A Sign of Hope For Freelance Developers

Posted: May 28th, 2009

oDesk has some pretty encouraging news for freelance web developers:

It seems that while the UK and Bolivia have seen a dramatic decrease in the hourly fees software developers are able to charge, in the United States–despite the recession–software developers are now charging an average of 35% more than they did in 2008.

[…] The exact reasons for the incredible rate increase in the face of America’s much-beleaguered economy may remain a mystery. However, it’s good news for those with software skills. As for the less tech-savvy freelancers among us, it’s a sign of hope. Doom and gloom predictions of meager future paychecks don’t always turn out to be true.

Bad economy… what bad economy?

Top Ten Definitions of The Freelance Dictionary

Posted: May 27th, 2009

Didn’t know freelancers had their own official dictionary, did you? Here we go with the ten best definitions from the official version:

Brief: Document containing project specifications and costs. Also what you should really put on along with a pair of pants while working.

Coffee: Second only to blood as your most vital bodily fluid.

Networking: Asking complete strangers if they can hook you up with work without explicitly asking if they can hook you up with work.

Non disclosure agreement: Like newspaper comics, one of the funniest reads you’ll ever find.

Outsourcing: Finding some poor sap to do your work for you much cheaper. Lazy bastard.

Portfolio: A compilation of the best work you were able to find on the internet.

Side income: Income made from activities other than your normal work. Gambling, Nigerian check scams and credit card fraud are common activities.

Sleep: Some swear word or something. I don’t know.

Taxes: An evil bully who steals your client payments as if they were lunch money.

Under the table: The client payments you can actually spend yourself.

3 Deadly Traps of Bid Pricing

Posted: May 26th, 2009

Last month, I did a series on what you should be charging your clients, however, I forgot to mention some pitfalls that freelancers frequently fall into when coming up with a price for a project. Methods aside, other factors such as fear of not finding work or perceived work shortages tend to cause us to resort to desperate pricing in order to win projects.

This couldn’t be a bigger mistake. To come up with a fair price on a project for both you and a client, you have to keep three things in mind at all times.

#1 Deadly Trap: Not knowing Your Market Price

Your clients are likely do do some shopping around plus they can get a general idea of what price they will pay just from the bids they receive from any project. Its your job to do the same also. Keep in mind that we are not talking about your hourly rate here, but an X dollar amount for a particular service you offer.

By not knowing the pricing in your market, you essentially guess at your pricing which may cause you to underprice and potentially leave money on the table. You may also overprice and virtually guarantee you will not win any bid. It pays to do the research and know exactly what your services are worth on the market. You can view the previous post on how to do market research here.

#2 Deadly Trap: Not Believing in the Law of Averages

For those unfamiliar with the law of averages, you will notice over time that a fairly fixed percentage of bids will be won. For example, after bidding one hundred times, you may win ten, twenty or even thirty of them. While the actual percentage of bids won is irrelevant, it is important to keep number in mind when determining your bid price.

The reason is that you may eventually hit streaks where seemingly no bid you make is accepted. What most often follows is that pricing is lowered on successive bids in hopes that a new client will bite and accept. Big mistake. The proper reaction to a cold period is simply look for more work and make more bids. The slow streaks tend to be followed by a return to bids being accepted and even hot streaks.

Of course, the percentage of your bids that are accepted are dependant on other factors such as how you write the bid and shifting market conditions for your type of service. The law of averages, however, does tend to hold true to its meaning when it comes to the number of bids you make. So use it to your advantage.

#3 Deadly Trap: Settling For Less Than Your Market Price

Most freelancers are aware that there are other freelancers that offer the same services you do for far less than you are willing to accept. It doesn’t have to be said that there are also many companies, individuals and small businesses seeking them out.

What many freelancers do not realize is that, while they do have an effect in lowering the general market value, many times they do not provide the quality of service that businesses need. Many of those hiring for cheap services have even been burned by cheap freelancers and end up paying more in the long run to get the service they want.

Bottom line is that there are many out there who do know the value in what they are getting by paying more for freelancers adhering to the old saying “you get what you pay for.” Sure, you will have to work a little harder and submit more bids to overcome the cheap freelancer seekers. You eventually will find those clients that will pay your price though.

When It Is OK To Lower Your Rates

There are times when lowering your bid pricing can actually be a smart business move such as:

  • A prospective client that may have the potential to be a long term client
  • A project comes along that would be impressive for your portfolio
  • Offers on your services to drum up more business.

Of course, use your discretion here. A discount of 50% may be pushing it but 10% – 20% will keep you earning a reasonable amount.

