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Effectively taking on a huge freelance project can be daunting if you don’t know where to begin. This article shows that by breaking the project down into bite-sized deliverables, combined with leveraging the experience of outsourced, professional specialists, can yield positive results in terms of both quality of output and freelancer happiness.
The most treasured of all freelance consulting gigs are the ones that offer huge pay and high prominence. Successfully implementing one or two of these types of projects can be a huge boon to your portfolio and can help garner you even bigger and better contracts in the future.
Indeed, there’s really only one caveat when it comes to taking on a $50,000+ contract — you’ve got to do approximately $50,000 worth of work.
Of course, with big money comes big responsibility, and I know many freelancers who would balk at the thought of owing a cranky client $50,000 in outstanding work.
The following tips include some of the wisdom I’ve acquired working on high-dollar contracts with high-anxiety clients. I hope these tips help you avoid the potholes that bent my rims the first time I tried to drive through them.
“The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
My small consulting company was recently charged with the task of re-thinking an entire business from scratch, including completely redesigning the company’s website, logo, sales pitches, brochure material, proposals, business cards, letterheads and overall brand image.
Where do you start when there are so many conceivable starting points?
The answer is by creating a realistic milestone delivery sheet. Here’s what I mean:
Your milestone delivery chart is your best friend when it comes to high-dollar web projects. Not only does it help you as a freelancer see when certain elements will be due, but it also gives the client some visibility as to what work is actually being performed on their site.
Make your client feel like you care about their peace of mind with a presentation.
For projects which take more than a couple weeks to deliver, it’s good to set aside at least one day every few weeks where you present to your client some finalized deliverable. A “presentation meeting” ensures that a) everyone’s happy with the design and direction of the current work, and b) placates the concerns of your client who’s almost certain you’ve taken their overly generous 50% up-front fee and fled to a penthouse at the Bellagio where you’re currently sipping on Absinthe with fifteen of your closest friends and the cast of The Girls Next Door. Letting your client see small, finalized chunks of your work along the way gets them excited about the end results and eager to work with you again.
Get it right, then get it in writing.
The milestone delivery sheet should be signed the same day as the contract, so it’s important that you put some initial thought in creating a delivery schedule that is both fair to the client and realistic to yourself. Always make sure to double or triple your initial delivery estimates if you’re working on a large project for the first time, or using unfamiliar software/technology. In addition, schedule presentation and due dates for the client (have revisions due two days after initial presentation) and make sure to include a note at the bottom of the delivery sheet that won’t hold you liable to make deliveries if the requirements are changed mid-project or if the client can’t make the scheduled presentation dates.
Outsource the things you aren’t great at to specialists.
Chances are that if you scored a huge web contract, you probably sold more than just yourself. You probably sold a team of people. Now, that’s great and is almost always a good strategy for a single freelancer looking to pick up a huge deal. However, when it comes time to actually doing the work, make sure you’re using your team to the best of your advantage.
Only do what you’re absolutely awesome at, let specialists do the rest.
Many freelancers are “do-it-alls” who are very proficient in many different fields. This is a good thing, don’t get me wrong and I consider myself to be such a freelancer. But when it comes to large, ultra-premium projects, it really pays to get quality people to help you over-deliver to your customer.
For example, if you’re the web development specialist, don’t try to “improve” on the art director’s user interface, even if you think you’re much better than average at web design. The art director should have final say on every website comp, logo design, color change or font variation (all should be delivered to the pixel). If you don’t have total trust in the vision of your art director, you should find one that you’re more confident with and subcontract out.
See, when a client drops five or six digits on some web work to outside consultants, they expect to receive only the highest quality work in return. This excludes a web designer acting as an online copywriter or the sales guy as the marketer.
Using the specialties of outside professionals to help you isn’t cheating — it’s smart business.
Personally, I’m passable as a web content writer but absolutely horrendous when it comes to all other aspects of web work (UI design, sitemap creation, wire frames, CMS implementation, code upkeep, security updates, maintenance, etc). So when I land a large project, the only hard deliverable I’m actually going to do myself is the writing part (and even then, I pay for at least one professional editor to clean up my mistakes). The rest of the project I outsource to a professional quality team I know and trust. (In fact, I’ve outsourced with the same team so frequently that we all recently got together and formed a consulting company!)
Outsourcing projects in this way leads to many desirable outcomes. I free up my time to find new contracts, work on other businesses, hang out with my friends, take a mini-retirement or anything else that seems interesting. Additionally, I create a huge network of talented, professional, and specialized contacts just like me that love what they do and are amazingly cool to work with. It’s not what you know, but who you know.
Now the only tricky part about this whole bit is getting the $50,000 project…
In summary, break down high-dollar, high-work projects into their deliverable elements, ordered by date. Be realistic, but fair. Include presentation and customer due dates in bold. Break down each step and outsource to your network of professional, specialized contacts. Over-deliver and politely ask for a short testimonial and permission to use their materials in your portfolio.
Bonus Tip: Template to deal with incessant e-mails and phone calls asking for a “status update”from a high-dollar, high-anxiety client
“Dear Pesky Client,
Thank you for your (presumably drunken) e-mail sent at 3:30 AM on Saturday morning asking for a “prgress reprot”. We are currently on schedule to meet our July 1 deadline, and we are looking forward to showing you all of the progress we have made during our presentation meeting on July 10th. In fact, we are diligently working on the X, Y & Z functionality as I type this.
I understand your concerns on a project of this magnitude, and I can assure you that you’ll be quite pleased with the materials we’ll be presenting during our meeting.
Your Overworked and Under-appreciated Freelancer
Photo by zzzack.
Note: A few times a month we revisit some of our reader’s favorite posts from throughout the history of FreelanceSwitch. This article was first published December 2nd, 2008, yet is just as relevant and full of useful information today.