What Freelancers Really Want to Know–a Freelancing Cheat Sheet

Many freelancers have unanswered questions about freelancing. Sometimes they don’t know where to turn for answers. Other times, they may not know how to express their question.

I decided to find out what freelancers really want to know. I turned to the freelancers in my Google+ community for help in compiling the most commonly asked freelancing questions.

This post is the result–it’s basically a freelancer’s cheat sheet with short answers to common freelancing questions and links for most questions where you can find more information.

Answers to Common Freelancing Questions

Here are some of the most common questions that freelancers ask:

  • How much should I charge? This is one of the hardest questions freelancers face. The temptation is great for many freelancers to take a job with less than professional rates just to “get the experience.” Unfortunately, this strategy often backfires. The freelancer ends up spending hours and hours on work they would never want to include in their portfolio. If a freelancer doesn’t graduate to professional rates, it’s likely that they won’t be able to stay in business. To learn more, read How Much Should You Charge for Your Freelancing Services?
  • How do I get my first freelance client? How and where to find work? There are basically two ways to get clients. The first is to find them yourself through targeted marketing. The second is to let someone else find the client for you. (This includes job boards and even newspaper ads.) In general, finding clients yourself leads to higher paying gigs, but it may take time to develop the network to draw in your own clients. Most freelancers start out by using both methods. You can learn more in this post, Where on Earth Am I Going to Find My First Clients?
  • What do I do if a client is unhappy with my work? Many freelancers fear facing the disgruntled client. I don’t blame them. No one wants to deal with someone who is upset. Fortunately, if you do a good job and provide good customer service, unhappy clients will most likely be few and far between. Still most freelancers face an unhappy client sooner or later. Here are seven steps that can help you if you have to deal with an unhappy client.
  • Do I really need a website? The short answer is yes, you probably do. Most freelancers rely heavily on online marketing. You will most likely need a website. It will serve as your home base online. It’s a place where clients can go to find samples of your work, blog posts that establish your authority, and information about how to contact you. Here are 10 essential pages you may want to include in your freelance website.
  • How many samples do I need? This is an excellent question. The truth is that quality is far more important than quantity. Most prospective clients are only going to look at a handful of samples (six to twelve at the most) anyway. No client wants to see that you produced a huge volume of poor quality work. Your online portfolio should always showcase your best and most current work. Update your portfolio often. If you are applying for a specific gig and you have a sample that is relevant, you can send that sample link directly to the client.
  • How do I manage project scope creep? Scope creep is a huge problem for freelancers. It means that you will wind up spending a lot more time on a project than you anticipated. Scope creep on a single project can cause a domino effect, impacting all of your other projects. In extreme cases, severe scope creep could be enough to put a freelancer out of business. Learn to safeguard yourself against scope creep by following the suggestions in this post, The Slippery Slope of Creeping Scope.
  • How do I get marketing information (competitive and general)? This is an excellent question that many freelancers struggle with. Generally, the best place to find competitive information is through a professional society. Most of them conduct regular salary surveys for their field. They also are useful for keeping up with trends. Two popular professional societies that conduct salary surveys are the AIGA (graphic arts) and the Editorial Freelancers Association (editors and writers). You’ll want to check with the organization that is most relevant for your field.
  • How do I manage accounts and money generally? It’s important for freelancers to manage their money. There’s a little more financial management to freelancing than you may be used to. You need to keep an accurate record of all your transactions–not only projects and payments, but also purchases that relate to your business. In the U.S., you also need to set extra money aside for income taxes since you will be responsible for the employer’s portion. If you are unsure about what to do, it’s a good idea to get advice from an accounting professional.
  • What are the set-up costs for freelancing? While freelancing is often a low cost way of starting your own business, it is not free. All freelancers incur some expenses. Depending on where you live, your startup costs may, or may not be, tax deductible. Consult a tax professional to be sure. This post, What it Really Costs to Be a Freelancer, does a good job of describing the costs of freelancing.

Your Turn

A special thanks to Google+ community members Neil Connolly, Courtney Ramirez, and aakash dave for providing freelancing questions for this feature.

It’s not too late to ask a question about freelancing. Leave your freelancing question in the comments below and we’ll do our best to answer.

Image by ukdiveboy