I’ve found freelancing to be unpredictable at times; you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth and be flexible in a number of scenarios.

Here are the lessons I’ve learned in my time as a freelance developer about flexibility:

Projects Don’t Always (Ever?) Run to Time

In an ideal world, a two-week long project will start at 9AM on the first Monday and be tied up nicely by 5PM on the final Friday. This almost never happens. In my early days freelancing this would annoy me. I felt like the project was being badly ran, either by myself, my client or the both of us. As I’ve gained more experience I’ve gotten used to this as part and parcel of digital projects.

If at all possible I like to charge out at my day rate. That way, this kind of scenario can’t really happen. The issue is that most clients, whether design agencies or other companies, prefer a fixed price for their project’s development.

I’ve found it beneficial to be time flexible in this situation. For instance, it’s not the end of the world if projects overlap slightly – even when quoting a specific number of days time for the work. It’s not realistic to think that your 2 week project, your 1 week project and your 2 month project will dove-tail nicely. No matter how well you schedule work, there will be at least one set of amends that fall outside the designated project time.

It’s best to accept this and add a little flexibility to your calendar. I try and set aside a few hours on a Friday, an evening if I’m busy, or even on a weekend to take care of the little jobs that nearly always crop up. Adding an additional day’s time to your fixed price quotes will often cater for payment of this.

Work When You Want From Where You Want

I imagine this to be one of the major plus points of freelancing and working from home. Generally my work days are fairly fixed. I work from my home office, roughly 10AM – 6PM, every weekday. I don’t stick to this entirely as some projects require you to bend a little.

When an interesting proposal comes to light, it’s advantageous to be flexible as there’s more chance of getting the job. For instance, a client may want weekly meetings or have a clause that the entire development be coded on premises. I’m often willing to consider terms like this on a project by project basis as it opens myself up to a wider range of work.

Aside from proximity, a massive benefit for work from home freelancers is choosing our own hours. I personally like to start around 10AM (working until 6PM) as this enables me to go to the gym or walk my dog before work, while still keeping within the usual working hours of my UK based clients. Occasionally however, I’ll set up 7PM conference calls with my American clients.

Having no set location or fixed hours are two valuable assets for remote freelancers. Be flexible and make the most of them.

Clients Are Human

Everyone needs holidays right? Your clients will go on holiday, they will take days off for appointments and there will be times when they’re unreachable. Sometimes it’s easy to be so focused on your business that a break in a project can really throw you off, no matter how plausible the reason. That said, it’s important to remember that clients are people just like ourselves!

In parallel, there will also be times when you need to go that extra mile for a client. A flat no, is never a good answer for these type of requests in my opinion. As long as the right general boundaries are set, there’s nothing wrong with pulling an all-nighter for a valuable client on occasion. There are people who will push this flexibility to the maximum however; and I wouldn’t consider these valuable clients.

It’s important that the client/designer/developer communication line is open and clear. In general it’s best to cut clients some slack and allow some leeway, you’ll usually get the same back.

Be Flexible, Get Flexible

As mentioned previously, if you’re flexible with your clients you will often get the same level of leeway in return.

Being able to take time out when we want is great, but remember that this will affect your client and their project. I’ve found that, especially in longer-term working relationships, being open to a margin of variation will stand you in good stead when the roles are reversed.

From my experience, as long as I’ve forewarned my clients of any holidays in advance they’ve been fine with it. Smaller out of office absences like appointments, or single days off, I’ve built up the trust to cater for these on the fly. I operate in the same manner with anyone working for me; when I’m the client so to speak.

It’s unrealistic to expect freelancers (and clients) to be completely rigid.

In Summary

Flexibility is an essential trait for a freelancer and something that clients, especially those with reoccurring work, will always look for.

Learning to build an adaptable and dynamic business is something that has taken me time. If I could go back a few years, my advise to myself would be:

  1. Don’t panic when projects overrun slightly. Include amends time in fixed priced projects.
  2. Use the time and location freedom you have to your advantage. Adapt project by project.
  3. Cut clients some slack. The leeway will usually be reciprocated.
  4. Surpass expectations for the right clients, but don’t be taken advantage of.
  5. Emergency situations will happen. Be prepared for them!

Posted by Tom Hirst

Freelance WordPress developer, front-end developer and clothing line owner available for hire.

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