When I first made the choice to become a freelancer and I had no idea where to begin. I reached out to my old manager who was the sales lead/product manager at my old company. We covered a range of topics starting with how to get leads. To copyrighting a business logo. To dealing with taxes. After the conversation, I had a grasp on what I needed to do. I’ve been a freelancer for 7 months now and I’ve realized that there were some topics he didn’t cover. Here’s the advice I would give past me.
Setup a standardised project pipeline
Standardise the way you start every client project. This starts with documentation. Use Trello or a free CRM and keep it up to date. Use these tools to keep track of quotes, requests, and questions. Also spend some money on software, like Xero, that can send and track invoices. At some point, you’ll start approaching every client project the same way. You might have a standardised set of questions. Or a standard timeline for getting a project started.
Spend time researching — Longer than you think
Time estimation is one of the hardest parts about freelancing. I‘ve always struggle with estimating the length of a project. By spending time researching you can make a much better estimate. I recently realized the value of research when working with another freelancer.
He would break down a project into smaller features. For each feature, he would add a checklist of tasks to complete. He also added any information about potential database models. This included any proposed columns and also any relationships with other models. Finally, he estimated the time per feature and any potential time sinks. This became his roadmap for the project. It also uncovered any potential questions that he could bring up with the client.
I’ve never implemented value pricing. I would feel like a fraud if I spouted advice about how to do this. From what I’ve read, value pricing seems to be the path that every freelancer should take. You can earn more than hourly pricing. And you can do this without working yourself to the ground.
I won’t go too in-depth with this concept. Instead I suggest you subscribe to Jonathan Stark’s free email list about value pricing. It’s a six part email newsletter explaining the what and how of value pricing.
Get better at client communication
I find communication hard to master. Should you answer an email immediately with the client? Are they going to care about small, incremental updates? Should you wait until you have a large update which could take weeks or months?
In my experience, over communicating is better than not communicating enough. Most of the time this comes in the form of emails. Sometimes through calls or video chats. Use technology to make communication easier. Start a slack channel and invite them to use it. Let them know what hours you’re available for questions. Set boundaries so they don’t interrupt you during deep work. It’s hard to build trust with a client when you’re working remotely. Constant and meaningful communication helps alleviates this.
David Copeland recently gave a talk at Rails Conf 2017. He tackles the idea of being an effective remote developer. If you’re looking to improve in this area, I recommend watching this video.