Freelancing Tips: Ask Questions
Like all jobs, freelancing has its pluses and minuses. The biggest advantage about working for yourself is that you set the pace, and you get to determine which jobs you will accept. The biggest downside, however, is that when something goes wrong, you only have yourself to blame.
One of the biggest challenges for new freelancers is knowing how to screen potential clients – but sometimes even seasoned freelancers struggle with this aspect, especially when bills need to be paid. Asking questions is the single most important thing that you can do to assess whether you and a potential client are a good fit for each other. Here’s a case study from my own freelancing career to illustrate the point.
I recently booked my biggest client to date. The job involved redesigning the client’s website, providing ongoing technical support through the end of the year, and ghost writing on the client’s blog. Before I accepted the job, I determined what the client’s deadline was, what all of the components of the project would be, and what our communication process would be like. Completing the initial website build in 30 days seemed like a realistic project, although it meant that I wouldn’t be able to accept any other jobs during that time period, and it also meant that I wouldn’t have time to write my own articles for publication. However, this was a project worth prioritizing, so I gave the client a price quote, and I accepted the job.
The biggest mistake I made when I accepted this job was that I didn’t ask enough questions on the front end. Part of the website design involved consolidating five different blogs into one archive. I should have asked more questions about how many blog articles were involved, since each of them would have to be moved over individually. The blog consolidation was defined as part of the initial website build, so I am not able to bill on an hourly basis for this work – it was all grouped into the flat rate that I billed the client for the website design. As a result, a lot of my time will never be financially compensated. A hard lesson learned.
There were many other questions that I should have asked the client, but I’ll just summarize by saying that freelancers should have a standard checklist of questions that they work from when they are evaluating potential clients. Make sure you have all the information you need in order to a) determine if this is a job you should accept, and b) adequately bill the client for your time.
I would have accepted this job, regardless of how many questions I asked, because this project will be the centerpiece of my work portfolio for a long time to come. Yes, I under-billed the client (and I only have myself to blame for it), but there are many tangible benefits that have resulted from working with this particular client that can’t be quantified in dollars and cents. I will definitely cover all my bases on future projects, though.
Author Michelle Goodman has excellent advice for freelancers in her books The Anti-9-to-5-Guide, and My So-Called Freelance Life. I highly recommend purchasing both of them, and keeping them at your desk for easy reference. Goodman gives examples of questions that freelancers should ask potential clients, but I’d love to hear from you. How do you feel out potential clients? What tips do you have for making sure you get paid what you’re worth?
I’ll be following up the freelancing series next week with tips for setting up an invoice system that works. And in the coming weeks, I’ll give tips for writing letters of agreement; shaking down deadbeat clients when you don’t get paid; building effective time management for yourself; setting quotas for monthly billing; sending a pitch letter; and determining when it’s a good idea to work for free. I hope you’ll tune in!