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How much cheaper is an expensive freelancer?

There are two types of readers that this article is for.

1) you are already considering hiring a freelancer, but you are still on the fence about it, and you hope this information will help you decide.

2) you are a freelancer looking for a way to position yourself in front of potential clients.

The short answer to the question in the title is that if you had the time and the skill, you would do it yourself. It would save you money, and you would not have to deal with communication issues. 

But here you are. And this means that either you lack the skill, or more likely, you lack the time. If you had enough time, you could acquire the skill and deliver before the deadline. 

The right freelancer will save you both time and money. 

You will save time in two ways: you don’t have to wait until you build the skills, and you can do other work while the freelancer does theirs. 

Saving money is not always that obvious. I can best illustrate it with a story. 

A couple of years ago, someone reached to me to help them with their site. After the initial discussion, I estimated that the project would cost them around $3k. 

They respectfully told me that it was too much for what they wanted to do, and we parted ways friends.

Fast forward four or so years, and I hear again from this person. They were desperate now. They had spent over $15k hiring help, and their site was still not working. 

Paying $3k to someone you trust looked like a bargain right now. 

Part of it was my mistake for not knowing at the time how to explain the value they were getting. 

And this brings me to another point: the price of hiring a freelancer is not the same as the cost of hiring them. A lousy experience means you need to hire someone new. That means more money spent and more time lost having your work redone. A good experience means you get it right from the start, and you recoup the money quickly from your working website. So which experience ends up costing you more? And what if you consider the cost that is not financial. Like a stressful relationship vs. smooth sales. 

And of course, this begs the question: how do I know if this freelancer is the right one for me? Is expensive, necessarily better or cheap, necessarily bad? 

Let’s deal with cheap/expensive first. Indeed there is no guarantee that expensive means better or even the right choice. But let’s look from the viewpoint of risk. Why would a freelancer charge you less money than another? It could be for a variety of reasons:

  • they desperately need the job;
  • they are new on the market, so they need to earn trust and build experience;
  • they self-evaluate their own ability to deliver as lower than other freelancers;
  • they have turn-key solution ready for you, so their cost is nearly zero;

It is a gamble. They could be outstanding but out of work and needing a job right now. (But this would beg the question, if they are so good why do they have trouble finding work). Or they have a turn-key solution ready to deliver. The catch here is to make sure that this “ready-made” solution actually fits your custom needs, or you would be left trying to fit a round peg into a high-quality and cheap square hole. Can you afford to take this risk?

With a more expensive freelancer, they could be bluffing, but they could also invest in themselves and have better training and a better experience. They could deliver the work with higher quality, faster, and with a lower risk for having to redo it again with someone else. 

Now back to: “how do I know if this freelancer is the right one for me?” 

It comes down to trust. What have they done that they can show you to prove their experience? What have they created and put out? Who is talking about them? How did you find them? Has anyone you know recommended them? 

My argument is that if you trust them, if they come with recommendations, and if you can see past work from them that is in line with what you want to build, then it makes sense to pay a premium now and have the peace of mind that comes with lower risk.

Choose wisely. 🙂

What does it mean to add value to your customers?

“How can I add value?”

This is the question I write at the bottom of my daily planner almost every day. Why? Because I want to train my brain to think in those terms. Why? Because I hear this is the key to success.

I never managed to answer this question adequately. And I had the insight that I need to answer a different question first! And that is:

“What does it mean to add value to your customers?”

Looking at this question, I realized that my efforts have been selfish. I was concerned with “my success.” The reason I wanted to add value is that I become successful by doing so. 

This question forces me to face the fact that I don’t know what “value” means for my customers. Yes, I can make guesses, but I don’t truly know. 

So many times, I have been tempted and followed through with this idea: what I do is valuable to me, so it must be valuable customers too. And if they didn’t see the value, that was their loss! This approach has resulted in projects that are too complex or in features that I thought were cool, but the customers did not care about them. 

And this has happened because I never paused to ask: “what is valuable to my customer?”.

Value is very subjective, I have discovered. I don’t handle loss very well, so I have a reliable backup policy. But others are much more willing to start over again, so backup is not essential. 

I value aesthetics and elegant design. But most of my customers value ease of use and the ability to manage the website themselves. 

