A Freelancers Guide To Identifying The Right Projects And Clients!
One of the greatest barriers to progressing your business when starting out as a freelancer is identifying the services you offer and the types of client that you wish to work with. There are lots of different types of clients out there, all demanding a variety of different work, each with their own individual agenda.
It’s far too common, as a web design freelancer myself, to hear stories from past freelancers who said things didn’t work out for a number of reasons, for example, they might have took on one of these roles:
The Modern Slave
“I ended up working for free most of the time, my clients were not very flexible or understanding of the nature of the work and expected me to do lots of additional work at no extra cost.”
Why is this bad? Well, your income per hour suffers drastically, you end up chasing lots of loose ends with little reward and ultimately burn yourself out.
“I wasn’t known, so I offered my services for free but found it hard to secure a paid contract.”
Sometimes when starting out, amateur professionally trained freelancers offer their services for free to local businesses or organisations in order to get their name on the map. My motto in life has always been ‘start as you mean to go on‘. If you work for nothing; why expect a client to pay you when their friend referred them and you did theirs for free? Don’t undervalue your time, stick it out and value your quality of work and soon you will attract the right clients.
“I’ve been trading for one month. I’m a freelance web designer, developer and web host, but I’m starting my own branding and graphic design agency. I’m also in the process of setting up a themestore for Shopify, design business cards and do tweaks to existing websites. I’m going to be the top of google and get lots of business, so I can afford to keep my prices down. I need to turn around sites fast to make a quick dollar; so quality is not essential to me.”
It’s easy to get ahead of yourself and to take on too much too fast. Remember that you are only one man (or woman), and there’s only so much you can do on your own. The steadier you start out and slowly build upon your solid foundations- the more grounded and likely you are to succeed in the competitive industry. It’s important not to get lost in the world of branding yourself or your job title, don’t get me wrong, it’s good to follow a set path, but, trying to specialise too soon means you’re cutting out the largest portion of the market, instantly placing yourself in competition with the big guns and potentially missing out on the most important learning curve there is – starting small. Don’t forget too, this is a great opportunity to build your portfolio, gain first hand business experience dealing with real clients and to try new things.
“I can do branding, graphic design, web design, marketing, SEO, social media, blog content, promotional videos, advertisement, hosting, iPhone apps, print, email newsletters, content management, site maintenance, tweaks to existing sites and much more!”
If you haven’t clearly defined your stance and offerings in the marketplace; you can be sure to not attract much of the custom you’d initially hope for. If you want to build your web design portfolio and become a full time web designer/freelancer… My best advice is to avoid advertising graphic design, web hosting or any other crazy multimedia service you can think of in the initial stages. Start small, with a niche and secure clients who are in demand of the services you enjoy doing and plan to focus on for the rest of your career. Otherwise, you’ll soon find your portfolio reflects a different job title than you claim to possess and your growing client base will be requesting the services you least wish to promote – they’re more additional bonuses!
“There’s so much I need to do to get started, I’m going to stay working in my current job until I have enough clients to comfortably make the transition to freelancing. I need to set up all my hosting companies, blogs, and marketing before I can take on clients who are asking me to work.”
A large flightless fast-running Australian bird (Dromaius novaehollandiae) resembling the ostrich, with shaggy grey or brown plumage.
Occasionally, we can get our heads buried in the sand and lose focus on what really matters. I hope I’m right in assuming you entered this market to make money from doing something you’re passionate about and love. If that’s the case, there’s no need to bury yourself with unnecessary pressures and hurdles when beginning. Instead, take on a few small clients, and have real projects to publish in your portfolio. Prospective clients will appreciate this much more than your blog about LOL cats.
“Although I’ve honed my web design and/or development skills for many years now, I’m new to the freelancing-business marketplace. That means I need to build cheap sites for small companies and try to make a profit out of such little margins.”
Wrong. Don’t be fooled into believing you have a low worth. If you’ve trained and nurtured your talent; you possess skills that are very much in demand in today’s technological economy. The digital world is churning a lot of the world’s spending nowadays. Also, remember that a small budget means less time in the build. Consider your portfolio too – do you want to advertise quickly done websites at low value? Or fairly priced ones at great value and a noticeable return on investment?
