Reasonableness of Expectations
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When you encounter a project listing
you should assess it overall in terms of how reasonable the client is
being in terms of his or her expectations of the contractor to be hired.
Expectations depend on the specific task at hand, but generally encompass
issues such as the following:
- Work Versus Budget: How much work will
be done for how much money.
- Quality: What the quality level of the
work will be.
- Speed: How quickly the work will be completed.
- Project Interaction: What the client expects
from the contractor during the course of the project.
- Support: What assistance the client will
receive from the contractor after the project is complete.
The expectations of clients fall in
a wide spectrum, from ones who are quite demanding, to others rather
forgiving, with a whole lot of shades of gray in the middle. The more
flexible you can be in adapting to the needs and personalities of clients,
the more money you’ll make as a freelancer. However, there are
some clients whose expectations fall on the far ends of the scale, and
these tend to be problematic: you need to learn what to watch for, and
then avoid these clients if at all possible.
Unreasonably High Expectations
High expectations from a client can
be a challenge to a good freelancer, but also set up a great potential
for disappointment. Western society tends to view perfection as a noble
goal, but working for a perfectionist can be an incredibly frustrating
experience. Quality contractors prove their worth by being able to live
up to high expectations, but this sets them up to fall into the trap
of attempting to achieve the unachievable.
Unreasonable expectations usually
fall into the same categories I listed in the bullet points above:
- Too Much Work For Too Little Budget: This
is the most common unreasonable expectation, and usually the easiest
to spot. I remember one time seeing a project listing where someone wanted
a list of every domain name on the entire Internet. Budget? Under $100.
Good luck with that...
- Quality: There’s nothing wrong with
demanding quality of the contractors you hire, but some clients take
it to ridiculous extremes. Even the best of people are still people,
and make mistakes. Watch out especially for snotty clients who claim
that they will impose “penalties” for any errors they encounter
in the work. I’ve even seen listings where the client said he would
not pay at all if even one mistake was found in an editing job.
You want perfection? Hire an angel.
- Guaranteed Outcomes: Beware clients who
orient their projects not around a task but rather a specific outcome
that involves factors beyond any freelancer’s control. There’s
a difference between hiring someone to write an ebook, and demanding
an ebook that will win an award, or achieve a certain sales volume. Similarly,
it’s common to see projects with requirements like “Make
my site #1 in Google for searches for ‘bouncing haggis’”.
A good search engine optimization specialist can improve a company’s
web site so it will place higher in the search results for a particular
set of keywords. But nobody can reasonably make a guarantee about where
the company will show up in Google search results. Never offer guarantees
you can’t fulfill, and avoid clients that make such demands, because
you’re just setting yourself up for failure.
- Speed: Clients in a hurry can sometimes
have ridiculous ideas about how quickly work can get done. Sometimes
they’ll offer extra money to get the project completed quickly,
but often they will not. Be very careful before applying to these projects,
as you can put yourself in a bind before you know it. Note that on occasion
this happens because the client doesn’t understand how long it
takes to do something, and you might be able to set him or her straight,
but it rarely works.
- Project Interaction: You should expect
the client to want you to communicate promptly, but you also need to
set reasonable limits. If the client seems like he or she is going to
micromanage you, run. If the client insists on your phone number or instant
messaging IDs, consider that a very strong warning sign that you’re
headed for a bad experience.
- Support: All freelancers should stand by
their work, but there are limits. I’ve seen clients list $100 projects
where they expected the contractor to provide bug fixes for free for
a period of a full year after the work was completed. Do you really want
to be on the hook for a full year of support for that much money? Not
me. I’ve even seen some employers try to insist that they be allowed
enhancements for a period of time without paying more, or say
they won’t pay until a number of weeks after the work is complete.
Do not apply to such projects.
Notice a common theme here: a poor
match of the expectations relative to budget. Almost anything
can be done if you’re willing to pay for it: want perfection, or
super-fast work done, or hourly updates, or five years’ of support?
Sure, that’s possible. The problem is with clients who want these
goodies but aren’t willing to pay for them. And that’s
usually the case when you see these demands in project listings.
Sometimes, though, you even find clients
asking for things that are literally impossible: not achievable at any
price. I once saw a listing where a client requested a program that could
extract arbitrary formatted data from any web site, no matter what technologies
it used, and irrespective of size or design. Frankly, if I could figure
out how to write something like that, I’d be sipping a drink on
a beach in Tahiti right now.
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