Freelancing is by no means easy. You are given responsibility of your own future, your own earnings, to choose who and what you want to work for; but this responsibility comes with a whole set of unique challenges in itself.
You’re in charge of your own future, so if you make a mistake, you’re the only one to blame. You dictate your earnings, so it’s up to you to hunt down clients and make sure you’ve got a consistent cash flow. These are but a few of typical freelancer’s worries.
So how do we tackle these challenges?
Well, put your seat-belt on because we’re about to go through an entire list of useful Tips and Tricks for Freelancers.
Client Management, Invoicing & Communications
1. Be detail-oriented
When quoting your client, or explaining what the project will need to entail, always be as specific as possible. For example, if some coding needs to be done then what kind of coding needs to be done? For what pages?
You obviously won’t need to go as deep as explaining any PHP code you’re going to use or anything that only a coder would understand, but be specific enough keeping in mind the knowledge of your client.
Being specific will be a massive benefit to you if you were to get into an issue with regards to the work that needs to be done and will help in effective communication with your client.
After all, the client wants to feel a sense of authority when they’re getting you to complete their project, and a way of satisfying this is to give them detail.
2. Communicate regularly
It’s always bad practice to keep your client in the dark for too long within the duration of the project. Communicate milestones to the client as often as possible.
If you have to delay a project by a few days because of valid reasons, then simply tell them. They would much rather know that their project is going to be delayed than not. They will appreciate the sense of responsibility and communication in the end.
3. Try not to use email
Personally when communicating with clients, I use a different systems. It’s great because it comes with a support ticket system where your clients can contact you via a ticketing system which keeps track of message history. This way the client or yourself don’t have to go digging into your inbox for progress reports, or instructions, you’ll simply see it all there on the ticketing system.
4. Use a contract
This is an extremely important step when ensuring the security of the project and security of payment. Make sure the contract has space for details of the project, including arranged deadlines, etc. Also make sure you have a solicitor look at the contract to make sure everything is fine and dandy.
5. Take a down-payment
Again, this is another essential step to ensuring the security of your payments. Even though the client has signed a contract, it can still be pretty hard to get them to pay sometimes.
I usually take a 50% down-payment, but some people see this as too much. I would recommend in the region of 30-50% as a down-payment.
6. Have a client database
Keeping a record of all your client’s information such as contact numbers, email addresses and so on may be common sense, but it’s a necessity to keep a database of all your clients and potential clients information.
7. Have all briefs documented
It’s surprising how many people when working for a client online just work straight off the brief in email format. Keeping all your important brief information in your inbox isn’t a good idea when it comes to security of data. It’s best to simple copy and pastes all important information into various electronic documents. Again, should be pretty much common sense.
8. Professional Communication
When communicating with your client, whether that be via phone, email, or in person, make sure you maintain a professional facade (unless they’re a good friend of yours obviously). This should be reflected in all forms of communication.
It’s also useful to include a signature with necessary contact information including a URL to your online portfolio (if you have one) under every email you send out to your clients.
10. Don’t speak gibberish
When speaking to a client, don’t baffle them with ‘coding-lingo’ or jargon that they’re not going to understand. Keep it within bounds of common knowledge.
11. Use detailed invoices
When invoicing a client, make sure your invoices have all the necessary information on them, including a short section on the terms of work.
12. Beginning Work
Don’t begin work until the down-payment has been cleared. Make sure that you make it clear to the client that the down-payment is for the security of both client and freelancer. It enables them both to function in the knowledge that the project will be executed.
13. Reply in a timely manner
You don’t want to keep your client waiting for a response via email. I personally have worked with clients who are so obsessive them they hire a freelancer that they check the progress every 5 minutes.
If you can, get a phone which allows you to answer emails ‘on-the-go’ so you don’t have to keep your clients waiting. It may also be good practice to call your client instead.
