When we left off in the first part of this series, we had just finished walking through the steps every dissatisfied nine-to-fiver needs to take in order to successfully transition into full-time freelancing.
Key word there being successfully… There’s certainly no ceiling on what you can earn as a freelancer, that’s true. But, in order to reach the top you’ve got to work hard, and (even more importantly) work smart.
Working smart as a freelancer means excelling at client relations. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean the customer is always right. As a freelancer, you live in a unique place where you’re not required to play by any rules but your own, especially when it comes to your pay, scheduling and expectations.
Still, you’re a professional and you must act accordingly. So, once you’ve started gaining momentum in building your client base, follow these simple rules to continue fueling the growth of your business.
When a client can’t summarize their needs in less than fifteen minutes, propose a paid consultation to them. This sets the tone immediately that your time is valuable. Personally, I give my clients two options for these consultations. The first has been significantly more popular although the second is more lucrative.
First off, I have a flat fee (currently $59) that I charge for consultations up to one-hour. These are typically conducted via Skype or by phone and they do not include any development work. The purpose of every consultation is the same; to clearly define the scope of work, then provide an estimate to complete it.
Here’s a fun fact — since I started freelancing back in August of 2015, I’ve earned nearly $4,000 from paid consultations that I’d have left sitting on the table had I been dolling out free advice. Seriously!
Another approach is to join a platform like Clarity.fm which allows you to charge your clients by-the-minute for phone consultations. Spoiler alert, flat rate consultations are tremendously more popular.
Not working for free also means you must insist that any additional tasks beyond the scope of work you initially agreed-upon be paid. This is especially important to communicate to new clients early on.
These conversations often start with a client something like, “oh hey, there’s actually one more little thing that I just thought of…” after they’ve already hired you.
This is a slippery slope for freelancers if it’s not handled properly the first time around.
Now, sometimes that additional “little thing” will only take five minutes of your time, and you might even consider giving them a free-pass in exchange for a nice testimonial. But usually, these extra “little things” end up tacking on another half-hour or more of unpaid time to your project.
These are tasks that you deserve to get paid for. In my experience, almost every client I explained this concept to had no problem providing a small additional payment in exchange for additional work.
When you’ve established an expertise in one area or industry, saying “no” sets boundaries which ultimately keeps your incoming work aligned squarely with your skill-set. If you find yourself juggling a half-dozen clients simultaneously, being a yes man is detrimental to all of them — you simply won’t have the resources to properly devote yourself to each project.
You can say “no” to any aspect of a project. The type of work, the price, the deadline — if any of these things doesn’t feel quite right to you, don’t sweat it. Say “no” so you don’t waste your time, or theirs.
New freelancers sometimes feel like they’re required to accept all the terms of every deal, but remember, you’re the one with the veto power. Execute your “no” politely and professionally, then move on.
For me, this was the hardest lesson to learn as a freelancer. When times are slow and money stresses are around the corner, you’ll feel tempted to develop an entire website for the price of a Chipotle burrito.
Don’t get caught up in this race to the bottom. Filling your schedule with discounted projects in a panic prevents you from pursuing more rewarding tasks because your time is committed somewhere else.
Every client has a budget, and many of their budgets underestimate the value provided by an expert who delivers quality work. You can’t let a client’s budget determine your value. If you feel low-balled, walk away. Surely a better client is just around the corner, and you’ll be the one that got away for that client who decided to pay the lowest bidder for less-than-quality work.
The first few times this happens it might feel like you’ve lost the client but that’s not always the case. I’ve seen many clients hire the lowest bidder first only to come back around and hire the expert. I think Red Adair said it best, “The only thing more expensive than hiring a professional, is hiring an amateur”.
One red flag I see from clients most often is the belief that somehow freelancers need to “prove themselves” to earn more, better paying, projects from them. They’ll try to lure us in with something along the lines of “I’ll have more projects later” and surprisingly enough, this is sometimes enough to get a novice freelancer to lower their price to secure the first job.
If a client tells you “do a good job this time and we’ll re-evaluate the pay next time,” they’re just dangling a carrot in front of your nose that they’ll inevitably pull back at the last possible moment.
As a freelancer, you’re not obligated to work for anyone. Politely request your full rate, then talk about future projects after completing the first one. So, bottom line, no negotiating — just like you must prove your value to the client to secure future work, they must also prove they are worthy of more projects with you.
