You’ve worked hard looking for a freelance project. Finally, it looks like all of your hard work is about to pay off. Someone offers you a freelancing gig. Now it’s time to breathe a huge sigh of relief and dig into the project. Right?
Well, maybe not… Unfortunately, not all freelance opportunities are created equal. It’s best to be cautious when accepting new work. Taking the wrong freelancing job can set you up for failure, or worse, damage your professional reputation.
In this post, we’ll show you what to do if you need more information about a freelancing project before deciding whether to take it. We’ll also identify some project types that you should avoid.
How to Pick Good Projects
The key to picking good freelancing projects is getting the right information. To get the right information about a project, I always follow the steps below:
- Check the client’s reputation — Find out if the client has a website and take a look at it. While a professional website doesn’t mean that a company is legitimate (anyone can create a website), when combined with other positive factors it can be a good sign. Type the client’s name into a search engine to find out what people are saying about them. Also, if you are friends with freelancers who have worked for this client in the past you can ask whether they liked the experience.
- Clarify the requirements — Ask questions until you are sure that you understand what the client wants. Remember, it is easier to do a project correctly from the start than it is to correct a project that has taken a wrong turn. Most clients would rather have you ask a few questions than guess at what they want.
- Negotiate a better deal — If you feel that a project has unreasonable requirements, you can often negotiate your way to better terms before the project begins. Areas that are often open to negotiation include: scope of project, due date, and payment. If you are dissatisfied with what the client proposes in any one of these areas, suggest an alternative to the client.
- Get an agreement — Before beginning a project always get a written agreement from the client. If you don’t have a written contract, at least make sure that you have an email from the client that outlines the terms of the project clearly. Never accept a project based solely on an oral agreement between you and the client.
In these tough economic times, a few freelancers may be tempted to take every single job offer that they receive. Having bills to pay and mouths to feed can certainly create pressure for a freelancer to take an undesirable opportunity.
The pressure to accept any and every project is perfectly understandable, but it is also a bit dangerous. Some projects are not what they appear to be. Accepting the wrong job may harm your finances, your reputation, or both.
10 Projects You Should Not Accept
There are some projects that you are better off turning down than accepting.
Here is a list of ten signs that you should turn down a freelance project:
- You have absolutely no idea what the client wants — Despite your best efforts to get the client to explain what they need, you are still unsure of the project requirements. Your attempts to ask questions and get more information are ignored or answered in such a way that you still can’t tell what this client wants.
- The client has a reputation as a scammer — There are many work from home scams targeted to freelancers. Even seasoned freelancers occasionally get taken in by one of these phony offers. If a job doesn’t seem quite right to you, there’s a good chance that it’s not. A good source of information about work at home job scams is available through the FTC.
- The project involves you doing something unethical or illegal — Sadly, from time to time you may encounter a client who will ask you to do something unethical or illegal. When faced with such a decision, you should always say “no.” Not only could your reputation be damaged, you could face very real legal problems for accepting such a project. Even if you were never caught, you would still have to live with the knowledge that you did something wrong.
- You are already overloaded and don’t have time for a project — While you may think that you are doing a client a favor by squeezing him or her into your schedule when you already have more work than you can handle, this favor could backfire. If you put less than your best effort into a project you may wind up with a very upset client. Worse yet, taking on too many projects could jeopardize all of them.
- The client is asking you to work for free — With very few exceptions, you should never work for free. Most “clients” who ask you to work for free never intend to pay you for work anyway. Also, taking on too much free work can keep you too busy to accept better opportunities when they arrive.
- The client is asking for too much for too little money — You’ve probably already experienced a client who takes up most of your time, but only provides a fraction of your income. If you know that a client will need all kinds of extra handholding during the course of the project, but isn’t willing to pay for the extra time that such handholding takes, you may be better off saying “no” to the project.
- You can’t agree on the project terms — Never start a project unless you and the client have come to an agreement. If you’ve done everything in your power to try to negotiate more favorable terms and have failed, then you should walk away from the project rather than start to work without an agreement.
- The work is completely outside of your field of expertise — As a freelance writer, I don’t do web design. If a writing client approaches me with a web design project, I refer them to another freelancer rather than attempt to do the project myself. That’s because I know that I don’t have the knowledge or experience that it takes to be a successful web designer. If a client approaches you with work you know that you can’t do, you should refer him or her to someone else who can do the work.
- You know that what the client is asking you to do won’t work — Occasionally you may find that a client insists that you do a project in a manner that you know just won’t work. (I’m not talking about aesthetic differences here, but rather, practical differences.) If you can’t work out the differences between you, you may be better off turning the project down than setting yourself up for a failure.
- The client behaves in a rude or hostile manner towards you — Just as a client should expect you to behave courteously and professionally, you should also expect courteous and professional behavior from your clients. You should avoid accepting work from a client who cusses at you, calls you names, or otherwise communicates with you in an unprofessional manner.
What Types of Projects Do You Turn Down?
Being cautious about the freelancing work that you accept is a good policy.
We’ve explained how to pick good projects. We’ve also identified ten types of projects that you should probably avoid.
Now we’re inviting you to share your experiences. What sorts of projects do you avoid?
Share your answers in the comments.