Carrie Dills has been freelancer since 1997 and she is a professional web developer expert. She is also the founder of the Fearless Freelancer, a company dedicated to providing resources and a community for freelancers. In this video, she shares about how choosing freelancing is an option for developers.
- Hey there, this is Ray De Lobos and this week we're talking to Carrie Dils. She's been a freelancer since 1997 and she's also a professional web developer expert, or, web development expert, and is also the founder of The Fearless Freelancer, a company dedicated to providing resources and a community for freelancers. Hey there, Carrie. How ya doin'? - Good! Thanks, Ray, thanks for having me on. - Yeah, this is really awesome because I know this series normally focuses on people who are trying to get a job and gives them some coding practice, but I really wanted to talk about this entire other aspect that every one of us has access to.
Many of us start our career as freelancers just almost out of an accident. Usually it's like your uncle who needs a website for his business, or your mom or dad who want something, and so, that really continues all our lives, so I really want to talk to you about that. What should somebody that's just getting started, maybe they got that call from their uncle saying, hey, I got an idea for... It's either, I got an idea but I don't have any money, can you build a website for me? What should somebody say to somebody like that? - Never work with your uncle.
(laughing) - That's great. - No, I'm just kidding. I do hesitate to do work for family these days just because those relationships can get a little bit sticky. But yeah, go for it, especially in those early... I'm not a proponent of doing a ton of work for free because you do have to earn a living, but in those early days when you're just looking for experience and building a portfolio and kind of figuring out how to work with a client, even if that client is your uncle. That's all great experience to get under your belt.
- That's a really point, that you do need to have something to show. You're not really going to have a lot of work if you don't have some work that you've already done, so that's maybe a good way of getting some experience. I mean, people who are asking you to do those first websites, they've got to understand that you're not a professional yet, you're just getting started out. One of the things that I recommend to students is to have some sort of sentence that lets people know if you're getting more serious that you do have some sort of costs associated.
Usually, I say, if it's your uncle, if it's not your mom, do everything for your mother for free. That's what I always say (Carrie laughs) because you know she birthed you, so you owe her. But if it's your uncle, usually I tell them, hey, say something like, the minimum website that I work on is, whatever it is, $200 dollars, $500 dollars. That usually weeds out some of the people that are just wanting some work without any compensation. I usually tell them something like that. Do you think that's a good idea, to have something that you tell people by default? - Oh yeah, I think that's a great idea because it...
Number one, it anchors the price in people's mind, so it gives them an expectation of, even a ballpark, of what something like that costs. Secondly, like you said, it gets rid of the tire kickers that are just looking for something for free (laughs). - Yeah, that's great. That usually qualifies people, lets them know that, number one, I think after you get done with those first few sample things that you are serious and that you want them to be serious as well.
What would you say were some of the mistakes that you made when you were first getting started that you maybe would like other people to avoid as they get started with freelancing? - This is going to maybe sound weird, it's just a practical thing, but when I started I was living in an apartment and my office was also my bedroom and it created... Basically, I had no boundaries around when I was working. You may think I was just laying in bed all the time but I wasn't, it would actually...
I'd get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and I'd say, I wonder if there are any emails coming in? (Ray laughs) And I'd get up and I'd work for a little while. But I've learned, I don't know, I maybe did that for a year or so, and then I was like, okay, I've got to get my computer out of my bedroom and keep those areas separate so I can help create some boundaries there. Told you it was a weird one. - I totally understand that, and one of the reasons why I actually have an office is because, I don't know if you know this, but, we have eight kids, me and my wife.
There's only seven living at home, but it's really hard to find that time to be able to focus. When you are in an environment that is conducive to a lot of distractions it's really hard to get work done. You've just got to find a place that lets you separate work from the rest of your life. I think that's actually quite a good thing. What about things like, do you recommend that people start out knowing about things like contracts, or money? How should they ask people about how to make sure that they get paid? - Yeah, I mean, it's all...
As you evolve as a freelancer your processes also change, or maybe get a little bit more formal. I've done so many projects just on a handshake, but, these days I would recommend at least getting something in email so that there's a physical copy of a client agreeing to do, or, to pay you x amount of money in return for x amount of services. - Is that something like a deposit? Do you ask people, hey, I need a deposit before I get started on this thing? - Absolutely.