The Week In Freelance: May 18th

Posted: May 22nd, 2009

  • Jonathan from Zen Habits on the seven traits of the free man: “You may think that you should be grateful for your job, and you should. But when it comes down to it, you’re not going to hit a ceiling of happiness and purpose if you’re not working for yourself. (I know there may be a few exceptions, but let’s be honest, they are exceptions.)”
  • Laura from Freelance Folder asks can anybody be a freelancer?: “My conclusion is that it takes a special breed to become a freelancer. You need the right knowledge, the skills, and character traits to be successful. […] Not everyone can or should freelance, but that’s okay.” I tend to agree, but anyone can be a freelancer if they dedicate themselves to it and are willing to grow and learn and roll with the punches. It can be easy for some and way more difficult for others. Its probably more of a choice to succeed than traits that make you successful.
  • Joel from Freelance Switch: Good communication is important to any business. When you have an online business, though, communication is just as important although it usually isn’t done face to face or by phone. Joel has some good tips to approach effective communication over the internet.
  • A little insight into how to spark a new idea.
  • Got plans for the 6th of June? Head on down to Miami for the FreelanceCamp / LaidOff Camp. Great opportunity to network and look for work and, if you are serious about becoming a freelancer, a great way to butt heads with some greats in the business. Should be big too. It even gets a mention on CNN.
  • Here is a list of the 100 top freelancing blogs you may want to get to know (besides this one).
  • Elvis Montero on the paradoxes of the freelance world: Yes you do run into a lot of bullshit when looking for projects and it’s best not to roll around in it. “These are the contradictions that would make you utter profanities at a rate you never thought possible. They defy all logic and reasoning. Yet, one can find stuff like this daily at Elance.”
  • Do you use Twitter as a marketing tool for your freelance business? You probably would want to know how to successfully build your personal brand in it too.
  • And while you are creating your personal brand, you may want to keep in mind 15 sites that can make or break your personal brand.
  • Your computer can arguably be the biggest source of stress in your life. If you takes steps to making computing a minimalist experience, though, you leave more room to concentrate on more important tasks.
  • All you web developers rejoice… you can officially say goodbye to supporting Internet Explorer 6. Bad news: IE8 is a new problem we have to figure out now.

Freelance Follies #2

Posted: May 19th, 2009

Sit back and have a laugh courtesy of The Freelance Rant. As always, hate mail can be deposited below.

  • What’s your choice of preferred computing? It can best explained in this grid.
  • Freelancers know a million and one ways to prepare ramen noodles, feast on frozen burritos and devour cases of pork and beans at a time. Well we can add one more cheap item to the list… “recession busting” toast.
  • Sure, you may feel like a nerd in your desk chair working hours on end. Then when the work is done, you still stay and send away your tweets to all your other nerdy friends. OK, my hand is up too. Well, there’s promising news that can help us rationalize our geeky personas.
  • Are you afraid to open another browser window and look at porn for fear others around you may happen look over your shoulder? Fear no more! Finally safe-for-work porn has come (no pun intended) into existence.
  • Become a freelancer and you can avoid being like André.

And Don’t Get Stiffed If You Can Help It

Posted: May 18th, 2009

Photo From ElPayasoCobrador.com

Photo From ElPayasoCobrador.com

The Fear of Freelancers

One of the most frequent worries of freelancers, especially the noobs, is how to avoid the hassle of the delinquent client. After all, not every client out there is honest. Plus, given the fact that a lot of work is done over the internet, a rogue client has ample opportunity to go into hiding after receiving your invoice along with your completed work.

The truth, though, is that if you take a few simple steps in dealing with your clients this will almost never happen to you. In fact, the extra time you take with these before you even start a project can eliminate your need to worry about collections entirely.

Step 1: Screen Clients in Advance

It’s quite tempting to apply to each and every offer that might suit you. Inside any project offer, however, offers many clues about the type of client you may be dealing with. Here are a few things you want to keep an eye out for:

  • Bad grammar or misspelled words
  • Vague project details
  • Offers of profit sharing
  • Any mention of wanting the lowest cost possible

Usually these indicate employers that can be shady and/or try to take advantage of freelancers. While not always the case, they are best left alone.

Another simple but effective method of screening clients is to make a phone call or chat over instant messaging before starting any project. Employers that ask a lot of questions about you, your experience and pricing, then go on to explain the project in detail are typically great potential clients. Sometimes they tell you of horror stories working with other freelancers which is another good sign and leaves the door wide open for you.

On the other hand, if an employer focuses solely on how fast you can do a project and doesn’t mention pricing or attempts to lowball you into working for less, you may have potential trouble on your hands. Best to decline the project. Equally, if they decline a request for you to call or instant message, then this can indicate future trouble too.

Step 2: Get Everything in Writing

It is essential that a project agreement be drawn up for every project that outlines:

  • The exact service you will provide in detail
  • Your date of delivery or milestone delivery dates for larger projects
  • Your payment terms or payment schedule for larger projects

It’s pretty obvious that having an agreement between you and your client, you hold the client to pay by the rules you set. Of course, you have to hold up your end of the bargain as well. If you are unfamiliar with the project agreement, you can check out a sample from the Elance website.

