Freelancers — What do you do when you hit a snag on your website project?

If you study the reports on software development projects you get all sorts of painful statistics:

  • Only 40% of projects meet schedule and budget goals.
  • Great organizations are 10 time more successful than bad ones.
  • 17% of large projects go so bad they can threaten the company’s existence
  • 75% of project participants aren’t confident of project success

Even though the freelance developer world isn’t the same as the corporate IT one, nothing here is shocking.

Freelancers hit snags too

I want to talk about four kinds of specific snags that freelancers hit because we often don’t talk about it.

Lack of interest

What happens when you realize that the project you’re on is no longer interesting? What do you do when the excitement you felt upon starting just isn’t there anymore?

I can’t be the only one that has realized and even said to myself, “I’m tired of this project.”

What do you do?

Increased cost

Sometimes you’re working on a project that has some internal costs – costs you didn’t expect or estimate. This can be the need for an additional server at AWS to do things that you realize can’t be done on the main webserver, or it can be a client who is now calling you three times a day. Either way, you didn’t plan for this cost and it’s getting out of hand.

What do you do?

Lack of skills

We may also find ourselves in the midst of a challenge where we’ve stepped past what we know how to do. Many of you have likely received the emails, facebook messages, twitter DMs and any other note or message from another developer who tells you their story of getting in over their head, while having a fixed timeline.

You want to shout, “that’s not my problem.” But what happens when you find yourself in that spot?

What do you do?

Getting overwhelmed

If those other situations weren’t enough, let’s talk about the fourth kind of project snag – where your to-do list goes from 5 or 6 things that you were fairly clear you could handle, to suddenly realizing that one of the items now has 284 sub-tasks (that you never counted on).

The sheer size of it all have you overwhelmed. What do you do?

Four approaches you can take

Talk with your customer – always tell the truth

It’s scary to think about calling up your customer to tell them you’re overwhelmed, don’t have the skills, or frankly, just bored. But like we learned from our elders, honest is the best policy.

Having an honest conversation can often help everyone get on the same page and explore the options you have in front of you.

Sometimes you’ll discover that you need to take a next step. Other times you’ll find that the customer is ready to call it quits. Either way, your job is to stay professional.

What this should highlight is that you need a clause in your contract for what happens when either you or your client cancels a project mid-stream.

Consider bringing someone in to help you

If the snag you’ve hit isn’t big enough to have a huddle and a serious conversation with your customer, you may simply need to bring someone else onto the project.

This may be because you need the added expertise for a little bit, or because you need help tackling a long list of work that was overwhelming you.

Either way, this may be sunk cost on your part. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve paid, out of my own pocket, for an expert to review what I was doing simply to make sure I was on the right path.

It’s always been worth it.

Stop working on the project and pass it on

Sometimes, whether it’s boredom or a lack of skills, your best move is to package everything up and pass it on to someone else.

Before you do that, make sure you’ve had that honest conversation with your customer so that there are no surprises.

This can be an incredibly smart step that engenders trust simply because you were honest with your customer about where your skills end and where they need to roll in someone else.

It’s even better when you find that someone else for them.

Evaluate the amount of work still left and create a change order

When that list of remaining work suddenly ballooned, or when the cost of the project sharply increased, you likely knew you were going to have to have a conversation about a change order.

The first thing to note is that change orders can be really good things and a way to get even closer with your clients, if you think about it the right way.

The second thing to note is that how you shape the conversation will be critical to your success and getting their agreement.

If a customer suddenly starts wanting in-person meetings (that cost you more), or starts calling you way more than your initial estimate and expectation, you need to make sure you have what you need in your contract that you can point to.

If you don’t have those things articulated in your contract, go fix it now. This article will still be here when you get back.

You can then highlight what is in the contract and how it compares to your reality. Then you can price in the additional talk time.

If scope was loosely articulated and now there are 200 sub-tasks, you can walk a customer thru what you had expected and included in the Scope of Work (SOW). Then highlight the difference and be willing, if there was poor early communication, to eat some of the costs while making sure they pay their fair share.

These things happen

Maybe the most important thing for freelancers to recognize is that these things happen. It doesn’t make you a horrible person or bad at freelancing (unless they happen every time).

Talking about them helps.

And making sure you have a plan for them helps even more. Because you’ll be prepared and know what you need to do next.

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