How To Royally Screw Yourself In Freelancing

Posted: August 23rd, 2010

Photo by Sancktime2007 (Flickr)

Photo by Sancktime2007 (Flickr)

A big part of earning the real income in freelancing is maximizing the time on work that generates it and minimizing the rest of the time that doesn’t.

Well, that thought can sometimes leave you in a bind and end up costing you dearly, too. How? In just one word.


We’re not talking about the actual work you do either. If you are good at what you do, this will never be an issue. No, the details I’m referring to are in the planning stages before starting the actual work.

I’ll admit that I tend to get a sudden onset of attention deficit disorder when it comes to contracts and specs to carry out before starting on projects. This is especially true due to my belief that time not working on projects is money lost.

Guess what though? Sooner or later you’ll run into a client who pays more attention to detail to specs than you do. If you’re caught off guard, that means he can leverage more work out of you. You left to either bite your tongue and do it or put up a fight which can get ugly and put a dent in your reputation should the client protest as well.

I’ve known these for a long time but, along with my onsets of ADD, I do tend to get bouts of  “short memory,” too, so remember the following before you dive into any project. Yes, it does take extra time and, in some cases, way more than you would like it to but, trust me, it’s well worth it.

1. Understand what the client wants.

Knowing exactly what your client wants means knowing exactly the work you have to do. No more, no less. Nuff said.

2. Document everything.

You’ve probably heard it time and time again. Maybe you do use contracts or never had to use them since your clients are “easy going.”  Either way, it is extremely important to channel your inner lawyer and pay attention to every word you document with your client.

With everything, I mean everything: payment terms, milestones, credit history (ok, maybe far reaching) but, most important, project specs. Then with the project specs, document it with, you guessed it, everything you’ll do. The whole point is to cover yourself in case the client tries to get more work out of you because they will try. Believe me.

Have a visit at one of my older posts for help on documentation and check out Kyle Weiber’s post on bulletproofing your freelance contracts.

3. Spend the time.

Yes, creating and going over your contracts and specs are time consuming and really eat into your work time. There are even days where the only thing you do is create contracts and specs. Personally, though, I’ve lost several days of work completing a project in overtime due to a single bad contract I made.

So as time consuming as it is, you’ll thank yourself later when a client demands another redo and the contract specifies he doesn’t have one left without that extra charge. If it eases things further, creating contracts and specs will become easier and quicker over time.

Have you had experiences where you’ve had to do more work than you had thought you documented. Let’s hear it in a comment below.

More on the author, Johnny Spence
Johnny is the founder of The Freelance Rant and a freelance web programmer with 8 years in the business. Have a visit at his company Oscarrr!web or see what he's up to on Twitter.

4 Comments. Join In!

  • Lee

    August 23rd, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    Heeeeey.. This is a serious post. Grr. I was hoping for a rant.

    LOL. I agree though, especially with point number 2. I tend to be very casual sometimes and end up getting caught off guard like you said. I ended up doing a little more for clients and didn’t like it much.

    These days, I ask questions and confirm everything in the project details so as not to find myself doing additional this and that.

    Lee´s last blog post ..SmurfGalak- @leadya-dD I have diff schedule these days – Been for several months now- actually

  • Johnny

    August 24th, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Sorry Shirley, the week started off pretty serious. Had to get this one out. Don’t worry next one will rant!

    Yes, we do learn fast to confirm everything before starting projects. When we get lazy, though, that’s when it comes back to bite us!

  • raphi

    August 24th, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    “The whole point is to cover yourself in case the client tries to get more work out of you because they will try. Believe me.”

    Indeed they do!

  • Johnny

    August 24th, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    @Raphi – Yep, sometimes we have to learn the hard way!