10 Annoying Things Freelancers Do to Destroy their Business

I have been working with freelancers through out my career and recently, thanks to services like oDesk, I find myself doing it more often. So you might think that I am happy with what I get, at least in general. Well, one of the reasons I continue to stay engaged is my high tolerance for pain – I am prepared to go through piles of hay to find that needle. And I have to tell you, looking for freelancers is very much like digging for gold – you literally have to go through tons of dirt to find it.

Interestingly enough many freelancers who have skills, knowledge and maybe even talent often torpedo themselves, aggressively sabotage their chances of getting customers right in the begging of the process. They make simple yet lethal mistakes that turn off clients before they got the chance to learn about freelancer’s ingenuity. Of course many mistakes could be made during execution of the project as well as its closure. I am not talking about technical or skill set issues though, my focus is on soft behavioral aspects of your communications with the client. Below are some of those mistakes:

  • Not reading my project description before replying to it. Your three page long template proposal will get in a recycle bin faster than you would think. At least adjust your opening statement, show me that you read the post…
  • Not using proper grammar and spelling. English is my second language and still a work in progress; I still struggle with grammar myself, yet many proposals I see push that envelope way too far. Grammatically poor introduction screams in my face “Communicating with this freelancer will be a real pain!” Spelling mistakes are even worse – how can I entrust my project to someone who doesn’t even make an effort to turn on a spellchecker?
  • Talking with me like I am a teenager. Your slang (especially when combined with ESL marvels) comes across as complete lack of intelligence and class. By the way, spellchecker is not likely to recognize your “gonna”, “wanna”, “gimme”, take a hint. Let me clarify this point – after you established rapport you may find that your client is using colloquial language and slang, following the suite in this case could be OK, still not when you put your words in writing.
  • Being excessively polite. Your culture and language might require twenty minutes of praise and compliments before you get to business but I am an American, cut to the chase guy. More so, being overly polite and using somewhat unusual forms will telegraph a wrong image, your mentioning my “ultimate wisdom” only makes me think of a snake oil salesman.
  • Not being punctual / prepared for your interview. I think of proposal / interview stage as a “honeymoon” in a relationship with a freelancer, it all goes downhill from there. Late for your Skype call? Having troubles finding your headset? Can’t introduce yourself? Chances are that’s the last time you’ll hear from me.
  • Bidding too high or too low. Even though I can understand motivation of people bidding high or low, I typically ignore the bids that stand out in that respect. It’s probably clear why high bid is a losing proposition: unless you got the market cornered the price does matter. Less obvious is a low bid. The main issue here is trust and the fact that we as buyers have been conditioned to expect a “catch” or “bait and switch” with a low bid. Maybe $2 an hour is a perfect wage for combination of what you sell and your standards of living, yet if everyone else bids $15 or higher you should stay in ballpark otherwise the chances are your bid will be ignored.
  • Not following though. Few things annoy me more than a freelancer responding to my post and then dropping off without note / returning my questions. Maybe you realized that I am not the right customer / the project is not in your sweet spot / whatever. It’s perfectly OK to bail out from bidding process, just don’t forget let you customer know. A simple “regrets” note can do a lot for you on a next opportunity that could be exactly what you are looking for.
  • Telling me that you know what I need better than I do. That for some reason is particular common for developers from Eastern Europe and particular from my motherland Russia. If you indeed know (which is highly unlikely) suggest, illustrate, propose – don’t push, don’t fight with me, I get enough fighting when I tell my clients that I know better.
  • Playing games with scope / rates / budget. For many of us on a buyer side many of these games are transparent, most us who’s been in the industry for over 5 years seen at all – “bait and switch”, “low ball”, “door in a face” – you name it. As a matter of fact we make purchases and are being sold on daily basis. We get occasionally burned, sometimes badly. In stock market, real estate, cars, utilities… And when we come to work last thing we want to see is someone trying same techniques…
  • Leaving debris behind. That is my personal pet peeve. Just a few days ago I was looking through code deliverables from a freelancer who just finished a small RoR project for me. Looking through the code I found plenty of loose ends such as hard coded ID addresses, uncommented debugging code, etc. That was the first project this particular freelancer got from me and it is the last one.

I can go on and on, ad infinitum ad nauseam, but I’ve reached my self imposed limit of 10 bullets. I might revisit it later though.

BTW, an initial version of this post posted as a guest blog at oDesk blog got some harsh critique for grammar and other language mistakes I made from Nancci Maloney, probably on of the oDesk freelancers:

Sir, I understand some of your frustrations, but –

If you are going to criticize someone, you need to be sure your own house is in order. You state your second pet peeve is not using correct grammer and spelling.

Look at your 1st bullet – it’s a recycle ‘bin’ – been is a verb. If you had ‘read’ through your post you would know ‘red’ is a color.

2nd bullet – your English is ‘a’ work in progress – sort of changes the meaning of the sentence. If you still ’straggle’ with concepts then you need to look up struggle in the dictionary.

Why would I entrust my paycheck to someone who can’t use spellcheck?

There are other lesser grammatical errors in your post but I think you get the idea. My mama always said people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. It’s pretty sound advice.

Not sure if you noticed there are two spelling errors in Nancci’s comment.

So let me apologize in case some of those niximorons are still in this post and suggest that you should “do what I say not what I do” :)

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