Freelancing, when done right, can offer you a lot of freedom and personal growth. Realistically, you’ll be working very hard at first; chasing clients, payments, and burning both ends of the wick. However, as you progress in your journey you WILL get to a point where you set your own hours and schedule, affording yourself the ability to do things in life that a typical 9-5 job doesn’t allow.
You’ll learn a ton of skills, your strengths and weaknesses, and what types of projects you’re truly passionate about. In my previous article, I briefly touched on various types of freelance clients, one of which is a short term client. I’m of the strong opinion that your first goals should be going after short term clients, ones that you can quickly see benefits of and from. Let’s take a dive into that thought!
What is a Short Term Client?
There is no industry standard on this, so for me a short term client is one where you can complete their project or task within one day, or no longer than two weeks. These are often projects that pay lower, but this isn’t always the case. For example, some clients require a super strict deadline or emergency fixes in which they’re likely to pay a premium.
Some considerations to help define short term clients:
- 2 weeks or less project length
- Unlikely to hire you on a monthly/retainer basis (one off)
- Small projects, usually built by 1-2 people
- Typically less complex in nature
There is a healthy list of the benefits you’ll get from short term clients, which will be both encouraging to you and hopefully a motivating factor to continue working hard.
1. Shorter Time To Payment
When you’ve secured a client through whatever channels you have (see: Getting Clients as a Freelancer for help), you will soon realize that you’re much closer to getting paid for the project than you would be in a long term project. In 99% of the cases (with any client type), you’ll be wise to ask for a deposit which will solidify their commitment and will give you peace of mind to begin the work.
2. Portfolio Material
Having a portfolio is really crucial to attracting clients and projects. In the freelance industry, it’s rare to come across a client, especially one-offs, who will wish to read and have a resumé. Oftentimes, they’ll ask to see your previous work, and of course, any projects similar to what they are looking to have completed. Be prepared to talk about what your primary contributions were and how it helped the client get their ideas and goals achieved.
With a short term client, you’re closer to having something of great value to show off to the world. In my opinion, this is the key to securing more work, and ultimately some long term clients.
3. Review & Word of Mouth
So now you have money in your bank, and someone who will be able to vouch for your skills and possibly refer their friends to you. This is a great thing! You’ll want to add into your contract that you expect the client will leave you a review after the project is complete, and that you can display the review on your sites and elsewhere.
On the subject of “word of mouth”, this can be a strong asset albeit random and not entirely reliable for future work. It’s still a great thing to have and maintain.
Let’s imagine for a second; you’ve got a client whose WordPress blog just needs a few links updated. You’ve agreed to $100 to go through and change these, no problem. In this scenario, it will likely take you less than a few hours, but even then, you should get it in writing! It’s never a bad idea to protect yourself, and working for free when you expect a payment is a good way to harm your motivation in the future.
Never start work without a contract of some sort. This is the most important lesson I can teach you. As I’ve said before “I don’t care if you’re my dad or someone I just met last week. If I’m going to be developing something for you, I’m going to require a contract of some sort“. I’m not a lawyer, but in most places you can have a simple, plain English document describing the work, terms of payment, and due date. This will be a solid document to cover both you and the client. I suggest consulting with legal counsel to ensure your contracts are valid and will hold up.
Charging / Payments
Deciding how you want to calculate a project’s pay can be tricky. Do you charge hourly or per entire project? Is your client willing to abide by the same standard? I’ve found it much easier to charge per project for short term clients. It’s usually easy to get a grasp of the scale and complexities of the work, and this allows the client to know the expenses beforehand and will likely result in far less instances of going over budget.
One area of struggle is how much to charge, or how high to price your services in a range attractive enough for potential clients. I’m of the school of thought that you can price your initial first projects a little lower than you’d normally settle for, especially for shorter term clients. You aren’t setting an expectation you’re willing to work for hours and hours with lower pay since it’s likely this is a one-off client. If you’re struggling to find work due to potential clients responding that your price is too high, you may consider lowering your prices temporarily.
Invest Your Time Wisely
When in contact with potential clients, it’s important to not lose focus on your existing work and previous clients. The excitement of a new project and prospect is a big boost, but there will be the occasional client that backs out due to various reasons. It’s important that you keep things simple, direct, and not invest a huge amount of time when feeling out their potential.
As I mentioned above, there are some reasons why clients may fall through. Here’s some tips on how to handle a few of those situations:
- Prices / Fees too high: It’s important you value your time and expertise. The skills that you’ve spent your time on learning and perfecting. There will be clients who want to go cheap and try to cut costs. These can sometimes be difficult in the future when it comes to work not originally scoped.
- Communication / Ghosting: This happens, on more than a rare occasion even. It’s a good idea to send a follow-up email or two, but have a point at which you will no longer pursue the client. This can indicate payments and work reviews in the future will be an issue.
- Lacking Portfolio: This isn’t an easy or quick fix, and can only be resolved with time and hard work. It’s not impossible, but to win over clients who are getting cold feet due to a weak portfolio can be difficult.
Juggling Many Things At Once
Once you get going, you can quickly find yourself having many projects and deadlines going in tandem. At this point, you’ll need to be careful where you spend your time and what you’re focusing on. Maintaining deadlines and client expectations will be challenging when you have to switch gears and train of thought going from project to project.
What has always worked for me is to focus on the easier clients first, the tasks that you’re most confident in tackling. That way, you’re making progress of some degree and can show clients that you’re knocking out tasks. Below is a list of free or cheap ways to track your progress (and clients) that I’ve used and recommend, most of these are essentially task tracking “to-do” apps (see Freelancer Tools of the Trade for more software).
- Trello – It’s free, dead simple to use, and is great for a high level view of what you have going on.
- Asana – Also free, it’s fairly easy to use and offers some more advanced features than Trello.
- ClickUp – This one is also a feature-rich platform that will cater to those with broader task-tracking needs.
It’s likely that as you learn and grow, you’ll need to switch to different software or even invest in paid versions of them, but you don’t need to overthink this early on.
With short term clients, you’ll need to approach communication a little differently in most cases. You’ll want to keep them in the loop a lot more often, so emailing them daily will likely be a good idea. Let them know of your progress and what you’re currently focused on. The flip-side to that coin is to also let them know of any hangups and obstacles you’re having. Is the 3rd party API giving you problems? Let them know! Transparency is the key to earning and maintaining the client’s trust throughout a project, and this applies to everyone.
You’ll occasionally run into clients that prefer to chat through Skype or Slack, but oftentimes it’s the long term clients that require or want this. A simple EoD (end of day) email outlining where things are should suffice.
As the project or task comes to completion, the fun begins. Final payments are made, you transfer the files to them, get feedback/review, and can update your portfolio with what’s essentially a golden nugget to show off! It won’t hurt to followup with them in a few days or few weeks to ensure that things are going smooth, this will really earn you some respect and show that you genuinely care!
Your clients are your most important asset. Treat them well, let them know they’re important and matter to you, and do your best to meet their requirements. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a client come back to me for a new idea or project after handling their previous work in a way they appreciated.