I’m a freelancer… at least for the moment.

I wasn’t a freelancer before tough. I’ve worked in high-tech companies with highly sophisticated products and services. I’ve worked in multi-national organizations. I’ve been (and still is) an entrepreneur with a brick-and-mortar retail store, a coffee shop and roaster, to be more specific. Freelancing is different than all of them.

Being a freelancer is a different kind of animal. In years I’ve come to learn how to tame that animal.

In this post, I’m going to share with you lessons I’ve learned as a freelancer.

Communicate Communicate Communicate

Here’s a story of a bad communication:

I had a rather unpleasant experience with one of my clients. It was a brilliant project, very exciting and pumped at the beginning. Both the client and I worked real hard. Everything was great all along the way. All cheers and smiles.

Until just one week after the launch, at an unexpected morning meeting, the client complained about how disappointed and dissatisfied they are with the result. They complained about me using WordPress, they complained how expensive my price was, they complained about how much what I’ve proposed and what I’ve provided at the end differ, and so on and on. Eventually, we decided to turn the website off, I refunded their money.

And I sat down and thought to myself: where was the mistake?

And by the way, before going any further, I want to underline two things:

First, I’m literally grateful for this experience. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve grown bigger at the end.

Secondly, even at that moment, I took 100% responsibility for what have happened. I didn’t try to fight back, I didn’t accuse the client of anything. It is hard to take responsibility, but that’s what it is. And it’s a trait that you have to nourish if you’re planning to be a freelancer. Take 100% responsibility.

So what was the problem?

It’s communication. I didn’t give a chance for open communication and feedback. I didn’t provide a clearly defined outline of what sort of deliverables I’ll be providing. I didn’t clarify what technologies I’ll be using, I didn’t explain time and effort required for each and every step in development.

And it all boils down to that one single important document called a contract.

A well-written contract

Having a strong, well-written, extremely detailed contract is the most important lesson to learn for every freelancer.

Big companies, small companies, all sorts of companies all work with contracts, why not you?

First of all, don’t forget that freelancers are actually contractors. It’s outrageous not to have a contract, while you’re operating as a contractor. Right?

So no matter how big or small the cases you work on, write a contract. And write it well. Detailed to the bone.

Your contract should include details about:

  • Project scope (what will you provide and what items are not included)
  • Payment schedule (when and how much will you be paid)
  • Any legal clarifications required (ownership, copyrights)

(Needless to say, with that particular client, I didn’t provide a contract)

Having a contract signed by both parties is the most important thing, but not the last.

Keep on communicating clearly with your client. Throughout the project, there’ll be dozens of questions you need to confirm and clarify. So don’t hesitate to send an email or make a phone call. Yet don’t be a disturbance either. You need to find a balance. No matter what, it’s always better to point to a problem earlier as possible than try to fix it after all gone.

Personally, communication is a challenge for me. I’m a foreigner working with Taiwanese clients mostly. Although I’m quite fluent with speaking in Chinese, I’ve noticed in years, that most of my clients prefer to contact my teammates or my partner. In my opinion, this is a very good proof of how important communication is. Everyone prefers a clear, comfortable communication.

I know, it’s intimidating to write a contract. But actually, you just need to do it once. And then upgrade it when necessary (i.e. when you come across with a different kind of trouble, take your time to put a clause in that specific situation), modify it according to different clients and so on.

To get you started, I’ve compiled some resources for you.

Please take your time and prepare your contract. You’ll thank yourself later.

Want to improve your contracts?

Here are a couple of links you might like:

AIGA Standard Form of Agreement for Design Services

Resources for Freelancers

Welcome to your Independence – The Freelance Handbook by AND CO