How Freelancers can Avoid Doomed Projects

Over 5 years of working as a freelance web developer and digital marketer, I’ve dealt with my fair share of “clients from hell.”

The turning point in my career was the realization that I actually helped create some of these horrible clients. In many situations, I was simply dealing with an inexperienced client who really needed a consultant, not just a contract worker.

Identifying a bad relationship

At one point in my career, a client selected me to handle a seemingly simple web development project with a fixed price.

He gave me a general idea of what he wanted — a simple theme based on another website — and requested that we get started immediately after signing a simple workers agreement.

Not so fast…

The obvious problem with this situation is that there wasn’t a clear scope of work. As a consultant, it was my job to work with the client to define the precise scope of work and agree on the definition of success.

This meant that “I want a website similar to these 4 websites” wasn’t enough information to estimate the scope of work.

Precisely defining success

I’ve had several projects, that began with a vague scope of work, drag on because I was at the mercy of the client to define what qualifies as a completed project.

A client might take advantage of ambiguity to lock you into completing additional requests.

For example, “build a landing page” might appear like a simple development and copywriting job, but the client might claim that you obviously should also set up A/B testing, heatmaps, or even a multi-step, integrated submission form because “that’s what any competent web developer would do.”

Yes, I’ve actually had clients make these kinds of assumptions and then attempt to pressure me into the extra work by insulting my experience-level.

Since you’re so far through the project and want to get paid, you’ll likely do the extra work to avoid friction.

In my situation, I managed to grill the client until I got the exact scope of work.

Unsurprisingly, the number of pages went from 5 to 25, with 3 unique template designs, one landing page with third-party integrations, pop ups with varying actions, and a custom, on-page calculator.

The client specifically requested help “creating a website theme,” but after uncovering the actual scope of work, it was clear that I would have been doing much more.

Although the scope of work essentially doubled, I realized that the client was planning to ask for these tasks to be completed anyway.

During our discussion, it became clear that the client assumed some tasks were easy and would take “like 30 minutes.” Although this might just seem like plain ignorance, this behavior indicates that the client won’t value the work.

After adjusting the scope of work, the timeline, and doubling the project estimate, it was clear that the client would look for a cheaper alternative.

A mutually beneficial relationship

Clients benefit from selecting contractors who work with the client to define success and lay out a properly formulated project road map. A client can then identify competent contractors and avoid working with freelancers who over promise and under deliver.

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Fullstack Developer helping people find freedom through code.