Typically, I would do, if it's a small... Let's say it's under $500. I'm not really going to... I'm just going to bill them up front. And also, it depends on the relationship that I have with that person. If it's somebody I know that I'm not worried about them paying me I'll bill them the full amount at the end. If it gets into any higher than that I would probably do like 50% up front and then 50% on deliverable. But a word of caution, whatever (laughs)...
If you say completed project, what's a completed project look like? Maybe you're building a website for your client and in your mind it's done, you've done all you need to do and you want to get paid, but your client's taking their sweet time getting photos, or writing the content, or whatever, so it could be dragging on months before the site is ready to go live. A word of caution, tie that final payment to something that's in your control and not in your client's control, like... - That's why I think a contract is a really good idea right up front so that people have those expectations.
I think one of the things that people don't know is that getting the assets to get the thing done is one of the hardest things when you have a client that doesn't maybe understand the web. They don't know that you can't... You might say, oh, this is going to take me a couple of weeks, but it's if you give me what I need to do it. If you don't give me, there's text to be written, there's photos to be provided, et cetera, et cetera. Usually, I prefer to spell all that out into the contract.
Hey, it's two weeks from the time that I receive all the assets. I also say, do you prefer to do something like quoting somebody a per hour rate, or something like a per page rate? And do you do that when you're getting started with the contract? - I usually go flat fee, and that's based on communication. By the way, you can never communicate... Nobody will ever accuse you of communicating too much.
(laughs) - [Ray] That's true. - My understanding of the project and just quote it based on that, and I'll usually put a little outline as part of the proposal or the contract. This is exactly what I'm doing, and then it'll have some little clause at the bottom that's, hey, if things change along the way or something is outside of the scope of this agreement, then that'll be quoted separately. - How do you set expectations for boundaries? Say you were thinking that this was going to be a 10-page site, or a basic WordPress site, and all of a sudden it becomes something other than what your original assessment was, how do you deal with that and make sure that it doesn't become something bigger than it needs to be? (Carrie laughs) - That's a tough question and one that everybody runs into.
I've done it a million times myself, and I think it goes back to that communication piece. Before you ever get started, before there's a transaction make sure that you are on the same page as your client about what they're going to get for their money. If you're going to work with a... Say you're working with WordPress and you buy some off-the-shelf theme, and say, okay, to help keep costs lower I'm going to be using a pre-made design.
I'm going to update the colors and I'm going to pop your logo in, but I'm not going to be moving around sidebars. Just, simple explanations like that to make sure that you're both on the same page. Just ask your clients lots of questions, that way that'll help uncover... Now, if you get in a situation where you're already like knee deep and... Let's say it's the end of the project and you're like, ta da! And they're like, what the heck is this? And there's a total misfire.
That, you're going to have to put on your best customer service skills and do what's in your power to make them happy. But if you have documentation, like a simple email or a contract that you can go back to and point and say, okay, this is what we agreed to. Now, if you don't have that contract you're kind of just up the creek without a paddle. - Yes, at some point I guess you have to let go.
When should somebody consider freelancing as more something that they do on the side versus full time, or versus like, I've got these couple of little things that I'm doing for my friends? When should it be something that they consider as a gig? - I think it comes down to money, how much money you need to survive. I think starting as a side gig is great because you keep the security of whatever your day job is and the income coming in from that, while over here on the side you're getting your feet wet with freelancing.
At some point, this happened to me, I realized that I was making more doing my freelancing per hour than I was at my day job. But the hours I was working at my day job was cutting into how much time I had to spend on my freelancing business. It was sort of like when it came to that apex, okay, I'm not making... I'm making $12 an hour here, when I could be making $50 an hour here, it's time to go ahead and make the leap.
But you have to build up to that. - What do you do to separate that life? You were talking about separating where you sleep with where you work. How do you make that distinction between things that you do for work and things that you do for freelancing? - That is a very blurred line that I have not done well with (laughs). The older I get the better I've gotten with it. Mostly, that just looks like I leave my laptop in my office at the end of the day, like, 5 o'clock, or whatever, and don't take it out to the living room, or play with it, or whatever.
