Setting Your Standards as a Freelancer: A Few Suggestions
Having standards is important when you’re trying to find and work with clients on your own. It’s surprisingly tempting not to stick to your standards: a quick project that you wouldn’t normally take can look pretty appealing if you’re having a slow month. But sticking to your guns can be important in more ways than one. If you take that problematic job, not only are you doing something that you don’t want to do, but you’re also likely to hand in work that you know isn’t as good as you could do. Even worse, that sub-standard job can take up the time you need to find higher paying clients, sticking you in a position where you can’t afford to move forward.
What Standards Do You Need?
It’s easy enough to say that you have to set some standards, but figuring out what a list of standards should look like is difficult. Most of us come up with an absolute lowest price that we’ll accept for our time and then wind up stuck. But knowing what you need to make isn’t enough. There are some other rules you need to lay down for yourself about what kinds of clients you’ll take on.
- No spec work: The pay off for spec work is rarely worth the time you might put in, especially when you consider your time across multiple projects, but I’ve heard of a few freelancers who are willing to take projects on spec when things are slow. A better use of that time might be marketing yourself — the odds that you’ll wind up with a paying client are usually better.
- Rush projects: Most freelancers decide whether to take a rush project on a case by case basis, but setting more specific policies will pay off. For some freelancers, it may simply make sense to turn down most rush projects, but what defines a rush project? And if you are willing to take on rush projects, what will your fees be for each one?
- Types of clients: There are freelancers out there who won’t touch a project if it comes from an ad agency, and others who will only take clients who are ad agencies — preferences on the types of clients you want to deal with can vary significantly. Whichever way you go, though, write it down. You’ll almost always be better off sticking to your preferred clients and focusing on bringing in new projects from them than trying to chase someone else at the same time.
There are plenty more standards you can add to your list. Think in terms of what you just don’t want to do in order to help narrow things down. It’s something of a rarity to see a standards list written in the positive, if only because many freelancers start freelancing because they don’t like certain aspects of past work.
Sticking to Your Standards
The hardest part of having standards comes after writing them down – it’s enforcing them. Having a sheet of your standards that you’re willing to show to your clients, or use to remind yourself, can help you stick to them. But a large portion of sticking to these rules is realizing that they are a question of prioritizing your work. There are times when you truly need to prioritize marketing yourself as a freelancer over taking on new clients. One of the best signs of such a time is if the only work you’re being offered are projects that violate your standards.
It can be rough to turn down paying work, even the low-paying projects, if you’re in the middle of a slow period. There may be times when you have to relax your standards in order to make sure that the bills get paid. But even if you have to bend your own rules on occasion, those rules are important to have in place.