I have taken a lot of jobs for the novel experience, even if they didn’t pay much or seemed like a strange choice. I’ve served banquets and beers, been a diver on boats, taught horse riding lessons and cleaned rooms on cruise ships. I’ve also worked in offices for over ten years in a white collar capacity, after getting my MA in a business related field.
So it was inevitable that I would encounter some great leadership and some horrendous leadership. Sometimes a terrible boss is at least good fodder for stories, especially when they have ridiculously outdated hair, or are just a plain idiots. Like when your boss asks what kind of soup zuppo di giorno is in an Italian restaurant, then says How do you know that? when you explain that it means soup of the day in Italian. Or when your boss sends a demanding email to you stating that your work needs to be in sink (rather than in synch) with so and so’s work, which would have you gnashing your teeth with frustration but for the fact that she copied the VP of the department in the email to try to intimidate you, but unknowingly presented herself ever more clearly as the fool she is to the rest of the company. Or when you tell your boss you don’t have a TV and they respond with “…well what do you do at night??”
But other other jobs with sucky leadership are run by mediocre people who are just paranoid enough to surround themselves with enough ass lickers to protect themselves. They are either of average intelligence or are otherwise threatened by ability and brains, so they keep half assed yes men as their protection and their pawns. And then there is nothing entertaining about them at all, so you just have to get out as soon as you can.
Don’t forget the plain clueless – the old school leaders who won’t keep up with technology or stay current in their field. They don’t even know they have fallen behind the eight ball because they operate in the old paradigm where you obtain your position and just keep doing it the same way forevermore. They are lost causes, and yet, companies still keep them around. I am guessing they were relevant at one point, then learned to be good ass lickers.
As freelancers we don’t really have bosses per se. But we do sometimes have to deal with leaders of companies, so this blog post is totally applicable, in a roundabout way.
Folks, listen. I’m giving you a list of phrases that if you hear during your negotiations with a potential client are giant RED FLAGS that are trying to tell you something. That something is NO.
The following phrases universally signify that these clients will be the worst clients you’ll ever have the pleasure of working for 100% of the time.
Statement #1. This is an easy job.
Oh really, motherfucker? If it is such an easy job then why don’t you do it yourself? Why are there 189 files of unsorted support material that need to be sifted through to identify relevant information, images, and so on? How does 29 pages of a transcribed lecture fit into 10 minutes of material? Have you even looked at any of this crap?
Bottom line: It’s very likely NOT an easy job – they just don’t want to pay for a difficult job.
Statement #2. It should only take an experienced freelancer XXX amount of time.
An experienced freelancer…meaning someone experienced in producing sub-par work? Or do you mean someone so experienced in self loathing and desperation that they will work for 40 hours even though you are only paying them for 10?
Bottom line: The client doesn’t want to pay for good work OR they don’t care about good work, in which case, they still don’t want to pay for work done well.
Statement #3. Other freelancers we are used to using only charge half that.
That’s great, you should hire THEM!
Bottom line: You are probably going to be redoing the work of the cheap labor they hired the first time.And the client doesn’t want to pay for quality work.
Statement #4. Those terms are higher than we have a budget for, but we have lots of work so we can give you lots of hours!
If a client says you are out of their budget, you are out of their budget. Believe them and move on.
Bottom line: Your goal is probably to not work more hours for fewer dollars than what you are worth.
Statement #5. You’ll have to take on a test project for free first.
This is insidious of late because there are so many freelancers from all over the world who say yes, charge nothing, and then produce crap, so clients feel they need to protect themselves. But if you’ve shared your portfolio, references and CV, you shouldn’t have to put yourself through this.
Bottom line: You’d probably rather be paid for completing an entire project than completing half of a project for free.
You’ve been warned, kittens. Just remember, you have the right and even obligation to lose the losers. You have my permission.