For so many of us, we are fortunate to do work we love, so, in the case of web development or something. So, the hobby is also the job. I think it just takes being conscious or aware of that and making sure, for me, that I'm at least, at some point, stepping away from the computer and going outside, or seeing people, something silly like that (laughs). - You talked a little bit about when the right time it was for you to transition from it being a side gig into a business.
What should people know about making that change? What happens differently about what you're doing when it becomes a business? What sort of things do you do? - That's the thing about freelancing, right, you're a great web developer, coder, designer, or whatever, but how the heck do you market yourself or (laughs) find clients, or make sales calls, or whatever? That's scary stuff. Again, it's helpful to already have a little foundation under you before you make the leap into full time.
But when you are making that transition, just one thing to be aware of is that freelancing work tends to be very cyclical, so you'll have seasons of you are just slammed, and, wait in line, next client, because I'm busy, and other seasons where you're like, well, I guess I'm going to go take Ray's latest course. (laughing) I don't have any client work to do. I'm a little bit of a hoarder when it comes to paychecks.
Save, save, save, save, even before you make the transition, and then after it. Every time you get paid for a project, don't go buy the new jeans yet. Stock stock money in a bank account because there's going to be a rainy day when you'll need it. - That's a really good point. Another real common question that I get, especially from students, is how much should I charge for this thing? How do you determine that at different stages in your life? You mentioned sometimes you get busy and it's like, well, I can't take on this project, so, does that change that formula at all? - Yeah, I think so.
If you get to a point where you're booked out at your current price, that may be an indicator that you can... Basic supply and demand, right? Try eking up your prices. You always want to do that when you're starting fresh with a client or a project, not like, surprise! Midway. 20% increase. But how do you figure that out? I think one is, thinking through how much money you actually need to make to survive, and figure out what that number is, and account for savings, and taxes, and you know, everybody will arrive at a different number.
I'm in a dual-income household so my number is maybe lower than someone who is supporting, say, a family of eight. (Ray laughs) Or nine, how many, no, you have eight, ten! Oh my gosh, Ray. - [Ray] Yes. - Look at how much money that you actually need to make, considering those things, and then looking around and see what the going rate it. I'm not a fan of just charging something because somebody else is charging that, but it helps to at least give you an idea of what the going rate in the market is.
Do not go to Fiverr (Ray laughs) and use that as your comparison for market rates, otherwise you will be on a race to the very bottom of the price pile because yeah, you're always going to want to charge more than what people on Fiverr are charging. Then, lastly, think about what's a number you feel good about, that you feel like you can deliver value for that amount of money. If somebody wanted to pay me $500 an hour, well, I mean, I'm not going to lie, I'd probably take it. (laughter) But I would never say, my rate's $500 an hour because I wouldn't feel confident that I could deliver that much value.
On the other hand, if you can say, you know what, I'm 70 bucks an hour and I can knock it out of the park for you above and beyond what you think. It's a little bit of a gut feel. If nobody tells you that you're too expensive, then you're too cheap. - That's actually a great point. (Carrie laughs) I have a great tip for pricing that I always tell people, and it's that you really should be pricing according to what makes you happy at the moment.
There's this great scene in this movie called The Magnificent Seven, not the new version, the old version, there's a character in there played by Charles Bronson. He's one of the seven greatest gunslingers and that's why they're going to go talk to him, because they want him to join this group. But the job that they have for him is this job with these very poor people, they can't afford very much. They go talk to him and they're telling him about prices and they're going, well, what did you get paid for this job? And he would say, $1,000, back then it was a lot of money.
What'd you get for this job? I got $5,000 a week for that one. He's like, well, how much does this job pay? They tell him something ridiculous like, it's $40 for the whole three or four weeks that we're going to be there. Of course he's like, that's a ridiculous amount, there's no way that I could work for that much. But then they find out that the reason he is where he's staying is because he's run out of money and he's chopping wood for his breakfast.
What I always tell people is, sometimes you're chopping wood for your breakfast and $100 is going to seem like a lot of money, you're all like, yeah, I need some income this week because I've got to pay some bills. At that point in time, and this is what happened to this gunslinger, at that point in time, whatever they were going to pay him, it was going to get him out of chopping wood and having to do that every day just to pay for his breakfast. So, sometimes, 100 bucks will make you happy. Sometimes when you're really busy that's not going to be enough.
