy to be tolerant on several aspects and be flexible with billing your friends or family members since we tend to put relationship before business, however, ensure that you don’t end up with the short end of the stick. If possible, work towards maintaining a separate persona when it comes to business matters. And oh! Try not to discuss business at family events!
Also read: Love yourself, love your work
One of the most important, but often overlooked aspect of any successful project is effective communication. Regular communication is key to keeping everyone informed and helps keep the relationship warm. For lack of regular discussion, where the stakeholders operate in silos, collective view of the project progress is lost and all of us live in a fool’s paradise, only to wake up one day to reality. This situation could be far from what was planned or agreed. Even with small engagements, setting up routine follow up discussions to provide status and seek feedback helps. Inform of delays and dependencies ahead of time, not just before a deadline. As a freelancer, this helps in establishing a healthy relationship – since this is key for repeat business and word of mouth referrals.
The reason why clients chose you over an established firm could be because they genuinely like your work, they are aware of your talents and, quite possibly this could be a more economical option for them. Staying abreast with the latest trends and technologies relevant to your industry is a must for a freelancer. You are only as valuable as your skills; your experience and perhaps past successes will help you get a foot into a door, but future referrals and recurring business depend on your current project. Invest in yourself and make sure that you allocate time and set targets to acquire new skills and get certified – it could be the difference between you or someone else getting the next gig.
And as a bonus, here is the 6th ‘gotcha‘ a freelancer has to be prepared for…
As a freelancer, you should realize that you are alone in a way. There is minimal or no backup that you can fall back on to handle exigencies. Be it personal or professional. Participating in local events and being a member of confederations and forums is a must. If you face any challenges with your work – you can breathe easy if you know that there is someone that you can reach out to. Local events are a good way to connect with people and also to get to know of any opportunity that’s out there. When you have an issue with a client, you can reach out to these confederations for guidance and help. Also, they will help you stay honest – by informing you of changes to the law and regulations etc. So, never underestimate the value of maintaining good relationships.
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