I also have discovered that I am biased. And my bias is not the same as my customer’s bias. 

The first step in discovering what it means to add value to my customer is to be humble enough to admit that I don’t know and that I need to have a discussion. In this discussion, I need to ask the customer what is valuable to them, and if required, to help them discover their values in that process. I also need to set my bias aside and truly understand where the other person is coming from. 

The second step is for me to determine if we are a good fit. Based on what I now know about my customer’s values, can I truly serve them in their best interest? And sometimes the answer is no. And in this case, I have to send them away. 

But there is a way to refuse to work with someone that is not selfish. You can still add value by making a recommendation and send them to a specific someone else (your competition), instead of simply turning them down. This way, interacting with you has still got them one step closer to solving their problem, and you have been generous and trustworthy enough to recommend another person for them to work with. You may have lost a client, but you have earned trust, and in today’s world, trust is precious. 

So how can I add value to my customers? It first starts with showing empathy and meeting them where they are at. And in some cases, it means saying “no” and pointing them in a different direction.

Credits: my viewpoint on marketing and adding value is shaped in great part by people like Chris Do, Seth Godin, and Blair Enns.

Are you thinking of creating a multi-language website?

Creating a multi-language site can be a challenge.

I have had the opportunity of doing a couple of those. I am not happy with either of the solutions, but there are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

If you have a newsletter or a store, your customers expect that the entire process is translated into their language. This translation process must also include support. Because not all the plugins or software has multi-language support, this can be difficult to achieve. 

You will have to choose between using subdomains for our other languages or prefix your URLs. 

https://fr.example.com/your-page.html
versus
https://example.com/
fr/your-page.html

I used to employ a prefix before, but using a subdomain, I find it gives more flexibility if, later, I want to separate the languages into different, independent websites. A subdomain also helps keep your home page link clean:

https://fr.example.com
instead of
https://example.com/fr/

Using subdomains also offers more in terms of performance optimization, if that is important for you. 

You need to consider that the effort to manage your website increases with each language. It is almost like every new language is a new site you have to worry about. Because of this, you need to consider carefully if it is worth the effort of having a multi-language setup. 

Let us look at an example

Let’s assume we have English and French as our languages. 

You have two options: 

1. Create two separate websites, one for each language.

2. Create one website, and use a translation plugin to create the translation website, on top of the main language website.

Two Separate Websites

A two-websites option gives you the most power and flexibility. And because the sites are separate, if you decide to give up on one of them or completely change direction, it will not affect the other. 

The downside is that all effort is duplicated: setting up, updating, maintenance, backups, and on top of that is keeping the websites in sync manually.

One Website – Two Languages

This is the option I have used most. You set up the website in the primary language. Then you install a translation plugin (like PolyLang), and you translate the site into the other language in small increments. The upside and downsides are flipped compared to the first option. 

There is considerably less effort with updating, maintenance, and backups. The two languages are kept in sync automatically. But because the two languages are tightly connected, they are a mirror of each other. So if something goes wrong with one, it will affect the other. This option also has a performance impact; for every page load, a translation decision has to be made to display the content in the correct language. 

The ideal solution

In my view, the ideal solution is two have two websites. Each one is maintained by a person who is fully responsible for their language: including support, customer care, updates, and so on. English would be the master copy, and the French language would mirror that as closely as possible. But the French website also has the flexibility of creating content or an experience that is much more specific to the French audience. The obvious downside here is that you have to have double the people who take care of the site, and that could add a lot of costs.

Potential Pitfalls to consider

Newsletter signup experience needs to be translated.

All the email campaigns need to have content in all the languages you are offering unless you choose to ignore on purpose those who don’t use the primary language of the site.

You need someone on staff to be able to respond to support requests in all the languages you offer.

Caching and SEO plugins don’t always work well with a translation plugin.

There are some technical aspects of how the webpages are rendered in a multi-language environment. Things like configuring the right language code, encoding, and locale options become important. 

Timezone is another thing to take into account. 

If you use a store, it may make sense to have the local currency for each of the languages you plan to use. This feature adds a layer of complexity when setting up the store and in connecting with your payment gateway. 