Especially when you get really busy, I think that you have an opportunity to be a little more daring with your pricing. What I always tell also is, consider the amount of time you're going to have to sleep in a week. If you take a job, and you're going to lose all of that sleep, what's that worth to you? Ask people for an amount that whether or not they give it to you you're going to be happy. If they say you're going to make $500 an hour you're going to be, great, I'm not going to sleep for the next week and a half, but that's serious money.
And then, if you ask for that amount and people say no, you are going to be super happy because now you're going to sleep for the whole week. (Carrie laughs) That's to me how pricing varies. We talked a little bit about this before, and another question that I get is, if you run out of family and friends, what do you do to get new clients? - Well, the first thing you can do is ask all the people you've already done a little bit of work for, hey, do you know anybody who could use my services? I'm looking for clients.
That's the first place I always go to shake the bushes is with people you've worked with previously. Next, I think there's a sales, ABC, always be closing, or something like that. For freelancers, ABN, always be networking. And not like, the slimy, here's my business card. (Ray laughs) That kind of networking. But just keeping your ears open and getting yourself out into places where you can meet people. Locally that might be a chamber of commerce, or maybe go to Meetup.com and there's probably, if you live in a large enough place, there's probably all sorts of developer communities.
Even though they might not be your clients, or your potential clients, those are still great people to network with because they may know... They may have overflow work that you could use. - Or maybe volunteering for giving a talk at the local business bureau. Just in helping them, you're going to be getting some contacts that you can use for your regular business. Cool. - Yeah, absolutely. And, of course, if that scares the pants off of you to leave your house and do that in person, there's plenty of even online networking opportunities.
Social media. Whatever your area of expertise is, go search for that hashtag on Twitter or look for it on Facebook and you can probably find a community of people doing similar work. - So, remember, the last thing you did is what's going to get you the next thing you do. So do a good job so you can have a good portfolio so that then people see that, and it creates opportunities. Then find ways of creating new opportunities for you. What would you say has made you the most successful in terms of having a business? Has it been your website? Maybe I don't know if you did a business plan, the contracts that we talked about.
What's the thing that you think works super well for you as a freelancer? - (sighs) Oh, does there have to be just one answer? - [Ray] No, no, no, absolutely. (Carrie laughs) It could be many answers. What's working really well? - A factor of things. One is relationships. So, being intentional about creating relationships both online and offline. That's easier for some people, I know, than others, but that's my natural strength is networking and connecting people.
- Play to your strengths. I happen to be more of an introvert, so it's really hard for me to go volunteer to do a talk somewhere. But I know that that generates results for me. If you're a super extrovert, then that part is easy. Focus, I guess, on the stuff that you're good at and then, understand that if you're freelancing as a business I guess there's things that you're going to have to do that are not your strength, your strong points.
Maybe connect with people. It's great when you find somebody that can be your champion. I know I've had clients in the past that are fantastic at recommending other people. In those cases I might give them a referral fee or something like that so that they're happy and generate some more. Those kind of people can be your salespeople when that's not really your strong suit. - Hmm, yeah, that's a great point. - What are some good resources that you would recommend for people to go to, I think you mentioned a couple of things.
And where can people find you if they want to learn more about what you're doing with freelancers? - Yeah, so, I've got a number of resources and I can send you some links later. - [Ray] Awesome. - If you like to listen to podcasts, officehours.fm. The last, I don't know, maybe dozen or so episodes on there are all about project life cycles, so, everything from finding the clients, writing the contracts, to figuring out what's involved in a project, to actually handing it off.
Then, over on carriedils.com I have, if you're not into listening and prefer the reading, you can go there, and I have lots of blog posts for freelancers. And then, special for you, Ray, for listeners I've got a free email course that just goes through some steps to get started freelancing. That is at thefearlessfreelancer.com/ray. - Oh, that's awesome. (Carrie laughs) That's a fantastic url, I love that title.
- I thought you might like it. (Ray laughs) - Excellent. Great to have you, thank you so much. As I normally say, if you have a question that you've been asked, or have asked somebody at a job interview then you can get in touch with me either in LinkedIn or through any other social media network @planetoftheweb.
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