What an experienced freelancer will try to avoid with clients

I started with self-employment in 2010. You could say that I am an experienced freelancer from this and also running the Freelance Jungle. There’s not many stories or situations I haven’t come across in my time.

Any experienced freelancer will keep a record of the opportunities we pass on.  I keep a file of people that ask about my freelance services. I check where they land in a year or two later. I do this because I want to make sure the ones I pass on aren’t due to my hubris. I also use it as a sign of burn out or general frustration I may be ignoring. It helps keep me honest.

I learned this trick when I worked in product management and at marketing agencies when delivering campaigns. It’s a way of ensuring you’re not becoming blind to possibility by swimming too much in your own pond.

Nobody is perfect and sometimes, I do get it wrong. That is part of the learning within the process. However, I have a great strike rate with avoiding lemons, too.

Here’s some 6 things an experienced freelancer will avoid  that are early signs of client trouble

There’s no budget to speak of

No one understands the challenges of working on a shoestring budget quite like an experienced freelancer. However, that doesn’t mean we owe a small business or startup free labour. When you come to a freelancer without any budget behind you, there’s not a lot an experienced freelancer can do for you.

We’re in business. This is our livelihood. Even the most experienced freelancer cannot afford to subsidise your projects with free work.

A lack of budget in hope of payment later is fool’s gold. It’s also a litmus test about how serious you are about your business.

You see, if you realise marketing, copywriting and strategy are needed for your business but you can’t find the budget for them, you’re sending mixed signals. If it’s needed, you’ll find a way to pay for it. Don’t expect a freelancer to work on spec or defer payment.

Show that your business is sustainable by coming to the table with cash. It’s the professional way to conduct business.

PRO TIP: Having no budget and asking for freebies are red flags. It usually says that you’re not willing to back your idea financially. It also sends the signal that you don’t understand the reality of failure. It might even point to too much dreaming and not enough practical thinking. If you don’t respect your business enough to back it financially, why should we? An experienced freelancer will want to talk budget. Make sure you have one.

Grabbing feedback from everywhere

Nothing burns through time, budget and your ability to launch ideas than having too many opinions. Design by committee is issue enough. But if you’re dancing around the maypole asking everyone you can find what they think of your business, it’s downright dangerous.

First, it demonstrates a sincere lack of confidence in your business or startup. If you’re fishing for feedback anywhere you can find it, it’s often approval you’re seeking. Your idea needs a solid enough foundation to it that chasing validation isn’t a part of the equation.

Grasping at feedback from all corners usually means you lack focus as well. Clients that lack focus are too much work for an experienced freelancer. When you can’t focus, it means fractured ideas, too much communication and time wastage.

Feedback should be limited to your target market. It should come from people within your business that understand the product offering and the business you’re in. It should come from someone that has the skills to enhance your business.

PRO TIP: Know your idea well enough that you don’t need assurance and validation. Be brave enough to listen and then discard unqualified feedback, criticism and opinion. Centralise your point of contact and actively seek to hone in on ideas to make the most of your time with an experienced freelancer instead. If you don’t have a plan, hire a freelancer that can do it for you. 

You mistake freelancer for employee

When I say this, I don’t just mean the ramifications related to hiring and contracting freelancers. I mean confusing the kind of priority you think an experienced freelancer should be giving to attending to your business.

Freelancing means you get great at managing multiple clients and projects. You can only do this if your clients understand how the business to contractor relationship works.

Engaging an experienced freelancer doesn’t mean you get to monopolise their phone, email inbox and timetable. If you are gaining assistance for a project or a set number of hours per day, recognise the limitations.

If you have someone on salary, you can ask them to work back. You can throw an emergency at them. You can do this because you recognise time in lieu and you pay them benefits such as a regular salary, benefits, taxation, super and so on.

With freelancers, you’re paying for their time and/or for the completion of a project. Ultimately, no matter what model you choose, it’s the work product you are paying for. They are not obliged to attend to your every whim whenever you fancy it.

You cannot ask an experienced freelancer to attend hours of meetings and then produce the same level of product agreed on at the start of the project. Nor can you spring work on them like a ninja laying in wait.

Paying a freelancer for work doesn’t mean you get the same ready access.

