Articles And Guides On Freelancing

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Brennan Dunn

Start A Freelancing Business

Just starting out or thinking about it? Here you'll learn how to adopt the right mindset to run your business and get your first few clients.

Branding and Positioning

The way you position and present yourself to your clients can make or break your chances with a prospect. Learn how to do position yourself the right way.

Marketing Your Business

Clients are the bedrock of any freelancing business. Learn how to reliably generate high-quality project leads.

Pricing Your Services

How you price and pitch yourself affects the quality of your clients and your income. Learn how to charge more and close more projects.

Writing Proposals That Win You Projects

Writing (and winning) proposals is critical to closing deals. There's no point in having lots of project leads if you don't know how to close them.

Project Management For Freelancers

Once you've sold a client on working with you, learn how to ensure that you consistently deliver great results.

Running Your Freelancing Business

All the advice and tools you need to run a profitable and sustainable freelancing business.

Work/Life Balance For Freelancers

You CAN freelance without sacrificing your sanity. Learn how to balance your life and your work.

Productizing Your Services

What if you could sell your services the same way you'd sell a product? Learn how to level-up your freelancing with productized consulting.


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Top Recently Published Articles & Guides

How To Convince Your Clients To Pay You Hourly

If there’s one thing I’ve ever regretted while freelancing, it’s having been suckered into fixed bids – or to put it plainly: projects where the client has a vague idea of what they want built, and wants you to read their mind and tell them exactly how long and how much it will cost.

Of course, it’s never clearly spelled out like that when contract negotiations are happening. You pretend you know exactly what your new client means by “messaging feature”, and your client thinks they have any clue how that feature will work. After all, you want to win the contract and for the client to sign on the dotted line.

But then things get real, and that messaging feature turns into a can of worms you could never expect. And because you’re on the hook for building that feature at a fixed cost, your client’s going to reshape that feature until it satisfies whatever is floating around in their head at that minute. The more hours you work, the less profitable that feature is.

I’ve heard a lot of excuses about why flat project fees are superior. They include:

  • It’s hard for clients to appreciate the value they’re receiving for your hourly fee.
  • It’s hard to justify raising your rates.
  • You don’t need to track your time anymore!

The underlying idea in those excuses are that your clients don’t respect you as a professional, and you don’t respect yourself. The first is countered by simply communicating with your client what you’re getting done. The second’s the easiest: Supply and demand. Your time (the supply) is limited; if more people want to work with you, you raise your rates. Last, if you’re not tracking your time, even if you’re working with a flat fee, you’re not being accountable to yourself and your client.

How I get my clients to pay hourly

Would you ever walk into a custom furniture store, ask the price of a custom made bed, and put up with “Hmm… Well, we’ll see how long it takes. I’m not sure. But we’re going to charge $100 an hour and we’ll send you an invoice when it’s done.”

Clients, like the rest of us, budget their money, and it’s important to respect that. When you charge hourly, you run the risk of going over – or under – project budget (usually over, because scope always gets added.) It’s your job to get into your client’s head as much as possible, and to attempt to comprehend exactly what they need built. Assumptions are fatal. Don’t ever assume that you know what the “messaging feature” is!

Before I give you the stump speech on winning an hourly contract, here are a few concepts you must master:

  • A few posts ago I discussed a few ways to create better estimates. The last takeaway is most important: For any decently sized project (read: over a week of full time work), charge for an estimate. You’re a midwife of other people’s ideas. You take vague concepts that are floating around your clients’ head and bring them to life. This will create a strong list of deliverables, and will also be granular enough that you should be able to put together a decent time estimate.
  • Split the estimate into must-haves and want-to-haves. Prioritize accordingly. This will ensure that everything that needs to be in place will be there before the budget burns out.
  • Commit to staying in constant communication. Sure, Planscope helps this happen, but good ol’ fashioned email works just as well. You need to ensure that value is being constantly correlated to the amount of time you work.
  • Explain to your client that dreaming up a project is like gazing into a crystal ball. The reality is as the project evolves, scope will inevitably expand or contract around certain features, and because you’re charging hourly and burning budget, you’ll be able to steer quickly towards what the business needs dictate.

Finally, when you get pushback when explaining your hourly rate, here’s your line: “I understand your concerns. I do. But I’ve worked on a lot of projects, and can tell you with certainty that what you’re wanting built will change over time. An hourly rate will keep me from pushing back each time you ask for a small change or to go towards a new direction – which believe me, you will. I want to see your product succeed, and you need to trust me to make that happen, because otherwise this will be built based on what you want today, instead of what you need tomorrow.” And then list off some of the concepts above: You’ll constantly clue in your client about what you’re working on and what it’s costing, and serve as a consultant, helping them deliver the best product for their buck.

I still don’t win them all, but my success rate has gone up substantially since I started focusing on why hourly is better for them, and not just me. And I no longer have had to lose money for time I’ve worked, which is just plain stupid.

6 Tips To Help You Create Better Estimates

Estimating is hard, risky, and usually imprecise. But it’s something developers and designers need to produce before winning a contract. I’ve probably sent out about 200 estimates in my career, and have closed at least half of them.

Regardless of whether you bill hourly or flat bid your projects, every client is going to have a number in mind and a project budget set aside. If scope is added to your project or things change course, they’re still going to keep that number in mind – trust me. So it’s important for you to arm yourself with a reliable estimate, and cover your bases in the event that things don’t end up as peachy as you imagined.

