Freelance Musings

Posted November 19, 2011 | 1:05 pm, by nadine

Freelance! Its awesome. I’ve been a freelancer for many a year, and I’ve been in all kinds of good, bad, stupid, horrible, amusing, wonderful scenarios. Some turned out well, and some turned out terrible. Now and then I think about the responsibilities of freelancers and clients. Now and then I write them down as a reminder. 2011 is winding to an end soon, and this felt like a good junction to jot them down again.

As a freelancer, it is your responsibility to your client to:

  1. Work with a contract. I’ve learned my lessons over the years, work with a contract. Once and a while, I will still be tempted with a soft spot for someone…don’t listen to that soft spot. Doesn’t matter if they are a friend, or a collegue, large, small, local or multi-national. Always have a contract it will in the end, protect you and your client from potentially nasty situations and misunderstandings.
  2. Make sure everything is outlined. I recently started using a projet planner based on common questions from first meetings, and I’ve found people really like it. It takes a lot of the guess work out of deliverables. Take some extra time to go over those items with your client if they have questions, and explain your late fees, kill fees, deliverables, copyright, and payment options. Outline them all. Its your responsibility to have all the odds and ends in writing and to make sure everyone understands what is on the table, and what they are going to get in the end.
  3. Be honest about your skill limitations. We’ve all been there, bitten off more than we can handle or chew, whether its out of pride or fear, or maybe you’re just feeling cocky that week. Don’t do the graceful swan dive into stupidity. Speaking from past experience, it really hurts when you hit the ground. If something is out of your area, or ability, point it out that you are not comfortable handling that item, and leave it out of the deliverables.
  4. Be upfront about how you like to work, and find out where they are coming from. Different industry backgrounds will have different ways of working. And this can sometimes create large blind spots in communication and expectations. Example: if you don’t work on-site, say so, lest you get a confusing message monday morning along the lines of “Why aren’t you in the office?”
  5. Finish things on time. If you don’t have hard deadlines, make some. If you see a rolling deadline, try and reel it in. Be realistic with your deadlines and timelines. If you promise a cake in 20 minutes and the box says bake for 60, It’ll be a pretty shitty cake.

As a client it is your responsibility to your freelancer to:

  1. Reply to inquiries in a timely manner. This does not mean, right away (mostly if right away is something like 11pm). But if you’ve hired a freelancer to do something for you, that freelancer is giving you their time, be respectful of that time. Disappearing for long periods of time, being busy but not informing your freelancer, and leaving people on the hook by not having solid ETAs for things is not respectful.
  2. Be vocal if you do not understand something. Ask questions, make an outline. Keep your expectations in check. If the outline says PSDs and you think you’re getting HTML you need to clear that up at the start.
  3. Pay freelancers in a reasonable amount of time. A reasonable amount of time is cutting a cheque in 30 calendar days or less, or sticking to what has been decided upon and outlined in your payment terms. This is still the single most frustrating thing I hear from freelancers new and old: clients that don’t pay on time. There are a lot of available secure payment options now, to be very late, is to be very rude.
  4. Be upfront about what is going on in a project. For example if something outlined is not going to happen, if you are not happy with a project, if you’ve run out of money, if your department has been shut down, or if you want out. There will be kill fees, but in the end its better for all parties to walk away from something in a timely manner, than to sit in limbo.
  5. Keep a professional facade when working. Creative industries are built around the idea of being friends. And some people do become quite good friends. But, when you’re working together, having some distance is the best thing, it gives you some perspective when working through hurdles.

Oh and a final note for both parties: Try not to internalize work issues. Its hard. We work in industries that tie the value of who we are into what we do. We all want projects to be successful, but defining where you end and work begins, even if its a soft line, will save you a lot of mental brew-ha in the long run.

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