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The fickleness of the freelance market — especially right now — can leave you with the impulse to immediately say yes to any gig that comes your way, simply because it feels wrong to turn down a job.
Yet before accepting any kind of freelance work — from writing to designing to proofreading — there are several important things other than the obvious issues of payment and deadlines that you must consider. Hit pause on your instant response and take time to ask a few of the following questions before you agree to take on each job.
1. Do you have a particular style or vision in mind?
When you are considering accepting an assignment from a client, make sure you’re absolutely clear about what it will entail. It may sound obvious, but the more details you can get, the more informed your decision will be — and all this information will come in handy if you do choose to accept.
Ask to see examples of comparable work to get a sense of the typical tone and target audience, and make sure the client lets you know of any pre-established standards or style guidelines you’re expected to follow. In addition, inquire about the overall creative vision: what is the aim of this project and what does the client hope to achieve with it? What are some ideas they have, if any?
In discussing all this, you’ll also find out whether there are very specific things they insist you include, or whether they’re trusting fully in your own expertise and interpretation. With this information, you’ll also be able to avoid jobs with styles that you don’t enjoy too much, whether it be highly structured or very free work.
2. How many rounds of edits will I be responsible for?
Your time and effort are valuable, so consider negotiating with the prospective employer and committing to only a fixed number of editing rounds, after which you will charge additional fees for further requests. If you are not clear in the negotiation process about how many rounds of reviews are included in the agreed-upon rate, you might suddenly find yourself caught in endless revisions — costing you far more time (and money) than you had initially forecast.
Stipulating these in your contract will prevent you from going back and forth with a client who's difficult to please or with an overzealous editor who will accept nothing but unrealistic-expectations perfection.
3. Who is in charge of oversight and approval?
Know beforehand how many people will be monitoring your work, so you are not overwhelmed by juggling multiple points of contact and, more importantly, different sets of expectations.
The more people responsible for overseeing the project, the more people you need to communicate with in order to complete it. A multi-head project will be somewhat more complicated and time-consuming for you, so make sure you know what you’re getting into.
Furthermore, you’ll want to ask whether there will be someone monitoring your progress along the way, or whether you’ll get feedback after the work is submitted. If the ultimate approver is not the same person with whom you initially communicate about the job, it might be worth getting in touch with them before accepting it so that you can know exactly what is expected from the uppermost manager.
4. Can I use this work in my portfolio?
For some jobs, clients will not credit you directly on the finished content, so ask about it before accepting to know if you have a byline or your name attached to the project. Understanding from the outset whether or not you will be able to claim credit for your work is essential, in case you hope to be able to share it with potential clients in the future.
Having a piece of work credited to you is always high on the priority list for freelancers, since it's the best way to strengthen your portfolio, gain exposure, and get new gigs in the future. It's important to ask this question before committing to a job.
5. How does this job fit with my professional goals?
This is a question to ask yourself rather than the potential client: Is this job actually something that I want to do? Perhaps more importantly: Does it make sense to add onto my professional journey? The scope and remuneration of the work should be 100% worth your time and effort.
Consider how this short-term gig fits in with your long-term goals. Are you comfortable being associated with the company or website? Is the project in line with the types of work or media outlets you most long to be engaging with? You may fill income gaps with a variety of projects that don’t always fit with your areas of expertise or creative ambitions, but to establish your personal brand as a freelancer, you should always keep in mind the kinds of clients you most want to be working with. Throughout your gigs, you should continuously be building connections and heading toward your desired field.
If all goes well, these questions will be met with satisfactory answers that lead to you saying yes without hesitation. If that’s not the case, politely decline. It might pain you to turn down work, but carefully considering each opportunity and deciding what is right for you can save you further anguish down the road from a job that’s not a good fit. Strong relationships between freelancers and clients are built upon open conversation and honesty — so don’t be afraid to ask a few questions, and don’t be afraid to say no.