You leave your office job to begin freelancing and learn that shortly after your leaving, the company went through a round of layoffs. And then another. Soon, the connection requests start coming through LinkedIn from the randoms you worked alongside but hardly ever with. Some include messages in their invites, most don’t.
But when you get a request from the 300 pound proselytizing lady, your hand stops clicking the accept button and you stop to consider the situation.
You don’t know if you want her in your network. You didn’t like how she tried to make her cube look like a living room, with the ceramic figurines and framed sears portrait family photos of her adult children, their drooling babies in red and green Xmas jumpers posed next to wagons. Family portraits with her standing behind everyone, just her head peeping over the other shoulders, or her hugging her adult son from behind to hide her plus sized body. Her obsession with comfort made you shiver. The multi-directionally tilting foot rest, the various back rests and ergonomic keyboards and jointed wrist holders. No wonder she was always snacking to stay alert, she was practically in bed. You felt like telling her to ditch all the ergonomic shit and get a balance ball to sit on, maybe even a tall desk to stand at. What she didn’t need was any more relaxing. And while you didn’t, you will be damned if her request gets accepted within a reasonable time frame. Better to make her wait a week. At least check out her resume first.
You observe her spotty work history and patchy education and try to piece together what she was doing while she wasn’t working. And then, there it is – the church work. Of course, this is entered and edited to read as though it were a paid gig. She has Project Manager and Social Media entered, presumably to cover those times when she sent out reminder emails to gather volunteers for the monthly Sunday ice cream social.
You wonder if all the others are padding their resumes with fake gigs and what they are claiming to be doing. You check their profiles and are incensed at some of the fabrications being made. Independent consultants. Entrepreneurs. Yeah right. You are the one who stepped off that boat into freelancing and consulting. They are merely looking for another job while collecting unemployment. A couple of them admit to being jobless and lost by posting their status as “exploring opportunities”, but they are the minority.
You decide to quit wasting your time and just accept them all. Who knows, maybe one or two of them might need a contractor when they get a new job.
You decide that next time, you will take full advantage of all of the potential health programs your next job offers. Crisis counseling, group therapy, bereavement leave and discounted lawyers fees. AA and performance improvement. Health sabbaticals and questionable religious holidays like Hoshana Rabbah, or Eid Al-Fitr. You will take them all.
But for now, all you can do is sign up for unemployment and try to figure out what to do next.
Do you like freelancing? Would you rather work for a company? What is great and what sucks about it? Let me know in the comments below.
I don’t have much of a budget…
I recently was referred by a previous client for some work elsewhere. The referring client was easy to work with, sang my praises and listened to my advice, so naturally I welcomed a referral. She sent my information on and the referral contacted me within ten minutes.
The new client suggested a Skype chat. I obliged and we were chatting within 30 minutes of first contact. And this is where it should have ended.
The first red flag came when she referred to our discussion about her project as an “interview”.
Let’s be clear: I am a consultant and practitioner. I was referred to this client as a peer who could assist, not as a subcontractor. I had already submitted a website full of samples, plus additional requested samples were emailed and reviewed. This project was posed to me as a kind of favor for this client. But I went with this ‘interview’, assuming it was standard process or the like. We discussed fairly high level work, so I agreed to check it out and signed a nondisclosure agreement.
Then I received a Work Order. For 10 hours of work. On a project that, if done correctly, would take 40 – 60 hours in the real world. This is Skype the conversation that followed:
Me: This work order is for one 15 minute module out of 6 that will be in a particular lesson, correct?
Bully: NO it is one storyboard with six 15 minute lessons. The course has thirty 15 minute modules total. You are doing one piece of it with 3 other designers.
Me: So ten hours to develop 90 minutes of material? [Editor’s Note: 90 mins of storyboarding, even for a very simple training course, has a mean of 60 design hours]
Me: …That seems rather short. Do you have any of these storyboards developed for this project? I
Bully: Each lesson is 10-15 minutes. Not sure where the confusion lies. You would be responsible for 6 of these mini lessons
[Oh now they are MINI LESSONS??]