If or when you plan to migrate to a different framework for your website, multi-language content becomes very difficult to move and work correctly, especially when using a translation plugin to keep the pages in sync.

Why do I write?

I am writing for both selfish reasons and generous reasons.

The selfish reason is that as I write, you will perceive me as an expert: someone who knows what he is talking about. And when you need help with your online business, you will feel confident to ask me.

Another selfish aspect is simply training. When I sit down to write, I have to put my thoughts in order. I make a mental plan; I consider what the message that I want to share is, why would you care, and how can I make it interesting. Writing gives me clarity, and it also forces me to consider the value of my processes.

The generous reason for writing is to teach. My aim with each post is for you to feel you have learned something useful that you can apply in your online business. Reading this post, you may feel inspired to write too. And a tip I have is: don’t write about you. Instead, write for your customers or the people you want to serve.

I will end this with a thank you to my brother. He is the one who first encouraged me to write and got me over: “my writing has no value” mindset.

The criteria I use when choosing a web hosting company

When choosing your web hosting company, it is useful to have your list of criteria well defined. 

You need to have this list before you start shopping around, or else you will be sold features you don’t need and, worse, missing business-critical ones. 

Below are my prioritized list and some notes. Keep in mind that as a developer, I prioritize flexibility over ease-of-use. 

  1. Enough disk space for what the website needs. When starting, 20GB+ will work.
  2. MySQL database – I don’t think there is any hosting without this, but make sure you have it.
  3. Speed – this usually translates into have SSD drives on the server.
  4. SSH access – I need this for automated backups and for the flexibility to add automatic maintenance script on the server. 
  5. Ability to send email – be careful with this; some hosting do give you this feature on paper, but it is not actually working because the email gets discarded on its way out, and there is no back reporting on it. If you have an online store and you need to send out order confirmations, lost email can be very frustrating to you and your customers. 
  6. cPanel access – I need this as a developer because I manage many websites, across many servers, and it is faster for me to work with a familiar piece of software. When cPanel is an option, I know I can set-up things quickly, and there are also plenty of diagnosing tools. Even if you are not a developer, you will likely hire one at some point, and it will be easier for them to help you with cPanel access. There is one more reason to have cPanel. And that is, you can quickly move to another hosting company, by simply exporting your cPanel data from the current hosting and importing it on the new one. Without this option, moving to a new hosting company can be troublesome and time costly. 
  7. Let’s Encrypt feature for automatic HTTPS – this important to have, or you will need to pay additional hundreds of dollars for it. 
  8. On-demand backups; You need to be able to do a full account backup at any time and do this for free. Backups are a form of insurance, don’t underestimate them. 
  9. Excellent support – this is close to the last option because if I have the ones above, I can usually sort out any issues by myself. But you may want this much higher on your list.
  10. Unlimited (or alt least 3) subdomains. Subdomains can be used for testing something out of sight from the main website. They can be used for multi-language websites. For memberships set-up. And in advanced cases for performance reasons. So make sure you can have some.
  11. And finally, there is price. I’ve learned my lesson well: cheap web hosting will cost you more in the long run, in lost business, frustration, and customer satisfaction.

If you plan to use a WordPress site, the hosting I am recommending right now is SiteGround. It meets my criteria as a developer, but it is also friendly enough to recommend it to non-developers, because of their fantastic support. 

How do you find customers?

I know this is a burning question in the minds of many entrepreneurs and freelancers. 

I don’t have a “how-to” guide that will guarantee your success, but I would like to share my perspective because it is not just about getting more business, but also about creating a better world for everyone :). I also admit that what I about to share does not apply to everyone or every business model.

My first customer was my first employer. They were buying what I had to offer, my unpolished, raw programming skills fresh out of school. I did not like that customer, but they taught me a lesson: 

your customers should find you, rather than you finding them. 

It took me almost a decade to understand it, though. 

My second customer was my second employer. But this time there was a big difference. They called me, and I had to decide if I wanted to work for them, not the other way around. They had already decided they wanted me there.

This may seem like luck, and that is what I also thought for a while. But it happened again with the third employer. And after that, I stopped being an employee and became a freelancer. And the people I work with today found me. 

It wasn’t until I read about inbound marketing that I understood what was going on. And that, in fact, luck was just a part of it, and maybe not the most significant part. 

