Clarity and Quality of the Project Description
The first question you should ask yourself when assessing an online freelancing project is whether or not you can do the work well. This means that the second topic in this section really should be the first. Unfortunately, you can only answer this question if it is clear from the project description what the job entails. That is often not the case, and so in practice you will be forced to “pre-filter” projects by assessing the clarity and quality of the project description itself.
Whenever you read a project listing, carefully examine it to determine whether or not the client has made clear what it is that he or she wants to have done. There are no specific guidelines for what a project listing has to contain to pass this test. It is often very much a subjective determination: after reading the listing, do you know what the client wants done, or not?
Note that the issue here isn’t whether or not the project contains reams of technical details. Clients often don’t know the nitty-gritty of the work they require to be done, especially in technical fields. What you are trying to assess is whether client even knows what is required, and can communicate that in a way that is sufficiently clear that you can do the work. It’s usually possible to assess this even if you have no training in the discipline the client is hiring for; it’s even easier when you do.
Sometimes a poor quality project description can be a sign of issues with the client’s communications skills. Indications of this include sentences with poor spelling and grammar, or an admission that English is not a strength.
But communication issues are not always the cause of project description problems. Sometimes the client can actually converse well, but simply doesn’t know what he or she wants to have done. I’ve also encountered clients who could actually communicate very well using certain means of dialog, but who had difficulty with the messaging systems on online freelancing sites. Some also come across as communicating poorly because they are very busy, or using mobile devices where it is hard to type long messages.
I would not suggest that you immediately write off a project based on a poorly-written description. However, recognize that pursuing such a job means you are starting off with a disadvantage. In addition to the typical amount of time and effort required of the bidding process normally, you will have to expend additional resources working with the client to clarify the project requirements. Whether this is worthwhile or not is a judgment call that depends on the particulars of each individual project. It’s always a bit of a gamble, so you have to decide how likely it is that, once you’ve determined what the client wants, you’ll be faced with a project that you’re likely to bid on and win.
A poorly-written project can actually be a great way to start a long-term relationship—by working with a client to determine requirements, you are demonstrating your expertise and professionalism, and the client will generally give you preference when it comes to bidding. On the other hand, you may spend a lot of time working to figure out what the client wants, only to discover that it’s not suitable for you.
Finally, there are those projects where the client has written an incredibly vague or ridiculously short project description. This is usually a clear warning sign that the job is not worth bothering with. On the other hand, projects that are too specific or too lengthy can have their own problems. On rare occasions, you may even come across freeloaders and other duplicitous characters. I’ve wasted time in the past on clients who posted nebulously-worded jobs that I spent a lot of time helping them refine, only to them have them award the project to a cheaper bidder. One time I recall spending over an hour explaining to a client how I’d solve a particular problem, an effort that he rewarded by flatly telling me: “Now that you’ve shown me how to do this, why shouldn’t I just have my in-house IT department do it for half the cost?” Fortunately this sort of chutzpah is rare, but these clowns are out there.
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Last Site Update: February 1, 2012
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