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

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.

Building Better Clients: 3 ways to make your expectations known

Making my expectations known? Most freelancers tend to think that as hired guns, it’s not our job to set expectations. Instead, we work within their expectations. We’ll be code complete by a certain date. We’re going to be developing X, Y and Z features. We’ll throw in a month of maintenance, free of charge.

But like any contract, it takes two. In order for you to fulfill your end of the deal, your clients need to do more than sit back and dream of glory and riches.

I’ve worked on probably three dozen or so projects. It’s hard as hell to play hardball with clients, especially when your rent payment depends on that next invoice being paid. For me, I always felt that because someone was paying me – yes, me! – money, I was obliged to be their temporary slave. They ask me to jump, I ask them how high.

I’m a soft spoken, fear-of-confrontation kind of guy. There’s nothing that makes me reach for the Advil bottle more than the “I have some concerns. Call me.” emails I’ve received in the past. I’m also big on trying to reverse engineer people’s psyches, so I spent some time recently trying to figure out why this kept happening. And then it clicked.

It’s not about me!

A lot of client concerns usually stem from fear. Is this thing going to work? Am I blowing my savings? Wah-wah-wah-wah-wah. And when things aren’t looking up, they love bitching at their development team.

Doing client work is a lot like dating. It’s so great when all is good. And the second anyone starts doubting or fearing, you’re kicked to the couch.

“Pay your bills”

99% of client problems have to do with money. Your contracts with clients are bi-directional: The value they receive is the work you produce for them. The value you receive is cash. The moment this contract is violated, the offended party needs to take action.

If I’m not paid on time, I stop work. Immediately. Need a quick fix? Pay your bill, then we’ll talk. I also made sure my agreement states that I OWN ALL THE WORK UNTIL I’M PAID. If an invoice isn’t paid, revert their website to what it looked like before the invoice-in-question. Being able to tag invoice dates in git is awesome.

I give people one shot. If they are delinquent, I demand prepay for all future work. It makes sense – they can’t be trusted to pay on time any longer.

Oh yeah, and get a retainer before you start any new project.

“Be available when I need you”

Part of my job is to make sure I’m able to deliver things on time. Sometimes, I’m held back by a lack of information or because I need account information for an external API. But I can also be held back by long feedback loops. If your client isn’t available to verify and vet the work you deliver ASAP, then if and when there are changes, it’s going to take longer to backtrack and make any adjustments.

When your client takes too long to get back to you, your timeline (and budget) suffers. This kindles the flame for an eventual end-of-project explosion of anger, even though you’re not to blame.

I’m so stuck up on making sure my team and I aren’t set back that we built into Planscope, our project management app, a feature that will yell and scream every day until the deliverables you need tested or the information you need is complete.

“I can’t read your mind”

I often think that clients think I’m able to perform a Vulcan mind-meld and know exactly what they want and need. And this is another pain point, as oftentimes my understanding of a feature and a client’s understanding can be radically different.

Everyone screams Agile, but most clients still operate in a fixed bid mentality. And quite frankly, I get it. I don’t want my car salesman to be “agile”. I want to know exactly how much I’m going to pay because these things called budgets exist.

I’ve started emphasizing from the outset that I will be as flexible and accommodating as possible, but that adding stuff costs extra money (this should be common sense). I also let them know that I’m probably not seeing eye-to-eye with them about what they need built.

I once had a client who wanted users to be able to join groups. Fair enough, we’ll put a ‘Join Group’ or ‘Leave Group’ link on the group pages. While developing the feature, apparently he wanted it to work like LinkedIn groups – some groups are invite-only, some require a moderator to accept or reject pending memberships, and so on. Wow, talk about wanting a Lexus for the price of a Toyota!

This is one reason I don’t do fixed bids. Clients will always want the most elaborate features when the price is constant. Alternatively, I could have probably put together a very detailed software requirements spec in the estimation process, but I’d lose hundreds of hours (and thousands of dollars) doing that.

When estimating, ballpark everything. There’s no way you know exactly what your future client is thinking, and let her know that you’ve been bit in the past with the “Toyota vs. Lexus” problem. You understand their budget constraints, but put them in the driver’s seat. It’s up to them to prioritize accordingly and build the right features. And you have no problem estimating granular features, but you aren’t going to estimate “Message Board”.

You can also put together a detailed spec, wireframes, and so on, which will allow you to get a better understanding of what they need and maybe even a better estimate. The resulting material is extremely valuable for the client, so be sure to charge them for it. Don’t waste too much time estimating into oblivion!

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