Get More Freelance Clients by Lowering Their Risk (and Yours)

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Ok, that title isn’t exactly scintillating, but lowering the perceived and actual risk for you and your clients is a big part of landing paying gigs and making your clients feel confident. There’s plenty of risk when hiring a freelancer and, as a freelancer, empathy regarding that risk will give you a massive advantage in landing them as a client.

The client isn’t the only one taking on risk with a new project. Think of the risk of not getting paid for hours you’ve spent working for a client. No one wants to spend time working on a client project they don’t get paid for. It happens all the time, which means you should be sure to guard against it.

The Trick to Changing Things for the Better

I have a little trick to lower risk for both you and your client. It’s a simple compromise. Charge hourly for planning, then give them a fixed bid to build the project.

Break down the project into two logical pieces: planning and building. The planning phase should be flexible and your billing model should reflect. This is when your client can give extensive feedback, change her mind, explore new ideas, and be otherwise contemplative. The planning phase should entail a lot of change and flux, which means you really should charge hourly to protect your time.

A planning phase like this is a unique service unto itself and carries its own value. Planning is often something that clients don’t do well simply because they don’t know all the concerns regarding their project. That’s why they’re hiring you after all. After the planning phase, you should have done a good enough job that your client could theoretically take the work you’ve done to another freelancer and get the project done based on your plan.

Switching to the Fixed Bid

Once the planning phase is done, and you and your client are 100% agreed on the scope of the project (direction, time, features, deliverables, roles, content, etc), switch to a fixed-bid approach by giving your client a hard-and-fast cost for building out the plan. If you’re the type to use a contract, this is where you pull it out. Your client will probably want a couple revisions down the road, so build this into the plan at the appropriate stages (like around visual design and content implementation) to preempt their concerns about losing control of the project.

The Takeaway

This approach, hourly at first and then a follow-on fixed-bid project, eases the risk that both you and your clients incur. It means that both parties compromise, but the outcome is mutual respect and trust. Think of this as another tool in your sales kit for landing new clients.

Scott Magdalein

Scott is a UX designer, web developer, and product manager. He writes about the process of learning web development at New Method and tweets about design, web development, and his son via @scottmagdalein. His blog is random.

Comments

8 comments on “Get More Freelance Clients by Lowering Their Risk (and Yours)

  1. I like the idea, I’m just not sure a third party would be willing to execute another’s plan. Strategy & overall direction maybe, but the nuts and bolts, probably not.

  2. Nice try, but there’s no benefit to fixed-cost for a provider–EVER. How do you factor in phone calls and project management? What about trying to code something you’ve never seen before? How can you possibly estimate this type of work before the project is off and running?

    Also, no matter what your contract says, your client is going to pivot. Anticipate that and use a retainer instead. I recommend blocks of 10 hours coupled with time tracking. That way, the freelancer is covered and the client gets to see where his money is going before buying another block of time. It also forgoes the need for lengthy contracts and proposals.

    With retainers, nobody has to risk their life savings or be forced into indentured servitude (a sad situation fixed priced projects seem to entail).

    • I think the goal with fixed costs is to give the client a reasonable idea as to how much money they’ll have to invest to complete the project. If their requirements change mid way through or you stumble across something you need more research time on, then why not just communicate this to the client and then re-quote for the extra time needed? I agree that phone calls and project management are two areas hard to predict, but from experience you would factor that into the overall fixed cost based on similar projects done in the past. If the client ends up calling you every day or you are spending more time than anticipated, then let them know that it will be an additional charge at the end of the project.

  3. Figuring out a solid charging method is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Because, you can always estimate amount of hours, or give a fixed amount. But what Jason Pelker said, it’s almost impossible to give a reasonable estimate of hours you will work on a project in web design or web development. I do like the idea of blocks per se, though. Good article though, always good to read concepts, ideas, tips, etc.

  4. Putting yourself in the clients shoes is a great way to think of fixed price quoting. Before you give a fixed price quote, be sure to educate them on the processes and scope well.

  5. I use fixed quotes for all my work, but then I make sure to detail the project upfront, and keep control of scope-creep to make sure that client’s do not take advantage. This can be a tricky conversation, but more often than not, it works out for the best. I get more work, and the client gets what they want. I also don’t nickle & dime them to death. If there is a quick change they want, I do it at no charge. This helps when the time comes to charge for larger edits or fixes.

    Plus, I ‘pick’ my clients well – in other words, I set the fixed price based on the job and what I think the client can pay, as well as how the client is to work with up front. If they are difficult upfront, the price goes up. This might be controversial to say, but it is true for most consultants.