In my post, 5 Things You Should Do Before Becoming A Freelancer, I mention that organization is the single most important aspect of doing freelancing well. From the moment someone reaches out about a potential job to the moment you cash the paycheck, you should have a systematic work flow in place.
This is not counting, of course, the emotional roller coster that is the creative process itself — that’s an elusive beast. However, the chaotic bitch that is creativity only makes the need for streamlined processes even greater. Before you can get busy doing what it is you actually do, several things need to be in place.
A website will obviously help land new clients and be a place to showcase your work for prospective ones. I think every business (freelance or otherwise) needs to have a hub. There are numerous sites on which you can build a “profile,” but a website is yours — and it can link to other profiles, portfolios, and social medias if you need them.
If you want something fairly easy and enjoy playing around with design, sites like Squarespace and Wix offer hosting, templates, and more, all in one location. They can look cool and they’re relatively straight forward. My issue with those is a.) They aren’t the cheapest option; b.) You can tell they were built on Squarespace or Wix; and c.) They aren’t super customizable.
WordPress (like this one) requires a little more technical knowledge, but with the right theme and plug-ins, can be entirely bespoke. I use Bluehost for hosting because they have a WordPress set up button right on their C-Panel, and also offer free email addresses for your domain! (Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bluehost and receive commissions on any internet sales made as a result of my endorsement. That said, I would endorse them anyway.)
This is the first thing I send people when they reach out to me. Well, I say hello first… but then I immediately shoot them this link. Take a look at mine. Feel free to steal and tweak as needed. Granted this (as with most of what I do) is from a designer’s perspective, but any freelancer can and should use a project brief. It has saved me unbelievable amounts of time, guesswork, and (god forbid) email exchanges trying to figure out what the hell the client wants specifically before I even begin the work.
I make certain things on the form mandatory — mainly because those are pieces of information I really need, but also to avoid potential shitty clients. If they don’t have a deadline, know what size of a document they want, or what file type it should be, I make them figure it out before getting back to me. Before I hop in bed with someone I want to know they’re of-age, STD-free, and not trying to have kids any time soon, know what I’m saying?
Your time is valuable, and it’s vital to streamline your process to save as much unnecessary work as possible.
This can be a big presentation or a simple email — it depends on the project. But this is what it should include:
Intention / Objective
If I’m doing anything more than a one-off tour poster (for example) I like to include a little something about our goals. It gives both me and the client a little bit of a guide post, or even (if applicable) actual data points we’d like to hit. I include a “goal / objective” line item on my project brief. It’s not mandatory, but if they fill it out, that’s less work for me!
This is basically an outline of the entire project. This is why the project is going to cost what it does, how long you anticipate it to take, and why. Give them a range, and use wording that allows for unforeseen events. Highlight specifically what each step of the process may be, and give a description. I write it out in bullet form:
I anticipate the [Name of the Project] taking roughly 30-34 hours to complete. This includes:
1.0 Brainstorming Period
1.1 Discussions with [the client] establishing goals, finding inspiration, and throwing out ideas
1.2 Up to 3 hours of research, data gathering, brainstorming, etc. by the designer.
2.0 Building the Initial Template
2.1 Building folders and databases for all applicable files and content
2.2 Generating the appropriate file size and structure of the document(s)
2.3 Establishing fonts, sizes and colors
You get the picture.
Not only does this give your client a very clear understanding of what you’ll do and how, it gives you a good sense of what you’re getting into and helps you plan for it.
Timeline and scope, though similar, are not the same thing. If the client has a deadline, let them know this will be 100% complete and in their hands by the time the deadline comes. Factor in time for tweaks. Factor in time for potential errors. Not yours of course, because you’re awesome (although that could happen), but errors with shipping, printing, etc. There’s also the
possibility probability that the client will change their mind at some point.
Obviously all this exact wording shouldn’t be in the proposal, but define when they can expect what. Most projects involve drafts and benchmarks. For example if I’m doing a complete rebrand, I give them deadlines (usually soft deadlines which allows for aforementioned issues, but still deadlines) on when they will see: logo first drafts; a final logo; a finalized typography; a color and texture pallet; collateral design; whatever else they may need… That’s a lot of touch points (they often combine, because once I’m rolling I tend to dive in) but I want the client involved and engaged on bigger projects, and I want to be held accountable on my timeframe.
If you think you’ll be rushing to meet their deadline, let them know that too, and factor your price accordingly. A reasonable deadline and a possible deadline are two different things. (But you know… careful.) I’ve had clients go, “I know this is last-minute; however…” I told them I would do it, but I laid out in my proposal just how rushed I was going to be, and that raised the price a bit. They understood.
Proposed Price (Investment)
Unlike the contract, this part is still negotiable — if you want it to be. Be prepared to answer questions pertaining to your quote, but don’t be afraid to stand your ground and defend it either. This is why you outlined it for them above — so just in case they’re negatively surprised, this is the only time! This is also where I specify that I’ll be asking for a 50% deposit before getting started.
