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Top Reasons 10 I Did Not Bid on Your Job

Date/Time Permalink: 03/03/08 06:38:58 pm
Category: LINKS and Lists

Today, let's pretend this is the Craiglist rants 'n' raves section.

I'm offering this advice to anybody and everybody who would ever attempt to hire a freelancer over the Internet - to work some project in some capacity such as writer, graphics artists, programmer, designer, and so on. This article is to help you, the customer, get what you want or at least understand why you can't. So I will teach by negative example here. Motivated entirely by my radiant love for humanity, which leaps unbidden from my heart like a thousand wired crickets.

Hiring a freelancer online? Try to avoid making any of the mistakes on this list:

1. You are asking the impossible. - Of course, when it comes to programming, if you knew what was possible and what wasn't, you wouldn't need to hire a freelancer, would you? So this is the one that's difficult to avoid. But you can recover faster if you take my word for it when I explain that no amount of money could get me to write you an algorithm that solves the traveling salesman problem for any array of cities. Anybody bright enough to do that isn't working freelance.

2. You are engaging in something criminal or at least immoral. - So, no, I'm not going to help you bypass spam filters. I work the other side of the fence - remember, I have a website, online business, and an email account, too! If your project involves any kind of spamming, scamming, heisting, deception, trickery, or "black hat" anything, understand that I am to you what an exorcist is to a demon. We will not get along!

3. You're too vague. - Here is an example job posting I've seen, verbatim: "I need a picture of a kangaroo." That's not enough detail. A logo? An anatomically-correct encyclopedia illustration? An O'Reilly Press book-cover-style one? A cartoon? A kangaroo hopping across the prairie? A kangaroo in space? A boxing kangaroo? A sleeping kangaroo? In vector format? Flash animation? A T-shirt design? An oil painting? Quite often, I have to base part of my billing on how much time I'm going to spend torturing a client with thumbscrews to extract the information I need to do the job. And please don't try to communicate exclusively through a hand-held text messaging device. For me, it's like talking to somebody with a funnel strapped over their mouth.

4. You think you need a freelancer when what you really need is a manager. - We freelancers can see a snowball project coming from a mile away. Every job I take has to have clearly-defined boundaries or I'm bolting from it like a Ziff-Davis blogger fleeing a fact. Making the icons or writing the ebook or whatever, that's my plan and I'm sticking to it. Coming up with a business plan and managing your assets and marketing the product is all you - that's why you're hiring people to work for you, because you have all the business smarts. Right?

5. You're trying to buy a friend. - But I'm a freelance worker, not a socialite. At the opposite end of the spectrum from the uncommunicative client is the one who makes ten pop-ups per day on my desktop while I'm trying to get his work done. I've had at least one client where I've had to threaten to start billing by the email received.

6. Your business plan sucks. - Normally, that isn't my concern. You have the money up front and want blog headers, I got 'em. But when you start unloading this long-winded essay about your wacky get-rich-quick scheme that's all Rube Goldberg contraptions and libertarian economics, I immediately know 3 things: (1) you'll be a "#5 type client" (see above). (2) You will lose money. (3) You will blame me, just because I'm there.

7. The last time we worked together, you became a ghost. - I'm not talking about skipping out if you got the work and haven't paid yet - that's a shame on me for letting it happen. But what is going on with these people who pay me a retainer, say, "Call me if you have any questions.", and then promptly get sucked into a black hole, never to be seen again? Not even to claim their work that's already paid for? It's a good thing that hard drive space and long-term data storage is so cheap, or some people would be paying impound fees about now.

8. I can't understand a word you're saying. - Folks, when you're composing an ad, could you just use plain, regular, ordinary text? You know, text, the stuff that people read? Don't write it up in Front-Page Express, copy and paste into MS Write, take a screenshot of it in Photoshop, embed the screenshot into a PDF document, run an OCR scanner on the PDF, translate the scanner output from UTF-16 to Western-ISO-8859-1, and copy and paste the result into the little text box on the website. Just type it directly into the little text box, or, if that's not complicated enough for you and you must use crappy proprietary tools or bleed, use Notepad. Notepad is your happy, happy friend. I would say "Emacs", but I know I'm asking way too much there. Or perhaps you should consider a career in espionage, because an ordinary communication from you counts as the most unbreakable cryptography known to science.

9. Your expectations are out of line with your price. It's great that you want artwork that looks just as good as "The Incredibles". That movie had a $92 million dollar budget and took about a year to make. With a budget and schedule like that, maybe - maybe - I could match it, if I could hire staff. But I'm the Lone Freelancer working budget jobs. Part of the reason I like the work is because I can grab random projects, crank something out, and move on. I like the variety. Think of a drive-up window, only you get writing and graphics to go. Two weeks is a long commitment for me. So that's why you're only paying $100 and getting whatever I can sling at you in two days.

10. You're just plain, nucking futs. - This is the other one that's hard to fix. How do I explain that the reason I'm backing away from your job spec is because it's occurred to me that this artwork isn't going to go to a business, but for you to start your own religion? That this "parody" article will actually be published out of context on a hate site? That this research will actually be used to fuel some basement troll's conspiracy theory newsletter? On the surface, you'd think it shouldn't matter to my business - but there are plenty of normal clients out there to work for who are not barking mad, and they are much less worrying to work with.

PS Now, don't go thinking that all clients are a barrel of sour apples. 95% of them don't have any problems at all; they come to do a business transaction and they know how to do that. This list is for that 5% that, well, seem to need special help.

Update: For some handy advice for freelancers, here's a nice article on How to Effectively Talk to Clients. See? I make everybody happy!

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