Picking Your Clients


When you start out in your freelance business, it can be difficult to image a day when you can not actually take on all of the jobs that come your way.  You will be faced with the decision of either hiring help, or turning down some jobs.  This places you in a position of difficult choice, but it is also a position of power.  You have the power because you can now choose who you work with and take the types of jobs that you want the most.

When I was starting out, it was hard for me to come to the point where I was just that busy, but with enough time, I found myself able to work non-stop all day and still not complete every task for the day.  I can now have the flexibility to choose more projects based on those that interest me.  It is far better than the days that I had to take on every client that came my way so that I could build skill and money.  I like the position that I find myself in now.

With these points in mind, I can interview clients better, and chose projects.  Here is my process:

1. Who Do They Usually Hire?

When I am applying for projects on Elance and oDesk, I tend to look through a potential clients past hiring list to see what rates I expect they are used to paying for services.  I am also interested in seeing what providers have said about them.  Of course, some projects are hired at smaller rates than mine, but if I consistently see a few dollars an hour, it may not be worth my connect or application credit to apply.  They are likely looking for cheap labor, not quality service.  I am also interested in seeing what their providers have said about them.  Of course I do not expect to see perfect ratings…providers can be crazy just like clients, but if there is a pattern of negative comments, it gives me pause to think these clients must have something going on.

2. What Is the Service Requested Verses the Projected Budget

Most of my work is not local to my physical area, and that is the great dream of many freelancers.  As such, when I am screening clients, I have the ability to look at the project and have a chance to research it slightly before I give an answer.  One of the key questions that I will answer for myself is what the prospected budget for the project compared to the work it actually is.  I have actually seen projects that ask for full CMS systems, shopping carts, and the full works for only a budget of $100.  When I was just starting out, one of my first projects was a website with a custom blog and all.  I completed this project for a whopping $125.  Never again.  The client was great and I will work him all he wants, but the cost of the project was a ‘getting started’ situation.  I can not take that little for such a large project any more.

3. Set Client Boundaries

When I first started out, I would take on clients and jobs without much screening.  Usually what would happen is I would get the ideas for the project and code it up quickly, then wait…and wait….and wait…because the client did not have all of the content ready, and no amount of emails for information could make it come any faster.  So I would have projects in limbo for a long time, then I would need to ask for the funds for my work before the project is completed because I was done with waiting.

Now that I have a better grasp on where projects get hung up, I can start out with boundaries and I can create payment steps to work around the parts that I usually work towards.  When I am setting up a project, I usually do the mockup in Photoshop and ask for revisions before coding.  Then I bill for the mockup so that I am paid for that part.  Then I move onto the regular HTML coding and get the frame up with either placeholder text or a rough draft.  I bill for that part.  The final billing is for the content, final browser check, and I usually do not charge for site upload.

4. Collect Down Payments

I started out only taking payment after the project is completed, but now I collect a down payment first.  This is usually half the project if the project is small.  If it is a large project, I will usually bill for the first few milestones.  If you are a freelancer and you do not yet collect a down payment, you need to start.  I believe that it goes a long way toward building both your confidence and credibility.  Collecting your down payments also lets your clients know that you are serious and it makes sure they are serious, too.

5. Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

A common problem that is encountered by freelancers once as they start to accumulate more projects is to take on too many projects and clients.  When you encounter this problem, your deadlines close in fast, and the quality of your work suffers.  This can lead to a loss of the very thing that caused your to gain your clients: your reputation for great work.  In addition, it will add stress to your life.

When you start to gain more clients than you can handle, it is time to raise your prices.  Some clients will move on for lower pricing, many of them will be happy to pay more for your great service.  This method will allow you to maximize your profits while doing what you started out to do: help people with their needs in your particular field.

I hope that you have found these tips a help as your business grows.


About Tom

Tom has been building websites and interacting online with blogs, forums, and social media since 2005. In 2010 he launched out full time in web design with the company Western Mountain Web Design. In his first year of business he completed projects in over 15 states in the US. In 2011, he launched the web hosting company Murhost and the blog Murhost Success with the goal of equipping small business owners to succeed with their online strategy.
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