As a fledgling freelancer, I took on a job to design a new logo for a client I’ll refer to as Mr. Fantastic.

Mr. Fantastic was a very difficult man to please. I poured my heart into his designs, and I charged very little in return. Despite providing quality work for a bargain, nothing I could do seemed right. I cried on more than one occasion as I hung up the phone after he ridiculed my work and belittled me on a personal level.

Even though it was an abusive work relationship, I couldn’t bring myself to walk away. I do not take my commitments lightly, and I had already invested several hours into the project. Eventually, it was Mr. Fantastic who pulled the plug. After I sent him his logo files, he informed me that I would not see a dime for my efforts.

I felt completely powerless. My first thought was to figure out how small claims court or collections worked. But the amount I had quoted him was so little, I ultimately decided I’d rather take the loss than prolong my experience with Mr. Fantastic.

While I came into my freelancing career with 7 years of design experience, I had no experience in dealing directly with customers—we had salespeople for that. So I had a lot to learn when it came to managing projects and advocating for myself.

Looking back, the lessons I learned through my experience with Mr. Fantastic were worth every penny I never recieved from him. If you are a fellow freelancer reading this, I hope that in sharing my story, you can take something from it without having to learn the hard way.

 

Put everything in writing.
Not only did I not have a contract with Mr. Fantastic, but he insisted on giving his instructions over the phone. Having nothing in writing made it easy for him to change his mind on ideas through the course of the project, and didn’t give me much to work with when it came to seeking compensation. Now in addition to getting a contract from new clients, I prefer to do most of my correspondences via email so it’s easy to reference art instructions.

 

Get a deposit.
I invest in a job the moment I start working on it. So asking new clients to put down a deposit is a sign of good faith and helps keep them motivated to work towards a great end result.

 

Establish expectations before you begin.
Mr. Fantastic had an urgency in all his communications, and was upset if his call went to voicemail or I couldn’t make changes the moment he asked for them. My own expectations were dashed when we moved well beyond the number of concepts and revisions I had anticipated when I gave him a quote. I now make a point to communicate the expectations of the project scope (in writing, in detail) before I begin working with a new client.


Work with people who make you happy.
One of the perks to being a freelancer is that you get to choose who you work with. I’ve turned down the occasional project from prospective clients who raise red flags, and I’ve (very delicately) let a difficult client or two go over the years. In doing so, I am free to focus my efforts on people I enjoy working with.

 

Project confidence.
I was very nervous taking on my first new client, and I’m certain Mr. Fantastic perceived my anxiety as weakness. It took me a while to really build my confidence, and over time I’ve noticed that the more self-assured I am, the more respect I earn from clients who have similar strong personalities. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure that if I encountered Mr. Fantastic today instead of as a timid freelancer in my 20s, there’s a decent chance that we could have a good working relationship. (Either that, or I’d know enough to steer clear from him in the first place!)

 

Have you ever had a negative freelancing experience become a positive learning experience? If so, share in the comments below!