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Do's and Don'ts You Must Know Before You Start a Freelance Project

Sarah Bartley
Front-end web developer | Moderator for Elphas Can Code | Creator of Disney Codes Challenge
・12 min read

Originally published March 26, 2019 on BritishPandaChick Codes. I made changes to the original post so it would work for Code Newbie.

Congratulations! You landed your first client. It might seem tempting to jump right in and start working on the project, but you must resist this urge.

Before you can begin working on any freelance project, there are a few things you need to do with your client so everything for this project can go smoothly. The next lesson of Skillcrush 300 is about how to start a freelance project. This lesson introduces the client intake process and why it is important for freelancers.

Freelancers that don't have a client intake process are going to mean more work, issues, and time later down the road. This is something you want to avoid. Today's post is looking at this lesson in Skillcrush 300.

I will be concentrating on the first two steps of the client intake process. I'll be sharing some of the do's and don'ts you need to know when reaching out to clients and using a client intake form.

What is the client intake process?

Before I start diving into the do's and don'ts, let's take a minute to define the client intake process. The client intake process is all about preparation. Freelancers use this process as a way to start a freelance project the best way possible.

This means gathering information they need for the project proposal and organizing it in a way so they constantly stay on the same page with their clients throughout the entire project. Think of the client intake process as the freelancer's version of mise en place. Mise en place is a phrase that means "everything is in place".

Chefs and cooks prepare everything they need for a recipe or dish before they begin cooking. This keeps them organized during the cooking process and saves lots of time. The client intake process operates the same way as mise en place since it helps freelancers make sure they have everything ready before they start work on a client's project.

Every freelancer is going to have a different version of the client intake process. Skillcrush has its own version students are encouraged to follow when they work with their clients. Although this version is below, feel free to customize this process according to your services you offer and your personal brand.

1. Freelancers begin messaging a client about what will be happening next.

This step might take one or more conversations for certain clients, but the objective remains the same. Your goal in this step is to start talking to your client about the terms and expectations for the project. You will also want to a client know what happens next before you can start working.

2. Freelancers send a client intake form to the client.

Client intake forms are a tool freelancers use to gather information about the project they will be working on. They also use the form to gather information about their client's business. You will learn more about client intake forms later in this post and how you can use them with your clients.

3. Freelancers write a project proposal.

Once your client has filled out the client intake form, you will begin writing a project proposal. A project proposal is your pitch to your client. It takes the terms and expectations you've been discussing with your client and puts them in writing. Freelancers take the information from the client intake form and the conversations you've had with your clients to put your proposal together.

4. Freelancers submit the project proposal to the client.

All that is left for the client to do is decide what they think of the proposal. They can accept your proposal, reject it, or ask questions about specific parts. Once your client has agreed to your proposal, you can start working on the project.

Now it is time for the do's and don'ts!

Once you've got a client, it is time to start the client intake process. The first thing you'll need to do is starting talking about the term and expectations with your client. Then you'll want to put together a client intake form for your client to complete and send it so you can start gathering information that will help you with your project.

Before you can begin, below are some of the do's and don'ts you need know about these first two steps of the client intake process that can help you start off your working relationship with your client in the most positive way possible. These tips will also help you stay on the same page with your client throughout any issues or surprises that might pop up along the way.

Do regularly keep your clients updated!

The first step of the client intake process is reaching out to your client and begin talking about the project. Skillcrush recommends sending an e-mail that lets your client know what happens next as well as what the client intake process looks like before you begin working on a project. It also serves as a positive start to the working relationship you'll be having with your client. This is important since adds to your personal brand and can help clients return to you later with more projects.

After this first e-mail, you want to get into the habit of regularly messaging and updating your client. No one wants to be left in the dark with a project so regular updates are a freelancer's way to let the client know what is always going on. You don't have to e-mail your client every single day letting them know what you've done with the project, but you do want to send regular e-mails just to let a client know where you are with the project or quick messages if an issue does pop up while you are working on the project.

