Questions to ask yourself before you start any freelance project

Questions to ask yourself before you start any freelance project


Every new freelancer is anxious about one thing - getting that first project.

That first project means your first client. And we all know how important it is to secure your first client.

But, some freelancers are so anxious to get that first client that they agree to a project before carefully considering whether or not the project will be good for them.

If you’ve been freelancing for a while, you probably have one of those horror stories about that client who was a nightmare to work with or the project that took over your life.

You wanted to jumpstart your career so badly that you unwisely took on a project that did not suit your strengths or agreed to work with a client who just wasn’t compatible with you.

If you’ve ever found yourself in one of those situations, you understand the wisdom of slowing down and asking yourself some important questions to determine whether a project is right for you.

I want to share with you 5 important questions to ask yourself before starting any freelance project.

Whether you’re searching for your first client or simply trying to decide whether or not you want to take on a new project, these questions will help you make the right decision and save you from a potential headache, or worse.


Question #1: Does this project align with my goals and brand?

In the article Planning for Success: 7 Things to Consider Before Launching Your Freelance Career , I talk about the importance of creating a vision for yourself and asking What do I want to accomplish? before launching your freelance career.

Vision is important because it determines how your freelance career will take shape and unfold.

You also need to have goals or objectives to work towards.

Do you want to become a full-time freelancer? Or, do you want part-time income? Are you looking at freelancing as a bridge to build a business?

Becoming a freelancer because you don’t like your job or have issues with your boss isn’t enough. Freelancing isn’t just an escape. If you are simply looking for a different job with a better boss, you may be better off just looking for a different job, not freelancing.

Freelancing is a career where the ups and downs can be higher and lower than that of a “normal” job because it is more personal. Not only that, freelancing requires you to embrace and learn more skills that you would working in a more traditional programming situation.

Before you start pouring time and resources into becoming a freelancer, do a personal inventory and ask yourself what you hope to accomplish as a freelancer and, maybe more importantly, why freelancing is the best path toward that goal.

Once you have a clear vision and goals that you are working toward, you will be able to determine whether or not a project is compatible with them.

For instance, if your goal is to earn extra income while keeping your full-time job, you wouldn’t be wise to take on a project that requires full-time hours to complete. You’ll want to take on smaller projects that are easy to work on during your free time.

I’ve also talked about the importance of creating a personal brand .

You wouldn’t expect to buy running shoes from McDonald’s; you’d buy them from Nike or Adidas. You recognize those big, golden arches and expect to get a juicy burger or yummy french fries, not shoes.

Your brand tells clients why you are unique and what they can expect from you.

What you need to realize is that not every client and not every project will align with your brand.

If you’re offered a lucrative project to build a website for a major client, but you don’t build websites, you shouldn’t take on that project - no matter how appealing the offer is.

You’ll only find yourself scrambling to accomplish something outside your wheelhouse and frustrated that the project is taking up so much of your time and mental energy.

You have a vision and a brand for a reason. You have certain talents and abilities to offer to clients. You also have limitations and weaknesses. If you play to your strengths and abilities, you’ll find success and feel more confident as you build your freelance career.

It pays to know yourself and stick to your brand!

However, sometimes a project seems to align with your vision and brand, but it requires you to stretch or grow beyond your current area of expertise. That’s when you need to ask yourself the next question.


Question #2: What skills does this project require and do those skills fall within my skill set?

No freelancer launches their career already knowing everything they need to know.

One of the most exciting things about freelancing is how you are always learning.

Likewise, no freelancer is an expert at everything. You have strengths and weaknesses, so it’s important to know your skill set.

When you’re considering a new project, take stock of what skills you’ll need in order to deliver a quality product to the customer.

This is more than just whether you’re an expert in Python or you can write code. All freelancers like us know how to write code. That isn’t enough.

Ask yourself, what skills do you bring to the table that separate you from other people and freelancers? What experiences do you have that can help you produce better products?

Remember, clients won’t pay you simply because you have skills. They will only pay if you can solve their problems.

So, what skills do you have and how can you help clients solve pressing problems?

Then, evaluate what skills you are lacking but are necessary in order to complete the project.

This includes organizational skills, time management, talking with clients about money, and more. Have you done the research to learn what you actually need to know in order to sell your services, connect with clients, manage workloads and deadlines, etc?

Be honest with yourself.

Are you distressingly disorganized and need some help learning how to get organized and manage your work? Check out my project manager as a freelancer article.

Do you cringe when thinking about how to talk to clients about your rates?

Do you find you’re a poor judge of how long a project will actually take you?

Sometimes, we are more skilled than we think we are, and sometimes we are less. Writing good code, building programs without issues, and delivering work on time is only one (surprisingly small) part of being a freelance programmer, no matter what your specialty is.

Make a list of your skill strengths and areas where you need to develop more. Then, evaluate any new project to see which skills, if any, you’ll need to learn or improve.

That leads to the following question.


Question #3: Am I willing and able to learn a new skill set in order to take on this project?

