Over the last ten years that Pelago has been doing in web design, development and creative work, we’ve worked with our fair share of freelancers. Several of us at Pelago, in fact, worked as freelancers at one time or another before settling down in our current full-time positions. Most of our experiences with freelancers have been positive ones, some even resulting in us hiring the web designer or developer on for the more permanent long haul. However, we’ve had our fair share of subcontractor snafus and freelancer fiascos. From the ashes of our own disasters and near-meltdowns we bring you a list of nine surefire ways to get canned and banned as a freelance web designer or developer.
1. Lose interest in the project after the contract has been signed
Tell the client how excited you are to work on the project and start throwing out all of these great ideas you have that will make you the best candidate for the job. Drop a few buzz words and big client names if you have to. Make sure to do this even if the project sounds boring and it’s just a gig you are taking on to pay the bills. After the contract has been signed and you’ve received your first payment, drop the throttle on your excitement and give the project as much attention as you would a telemarketer. Do as little work as possible and eek out those deliverables one by one until you can hand off something passable as the final deliverable.
2. Get it done quick and dirty
You’re not the type to ignore a project altogether, so just hack it out in a few hours or a few days, however little time it takes to deliver something passable to the client. It might not be production ready, it might be full of bugs, and whoever has to work on the project after you may be cursing your name, but you won’t be around for any of that. And considering how little work you did in the first place, you’ll have made great margins on the project.
3. Don’t finish the project
Get a payment up front, knock out a few comps or hash out a few lines of code. Put a few deliverables in front of the client and act enthusiastic about the project. Then stop working on it. Ignore those silly deadlines looming around the corner, in fact, ignore the rest of the project altogether. Sure, you won’t get paid for the rest of the project, but then, you didn’t really have to do much work for that first payment anyways. And the client can always find someone else to finish the project.
4. Show up to client meetings unprepared
Client meetings can be such a waste of time and produce little in the way of project progress. It’s bad enough you have to show up to them. Don’t bother taking a notepad or a laptop. No one will notice you’re not taking any notes because there probably won’t be much discussed that is worth writing down in the first place. You are the one doing the work, afterall, and client input isn’t relevant to a design or development professional.
5. Show up late to client meetings, or skip them entirely
Agree to show up to the meetings so you can at least feign interest in the project, but show up late. You are probably too busy with something else to be on time. And the client meeting can always get started without you. In fact, they can probably get the meeting done without you being there at all. You can always swing by some other time to show them the work you’ve completed, or just email it to avoid any face-time at all.
6. Come up with fickle and transparent excuses
You are going to have to start coming up with reasons why you are missing deadlines and meetings, so make sure to have an emergent situation on hand to cover you. It’s the first rain of the year and you forgot to pick up wiper blades for your car, so you couldn’t drive. Your cell phone died or you would have called to let them know. Your alarm clock did not go off (who cares if the meeting was at 3pm). It doesn’t matter if the excuses are believable or not as long as you can justify them to yourself.
7. Go off the grid unannounced
Notice the first four letters of the word “freelancer” spell “free.” Freedom is one of the main reasons we become freelancers in the first place. Use it to your advantage. If some friends invite you to go away skiing for the week, drop whatever client obligations you have and go. Don’t worry about notifying anyone of your whereabouts because they probably won’t need to get a hold of you anyways. Sure, a server may go down or a high priority bug may pop up, but it can wait until you get back. The client will probably become frantic as they try emailing you, calling your home phone, your cell phone, texting you, facebooking you, twitttering you, and driving over to your house and knocking on the door, but that’s their problem, not yours. Ultimately, it’s their business and their responsibility. You’ll get to it when you can.
8. Ignore your client’s established workflow
There is probably a reason why your client has established protocols for getting things done, but they don’t really apply to you. It’s too much trouble to adapt to their way of doing things. Style guides are too restrictive for the type of creative work you want to bring to the project. Developers, don’t worry about using their versioning system. They should have developers who can figure out how to get your code changes merged back into the project. Bring your own style and uniqueness to the project. Don’t write code on their framework, make up your own. Don’t let the blandness of the logo degrade the overall web design, enhance it with drop shadows and gradients. It’s your expertise they are paying for so it’s your expertise they will get, applied to any and every aspect of the project you decide.
9. Find creative ways to make your client look bad
There are a lot of easy ways to get your client in trouble. If the client has subcontracted you out to design a web site for a third party, get in touch with that third party to cut out the middle men, like that pesky project manager. And while you’ve got their attention, commit to deliverables outside the scope of their contract, which you’ve never read. Working on a web development project on your own servers? Put the project out there on an unprotected web server where Google can spider it. Another great way to ruin a clients reputation is to use inflammatory dummy text on your web design comps; derogatory commentary about the client or the third party. This is just small sampling of ways to make your client look bad. The more creative you are, the easier it gets to really screw up their reputation.
Are you serious?
We don’t want anyone to go out there with the intent of getting fired. But a few of our experiences with freelancers has left us wondering if some were trying to do just that. Every example I’ve given above has actually happened (one of them being my own screw up). If you are serious about keeping your reputation intact, not burning bridges, and building a sustainable client list, you’ll avoid these mistakes. And you will take your work seriously, especially when your clients are smaller businesses without rock star status or big name recognition. Every client deserves your very best work. Anything less is unprofessional.