Starting a new freelance client engagement can be exciting as well as a little confusing. It helps to know exactly what you should do immediately after accepting the project.
As a freelancer, you’re paid to get results. And at the heart of getting results is effective project management. The best thing you can do for your freelance career is to build a portfolio of satisfied clients and repeat business.
I've been freelancing for almost 14 years now. In that time I've worked with more than 250 different clients and learned a lot about how best to start my freelance business relationships.
My advice: Do these five things right away, and you'll set the stage for a successful engagement.
Let’s dig in...
OK, so you’ve landed a new client and they’ve accepted your proposal.
Congratulations! Now, the real work begins.
It’s know it’s exciting to start a new project and you may want to just jump in and get to work. But there are a few steps you should take when you start working with a new client that will let you manage the project without seeming like an amateur.
It can be exhausting trying to keep track of all your emails, projects, tasks, meetings, and deadlines.
Starting your client engagements the right way sets the stage for effective project management which leads to satisfied clients and reduces a lot of the stress involved in freelance work
Here are five tips to start your next freelance project off on the right foot.
Before you start working, collect a non-refundable deposit.
This could be any amount between 15% and 50% of the total project fee.
Getting an up-front deposit paid before you do any work ensures you weed out potential clients who have unprofessional motives when it comes to payment.
It also helps you break the feast and famine cycle. Not to mention, asking for an upfront payment can ease financial pressures in the short-term, allow you to pay the bills, and help you focus on doing your best work.
If a client you really want is balking at the idea of paying a deposit, it’s important to remain calm. Explain to them the reason as a freelancer you require a pre-work partial payment. Tell them you require this for all new clients, as do most other freelancers they’ll come across.
When an unreasonable client promises to pay the full amount only at the end of the project or argues against deposits, then politely point them to your payment terms. It’s imperative not to back down because a client unwilling to pay a deposit is likely to be unwilling to pay you at all.
Pro Tip: Make deposits a part of your process. Instead of sending a possibly awkwardly-worded email, Hectic will send a deposit request directly to the client on your behalf as part of your project-kickoff process, establishing a solid client-freelancer relationship and giving you peace of mind before diving in.
Never start a project without a signed contract.
Why? A written agreement spelling out the terms of your engagement protects both you and the client in the event of a dispute.
Most client problems aren’t as clear-cut as "I delivered great work and the client ghosted me and refuses to pay for absolutely no reason." Most disputes are based on misunderstandings of some kind. w
They believe task X was included in the scope. You don't agree and want to charge them extra for it. They're not paying you because they don't think the project is finished. You do. And so forth. Threatening a client can waste a lot of time and lead to sour relationships — clients you have a disagreement can still be good clients.
The majority of clients aren't bad people. They want successful working relationships with the freelancers they work with. But disagreements arise. That’s why you document both parties’ expectations at the outset.
A contract doesn't have to be a scary legal document packed with cryptic legalese. It's simply an agreement between you and your client that serves as a neutral document to refer to and say "look, this is what we agreed upon when we started."
If you want to make things easier on your client, use Hectic to send and execute your contract. Note: Hectic's contract template was drafted by a professional, however, it's not a substitute for legal advice. If you have questions about the contract template or your finished contract as it relates to your specific business, contact an attorney.
Pro Tip: If you’re using Hectic, once your proposal has been signed by you and the client, congratulations: it’s a contract! The project will automatically move into the “Signed contract” section of your business development page. After that, it only takes one click to create a project and import the terms and project details from your proposal.
One benefit of a freelance career is flexible working hours.
Even so, you should quickly block time on your schedule to complete the project as soon as you win the work. Then, make note of the project deadline and, keeping that date in mind, divide the work into manageable chunks.
This ensures you're being realistic about how long it will take you to get the job done. Plus, when you block off specific times when you will work on the project it acts as a deterrent for getting distracted by other projects, side jobs, or personal time. It also helps you manage your time which helps avoid last-minute stress.
Bring back a sense of calm and control by mapping out your weeks and months in advance with Hectic’s deliverables calendar. See due dates and plan accordingly based on how you prefer to work.
Once you begin working, you can use Hectic’s time tracking feature to keep track of the hours worked on each project for all of your project team members and partners. These hours can then be added to your client invoice for that specific project, making invoicing simple and easy to keep up with.
With Hectic, you can visualize your deliverables and instantly see how projects are progressing toward completion or where things are getting held up. The simplicity of the card board enables you to easily spot bottlenecks while they are forming.
Pro Tip: Hectic integrates your Google calendar to your home base and tracks client meetings, deliverable deadlines, and uninterrupted time blocks to grind it out. That makes it easy to schedule your days and stay on top of your work.
If you want to avoid drowning in paperwork, sorting through invoices, and searching for contact info, as soon as you seal the deal with a new client add them to your client list.
When you click the “+” button and you’ll see a pop-up window titled “Create new client” with fields for you to enter client information like:
Once you click “Save,” you’ll be able to add new projects, proposals, contracts, forms, invoices & expenses, and notes for your new client and view it all in one place.
Fill out your client information in the pop up. The only required information is the company name, but including as much detail as possible will save you time later since anything you add to client details here will automatically populate for you in other areas of Hectic (like when you’re sending proposals or creating invoices).
Any projects you’re working on for a client will appear under that client in the card view, or to the right of the client in the list view. You can click the project name to take you straight to the page for that project. You can also email or call your client with just the click of a button by tapping the envelope icon to open a new email or the phone icon to call.
Pro Tip: Hectic lets you see a snapshot of your history with a client, all in one place, including projects, proposals — accepted and rejected — contracts, communication, expenses, terms, and notes. This helps you stay on top of your client management and save time too!
Before you start a freelance project make sure you have all the resources to complete it. You don't want to get far into a project before you realize you’re missing important items. This can lead to wasted time and behind-schedule projects.
Do you need access to client information, content, documents, files or login credentials for client accounts or software to perform the work? What about style guides or access to social media accounts?
When you collect everything you need to do your job up front, it makes the entire project run more smoothly.
As a freelancer, sometimes you’ll need to bring together a team of freelancers to complete a project. According to research from the Freelancers Union, 81% of freelancers refer work to each other and 52% of freelancers do paid work for other freelancers or team up on projects.
With Hectic, you can invite others to work on a project with you or participate in another team’s project all in one convenient space.
Pro Tip: Hectic Pro lets you invite unlimited project collaborators onto your projects and your collaborators can only access project-specific details and deliverables that you want them to see. Working from a shared platform makes it easy to manage roles and keep everyone clear on their exact responsibilities.
Client onboarding is the process of welcoming new clients to your business. It's your opportunity to build a great working relationship, deal with any concerns, get your client up to speed and get your project off to a good start.
And once the project is underway, project management is how you deliver on your promises to your client.
Don’t underestimate the importance of project management in your freelance business. As you become more successful and start to juggle multiple projects and clients, organization becomes even more important.
You could handle each new project as it comes. But beginning each project the same way will help you to help you get a rock-solid client process which will drastically improve your clients' experience working with you.
Onboarding new clients is easier when you can keep track of everything with one tool. That's why I want to invite you to check out (and try for free) the tool that sits at the core of this all, Hectic. Never miss a task, deliverable, or deadline with everything all in one place.
Get started with your own all-in-one home base right now for free!