A freelancer’s greatest attribute and how to leverage it

Recently Preston launched his debut Q&A video series where he talks about handling clients that treat us like employees.

If you watched it, you know that Preston talks about what I believe is a freelancer designer’s greatest attribute. (And it’s not just designers…any freelancer/entrepreneur shares this very valuable asset.)

Can you guess what I’m talking about?

Our greatest attribute is…


Flexibility, in one way or another, is the upper-hand we enjoy over almost every other type of business – big corporations, franchises, quick-turn companies, and even mid-size agencies.

So how do we leverage this potent asset? We have many ways…

Pricing Flexibility

While bigger companies are stuck with the pricing their boss sets, freelancers have the freedom to price each project for the client at hand.

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Sure, you should be fair with your pricing amongst similar client projects, but there’s no reason you have to create strict pricing and stick to it.

Before you think I’m headed off the deep end, here are a few reasons why I might charge more or less than I normally would:

  • A non-profit whose cause I believe in
  • A pain-in-the-neck client or one who needs a lot of hand-holding
  • How much other work is on my plate at the time
  • The client’s location
  • The client’s industry
  • A client who needs a helping hand getting started (be careful here…don’t cheat yourself, and don’t expect them to instantly pay top dollar once you’ve gotten your foot in the door.)

Payment Flexibility

If a company is big enough to have one, the accounting department usually sets the payment parameters, tying the hands of the salesman.

However, as a freelancer, we wear all the hats and therefore can find a solution that suits our clients’ needs, such as:

  • Creating a monthly payment plan (signed by both parties, of course) to spread out design costs for a start-up.
  • Trading services for partial/full payment (just make sure your business – not your personal life – actually needs this service and that you can still put food on the table).
  • Setting your terms of payment and down payment percentage.
  • Being understanding when a great client accidentally forgets to pay an invoice. – from Millo reader Joe Hirst
  • Applying a discount to invoices settled within the terms agreed. – from Millo reader John Wildgoose

Project Flexibility

Facebook me if your freelancing hours are 9-5, Monday through Friday. You’ll be the very first freelancer I’ve ever met with “normal” hours.

As freelancers, we can:

  • Prepare a proof for Monday off Friday afternoon’s revisions.
  • Rush projects in exchange for sleep (for a fee).
  • Tackle a project that’s outside our comfort zone.

Meeting Flexibility

How many times has your conference call started out with, “I really appreciate your flexibility in postponing this meeting 30 minutes…” or “Thank you so much for taking this call after business hours…?”

I hear it a lot (mostly the former).

Clients with strict or busy schedules are thrilled to find a freelancer who can adapt to their needs.

Collaboration Flexibility

Okay, this one might be more for us and less for the client.

Seriously, though, instead of having to work with the idiot at the next desk who can’t seem to provide a print-ready file to save his life, we as freelancers can choose to work with truly awesome talent (even if that’s only our super selves).

This greatly benefits our clients when we can hire people who specialize in areas that we prefer not to handle – video, illustration, web dev, etc.

On the flip side…

The even greater thing is, we don’t have to be flexible if we don’t want to.

While it often pays handsomely to bust out a project over the weekend, if we’re visiting family, going to the lake, or catching a concert, we’re able to say “no, I’m sorry, this weekend is already full.”

If we don’t want to take a project for a shady client, we can turn them down.

As freelancers, we get personal flexibility as well. The freedom to choose life over work (so long as we can still pay the bills).

A matter of perspective

Too many freelancers look at flexibility as a burden – having to say “no” in client negotiations. And let’s face it, sometimes we have to bite the bullet and stand our ground, and it’s no fun.

However, let’s look at flexibility in a positive light – the freedom to say “yes!”, to both our clients and ourselves.

Join the discussion!

How do you leverage your flexibility? When has flexibility won you a client – or a referral? Have you ever talked a client out of hiring a “company” over a freelancer? Leave a comment and let us know!

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  1. Thanks for the great article! Am I the only one unable to see the comments on any of the pages here? I’ve tried using FF, IE and Chrome to no avail.

