What’s an expert? I read somewhere, that the more a man knows, the more he knows, he doesn’t know. So I suppose one definition of an expert would be someone who doesn’t admit out loud that he knows enough about a subject to know he doesn’t really know that much. -Malcolm Forbes
If I could attribute one idea to my success as a freelancer, it would be this: “You Are Who You Say You Are”.
All too often, beginning freelancers question whether they are, in fact, allowed to call themselves “professionals”. At what point is it acceptable to say, “I’m an expert in my field”? At what point can you confidently charge $100 an hour?
To many people, the term “freelancer” comes with some baggage. They don’t hear this word and think, “entrepreneur”. No – instead, they think, “He must be some hack that can’t get a real job.” So, who gets to decide when you’re qualified? The true answer is that you’ll never know. The more you educate yourself, the more you realize how much further your journey will continue. Ultimately, YOU – and nobody else – decide when you’re an expert and are worthy of a hefty fee.
Growing up, I’ve learned that there are a couple of constants in life. First, hot dogs should never be eaten. Second, and more importantly, life requires a lot of BS. Now at first, you might think that this is a terrible way to live. I personally disagree.
Realizing that everyone is BSing their way to the top can be strangely liberating. You learn that we’re all just scared people hoping that the rest of the world doesn’t figure out our dark secret – that we’re all just imposters one step away from finding ourselves too far in the deep end of the pool. If you can find peace in the fact that we’re all, at least to some extent, in this same proverbial pool, you can begin to focus on what matters most – getting the job done.
I discovered this concept when I was discussing a project with my very first client.
“Do you think you can handle this website”, she asked me? I, being young and way out of my league, was probably focusing more on the sweat running down my face than the client’s question. “Yes!”, I responded with an overzealous tone that makes my current self nautious.
Was I qualified for this job? Absolutely not; but, after a few books and two hundred hours, I managed to present the client with something along the lines of what she asked for. She was happy enough with the product that I received a nice letter in the mail a few weeks later. Heck yes, I knew that I was a hack! But, to the client, I was the EXPERT and worth every penny. So what is more important here: the way we personally classify ourselves, or the manner in which we are presented to the world?
Looking back on my first job, I cringe when I review my work. When I compare it to what I’m capable of now, I sometimes consider redoing the site for free. Such things can keep a person awake at night! Bottom line, you should always look back on your old work with some disgust – it’s called growth.
Let The Client Be Your Catalyst
In this day and age, freelancers must be willing to offer a larger variety of services. As a result, it can become increasingly hard to be fluent in each piece of software.
Personally, I love it when a client makes a request that requires a program that I’m unfamilar with. What great motivation! We can be paid to learn! The next time you are offered a job that you aren’t quite qualified for, accept the job and BECOME QUALIFIED.
This may mean that for the first week, you sit in a coffee shop (or a bookstore) and study your tale off. Now obviously, you don’t want to charge your client for your shortcomings; so you should dock your hours accordingly. When the project is completed, you’ll not only receive your fee, but you’ll also become qualified in yet another piece of software.
This, consequently, will make you more reliable and beneficial to the client for your future projects. Win – win! Though some might argue that it is a disservice to the client to take on a job that you aren’t initially qualified for, I strong disagree. From my experiences, clients are looking for long term relationships. The 80/20 rule has never been more apparent than in my case.
These clients don’t want to hear, “I’m sorry. I’m not qualified to do this project.” They want you, their contact, to get it done – period. If you have developed a relationship with them, they know that they can rely on you. Truthfully, it would be nearly impossible for a freelancer to hold the title of “master of everything” (especially in the design world). Anyone who argues differently is either a liar or simply in denial.
We live in an age where technology is obsolete after six months. Throw a spouse and kids into the mix, and you have one tough industry. In such instances, there is absolutely nothing wrong with “learning as you go” as long as you ultimately present the client with a professional product.
What do you think? :)
About the author: Jeffrey Way is a full-time freelance web developer who is most comfortable when blending in with a corner at a Starbucks while working. When he’s not designing for his clients, he maintains a blog that contains thoughts and tutorials related to web development. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his fiance’ and dachshund.