The Life and Times of Freelancing: Surviving The Holidays

Categories: Business • Client Relations • Freelancing

I know, I know, I suck at this blogging thing. The fact of the matter is - and I’m sure plenty of other net professionals out there will understand when I say this - that the holidays suck for us. We’re not receiving a big check from some corporation who pays their employees a regular salary. Our income depends wholly on how much we work, what kind of work we do, and how much of our asses we’re willing to bust.

I have, effectively, busted every inch of mine. Great visual, I know, but I’ve been spending every waking moment - and if you could see me at 4 in the morning, you’d think I spent every sleeping moment - working in preparation for the holidays. Why? Because I know what’s coming.

I’ve been full-time freelancing for longer than I’m willing to openly admit, but the biggest (and ultimately, the hardest) lesson you can learn is how to insulate yourself from the problems that the holiday season can bring you. What are those problems, you ask?

The Well Runs Dry

Everyone’s gearing up for Black Friday. Preparing for holiday travel. Buying up the grocery stores in preparation for the Big Thursday Fat Fest (also known to a couple of people as Thanksgiving.) In other words, they’re not thinking about you. They, in general, are focusing on family as opposed to websites and online marketing and all that other good stuff. There isn’t anything wrong with that. [We all should spend a little time with our families to remind ourselves of how important it is to spend as much time as possible away from them working. Kidding, I swear.] It’s just rough on the pocket of the freelancer who also wants to gear up for Black Friday, prepare for holiday travel, and buy up the grocery stores in preparation for Fat Football Thursday.

The Rats Come Out

Say you DO get a slew of clients around this time of year. Awesome! Buuuut…. projects start coming to a screeching halt. Why? All of a sudden, the client hasn’t properly managed their funds, and before you know it, they’re trying to “cancel” your project. Before you go into WTF mode, you thank your lucky stars for your contract. But really, what does it mean for you if you were counting on having that money for something in particular? What does it mean for you when now you have to figure out how to make up for the time and money you’ve lost? What do you do at that point? Furthermore, what about the ones that just disappear on you and avoid you until after they’re gotten their financial situation in order?

The Rats Come Out, Eat Your Food, Pee On Your Carpet, & Bite You

As if a client who tells you up front that they won’t be able to continue the project isn’t bad enough. What about the ones that insist on making your life a living hell, thus resulting in two situations: 1) either they try to nitpick the project into “Freelancer, you suck at developing my project and I want to take my money elsewhere” or 2) they bully you into breaking up with them. What makes this worse than the previous situation? This one is hell bent on demoralizing you and making you feel like crap all so that they don’t feel bad about not having the money to complete the project. They demean your position as their developer, crack jokes on your abilities to do your job (although they’re the one who hired you in most cases), even insult you and just outright act a damn fool in order to get you to break up with them. It leaves a scar, because it forces the developer to constantly consider whether or not it truly was their fault or if the client was just being outrageous.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not offering up excuses for why things fall apart. Sometimes, the developer does suck. Sometimes, the relationship just shouldn’t exist (we’ve all had one of those, holidays or not.) And sometimes, we really do need to assess whether our plan of action is succeeding or failing us in getting things done the way our clients need. But the holidays - coupled with the current state of the American economy - is most likely to bring these folks out of the woodwork, and you need to be prepared. What have I learned?

  1. Save your doggone money: No, really. I’m serious. Considering how the average American simply doesn’t save money, I’m sure this one applies to you. A benefit of freelancing is that the pace is a lot quicker than that of the average commuter. You can go directly to those in need, tell them you offer that service, and boom. You don’t, necessarily, “lose your job.” But if you’re without work, you can go get it. Sometimes quickly, sometimes… well, not so. Keep a stash of a couple of month’s expenses stored away so that you can use that when times are extra hard - like the holidays. Suze Orman usually recommends 6-8mos worth of expenses, but I realize that that can be hard for some of us. Just work to protect yourselves financially.
  2. Be wary of your potential client pool: Projects that seem particularly risky, clients who don’t seem wholly sure of themselves in presenting their ideas, and people who are rushing you to create something for making money online? No offense, but they’re not the kinds of projects that you want to stack yourself up with around this time of year. Stick to solid organizations, established clients, [some] referrals, and people you trust. If you can’t bear to set aside or decline a project, take it — just don’t stack your income pool with these kinds of projects.
  3. Maintain your sanity: I think this one is the most important. I don’t know about anyone else, but I can easily sit in front of my desk working for hours on end and not even think about moving. I can also, just as easily, stay in my house for days on end without thinking about jumping in that car. When you get locked into a world like that, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s most important to you and maintain your motivation. Take time away from the desk. What do I do? I take my daughter to the park. Spend some time with my significant other and debate and sleep through movies watch movies with him. I go to the beach and sketch layouts enjoy the sand. I take a weekend and go travel somewhere. Understand that “me” time is just as important as the time you spend at your desk.

Are these hard and fast rules? No, but they’re definitely tried and true solutions to real problems that we all face, have faced, will face. This time of year is supposed to be jovial, exciting, and pleasant… and I’m truly hoping for the best for all of us. It doesn’t change the fact that we all need to prepare ourselves for some shady dealings during this time of year and do our best to prepare ourselves for it. I mean, really… I’d rather have you not have rats at all, than have to spend your time laying out traps. :)

10 Reasons Why Your Website Kinda Sucks, Part 2

Categories: Inspiration • Organization • Web Browsers • Web Design

One of my favorite posts to write so far, 10 Reasons Why Your Website Kinda Sucks, touched on the first 5 of ten reasons why I think a lot of websites – while often a valiant attempt from the developer to do something good for their client – miss the mark. Like, 6 feet away [...]

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10 Reasons Why Your Website Kinda Sucks

Categories: Inspiration • Organization • Web Browsers • Web Design

I know, it’s hard to hear. It’s probably even harder to accept… but I share this with you because I e-love you. It’s okay… here’s a tissue.
These kinds of lists always get a little controversial. Why? Because they tend to put the onus on the developer when a website fails. I mean, let’s face [...]

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