14. Have a separate email address
Keep a separate email address for support issues when dealing with clients and a separate email address for initial contact of potential clients. This will just help you filter out emails from your clients, and give your communications a sense of structure.
Work Ethic and Structuring
15. Have set working hours
If you’re a freelancer working from home, then you’ll probably experience clients contacting you at late hours of the night, or maybe even during the early morning. To prevent your social life being affected by your freelancing work, you need to try and establish both as separate as possible.
Give your clients set hours in which they can contact you. If they decide to give you a phone call outside the hour, just make sure you have a voicemail setup – that’ll do the trick.
16. Have set working areas
It’s important as a freelancer to have a separate working area if you work at home. If you’re freelancing, you’re most likely going to be using a computer, try not to make it the ‘family computer’ that everyone uses as that could lead to other problems such as data security etc.
17. Project Timing
If you choose to work by the hour, this is going to have to be paramount in your working etiquette. You need to have a way of timing yourself so you can charge a multiple on the amount of hours you work.
One way to do this is (and you’ve heard about this a million times now in this eBook) is to use the FreshBooks, TimeDoctor, TimeManager or any other timing mechanism. Even if you don’t charge by the hour, you should still be timing yourself so you have an idea of how long it takes you to do certain tasks.
18. Rounding hours
Many freelancers charge by the whole hour. They don’t like working with decimals and it makes things slightly trickier. As a result, freelancers have a rounding rule that they work by. For example, some freelancers will count an hour complete once you’re 30 minutes into the hour. This means that if a project took 11 ½ hours in reality, they would charge for 12. That’s a fair rounding amount to work by.
19. Structured Work Times
This is one of the more difficult tasks for the freelancer. A freelancer needs to establish his/her working times; usually when they are more efficient. Personally, I’m a lot more efficient in the early mornings and late evenings.
I try to work at those times the most so I can get things done quicker and better. You could even try making yourself a timetable where you would schedule in work as it comes, but I tend to stay away from that initiative simply because it’s very time consuming and I usually don’t like following timetables!
20. Computer safety
Since most of our work is done via a computer, it’s also crucial to note that the safety of the data on your computer is an issue to consider. Invest in some good anti-virus software, preferably one with anti-malware and anti-spyware capabilities also. A single virus can wreak havoc on your data and cause corruptions in your files.
Make sure you keep a backup hard-drive that you store separately from your everyday computer. Store all your important files and folders on the hard-drive as well as having an accessible copy on your computer also. Make sure you backup frequently (best to do it every month) just to make sure you don’t lose any data. You don’t want that design that took you five hours to do to disappear in an instant now, do you?
You’re going to be sitting on that chair for multiple hours every day, make sure you invest in a comfortable chair which doesn’t pain your back sitting on. If sitting is not for you though, you could even try standing up and working – it works for some people.
23. Buy a whiteboard
It’s also a good idea to buy a whiteboard and stick it on a blank wall in your office. It’ll give you an excuse to get up from your chair, and is also great for those daily to-do lists and mind-mapping projects.
24. Inject some color
Your office should be your personal haven, after all, you’re going to be spending a good portion of your life there (yes, I know it sounds depressing). Therefore it would make sense to make your office as vibrant as you can take.
Maybe try spotting some plants around, or painting the odd wall. By surrounding yourself with more color, it’ll help you psychologically by making it easier for you to work there and be more creative in your office.
25. Be tidy
Make sure that your work area is as clean as possible. Put all papers where they belong, and only place what is needed on your desk to prevent clutter. It’s very hard for some to work in clutter, and having a tidy office will help you concentrate better on the task in hand.
Your keyboard should be a good distance away from you so that you’re not stretching and so that it’s not too close to you. Also keep your monitor at a good distance away.
Research shows that good positioning of your chair, monitor, and keyboard drastically affects your concentration levels whilst you work. Also, but positioning your monitor a little further from yourself, you’re doing a favour to your eyes who have to go with staring at a monitor for hours.