There is a reason why I didn’t include this in the last question. All potential freelancers dream of the freedom and control they get once they’ve built their freelancing career.

But, they get that by embracing the work of constant learning.

Let’s say, for example, that you need to develop sales skills.

This is great to realize. The question is, will you?

Are you willing to get up in front of people and actually pitch your services? Or, has the thought of asking people for money always been overwhelming and terrifying? If your answer is yes, read Talking About Money With Clients .

Do you need to take a sales course or read some sales books?

Maybe you need to learn a new language or brush up on a skill you haven’t practiced in a while?

Take stock of what skills the great freelancers employ and consider which of those skills you need to improve.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you‘ll just “figure it out” as you go along. These skills don’t just develop by accident.

You must go through the sometimes grueling work of developing them (and sometimes looking and feeling stupid when you’re not good at them) in order to learn to master them and become comfortable as you develop.

But, this all takes initiative on your part. You have to be willing to learn and grow. If you’re not, don’t accept the new project.

On the other hand, sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to put in the time, effort, and money to learn a new skill. Maybe you honestly don’t have the time right now. Maybe it requires too much of an investment at this point in your career.

You have other options. It might make more sense to hire additional help to cover part of a project that doesn’t suit your skill set. For example, if the project requires some creative writing component, but you’re not a creative writer, you could contract out that component of the project while you handle the rest.

The important thing is to deliver a quality product to your client that brings value to their business while not getting in over your head trying to complete a project.

So, know yourself - your strengths, skill set, and what you’re willing to learn - and then determine whether or not you can and should take on the project.

If you’ve determined that the project aligns with your vision and brand, and you have the skills (or can learn the skills) necessary to complete the project, you still need to ask yourself two more questions.


Question #4: Does this project support my financial plan?

What are your financial goals? Are you freelancing to support yourself full-time? Are you looking to supplement your income? How much will you charge your clients, and how much work can you do at any one time? All of these are very important questions to consider.

How you answer these questions will determine which projects you should take on and which you should bypass.

The hardest part about this is that there is no one right answer. The right price for one job or for one freelancer might be the wrong price for another.

The rates you charge and the prices you set in some sense depend upon your expertise and upon your financial considerations, such as what your expenses are.

You have to understand and have an idea of what you need to charge and what you need to make after taxes in order to make freelancing work for you financially.

As a freelancer there’s nothing worse than to be busy and broke at the same time because you aren’t charging your clients enough or taking on projects that don’t pay enough.

You have to know what you need to make in order to live the lifestyle you want to live.

How to Price Your Services as a Freelance Developer will help you to think through what your rates should be so you can make freelancing work financially for you.

So, you may get offered a fun, innovative project, but find out that the client isn’t willing to pay you the rate you need. You have to be willing to say no to a project that doesn’t make financial sense for you.

Any project that you take on should support your financial goals. Don’t sell yourself short.

Then, there is one more question to ask yourself before pulling the trigger on a new project.


Question #5: Do I want to work with this client?

Maybe the project pays well, aligns with your vision and brand, and requires skills that you’ve got (or can get), so you’re ready to jump on board.

But, the client is pushing for a quicker turn-around than you know you can do, or the client doesn’t respect the fact that he or she can’t call you at any time of the day or night.

You get the picture. There are those clients. Clients who seem to think you have nothing else going on than the project you’re completing for them. Clients who don’t respect boundaries or agreements.

How can you spot and avoid those types of clients?

Here are some red flags to look for:

  • They are late for, or are constantly rescheduling, important meetings. This indicates a lack of respect for your time and professionalism.
  • They pick apart and question every suggestion you offer. This probably means that they will never be happy with the end product and may refuse to pay because what you deliver “just doesn’t meet my standards.”
  • They keep asking to change the scope or structure of the project, even after you’ve reached an agreement. This can lead to constant headaches for you because the client isn’t really clear on what he wants.
  • They complain about other freelancers they’ve hired. This shows that they are rarely satisfied. If they’re complaining to you about other freelancers, they’ll complain about you to others.
  • They drag their feet about getting you important information or paying on time. This will only get worse, and you’ll be spending more of your time trying to get what you need from them instead of working on the project for them.
  • They seem two-faced, or you catch them in a “white lie” or falsehood. This is a BIG red flag. You need honesty and transparency in a successful working relationship. Don’t waste your time trying to sort through fact vs. fiction.

It’s important to set boundaries and expectations for clients. Not everyone will be compatible with you, and that’s ok.

So, if you see any of these red flags, carefully consider whether or not you really want to take on the project.

But, even when you are careful, there are times you’ll find yourself working with a difficult client . I shared some tips before on avoid landing difficult customers , I recommend that reading.


Conclusions

Asking yourself a few important questions on the front end can help you determine whether a freelance project is right for you.

You can avoid unnecessary headaches and financial setbacks. You can make sure that the time and effort you spend on any project supports your personal and professional goals.

The freelancers who are happiest and who achieve the biggest and best results are freelancers who know what they are getting into.

Do yourself a favor and answer these 5 questions honestly before you start any freelance project.

Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!

Thanks for reading!