First World Problem #176: The Freelance Juggling Act (Part One)

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Whether it’s scope creep, full-time vs. part-time vs. freelancing or clients who like to sneak additional work in under the door without the attendant compensation, at some point, freelancers might find themselves juggling one if not all of these issues. Especially with steady clients, the work level may increase and/or change while the pay does not. When confronted with this situation, member Christine McLaughlin posed her particular dilemma on the forum. As a salaried part-timer, she had the security of a steady paycheck although her duties were becoming design-focused, requiring a time-consuming learning curve, including becoming familiar with a new design program. “However, there’s been no mention of additional pay for additional work,” she pointed out.

ASJA members were quick to jump in, with suggestions ranging from how to most effectively ask for a raise to charging by the hour instead. One member provided a helpful formula to calculate the best hourly rate. But in spite of the solid advice, Christine still had a difficult decision to make. If she did ask for more money, they would likely request that she take full-time employment with benefits that she did not need. Or if she decided to leave, finding a replacement income might prove challenging. “My good, local friend lost his onsite editing/writing job in October 2016 and is still unemployed. It’s tough out there,” she remarked.

So what to do when small changes in a project necessitate other changes which lead to still more revisions aka scope creep? According to a paper published by the Project Management Institute (PMI), LinkedIn colleagues cited reasons for scope creep that include:

  • Lack of clarity and depth to the original specification document
  • Allowing direct [unmanaged] contact between client and team participants
  • Customers trying to get extra work “on the cheap”
  • Beginning design and development of something before a thorough requirements analysis and cost-benefit analysis has been done
  • Scope creep “where you do it to yourself” because of lack of foresight and planning.
  • Poorly defined initial requirements
  • “Management promises the sun and the moon, and breaks the backs of the [workers] to give [clients] just that in impossibly tight time frames”

(Source: Project Management Institute)

Recognizing scope creep before it really becomes a problem are the first steps, but even when it sneaks up on you, you can stamp it down by:

  • Understanding what the client wants you to achieve
  • Collaborating with your client to produce a solution
  • Defining the scope of works that will provide that solution
  • Pricing the solution in a manner that reduces the likelihood of overrun
  • Agreeing to delivery details in writing. These include a description of the type of content, the length of each piece, the number of revisions allowed and so forth.

(Adapted from: Bidsketch project management)

And, in the forum discussion, several members actually walked away from their scope-creep clients, even steady payers that contributed to a large part of their income. They found it scary, but “being free to pursue a healthier work arrangement is priceless,” commented one.

As for Christine, she followed another member’s suggestion to negotiate from a position of power. “I spoke to my immediate supervisor and she totally understood,” after she told her how difficult it had been. “I think she expected me to quit on the spot.” Although it was suggested that Christine could go back to the previous way of doing things, she decided to instead draft a proposal to the owners including the original option as well as other solutions where both parties would get equal work for equal pay. As of this writing, she is still awaiting their response.

The point being that while this “might leave me completely without a steady income on any level”—a frightening proposition for any freelancer—in her current situation and even though she works from home, “when I wake up with a pit in my stomach knowing what I’m facing and have a frazzled look on my face at the end of the day, I know I’m doing the right thing by standing up for myself and giving them options. If they choose not to take any of them, it will force me to find something better and hopefully, I will leave on good terms with them. You never know when your paths might again cross.

Which is better—freelance or full-time? Part Two will offer up some surprising answers, solutions and suggestions on how to best manage either and both.

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