That is just a short list of some of the issues I’ve heard relatively new freelancers complain about. The majority, if not already, would soon be contributing to the demise of your business as a freelancer. Any skilled tradesman will tell you to do a job good first time round, in the knowledge that you won’t have to keep revisiting it in the future. So, start as you mean to go on, whilst also appreciating that you have time to get your roots a’ rooted. There’s no immediate rush.
Identifying Your Clients
The next barrier you might encounter when starting out is how to identify good and bad clients, and how that might impact your business.
It’s all part of the learning curve, so I don’t feel it is within my rights to tell you who to work with or not. Instead, I will highlight a few stereotypes that I have bumped into in my time. Possessing this knowledge has helped me to avoid some tricky situations as well as identify some great clients who I should definitely work with.
These clients cost you money:
This client doesn’t really know what they want or how they want to achieve it. Although they’ve hired you as a professional, they don’t fully trust your judgement and want full-reigns of the design and development. Instructions are hazy and decision making is slow. Progression is very slow and a lot of your time is wasted.
This individual believes they are offering you the best helping hand in the world. At face value, we see somebody who sounds like they want to assist us in becoming multimillionaires. As good as all this might sound, take a moment to question why they haven’t done this on their own and why they need you. Chances are they’ll be profiting from your skill-set. Let them know you’d prefer to work alone.
This client could appear cooperative at first, but once the all-singing-and-dancing front wears off; this client will quickly sap the life out of you. They will hold you accountable, expect you to work for free, and be very strict with their financial offerings in return for all your hard work. Overall you won’t be very appreciated and they’ll not quite give you the pat on the back you deserve.
The Exhaustive Subcontractor
It’s great to be able to sub-contract work in an ever growing industry which has more interesting and complex demands year on year. Sometimes though, business-minds can take over and it’s very easy for someone to use you as a dead-end code monkey just churning out designs and websites for their clients. At times like this, they’ll be making a whole lot of money just for providing email support whilst you do all the dirty work. You left your job at an agency for a reason.
Unlike the circus master, this client seems to know what they want- a little too well perhaps. Despite your best efforts you won’t be able to please them, unless you possess the psychic ability to see into their mind!
This client doesn’t seem to appreciate your role as a freelancer and innate need to fulfil a rock and roll lifestyle. In turn, cash as a currency is out the window with this one. Instead, you build them a website and they pay you out of the profits it makes, or, you do the work and they provide you with a service of their own in return. The former is something to avoid, whilst the latter could be of benefit to you depending on the service.
This client might claim to work in the industry themselves. They might try to tell you that you are overpriced and haggle you down. You shouldn’t back down so easily, as only you can determine the value of your work and your time.
These clients fund your rock n’ roll lifestyle:
Despite your initial uncertainty about your ability, this client believes you are more than capable and is willing to invest the time and money to have you bring their vision to life.
Somebody who loves all things creative but doesn’t necessarily possess the required skills to produce their imagination in the digital world are great clients to cooperate with. They appreciate the creative process cannot be rushed, and quality takes time.
A client that generally lets you handle the project on their behalf is a good way to give them some return on their investment. In return for their cash you’re taking the headache away from them. Although they let you get on with it, they still show an interest and have an active input when it’s needed.
Image is everything to clients that take their company brand seriously. These guys demand quality work and appreciate that time and money must be spent. Whilst not taking advantage, these clients are great to develop long term relationships with. They may be big spenders and although they have high expectations, they certainly won’t be taking you for a financial ride.
A client willing to take a back seat and trust in your creative juices is a very refreshing position to find yourself in. Providing they don’t evolve into ‘The Amended‘ it should be a pleasant experience.
Regardless of technical knowledge, any client wishing to put the time in with you to help you better understand their business, products or service is a good client to work with. The more you know, the better the final output will be.
I hope, by sharing this quick summary of some of the early barriers and experiences you might encounter on your journey when starting out as a freelance web designer, it will come in handy at some point. Learning to spot patterns has helped me to be sure I only work with cool clients (99% of the time anyway).
Don’t take this too literally and try to analyse every single client you are potentially going into business with. Remember that this is very much your own personal learning journey – so you’re entitled to make mistakes along the way. The more first hand experience you have dealing with clients face to face the easier you’ll be able to identify good and bad clients. You’ll also quickly develop a keen eye for spotting projects that are of interest to you, whilst avoiding the ones that will give you a headache!
Have I missed a stereotype? Let me know in the comments section below!