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What to do when a freelance project turns out to be harder than expected

Unfortunately, it’s quite common to have this problem. After all, each new client is different from every client we have experienced in the past.

Sometimes the differences are slight. Sometimes they turn out to be significant, especially if the assignment appears to be run of the mill until we start to implement or even when we submit it and the client feedback is unexpectedly harsh.

It is so easy to commit initially to a project we aren’t sure we understand. We approach each project offered us with a can-do attitude until we get deeper into it and discover that maybe we can’t do. At first the money is so appealing.

Not only do we land assignments that prove to be less within our sweet spot of expertise than we had thought, but we have no coworkers onsite to ask for advice.

Back at our regular jobs, we were deeply entrenched in recurring assignments. Plus we had managers, supervisors and coworkers close at hand. When we had problems, there was someone nearby to work them out with and expertise abounding.

When we are offsite—sometimes by hundreds or even thousands of miles—it’s far more difficult to get any assistance when we get to a rough spot. However, when we have so little experience with the client, we may need this assistance even more.

The solution

The solution is to get as early a start on a project as possible.

It is far easier to request help or solicit another opinion when we give the client time to participate and when we allow time to digest and implement their leads.

If you find you need a corporate source to interview or technical data from the client or background to help evaluate possible paths, you can’t get what you need at 5 p.m. the day before the deadline.

As the deadline nears, assisting you is more of an imposition on the client.

Besides, an admission that you are missing something you need is downright scary for the client.

A freelancing or consulting client is not supposed to monitor your implementation closely. The freedom to shape how the assignment is completed and to pace the work along the way differentiates the self-employed person from the employee.

Let time be your friend

Cutting it close to deadline in asking for help warns the client that you may miss deadline or submit incomplete work. The client senses an uh-oh moment in the offing.

Plus there is the possibility that the client does not have the answers that would help you. That may be precisely why they contracted with you instead of doing it themselves in-house.

Asking questions earlier would let you know where you stand so you can look elsewhere or do more research as you explore the problem.

It’s easy for the freelancer or consultant to get in over his head. When we sense this is happening, there is a tendency to procrastinate and put the project off till tomorrow.

But leveling with the client or going elsewhere for help will be every more challenging as the deadline gets closer.

So discipline yourself for an early start and benefit from more time to consider the complexities you face.

Originally posted 12-14-15

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