You may be looking to become a freelancer or maybe you already are, but struggling to make it work. Whatever category you fall into I’ve put together these tips on common freelance mistakes and how to avoid them so your future as a freelancer is more professional and secure.
Freelancing is all about psychology, but not may people will tell you that because they don’t realise it themselves. Some people find interacting with others easy, yet other people find it more difficult. A lot of the time freelancers tend to be introverts, meaning they prefer to be alone with their own thoughts rather than be around teams or people.
It can be tricky to freelance and be an introvert as a big portion of what you do is centred around client services and interaction, so ignoring phone calls and emails won’t get you anywhere. Below I’m going to go through some of the most common freelance mistakes made on a daily basis by freelancers everywhere, but I’m also going explain how and why these things are effective at improving the service you offer.
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Understanding Your Client’s Needs
This is the big one that so many people get wrong. If you don’t properly understand a project and you don’t invest everything you’ve got into it, how can you say with 100% certainty that you care about the outcome? The answer is simple, you can’t.
Some clients have a basic idea of what they want and others don’t have a clue. In my experience as a freelancer, the majority of clients tend to have barely the faintest idea of what they’re looking for from you, let alone the finished product you’ll be creating.
Get as Much Info as Possible
The first thing you need to do is gather as much information via research as possible. Don’t head straight to you sketch book or Photoshop, you need to know what you’re dealing with before going in guns blazing.
As I said above, the hardest part of gathering information is that clients usually don’t know what they want, so it’s your job to find out since that’s part of what they’re hiring you for. You’re here to solve problems, not just make websites or build apps.
It’s your job to educate the client the best you can, this way they have a better idea of what they want and you have a better idea of how to help them.
Ask The Right Questions
Making sure you ask the right questions is essential to finding the problems behind why they’ve hired you. I break my questioning into two categories, initial client questions and chat with client. The big difference is the initial client questions are asked via email before I decide to take on the project, this gives me enough information to make a fully qualified decision. The chat with client questions are asked via Skype chat. This way I can steadily guide the client towards the right solution instead of being bombarded with “I want this” and “I want that”.
Here is a sample of what I ask during the initial client questions:
- What are you business goals for the project?
- Can you give me a rough estimate of your budget?
- When are you looking to start the project?
Here is a sample of what I ask during the chat with client:
- What’s wrong with your current website/app and why do you need me?
- What sparked the idea for this project?
- How would your business be different if this problem was solved tomorrow?
The idea of asking these questions is to get a deeper understanding of your client’s business goal and objectives. By doing this you’ll soon find the true meaning of the project and why you’re being hired.
Don’t just take on any project that happens to land in your inbox. Make sure you qualify all the leads you get. Not every project is perfect, meaning you need to make sure the project is the right fit for you, otherwise you’re setting yourself and the project up for disaster.
Under Promise and Over Deliver
When it comes to promises in the client services world, a lot of them get broken. Most of the time it’s completely unintentional, sometimes things just happen and get in the way of you making a deadline and other times we just fail at delivering. There is a way around this though, it’s to under promise and over deliver. The worst that can happen? You meet expectations.
Set The Right Expectations
When you tell a client you’ll have the new home page designed by Monday and it’s Friday today, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You and I both know that family or just life in general will get in the way on Saturday and Sunday, leaving you in the awkward position of email the client Monday morning the let them know you’ll be getting the design over to them for Wednesday. If this happens to you often, you need to set the right expectations.
I’m sure something similar has happened to you in the past, it used to happen to me all the time when I was still learning what it takes to provide a truly outstanding service to my clients. However over time I came to realise that if I figured, “Yeah it’s Friday today but I can have it done by Monday”, then telling the client it would be done on Wednesday is just common sense. If you have even the slightest doubt it’s time to under promise and over deliver.
It’s hard the first few times you have to tell a client it’s going to be a few days until they get the updated designs. You’ll feel awkward and think they’ll assume you’re not doing your job properly, but you’ll soon come to realise it’s much better to provide the service quicker than expected as opposed to constantly being late.
Charge What You’re Worth
This the is the most classic of freelance mistakes. It happens to people who run businesses like hotels and shops all the time. You need to charge what you’re worth…but how do you know what to charge? It’s simply a case of working out the absolute minimum amount of money you can live on each month, then average out how many projects you complete each month and you have a good place to start. Add on at least 20% for savings with another 20% for tax and you’re good to go. Anything after that can be for a pension, going out to dinner and so on.
The Price Just Went Up
OK so you now know how much more to charge but how do you actually go about charging you’re clients more than you already are? You obviously can’t jack up the price mid-project but on new project you have to provide value…and I mean serious value. Value that your clients can see, like more sign ups, more purchases or just more business in general as a direct result of your efforts.
Unfortunately you can’t show your clients the amazing future of their business before you actually start the project. So to get around this you need to do the next best thing, show your clients an accurate and tangible representation of what their business will be like after you’ve completed the project.
A little psychological trick you can use to make that larger price tag seem less scary for your clients eyes is to use tiered pricing. Tiered pricing in terms of freelance work simply means giving your client 2 or more options instead of either yes or no.
Generally when a client gets to the end of your proposal they have a choice to make, yes I’ll hire you or no I’ll go elsewhere. In practice I’ve found it closes a lot more deals if I take the yes or no choice out of the equation and provide them with either option 1 or 2.
Here’s an example of what a tiered pricing proposal could look like:
- Option 1 (Standard): A basic e-commerce store that gives you control over the items, pricing and email newsletter.
- Option 2 (Premium): An advanced e-commerce store that provides seamless navigation around the store for easier purchasing with an automated email marketing campaign aimed at bringing back previous customers.
Although some clients will choose option 1, the vast majority will choose option 2. Do you know why it doesn’t really matter which option they choose? It’s because they no longer have to choose either yes or no, they’re already onboard to choosing you, it’s now simply a matter of how much they spend.
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Explain Your Work
This follows the same idea of educating your clients. Explaining your work is something that will save you countless hours of revisions. You don’t want to spend huge amounts of your precious time re-designing something that is fully backed by all sorts of UX data just because you didn’t educate the client as to why you made certain decisions.
Clients generally don’t know what they’re looking at and most of the time it comes down to them wanting to give their 2-cents because they feel like they have to. Always remember that they’re paying you to not just give them a product but to provide them with a service, so it’s up to you to educate them on that.
Give Details Insights
Go beyond saying things like “Red is better than green, that’s why I chose it”. Go into more detail and give them valuable insights into why red is better than green in that instance. Provide links to studies and articles that back up your choices and don’t just assume the client will understand.
There will be times when the client still thinks they know best, in these cases it’s important to stick to your guns. They hired you for your expertise and services, not to boss you around Photoshop. You’re providing a solution to their business problems that is likely worth much more than they’re paying you for it.
If they just won’t budge offer to do an A/B test on their idea and yours. Sure it’ll cost a little extra but if you followed the tips in the above section on charging what you’re worth where I went over providing value to your clients then the small added cost of the A/B test shouldn’t make a difference.
What Does This Mean?
I imagine you’re left wondering if any of the above actually works. Do you know the difference between a highly paid freelancer and someone who charges $10 an hour? Sure, experience comes into play at some point but the biggest difference is the level of professionalism. People tend to hire agencies over freelancers because having a team of ten designers and developers with a project manager feels safer then one guy or girl sat in their bedroom making websites.
Always come across as a high-end professional and your clients will respect you for it. All of the tips above I’ve used in the past on client projects and I couldn’t imagine running my business any other way.
If you’ve got any tips or tricks you use with your clients let me know in the comments!