When you’re a new freelance writer, you may be tempted to dive into a project straightaway, no questions asked, because you’re terrified the client will change their mind about working with you, or, worse, ‘find you out’ (omg, you’re new to this?!).
You don’t want to do anything that would give you away as a newbie, so you pretend like everything’s cool, you’ve got this handled, and you’ll definitely deliver whatever it is the client wants by whenever they want, NO MATTER WHAT.
That, my little pumpkin spice latte, is a mistake. You’re setting yourself up for a world of frustration, and you’ll probably achieve the very thing you’re hoping to avoid: looking like an amateur. So here’s what you need to do:
1. Define the Project Parameters
What is the intended outcome of the project? What specifically will you write? Will you make revisions? How many? What does the client have to do? Because this isn’t just about what you have to do. This is about what’s expected of both parties. Do they need to fill out a questionnaire? Provide you with some documents? Get on a Skype call with you the day the project commences? Answer your emails promptly? If anything’s unclear before the project begins, you can pretty much guarantee you’re going to meet problems. Differing expectations = somebody’s pissed off at the end of it. Either you’ll be pissed off because you’ve had to do way more work than you bargained for, or your client’ll be pissed off because they don’t think they’ve gotten their money’s worth. If you’re worried you’ll look dumb for asking certain questions, don’t be.
2. Sign a God Damn Contract
Not only does this protect both you and your client by laying out the terms of the agreement exactly, it also makes you look like a pro. I know, I know, sending out contracts — scary, right? Fortunately, OurDeal makes it a super easy process: you can just fill in the blanks and hit send. (Look for the Commissioned Writer Agreement.) If you want more guidance on contracts and how they work, I highly recommend the Small Business Bodyguard. This is the resource I used to write up my own contracts (as well as to figure out how to do a bunch of other biz-related stuff).
3. Get 50% Up Front
What?! You can get money before you start work? Yes, you can. And you should. Getting 50% up front is totally normal in the freelancing realm, although the amount can vary depending on the length of the project. If you’re working on something that’ll take months, for example, you could charge 25% up front, 25% at the end, and the rest somewhere in between.
Rather than making you look like a flailing idiot who doesn’t know what they’re doing, or like somebody who’s got a giant stick up their arse, doing these things will make you appear professional. And if you find a client who disagrees? Well, they’re the unprofessional asshole, not you.