Working as a freelancer means that your business is all about you. You're the sole person in charge of making the tough decisions. You'll decide how to market your business, which services to offer and how much to charge.
While that can give you a sense of freedom and power, there is a risk to it all. Having the power to make those tough decisions doesn't necessarily mean that you're automatically an expert at making them. It's quite possible to make the wrong choice and end up in a bad situation.
I've been out there freelancing since 1999. Starting out, I felt as if I were smart enough to be successful. In fact, I was a 21 year old kid who had absolutely no clue about the importance of the decisions I was making. I didn't fully realize what I was getting into.
With that in mind, I'm going to share some situations that I've personally been in that were less than ideal (and some tips on avoiding them). Hopefully, it will help to prevent you from becoming entangled in something that isn't good for you or your business.
Performing tasks that don't fit with your business
If you're just starting out, you may not fully have a sense of the boundaries you need to put up. There are some clients out there who will just think of you as a “computer geek”. Therefore, that must mean you'll gladly take on any task relating to a computer.
It's hard to focus on web design when you're getting asked to troubleshoot someone else's router
I'd like to think of myself as a nice person (although others may see it differently – ha!). So when clients asked me to do things like setup their broadband connection, provide support for their PCs, etc. – I did it. Somehow, I figured I was doing them a one-time favor and that would help build my business. Instead, I'd get calls when that internet connection failed or when Windows crashed. It set me up for being the one to call for these issues.
Going outside the scope of your business can put you on the hook for all sorts of tasks that will take away from what you are trying to accomplish. It's hard to focus on web design when you're getting asked to troubleshoot someone else's router.
That's not to say you should never give some advice or go the extra mile for a good client. You just need to make it clear that you won't be an ongoing resource for that type of thing. Use your best judgment and tread carefully.
Working with someone only because you need the money
If you've spent any time at all as a freelancer, you'll know that not all projects or clients are created equally. It's ideal to work with people who treat you with respect and with whom you can have an open dialogue. And, you'll want to work on projects that have a clear vision and goals. Getting yourself into a quagmire of a confused project or dealing with a suspect client can take a toll on you physically, emotionally and even financially.
…dealing with a suspect client can take a toll on you physically, emotionally and even financially
There have been a few times in my career when business wasn't going so well. Desperate for money, I decided to bite the bullet and work with some people and projects I wasn't really comfortable with. I've written before about needing to have a “sixth sense” for people. And, even with that sense of potential problems, I still went ahead and made the wrong choice. It was short-sighted and I regretted it almost immediately.
Obviously, everyone has financial concerns. We all have bills to pay and mouths to feed. But, unless it's a dire emergency (like, for example, being evicted from your home), then you need to seriously think about the consequences.
Now, I'm not saying you have to get along splendidly with everyone you work with. Nor should you expect any project to be problem-free or provide you with endless joy. You don't even have to agree with the point of view of the people you're working for. But if your thought is to simply take the money, work on the project, then get as far away as possible – it's probably not a good fit for you.
Making bad business arrangements
There may be times when you're presented with an opportunity to partner up with another business. It could be that you're either hiring or taking on some extra work from another freelancer. Or, perhaps you agree to promote a product or service to your clients in exchange for cash. Many times, this can have a very positive effect on your business. Still – there are some pitfalls that can cause you major stress.
I have partnered up with multiple freelancers and businesses over the years in a variety of ways. Most have worked out really well. But there have been times when it has been a struggle. There have been freelancers I've partnered with who missed crucial deadlines – leaving me to scramble at the last minute to get a project done. And I've been hired on to do projects only to find that either the scope of work was greatly misrepresented or, worse yet, I completed the work only to be left without payment.
Relying on others to hold up their end of the bargain can be difficult
Relying on others to hold up their end of the bargain can be difficult. That's why it's important to set up a clear understanding of terms and boundaries before you enter into a business arrangement. It's always a good idea to put it in writing.
There is no guarantee that this type of relationship will be successful. However, the more you know about what is expected of both you and the other party can help you avoid disaster.
Bad situations can be avoided…most of the time
While the situations above were difficult, the lesson I've learned from it all is that most of them could have been avoided. It comes down to being confident and proactive in your approach to business.
Believing in yourself, your talents and your vision for your business is vital. Know that you don't have to settle for projects or clients that aren't a good fit. I know, it sounds a bit like relationship advice. But if you have confidence in yourself and what you're doing, you'll be on a path to success. You may even find that the quality of your work improves because you're working on better projects!
The other part of this is being proactive. That means you should research clients and potential business partners. Ask a lot of questions and get a feel for who they are. Take the information you've learned and use it to make a wise decision.
Clearly, we can't prevent ourselves from hitting every pothole in the road. But we can certainly steer ourselves around the worst of them.
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