Build Bridges, Not Walls On Freelancer-Client Friction: Is it really that bad?

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As a freelancer, I meet and have great work discussions with countless people. Some of these people turn into clients, many of whom eventually turn into friends.

Being a freelancer also means being your own assistant (unless you hire one, of course), your own accountant (unless you hire one or use one of the many online services dedicated for freelancers), and maybe even your own lawyer (I highly recommend against this. Hire or consult a lawyer whenever / if you can). So part of the job entails spending hours and sometimes days in email — going back and forth discussing projects, specs, scopes, Skype or in-person meetings, and writing and signing contracts, before actually getting to the part where I get to do what I do best: code.

I know a lot of developers who find that non-dev aspects of their freelance career less than favorable. So some of them might jump into a chance to have someone else handle all this so-called “client friction phase” for them — and unerstandably so. As such, it’s not surprising that there are indeed services out there who offer exactly this.

The concept and premise of such services is simple and straightforward: freelancer-client match-making and then removing the friction between said freelancer and their client(s). This means that companies looking for developers (or designers, etc.) don’t have to go about finding one themselves — the services finds a great developer that fits their need from the community of top talented developers they have curated, and the developer doesn’t need to handle all the project spec and scope discussions, and can get straight to work as soon as they agree to work on the specified project.

These services usually have a fixed hourly rate pricing model (usually within a specific range) for their talents, which makes calculating project costs a more straightforward (and mathematical) process.

I’ve been recently contacted by a representative of such a service company, offering me to be a part of their top talented community of freelance developers, and promising me the ability to find great projects with companies big and small, all while being able to focus on the actual project work without having to handle client project negotiations, etc. which they would be handling for me. She gave me an overview of the company and how it works, what screening and filtering process members of their community go through before making it into their circles, and more. She offered me a chance to join the community—which is something I’m very flattered for, because they only choose people they consider top talent in their fields so they can match them with their great clients.

Aside from the pricing model which I don’t personally adopt in my work, the main reason I declined the offer is because of the promise of removing the friction between me and my potential clients.

You see, I don’t want to skip the client friction phase. I like this phase. I like it a lot, actually. Sure, more hours negotiating usually means less hours working,but I consider this an essential part of the freelance life — a path I chose three years ago and haven’t looked back since. And these hours spent talking with clients are one of many ways you can grow as a freelancer, and as a person.

I like talking to my clients. I like jumping on Skype calls with them, getting to know them — getting to know them, their company goals, their project goals.. I like hearing them talk so passionately about their projects and why they chose to do what they’re doing and where they see themselves going with it. And most importantly, I like to hear why they chose me to join them and help them achieve these goals. Which is something that would be completely missing if I were to work with them via a service of the sort I mentioned.

Getting to talk to my clients also goes beyond personal preference into practical project needs. In all of my work, I’ve always been in constant and almost daily contact with my client’s team — from designers to fellow developers and CEOs alike. We communicate via a Slack channel usually, for example, that’s dedicated to discussing everything about the project. And my involvement in the project usually goes beyond just translating a design into code. There is constant discussion about the UX of the design, and other user experience aspects related to accessibility and such.

I love to see my client projects grow, and even see myself and my skills grow with them. One of the reasons the service only accepts hourly based pricing is that they want to spare the freelancers (and clients, too) the “trouble” that can result from project scope and spec changes. Personally, this was never an issue for me to begin with, and the reason for that is that I communicate with my client, and talk to them directly. It is because of the friction with my client that I am able to discuss the project freely, including the future of the project, and my possible involvement in the different phases of it. It is because of this that I have worked repeatedly over a couple of years with clients such as Provata. And it’s always been straightforward for both me and my clients: if the spec or scope of work changes, the contract is amended to reflect that. The amendment usually happens smoothly because we’ve already discussed possibility of this happening in the early communication phase, or, the “friction phase”, if you like. ☺️

You can’t expect a relationship to grow if you build a wall between you and the person you’re in a relationship with, and this applies to work relationships too. Working with clients I don’t get to communicate and discuss project details with would never allow me to become friends with the people working on the other side of the project. But working with people — so many different people on different projects — is one of my favorite aspects of being a freelancer, and one of the reasons I chose to freelance a few years go, over being full-employed by some big company.

Working from home there’s already this feeling of loneliness involved — sitting behind a screen talking to people sitting behind other screens somewhere else on the planet. Attending conferences and speaking to and with people who share your interests helps a great deal with this, but that only happens a few times a year. So to put myself behind yet another wall and avoid talking to my clients directly is something I couldn’t bear to do. That would make me feel like some sort of code robot who only gets input (project details) and produces output (code) on a daily basis, without the human side of this work.

So all what that service promised to “solve” for me has never really been an issue for me, and that’s why I declined the offer to join the community.

All this said, I don’t mean to undermine what such a services company does. On the contrary, I can see where such a service can be extremely beneficial. If you do bill hourly, services like this can be great for working on multiple projects at the same time — maybe a few hours per week dedicated for each project. When you’re working on multiple projects and maybe even have a full-time job, getting extra hours of work and revenue in like that without all the non-dev process of the freelance life can be extremely helpful. So I can definitely see where and how this service can help freelancers work more and maybe even work better. Maybe you even like the idea of no client friction and just want to get to work without all the “admin” stuff. It is definitely a matter of personal preference. And I’m in no way undermining what these services do — far from it.

Is client friction really that bad?

No. Absolutely not. At least not to me, personally. Without this friction, I wouldn’t have made friends with as many great people I know today. So if you’re a freelancer, try to enjoy it (if you don’t already) and make the most out of it, too.

Build bridges, not walls.

Cheers,

Sara Soueidan