I’m among the top 1% of freelance WordPress developers in the world and I’ve passed the tests to prove it. But, if I were ever to rub this in a client’s face to prove my point, or because I was having an off day, I’d very quickly become one of the world’s best unemployed developers.
Freelancers are human and clients are too, act accordingly. Following the golden rule and simply treating clients the same way you’d like to be treated will set you up for success while minimizing your stress.
Now, this may sound obvious but you’ve got to be nice to your clients. Never fight fire with fire.
Be responsive to their needs and take as much time as necessary to craft responses (in plain English) that will help them understand their problems too. You don’t need to use a bunch of fancy language just to prove you know more than they do about their issue, that’s why they hired you in the first place.
Here’s the best part… When you’re polite and respectful to your clients they’ll be more inclined to do nice things for you. Take them up on their offer to buy you a beer, whenever that opportunity arises.
This is a big one. Unfortunately it might take you getting burned a few times before you start to see patterns developing. Nobody’s perfect, even the best of us get burned by a bad client every once in a while.
This topic is worthy of it’s own post in the future, but in the interest of preventing you from learning a lesson the hard way, here are some of the most common red-flags I see that turn me off from new clients.
Red Flag #1 — Incomplete or confusing project briefs.
I don’t want to spend the first several hours of a project deciphering exactly what it is the client wants me to do. Incomplete project briefs, or just plain poorly written ones, are surefire signs of things to come with this client. Refer back to rule #1 (above) and try to set up a paid consultation to unmuddy the waters.
Red Flag #2 — Vagueness.
Clients need to have goals. What’s the desired end-result that you, as a freelancer, should be striving to hit? Vague clients don’t know what they want, but they do know that it’s not what you gave them. Not every client is willing to pay for revisions either, some flat out expect them. When these clients send you back to the drawing board for an extra two-hours on a one-hour project, you’re working for free.
Red Flag #3 — Rudeness.
No amount of money is worth being verbally abused by a client. Now, I like to give clients the benefit of the doubt the first time around, maybe their cat was run over this morning and now they just want to watch the world burn? But, if you can’t diffuse their anger about Fluffy and convince them to treat you like a human within a few minutes then it’s time to excuse yourself from their task altogether.
Red Flag #4 — Asking for discounts up front.
Your very first task together is not the time or place for clients to ask you to drop your rate. I’m a firm believer that there’s rarely a time or place for this, but as with all things in life there are possible exceptions to the rule. When in doubt, refer back to rule #3 (above) and politely explain your position to the client.
Timing is everything when going about up-selling a client on a particular service you offer. Make sure you’ve completely satisfied your clients initial request before pointing out something more you could give them.
If your relationship with the client hasn’t been top-notch, then it’s probably best to skip the upsell altogether. But, if the opposite holds true, make sure you at least give them the option to continue your relationship.
Don’t be overzealous here — just because you noticed twenty additional things that you could help with doesn’t mean you should offer all twenty of them all at once, that’s called spam.
Instead, pick one or two and clearly communicate the benefits of performing said upgrade(s).
For example, one of my most common upsells is performance optimization. Of course clients want their websites to load faster, who wouldn’t? So, I’ll explain the benefits and if they’re receptive I’ll provide them with an estimate. This has lead to additional paid projects many times for me.
Repeat business is your best friend — refer back to rule #7 from part one of this series to learn more.
One common mistake among greener freelancers is an over-enthusiasm to engage clients with an estimate.
Tossing out $5,000 proposals before you’ve so much as exchanged a “hello” makes you looks desperate. Clients can spot this from a mile away, and once they do they’ll start trying to negotiate with you.
Even if you’re light on active projects, you still need to play it cool. Slow down, consider all aspects of your client communication, then engage. Remember, freelancing is a marathon, not a sprint.
Remind yourself often — “Ready, Aim, Fire” is much more effective than “Ready, Fire, Aim”.
I’m still learning new things each and every day as a freelancer. Over the last ten-months I’ve completed over 500 projects worth nearly $150,000 while working for some of the best clients in the world. I’m continuing to discover ways to work more efficiently, take better care of my clients, and ultimately increase my income.
If you’re considering making the transition to freelancing, stop waffling and dive in today!