How to Get a Freelance Gig: Tips From Someone Who Hires Freelancers, Part II

making widgets
Okay, so now you know how to get a freelance gig—and you got the offer. Congratulations! The next thing you need to know is how to be the best damn freelancer ever, the person who aces the business parts of freelancing as well as the doing-the-work parts of freelancing.

If you have not done so already, get details about the gig’s proposed rate, deadlines and deliverables in writing. Email’s fine, you just need something you can point to if there is ever a disagreement or confusion about what’s expected.

Speaking of rates, once you’ve been offered the gig, be honest with yourself and your potential employer about money. Say you usually work for $40/hour, and you’re offered a freelance job Photoshopping widgets for $30/hour. However, if you turn it down, you will have $0 this month. Here is how not to handle this situation: “Sure! $30/hour sounds great, thanks!”

Here is how to handle this situation, once you’ve established that $40/hour is not possible (and it may not be): “My usual rate is $40/hour, but I’m excited about this project/working with you/these widgets, so I’m willing to accept $30/hour this time.” Letting me know your usual rate helps me keep tabs on freelancers’ real going prices, and can help me make a case, in the next meeting where budgets are discussed, that I need more freelance money in order to hire the people we need.

Assuming you get the rate you want or can live with, on your first day of work, if not sooner, make sure you understand how to submit invoices or time sheets. Ask for a name, email and phone number that you can contact if you have any problems getting paid. Do this now, as you are starting the gig. Do not wait until you actually have problems getting a check.

Bear in mind that the nice person who hired you (me!) is probably not the person directly responsible for processing payroll and invoices—and some companies outsource that stuff to an outside processor that’s managed by someone in finance or HR or both. Getting freelancers paid can be complicated. If you come at me with these questions up front, I am not going to think, “Eesh, what a noodge.” I am going to think, “Here is someone who knows what’s up, and who takes his/her business of freelancing seriously.”

If you don’t get the check you’re owed, or the check is less than it should be, speak up. Immediately. Never approach the topic of getting paid with apologies, like, “Sorry to bug you about this, but I think I was supposed to get paid for the last invoice on Tuesday, and it doesn’t seem to have gone through…” No, no, no. This is your livelihood. Lean the fuck in, just be polite about it.

When it comes to the work, a word about juggling multiple gigs. I always assume that my freelancers have other gigs, which is no problem, unless those commitments start affecting your ability to do what I need you to do. If your plan is to work Gig #1 from 8-to-12 and then get to our office at 12:30 to work until 4, that’s fine, but if it turns out afternoon traffic on this side of town is terrible so you can never get here until 1, that’s a problem. Also a problem: if you say you can work from home retouching 300 widgets a week, under the unrealistic assumption that you will never sleep more than three hours per night and skip showering until the project is done. Again, be up front about your needs and schedule. Be very, very careful of over-promising and under-delivering—if you do that, I will not remember the promises, I will only remember the widgets that went un-Photoshopped.

Likewise, and I hope this goes without saying, if you are on the clock for me, you should not be using that time to do work for other people. Period.

Which brings me to the ultimate freelance divide: working on-site vs. working remotely. If you are remote, I have no way of knowing what you are doing, really, during the time I am paying you to work for me, or during the time you say you are working for me. Some managers may lay out remote-work requirements—they may ask you to log in to a chat system during your working hours, or request a daily or weekly phone/email check-in. If no such requirements are laid out for you, propose some. Tell your boss when and how you can be reached during the hours you’re contracted for, or how you can be reached in general, if your work is based on deliverables instead of hours. Mention times when you know you’ll be available via chat. Make a point of checking in with status and schedule updates—there is no overkill here. Depending on the nature of your work, you could suggest regular phone appointments to go over the project.

These steps are not meant as a way for you to Big Brother yourself. They just remind your manager that although you are remote physically, you are 100% present at work, and that is how you earn Superstar Freelancer Status.

If you’re working on site you have the presence issue solved, but one pitfall I’ve seen among freelancers is that some of them never escape the “I’m just passing through” mentality. The best freelancers are the ones who roll in and behave exactly as they would if they were working a full-time staff job: they get to know their co-workers, they show interest in the bigger picture of the business while staying focused on the assignment, they learn our systems and jargon quickly. They may have no intention of staying beyond their freelance contract (or I may have no ability to extend said contract), but they act as if they’re in it for the long haul, and by doing so their impact and odds of getting re-hired are quintupled.

Last but not least, ask your manager for feedback. This applies to remote and on-site freelancers alike. As with asking about pay, asking for feedback isn’t annoying—it proves to me that you care about your work. It also tells me that you care about serving our needs as best you can, and that is exactly why I hired you.


Up next: How to get more work after the freelance gig ends.

Jane Twain works at a large company that does a variety of multimedia stuff.



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