Whether you’re a new freelancer, a freelancer-to-be, or a freelancer with a few (okay, a lot of) years under your belt, one of the most efficient ways to learn is from mistakes…preferably some someone else’s.
But that’s not always easy to talk about.
(How many peers do you feel comfortable asking about their biggest mistake(s)? Chances are, not very many, if at all.)
So here’s a list of my biggest mistakes I wish I had learned from someone else (hopefully, you can learn from me and avoid making the same mistakes in the future):
#1: Lack of communication about “extra” pricing
Be it rush fees, extra revisions, or tackling something outside the scope of the project (as defined in the contract), your client NEVER wants to be surprised by extra costs.
And even though pricing your design services can be hard (read: How Much Should I Charge?), here are a few “extra” pricing details you should clarify with your client upfront.
Even if your contract states 3 revisions and you send along revision filename-revision4*, it doesn’t mean that your client remembers what the contract states or reads your file names. When your client requests additional changes above and beyond your revision limit, respond immediately (before tackling the work) that these revisions will incur your hourly rate (or whatever your contract states).
*I highly recommend this file naming style to help keep your clients apprised of how many revisions they’ve used (if that’s how you handle revisions). To me, it’s better than version numbers because version #2 is actually revision #1.
Hi Kevin, Thanks for sending over your additional requests. Per our agreement, we’ve exhausted the number of revisions included in the original project costs. Further changes will incur my hourly rate of $X. Would you like me to continue? No further work will be completed until I have your okay. Thanks, and have a great day!
It’s obvious to us that a day for a brochure is a very, very small window of time. But it’s not obvious to our clients – most have absolutely no idea how much work is required.
(True story: I had a potential client tell me he didn’t understand why a website should take more than 3-4 days to complete, from nothing to public-ready.)
I know you’re worried the rush price is going to scare the client away, but it’s really important to stick to your guns and be up front about it. You don’t want to be doing rush work at your regular rate continuously, and that’s exactly what you’re setting yourself up for if you don’t price the first rush project appropriately.
Maria, I’m very excited to work with you on your poster. Attached is my quote – please note that due to our abbreviated time frame, a rush fee applies. Please contact me with any questions you may have. Talk to you soon!
One of the most important reasons to set specific objectives and clearly define project scope (see below) is to prevent scope creep. First they want a “basic” website, and before long they want an interactive menu that shows a picture of each meal when you click on the dish name. Oh, and you do photography, too, right?
Before you start tackling their additional requests, make sure they realize they’re increasing their project costs. Chances are they’ve totally forgotten what they’ve agreed to and that map sounds really easy (to them) to put together.
Georges, Love the idea of the interactive menu. People want to see what they’ll be eating! We didn’t cover this in the original project, so I’ll need to work up a quote for this additional request. I can send the numbers over by the end of the day. Does that sound alright?
Pro tip: I rarely work up a quote until I have the go-ahead because often my clients forego the “extra” once they realize it’ll cost them more.
Bottom line: if it’s going to cost your client more money, let them know before you start.
#2: Vague definitions in the contract scope
This one’s a biggie because it can cost you a TON of work with no extra pay. And the kicker is, you forced it on yourself.
Never use words like “as necessary” or “to client satisfaction.”
With these, you open yourself up to an unlimited amount of work and the possibility of never getting paid. After all, your client can keep this project open indefinitely with scope terms like these by never being satisfied or always needing another item.
Always list approximate numbers when talking about number of pages, inventory items to input, etc.
Whenever you’re basing your pricing on how much work you’ll have to do for X amount of items, list an approximate number. This way, when your client initially told you he had 20 inventory items and it turns out to be 75, you can point back to the contract when discussing increasing the cost of the project.
Bottom line: Be specific in your contract. Define the scope clearly so you don’t cheat yourself out of time and money.
For more on contracts, read Contracts for Creatives.
#3: Multi-tasking too much
Confession: I am a very patient person, but not when it comes to computers.
Confession #2: Tabbed browsing, smartphones, and constant access to “everything” has given me a bit of ADD.
So in the 3 seconds it takes to save WordPress changes or open InDesign, I’m off checking my email, looking at my Trello to-do lists, and yes, (ooh, it hurts to admit) peeking at Facebook or AlphaJax.
Before I know it, I’ve watched a TED talk, checked my stock portfolio, and also looked up how to change the headlight bulb for my car while my work has been patiently waiting for a good 25 minutes.
*sigh* Not productive.
Here’s what is:
- When it’s work time, close or minimize everything else.
- Focus on ONE project. Close or minimize all others.
- Get the information you need from your email (paste it into word or print it) and close it.
- If you “just can’t help it,” create a work log-in on your computer and disable access to your most addictive distractions.
- Separate your work email from your personal email.
- Get one of those free distraction-free apps.
- Try the Pomodoro technique (thanks, Karol!).
- Log your time. It’s surprising how focused you get when you’ve committed to a project by logging a start time.
- Make a daily to-do list and work through the list. ONE thing at a time.
- Make notes of all the things you don’t want to forget to do later on a scratch pad. Then do them later, even if it’s only one quick little thing.
Bottom line: Focus on one project at a time and watch your productivity (and free time) skyrocket.
#4: Working too much
Often, as was the case for me, multi-tasking leads to working too much. Or all the time.
Because when you’re constantly jumping from distraction to distraction, it takes SO much longer to accomplish anything.
And then you feel guilty. And then you go back to work after dinner. (You did remember to eat, right?) And then you promise you’ll go exercise at 6. Then 6:30. Then 8. At 11:30 you’re exhausted and ready for bed.
And when you wake up the next day, the very last thing you want to do is go sit in front of your computer.
Burnout happens. Working all the time, or at least feeling like you’re working all the time (no matter the reason), makes you less creative, less productive, and less satisfied with your life as a freelancer.
Besides, didn’t you board the freelancing ship to linger over a cup of tea instead of rushing off to a day job?
Bottom line: Take time off. Do something you want to do. Schedule your projects such that you’re making enough money but not killing yourself in the process.
Can you top my mistakes?
Now I know, unlike me, the GDB community is chock full of perfect freelancers.
BUT, on the off chance you’ve made a mistake and are willing to share your story and what you’ve learned from it, please share your experience in the comments.
After all, admitting you’ve made a mistake is the first step to correcting it!