What I was not doing was not sitting around, waiting for clients to call. I was continuously working. Either to improve my skill or to generously solve other people’s problems. 

When I began my freelance work, I’ve spent the first two years doing volunteer work. And they have been the best years. In those times, I would only do work that was profoundly satisfying to me. And I discovered how nourishing it is for the soul to be able to choose the people you are working with or working for. 

To paraphrase Seth Godin, the way to get clients is to do work that matters for people who care and to do so generously.

Can you run a business and not talk to anybody?

At my core, I am a computer nerd. I am excellent at talking to computers. Not so much when it comes to other human beings.

For a long time, this was the only thing I would do. I was the happiest when I got the project specs on paper, so I could read them and implement them, by myself.

But when I decided to become a freelancer, I realized that I had to talk to other people. I had to talk to the people I wanted to serve about their goals and their vision, but also about money. There were times when I knew had to say “no,” but I couldn’t. There were times where there was a conflict that had to be resolved through better communication.

I wish I could say there is an easy “how-to guide” to learn to communicate better, but there isn’t. I just had to practice — one awkward conversation after the other.  

And it is still hard at times. Especially when I need to make a change in how I price things, or in the terms of the engagement. 

So why go through all this trouble and stress of learning to be a better communicator?

Although it seems obvious now, here is the lesson I resisted the most: to find clients and to keep finding better clients, you need to learn to communicate. There is no way around this. 

You need to know how to tell your story compellingly; how to communicate your pricing and how to negotiate in your favor. You need to be able to use your conversation skills to determine how you can best create value for your clients. And, in some cases, you need to know how to let some clients go. 

By avoiding communication, I would frequently make wrong assumptions about what was valuable for my client, and that would jeopardize the relationship and the project. 

If you don’t learn to communicate better, you will have to let someone else do the talking, write the copy on your site, create the video, and tell your story. And even if they do a good job, they are not you :). You will continue to depend on someone else. It will be comfortable, but you will be limited to your view from the “back seat.”

If you are still not convinced then maybe this will shake you up a bit (as it did me): 

“The better communicator will determine the price.” 

A business-savvy website should consider money, and therefore price. And you can spend a lot of time and money optimizing the technical bits, but if your communication is off, your success will be limited.  

I will end this post with a book recommendation. It is the most expensive book I’ve ever bought, but it’s worth every dollar: Pricing Creativity by Blair Enns. Don’t think that if you don’t work in the creative business that this book does not apply to you. It does! And it is all about communication.

The self-diagnosed client

The self-diagnosed client is the person who comes to you with a problem, a solution, and they only need you to implement that solution for them!

Does that seem right to you?

Consider the following scenario. A person goes to the doctor; this person knows the problem; knows the treatment and only asks the doctor for the medicine they want. In most places, it would be a case of mal praxis for the doctor to accept the self-diagnosis.

At the very least, the doctor would ask questions to confirm what the real problem is and confirm the diagnosis, right?

When it comes to online businesses, the issue is not that clear cut, and it depends on what you are selling.

If what you are offering is creative, custom made solutions, then a self-diagnosed client is a disaster waiting to happen. You cannot know if the two of you are a good fit if you have not followed your own diagnosis process that will enable to serve the client best. The client doesn’t know what they don’t know… they have a blind spot. If they knew everything, they would not come to you for a custom made solution. So it is your job to at least confirm the problem and what they think the best solution might be :).

In case of a more standardized offer, then it is indeed up to the client to make up their mind if your offer is a good fit for what they want to do. You can, of course, help make up their mind with excellent communication about your product or service.

Staying on top of your social media presence

The best that I know to stay in the mind of your audience is to share something of value with them consistently. You could share your creations every day, every week or every month.

Have you ever tried to be consistent every week? Or every day? It is pretty challenging.

Some days you feel inspired, other days not so much. On some days there is plenty of time for creations, and on other days you would like to take some time off.

I struggled with this for a few months, and I knew there has to be a better way!

And that better way is batching and scheduling.

Batching is merely creating more pieces to be shared when you feel more creative, or when you have more time on your hands. If you share one post a day, but you have time to create 5 of them, that is batching.

