There's four areas where you can make a serious impact on your business right away: your website, getting leads, happiness, and the money. This post covers Happiness.
Be in Charge
It’s going to be a bit of a role change going from being an employee or a student to being your own boss. You’re now in charge of the relationship with your client, as well as the work. Be prepared to stand up for your business and the way you want to work. Don’t give in to unreasonable deadlines, working for free, or work that doesn’t match your skills. In the end, the client will appreciate that you declined to do a poor job at something that you weren’t trained for rather than pay you for substandard work. Remember, you’re not an employee; you don't work for them you work for yourself. Be in charge.
Be Comfortable Hearing No
As you’re networking and meeting potential clients you're going to hear a lot of “no”s. Get comfortable being rejected. There's an endless number of reasons why a business might not be ready to hire you right now. Sometimes it has to do with their budget, with their future plans, or they might just think it's not a good fit. Believe me, you'd rather walk away from a bad fit then force it on your business and have a miserable time. Getting a “no” is part of the gig. Move on to the next great opportunity.
If you got a “no” but thought the opportunity was a particularly good fit you can reach out to them via email or phone and asked if there was anything you could have done better to get their business. This can sometimes be a little bit daunting, but if you're able to get candid feedback from this leads you can find out how to do a better job landing the job next time.
Often the thing that determines how happy you and your client are at the end of a project is communication during the project.
Often the thing that determines how happy you and your client are at the end of a project is communication during the project. Since your customers aren't experts in what you do - that's why they hired you after all - they'll need some education. Be sure to stay in regular contact with the customer as you're working on their project.
As a designer it's okay if you don't solicit detailed feedback from the client on the design; after all deciding on the design is your job. However, it's important to keep your customers apprised of your progress and any issues that you've run into which may change their delivery date or final costs. Understand that the smaller the client’s business, the more likely they are to want hands-on input into your work. It's up to you how much of that you'll allow.
Have an Agreement
As a web designer or a developer, you'll be working with a lot of information and you and your client need to have a clear understanding and agreement on how that work is going to proceed. it's also important that the client understands how you do business. What happens if there's a disagreement? What happens if the client asks you to use materials that are rights managed? Who's responsible for clearing the rights for that material? Who is liable if the right to work clear? How does your payment plan work? Is the deposit refundable? When is final payment due? All of these things should be spelled out very clearly in your agreement document and signed by your clients before work begins. I've always preferred to walk through this document with my clients either over the phone or in person rather than mailing it to them and assuming that they read it. This document alone saves hours of headaches and conflict later in the project.
Agree on “Done” Up Front
It will depend on how you're doing billing, but if you're doing a fixed-bid project where the full price of the project is agreed upon before work begins make sure that you and the client both understand the definition of “done” for this project. There's nothing more frustrating than a client who keeps adding work to your schedule when you know you can't ask for more money for that work. You’ve probably heard this called “scope creep”.
There's really two things you can do about scope creep on a fixed-bid project. One is to tell the client that this work is outside the scope of your original estimate or bid (which only works if you've got a document that agrees on what “done” means) and that the additional work will cost extra. Two is to just tell them “no”, which never goes over very well. In either case, if you want any credibility you’ll need to have a document that you've both agreed to before the project started that clearly indicates the scope of work that you are doing for the price that you quoted. As long as the customer understood the scope of what you quoted up front, you’ll get through those uncomfortable conversations without too much issue.
While we’re on the topic of “done”, don’t release your work to the client until the final payment is received. If they don’t pay you fully, they don’t get the results of your work. Don’t spring that on them the day before launch either; be sure they understand that policy of yours before you begin.
Join a Group of Positive People
One of the best things you can do as a freelancer or small agency owner is to surround yourself with like-minded, positive, supportive people. Find yourself a local networking group. Check Meetup.com or your local Chamber of Commerce and join a group of your peers. Facebook is a particularly good place to find these groups. Keep in mind though that networking has a time and a place; having Facebook all open all day is a great way to not get anything done for your clients.
Surrounding yourself with helpful positive people is a really excellent way to learn new skills, network, and deal with the solitude of being a freelancer.
Ask Questions of Your Peers
Sure, happy hour with the group is great, but the real purpose of networking is to learn and find support. Be sure to ask people in the group for advice on topics that you're struggling with. Who do you use as your accountant? What do you do with troublesome clients? How do I make sure my clients are happy? The people in the group will have a lot of different experiences and sometimes quite a bit more experience in an area than you have. Listen to what they say, and decide what's best for your business. Be gracious and grateful. Help back when you can.
What Comes Next?
Continue on to Part 4, The Money.