Even if you do think you can complete the project on time within the budget, spend some extra time figuring it out.
Case in point, my most recent project for a video editing/DVD creation job. I took the job because it was going to be a slow month for me anyway and figured I could crank out the project and come close to their budget, but I misjudged. Oh, I will finish on time, that’s for sure; I am never late finishing a paid gig as I depend on that referral for other projects. But I am also now working for free for the last 10 hours or so as I have already exceeded their budget and there is no more money. I guess I can take this as a valuable lesson in that if you have any misgivings about how much time something will take you and what they can pay, think long and hard about whether it is worth it to you to take the project. For me, the client is worth doing the work for as they are very high profile and I might be able to get more work out of it. But at the same time, I am now working for free, something I set out to avoid when I went out on my own. What have I learned?
1. Some jobs take a lot longer than you expect them to, so carefully plan out how long you think it will take and then add 10-15% to that total.
2. Life gets in the way sometimes, leaving you less time than you thought you were going to have to complete the project...which means working in the middle of the night sometimes just to catch up.
3. When a company tells you the budget, be sure to ask if that is the final FINAL budget or if that is a general idea as to what they want to spend. It makes a difference. I have had clients tell me they want to keep their expense between $X and $X, which makes my life easier if it takes longer than expected.
4. Be sure ahead of time that they have all the materials you will need to complete the project and you will not be delayed because they cannot provide what you need when you need it. This was not really the case here, but at the same time, I probably would have been done by now if I had gotten stuff when I was in need of it.
5. Know when you are going to be paid. This can be a biggie, because if you are depending on this money to pay your rent or mortgage, having to wait a month to be paid can be very painful. I usually try to get 50% up front and 50% on completion, but on this one I only got 25% up front and now I have to wait a few weeks to get the remainder.
Overall I am happy I took the job because of the exposure it will give me, and that alone is probably worth the extra money I am giving up. But still, when you send your last invoice but have to keep working (for free) it is a little painful. Just a word to the wise for those of you out there starting to freelance. I am not an old hack at this, so I am learning as I go along as well…its only been 8 months since I left my “regular” job so I discover new things all the time!