    1. Ryan,

      We’ve heard there are some problems with viewing the comments and Preston is working on it. Thanks for letting us know.


  2. Recently, when I haven’t received payment from a client, I have sent this email:

    “What usually happens is 30 minutes after I send something like this out, the postman arrives with your check, so please disregard this if you’ve already remitted.

    On the other hand, if my previous invoice got misplaced or fell through the cracks, here is another copy.”

    It has seemed to work successfully. No one has gotten upset.

  3. Thanks April, I think I just had an epiphany! I’m often wondering what the biggest sole attribute is of freelancing and you’ve just nailed it – especially regards the pricing side. I’ve just been dealing with another freelancer regards costs and without realising it we both were umming and ahhing about what this costs, what that costs etc and we should have just said ‘we’re flexible’. What do we want to charge for this job? Is there a reason to charge more or less rather than looking for a fixed fee we were both happy with. Thanks for this, I’m now going to use that word every day and enjoy it 🙂

    P.S. I have taken calls at 3am because the client was on the other side of the world and I wanted to work for them. It was no great problem and the client appreciated it massively knowing the time difference. They have now been clients for 3 years. Flexibility works. Thanks April 🙂

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Jim! I’ve taken calls at weird times, too, to account for time differences. Freelancing often means being a bit unorthodox, but that’s one of my favorite parts. And people have been saying for years that I’m not “normal.” (Whatever that is.)

      You’re welcome, and thanks for sharing.

  4. Under payment flexibility — I never offer a monthly payment plan to a start-up. Start-ups are 50 percent down and the balance upon completion of the project. Too many start-ups fail. If you offer them monthly installments, you may never see much or any payment. I have given terms to ongoing loyal client when they were in a cash crunch. Even then, I had to assess whether it was a short-term crunch on the start or a slow death spiral for their business. Luckily for me, my judgement was correct.

    As for bartering, it is often difficult to agree on the comparative value of services. A monetary value must be placed on it and it must be recorded in your accounting and claimed on income taxes and possibly your sales tax depending on your state’s reporting requirements.

  5. I’ve got a comment about the project flexibility, you say you don’t know anyone freelancing hours are 9-5, Monday through Friday. So it’s OK with you when clients call you at 3am on a Sunday wanting a logo revision? It’s not OK with me…
    We have dealing with clients business hours set, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t work on our projects on weekends or holidays, nights etc…..

    1. Eva,

      Of course I don’t answer the phone at 3am on a Sunday (or any day for that matter)…but I might be working on a client project on the weekend, or at 11pm. Those are still working hours, as I’m “doing business.” If I were to work at an agency, I’d be far less likely to work during “non-business” hours, regardless of whether I’m talking to a client or finishing a proof.

  6. Thank you for this write-up. The balancing of life and work is one thing I both like and dislike about being a freelancer. So it’s good to know other folks are in the same creative boat 🙂

    1. Maria,

      It can be tough, but to me, it’s worth it. 🙂 For example, I had a really rush project today, but I still had time during lunch to run into town with my boyfriend and dogs and enjoy some sunshine.

      Happy Freelancing!

  7. There’s such a thing as being too flexible. You wind up with your head up your rump.

    1. Alfred,

      Too true – nothing says you have to be flexible in all ways for one client, though. Nor are you required to be flexible if it’s not worth it to you.

  8. Flexibility is what helps win my clients over! I can truly be honest with my hours and how I want to build my working relationship with them. I told one client who had large project for me that I was working full-time while working on other freelance projects at the same time. I was honest and said if he was flexible with the limited hours I can give him then we can sign a contract and begin the project. Luckily for me he said there was no hurry and he didn’t stress a deadline for the project (although I still gave myself one). It was awesome though because I was still able to take on a new project despite it being a prolonged one.

    1. Samantha,

      Sounds like you’ve won over a great client with a great tactic: honesty.

      Enjoy a cookie or an extra 20 minutes of personal time over lunch…you’ve earned it! 🙂

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