I did my first freelance gig back when I was 14. It was an online gig which I got through Fiverr. Fast forward 8 years later I got into freelancing for good. Mostly I got clients through word of mouth since most people around me knew that I was into design & website related ‘stuff’.
Anyhow, since I also looked at how companies functioned & how employees were working inside such circumstances. I quickly realised two things:
- A typical 9-5 job was not my cup of tea & I could never see myself doing that. I would go crazy.
- Freelancing is not as easy as it looks.
Here’s a short story of the very first ‘real’ freelance gig I did. My ex girlfriend worked at a company & they needed a website. She referred me, we setup a meeting at their office & the project begun. Overall the project went well but for some reason they did not pay 10% of the due amount. Even after repeated reminders, they always told me that they’ll pay soon but they didn’t. Although it was a very insignificant amount but again, it’s not about the amount. It’s about the fact that they agreed to pay for a service, received the service & then kept leading me on for the payment. (By the way, the same company contacted me 2 years later to fix a bug on the very same website, of-course I said no.)
So that was my first freelance experience where I physically met the client & delivered the project.
Anyhow, that’s just one story & there are my more.
Here are some short pros & cons from my experience. I’ll get into these in depth some other day! If you are planning to start freelancing, take note & make sure you safeguard yourself. A lot of these cons can be avoided if you prepare for it beforehand. I was new to this, hence I had to learn the hard way.
I am starting with the cons first since they outweigh the pros. Atleast in my opinion.
- Lot of energy spent on collecting payments/reminding clients to pay.
- Scope creep, revisions are like candy for them.
- Asking for a clear brief & content, engaging with their team.
- Client won’t stick to their own timeline, but will expect you to stick to yours.
- Meetings, Meetings & Meetings.
- You are not your own boss.
- You are the CFO, COO & CEO.
- Personal Space.
- Prepare contracts carefully or else get prepared to be exploited.
- Get to work with different people & understand different businesses.
- Evolve and learn since the needs keep changing.
- Word of mouth works well.
- Make your own schedule, location independence
Lot of energy spent on collecting payments, reminding them to pay.
Eventually, as more and more work came in. I realised that I had to always chase the client for clearing their dues. Be it the advance to kick off the project, or the final payment once the work was done. Some of them literally ignored the payments and expected me to continue working. Initially, I used to always be nice to them & give them ample amount of time, sometimes even months. But I realised how stupid that was. So be prepared to be the bad guy. Learn to ask for money, no one’s going to come and pay their dues. You have to keep on reminding them & letting them know that this isn’t a free service.
Learning : Have a payment system in place. Give your client a heads up about their dues or upcoming payments. Learn to talk about money, don’t shy away from it. And NEVER start a project without receiving the advance.
Asking for a clear brief & content, engaging with their team.
Since I’ve mostly done web design projects, I quickly realised that sometimes the brand that I ended up working with was not prepared themselves. For them, it was like throwing money at a problem. Whenever I asked them for content, suggestions or a clear brief it ended up in delaying the project. There was a clear lack of initiative from their end. Sometimes I did not receive a reply from their team for MONTHS. Leading to the project being delayed by two, three & sometimes even 6 months. And then randomly they would come back with an apology. “Hey, so sorry we were caught up with a lot of work”. If you were not prepared to start the project, why did you contact me? Anyhow, sometimes the founders just threw in random team members at me. Expecting them to fulfil all needs I had. Of-course they couldn’t. Since every step needed top management approval & again, it ended up delaying the project.
Learning : Be prepared to face massive delays, clients disappearing etc. Make sure to be very clear about your requirements from the very beginning.
Scope creep, revisions are like candy for them.
Can I have another one? It’s like candy for them. Can you try the color pink? Can you make the logo bigger? “Can you show me a different design?” “Let’s scrap the initial idea, I was something else in mind”
These are going to fairly common. In most cases, whatever you had signed up for – you’ll end up doing much more.
Learning :I’ll be honest, I haven’t understood this issue clearly myself. As if it’s inevitable. Learn to say NO. That’s all I can say.
Meetings, Meetings & Meetings.
90% meetings are unnecessary. Period. But you’ll still have to go through them, unless you make your policy or rules known before hand. I can’t tell you how many meetings could have been simple emails. I am taking long phone calls & virtual meetings in account too. Some clients tend to depend too much on you, beyond what you had signed up for.
