Crash course in freelancing please
January 31, 2013 5:13 PM   Subscribe

Some freelance programming/design work (javascript data visualization) is about to drop into my lap through a friend who has heard me talking about how much I enjoy this stuff. I'm a student and have never done this professionally, but would love to in the future. Help me not look like a rookie and make this go smoothly and professionally.

Doing the work is not a problem. I have a ballpark idea of what their budget is and how long it will take me and I think we will be able to agree on the rate. I'm more thinking about the sort of typical practices that freelancers would do. Such as:

Contracts? Is there a good resource for boilerplate?

Payment? How do freelancers get paid? Paypal? Mailed cheques? What's a good invoice look like?

Taxes? Do I need to worry about this now and factor it into my rate, or just worry about it when I file my tax return? I'm in Canada.

Work-in-progress? It will have to live on the web, so I am going to throw up a website so I can show the client work as we go. Maybe have a password-protected section so they know the work is not published. Is there a good framework for this kind of thing? Also, anyone know a good web host ($5/month?) for basic PHP/Python/MySQL type projects?

Ownership/licensing/credit/portfolio? I assume once I produce the stuff they want and we've worked out delivery and deployment, I just give them all the code and they can do what they like with it. Is that standard practice? Do I ask for an authorship credit or anything like that? If I want to host a copy as part of a portfolio is it okay to ask for that, and does this affect the rate I would charge?

What else am I forgetting? I figured I would eventually research all of this but my schedule has been suddenly accelerated and I need to be up and running really soon.
posted by PercussivePaul to Work & Money (10 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Contracts: Check out the Freelancers Union Contract Creator.

Payment: I use Fresh Books to send invoices to people and to hassle them into paying me when they are late.
posted by steinsaltz at 5:15 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

You should definitely sign a contract or at least get something in writing. Define the scope of the project clearly.

You get paid how you want to get paid. I ask for a check, because PayPal charges fees. But it's up to you. I use Harvest for invoices.

Yes, you should pay taxes. Set your bid for as much as you feel your work is worth.

What are you forgetting? Ask for (and expect) a 50% deposit before you begin work.
posted by Leontine at 6:59 PM on January 31, 2013

I'm a freelance IT security consultant. The toughest lesson to learn when I started out was that not all of your clients will pay you. You WILL get stiffed, and by people you never thought would do it. Watch this (nsfw language) to hear about how to protect yourself... some of the time.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:44 PM on January 31, 2013

Payment: Paypal is a pain and charges fees, so generally a cheque. Email money transfer is fine too, if the amount doesn't hit the maximum ($1000, I think).

Taxes: This doesn't really affect your taxes in any special way (you add the amount to your earnings at the end of the year, subtract expenses, and pay taxes on the amount). Do factor in that you'll pay CPP of 9.9% on the net amount (the normal 4.95% that you would contribute if you were employed, plus the same again that your employer would normally contribute). So you do need to charge a little more than what you'd be paid as an employee (but you need to charge more for a lot of reasons).
posted by ssg at 7:55 PM on January 31, 2013

Not just a check, but 50% deposit, then the rest at the end, or 33/33/33. But get some money upfront, be clear how you fire each other, plan for how many revisions are free.
posted by dame at 8:41 PM on January 31, 2013

Number one thing which I was told, and proceeded to screw up nonetheless: be really, really hard-nosed about getting paid. You are entering a business relationship. It is not indelicate or ungrateful or unfeeling to be very clear how much work you're going to do for them, how much they're going to pay you, and when the money is going to change hands.

A good client will not be offended if you say, "I'm sorry, that really doesn't work for me. I'd like N% up front and another M% at each milestone." A bad client is not worth the trouble when you're juggling school and able to make ends meet. (Some clients are so bad they're not even worth the trouble when you can't make ends meet.)
posted by d. z. wang at 9:15 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am going to throw up a website so I can show the client work as we go.

Be careful about this. If they clients are not programmers themselves, they cannot see the difference between a pretty mockup and an implemented system, i.e. the backend and JS code is invisible to them. So you could make it look like you have already implemented everything and they will not understand why they need to pay you for more work than you have already done.

They client should not see anything beyond initial sketches before the part is implemented and usable.
posted by flif at 5:33 AM on February 1, 2013

We're hosting a very simple PHP/mySQL app at Appfog and it's working great. Also it's free if you need less than 2GB of RAM.
posted by Aizkolari at 7:46 AM on February 1, 2013

I dug up some business tips for graphic designers, which is related. You probably want to grind through some business tips for web developers instead of this or as well, to understand what's considered professionalism.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:47 AM on February 1, 2013

It's a bit older, so there's probably a lot of tech stuff it's missing, but I'd recommend My So-Called Freelance Life as a nice primer. It covers a lot of general things that go into starting a freelance business, and it's a quick read.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:14 AM on February 5, 2013

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