What stage your client's business is in and how it affects your freelancing job

Written on June 23, 2017

As a freelancer it’s great to get a client who is willing to pay you for your skillset and services. If you’re like me you’re doing mental heel-clicks and excited to jump in a project and get started.

But one thing to keep in mind when taking on a client and their job, is to understand at what stage a client’s business is in.

Whether they are just beginning or have been in business for a while, both these stages require a different set of needs.

The more you understand the stage of a business, the better you can serve your client and also serve your own busines.

Take for example if a business is just starting out and a client wants to hire you to build their website. You might think to yourself, oh that’s easy and from experience might already have a basic idea of how much to charge and what tasks will need to get done to get a website up and running.

So you draft up a proposal, the client approves, you send a contract, they sign and hand a check for deposit and you’re off to put your nose to the keyboard and grind this thing out.

But wait you need access to their domain so you can start uploading parts of the website as you get them done. So you shoot your client an email to ask for access and your client replies back that they need to purchase the domain and are asking for advice on how to go about doing that.

No worries, you oblige and send them a registrar and they sign up for a domain. That probably took 15 mins tops to do. But now they need hosting and would also like to get emails sent to an email account at their new domain. They ask you for help and you send them details on Google for businesses or Rackspace email. They sign up for an account but need help updating all their DNS settings. This all eats up another two hours of your time.

Let’s say you’ve scoped out the proposal for $1000 based on an hourly rate of $100/hour. That means you’ve set aside roughly 10 hours to finish this project. But in answering emails alone about setting up domain, hosting and email, you’ve lost two hours of your time and you’re down to 8 hours of work left to get the website done.

This leads to you going beyond the expected time in finishing the website and ultimately making less money because the extra setup process wasn’t taken into consideration when you drafted the contract.

One way to help mitigate this is to add some buffer up front when creating a proposal. It might be impossible to get all the information and what stage of a business is up front, so you can automatically add a buffer to your rate to account for miscellaneous services you might have to provide to a new business.

A buffer might look like 1.5 - 2x the regular time and rate you scope out for a project. So going back to the $1000 project, multiply that by 1.5 and you get $1500 and 15 hours to complete.

On the other end of the spectrum let’s say a client’s business is established and they have been around for a couple of years. They want you to come in and create a new system for them based on a service that they currently provide.

You come in for a meeting and the kick off meeting is great. You’re excited, the client is excited and you submit a proposal to get the project rolling. A deposit is made and you’re ready to get going.

As you’re making progress on the project you ask questions to your client to get them in the feedback loop as you make iterations but the client isn’t quite sure how they want to scale their business with the tool that you’re building.

So you have more follow up emails and meetings trying to dissect what they want and understand their business goals. Let’s say you’ve allotted $5000 at $100/hr which comes out to roughly 50 hours of work or a little more than a week worth of work. But now as you’re trying to extract business intention and direction from your client and it takes time to drive out to the client, speak to the client, get back, settle in and process your notes before you start working, you’ve spent an entire day’s worth of time and money.

Which again like the scenario above, can lead to less of a budget to get the work done and less time to execute the project. Not to mention if you’ve got other projects lined, projects overlapping.

One solution to mitigate this issue is to create a service to come in and analyze the business upfront. The client will pay an upfront cost for you to come in and make an analysis of what the business does, what service they need and how something you make for them will serve them and their customers once it’s made. At the end of the analysis you provide them with a summary but it also acts like a proposal.

Since it gives them the information that they need in order to take action and realize the services you provide for them. So now you benefit from getting paid upfront for the information you had to extract from the client and business and you can work on providing a service for your client that has been detailed in your summary without going into your creation budget or time.

There are obviously other scenarios for what stage a business is in and how it effects a project. The goal of this article is to provide insights into a challenge I had to face as I ramped up my freelancing. Which is extra work creeping in from not having foresight and how one might protect themselves from it. Afterall we want to do our best to create a good relationship with our client and their intentions are probably not to give us more work on top of what we had scoped out for a project.

But you’ll want to protect yourself and help your sanity in order to nurture and grow your business as a freelancer. So the next time you get a new client, take some time to understand where in the life cycle a business is in, then proceed to allot time and budget to make sure you’re protecting yourself.

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