The other meaning of “free” in freelancing


I often talk about the life of a freelancer, its upsides and downsides. On the whole, I really wouldn’t want to change my work life much, I love the flexibility and control it affords me over working for someone else, and I am someone who deals well with the ups and downs of remuneration in such an environment. That said, this week I had two not so great things happen that, while not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, are nevertheless among the hazards of working for oneself.

The first issue is with a non-paying client. As you may remember form my previous article on the subject, I don’t let people run up a huge tab with me. I never let them owe me more than the amount I am willing to walk away from. Still, there is nothing more frustrating that chasing after money you are owed. I am truly blessed most of the time as I have very rarely had a client be more than a week late with a payment. This client, however, is over a month past due and the various emails I have sent are met with responses of the type “I can’t do anything while my boss is on vacation” and other such hogwash. I assume the necessary utilities such as phone and internet get paid (you did respond to my email after all, albeit several days later, so that service has been paid at least).  I sent them a letter today explaining that no more work will happen on their site until I have been paid in full (not just up to the amount of last invoice), and that I am leaving on vacation for a month at the end of August, so if they want their site to work before the end of September, they jolly well better get their check-writing fingers in gear.

The second issue is somewhat my fault, for not doing enough due diligence before quoting a project fee. A very good client of mine who I really like, asked me to step in and fix a few things that her publisher had done wrong on a site showcasing some of her work. I would have been hired to do the site from scratch, but the publisher had their own internal guy who fancies himself a web developer, and they felt it best to do the work in house. I only looked at a few comps and asked some simple questions, and so I assumed I knew based on the answers to these questions how the site was put together (how it would be logically put together, anyway) and made my quote based on those assumptions. Little did I know until getting into it that the previous coder had apparently never learned anything new about web programming since 1996, and I had to manually manipulate some 50 individual files when we should have just been dealing with just two or three templates that were re-used across the site. All in all the site took roughly double the amount of time I thought it would. I didn’t really feel comfortable charging my client either, because we have a good relationship and I didn’t really think it was fair to her. Live and learn, next time for a fixit job on someone else’s work I will ask to look at the code directly before quoting anything.

I’d say in about 90% of the cases, I come in under quote and ahead of schedule, but sometimes things like this happen. In the first case above, there is really nothing I would do differently at all, I have a clear process for dealing with late payment, and it is being executed as I am comfortable with, even if it is a bummer.  In the second case, I can see changes I can make to improve my outcomes. Practice makes perfect.


  1. Ken Zachmann says:

    Ugh. Freelancing does seem like a dream job…but having to play bad cop and chase invoices and then totally fix a poorly set up site. Yuck. Hopefully next week will be much better!