Sunday, September 11th, 2016

Before I begin, a disclaimer. No malice is meant by any of the below and there’s certainly no finger pointing or blame shifting. Problems generally arise from false assumptions, the lack of definitions and inadequate communication, so in many cases it’s something I, or both parties have got wrong.

Oh, and if you’re one of my client’s reading this, don’t worry, this isn’t about you.

1. Get a solid brief

If there doesn’t seem to be many defined requirements, and words like only, just and simple are used, question why they don’t know what they explicitly want, and only agree to a project (or quote for it), if the deliverables are clearly defined. Also, don’t be allowed to define the spec/requirements on your own, as this needs to be lead by the client, as their interpretation of the end product could be very different from yours.

2. Ask about payment early

Make sure you know where the money is coming from, and that payment terms are agreed up-front. Your (logical) first assumption would be that whoever is contracting you will pay you, but I’ve learn’t this isn’t always the case, and can result in weeks and months of delays, and a disconnect with the party who actually pays the invoice, which means they’ll just be another system, and you’ll just be another invoice. Also, if purchase orders are required, request the number at the beginning to avoid further delays.

3. Find out who’s involved, and who has the final say

No matter what sort of work you’re being paid to do, it’s incredibly important to know everyone who’s involved in the process, and ultimately who has the final say. If more people are introduced down the line, make a point to find out where they sit in the project, and if they’ll impact your work in any way.

4. Ask about schedules

Planning out your schedule and time for the project is redundant if the client is away or unavailable on certain days. Similarly, if they’re away for extended amounts of time and responsibility is passed onto another individual, then it’s extrememly important that that person is involved in everything from the start (see 3). This situation is complicated further if there isn’t a solid brief/spec (see 1) or singular vision for aesthetics/style.

Also express the amount of time required of them for the project at the start, and try to agree meetings, milestones and any other dates important to the project.

5. Make your booked time clear

Similar to the above point, but make sure you let the client know when you’ll be working on the project, and if there are any extended periods of time when you’re unavailable. This’ll ideally keep the project running efficiently, and give the client good notice on when to prepare feedback, content etc for you.

6. Is the deadline real?

Working to a fixed deadline is useful for everybody, but always question why the deadline is the deadline. You may prioritise your schedule to achieve a deadline only to find out it wasn’t important, and now the timelines have shifted to an actual deadline in the future (when you may not be available, or payment is delayed). Also, ‘as soon as possible’ is not a deadline…

As a freelancer you also can’t be as relaxed to deadlines as agencies due to your resource offering being limited to you and only you. So if you have work booked in with another project after an agreed deadline, make sure to let the client know so they either do all they can to keep focussed on the deadline, or know that you can’t be as flexible after it. Honesty and openness is the best policy when it comes to deadlines.

7. Meet often in person or via video chat

Emails and calls are ok, but they’re often over edited and hide true emotions, motivations or desires, and can be misinterpreted easily. The best way to get things done and be on the same wave length is to meet in person, or at least see someone while talking. You’ll avoid any misinterpretations, probably get things done quicker, and clear up any questions without the need to go back and forth. However, always get important project correspondence in writing first (such as agreements, brief and feedback).

8. Don’t start early

Got a few days free and feel like getting the project started early? STOP. Until a project is signed and agreed, deposit is paid or anything else more concrete, it could just cost you more time in the long run if you run ahead. You think you’ll be saving time, and it could be due to a deadline as to why you justify it (see 6), but the project could still be dropped, or result in extra work (see 9).

9. Don’t start any work which is dependant on something else not complete

If there’s something stopping you from doing work effectively, communicate this and leave it at that. Actioning anything which’ll likely then have to be tweaked or at worst re-done depending on the outcome of something out of your control, will just cost you more time and cause friction. (Example: Designing the visuals for an interface before a brand is agreed on.)

10. Specify amends and extra costs in terms

Only applicable for fixed cost or quoted projects, but be clear from the beginning that work beyond the agreed spec is extra time, and your time is worth money. Every project has a bit of flexibility, but if you don’t define your time as being a service, they won’t value it, or you. A lot of people are simply oblivious, some are cheeky, but others will intentionally aim to get everything they can from the project, and you, no matter the cost to the relationship or your personal well being… it’s just business after all.

11. Be honest

As someone who doesn’t like confrontation, this is the hardest bit of advice to follow, but hiding your true feelings or thoughts at any time is detrimental to both the integrity of the client relationship, the project deliverables, and most importantly your health. You’re not being hired to be someone’s friend or keep them happy, but offer a service and skill, wrapped in your experiences. If you simply tell someone what they want to hear and not what you believe, you’ll regret it and the project and relationship will sour.

12. Above all, trust your gut.

You know what I mean… that first unsettling nervous feeling in your gut, which seems to always be able to sense the unknown dangers in the future. If the first email or phone call from a prospective client makes your gut contort, then you should just walk away. In my experience, it’s always been a mistake to ignore that gastrointestinal spidey sense.