It is the best of times and the worst of times.
Life as a web or graphic arts freelancer can be both rewarding
and tough. On one hand is the indescribable pleasure of
be able to charge what your worth; on the other is the often
frustrating task of getting paid what you're owed.
Your time is money. That is why you went into
this business in the first place. Learn it. Live it. Love
it. This is the Golden Rule and you should chant
it like a mantra because we'll be coming back to it in this
article; I promise.
The reality of any design business, or service
business in general, is that you must pay as much attention
to the business end of your efforts as you do to the service
end. Failure to do so exposes you to liability issues, profit
loss, headaches, dry mouth, wasted projects and more. While
you may be a creative design god, a visionary, genius-it
doesn't mean you are running your business as effectively
as you can. If you've ever watched a profitable project
slip away because the edits just wouldn't end; if you've
ever let a client push you around and make you feel uncomfortable;
if you've ever found yourself wishing you had more legal
protection for the work that you do, then this article is
This list of steps will separate your design
business from the amateurs:
1) Spend time interviewing the client
about the job. Not only will this help you determine first
hand what the client's needs are, but also it will help
the client view you as a professional. A good first impression
will help you later on when it comes time for payment.
2) Put together a work order based
on what was discussed in the interview. This will be your
proposal to the client to begin working on their project.
You will need to spell out all of the terms, delivery dates,
number of pages, editing guidelines, deposits and payment
terms. You also need to include all of the options discussed
in your interview with the client. A formal proposal says
that you are a professional.
Your proposal should contain no less than
Site Specifications and layout
(include milestones and number of drafts)
Payment terms and conditions
Storyboards, diagrams, or examples
In considering each of these elements I cannot
stress enough the following point: Leave nothing open-ended!
Even if "open-ended" is a vital part of the contract,
as in the case of an ongoing relationship for maintenance
and updates, you need to spell it out!
3) Never work without a deposit. Go
look at the Golden Rule again in case you forgot.
A deposit does two things for you.
- It helps separate the serious clients from those who
are not. A client is less likely to pull out of a project
if they've made a financial commitment.
- See the Golden Rule.
4) Have a pricing strategy. Know what
your time is worth, how long it takes you to do certain
tasks, and the value of those tasks in the marketplace.
Communicate them effectively to the client, impress on them
which tasks are time consuming, and how this will impact
pricing. Your client is likely to be a professional, and
they will understand that time is money. They understand
that their own time is money. They should understand the
Golden Rule and so should you.
Developing a spreadsheet or other form which
allows you to track changes to a project as you go helps
in the long run. It will not matter whether you charge per
page, per project, or a combination of both, because you
will know how to price what you are doing for the client.
5) Test early and often - don't let
your credibility erode by forgetting little Q/A issues such
as Browser Compatibility (read: Netscape), plug-in issues,
load times, and screen resolution. Do as much of this before
the client sees it. If the first impression of your creation
is a good one, then it will be easier to get paid than if
the client could not view the site correctly the first time
6) Have a final invoice - make sure
it reflects the work order to the letter. Any agreed upon
changes must be billed with the approval method clearly
outlined. Attach any copies of emails, faxes, or other communications
regarding changes to your site. Your contract should outline
the terms of payment, and definitely detail a "late
payment" policy. Just slap a statement on your invoice
which reads "18% APR for accounts more than 15 days
past due" and see what happens. You should always have
a plan to enforce non-payments
Whether you are a freelance web designer,
graphic artist, desktop publisher, or programmer you take
on a great deal of responsibility every time you accept
a new contract. Having ironclad contracts, invoices, and
work orders can go along way in protecting your interests
early and often, before trouble starts.
Putting these steps in place takes time and
a little money, but you don't need to hire an attorney,
an accountant or a business manager to increase your sales
and efficiency. Just remember the Golden Rule. Your
time is valuable; don't let the client take that from you.
A good resource for many of the things I've
mentioned above is a company called Proposal
Kit; you can find the product here.
I purchased their "Professional" package originally
for our business and we've been extremely pleased with the
by Thomas Granger
Design Group is a coalition of web designers, marketers,
artists, animators, and other hired guns who work in the
start-up arena. Sometimes cheap, sometimes for free, always
getting the job done. If you can find them, maybe you can
hire them....just like the A-Team..grrrr
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