When you have five pieces done in advance scheduling can help you publish them just at the right time, even if you take the day off.

For me, batching and scheduling are time-savers that also keep me in front of the audience even when I take time off.

In the last few years, the tools available have evolved so you can do this easily.

For Facebook – on your business page – you can schedule posts ahead of time. That feature is sometimes not working. In those cases, I go to “Publishing Tools” and use that interface to schedule my work.

For Twitter – they have the Twitter Deck app. This one has worked pretty much every time.

For Instagram, you don’t have a built-in scheduler. I am sure there is a good reason for that, but I don’t know it. If scheduling on Instagram is essential for you to there is a paid service you can use called: TailWind. Since I’ve been using it for one of my clients, they almost doubled their audience from 2k to 4k. Of course, you still need to create high quality, engaging posts, but being able to schedule them allows you to be active on the platform even in the days where you have something else planned.

Give batching and scheduling a try! You will find it much easier to be creative when you take the time pressure off of you.

The Process – A project from start to finish

There is value in having a process. It helps you provide consistent results, and you have something that you can continuously work on to improve. 

Here is “The Process” that I use today with software projects.

1. Are we a good fit? 

The first thing that happens is the discussion where both myself and the client try to determine if we are a good fit for one another. 

My job is to determine what the client needs and consider if I can provide a creative solution to solve that problem at a price that is fair for both of us. 

Sometimes this discussion happens in two parts if I need a break to do some research and investigation before I can begin to think of ways I could help. 

An important note here is that what is “needed” may not be what the client initial thought may be needed. That is why we have a conversation before any agreement happens. 

2. Project Set-Up 

After we agree on scope, price, and what it means to be 100% satisfied, I begin the work. 

With time I have learned the value of keeping things organized and tidy. 

Each client gets their individual folder that will document the history of the project. In that folder I will have things like:

  • meeting notes; 
  • agreement of project scope and price;
  • backups – I never do any changes unless I have a backup first;
  • client files – images, documents, other media;
  • a work-log – where I document what I have done and why. In very rare cases, I can use that to remind the client of the road we took together and justify a decision over the other. Another benefit is that you learn and get better by journaling what you do; 
  • access details – a file where I store various logins that the client has shared with me. In some cases, it makes good sense to have this file encrypted, like a ZIP archive with a password, for example;
  • any new agreed-upon changes also go here;

3. Making a plan – The List

I was trained, mostly by my father, to be organized by using lists. And I have kept that training and added on top of it. It is very useful, and it gives me clarity on what it needs to be done and in what order. 

Here I make a list of everything that needs to be done, broken down in tasks. The tool I use most of the time is Asana. I have tried Trello and Bootcamp, but I find Asana to be much closer to how I like to work. 

I also use a calendar service (like Google Calendar) to remind myself of upcoming deadlines.

Something that I found is handy is to split my list into three main sections:

 a. Go Live – the project cannot go live or shipped if any of the tasks here are not finished;

 b. Nice to Have – other tasks originating from the client that we can add later, after the go-live and in, some cases, in a “Phase 2” of the project;

 c. Bright Ideas – here I write down my own ideas that I think could help the client;

Why am I organizing things like this? 

The short answer is that it forces me to focus on the client; to get them on the market as soon as possible. I did not always use to think like that, and I was routinely making the mistake of focusing on tasks in the “Bright Ideas” section because there were so inspiring to me and they would challenge me. But in most cases, they were not mandatory for the client. So that added unjustified delays and extra costs. While I don’t think the client is always right, I do believe the client knows what is important to them. And that is where my focus should be and what I should be solving first. 

I hope it is now evident that the order in which I go about these tasks is: Go Live, then Nice To Have and then Bright Ideas. And I have learned to be OK with the fact that most projects stop after the “Go Live” part when the burning need of the client has been met. 

So why still keep “Nice to have” and “Bright Ideas” around? 

The biggest reason is to clear your mind so you can focus on the tasks at hand, knowing that your “good thoughts” are not lost. The second big reason is that is how you learn and grow. Maybe you don’t implement these ideas now, in this project, but because you wrote them down and thought about them you will remember them, and they may be the perfect solution for the next project or the “Phase 2” of this project. The “Bright Ideas” section is your most creative section. Don’t throw it away.

