Have a gut feeling about the freelance work you’re pursuing?
Maybe your stomach is in knots about a project. Maybe it’s chill and happy about a new client.
Or maybe you’re talking with a prospect, but something’s telling you to charge higher rates, move on to find better freelance work, or sign a contract.
Been there, done that?
When you’re hungry to land freelance work, it’s easy to want to gobble up any client willing to throw you a bone. But that’s bound to cause some bank-account indigestion at some point.
So what happens when you’re offered an assignment where the rate is too low but your enthusiasm for the job and the client is high? You could walk away, try and negotiate the rate, or even accept the assignment.
But before you make any hangry-for-freelance-work decisions, give yourself a gut check. When I started doing this, I turned a one-off assignment into a long-term client, grew my network, and scored referrals for more freelance work.
Should you take that freelance job? Use the gut-check method to help you decide:
Use the Gut-Check Method to choose freelance work
Meet Nina Doyle. She’s a freelance writer and editor based in the south of Ireland.
Here’s how she developed a kind of sixth sense for choosing freelance clients:
“I was sitting in a cafe that I hardly ever visit, catching up on some writing,” says Doyle. “Someone tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up from my laptop, and there was a friend I hadn’t seen in years.”
After catching up, Doyle’s friend gave her a referral…a college alum who’s company urgently needed a freelancer for a one-off job. And at first, it seemed like good freelance work, or at least extra income.
But what happened next forced Doyle to do a gut check.
Find out if your freelance client is a good fit
If you’re marketing your freelance writing business and networking with other professionals, you should be talking to prospects on a regular basis.
Phone calls. Emails. In-person meetings. Maybe live on Zoom.
It’s an audition for both you and the prospect. It’s an opportunity to find out if you’re a match.
And so that’s what Doyle did after getting this referral.
- The gig: Interview an expert for a U.S.-based mentoring firm, and write a profile about the person that stories their career path.
After reaching out, Doyle’s contact said she was a perfect fit for the job.
Great, right? Maybe not.
Doyle quoted a price for the freelance work. But her contact replied with a ridiculously low rate. Now what?
Ask these gut-check questions about freelance projects
Once you get into the groove of pitching prospects and quoting projects, you’re bound to have a conversation about price.
Here’s some questions to ask yourself to help you make the decision to walk away, negotiate, or accept the work:
- What’s your hourly rate?
- How long will it take you to complete the freelance work or project?
- Is the client willing to negotiate your rate?
- Do you have the bandwidth to complete this project without impacting other client work?
- Will this project or client help level-up your portfolio or break into a new niche?
- What’s the potential for ongoing work or referrals?
Nina: I assumed I was dealing with a time-waster. So I drafted a polite ‘thanks-but-no-thanks’ reply. But I couldn’t bring myself to hit send.
Why? Three reasons:
- A good vibe from the client after chatting and exchanging emails
- Client research that showed positive positioning and ethos, and
- The opportunity to write people profiles and case studies
Nina even reached out to her network of freelance writing friends. Most advised her to walk away and pursue better-paying projects. But one trusted peer replied with a simple one-liner: “Nina, remember that it’s not always about the money.”
From one-off project to long-term gig + referrals
Doyle’s gut-check and one piece of advice from a fellow freelancer convinced her to give this client a chance. And it was worth it.
- She crushed the assignment
- Her client hired her to write more profiles at a higher rate
- The person she interviewed hired her to write copy for her design business, and started connecting her with other people in her network
Nina: I was wise to listen to my gut on this occasion, but it isn’t always that simple when it comes to freelancing.
The next time you’re at that tipping point to walk away, negotiate, or wondering if you should accept a project, here are some things to keep in mind.
- Be realistic. You have bills to pay, and that should almost always dictate what jobs you accept. But if you’re in a position where you can look beyond the money, trust your gut.
- Don’t make assumptions. When I first saw the client’s low rate, I immediately thought “time waster.” But before you turn down freelance work, ask questions and find out if you’re a good fit.
- Think big. What connections could an assignment bring that might not pay as much as you’d like? For me, it was a global network of professionals, some of whom need freelance writers. The client didn’t try to entice me with that, or use it as a perk to offset the low rate. It was something I realized after I’d accepted the job.
- Be honest. I made sure the client was fully aware I was working for well below my regular rate, and that I was helping them out as a start-up. When my client saw the standard of my writing, she was open to discussing a higher rate.
- Be polite. If you have a good feeling about a potential client, but still can’t afford to take on the job, be polite. Keep the relationship open. Recommend another writer. If ever the client can match your rate, hopefully you’re the first writer they call.
Should you take that freelance writing job? Trust your gut. You might be surprised where one assignment or one client might lead.
What’s your gut-check process to get freelance work? Share in the comments below.
Nina Doyle is a freelance writer and editor based in the south of Ireland.