Yes. It is.
Freelance is a single word for building a business by yourself, and building a business is difficult.
As a Freelance Web Developer, whether you’re just starting off or going into your 5th year of freelancing, every day will present a new challenge.
I say this not to discourage you from following your dreams of owning your own business, but rather to add a realistic perspective from having been immersed in it for a decade. There is no easy guide, no hidden secrets, and no “secret sauce” to building a successful business.
There are however, processes, procedures and techniques that allow you to more easily navigate this difficult terrain.
Freelancing can be an emotional journey, but it doesn’t have to stop you in your tracks. There are ways to systematize your business so that you don’t have to agonize over every detail. If there was one piece of advice I could give to any emerging (or experienced) freelancer, it would be:
Create systems for EVERYTHING.
Not sure what to put in a proposal? Create a re-usable template.
Nervous about a client not paying? Expand your contract to cover all scenarios, and have them sign a payment schedule.
Not sure what to do when you need to fire a client? Create scripts for that
Of course we can’t account for every single scenario, but when we make systems for the ones we CAN predict, we free up mental space for problem solving new issues that come up.
If we attempt to solve everything as we go, we work ourselves into a state of frenzy and ultimately burnout. I’ve seen it time, and time again.
This puts you in a constant state of “mental debt”. Mental debt is when you are in a constant state of overwhelm
So far we’ve focussed on everything that can go wrong, so let’s dive into the ways we can prepare. Here are 5 of the biggest areas that you should focus on systematizing and implementing. These areas will make the biggest impact on the efficiency of your business, your client satisfaction (which leads to more referrals and more clients), and better mental health. Because if you don’t manage your mental health, your business will not succeed. Full stop.
Have client contact procedures that you strictly adhere to.
Make it extremely clear from the beginning when, and how you will be available to your clients. If you have loose boundaries to begin with, it’s extremely difficult coming back from that and become more rigid with clients. Establish boundaries early, and often.
For example: I only communicate with clients via email, I don’t do client work (that they know about) on weekends unless we are doing a launch, and I never allow them to reach me via text. My text app on my phone is a sacred space to share with family and friends only. You can stretch these for circumstances if you wish, but they must be restrictive right from the beginning.
This includes contracts and proposals. You don’t need to re-create the wheel every time here, you should have standardized templates that you can substitute information, and make adjusts to to be able to send off to clients. This will expedite the process, allowing you to make these documents faster, and ultimately create more of them if you are responding to RFP’s (requests for proposals).
The rest of the onboarding process after a proposal is accepted, and contract is signed should also be seamless. The client should receive guidelines of major milestones, a way to transfer assets, and a very clear outline of the expectations moving forward.
Development/Design Milestones and Communication
This is touched on above, but I can’t express how important it is to be clear with the client about when and how your deliverables will be supplied, but also the deliverables they you need from them, and how their timing of providing their components will affect the full project timeline. Be clear that, if the clinet does not get their copy/photography to you by X date, the project timeline will be delayed as a result. This is so important, and clients often think you can “make up the time”. Make it clear from the beginning that the projected (not guaranteed) timeline will change according to when their deliverables come to you.
Launch can be a stressful time for you, as well as for your clients. Personally, when my clients and I decide on a launch day, I actually launch it the evening before. That way, they aren’t refreshing their screen and emailing you while it’s happening, and you can troubleshoot while they are asleep. Make sure you notify them not to share the project for at least 48 hours after it goes live to ensure propagation. With these two elements, most clients (and myself) end up having a low stress launch, that in their eyes is executed seamlessly.
Also, never launch on a Friday.
Ending a relationship with a client isn’t often discussed. Ending a relationship doesn’t have to be a negative thing, it could also be that the project has concluded, and their team is taking over.
When offboarding a client, be sure to supply them with comprehensive training documentation, and create a follow-up/support document that gives them guidelines, as to who to reach out to if they need additional support, and what day your post-launch support expires.
I also like to add nice touches like a congratulations card mailed to them on their launch (if the client is fired, they don’t get a congratulations letter).
Systematizing these items will make your life and business run 1000% easier, so you can focus on making beautiful websites.
Freelancing and running your own business isn’t easy, but can be an awesome way to make a living.
Remember, since you are a one (wo)man show, you are responsible for design, development, accounting, project management, client relations, PR, and marketing so go easy on yourself if you’re not an expert in these areas to start with. We can make systems for all of this, and eventually start hiring these things out.
We covered a lot of what can go wrong, or the challenges of running a business, so I want to address the people who believe that focussing on “what will go wrong” will in fact, manifest those things to happen. There is a big difference between focussing on all things negative, and understanding that challenges will happen, and preparing for when they do.
For that I would say, don’t trust anyone that market’s to you using phrases like “5 Easy Steps to Start a Booming Freelance Business in 30 days”. Starting a business is simple, it’s not easy, but it is often simple. And in that simplicity, will come enormous challenges.
After all, you’re in this to create freedom, flexibility and a life you love. So, let’s make that life work for you!
Create stability, protect yourself and enjoy the ride.