Sunday, January 6, 2013

Musings of a freelancer

One of the topics that comes up a lot on the PHP Freaks forums is freelancing: how to find clients, how to market oneself, how much to charge per project, etc.  Having been a freelancer for a while, this is the nugget of wisdom I've discovered:

Freelancing is not about you.  It's about serving your clients.

A lot of the budding developers (and bitter, not-as-successful-as-they-want-to-be veterans) I encounter view freelancing as a means to an end.  A way to pad a portfolio, or to create their own shop, or to act as supplementary income.  And, certainly, those are worthwhile benefits to pursue.  But the best way to achieve those rewards is to put your client's happiness first, within reason.

This means being honest with your clients.  Don't promise what you can't deliver.  Instead, be honest about your abilities.  Many small business owners have been burned by bad developers who promised the moon and delivered a pebble, at great cost.  Don't be that developer.  Being honest, even if it means losing out on potential clients, leaves your reputation intact.  A freelancer's reputation is the most important thing they have, even beyond a good portfolio.  So, be honest at all times.

This means being in regular contact with your clients.  As frustrating and perhaps even capricious as some clients can be, you're working for them.  They need to be on board.  The more involved they are, the more they'll help you.  The last thing you want to do is treat the client like an adversary, or to hide away for weeks/months at a time while you work on their site.  No contact leads to frustration, which eventually leads to a broken relationship and no money.

This means being reasonable about pricing.  Sometimes clients simply can't afford a developer's rate, or some ancillary cost like hosting.  If you can, offer to lower your price, or cover the other associated costs, or accept a payment plan.  In many cases, taking on some (emphasis on some) of the financial burden now leads to the client paying you more in the future as they'll inevitably want to expand their site.


The point isn't to screw yourself over.  Rather, the point is to offer excellent service at a reasonable price.  A happy client is an ally.  If they're satisfied, they'll want to continue working with you.  Even better, satisfied people, as a rule, brag to their friends, families, and customers about good things.  If you are one of those good things, you'll get new clients.  Word of mouth advertising is still the best around, and having a client go to bat for you is invaluable.

So, if you're looking to freelance, go around town and offer your services.  Every town has at least one small business that wants a site or needs a complete rewrite of an existing site.  Treat that client well, and watch the cycle begin.

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