One of the biggest challenges of being a freelancer is having a good work ethic. I know many freelancers in many different freelance jobs from writers to photographers to graphic artists to web designers, and while I doubt any of them would disagree that a good work ethic is important to the job, many of them don’t necessarily know what that really means.
I have seen both sides of the freelancing coin. I have hired freelancers and I have been one for over 17 years. And in most cases the freelancers who have the most work are the ones that are the most reliable and the most efficient. You are probably thinking “but that’s not work ethic, that’s reliabilty and efficiency!”
But from the point of view of a hiring manager, that is the work ethic of a freelancer. When I hire a freelancer, I don’t care when they do the work—they can work from midnight to 3am two nights a week, as long as they do what was promised and do it in the time frame they promised. I’m not paying for the hours the freelancer worked (yes, with the notable exception of projects paid by the hour), I’m paying for the completion of the project.
How Poor Freelancers Show Poor Work Ethic
As I said, over the years I have worked with lots of freelancers. But in point of fact, I have almost worked with many more freelancers. This is because at the point of hire is where many many freelancers seem to fail. Here is a very typical hiring scenario I have had happen again and again. First I put up a job posting asking for freelancers to apply for the job. I usually request things like 2–3 sample sites, references, or specific proposals (for writing projects).
The first group of freelancers to fail are the ones who don’t follow the instructions in my job posting. I have had freelancers call me when I asked for email submissions only. They have left off their sample sites or ignored the request for references. Many writing freelancers, when asked for specific article ideas, either leave off the proposals or suggest they’d like to write “an article about web design” for me. All of these freelancers get, at most, a polite refusal. They don’t get my business. Freelancers must be able to follow instructions. If you can’t follow the instructions for a job application, how does the client know you’ll be able to follow the more important instructions for the job?
Then there is a small group of freelancers who make it past that first screen only to fail immediately thereafter. If they have followed the instructions for applying, and I like what I see, I will write back with a short description of the project. In many cases I never hear from the freelancer again, or if I do hear from them it’s several weeks or even months later. Bear in mind that chances are good that if I contacted you about a project I want to get going on it quickly. Freelancers must be ready to work on a job if they apply for it. Expecting clients to wait until something is convenient for you, especially without communicating your availability ahead of time is evidence of a bad work ethic.
But some freelancers make it past this stage only to fail at the next step—coming to an agreement. I realize that deciding on pricing is difficult, and no one likes to do it. But if I ask you what your rates are or how much you would charge for the project I’ve outlined, this is an opening gambit in a negotiation. If you don’t answer that question, or answer it by asking me how much I can pay, this is just annoying and often loses you a client. How much do I want to pay? Nothing, of course! Will you do the job for nothing? Freelancers must be able and willing to talk about prices. Yes, there will be times where the price you quote will be too high or too low, but not being willing to quote anything will not get you the job.
Do the Work You’re Hired to Do
I have not ever had to fire a freelancer. Yes, there have been some that I haven’t hired a second time, but in general if a freelancer makes it past the agreement/contract phase of the hiring process, I will keep them on for at least the length of the project. And the freelancers I like working with best (and keep re-hiring) are the ones that do the job efficiently and reliably.
The project portion of a job is your chance to show your employer how reliable and efficient you are. If you promise that a project will be done on a specific date then you should either complete it by that date or keep the client apprised of any delays. If you promise that you will provide three mockups, then you should provide at least three and providing four or five (as long as they are delivered on time) is even better.
Do You Find it Hard to Find Work?
I won’t deny that finding work as a web design freelancer can be difficult. There are a lot of things you need to know and finding new clients can be difficult when you’re working with your existing ones or trying to learn enough to get clients.
But if you apply for jobs and never seem to get any of them, start asking yourself who or what is really to blame? Many freelance web designers I know are quick to blame the competition, either because there is too much or their competitors charge less than they can afford to charge. Many others blame the market, saying there just isn’t enough work to go around. I have even heard of designers blaming the clients themselves, that they aren’t hiring or are ignoring proposals.
The one person I’ve never heard a freelance web designer blame is himself.
But in many cases the freelancers I’ve tried to hire would have been hired if they had not made mistakes in the hiring process. I would suggest that the next project you bid on or the next client you ateempt to land, you look at how you handle that first phase, the acquisition or hiring phase. Do you follow instructions? Do you communicate with your potential clients? Do you provide reasonable agreements and know how much you want to charge? In other words, what is your work ethic like?