Contract (Letter of Agreement)
Ah, the dreaded contract. While it may be daunting, a legally-binding Letter of Agreement between you and someone for whom you are doing work is vitally important. Two points here: 1. A contract is just for a worst-case scenario — both you and the client hope you’ll never need it; 2. A contract doesn’t have to be big and scary.
The contract will probably only be used if someone is in serious breach. All it needs to do is establish some key terms so no ones gets shafted. If you have a lawyer friend (good for you) and want to have them look it over that’s fine, but there’s no need to spend thousands of dollars to get an iron-clad document — at least not until you start getting into large sums of money. Here’s a guideline for things you should include:
Project and Payment
- The scope of the work. This does not have to be in as much detail as the proposal.
- Define deliverables.
- State that you are a freelance entity, and not in any way an employee of the client.
- Establish that once the client accepts and pays for the completed work, they accept full responsibility for any further processes (printing, etc.)
- It can also dictate maximum hours you will work on this project.
- Payments terms. How you’ll get paid, how much, and when. Also include that any additional expenses that occur can be charged to the client (after you clear it with them, of course).
- Original Works. That the work is yours and not plagiarized.
Confidentiality and Exclusivity
- Confidentiality. The client’s proprietary information stays confidential.
- Except in rare instances, you will have a non-exclusive relationship with the client. Meaning you can work for anyone, including clients in similar fields.
Ownership and Licenses
This is where things get a little jargon-y, and also depend on the work itself. Do a little research before defining this.
- Work Product. This states that the client owns the final product, but not any drafts, sketches, ideas, etc. It also states that you don’t own anything supplied by the client (already-existing logos, trademarks, etc.)
- Right to authorship credit. This is not necessary, but I like to put in that I retain the right to display the work as part of my portfolio. I also include language that says I don’t intend to resell or reuse the work, and that the client can’t claim the work was created by anyone other than me.
- Termination of service. Both you and the client have the right to terminate the services.
- Fees. Establish what that entails for both of you in terms of payment.
- Rights and ownership. Include that if the job is terminated, the client does not retain the right to use any of it unless otherwise specified.
Acceptance of Terms
In order for it to be a legal document, both of you have to sign and date. Then you’re done!
A little legalese of my own: The above information is simply a guideline by the author, who is not a lawyer or legal expert. Readers are advised to do their own due diligence before engaging in a contract. By reading this, you agree that the author is not responsible for anything resulting from the use of this information. Basically… you can’t sue me if you fuck up.
This is the fun part! In fact, I even make my invoices look fun for the client. Why not? Most of the time (though it may depend on the job) I send two invoices: one for the deposit; one for the deliverable files.
Include the name of the company, the name of the the project, what the work is for, and a short description of the work. If it’s hourly, include the hourly rate, the time spent, and the total.
Also be sure to include the invoice number — which means having a system of how you’re going to do that. I personally have a four-digit invoice number: Client Number (for example 23) and the Job Number this is for them. (If this is the second time we worked together, that would be 02). So that would be invoice 2302. While your client should be logging this number in their records, the number itself is for your record keeping. So pick something that works for you. People have different systems.
Time Tracking / Management System
Many freelancers work hourly, many work by project, some even work on a monthly stipend. I think it’s valuable to track your time no matter what.
If you charge by the hour you obviously need to keep track of your time, but have a distinct system to do so. I’ve worked literally next to a client who later disputed some of my hours because they were just written down and rounded to the quarter hour. Trust me, a specific, measurable system is a life saver. I know people who keep stop watches on their desks. Or use an app like Harvest that keeps a timer on you. (It even stops when you’ve been inactive… so keep those potty breaks short.)
If you don’t charge hourly, an hourly time card is still invaluable data you can use later to calculate your rate, how long individual projects take, and even weed out sucky clients by seeing who takes up most of your time. This is especially beneficial to newbies, but even if you’re 10 years in and charge a flat project fee, see how long you’re actually spending on it. I use the data to figure out what I need to be better at — and that often includes time management. If nothing else, it puts in perspective how much time I spend in front of a screen. A 15,000-foot view of your work time can only be beneficial.
Bonus: Email Templates
It’s nice to customize your emails to each client so they aren’t just getting an autoresponder. However… I do have a couple scripts I use, especially for those who find me online and not through word of mouth. A simple copy/paste from a file in Evernote, and we’re off to the races. I tweak as necessary, but it reads something like this:
Thank you for reaching out! I’m certainly happy to help you if I can. Before we get started, if you wouldn’t mind filling out this form, I would greatly appreciate it. This helps me streamline our process and also gives me a better idea of precisely what you’re looking for and how I may be able to help. I’ve attached an editable PDF as well if you would rather fill it out and send it back.
If you have any specific questions or concerns, feel free to email me back here. Thank you!
I’ve got similar templates for when I’m unable to take on clients immediately (i.e. traveling abroad or shooting a film), for anyone looking for a job or internship, and also a thank you email directing them to my feedback form. (I have my Academy Awards acceptance speech in a similar file too, just in case.)
Any time you find yourself repeating a process, develop a system to make it as automated as possible. This saves time and headaches, but most of all it frees up your time to do what it is you do best.