When I first started freelancing as a college student, I was eager to
do any website and would say "Yes" to anything, regardless of my skill
set or the time involved. It was just nice to know that someone needed
me for a skilled task. Unfortunately, I quickly found myself working
all the time, eating Ramen noodles, and not getting anywhere in terms
of paying off my wonderful college debt. To make things worse, these
people were also giving my contact info out to other such people (you
know, the lady who has been thinking about selling dog sweaters online
and has a $100 budget for an e-commerce site, 1000 brochures, and a
guranteed #1 Google search result for the "dog", "sweater", and
now four years later, my world (AND financial success) now requires
ample use of the answer "No." And here are ten questions I nearly
always answer "No" to:
1) Can you show me a mock-up to help us choose a designer/developer? No.
fell for this once when I was young and naive. I made no money and
wasted lots of time. Don't do unpaid work for the chance to be paid –
this wouldn't fly in any other industry, so why web design? The best
case scenario (though rare) is that you get a job with a client who
knows that you'll work for free when necessary. The worst case scenario
is that they don't pay you, and still use your stuff, knowing you don't
have the legal resources to do anything about it. Most likely though,
you’ll just waste time.
2) Can you give us a discount rate? No.
are A LOT of companies out there that do not see web design as a
service worth more than $20 an hour. These should never be your
clients. In my early post-college years, I used to value "getting the
job" so highly, I would take on an inordinate amount of work for the
pay. Let me tell you that it's not worth it. Ever. Remember, you may be
doing this company a favor, but on the flip side, you're hurting your
own future, and your family's. Nowadays, I give my hourly rate
immediately, and it weeds out many potential clients. It's simple math
really — if doubling your rate loses half your client work, then
you're still making as much in half the time. If you do excellent work,
get paid for it – there will always be comparable "firms" charging
double what you are.
3) Will you register and host my site? No.
it seems like a good idea — free recurring revenue right? Well,
maybe… if you can first get them to pay, and then if you can justify
making $10 a month for the endless phone support you'll have to give at
all hours of the night. You see, once the client thinks that you are
responsible for their email and website functionality, you WILL get
called all the time when their email shows the slightest wavering or
their website 404s for any reason on their home computer. Believe it or
not, I've even known someone who had a client call about his cell phone
functionality just because my friend hosted his site. Don't do
it…it's not worth it. Give them a registrar and hosting company and
let them sign up themselves.
4) Can you copy this site? No.
you may think that I answer "No" strictly from a moral standpoint, and
although that is true, there are other equally important reasons.
First, if they're copying a site, they have shady ethics themselves and
the chances of you getting paid on time and in the full amount are
unlikely. Second, doing this type of work reduces you to a monkey, and
although some of your work may be like this to pay the bills, why
purposely pursue it? Third, if it's a true copy, the only benefit you
may receive is payment – you really won't get to use it for a portfolio
or example work, and furthermore, this type of client is one you do not
want work from in the future.
5) Can I pay for my e-commerce site from my website sales? No.
hate to be the pessimist, but when I am asked this, I want to tell them
that they most likely won't make any money so they might as well ask me
to do it for free. Yes, I know there are exceptions, so sometimes I
will ask them about their business, marketing, and revenue plans, which
99% of them don't have. They just thought that selling t-shirts would a
novel idea for the internet. I usually go into a spiel about having to
support me and my family, and I can't do it with speculative work — I
then recommend Yahoo! Shopping or CafePress, and 9 times out of 10,
they never get their site up anyways.
6) I have a great idea. Do you want to…? No.
much different from #5, but could be a much larger time waster if you
buy in. Again, not trying to be a jerk, but if the person adds little
to the potential business outside of speaking an idea, then any work
you proceed to do is mere charity (which you may be okay with). But to
be honest, I'd rather be charitable with my family and friends and make
them partners for free versus a stranger. Trust me, if some really has
a great idea, they'll make you partners AND pay you as well.
7) Do you have an IM account? No.
give it out if it's to a person I can trust during an intensive
project, but as a general policy, I tell clients that it's my general
policy not to. The reason here is obvious — you have a life and other
clients beyond them. Many clients see you as an on-call employee, and
this is bad. This is why you quit your day job…
8) Can I just pay the whole amount when it's done? No.
require 50% up front (unless it's a huge job — then maybe 33%). I need
that assurance that they have "bought in" on this project, and that I
can plan on the income, pay bills, and eat. People who want to pay at
the end are much more likely to back out after you've done tons of work.
9) Is there any way you could get this done tonight or this weekend? No.
they know that you helped them out one time, they will expect it in the
future. Now you might choose to get extra done at night (I do all the
time), but don't start making promises about getting things done at
night or on the weekends/vacation. I know a lot of freelancers that
charge night/weekend hours as well, so that might be a possible route
to take as well. Because the reason you freelance is for the freedom,
10) Can I be sure you won't use this work in anything else? No.
is a very sensitive subject because most clients misunderstand it
(intellectual property is a tricky subject anyways). In my Terms and
Conditions that I require all new clients to sign, I make sure they
know that (1) their code has utilized code from other projects which I
haven't charged them for (2) I will probably use code from their
project on other projects (3) the own the code and implementation of
the project (finished website), but not the actual code pieces (login
system, image uploader, etc.). I pride myself in productivity and
speed, and I need to use other code all the time to accomplish this.
Not to mention that I sell stock Flash which I may need old code to
help build. They're not paying you to create code that they in turn
will sell, so make sure they know that it's the implementation and not
the coding that's theirs.
There are others I'm sure. Feel free
to add you own and remember, it's the opportunities you avoid that will
define your success just as much as the ones you take…