If you’re one of the millions of workers who quit a job during the Great Resignation, you have an exciting road in front of you.
Like many roads, it is likely to have some bumps and obstacles along the way.
If you are new to freelancing, you may not know what to look for when taking on new clients, and that could open you up to abuse — of your trust, of your wallet, and even of your emotions. Success in the freelancing community is far from guaranteed, and the ones who survive are the ones who can drive a hard bargain and are unwilling to sell themselves, or their skills, short.
With that in mind, here are some common red flags every new freelancer should know about.
Clients May Try to Negotiate Your Rates Down
When you are new to freelancing, it is easy to sell yourself short. You may think that you have to compete based on price alone and that charging the lowest possible rate for your work is the only way to attract new clients.
The problem with this strategy is that it can backfire badly, harming not just your future earning prospects but also causing you to lower your rates even more than you anticipated. Some clients may try to take advantage of your lack of experience to negotiate even lower rates, forcing you to accept those bargain-basement payments for all work going forward.
Always remember that it will be much harder to raise your rates with existing clients than it is to set a fair price upfront. Even if you are struggling to find clients, selling yourself short is a terrible idea, so ask what you are worth and the right people will come along.
It may also be helpful to calculate your rates based on what you make on an hourly basis. This apples-to-apples comparison is particularly useful for those coming from the corporate world, as those employees knew what they were making before they made the leap to contract work.
Once you have a few clients on board, you will get a feel for how long each project takes, and that will make setting your rates for similar work a lot easier. If you’re doing freelance writing, a piece that is easy and fast to write could be priced lower, for instance, while a more complex one might fetch a much higher rate.
Some Potential Clients Will Ask for Free Samples
If you walk into a restaurant, you would not expect to walk out with a free steak, nor would you expect a no-cost shirt or pair of pants at your favorite clothing retailer. Why, then, would a prospective client expect free samples of your products and services?
Unfortunately, some freelancers are led to think that providing free samples for prospective clients is the key to future success, but in most cases, it will just be a case of wasted time. If you want to impress a potential new client, you can always point them to your website, where existing samples of your work can easily be found. You can also post links to previously published work, giving those would-be clients a look at your skills and your style.
Watch Out for Clients Who Are Reluctant to Sign a Contract
As a freelancer, you will most likely be working with other business owners, and those professionals understand the importance of a clear contract. From the supplier who provides their morning coffee to the technicians who repair the copiers, those business owners have contracts in place with all their various partners, so why should freelance work be any different?
Some clients may try to take advantage of new freelancers, refusing to sign a contract or acting like a written agreement is not necessary. Refusing to sign a contract should always be a red flag, and it could be a sign that this new client is not worth the trouble.
Beware the Endless Cycle of Revisions
There are bound to be some misunderstandings when working with a new client — it is almost built into the business model. You may not have a deep understanding of what the new client is looking for, and your first effort may not be up to their expected standards. The client may need you to write in a different voice or to approach a project from a different angle.
Those adjustments are part of the freelancing lifestyle, and that is why professional writers offer revisions to their content. What they do not offer, or expect, is an endless cycle of revisions, one that ensures that the piece is never quite right, and one that undeniably means that final payment will never be made.
Some clients seem to use this endless cycle of revisions as an excuse not to pay. Worse yet, some unscrupulous clients may even try to steal your hard work and pass it off as their own, publishing your supposedly substandard words on their blogs or websites and forcing you to chase down your missing money.
Hopefully, you already have a standard contract in place for your freelancing work, one that can be adjusted and revised to meet the specifications of each new client. If so, that contract should clearly spell out how many free revisions are included in the agreed-upon price, and what kinds of costs will be incurred by the client if additional changes are required.
If you do not already have a contract drawn up, make sure the one you create sets firm limits on gratis revisions and spells out the terms of further changes. Once that contract is in place, always insist that all new clients sign it before you begin doing any work.
As more and more people make the jump to freelancing, the number of brand new freelancers will continue to rise. That means some clients may try to take advantage, offering artificially low rates, refusing to sign legitimate contracts, and requesting a never-ending number of revisions. If you want to be a successful freelancer, you could learn these lessons by trial and error — or you could take these red flags to heart before you start searching for your first client.