As a freelance worker, it can be tempting to take on every opportunity that comes your way. After all, each gig means more money, more work for your portfolio and more clients. Though freelancing comes with unlimited incentive (you’re your own boss, and therefore in charge of how much commission you can make), not every freelance client or opportunity will be right for you. Sometimes, walking away from certain gigs - while holding on to others - is the best move.
To determine if a freelance client is a good fit for you, it’s important to consider a number of factors, including rate, time commitment and how you’re treated in the work relationship. Here are five questions to ask yourself as you consider new clients or weigh out the pros and cons of existing clients when it comes to benefitting your career, personal life, and overall happiness.
Does the rate match my needs?
Rate matters. Your personal rate is how you’ll sustain your business, pay your bills and get paid the right amount for your work. One of the first things freelancers consider when it comes to clients that might be a good fit for their business is whether or not the rate matches their needs.
Dan Reilly, a full-time freelance writer who covers entertainment, sports and more, suggests that freelance workers should look at the rate itself - and then some. “I start doing the math of how much I’m making for the actual work, then how much time I’m spending on phone calls to discuss what could've been taken care of in an email,” he explains. “It’s never a clear-cut equation, but I’ve realized, at times, that what I thought was a good pay rate is actually getting diluted, and the project is starting to come at the expense of both other work and my sanity.”
Is the time commitment reasonable?
Echoing Reilly’s advice, freelancers should dig beyond the rate and consider the time commitment for each client or project. It’s important to think about how many hours you can give to a specific gig, the amount of work or research that will go into it, and how that opportunity might impact other freelance clients you’re working with.
For example, some freelancers work with just one or two big clients and can divide their time between the two, but others work with many clients and need to balance out their priorities - and work/life separation - in order to provide quality services and have a healthy barrier in place.
"Saying yes to every freelance project that comes your way can be a recipe for disaster,” says Jamie Beckman, a full-time freelance writer and copy editor. “Before you know it, you could find yourself regularly clocking 14-hour days or scrambling to complete favorite projects that you'd been looking forward to fine-tuning."
Will the project benefit or hurt my career?
New projects can be enticing, especially when they pay well, but not every project might be the right fit for your career. "It's tough to turn down any project that promises a huge payday,” Beckman says, “but if you get the sense that what the client wants isn't in your wheelhouse at all, or that you'd have to put in significant time doing major research that would offset your fee considerably, it may be best to listen to that little voice in your head and politely say no."
For freelancers who work in very specific niches, a project that’s outside of your wheelhouse like Beckman explains can also be detrimental if you prefer to have your name or services attached to a certain vertical or industry. It’s also OK to let clients know that sometimes you’re not the right person to take on a job (which can save both you and the client a lot of time and energy).
Consider your portfolio as well: would you feel proud to share your project with others, or do you hope it’s something people won’t see? If you’re leaning towards the latter, there’s a good chance that project may not be best for your career. Working with clients and on opportunities that motivate you and excite you are essential for freelancers to avoid burnout or unhappiness.
It may be best to listen to that little voice in your head and politely say no.
How does the client treat me?
Let’s face it - not every client will be easy to work with. Some may be more challenging than others, and that’s alright. Yet it’s important to draw the line between “challenging” and “disrespectful,” which can easily become blurred. Consider how the client communicates with you, their response to your work or services, and their respect for your work-life balance.
“I once took on writing jobs just a day or two following a surgery on my arm that meant I could barely type, with the mindset that I needed that money and could never rely on any work to come my way again,” Reilly recalls. “But after over a decade of doing this, I’ve learned when someone is asking, or demanding, too much of me.”
Does the client email you outside of your working hours, with the expectation that you’ll respond? Do they give you fair time to complete projects or edits? Do they speak to you with respect? These are all intuitive questions to ask yourself as you weigh out client relationships. Considering whether a client treats you as a freelance worker contracted for specific services - rather than a staff employee who can be available for broader duties - is also crucial to look at.
Will this project impact my life outside of work?
A healthy work-life balance is essential. Freelance workers should have enough time to complete their work while also taking time to relax or take care of personal matters. If you’re finding that a project is preventing you from taking lunch breaks - or time to heal from a surgery, like in Reilly’s case - that client may not be a healthy addition to your career (and life).
Beckman says the best way to make these sometimes tough decisions is to simply trust your gut. "Intuition plays a big role in finding the right clients,” she says. “If a client is clear about expectations, communicates well with you, respects your expertise, and doesn't balk at your fee during initial discussions, those are good signs.”
“Also, do you find the project exciting?” Beckman continues. “That's another good sign. Taking all of those things into consideration can be helpful in deciding whether to work with someone."