PRO TIP: Be organised and have a plan. If you look disorganised and prone to random demands and requests, freelancers run a mile. Or we incorporate PITA fees (pain in the ass fees) into our quotes so we can deal with your diva ways. Be reasonable in your requests and enjoy better work product and (probably) lower costs.

You’re too demanding

When looking to engage an experienced freelancer for your business or startup, your best approach is to deal with the person as an equal.

We are not unemployable. We are not lacking in expertise or experience. In fact, most experienced freelancers are adept at self-starting projects and running businesses. We’re more seasoned than the average worker or small business owner in managing projects to completion.

But you have to be willing to listen to us and respect us to access this expertise.

You can’t expect to send 6 or 7 emails demanding information, case studies, proof and DNA samples. Especially when it’s clearly outlined on our websites and in our quotes and proposals.

We’re not going to throw out our terms and conditions, workflow processes or take a pittance for good quality work.

We understand that you want to know the money you are about to spend is a wise investment. But if you allow your nerves and concerns to dictate the terms of the initial engagement, an experienced freelancer won’t work with you. We know that panic and desire to control is destined to end badly.


PRO TIP: Any project is shared risk for both parties. Remember the reason why you’re hiring a freelancer is for their skill and expertise. Respect that. Don’t give us a whiff of a difficult, micromanager that is driven by panic and fear at working with us. Encourage us to work with you. Don’t demand that we must.

You have a knack for over-complicating things

Sometimes businesses and startups come to freelancers when they’re not ready. This is usually shown in over-complicating things. The tough issue is when you start working through what might happen on a project and the goal posts keep shifting. Most experienced freelancers know that if we’ve hit the third proposal or brief, you’re not ready to start work.

One of the ways I’ve managed to provide the missing bridge of clarity is by offering planning services. Coming from a product development background, I can help you with audience definition and build the plan you need in the initial stages.

This is a unique skill that most freelancers don’t have. You shouldn’t expect a freelancer to be able to read through your shifting plans and pull a rabbit out of the hat.

Over-complicating things is usually about having too many things to do, too many ideas, a lack of focus, micro-management traits and more mixed in.

If you can listen to your freelancer and start working on something together as a test (and to lower your jittering levels), this too can help.

But if you look like a lot of disorganised, scattered work attached to a bunch of contradictions and hand-holding, stop. Don’t bite off more than you can chew and then expect a freelancer to understand what to do. It’d unfair to ask a freelancer to captain your business in this way.

PRO TIP: Even the nicest person with the coolest idea is a turn off if you’re asking the freelancer to plan your business. Get your ducks in a row first. Get a plan in place or find a business coach. Get some clarity first. You must start somewhere and work through with priorities in place and a focus clearly defined.

Failing to recognise failure is an option

We all love to live in a world where everything we do is a winner. But someone, somewhere must come last. It’s the nature of life itself. We must understand our limitations and that failure is a feature of our world.

That’s not to say you should dwell on it. But recognise failure has a place in the business landscape. Don’t come to an experienced freelancer with the belief you are destined to be Zuckerberg in denial of failure.

In the early stages of freelancer engagement, this lack of foresight and ability to recognise failure comes out in requests for sweat equity, working for free and assuming we have time to make your side project fly.

That’s eye-opening because it rarely means you’re in touch with your business well enough to see the weaknesses, threats and limitations. Nobody wants to fly with someone that is that blind. We want to be with the confident person, but not Icarus.

PRO TIP: Come with budget and be honest about your project’s limitations. Let us know you’ve thought deeply about your ideas and business model. Inspire us to work with someone that is honest and brave enough to face failure.

Make magic while the sun shines

Much of the issues startups and small businesses face in the initial engagement of freelancers’ stem from misconception. Misconceptions like the assumption freelancers lack business acumen and understanding can hamper your goals. It can also colour your thinking and welcome issues you probably aren’t even aware of.

Perhaps the biggest tip I can offer is come to your freelancer inspired, welcoming and able to lift them up. That way, they can be energised by your project, welcomed by your team and focussed on your goals.

Foster autonomy, reality and treat it like a proper business relationship between peers. Recognise your limitations and ask for help. And be willing to accept that help when it comes without having to micro-manage it.

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