What they should teach digital freelancers (but don't)

Merely attending a course on Social Media, SEO or Flash falls well short of what it takes to commercially succeed as digital freelancer. Workshops, seminars and ‘master-classes’ can definitely offer some guidance on the tools and platforms of digital. But industry-recognised or not, most courses will struggle to teach the ‘life lessons’ that the sector’s freelancers survive and thrive by.

These finer points of single-handedly running your own digital business, or operating as a digital freelancer, were revealed to Freelance UK yesterday by three industry captains. Sam Michel is founder of digital media darling Chinwag; Richard Knights is a team leader at digital staff supplier ReThink Recruitment and Margaret Maupin is director of digital staffing for Cogs Agency.

It’s not all working from home

A common misconception about digital freelancers is that they are all sat at home being creative with one hand while Tweeting their latest news with the other, Rethink Recruitment’s Richard Knights says.

Although the current digital world is such that many clients are indeed happy to let reliable freelancers work from home (occasionally or even for the duration of a lengthy contract), the majority still like to physically see the freelancer on-site, and speak to them regularly.

“So before you make the jump, think about your target locations and how far you are willing to travel,” Knights said, addressing would-be digital freelancers. “Not all of your contracts will be working from home in little else but your pants and socks!”

Deal doggedly with devilish detail

The specification or detail in a brief often falls down in the eyes of a client when a freelancer is working alone on a project, remotely, away from the client’s office, warns Sam Michel of Chinwag.

“There's a danger that a brief will be interpreted [wrongly] and any large gaps filled in by the freelancer without referring back,” he said. “No-one wants constant checking on tiny details, but with remote workers, those tiny details may not be so tiny back at the client's base.”

Don’t expect the full picture

According to Rethink, a digital freelancer will be used for parts of a business or internet project that the end-client doesn’t have either the resources or skills for in-house.

It follows that as a digital freelancer, “you will see part of the project but the likelihood is that you will not see the finished article through to completion,” the agency said. “You are a cog in the wheel but you never get to see it roll.”

Walk the Walk

Proclaiming yourself to be all things to Digital is obviously a bad idea, particularly as end-clients tend to want freelancers to be specialists, rather than generalists. But at the least, cautions Margaret Maupin at Cogs Agency, digital practitioners who freelance will be expected by prospective clients to have a social or digital media profile that is fully optimised.

She said that means removing the default image on whichever site you’re profile is on; keeping your page active, linking and tagging, describing what you do professionally (and how you do it) and letting people know how to contact you. That contact should of course be invited through “digital channels,” Maupin said, not “snail mail”.

All that glitters may not be gold

“The Digital world is a volatile one,” cautions Knights. “Projects are pulled, pitches are lost and clients don’t sign when they should, particularly in the Digital Agency world. For recruiters it happens more often than it will to you [as a candidate], but don’t expect every project you go on to, or get spoken to about, to come to fruition.”

To keep expectations on the ground, a question he recommends to ask clients and recruiters alike is, “Has this project been won or is it still in the pitch phase?” This will help the freelancer determine how seriously they should take the prospective job.

Live and die by deadlines, but never in silence

For clients , a deadline being missed is unforgivable. But Chinwag believes that not knowing in advance that a deadline will be missed, followed by an eerie silence from the freelancer responsible, is even worse. It’s a sure way to ruin the relationship with the client, and can be potentially fatal to the freelancer’s wider reputation.

“In my experience, it's been worse with [freelance] techies who have had trouble completing a technical brief and run into difficulties [but kept quiet about it],” Michel said. “Not knowing is the worst bit and means a client can't make a decent assessment of what the alternatives might be.”



2nd November 2011

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