Here are 6 things that I’ve learned over the last few years that have helped me mitigate my risk (no one should ever lose money on something they were hired to do!), and have assisted me in producing happy clients who come back for more.

Double your initial guess

Most of us are optimists. We like imagining the future in ideal days: the sky is clear, birds are chirping, our code works just as we intended, and there are no distractions. Yeah right!

I’d always rather come in under budget than over, and the best way to do that is to estimate according to the Laws of Nature: the time we spend writing code or designing is not linear to our progress.

Hindsight is 20/20

I rarely come across anyone who does post-mortems on their projects, and assesses whether they were too liberal or conservative in their estimates. If you don’t do this, you really need to start. What I like to do (and what Planscope does for me) is to compare the time estimated with the time actually worked, and develop a ratio of assumption : reality. Overtime, I can start allowing this to influence my estimating, so that the deviation between the estimate and the time actually logged is negligible.

Don’t eat more than you can chew

The bigger the project, the harder it is to estimate accurately. This is why I prefer dividing projects into digestable milestones, with each milestone containing a set amount of tasks.

Imagine if you were going to walk from San Francisco to New York. If I asked you where you’d be after a month, you’d probably reluctantly point to someplace in the Midwest. Now if I asked where you might be in three days, the room for error is going to be significantly less. We should do the same with our projects, and encourage our clients to not dwell of big ideas, but instead, realistic, small milestones.

Identify what’s subjective

Whenever there’s a design component of what you’re doing, remember that design is subjective. The gulf between “Implement a reset password feature” and “Design the landing page” is huge. The first is pretty straight forward, and leaves little room for interpretation. The latter, on the other hand, is only complete when the client thinks it’s complete.

If you are going to work on a fixed bid basis for development, if you’re asked to do anything subjective – like designing a landing page – ask to bill that hourly, and explain why. Each hour you spend revising means lower profit, and your client might think they have the right to constantly revise until they’re 100% satisfied.

Never assume anything

I worked on a project a year ago that wanted users to be able to join user-created groups. Simple enough, I thought. Immediately I started thinking about join tables and the technicals of what happens when clicking “Join Group” or “Leave Group”. But what I missed was that my client really wanted a feature that included moderation, group owners being able to send out invitations, and so on.

I sold the feature based on my naive assumptions, and paid for the consequences later. Never assume you know exactly what your client wants unless you actually do.

Don’t offer free estimates

When you think about the product of your work, you’re likely to think about the obvious: the code or designs that you produce for your clients. Most estimates (unless you’re handed a spec sheet and wireframes) are the product of leveraging your expertise as a consultant to convert some wishy-washy idea of what your client wants into clear deliverables. And this is valuable.

I let my clients know that they’re more than welcome to take my estimate (or “roadmap”, as I like to call it) to any developer they want. But I’m not going to invest hours and energy into delivering value with no guarantee that I’ll be reimbursed.

5 Time Management Tips for Freelancers

Most of us quit our jobs and become freelancers because of the allure of being free. Historically, a freelancer was sort of a medieval mercenary. In a time of serfdom and allegiance for life, they were free of any master.

Modern mercenaries who slay code or battle the dragons of design often switch one master (their former boss) with many (their clients). Unless we’re careful, it’s too easy to give up newfound freedom in exchange for many masters, and the biggest culprit is usually an inability to manage time.

Here are a few steps that can help you put the free back in freelancer.

Limit information intake

Information comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s frivolous – like browsing Hacker News or Reddit. Sometimes it can appear important, taking the form of a conference call or meeting. The fact is, it’s almost impossible to multitask. I often tell my clients, especially when there’s something they need as soon as possible, that I can’t work if I’m on the phone talking about what needs to get done. Information isn’t necessarily bad, but going on a diet is a great idea. When you’re trying to work and produce focus on doing just that.

Eliminate distractions

Email, Skype, Twitter, IM. All of these are productivity killers and cause you to lose time and focus. Try to limit checking email to once or twice a day (morning and evening). This will also encourage your clients to realize that not everything in life is urgent and worthy of an immediate response. Our civilization somehow managed to survive before the advent of cell phones and email-everywhere, and it still can.

Work in short bursts

The Pomodoro technique is what I use to work, blog, or even research. The idea is simple: Work 25 minutes at a time (and do nothing but work), and then break for 5 minutes. Stretch, brew some tea, or look out the window for these five minutes, but don’t think about your work. This allows us to detach ourselves from our work, and to turn on or off our working minds at our own leisure.

Practice saying “No”

We all want to please people, but we shouldn’t sacrifice our own happiness to do that. Usually things that need to be done right away can wait a bit. I respect firms like Pivotal Labs because they have a very strict 9am to 6pm office hours policy, and refuse to do anything outside of those hours. Too many freelancers and consultants carve into their scheduled free time, sacrificing their time with friends and family, to satisfy. Trust me, people respect those of us who don’t respond with “how high?” when asked to jump.

Treat freelancing as a job

This probably sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. I’ve been doing client work for years and have been through a lot of great times and a lot of rough spells. My family life has suffered at times because I had a really hard time of “leaving” work. I worked from home, my laptop was my toolbox, and it was with me everywhere. I was my work. Setup office hours with your clients, confidentally explain the way you work and why, and stick with it.

The only way to achieve freedom as a freelancer is to establish a system and to educate your clients on how it works. Otherwise, your clients will continue to influence you with how they want to work. Remember this: Time is like money. If you don’t earmark and manage it like you would your budget, it will disappear.

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