huge mistake
Credit: credit doobybrain on flickr, CC 2.0

When I ran my business I found it an extremely rewarding process. The fact that I wasn’t obliged to work for someone else in a 9-5 job, motivated me to work more. I would start work earlier and often work late into the night. My work was my own and so was my time.

Most people that I speak to now say that they would prefer to work for themselves than for their current boss too. The fact of the matter is that it wasn’t easy. Indeed, if it were easy then everyone would do it. It cost me money and I made mistakes. The learning process was a great journey in itself. As I went along, I would continually make small improvements to the way I worked. This was a little like building up my own knowledge equity.

I put together this short article as a summary of mistakes I made whilst working as a freelancer. The idea being to make them easier to circumvent for any new budding entrepreneurs in the design industry.

communication pictureCredit: credit : osterwalder on flickr, CC 2.0

Communication Is Key

The first common mistake is on the subject of pricing. Here’s the scenario: you’ve put together your proposal while estimating how much time you’ll need to spend on each task to make them cost effective. You’ve also capped the client revisions to the 3 included in your proposal with further revisions to be billable. Ideally this will limit small client amendments, which typically require an entire project redraw.

Your client has already asked you for a small discount which you agreed to. Following several changes your back is against the wall to meet the deadline. Your priority is to finish the project on time and to a great standard so all your energy is going towards this. You don’t think to tell the client that you’re now charging them by the hour.

One of two things typically happens when you reach the end of the project. The first is that you include the additional elements on your invoice that your client isn’t expecting. It doesn’t go down well because they hadn’t paid much attention to your contract in the first place. Even if the project finished well, tension is created. To smooth over the situation you either accept a discounted amount or you hold your ground but your relationship has soured.

The second is having had this experience in the past, you are concerned about presenting the client for unplanned costs and so either don’t do it at all, or invoice a reduced amount (which doesn’t change the client’s reaction).

The key here is that you should never present your client with unforeseen costs. It’s vitally important that whenever you are at the stage in a project where you are about to start to bill them hourly, you give them the heads up. This gives them the option to say “No”, for starters but most importantly, if you do go ahead with the extra revisions, they are under the understanding that they are paid work. There are no longer any surprises.

light bulbCredit: credit: normalityrelief on flickr: CC 2.0

Quit the Fudge and Get to the Point

A work contract is not the place for vagaries. Typical phrases that must be avoided are “as necessary” or “to client satisfaction”.

Definitions such as these are setting you up for a fall. You will effectively need to work for as long as the client says stop or until they are “satisfied”. You should always be clear about what drawings are included. This could simply be a list of the drawings along with a short description if necessary. Once this has been created it will serve as a template for other projects. Alternatively you can create separate drawing schedules, which can be added to the contract.

The same can be said for the quality of the project. Both you as well as any existing client of yours will understand your talent and what to expect from your project deliverables noted above. Any subsequent client changes must be quantified in your contract. Rough estimates are fine but at this stage. This will give you a base for negotiating at the end of the contract. If three changes have slowly crept up to ten then you won’t regret this decision later.squirrelCredit: credit: billburris on flickr, CC 2.0

Keep It Simple, Stupid

I skim through the blog sites to which I subscribe to first. Then I repin all of the necessary images that are sent to my Pinterest account, read through who I’m following on Twitter and Facebook, listen to my messages and then I’ll start my emails. I am getting to the point where I’ve got too many distractions at work. Too many distractions are a disaster for productivity.

The only way to be productive is to turn everything else off, put your head down and work. This is how I manage it;

  1. Only work on one project at a time.
  2. Never use your work email for personal use. This sounds like I am creating extra work, but it is worth having to go to the trouble to open Gmail if I ever need to check personal emails to avoid the distractions they cause in my workflow.
  3. Log your time on a task. This focuses your mind.
  4. Give yourself a time limit for a task and then try and beat it. This can add some fun to your day to the more mundane tasks.
  5. Go old-school. Use a pen and paper to write a list of the tasks you want to finish that day. Scratch them out when complete.
  6. Try the Pomodora technique. I have used it a few times and it has helped me to get traction when everything else failed. It is based on a simple idea. You have a time clock (could be your iPhone). You work for 25 minutes, you then take a 5-minute break. Repeat this 3 times. Then the forth time you take a break for 15 minutes. Take a look at the Wikipedia site for more information.

Follow upcall meCredit: credit: richard on flickr. CC 2.0

It is such an easy thing to do. You have made your client very happy by finishing the project early and exceeding their expectations with the result. But you leave it there. You didn’t followed-up which is the easy part. One thing is for sure, if you finish a job badly then you will definitely be following-up for a long time after the event. Your client will make sure of that.

So when you have had a great win with your project, it pays to follow-up too. Set a reminder in your calendar. A happy client is someone who will be a repeat customer. Don’t make life harder for yourself by searching for new clients when typically existing ones will give you 80% of your workload.

If they are not currently in a position to give you more work straight away, ask for a referral. Be creative to keep in contact with your existing clients. It’s worth it in the long run.