4. Set Up a Schedule 

I believe that if a project does not have a deadline, it will never finish. I am very wary of clients who say: “we can finish this whenever… no rush!”. That can be a source of significant delays for you and the project. 

I know this is not the same for everyone, but if deadlines motivate you, a client who is continuously delaying the project will drive you mad. 

In this step, I set-up reminders in my calendar for milestones that will help me get the work done in time for launch. 

When I do this, I need to allow time for the “unexpected” right before the launch. So I plan to finish the project at least a few days early to have some space to extend in case of unforeseen trouble. 

5. Doing the work

Only in step 5 comes the most fun part for me, doing software work :). But as a solopreneur, I need to do and master the business admin part as well.

When doing software work, I have a few principles that I follow:

  • Blocks of uninterrupted time – 2 – 3 hours blocks when I am the most efficient. When coding, there is a complex context that you need to have running in your head, and that takes time to build. If your block of time is too short, then most of that is spent just reminding yourself what the project is about;
  • use a versioning system – this should be obvious – even if you are working alone, it is so much easier to roll back to something that was working when you have a versioning system in place 
  • automatic testing – for particular clients that require a very high level of quality control this needs to be done;
  • Automatic backups of the client’s old code/website – again, just in case you need to roll back. Make sure the backups also include the database, not just the code files;
  • Keep track of working time – in some cases, “hours of time” is what I am billing to the client, and also this is how I know if we are going to finish on time. I am however transitioning out of this, so stay tuned for a post about it. Keeping track of time can be a learning and discipline building tool, just like journaling your work, but sometimes it becomes very, very restrictive and creates a lot of stress; 

6. Client Feedback 

I used to work, work, work, and then do the “big WOW” reveal at the end when the client would be floored with the amazing quality and results. 

This big reveal was silly. 

Why? Because it would allow me to focus on the “Bright Ideas” list instead of “Go Live.” And I would deliver an excellent, high-quality product, that would not speak to the client’s needs. 

What I do now is to deliver work in smaller increments and get feedback soon and often. I am careful here that the feedback I am looking for is “does this meet your needs, madam client?” and not about “how to do my job.” Therefore it is a tool to keep me focused on finding solutions that are important and relevant to the client. 

7. Making mistakes 

Mistakes are happening in every project. If I am not making mistakes, I am not learning anything new, and I am just delivering the same old solution. In some cases, that is OK, but generally, that is not what I am looking for. Each client is unique, so I want to challenge myself and meet their individual needs. 

It is therefore essential to know that I will be making mistakes and have a plan on what do to about them. Like, make sure I have factored that in the price so I don’t add more as a cost to the client to fix them. Also, I need to include those in my schedule. That is why I always have the “unexpected problem” in my planing with some time allocated to it. 

I am, however, fair. If I make a stupid mistake that I could have easily foreseen and avoided, the fix is on the house! I am talking here about the unavoidable trials and errors when you are building custom solutions and exploring places you have not explored before. Those mistakes need to be allowed for if you want to arrive at a good solution where you have explored alternatives that did not work. 

8. Going Live 

When I “go live,” I strive to have a seamless experience for the customer and their clients, which means as little to no downtime if that is at all possible. Over time I have discovered various ways of “flipping the switch” that can use depending on the specific situation. 

Again here, backups are super important. In case you mess up the live deployment, you need to be sure you can roll back to what worked before. I have seen so many instances where this not done, and people roll the dice. They may be that good, but it is just a matter of “when” things will crash on you, not “if.” I have learned my lesson.

9. Review and Learn

Ideally, the project has completed with the “double thank you.” You give thanks for the business, and the client is grateful for the solution they got. 

Either way now is the time to reflect on the project and look for “lessons learned.” 

What worked? Do more of that!

What did not work? Do less of that! 🙂 Or at least try to figure out what you can do differently next time. 

Something else that shows up here is opportunities to learn new things. Look at the “Bright Ideas” section and the “Nice to Have” section and try to come up with solutions to those that use new technologies. I sometimes set-up a pet project where I implement that solution.

I mustn’t skip this step or else I would get stuck in a rut. 

Mic to you!

How is your process different when you’re helping your clients? What are some of your lessons learned along your journey?