Step 3: Deliver What You Promise

All a client wants is to have a job done the way they want it done and when you say it will be done. Plain and simple. Do this and they will reciprocate the effort by paying you on time or even right away. This means that:

  • Always keep a client in the know on the project status. Never keep them guessing.
  • Sometimes mistakes are made. Be prompt to fix them.
  • Many times omissions are made. Take care of these right away and politely inform if an extra charge applies.

Keep in mind that if a client feels in any way they aren’t getting what they will be paying for, then they will put up a fight and could all of a sudden cease all communication with you leaving you high and dry. Always be on their side when disputes arise and calmly diffuse them. You may even be in the right, but in the end, arguing can leave you without a paycheck.

* * *

Hopefully the above steps can ease your fears on client collections. If you have a good tip that you rely on or any questions though, please drop a note below.

The Week In Freelance: May 11th

Posted: May 15th, 2009

  • Skellie from Skelliewag has a great post on how to be a freelancer in 30 days: “The program is designed to be completed while you are working full-time, either by dedicating a couple of hours in the evening or mornings, or working on the program over the weekend. It should be combined with daily hands-on practice in the skill you want to freelance in, particularly if you are a novice in that skill. If you are a novice, don’t delay the program until you feel you are ‘good’ enough. The emphasis is on selling a very specific skill that you can become good at in a short period of time. 30 days practicing one hour a day is more than enough time to develop a specific service that you are good enough at to sell. ” Even if you already are a freelancer, it’s worth a peek. Some steps could actually improve your career.
  • A huge obstacle designers and writers face is keeping the creativity going when you are just too damn tired to do anything. Here are ten ways to stay creative while exhausted. Some are funny and obvious but they really do work.
  • Leo from Zen Habits: Has six small things you can do when you lack discipline. “One of the biggest problems people face is the lack of discipline — they have goals or habits they want to achieve, but lack that discipline needed to stick with it. […] Then we beat ourselves up about it. We feel crappy because we can’t stick with it. […] And that leads to more failure, because we’re forming a mindset that we don’t have the necessary discipline.” Leo makes it easy to beat.
  • If discipline really just isn’t your thing, then here are ten ways to establish new habits WITHOUT discipline. You can’t go wrong now.
  • Naomi Dunford from IttyBiz on how to become rich and famous on the internet in five steps: Many of you out there have a blog with the intent of having a huge following and becoming popular in your own niche (me included). Then eventually rake in all that dough that follows. It’s not easy, of course, but her humorous post can shed a little light on what makes the real bloggers rich and popular out there.
  • Want to win a client for life? Then try one of these original ways you can inpress your clients. Basically, it’s showing a highly treasured significant other you are a lunatic.
  • One important question every freelancer should ask themselves is should you specialize or diversify your services? Specializing in a narrow set of services can be more profitable in the short term while diversifying can be profitable later on in your career, although it may take some time to achieve this. Freelance Folder has interesting take on how this can be handled.
  • Here’s another important question freelancers should ask themselves; do you backup your data. A wise friend once told me that it’s not a question of IF but WHEN your computer will eventually take a shit on you. Time to get a backup solution in place.
  • Social media can work wonders for networking as a freelancer. A big drawback is that you can get caught up and waste too much time tweeting away. Luckily there are ways to simplify the routine to free up more of your time.
  • If you are like me and sometimes take your WordPress blog security for granted, then follow a few steps to secure it.
  • Uh oh! Graduating college seniors are pretty much screwed this year, huh?

Top Ten Things Not To Take For Granted As A Freelancer

Posted: May 14th, 2009

It’s to easy for freelancers to overlook the many things that our careers offer us. Here is a short list to remind you to stop and think of them.

10. Enjoy the taste of ramen noodles. It’s like filet mignon if you truly believe.

9. The coffee maker is the most valuable asset you’ll ever have. Make sure you give it regular tune ups and maintenance.

8. Your computer is the least valuable asset. Be sure to give it swift kicks and punch-downs to keep it in line.

7. Do yourself a favor and clean up the dust bunny piles in your home. Make them your pets so you’re not so lonely.

6. Take the money you save on clothes, deodorant, soap, etc and buy something useful like clothes, deodorant, soap, etc.

5. Always give your good clients a phone call once in a while. Hit one up for a date if you’re in a slow period.

4. Coffee and cigarettes can add up in cost after a while. Crack is way more cost effective in the long run.

3. Meals are never enjoyed in front of a computer. Savor them over the kitchen sink like real people.

2. Just because you don’t smell anything, doesn’t mean you’re not.

1. A whole world exists outside of your home and hyperlinks. Check it out.

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