Learning: Start maintaining your boundaries from the very beginning. Let your client depend on you ONLY for what you had signed up for. Nothing more. It’s fairly common to get stuck in the cycle of unnecessary meetings. Try & make a policy or a way to schedule meetings first with an agenda. This way you convert many meetings into emails or short phone calls.
Client won’t stick to their own timeline, but will expect you to stick to yours.
This one is pretty self explanatory. Due to whatever reasons, a lot of times the client won’t stick to their end of the bargain but then suddenly expect you to stick to yours. Don’t. If they’ve extended the timeline & caused delays, you also have the right to take your own time & schedule their tasks accordingly. A lot of times clients have disappeared on me & then one random day, they’re back & want to start working again?
Learning: Expect long delays, client disappearing & then having unrealistic expectations. Initially I used to just ignore this & continue with my work. But, again please value your time. Make them wait & schedule it accordingly.
You are not your own boss.
It might seem like that from the outset but at the end of the day, you’re answerable directly to the client. Yes there are some benefits too & I’ll get to them later. But understand this, your client will have a million questions for you & you have to answer them. Even if they are unnecessary. You’ll have to meet deadlines which might seem unrealistic, but again if your client requests. A lot of times you’ll have to budge.
Learning: Prepare a system where all your clients are answered & feel that they are given adequate time. Schedule emails, messages etc so that they stay in loop.
You are the CFO, COO & CEO.
Guess what? You’re not the boss but you’ll have to do everything the boss has to do. You are the finance department, you issue the invoices & maintain billing cycles. You are the chief communication head, the client relationship manager etc. It’s your responsibility to make sure that meetings are scheduled on time & all clients are being catered to. It’s your job to interact with new leads & convert them. Not to mention, you’re the operations department too since crafting the actual “deliverable” is also your job.
Learning: Run your freelance business like a real company. Divide tasks into functions like Finance, Client Relationships, Marketing, Customer Acquisition etc. This way you’ll be able to keep track of all that needs to be done.
It’s fairly common to get phone calls at 9pm or even at 7am from your clients. They won’t understand your personal space if you don’t build boundaries from the very beginning. One of my early mistakes was to actually answer these calls at odd hours & help my clients. I hate letting people down, so my natural instinct was to answer every call I get & help them virtually whenever they want. Bad move, but at that time It felt like I was doing the right thing.
Learning: Let clients know when & where to contact you, the specific hours & mode of communication you prefer. Make these details very prominent. I added “business hours” in my email signature as a reminder & also informed my clients that I am not available on weekends etc.
Prepare contracts carefully or else get prepared to be exploited.
Lay out your terms & conditions very clearly. How much advance do you want? What does the timeline look like? What are the deliverables? What happens when the client disappears? What happens when you need to buy stock imagery or a typography kit? What happens in case of project cancellation? Write everything down very clearly & convey the terms along with your project proposal before accepting the payment. In case of service where the client is highly dependant on you & would require a lot of your time like managing an e-commerce store, create separate support packages & let the client choose what they want.
Get to work with different people & understand different businesses.
With the help of freelancing, I was able to meet many new people & also understand different businesses. I found that to be one of the biggest pros, since I got insight into different sectors. I could see how different businesses work from the inside, what are the challenges that they’re facing & what are pros & cons of getting into those sectors.
Evolve and learn since the needs keep changing.
One thing is for sure, if you’re freelancing – you’ll have to update your skills with time. The needs keep changing, new projects popup & you will find yourself learning new things at a fairly decent pace. I started off with basic landing pages & ended up developing e-commerce stores, learning more about branding, marketing, photography, videography & a lot more. And even inside each new project there are various challenges that push you to learn more.
Word of mouth works well.
Once the word of mouth kicks in, it works pretty well. I haven’t spent a single penny of marketing myself or my brand yet. And still, I keep on getting new leads every now and then. Infact I would say that I only took about 20% of the projects I had been offered.
Make your own schedule, location independence.
Even though you’re not your own boss, but you get to make your own schedule. Also, you can work from virtually anywhere as long as you have an internet connection & a laptop.
Know when to say yes & when to say no. Don’t mix someone else’s priority with your own. Also, please note that I am not trying to scare you. I am not asking you to stay away from freelancing. I am just writing down my experience. Most of these cons are a result of the nature of my service & the fact that I had not setup boundaries initially. Freelancing has also been a great journey for me & it can be a great business if managed properly.