Note: Ever wonder how to find the best freelance jobs? I know I did. But it’s not as hard to find them as you might think. When you understand the classic business concept I wrote about in this post five years ago, you’ll know how to score the best freelance jobs based on three simple things. —Carol.
In my late teens, I had the good fortune to blunder onto a concept that would help me become a well-paid freelance writer later on.
I was working as a secretary at MGM studios in Culver City, Calif. My boss asked me to take something over to the editing room of one of the productions.
Inside the edit booth, amongst the strips of film, sheafs of notations and other production clutter, was an aged, coffee-stained, clearly much-xeroxed flier. It was hanging from a nail and blowing a bit in the air-conditioned indoor breeze, which probably helped catch my eye.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but years later this simple flier would later help me find some of the best freelance jobs around. Let me explain the concept:
Inside the edit booth, the flier I noticed was dominated by a large triangle. Its three points were labeled, “Good,” “Fast,” and “Cheap.”
At the bottom were the instructions: “Pick any two.”
Next to this slogan, a couple of jelly-bean shaped cartoon guys were splitting their sides laughing. From one issued a thought balloon with the classic question of all contractors: “You want it when?”
Find the best freelance jobs with the Project Triangle
I didn’t know it then, but I had discovered a famous business concept known as the Quality Triangle (also the Project Triangle).
Besides good-fast-cheap, it is often stated as in the illustration above — money (or cost), time, and quality. It’s a concept that can help you understand:
3 basic parameters of every freelance project:
- How much time are they giving you?
- What do they want to pay?
- And how terrific of a job do you have to do?
Answer these three basic questions, and you’ll know what to charge. But there’s one more thing you need to know about the Project Triangle to find the best freelance clients.
It’s a basic business principle that all three facets of the triangle do not go together, as that flier so succinctly stated. Or they shouldn’t, from the freelancer’s point of view.
Here’s how to apply this formula:
If a client wants it good and fast, it won’t be cheap.
If they want it fast and cheap, it won’t be top quality.
If they want it good and cheap, it cannot happen fast.
When you evaluate a freelance writing gig, consider this trio of factors. It should help you see whether it’s time to charge a premium, or whether this might be a situation where you could offer a bargain price.
How I applied the Triangle
When you use the Project Triangle, you’ll discover a number of different combinations of “Good,” “Fast,” and “Cheap,” that will help you find great clients. Here are a couple examples:
- Cheap + Good. I recently wrote a print book for cheap. Obviously, it had to turn out very well and be my best work. But I was given nearly a year in which to write the book. So cheap and good were achieved, but slowly.
- Good + Fast. I once was asked to crank out a large number of blog posts on arcane business-finance topics, in a big hurry. I was paid my biggest blogging fee ever, $300 a post. Good and fast were achieved, but it didn’t come cheap.
- If a client gets all three points of the triangle, then the freelancer gets screwed.
Learn to recognize when to charge premium rates
When I opened my first freelance business, typing scripts, I got a lot of lazy screenwriters who’d finish their draft the night before their deadline.
Then, they’d want me to type it overnight at the regular rate. But I wouldn’t do it unless they paid double.
“Your emergency is my opportunity,” was my motto. And still is today, in freelance writing.
If you take rush work at regular rates, you’re letting a client turn their problem into your problem. You are violating the rules of the Quality Triangle, to your detriment.
Fast, cheap, good: Which type of freelancer are you?
I think every freelancer ends up positioning themselves primarily in one aspect of this triangle, based on what they enjoy doing.
- Fast. Some of us are “fast” writers — we enjoy riding to the rescue on rush work and the feeling of accomplishment that comes from doing the seemingly impossible on short notice. Others hate crises.
- Cheap. Some love to crank out a ton of stuff and prefer a volume of work at lower rates to feast or famine with premium projects.
- Good. Looking at my work, I feel my prime emphasis is on “good.” At this point, many clients come tell me they feel like only I could do this assignment for them — and they’re crushed if I’m not available.
Use this simple triangle to move up and earn more
I went through a period where I was the queen of (well-paid) rush work, but now I don’t want that stress in my life. Focusing on the best freelance jobs leads you away from cheap rates and toward better pay, which is why I’m still, always, looking for ways to learn more and improve my writing.