More people are getting into independent, freelance work these days. Thanks to advances in digital platforms, there are great opportunities for anyone looking to supplement, or even replace, their day job with something more flexible.
Making a living as a contractor certainly affords you a better work-life balance. Having autonomy and control over the scale of work or the projects you tackle makes it the perfect side hustle.
However, you also have to fully grasp the ‘independent’ side of freelancing. Sure, you can let the major problems or conflicts be handled by professional accountants or solicitors. But before you dive in, you need to iron out some of the basic issues when it comes to doing freelance work.
How are you getting paid? It seems silly that any freelancer would neglect this aspect of their work. But when you’re accustomed to working as a regular employee, you usually leave the details up to the payroll team. Employees rarely negotiate their pay after the initial hiring process; they don’t have to worry about collecting their next paycheck. For freelancers, this is a potential issue with every client and project.
You’ll have to set your own rates, generate leads, and face the occasional lowball offers. Every freelancer will have their own method of doing that. You might even leave it up to ‘gut feel’ when starting out. But the details of getting paid are non-negotiable.
Freelancers have tried to shed the ‘flaky’ reputation for years. Yet clients can also prove unreliable when it comes to paying for your hard work. Be sure to cover the bases in your contract. Will you be paid in installments? Is the client going to write you a check, deposit the money to your account, or send it through PayPal?
Don’t forget to discuss and specify how you’ll be reimbursed for any additional expenses. For example, if your client requires specific software to do the job, are you paying for the license out of pocket? And finally, make sure you write a provision for cancellation fees; that way, you’ll still get some compensation for any time or effort spent.
Project scope and deliverables
When it comes to the actual job description and expectations, for the most part, your client should do the heavy lifting. But not all clients are prepared to go into sufficient detail to satisfy your concerns. They themselves might be new to the process of working with contractors.
It’s vital that you head into the initial discussions prepared with a list of questions so that you can figure out exactly what your deliverables and deadlines will be. What criteria will the client be using to judge the quality of your work? How will they deliver feedback, and how many times are you expected to make revisions?
In addition, although you may be operating independently, it’s common for a client to bring multiple contractors on board to work on a big project. You may also need to collaborate with regular employees. When your output could depend on the quality and timeliness of your co-workers, what are the house rules governing those interactions?
Who owns the rights to your freelance output? This is a particularly thorny issue for contractors who work in the knowledge economy.
The applicable laws governing intellectual property may vary from state to state and across international borders. Since it’s entirely possible today for a freelancer to work with clients in different countries, you can’t just assume that every project will invoke the same copyright principles.
Clients may insist that you sign a contract with a clause specifying that they are the owner of your finished work. Even if this is alright with you, you might want to receive credit or be able to use that work for your portfolio. Or you may want to compromise and add a further clause stating that the work is merely licensed to them for a specified period.
Finally, you have to get into the habit of documenting everything important in your freelance work. Beyond the contract itself, see to it that critical discussions are in writing and acknowledged by both parties. Keep emails archived for reference; ensure that chat transcripts can be retrieved, if necessary.
Going independent, you’ll discover a lot of unexpected burdens fall upon your shoulders. But if you take some basic measures, you can look out for your interests as a freelancer and enjoy the upsides of the work.