If something does come up while you are working on the project or you have a question, don't hesitate sending your client an e-mail to let them know. Over communicating and giving too many details is what you want do in these situations instead of not giving clients all the details. Communicating issues and questions immediately is a proactive move that helps you and your client.

Your client isn't just kept updated with the status of the project. When a problem pops up, a client is a to help quickly so the issue can be resolved and the project momentum keeps going. Over-communicating with a client can sound annoying. However, it keeps everyone on the same page with each other throughout the entire project. No freelancer wants to be in a situation where they feel like they are stuck or wasting time.

Throughout the entire project process, you will want to stay on the same page with your client as much as possible. This prevents any misunderstandings and issues that could impact the project's timeline and creating more work for you.

How to Communicate Issues with Clients

Skillcrush gives students a formula to help them communicate issues and questions to clients in the future. This formula is similar to how programmers talk to each other get help with coding. First, you need to tell the client that you ran into a problem. You can briefly tell your client what you were doing on the project when the project came up if you like.

Next, you will want to explain what the problem is and what is being done to fix it. You will want to tell your client what you have done and what happened when you tried these solutions. Finally, you let the client know how this problem will impact the timeline you and your client agreed upon. If the project is going to take longer than the proposed timeline is planning, you need to let the client know so they can decide what they want to do next.

Don't write hard-to-read, vague e-mails.

Think about how you read your e-mails. Inboxes get tons of e-mail each day so chances are you skim through your e-mails very quickly to see what the message is about before deleting it. Keep this in mind because your client most likely does the same thing. So when you write e-mails to your client, you will want to keep your message short yet clear so a client can easily read them and understand your message.

Skillcrush has a few tips for writing easy-to-read e-mails. First, make sure you use headings. Headings serve as guides in the text. If you look at this post, there are several headings used throughout the page to highlight important points so you can access information in this post quickly. Using headings in your e-mails does the same thing and allows clients to quickly see what information you need them to know.

Another way to make your e-mails easy to read is bullet points or numbers. They are a popular way to present text since it is much easier to read bullet points instead of lots of text. If you are going oversteps in a process or listing things that came up while working on a project, bullet points guide the readers on things they need to know.

Finally, you should avoid using any phrases that might have multiple meanings. Phrases such as "end of the week" or "end of the day" are examples of this. Your client is going to have a different definition of certain phrases than you.

In order to be clear as possible, Skillcrush recommends students be specific in any communications they might have with a client. A freelancer might do this by telling a client they will send them a proposal by Friday at 5 p.m. EST instead of saying "by the end of the week". This way a freelancer can be as transparent as possible, not a mystery or making false promises one isn't able to keep.

Skillcrush provides students with various e-mail templates in this lesson in order to help them communicate with their clients in different situations. Although students are allowed to use these templates with their clients, they are encouraged to make changes to the templates in order to match the kind of client they are working with. For example, a freelancer might send e-mails with a much more formal tone to a local business owner than a personal friend.

Do check your timeline regularly.

In many cooking competitions, chefs and cooks often create timelines before the competition to plan how to use their time wisely during the competition. Freelancers do the same thing with freelance projects by having a project timeline. The project timeline is very important since it provides them a schedule with checkpoints to help them reach specific points of the project.

As you work on a freelance project, you need to get into a habit of double-checking your timeline as much as possible. When it comes to making a project timeline, Skillcrush encourages students to plan a little more time in their project timelines. Things don't always go according to plan. Famous chefs are often superstitious when it comes to making a dish that many will often make extra just in case something happens.

Freelancers do the same thing with their project timelines since having extra time planned ahead always comes in handy when surprises pop up along the way. Extra time in your timeline will make sure you will be able to get everything you needed to be done.

Don't forget to reply to your client's emails.

Although technology makes it possible for people to see when others read our e-mails or text messages, Skillcrush encourages students to reply to their clients letting them know they got their e-mails. These e-mails don't have to be very long. The goal of these replies is to help you stay on the same page with your clients. It also shows clients how much of a priority they are and are top of mind with you.

