There were so many valuable lessons that I learned my first year working as a freelancer. Looking back at it now, I’m not sure how I was able to survive that year.
I never really sat down and officially decided that I would try freelancing, it just kind of happened. I got an email from a mutual friend that they needed a website. The only web experience I had was from projects that I did in class. My interest around that time was still with video production and I was pretty set on pursuing a career in that field. I was spending the summer in California and I needed to make a couple extra bucks while I was out there. The company was a start-up so I didn’t think it would be that stressful, I was obviously wrong.
You might forget about your first client but you’ll never forget the stress and lessons learned from that experience. The most important thing you can do is to prepare. You’ll learn quickly that going into a project blind is a huge mistake. It seems obvious but in the real world things just kind of happen fast. One moment you’re just talking about a project in emails and the next your a few months deep with no end in sight. The production, technologies, and deadlines will take priority over everything. You want to make a good impression and deliver great work. This is where the hell starts. As a freelancer it’s important to know that you’re responsible for everything. It sounds scary but if you’re prepared it’s not so bad. Because you don’t have other people to help you with the administrative side of things, you have to treat it with the same amount of importance as the deliverables.
Contracts, contracts, contracts.
I cannot stress enough how important having a contract is.
Even as a first year freelancer, your time is extremely valuable. Sure, you might not know as much or have experience, the fact is once a project gets rolling it’s extremely difficult to keep everyone on the same page. Having a contract keeps the scope of the project to the agreed upon size. In our industry, it is very easy to get sucked into “scope creep”. This is when the client requests changes from the original goal/scale of the project. More than likely it starts in a very subtle way and before you know it, you’ll find yourself working on a much larger project for the same price. Any kind of change in the scope should be a huge red flag. You have to be aware at all times what is included in the originally proposed project. Having a contract allows you to have some leverage to be able to adjust the price. It’s worth mentioning that clients don’t often realize when things are outside the scope. A good contract protects both parties equally.
Having some kind of timeline is also crucial.
A single end date does not cut it. The project needs to be broken down into different phases with a timeframe on how long each phase would take. Detailed descriptions on what you will be doing during each phase, not only keeps the client informed, but it also helps you structure the project into manageable parts. There were projects during my first year freelancing when things got really stressful, to the point where I dreaded checking my inbox. If you don’t have a plan, a web project can seem monstrous and almost impossible to finish in time. A good timeline keeps you and the client informed, a great timeline structures and organizes the project itself. The first year is especially difficult due to the lack of skill and speed. When creating your timeline always be honest with yourself with the amount of time you think it will actually take and then add a couple hours on there for any unforeseen things that might set you back. If you give the client the exact time without adding some padding, deadlines will be extremely stressful.
Keep your head up!
Try to keep your head up and have fun.
Your first year will be a challenge. There’s no way to get around all the mistakes you will make during that time. Those mistakes are important and they will define you as a professional. Perhaps the most important suggestion is to not be discouraged. I wanted to give up a couple times. Things get difficult and you can expect to experience stress like you’ve never experienced before. I was able to get through it by constantly removing myself from the mistakes I made and carefully analyzing and learning why I made them. I’m no longer freelancing, but I can tell you that if you survive your first year, expect to come out of it more educated than four years of college.
Docpool is a small contribution by James Young towards making designers and developers lives a little easier by sharing commonly used documentats such as contract templates, user questionnaires, invoice layouts and more.
You will find some really cool Drawings templates for wireframing and mockups, general spreadsheets templates, basic invoice and estimate templates, business planning documents, design brief docs and even an infographic toolbox.
These do’s and don’ts will hopefully remove a lot of the headache and guesswork that comes with drafting a contract. By understanding the rationale behind various contractual elements, you will be able to better customize your contracts to fit the specific job you have been hired for.