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Ask Lawrence: How Do I Ensure I Have a Great First Freelance Assignment?

15 May 14:00 by Lawrence Akers

Lawrence Akers First Freelance Assignment

For many, their first freelance assignment is often something that can generate both a lot of excitement and nervousness.

It can signal the start of a new chapter in their professional lives, although it is understandable that it’s coupled with the ‘fear of the unknown’. What will the people be like?  What if they ask me to do something that I realise I can’t actually do?  What if I go there and the staff around me look like they're trapped in the studio equivalent of Hotel California?

This quick guide will help you to ensure that your first experience out in the professional freelance world is a good as it can get.

Know where you’re going.

You know that feeling when you’re running late and you can’t seem to calm yourself down?  The frustration builds and you find yourself screaming at trams during peak hour traffic (or is that just me?)  You’ll want to ensure that you can avoid this by (a) making sure you leave plenty of time to get to your destination at least 10 minutes before you’re due to start and (b) checking out your route to get there so that you can be clear on where you’re going.

If your assignment has been booked through a recruitment agency, it might be worth asking your consultant if they know if there is parking onsite or near by as well, or if you’re travelling by public transport, what the nearest station or stop is.

The more you can take the stress out of getting there in the morning, the more you can conserve your nervous energy for something more productive.

Make notes

Take a notepad and pen with you.  Nothing gives your client more peace of mind that seeing that you’re writing lots of notes about the brief and getting your head around what needs to be done.

As you are making notes, ask the client questions that you anticipate are going to make the job easier and that will make a good impression. For example, you might want to ask question about how files are stored on their system and where you will find certain files / images, or how long each piece of work needs to take.

If they’re asking you to do something that you know can be done multiple ways, ask them to be clear about how they would like to see that work done and saved. Remember, there is no such thing as a stupid question (unless it is ‘what’s an InDesign?’) and if you frame it with a ‘just so I know that I am being absolutely clear on what needs to be done…’, you’ll be fine.

In my experience, clients are more concerned when their freelancers don’t ask questions and don’t take notes.  Don’t be one of those freelancers. Keep up communication although also be aware that your client has probably got you in because they’re time poor so ask work related questions but now isn’t the time to engage in water cooler talk.

Be proactive

Clients will love it when you put up your hand and let them know you’re about 15 minutes off finishing a job and you’re keen to know what they would like you to do next. Clients will also love it if you flag an idea with them on how they could improve a process internally, especially if it is going to save them time and resources.

Clients will love you more if you ask them if they have any further needs for you before you head home, or before you book yourself out on the next assignment. It’s that proactivity that lets them know you’re switched on, that you’re thinking ahead for them, and that you have their best interests at heart.

Post placement

For many of my freelancers, once they’ve made a great impression on a client, chances are they will get a return request.  The client has taken the time to show them their systems and the type of work that they do so you can imagine that, when they find someone they like who ‘gets it’, they’ll be keen to get them back when there is a need.

With that in mind, be sure to let your client / recruiter know when you’re free again in case there is a need.  Don’t send weekly/daily/hourly emails as that is going to be a bit excessive however a quick email to acknowledge you’re free if they have anything may often result in some work going your way.

Under no circumstances do you use the work you’ve produced for your client in your folio without your client’s permission.  If it is a direct relationship and you wish to include the work, feel free to ask them.  If you went through an agency, get your recruitment consultant to ask on your behalf.  I’ve heard some horror stories in the past of freelancers including new branding and campaigns in their folio and circulating that before it went public - you can imagine what kinds of issues actions like that will provoke.  Ultimately, you’re paid by the client for your services to produce something that they will own so communication in writing is always best there.

I f you take on board some of the suggestions here and go into the first assignment with the confidence that you have the skills your client needs to produce great work, then you should have a successful first assignment.  Many freelancers I know don’t view freelancing as being something that they do between jobs but more what they do full time - they are their own product.  For people who have the skills, it is a great way to earn an income!