Freelancers have different ways of replying to a client's email. Some freelancers might just give clients a brief sentence letting them know they got their message. Others might put a little more detail in their messages by including what will happen next after they received your message. I recommend trying out both methods and seeing how your client responds since some clients will want a little more information in response than others.

Do use a client intake form!

A client intake forms is a tool many freelancers use to help stay organized during the client intake process. This form allows them to learn more about the projects they will be creating and their client's business. These details are later used to write the most cohesive project proposal later.

There are many benefits of using a client intake form. Below are some of the benefits a client intake form gives freelancers.

  • prevents any uncertainty or miscommunication from happening.
  • accurate, thoughtful project proposal that matches a client's business and needs.
  • catching red flags and ensuring you'll be a good fit with your client. Red flags will differ for freelancers, but Skillcrush warns students of two red flags since these signs will be a preview of what working with a client will be like.
    • The client doesn't want to fill out the form or is very flaky about filling out a form.
    • The client who doesn't understand the value of doing research on the project or company.
  • lets clients see your communication and organization skills.
  • keeps you and your client on common ground on things such as scope and timeline. When you use a client intake form, you and your client know where you are in the client intake process, how the project process is going to be like, and what everyone needs to do to ensure the project is completed on time.
  • saves you time so you can get started on the project quickly as possible.

What does a client intake form look like?

Client intake forms are going to look different for every freelancer and what services they offer. While there might be some differences, Skillcrush has identified some essential information that often appears on different client intake forms. However, they encourage students to customize their forms with more questions they might need answers on regarding a client's project or business.

Below are some of the elements you need to have for your client intake form.

  1. Contact information. This is all the identifying information such as your client's name, business, phone number, and e-mail.
  2. Information about your client's brand. For example, freelance web developers need any style guidelines or links to styles clients are using.
  3. Website logistics or any details about your client's website. This doesn't just mean the website's URL. You'll also need the domain and hosting providers.
  4. Services and Deliverables. This is an important section on the client intake form since this clarifies everything you will need for the project from the services, work, and deliverables.
  5. Project goals. Freelancers use this section to document your client's motivations and goals for the project. Some freelancers use this area to talk about the intended results or what the project is meant to accomplish.
  6. Deadlines. This is where hard deadlines come in. You will include deadlines your client has in mind, but Skillcrush reminds students that most deadlines won't be quite clear until you start working on the project.

Once you've put together your client intake form, send it to your client to fill out. When you send the e-mail, Skillcrush recommends students provide a short explanation to your clients on why the client intake form is important for them to fill out. You will also need to clarify the turnaround time the form needs to be completed and what your client expects next in the client intake process.

Don't forget to check your spelling and grammar in your e-mails.

Before you send any message to a client, take a few minutes to proofread your message for any spelling, grammar, and typos. This doesn't make you look professional to your client, but it ensures the message is clear and specific.

As you proofread, put yourself in your client's shoes. What would your client think if they read your message? Keep this question in mind as you proofread and prepare any e-mails to your clients.

Another great tip for checking spelling and grammar is reading your messages aloud if you are alone. Reading messages aloud always helps me spot grammar and spelling errors. Finally, there are online tools. There are tons of great resources and tools available that will help you check spelling and grammar in e-mails. Feel free to use your favorite spelling and grammar tools when you are writing messages to your clients.

Conclusion

Congratulations! You now know how the client intake process works and are ready to start the first two steps of the process. This doesn't just mean beginning regular conversations with your client to keep them updated on where they are in the process. You will begin gathering information about your client's business and project with the help of a client intake form.

The next lesson of Skillcrush 300 is looking at scope and budget, two components that you'll need to include in your project proposal. Before you begin writing the proposal, Skillcrush uses this lesson to review these components and how to plan them properly for your freelance projects. You will review not only how to set up your scope and budget on your freelance project but I'll be reviewing a technique Skillcrush suggests students use to keep these components organized so you can revisit often to calculate hours, rates, and tasks.

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