I’m going to bare a little bit of my soul here in order to help the hundreds of thousands of freelancers who will be cheated, mistreated, and bleeded today if they remain uninformed.

This week a woman approached me for a design project quote by asking to see my contract and rates. Nobody ever asks to see my contract in a first communication. This lady felt burned to a crisp by a prior design experience and wasn’t taking any chances. I don’t blame her.

She shared a tragic story that will remain blissfully anonymous,

but some dynamics of this professional services saga are too important to ignore. They will save or destroy your quality of life as a Freelancer. Think I’m kidding? There’s a legendary book among designers called “[amazon_link id=”0982473931″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Clients from Hell[/amazon_link].”

Before you contact me for social media consulting or design services ask yourself:

  • Would you knowingly charter a sailboat to carry your precious gems over murky, uncharted waters without a clear plan of action? If you would, you scare me.
  • Let’s assume you’ve hired a boat captain with the skills and experience to get your precious cargo safely ashore. Would you wrestle or whine to wrest the map out of the captain’s hands and tell him how to navigate? If so, you scare me.
  • After setting sail to exotic lands with your priceless jewels safely stowed below, would you then bring in your own crew of non-captains to tell the captain which way to steer the boat? If so, you scare me.
  • While underway, sipping a Mojito, you suddenly decide that you really want to take your precious diamonds and rubies to Fiji  instead of Barbados.  You demand that the Captain re-chart and commit to a more involved journey for free. If so, you scare me.
  • If during this voyage you seize the wheel and steer the ship into the dreaded doldrums where winds die and heat blisters (by refusing to responsibly supply content in a timely manner), you scare me really bad because you’ve effectively mutinied and threw the Captain into the brig. The ship runs adrift and will never get to port on time, which costs both you and the Captain lots of money in lost opportunity for other voyages.
  • If you would hire a Captain because he’s “a gift from God,” “the sweetest person ever,” (read: “easily bullied”) or “the answer to all my problems,” you scare me because this signals truly unrealistic expectations.
  • If you would defend your actions with “but the customer is always right,” you scare me. That’s something  McDonalds tells cashiers for when a customer wants extra ketchup or no pickles. It has nothing whatsoever to do with a contract for professional services.  Can you imagine somebody having a custom home built suddenly demanding that the architecture be Victorian instead of Ranch half way through the project (for free) because “they’re always right?”

The Soul Baring Part:

Somebody actually tried to dupe me with this particular line after I’d finished an entire project. She’d signed off on the detailed design but then changed her mind after I finished, and nastily demanded an entirely different site… over a major holiday weekend. I swear this stuff is true. The scariest part is that I was sweet, eager to please, and naiive enough to believe that I could actually make this woman happy without selling my soul (and free time) over to her whims and created another custom site (for free) that she also nitpicked. She’d gotten a bargain price, incidentally… I since learned that she leaves a trail of bloody bodies every where she goes. Others like her roam the internet waiting to seize on unwary freelancers with no regard for contracts or even common decency. Protect yourself. The following guidelines would have prevented my heartbreak and stress over trying to please at all costs. All I can say is that this feels like a million years ago because I’ve changed so much. I’m a business woman, not a house elf.dobby_the_house_elf_by_shovelduct-d2z90ir


What do you choose to be?

Consulting, design services, space ship construction, pinball playing lessons, cat herding, teaching kindergarten classes, plastic surgery appointments, and chartering sea voyages to exotic destinations all involve contracts, clear expectations up front, and continued mutual respect in order to be successful for all involved.

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Royal ClipperDon’t let salty clients to scuttle your ship! These 10 lifesaving tips will keep you afloat in good business:

  1. Be professional and don’t rise to the bait if your client starts making personal remarks. Throw them overboard (fire them) rather than put up with unacceptable behavior. No amount of money, particularly promised money that you might never see, is worth enduring verbal abuse.
  2. Keep communications short, kind, firm, and clear.
  3. Hold your head high. Nobody gets to make you feel small.
  4. Have a legally sound contract in place before you start any work.
  5. Share a clear plan of action and get approval on it before starting any work.
  6. Get written approval at every step of the process before moving forward. (There is no re-doing approved work without a fresh contract.)
  7. Define responsibilities clearly and state repercussions for repeatedly missed content deadlines (such as requiring more money or throwing them overboard).
  8. Meet your own deadlines flawlessly. Communicate well in advance if you can’t. (Be willing to discount your price of you repeatedly miss deadlines.)
  9. Be firm about the scope of the project. You’re captaining a one-way voyage to to Fiji, not a “Seven Wonders of the World” grand tour.
  10. Be strong and beautiful. Nobody gets to make you slave nights and weekends because it’s more convenient for their schedule.

Do you have any seafaring tales of priceless treasure and salty intrigue that you’d like to share?

Of course, we’ll be professional and not call anybody out, but sharing your story could save somebody’s life who’s never sailed those treacherous waters before. Please help them.

Thank you!! Please share if you care for your fellow freelancers.


Photo Credits: Pirates of the Caribbean and http://shovelduct.deviantart.com/art/Dobby-the-House-Elf-18013949, and http://www.forbes.com/2005/01/06/cx_jw_0106dow.html