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5 Questions Every Freelancer Should Ask Before Taking a Job

Questions for freelancers considering a job:

  • Do I like this person/company?
  • Will I enjoy this project?
  • Is this something I can use in my portfolio?
  • How much time will it take me?
  • Will it be more beneficial to charge an hourly rate or a flat fee?

Freelancing can be an excellent source of income, often providing freedoms (hence the term) absent from the typical 9-5. As a freelancing designer, you can theoretically build your schedule, work from home, and quite simply be your own boss. This lifestyle sounds great—and it is—but managing yourself can be challenging.

For instance, you may know a few freelancers killing themselves to meet ridiculous deadlines. Though they may have the opportunity to set their own schedule, they’re working fifty or sixty hours a week. Sure, money gets tight; friends need favors; these are aspects to the business. Still, if you’re looking to freelance and enjoy it, there are a few questions you should ask yourself before taking the plunge.

Do I like this person/company?

Yes, you should actually like your client. And sure, you might be thinking, If I only worked for people I like, I’d never work! I get it. You’re an adult, and being an adult involves getting the job done, even if you don’t like the people involved.

But remember, you’re a freelancer, and as a freelancer, you sort of get to decide what you’re willing to take. Does Joe Logo call you all hours of the night? Does Shirley Banner micromanage your work? And what about Bill Site, who never responds to your emails?

While it might be scary, consider losing these clients. Make room for new clients—people with similar goals and professionalism. There are other fish in the freelance sea, so ditch the work that feels like work.

Will I enjoy this project?

Not all aspects of a project will be fun, but you should be excited about some element of your work. Maybe you like the mission, opportunities, or the actual design work. If not, it may be time to move on.

In fact, just feeling happy in the work you do can make you more productive. Let’s say two separate clients approach you for projects. One wants you to design something for his business—a business that sounds like a dud. The other client wants you to design something really innovative for a nonprofit you support.

You will probably start brainstorming on the innovative project right away. With the other, you might experience artist’s block, or worse, you may regret taking on the project altogether. Do your best to take on work that excites you, because it will show in your work ethic and your final product.

Is this something I can use in my portfolio?

The answer to this question may be a yes, and it may be a no. Ultimately, the importance of this question relies on the goals you have for your portfolio.

If you’re constantly looking to diversify your work, for example, then you may take on several unique jobs and use them in your portfolio. On the other hand, if you provide a niche service (e.g. business infographics), you may find yourself turning down several opportunities.

Keep in mind, however, you can still do passion projects and simply omit them from your portfolio. Here’s an example. Molly is a designer specializing in sports identity design. Molly’s sister is getting married on a budget, so as a gift, Molly designs her invitations, programs, and website.

While Molly might be proud of this work, it clashes with her professional designs, making it a poor portfolio piece. Even without earning a place in her portfolio, the designs are a source of pride for Molly, because they were passion projects. She created them because she wanted to.

How much time will it take me?

This is perhaps one of the most important questions in this list. Understanding the time required to complete a project is crucial, especially if your client is requesting an unrealistic deadline. Remember, you’re your own advocate, so don’t be afraid to give yourself some wiggle room.

We discussed freelancers who work so much they have time for nothing else. If you know people like that, you probably also know some freelancers who live a seemingly cushy existence. Chances are they value time over money, or at the very least, they value both very highly.

And you’ve heard it before—you work to live, and you’re not quite living if you’re working all the time. So, here’s what you need to do. Decide how much time you really want to spend working. Is it forty hours? Thirty-six? Less? Consider some reliable clients who pay well, and think about ones who consistently need work. For individual clients, ask them to refer you to friends for a discounted rate. Finally, think about how many clients you can juggle at once. As you begin building your base, you’ll know your schedule and how much time you can devote to a project.

Will it be more beneficial to charge an hourly rate or a flat fee?

There are several schools of thought on this, from people claiming you should never charge hourly to people who only charge hourly (sometimes with some extra fees). You have a couple options. First and foremost, know your worth. If you don’t know how much to charge, do some research. Ask around. What are people charging in your area, and which companies are willing to pay?

Secondly, decide on an hourly rate, just to have in your back pocket. If someone hires you for something you know will be insanely time-consuming, do not be afraid to charge an hourly price. (And don’t be afraid to charge a deposit; no designer should get gypped.)

Finally, consider how much your services are worth in general. This way, if someone hires you to create something that can be done in two hours, you won’t kick yourself for selling your services short. So, in other words, you may want to have a different plan depending on the client and project at hand. On the other hand, if you’re not a math person, you may want to charge a flat fee and forget it. You’re the boss.

Conclusion

Work isn’t always fun, but you should enjoy it. And sometimes enjoying work takes a little work. You may have to take a step back and reassess your clients, your schedule, your goals, and your finances. And if your happiness suffers because of one (or more) of these aspects, that’s a problem. So, before your next project, remember to ask yourself some questions, because freelancing should offer you more freedom, not less.

I'm the editor-in-chief of Bittbox.com. I'm a designer and developer by day, and a writer and musician when the feeling strikes. I enjoy vintage advertisements and puzzles with an absurd amount of pieces. Follow me on Twitter.

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