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What's the hardest part of being a freelancer? Based on a few discussions I've had recently with freelancer friends who do everything from web development to SEO, the answer is almost always 'dealing with clients' -- especially in the early stages of a potential project.
There's good reason for that. Early discussions around a possible project involve key subjects, namely money and project scope. In many cases, clients, especially those who are new to hiring a freelancer, are in unfamiliar territory. And that means they're apt to say things that they often shouldn't.
Here are five statements clients make that frustrate freelancers that result from valid concerns but which can be handled more effectively.
"This should be an easy project."
Some clients do know exactly what they need, but usually when dealing with individuals or small companies, the person saying "this should be an easy project" has no idea what is involved in delivering the final product he seeks. What "this should be an easy project" often means: I'm afraid of being overcharged. By suggesting that he knows that he's not asking for much, the client believes he's encouraging lower estimates.
But when you say "this should be an easy project" and it clearly isn't, experienced freelancers are likely to walk right by because you lose credibility. Fortunately, the fear of being overcharged is easily addressed without the need to look foolish. If you don't know what you need and are afraid that a freelancer will take advantage of you, get competing estimates from several experienced freelancers. In most cases, there's no better way to learn what the going rate for your kind of project is.
"I need you to sign an NDA before I tell you more about the project."
NDAs can be very hard to enforce, especially if you're dealing with a freelancer in a jurisdiction other than yours or don't have the financial resources to sue someone. For this and other reasons, an NDA is pointless to inject into an initial conversation with a freelancer. Experienced ones won't consider signing them except in the rarest of cases.
If you can't accurately describe the skills you require and the types of tasks that you need completed without giving away information you believe is as-yet-developed secret sauce, you need to rethink your approach.
"I don't have much money for this but it could lead to future work down the road."
Clients on a budget aren't new to most freelancers, but if you have a limited budget, be honest about it and let the freelancer decide if he can live with the amount you can afford to pay. Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, a freelancer will be interested in your project even if what you can pay is a little bit less than what he'd normally charge.
Refrain from trying to lead a freelancer on by saying "it could lead to future work down the road" just to make the project look sweeter. This is the business equivalent of a bad pickup line.
"I can pay you in equity or we can do a revenue share."
Pitching a revenue share or equity deal to a freelancer is a big no-no unless your discussions were predicated on such an arrangement. Usually, a pitch for payment in equity or revenue share comes when a client sees that the costs of what he wants to do exceed his financial resources.
Smart freelancers avoid these arrangements like the plague for a variety of reasons. For one, they're complex and often raise unfavorable tax implications for the freelancer. And there's the not-so-subtle fact that if you're already undercapitalized, it doesn't bode well for your success. Instead of taking this route, if you don't have quite the budget you need, consider working with a prospective freelancer what you can do within your budget. You just might find that you can do enough to get to a meaningful milestone, even if you don't immediately get to where you were hoping to go.
"I'm looking for someone who can handle X, Y and Z."
X, Y and Z are, of course, completely unrelated. While it may be nice to find a graphic designer who does ASP.net programming, is an SEO guru and can manage your 20 servers, your chances of finding a good freelancer decrease exponentially when you seek out someone who can 'do it all' because the jack of all trades is almost always a master of none.
By avoiding these statements, clients can avoid many of the headaches that often occur when dealing with freelancers. Of course, this isn't a one-way street. In a future post, I'll look at the things freelancers say that turn off clients.
Photo credit: Martin Kingsley via Flickr.