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Freelance advice for past me

jonoyeong profile image Jonathan Yeong ・3 min read

When I first made the choice to become a freelancer and I had no idea where to begin. I reached out to my old manager who was the sales lead/product manager at my old company. We covered a range of topics starting with how to get leads. To copyrighting a business logo. To dealing with taxes. After the conversation, I had a grasp on what I needed to do. I’ve been a freelancer for 7 months now and I’ve realized that there were some topics he didn’t cover. Here’s the advice I would give past me.

Setup a standardised project pipeline.

Standardise the way you start every client project. This starts with documentation. Use Trello or a free CRM and keep it up to date. Use these tools to keep track of quotes, requests, and questions. Also spend some money on software, like Xero, that can send and track invoices. At some point, you’ll start approaching every client project the same way. You might have a standardised set of questions. Or a standard timeline for getting a project started.

Spend time researching — Longer than you think.

Time estimation is one of the hardest parts about freelancing. I‘ve always struggle with estimating the length of a project. By spending time researching you can make a much better estimate. I recently realized the value of research when working with another freelancer.

He would break down a project into smaller features. For each feature, he would add a checklist of tasks to complete. He also added any information about potential database models. This included any proposed columns and also any relationships with other models. Finally, he estimated the time per feature and any potential time sinks. This became his roadmap for the project. It also uncovered any potential questions that he could bring up with the client.

Value pricing.

I’ve never implemented value pricing. I would feel like a fraud if I spouted advice about how to do this. From what I’ve read, value pricing seems to be the path that every freelancer should take. You can earn more than hourly pricing. And you can do this without working yourself to the ground.

I won’t go too in-depth with this concept. Instead I suggest you subscribe to Jonathan Stark’s free email list about value pricing. It’s a six part email newsletter explaining the what and how of value pricing.

Get better at client communication.

I find communication hard to master. Should you answer an email immediately with the client? Are they going to care about small, incremental updates? Should you wait until you have a large update which could take weeks or months?

In my experience, over communicating is better than not communicating enough. Most of the time this comes in the form of emails. Sometimes through calls or video chats. Use technology to make communication easier. Start a slack channel and invite them to use it. Let them know what hours you’re available for questions. Set boundaries so they don’t interrupt you during deep work. It’s hard to build trust with a client when you’re working remotely. Constant and meaningful communication helps alleviates this.

David Copeland recently gave a talk at Rails Conf 2017. He tackles the idea of being an effective remote developer. If you’re looking to improve in this area, I recommend watching the video below.


What advice would you give to a budding freelancer? Let me know in the comments!

Discussion

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kaydacode profile image
Kim Arnett 

I'd love to do free lance some day but it just never seems feasible. Clients walked all over me, all the time, then I was giving away free work to try and keep a relationship going. D:

I'm interested to hear more on the transition period for you, when did you realize you COULD do this full time & its feasibility.

Great tips BTW.

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jonoyeong profile image
Jonathan Yeong Author

Thanks for reading!

When my old company shut it's doors I gave myself a month to make a career decision. I could either try and find another job or freelance. It was during this month I talked to my old manager and other freelancers that I knew. This actually secured me a couple of leads that would allow me to survive for the first month. That's when I made the choice to do this full time, in hindsight it seems like a rash decision!

Feasibility wise - you have to be reasonable with yourself. I knew that I was taking a pay cut. I cut down on a lot of my expenses. And thankfully my parents helped me out with rent. Eventually, I started to pull in larger projects. But this was only after 4-5 months of living frugally.

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rhymes

Thanks for the article! I'm a freelance too and it's cool to exchange opinions

Just a few thoughts/questions:

  1. good idea on the standardised process, unfortunately most of the time it's me adapting to whatever tools the client uses. If they don't have tools then I can suggest some I prefer. The only tool I end up using always is Toggl for time tracking

  2. Value pricing. It's one of those things I've always wanted to do but never managed to. One of the first things I've read when I started freelancing was the Harvest Field Guide to Pricing and in there they talk about "Fixed pricing" (which is probably the closest to "value pricing"?). The issue I have found time and time again is that clients, at least here in Italy, rarely want to put money upfront or set specific boundaries for a project. Most of the time is them throwing additional work my way and me billing them for the time spent. This I feel is the thing to try to change.

  3. on the communication part. I feel you, it's hard to establish boundaries and keep them there. I try to remember that, at least for me, I'm not literally saving lives.

  4. I do have a couple of questions: do you work freelance and remotely most of the time or do you work at the client business? Do you have any suggestions about good websites for freelancers? Most of the "remote work" sites I found are looking for full time people working remotely.

rhymes

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jonoyeong profile image
Jonathan Yeong Author

Thanks for the comment! Exchanging opinions is how we get better. I'm grateful that you took the time to write down your thoughts.

  1. You're right about having to use what the client uses.There's always something you can streamline from an operation point of view. For example, I recently set up automatic reminder emails for overdue invoices. It's a small thing, but now I don't need to worry about manually sending and tracking the reminders.

  2. I completely agree with you. Like I said, I don't have any experience with value pricing. The closest I've gotten to it was fixed bids. And that's essentially an hourly cost multiplied by the number of hours in a project. Maybe you need to find clients with bigger budgets and larger projects to successfully value price?

I'll skip to your questions!

I work freelance and remotely most of the time. However, I'm thinking of moving back into full time work. I've had moderate success with Upwork: upwork.com/. It can be hard to find good paying work with sites such as Upwork. I know someone who's made their entire career through the site. I generally rely on my network.

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rhymes profile image
rhymes

You're definitely right when you say that probably bigger clients with bigger budgets would entertain a negotiation on value pricing.

Thinking of moving back to full time is perfectly fine, good luck and take your time to find the perfect company fit!

Thanks for the pointer to Upwork, I'll definitely check it out.

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ghost profile image
Ghost

Just 2 words)

"Niche down"

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kayis profile image
K

So many told me this.

Point is, often the stuff the most people do is in even higher demand.

The trick is more how you sell yourself.

"JS front end dev" or "Usabilty & Software Engineer"