I migrated a bunch of content over and this post was probably written a lot earlier than the published date. As such it might contain out-of-date content, shit opinions, Dunning-Kruger levels of overconfidence and less creative swearwords than usual.
The following is an excerpt from my book ‘Mindful Design: How and Why to Make Design Decisions for the Good of Those Using Your Product’ (Mindful Design will do, like). This excerpt is around 25% of the final chapter. If you like what you read then you should totally buy it.
Tuesday, May 7, 2019
Freelance is so gr8, you can work whenever you want to. Except some times you won’t want to, because you had to take that job designing a shitty calendar app for that one client with the worst branding you’ve ever seen.
Freelance is so gr8, you can pick the exact projects you want to work on. Except sometimes you can’t because your shitty surface-level understanding of the perfect project and unavoidable confirmation bias led you to thinking that this project was going to be perfect when in all truth it was worse than that shitty calendar app for that one client with the worst branding you’ve ever seen.
Sometimes freelance is fucking terrible, sometimes you can’t motivate yourself, sometimes clients don’t pay, sometimes you misquote and end up working for 12p an hour.
I’ve had two stints freelancing, one was fucking invariably atrocious and the other was moderately successful. One I probably averaged out making £300 a month, the other I made closer to £6k a month. There was around 2 years between the two of working full-time and learning—in a position of relatively good job security—how to actually deal with clients, how to design for them and not for Dribbble, what tools to use to expedite feedback, what feedback to ignore and what feedback to include, how to tell a client they’re talking shit without offending them, how to manage dozens of points of contact as the single person working on a project, when to ask for help, etc. etc.
I feel like I’ve made enough mistakes to comment, so sit around and let uncle Scott tell ya some harsh truths about the freelance world before you go jumping in thinking your Dribbble skillz and exuberance are going to get you instantly having better months than Ben Howdle Ltd.
Clients don’t always want to pay. Fuck, clients never want to pay. They just have to because they’re legally obligated to pay because you spent actual time writing down an actual contract with actual payment terms with the advice of an actual legal representative that your actual client signed, right? Good.
Create a fucking contract. Get it signed. Don’t do a single thing until it’s signed. If you can’t be fucked to do this then I hope you really, really enjoy working for free.
Here’s my best advice on mitigating non-payment:
Those four things give you:
And they require you to:
Take a breath before starting a project. You’re about to commit a good deal of your time to this. Your client has expectations and is owed your best work. Naivety isn’t an excuse for delivering shit work and unless you understand your client’s requirements, you will do shit work.
Here’s something I repeat to myself often:
Nothing is the client’s fault
The first thing every inexperienced ‘professional’ does when shit goes south is blame their clients. This is bullshit. This means you’re working to a process where clients can fuck your projects up. You shouldn’t be doing that.
If I don’t have 100% confidence in my billing, scoping and estimating process, I have to take every bump in the road as being on me. Passing the blame isn’t an option.
When something fucks up and you’re ready on CMD + T to go to clientsfromhell and post a fucking childish rant about how hilariously shit your client is, stop, remember that that website is the worst thing since your stepdad called you the wrong name, and do a postmortem on the issue. Actively look for a somewhere to blame yourself. It’s easy to just heap blame on a client but that gets you fucking nowhere and I guarantee, this shit will pop up in every project and you’ll be crying to anyone who’ll listen how shit your luck is with clients, forgetting that the only constant factor in your shit client experiences is you.
Client paid late? How could you have better-communicated your deadlines? Did you let the client know that late payment means no work until you get your money? Did you provide a clear payment timeline and have your client agree to that?
Client has shitty feedback and doesn’t know how design or development works? Did you explain that properly to them? Did you let them know the kind of feedback you wanted from them at every stage? Did you provide examples of good and bad feedback and let the client know that good, timely feedback is the key to momentum?
Client ‘doesn’t like’ something late in the game? Did you share your shit early enough for them to feel involved in the process or did you just ‘big reveal’ their new site in a serious of underwhelming Dribbble shots? Did you explain, from an early stage how things might evolve, how the site might look on a shitty mobile browser, how their app will transition from the login screen?
If the answer to any of your questions is ‘no’, suck it up, take the blame, do better next time. Actively look for reasons to take the blame for a hiccup in a project. It mightn’t be completely your own fault, but it’s better to assume it is, or you’ll do (and accept) the same old shit every time.
(I wanna caveat this: sometimes it will be absolutely obvious that a client is just trying to fuck you over, when that happens, it’s shitty and blaming yourself isn’t healthy. In the world of small businesses, being an absolute fucking prick seems to be more common than most pursuits, you should strive to have a process that quite obviously highlights the naive clients from the actual shuddering jizzlords, that way, mistaking a jizzlord for a nice-but-naive client is a lot less common. Hopefully.)
Some clients really are difficult. Sometimes you’ll have to fire a client. Sometimes they’ll point-blank refuse to pay and you have to work out if it’s worth taking them to court. However, if you’re set up well from the start, you can mitigate things. So instead of every project going to shit, only a rare few will.
Stay tuned for more super gr8 wanky articles on how working in your pyjamas isn’t as lovely as you probably imagine.
Also, get a fucking contract.
Want me to design some stuff? Interested in booking me to speak or lecture? Wanna tell me how much you love my face? Say hi.Get in touch