Me: There is no confusion, I am trying to get a sense of how much research and rework of the material would be required, or if it a matter of using the existing information. If there needs to be objective development and decision making style scenarios created, I don’t think I make a quality lesson in 1hr 40 per module.
Bully:There is no research. You copy/paste from the documents specified in the document for that lesson. So thanks again. great to work with another ID veteran. This is my 19th year.
[The fact she had to point out this is her 19th year should have told me – stay away!]
Later, after realizing she had not even looked at the very lengthy and detailed information that was in NO WAY ready for “copying and pasting” into a storyboard, I backed out:
Me: I’ve spent 3.5 hours on module 6 and I’m only halfway through. I can see that I will not be able to create 6 lessons in 10 hours.
Bully: [Seeing I had her switcharoo figured out and was about to back out of the whole thing, softens up] Sometimes it takes a while to get familiar with the content and template. Are you having trouble breaking the content down to make it short and sweet for the module?
Me: I’m not having trouble, I can absolutely create these, but the writing and interaction creation and image finding is too involved for the amount of content.
Bully: You should just be able to locate the topic from the outline and pull the information on that topic from the document. you only need a 1-2 sentence overall description. would you like to schedule a call?
Me: No, we don’t need to have another call. I’ve spent too much time on this already and I see that perhaps you haven’t acquainted yourself with the material. I suggest you look over the very first lesson and reconsider your time frame.
Bully: Oh that is just f***ing great! You are just going to leave me hanging? And here I thought you were a professional!
I didn’t answer her. Bullet dodged.
I’ve had it with Odesk. I deleted my account.
As a user looking for freelancers, it was an OK site for me. Yeah, I got some crappy freelancers who didn’t deliver and wasted my time. But I found some good ones too. In the end though, it was the shitty end of the stick that freelancers get that had me first hiding my profile from any new client solicitation and then deleting the whole thing altogether.
I had my profile hidden for about a year. I kept it because I had two or three great reviews from clients. But before that, I had taken took on some work that was woefully underpaid and ended up being micromanaged. I completed 2/3 of the project, hating every minute of it, until the project got put on hold. I took on other projects until 4 or 5 months later, the neck breather client contacts me and wants me to begin work again immediately and in earnest. I declined and said please pass this onto someone else, I have taken other work. The truth was, it was so underpaid I had no interest in doing a good job and didn’t care to be paid anymore as long as the thing would just go away. My fault – I never should have agreed to such a project. But then the client (who was a former school teacher and treated freelancers like 9 year olds) sent a long, emotional email threatening me –though I can’t recall what the threat was anymore. She later asked for money BACK which I just gave without saying much because at this point I just wanted her to go away. It was such a small amount I didn’t care anyway. I hid my profile and didn’t look at it for 6-7 months.
I checked it last week and teacher-lady left a long , self absorbed review of my work. No one could see it so who cares, but the worst was – I couldn’t leave any feedback for her! I was ready to leave it at even – I wasted days and days worth of menial work essentially with no pay and she didn’t get a completed project. Fair enough, call it even. But then she left a negative review so I was ready to retaliate, but no feedback links for freelancers! Freelancers must leave feedback first and I declined. So bye-bye Odesk!
I still use Elance, though they have recently joined forces with Odesk. Let’s see if they go downhill too.
Can I tell you something I am totally DONE with already? Employers contacting me with a potential project. Me responding. Negotiations. Skype calls. Contract discussions. Verbal agreements. And then….nothing.
This is how it goes. It might look familiar if you are a freelancer yourself:
Hope all is well for you. I am looking for someone to assist with a project that I have, someone with your level of [experience, awesomeness, ability to cut through the bullshit) to help develop some modules of a program for Clueless Managers. I’m looking for someone with 15-20 hours a week of availability.
