Want to be a successful freelancer? Do these two things.

Four years ago when I first got into freelancing, I hadn’t yet defined my dream customer, so I took meetings with everyone interested - and one of those companies was a start-up in Silicon Valley. I drove an hour from my home in San Francisco to their office in Mountain View and decided to give it my all.

I was introduced to the CEO and his small team and spent most of my time talking to the lone marketing guy. The meeting lasted about two hours, and in that time I gave them tons of advice. At the end of the meeting, he expressed interest and told me he wanted to get started working the following week.

I was stoked!

But also confused.

Nowhere in that discussion had we talked about money or scope of work. I figured that would come over email. I was new to all this - what did I know? The marketing guy scheduled a full-day kickoff for the following Monday with me and the CEO. He began emailing us about ideas for the meeting and things to research in preparation.

Still no money talk.

I became concerned and mentioned it to him. His response was vague. So I escalated and emailed the CEO.

“I would like to discuss the terms of a contract with you before the kickoff meeting.”

Let’s be clear: this is a reasonable request.

The CEO did not respond. Instead, I received a terse response from the marketing guy. The CEO had better things to do than work out my contact and what a nerve I had to approach him directly.

So let me get this straight. You have time to spend six hours in a meeting with me, but you do not have time to negotiate a contract to employ me for said time?


I politely declined the work and moved on.

A few months later I learned that this marketing guy had a documented history of not paying freelancers. Thank goodness I trusted my instincts, stuck to my guns and sidestepped a potentially disastrous experience.

Here’s what that experience taught me:

1. Never work without a contract.

Your best chances of success as a self-employed person are to define your role, the scope of work, expected outcomes and cost with your clients in advance of doing work. This removes any ambiguity from the process so that when you begin working, you can focus on doing a great job. Front load all the contract negotiation, so that during the work period you are not stressing about if/how/when you are getting paid or why the client keeps throwing more work at you without a compensation plan.

Moreover, if you have a prospective client who wants to play things loose, and prefers to shoot from the hip and not write up contracts -  just “figure it out” as you go along -  you are setting yourself up for a nightmare client.

The greater the level of order and organization you see in your client, the more you will benefit from that experience.

Similarly, the more orderly and organized you are in defining your desired work, dream clients and expected fee, the easier it will be to identify and attract the right kind of clients to you!

2. You teach clients what you're worth.

How many freelancers are desperate for crumbs and will do work for free to “prove themselves”? Are you one of those people? And if so, how is working that way helping you financially? Are you now a millionaire because of all your free work? Or are you struggling to get paid what you’re worth?

I could've gone to that six-hour kickoff meeting and just hoped we "figured it out" at some point. But here's the point:

If you are working without compensation, your work has little to no value to the client.

Let that sink in.

If you work for free, why would a client ever compensate you what you’re worth? You’ve already proven your work isn’t worth anything.

Your self-worth + your worth to others = NET WORTH

Running a business where you are aware of your self-worth and worth to your clients means that not everyone will be your client. Some people will be intimidated by you and others will not be able to afford you. BUT THAT'S OK - you don't want to work with these people. You want to carve out a niche that targets people who value what you do highly. If your target market is "everyone," then you are in deep trouble.

In conclusion, do not be afraid to say NO to work that does not feel like a fair exchange of goods and services. Know your worth, know the kind of clients you’re willing to work with and do not compromise your standards.

I love hearing from YOU! Feel free to respond to this email with questions or comments.