Freelance Files: Thoughts on Consulting


Greetings! Happy December! I’m sure you’re busy getting merry on holiday cheer. I’ve been trying to carve out time to do my christmas cards, but man.. I just have so much freelance work piled up.

About a month and a half  ago I was referred by a developer I work with to team up and help his client design addition website pages. There were several phases pitched to me with high level tasks of what the user was supposed to do in these sections. The client even mocked up a page or two, but it was obviously very rough and not well thought out, hence why the developer needed me to help the client iron out the details and provide a pixel perfect design for implementation. I noticed that some sections of the pitch were larger than others so I decided to tackle the ones that had the most thought put into them first. I sent over my very modest quote because I knew the client was on a budget and figured if they wanted lower than that, then I’d have to pass. The client was hesitant and requested quotes for the entire package upfront before agreeing to work with me. I was a little perturbed but I figured defining the scope through low fidelity wires will only help me nail it down now and avoid scope creep later.

So I set up phone calls to talk through these sections. I qiickly realized that not only did the client “not have everything figured out” but continued to add on to the scope each iteration of the wires. One call turned into two turned into 7 or 8 and pretty soon, we were a month and  half later and things were still being re-considered.

I thought “wow this is a lot of work, I’m excited”. And then she told me her budget and I was deflated. Not only had I spent 20 hours on phone calls, helping her figure out and define the experience and readjusting wires but now I was backed into a corner because her budget barely covered half of the ambitious scope. The story isn’t over. It may come out with a happy ending still. 

My next steps are to defer to my developer contact and ask for backup on how to handle his client’s ambitious scope with such a small budget.

Lesson Learned:

Don’t provide free consulting! 

If a client only has a basic idea of what they want, and you know that it requires a lot of research and thinking things through, you can do one of two things:

1) Give them an estimate for that basic idea. In that estimate outline how many pages this covers and make it very clear that if there is stuff that needs to be added, it will be additional.
2) You can explain to them that if they don’t know exactly what they want, you can’t provide an accurate quote and then offer a low flat rate consulting fee to help them figure it out. If they decline, go with number 1.

Charge a downpayment upfront

No matter what you do, make sure you get some amount of money upfront and make sure they understand it’s non-refundable. It covers the work you do before you come to an agreement about the scope.

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