Thanks and kind regards,
Person who will waste your time and eventually disappear
Thank you for reaching out to me. I’ve created several programs for the most Clueless of Managers, (including a document with images teaching my own boss how to turn on and use track changes in Word so he didn’t have to print out my work and go over it in red pen like a fucking 3rd grade teacher), so I’d be happy to talk about your project. I do have 15-20 hours a week availability so that fits perfectly.
You can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
and add me on Skype if you’d like to chat face to face: bitterfreelancer
Hi BF, thank you for your prompt reply. I think a skype call is a great idea. Can you also let me know an approximate figure for your hourly rates as well? Thanks so much. On the basis that we meet our financial requirements, I’d be happy to skype.
Person who will waste your time and eventually disappear
Hi again. My hourly rates are 50-65 USD, depending on the terms of the contract. If required, I can supply references from current and past clients who will tell you about the quality and speed of my work, as well as examples of projects where I have delivered the completed programs under the allotted budget (sometimes up to $3000 under).
Thanks for your response. That rate might be a bit high, and unlike other clients I know what goes into what you do so I’m not a total cheap-ass-motherfucker. But I’m actually looking in region of $45 – $55 USD. If that is suitable, then yes, please send through references from current and past clients. If you have any sample work to send that would be great as well.
Thanks and look forward to receiving your information.
Your desired rate and my range overlap at 50-55, so if that works out let’s discuss the details of the project when you are ready. Please have a look at how awesome I am in the following samples and references.
(Sends over portfolio links, Dropbox links to downloadable documents, References and client testimonials)
OK great, within 50-55 does work for me.
By the way, I’m very impressed with your samples, this is exactly what I am looking for and more. I really like how you stroked the ego of the asshats in the Clueless Manager related programs, and drove the importance of changing certain behavior that was destroying the souls of those whom they managed. I was also impressed with your method of making mind numbingly boring topics actually interesting in the final document. Great work.
Lets’ set up a Skype call for tomorrow.
(45 minute Skype call happens. Project timelines, objectives, expectations are discussed. I ask a lot of questions and offer ideas. Rapport is made. All parties are hopeful. The sky is full of rainbows and a unicorn gallops gleefully underneath them.)
So very nice to meet you today. As I mentioned in our call, I’m about to go on vacation so I will most certainly be in touch with you with a contract to sign upon my return Wednesday next week.
Very lovely to meet you too. Your project is right up my alley, I am perfect for it as you have seen and others have attested, i’m totally not even charging enough for what you are asking but I actually like what I do so I’m looking forward to starting on it. Have a great vacation and I look forward to hearing from you next week!
(one week goes by)
(Nice email is sent to person, inquiring about vacation, project status, general interest in the my services Reassurance is given that if the project is not to go forward, I’m perfectly OK with that.)
(my life passes)
Last winter, I took on a project against my better judgement. It had TWO of the five red flag warnings–one is always enough–and yet, out of desperation, even after the initial “skills test” took over three days to finally complete, I agreed to the project and have been sorry ever since.
If the skills test bullshit wasn’t indication enough that the whole thing was going to be a nightmare, her line “other freelancers are charging about half that” should have tipped me off. But for some reason I ignored it. Then I found out that this project was to be her first experience project managing anything, so I was to be her guinea pig. Oh was I ever.
I had completed 3/4 of the project but realized too late that the client was not the sort I preferred to do business with. It was a project I had taken in desperation and the fixed rate was far too low to make it a priority over other (paying) work, but I had convinced myself that it would be a good idea to take on this project for reasons of creating new portfolio samples.
But micro management and 9th and 10th draft versions where the client wanted fonts changed and tables resized on a wireframe the end client would never see had quashed any degree of challenge that the project could present – I was dead inside. So I informed the client I would not be continuing the work.
I received an emotional rant that demanded I return half of the deposit back for not completing the project. Long story short, the payment was so low and the client so fucking crazy I eventually conceded.
I considered some passive aggressive revenge for about a week, then absorbed it as a lesson learned. Though thoughts of revenge still cross my mind now and then.
Oh clients…just stop it.