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Starting out tips for freelancers

18 June 2007
Posted in: Scratchpad | 9 Comments

Once, I got a mail through my site’s contact form asking: “Are you a professional or just a freelancer?” I got back to him, telling him that I was a professional freelancer, but never heard from him again! The point is, quite often, and especially where I live, freelancers are merely poor cousins of the so-called professionals.

While admittedly there are those who give us a bad name, most of us are hardworking individuals, trying to make a living (as opposed to those who need something to do pass the time). Starting out is not always easy, but perseverance pays. Having been in the business for almost a decade, here’s what I’ve found:

  1. Respect your deadlines: As an independent professional, your credibility is your most important asset. Don’t take on impossible deadlines. You’ll often find clients who’ll say they’ll send you material to work on in a day, in two days, in a week, but don’t do so. Just because they do that, it is not okay for you to do the same. If you feel mid-way through a project that you may need more time, intimate them well in advance.
  2. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well: Do not take shortcuts. Your network and your goodwill quotient will depend on how happy your clients are with your delivery, so make an effort to do a good job. When they go home and tell their friends and business associates how good you are, you will get more work.
  3. Don’t be afraid to negotiate price: Plenty of people get uncomfortable when it comes to the price issue. In the early days I would feel “cheap” to bring up the matter of payment with a new client. Don’t undervalue yourself. Once you have calculated how much your services come for, stick to it. Clients will feel more comfortable dealing with a confident person who knows what they are going to deliver and for how much. On the other hand, no one likes an overbearing personality who thinks they are god’s gift to client-dom! Don’t get bullied by clients; at the same time don’t be so rigid that you miss out on a really good opportunity. Experience will make it easier to tell when the goodwill counts for more than money.
  4. Rome wasn’t built in a day: It takes years to build up a decent network of clients. If you’re lucky, early on you may find someone who agrees to pay you a retainer for your services. But for most of us, building our “business” is like watching grass grow.
  5. Take lean periods in your stride: Even when you have established yourself and usually have a steady stream of work—enough that now and then you have to turn down some—there may still be phases when precious little goes into the bank. It is easier said than done, but it is important not to panic. Think of lean periods as a well-deserved break. Rest assured that work will come, sooner rather than later. For that’s the way the freelancer’s world goes around.
  6. ~PD

9 Responses

  1. Proteeti says:

    Great post, Payal. More so because I’m in the same boat too – and I know exactly what you mean. I’m still having a bit of problems regarding the money factor – guess it’s early days for me yet, so I’m still stuck in the discomfort mode when it comes to money!

    But the thing that bothers me the most is what you mentioned in the beginning – why, oh why, do people not take us seriously, or treat us like the professionals we undoubtedly are? Since I gave up working full-time, I’ve been regarded with pity, told to my face that I ‘don’t work’, and had what I do dismissed as ‘just chilling’. It’s infuriating, and demoralising. šŸ™

  2. Payal says:

    I got one of those “Oh, nice life” type of comment from a friend today! I know there was no sinister or offensive intent behind it, but it still touches a nerve! Yes, it’s a choice—and yes, it’s nice—but it’s not easy.

    For one, I know I do the equivalent of more than one “job”. I am always working when I’m home. It’s scary being a freelancer, because the cash flow can be erratic, and if you’re on your own it’s bloody terrifying!

    But would I exchange it for the hassle of a full-time job? Which gave me financial security but made me an emotional mess?

    Um… I think the answer is obvious šŸ˜‰

  3. Nimish says:

    Neat! I would add: “do not try to make too much of a fuss over contracts.” Remember, you are not likely to have the time or inclination to drag the blighters to court and anyway, they are likely to have better lawyers. A better option would be to try to make the client so dependent on you that he/she/it would be terrified of losing your resources.

  4. Nimish says:

    And as for the perception that one doesn’t “really work,” heck, that’s just the swine being jealous! Every full-time professional wishes they were in our shoes/sandals/hawai chappals/whatever!!

  5. Alpana says:

    really good one. But how do you determine the monetary value of your work? How and where do you get the info?

  6. Payal says:

    In my case, when I started out, I was totally dependent on what people were willing to pay me. Even 10 years ago, writing technology features for Rs. 500 was pathetic, but the experience was totally worth it!

    Later on, as you get to know more people, and pick up more experience, it becomes easier to negotiate better rates. You also get exposed to a wider range of clients—from the kanjoos types to the professional ones, so you get an idea of how far you can push things šŸ˜‰

  7. Ticklish says:

    A post about work requieres a post about JS or you might just cause a paradox which ruptures space and time and makes reality unfold into a pink thread that gets stuck inbetween everyones teeth when they try to eat. The end is near, the end is near… and so on and so forth. I know it is hard to take reality seriously but this really is one of those cases when you should.

  8. Payal says:

    … and the Reapers will pop out of the sky and eat us all up!

    Hello, my JavaScript instructor šŸ˜Ž

  9. Marie says:

    I’ve discovered that you don’t update because I check your blog everyday. If I stopped checking I guarantee you would update!!!!

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