You’ve combed through the job postings on the freelance job boards and you’ve found a project that you think would be perfect for you, now what? Freelancing is rewarding but can also be highly competitive so you need to make sure that you write a strong proposal to give yourself the best chance of being successful.
Where do I start?
Step one is to read the project description very, very carefully and make sure that you fully understand the parameters of the project and what is expected of you. In a perfect world all potential clients will write very detailed and in-depth project briefs that clearly outline absolutely all the requirements. In actual practice, this is fairly rare unless you have an ‘experienced’ client who has worked with a lot of web developers before. 99% of freelance developer and client frustration comes from a lack of understanding of what should have been done on the part of both parties. You might remember The Oatmeal’s famous comic by graphic and web designer Matthew Inman about how much trouble a lack of communication and proper expectations can lead to.
Sadly, I find that type of experience is fairly typical amongst the freelance web designers and developers that I speak to. The reason seems to be that either the project wasn’t defined clearly, they were afraid to advise the client against poor design or development issues, or the project suffered from ‘scope creep’ which is the client requesting additional work that was not a part of your proposal and quote.
So, step one to avoiding that type of situation is to craft an in-depth project proposal. There are lots of great resources and templates available online to help you out, make sure that you customize it to your potential clients specific needs and don’t just send a generic one.
Coming up with a budget and quote for a project seems to be the most hated part of most web developer’s jobs, well, aside from debugging IE errors. The main thing, and I can’t stress this enough, is not to undersell yourself. If the client isn’t willing to pay you a fair wage for your work then they aren’t a client worth having. Do not price yourself low to get a ‘competitive edge’, trust me it will not be worth it when you are working into the wee hours of the morning and averaging about $5 an hour because of an unforeseen script conflict or strange bug. When I first started out I had an ‘introductory rate’ as well as a ‘friends and family rate’, this was a huge mistake. I got tons of work, but then I didn’t have time to find any higher-paying clients because I was snowed under with work I really wasn’t being paid enough for. You also need to consider the time that will go into the project outside of just design and development: writing the proposal, emailing the client with updates or for sign off on mockups, administrative work such as invoicing, etc. Six Revisions wrote a great article about coming up with quotes for freelance designers and developers.
“But what if I’m literally just getting started and need to build my portfolio?” If that’s the case then set up some dummy websites for fake businesses or groups for different type of projects you might want to take on (restaurants, spas/salons, clubs and organizations, sports groups, etc). Or create some projects of your own and set up websites for them. You should never work for free, and if you need to spend some time getting set up it’s much better to invest it in yourself.
Last but not least, don’t get discouraged if you don’t hear back from lots of clients right away. Especially when you are first starting out, the work might not come fast and furious. On the other side of that coin, don’t take on 10 projects at once and over-extend yourself. Spend the time looking for good clients that are a good fit for you, and you will have those clients for years!