Web Work 101: Common Early Mistakes and How To Avoid Them

425341_a_start_of_a_runnerWhen we took our first steps in this world, our feet were unsure and our legs were struggling. The same could be said for freelancers who are venturing onto the web working path for the first time. There are bound to be mistakes and struggles on the way, making us feel that we aren’t ready to go pro yet.

It’s good to remember that everyone has felt like that at least once in their career. Almost all freelancers have a story to tell about the mistakes they made and what they could have done to avoid them.

Equipment and the Home Office

After one of his first meetings with a client, fellow WWD blogger Scott Blitstein wanted to send his client a questionnaire to assess their needs. When he asked them how they preferred to receive the questionnaire, they opted for fax instead of email.

Realizing that he didn’t have a fax machine handy, Scott decided to buy one on the way home. “I think I’ve only used it two or three times since then, and only because I had it,” Scott said.

While it’s important to have a fully-equipped home office, we should also have a realistic idea about how often we’re going to use each item before purchasing. This prevents us from overspending on equipment when we’re starting out, without under-equipping ourselves.

Dealing with Clients

Ruth Thaler-Carter is a freelance writer and editor. When starting out, she worked on a project where she made a profit of “next to nothing.” She explains, “I didn’t confirm who would be responsible for printing and mailing a newsletter I was contracted to write, edit, lay out and produce for print. It never occurred to me that the client would expect me to pay for printing and mailing.”

As Ruth’s example illustrates, one of the most important aspects of client-consultant relationships is the list of deliverables. This list indicates who is accountable for a task and when it is due. Without this list, it’s hard for both the client and the freelancer to identify what their areas of responsibility are.

Money Matters

Elena has been a freelance writer and editor for 11 years, but when she started out she was a far cry from the veteran she is now. Initially, she was billing her clients after every long-term project was completed. This left her with poor cash flow and clients who weren’t submitting their deliverables on time.

Elena decided to bill clients monthly. “Every month, I bill for work I’ve done in the last month. That way, if things sit, at least you got paid, or you can refuse to continue the work until you get paid,” she said.

How to charge for one’s services is a decision that beginning freelancers face. As Elena notes in her story, it’s important to bill regularly for big projects. But how do you charge? Charging by the hour is hard for both parties to track.

One thing that has worked for me all these years is charging per milestone. This is because the deliverables are defined, and the client pays based on the results I produce, not how much time I spent on it. If you set the rates right, your fees per milestone can reflect your ideal hourly rate anyway.

After you’ve decided how to charge, another question comes up: how much? This tends to be a hotly debated topic among freelancers.

David, a legal consultant, said that he was embarrassed to find that he was charging half as much as his competitors. “Upon mature reflection, I left my rates unchanged. I have never been short of work and I have always earned enough,” David said.

I have an alternative story to tell about undercharging. Early in my online writing career, I would see other writers take jobs for $1-$2 per article. This made me nervous as I was charging $8 to $10. If I had cut my rates, I would be taking a loss. So I stuck to my rates and focused on finding the types of clients who wouldn’t be swayed by price alone.

Perhaps the best amount to charge isn’t a specific number. After all, several factors come into play:

  • how much your client is willing to pay;
  • what everyone else is charging;
  • how much you’ll need for business and living expenses;
  • and what rates you feel are “fair” to both you and the client.

Keeping this in mind, there is no right amount to charge, there’s only what’s right for you.

Your early web working career will always be unsure and full of mistakes, no matter how well you plan or research. By learning through other people’s experiences and hearing about their humble beginnings, then maybe your first steps as web workers won’t be as awkward – and even if they are, rest assured that it’s quite normal.

What about you? What mistakes did you make as a beginning web worker? What could you have done to avoid them?

Image by Michal Zacharzewski from sxc.hu

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