Five good freelance questions I got asked today

Okay All, if you get anything out the answers below,  you can thank Shawn for emailing me at the right time with the right questions. Here’s what he hit me up with via email at 2Am. And by the way, these are probably only the 5 hardest questions EVER regarding freelancing =)

How does one begin the first steps to being a sought after designer?

“Steps”, plural. I like that. Well, create a site for yourself that a potential client clearly sees is well-crafted, feels immersive, and personable. Stay away from abstractness and seeming unapproachable. And whatever you come up with doesn’t need to tailor toward what you think a client is looking for. You can’t anticipate where Coke or Nike’s brand is heading. Be yourself and create the type of site you want to be at.

From whatever weirdness that is, a potential client might say “I love your site, its really fun and I wish my company could have a site like that… buuuutt I know it just won’t work for what we are”.  And hey, what a great hypothetical response because all you’re looking to do is get ANY response from someone that wants to pay you money. Your site just needs to strike up a conversation.  If someone doesn’t want to hire you, they won’t make any contact at all. They also might not make contact if you don’t nudge them a little toward doing so. If you make a big button that says “Why Not Email Me?!”, they are more likely too than a small one that says “Contact” . Or a contact form thats buried too deep or too abstractly.

So as long as you’ve impressed someone at a company with whatever, its easy to say, “well I can do anything you guys want”.  But no one will believe that unless you have something extraordinary done already. And it could take months to create your little world on the internet that is unfathomably cool, but if it does take months, the time will be well spent.

Also if you’re totally stumped for what to build, find three or four sites by designers you think are sought after, and figure out what you can copy. Some reading this will say thats stealing, but usually its not because if you start off copying something, you’ll end up with something unique in the process. And if you do end up creating a clone of some other site, you’ll have done more than just doing nothing, and before long the beating of the tell-tale heart will drive you insane until you change the site enough to be your own.

In the past I have been a designer who outsourced to another designer when the client agreed. Then things went down the drain due to not asking enough. Can this be done if so how would you approach this?

Yeah outsourcing can be risky. But if you were honest enough to tell the client you were passing the job onto someone else, you might have been better off just telling the client to work with your other developer directly and you do some kind of finder’s fee with the developer. You could even help the two settle on a price for the project (plus that way you know how much of a fee to get). Of course that developer won’t be very happy with you if you ask for a lot of money for doing nothing, but if you are fair, you probably won’t have any trouble getting paid. Thats all supposing you were going to tell the client you were just gonna outsource the job. Which is easiest, but less money usually.

I’d probably recommend you NOT tell the client anything about who exactly works for ya, and then try your best to manage both ends of it. Just be sure there’s plenty of room for error. Like if the client is giving you 5k and you’re paying someone else 4k, I don’t think thats good. But if you’re getting paid 5k and paying some else 2k, there’s room for something to go wrong and you’re still okay.

How does one begin to set the right prices without sending clients away and win the job?

Well start with a little more than “the right price” for you, and then see what the client says. If they go for it, great. If not, you gotta talk it out and see what’s possible. Remember that the client is still around even if they didn’t like your initial quote. They haven’t gotten on a plane to the moon where you can’t reach them.

My feeling is that if you strike up the right vibe with a client prior to getting into the money stuff, you aren’t at much risk of sending them away entirely. If you act like you want to work with them, they’ll want to work with you and really try to make it happen.

How does one compete with other markets, for example, India?

Don’t think about your competition. You really don’t have competition in the usual sense. Competition is 8 guys lining up to race on a track and 60 seconds later seeing who went around the fastest. Nothing like that ever happens for web developers. If you lose a job to a company in India, you’ll probably never know you were even competing. Jobs get lost and won too anonymously to ever be worth thinking about in a competitive sense.

If a potential client visits your site, and doesn’t bookmark it to come back to later, thats the only finish-line worth considering. So again, just focus on the awesomeness of your own site.

Is there any advice you can offer on how to code Actionscript perfectly or to learn new stuff clients ask for?

I think you mean “code Actionscript perfectly the first time around”, and yeah that is very tough to do if you feel your internal freelance clock-ticking, like you’re spending too much time on screwing up and not getting your money’s worth for it. And that is an age-old issue with freelancing. The screw-up’s are on your dime usually. Its not like a salaried job where you can get away with telling the boss “I need more time to learn this” and get paid the same as last week.

My feeling is that if you promised you could do something, and can’t deliver without some painful learning or trial n’ error, its on you. You’ll know for next time.

But it is possible your client asks for something so unique that you have to ask for money to research what’s possible. For example, lets say someone asked me to program an iPhone app that would control a Wii game. It could take days to figure out if thats even do-able, and weeks of training if it is possible. Your job in that case is to convince the client that this is one of those “nothing ventured, nothing gained” situations. Fancy talk for a gamble. But you’ll probably find that your client already knows this, and has been ready to pay for that all along.  Just be sure you get paid throughout the R&D process.

Hope that helps


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