A friend of mine recently asked me for some advice in regard to a freelancing project he was in the quoting phase of. I figured, what a great topic for a blog post! Keep in mind though, I haven’t freelanced in years, mainly because I am not a fan of having to chase down money from clients and because I found the work to be generally unstimulating as it was mostly (for me) just building simple web presences and contact forms and stuff. Don’t get me wrong, there’s always great new projects that you can get the bid on, but it’s just as easy to roll in on those as a full time / contract employee (and generally cheaper if you’re salaried). That all being said, here’s what I have to say to someone that’s new to freelancing.
Value your time
Your time is what you’re offering to a client, never the product. The product itself is the end result of your time and should be valued accordingly. When valuing your time, avoid quoting a flat rate for the obvious reason that sometimes a project doesn’t go according to plan. Making sure that the client understands that if the project goes over the estimate, they will be paying an additional hourly rate and clearly communicating when you are going to be exceeding an estimate helps a ton. If nothing else, a client may ask you to stop working on the project because they can’t afford the added expense. As long as you’re getting paid for your initally estimated time, you may need to swallow your pride on that one.
Pad your estimates
There’s nothing wrong with padding your estimates, especially if you justify why the estimates are padded. There’s also nothing wrong with over delivering and only charging the client for the time it took you to build the product and not the full estimate. Remember that an estimate is just that, an estimate. The time it takes you to deliver may go over (perhaps because of your own skills or perhaps the client hung it up in revision hell) but it could also go under. There’s no harm in passing the savings onto the customer and if you’re repeatedly over delivering, perhaps it’s time to increase your rate of pay to compensate for how blazingly fast you now work.
Milestones are a great way to make sure you get paid on time as well as letting your client see that work is being down and how much is left to do (sure beats being micromanaged!). When coming up with your milestones you can also factor in payments to marry with the deliverable dates. If you can establish 3 or 4 milestones you can work out a payment plan for the client which they will probably appreciate more than a single lump sum at the end of the project. Working with 3 deliverables, I would ask for 25% up front (good faith down payment, if you will ;) then 25% at each of the milestones. Never deliver the final milestone until paid in full for obvious reasons. If a client fails to pay you one of the milestones, there’s no harm in stopping the project and alerting the client that the date of completion is now in jeopardy. You can chase them for money if you’d like or you could just cut your ties with the client if they are reluctant to pay. I’ve done both, sometimes it makes more sense to move along.
When I say professional, I mean you need to have a formal estimate with a breakdown of everything and a contract outlining payment terms and expectations. Both the estimate and the contract need to be explained to the client and signed by both. Full disclosure, make sure nothing is a surprise to the client. Make sure the client understands that the project could take longer if there is scope creep or other unforseen circumstances. Make sure they understand that they will only be receiving deliverables if they are paying. I know a lot of small businesses can work on a handshake, but a formal contract is your best defense if you need to go after a client for non-payment. Signing the contract is also great time to collect that down payment as well!
How much should I charge?
Not really something I can give advice but I will say that I absolutely hate “affluent neighborhood” pricing. I don’t believe in price gouging at all and I always find it better to stay humble because the client is paying you for your skillset, expertise and speed of deliverability. Obviously this is more opinion than advice, but I hate hearing about people paying 5k for a 3 page website with a contact form (that usually looks like shit). Your rate can be comparable to your peers but if you’re pretty new to programming or design, charging someone a lot of money can be devistating if you can’t deliver inside of your estimates.