Landing a new client is always an exciting moment for a freelancer, and can often seem like the biggest hurdle. There are tons of tips out there for how freelancers can generate new business, and while this is important, it’s really only a small part of what it takes a succeed (or fail) as a freelancer.
Many common freelancing mistakes actually take place in the first week of working with a new company. By avoiding these pitfalls, freelancers can build better relationships with clients, deliver better work, and cultivate a more productive freelancer lifestyle.
1. They don’t sign a contract
Every freelancer should sign a contract at the beginning of their relationship with a new company. Contracts are an opportunity to lay out expectations and ensure everyone is on the same page about tasks, timeline, rate, IP, and more. They protect employers and independent contractors alike. Most companies have (or should have) a standard onboarding process and contract that they send to freelancers, but that doesn’t mean they will. Things can get lost in the shuffle, and while it may seem fine to get started on work, rather than wait for the contract to come through, this can backfire. What if the contract contains stipulations you don’t find acceptable? The time to negotiate is not partway through.
Freelancers should receive, read, and sign a contract within their first week. If the company is small and doesn’t have a standard contract, you can easily find industry and job-specific templates online.
2. They don’t ask questions
While a contract may lay out some details, it likely won’t include everything a freelancer needs to know about a particular job. For example, does the company need you to be online at a certain time of day? Do they need you to use a specific type of software? Is there a certain tone or message they want you to hit? You don’t want a client getting frustrated that they can’t reach you or asking you to re-do work because you didn’t ask the relevant questions.
Conversely, the first week is the time to figure out what you need to get the job done. If you need a company email address or access to Trello, it’s better to figure that out before a bottleneck emerges. Don’t be afraid to make requests or push back if something doesn’t make sense. All too often, freelancers dive in headfirst only to find themselves adrift or blocked. Communication is key.
3. They don’t get set up for payments
Slow or late payments is one of the most common freelancer complaints. Sometimes this is because companies put freelancers on net-30, 60, or 90 day terms, which in this day and age, is unacceptable. Sometimes, however, the issue is that the freelancer didn’t know about the invoicing protocol and/or didn’t provide their bank details up front. Just as signing a contract should happen in the first week, so should signing a W9 (or equivalent relevant tax forms) and sharing bank details and contact information. Taking care of this during the first week can help streamline the payment process once the work is in.
Avoiding these mistakes during the first week makes the relationship between employer and freelancer better for everyone. It protects the company from compliance and liability risk and the freelancer from delayed payments. Just as importantly, opening the lines of communication from the outset, so you understand just what the company needs from you, will smooth the working relationship and optimize everyone’s time. This sets the foundation to work with the company moving forward and long-term clients are essential to freelance success. Working with a new client will always involve an onboarding process and learning curve. By using that time wisely, you can focus more on the work itself down the road.