Thoughts On Being A Good Freelancer

Freelancer video game box art

Recently for a project with a regular, well-loved client I needed to subcontract some recording out for a voice type I couldn’t provide myself. The recording was done interstate by a contact I’d provided voice over for in the past, leaving me a step removed from the whole process.

While the client was satisfied with the end result, getting there was long and frustrating. So I wanted to turn the situation on its head, and look at some rules to keep in mind when dealing with clients as a freelancer. I’m by no means perfect with these myself, so this is as much for me as it is for you.

If You Have To Email Me, I’m Not Doing My Job

This is a game I play with client communication normally. While you don’t want to overwhelm the client with the minutiae of a job’s progress, if a client needs to reach out to me to find out what’s happening, I’m not doing my job. If a client has to email me twice to get an answer, I’m really dropping the ball.

Communicate Regularly And Promptly

Best way to make sure a client is kept in the loop. Communicate regularly, via whatever channel works best for them. Indicate progress of work being done, and if you’re waiting for a future date for something (like a booked recording session) drop a reminder email a week beforehand to let them know that everything’s in order.

And that future date is in the calendar because you’ve made sure to…

Plan Ahead

Organise dependencies like other people, sound resources, script updates, pronunciation checks – anything you need as a prerequisite ahead of time. Anything that has a lead time, organise it as early as possible, particularly when you’re dealing with multiple resources. That planning will help you to…

Minimize Delays

If something needs to be checked, check it as early as possible. If people are dependencies, prime them and make sure they can commit to your schedule as early as possible.

If you have multiple resources working on a project with you, make it a priority to ensure their work is progressing. While it often feels less satisfying than doing your own work, it’s much easier to catch up your own work to meet deadlines under pressure than it is other peoples’.

That’ll help buffer you from issues, because the unexpected can and will happen. And when it does, use the fruits of sitting down to…

Plan Contingencies

It’s not always possible, but where you can, have a Plan B and C. Alternate voice talent if you’re subcontracting, backup recording equipment for failures, backup recording dates for sudden emergencies. If something does go wrong, have an answer to the question ‘What Happens Next?’.

Be Transparent

This isn’t a matter of dropping problems in a client’s lap to solve, but as an extension to communicating regularly, be transparent about what’s going on. Communicate issues, along with solutions. If solutions don’t require client involvement, make sure they’re already underway. If you can see personal or other work-related issues looming that are going to complicate your delivery schedule, don’t grit your teeth and plan on being able to wholly insulate the client from that. Give them a heads-up that there’s potential trouble on the horizon.

Whatever’s going on, communicate it clearly to the client so they understand, and can work around whatever impacts come as a result.

 

Rules For When Things Go Wrong

I’m by no means perfect, but when I do slip up, there are a number of things I strive to do.

 

Fix The Problem Fast

Whatever’s gone wrong, find a way to fix it satisfactorily, and fast. While you’re always working to deliver as fast and positive a result as you can, dealing with mistakes means going into overdrive, and pushing aside other things temporarily. Ideally, your first point of contact with the client should be outlining possible solutions, or solutions that are already underway.

Offer Concessions

When things go really wrong, offer concessions to the client as a measure of good faith. Whether it’s a discount on the current job or a future job, or some other tip of the hat in their direction to show how you’re taking the situation seriously.

 

So that’s what I took from the experience as a reminder.

Also, a couple of resources you might find interesting on the whole freelancing thing:

  • Neil Gaiman’s “How People Keep Working in a freelance world” - great diagram and talk on the characteristics of a freelancer people will hire again and again. I’ve been quoting this since I first became aware of it.
  • Hagakure - early in my IT career I found this book invaluable as a primer on the dynamics of an ideal employer/employee relationship. Your mileage may vary, and some of it is dated, but the material on mindset I find timeless.

Thanks for reading!

Disagree with anything I’ve said here? Got golden rules of your own you’d like to share? Hit me up in the comments.