In most job interviews, it’s usually the employer who asks all the questions. However, the freelancer-client relationship is a more complicated tango. There are more incentives for both parties to negotiate for. Clients who have never had to work with freelancers often overlook things like intellectual rights, or the personal time and schedules of the freelancer.
Often, freelancers forget that there’s a larger campaign beyond their particular part in it. It’s best for all of these details to be put on the table up front, to avoid any confusion during, or full-blown conflicts afterwards. Here are a few questions freelancers should always ask their clients before starting any project.
How often do you work with freelancers? / How experienced are you with working with freelancers?
Many freelancers don’t ask this, and it’s not strictly a deal-breaking question, but it’s always helpful to know how much your commissioning supervisor or project liaison knows about working with freelancers. They may have no experience working with freelancers and be completely unhelpful with future inquiries. They could, on the other hand, have been a freelancer themselves, and therefore an expert on the nuances of a client-freelancer dynamic.
How often do you require progress updates from freelancers?
This is a very helpful thing to know for scheduling your time, for example. This question might just lead to being able to schedule a regular progress updates. If you’re a new freelancers, you may want to encourage more frequent check-ins.
Do you foresee any potential stumbling blocks for this project?
It’s always to get a head’s up on any potential fallout. Perhaps your client may not want to admit it, there could be other internal factors within the company that could prevent the project from completion, or something that could change the project completely.
How concrete is your timeline?
For future planning, you will want to know whether the deadline assigned is a hard deadline or one that is subject to further deliberation or changes. Many freelancers know the pain of having delivered something on time, only to labor over unexpected changes or edits for way longer than originally agreed. Find out if that will be you.
Is there any chance that, if I complete the project as desired, the final product will not be used?
In the worst case scenario that still happens sometimes, freelancers deliver the product, and weeks later, the project gets killed. Or, higher up, people who the freelancers have never even met decide to go with an earlier design. The contractor will still get paid for it, but there goes that portfolio piece. Instead, make sure early on that your work won’t be canned weeks or months after you’ve delivered it. This question will also be a good way to introduce a kill fee if the project is for any reason stopped during, and after completion.
Who will own the intellectual rights to this project?
This is a big question, especially for designers, photographers, illustrators and journalists. Owning the rights to one’s own work ensures that the work cannot be altered without their permission, and cannot be reproduced (or if it is, then the profit goes to the freelancer in question).
How soon after a project ends do you typically process payment for freelancers?
It is unbelievably helpful to know when one can expect to be paid for their deliverables. Some clients pay immediately as soon as they receive the product; some pay in installments throughout the product process, and some almost have to be chased down by a team of bounty hunters before they cough up a penny. For larger projects (like, the kind that can cover your rent and bills for a month with one paycheck), you will want to know what kind of paying client you have on your hands.
Are you willing to abide by my fees for rush jobs and late fees?
If you have any additional fees that you charge for things like rushed commissions and late fees, it’s a good idea to get it down in writing over email before you sign the contract, especially with long-term anchor clients. Certain industries sometimes run on tight deadline - for example, an online media publication that needs a last-minute illustration for the next morning on a hot news topic. You may be able to do it, but you also have grounds to charge a small fee for the inconvenience of staying up all night to accomplish this task for the company. The same applies for late fees - if you introduce a late fee before you even start the assignment, you will face less problems getting your client to pay up later.
Is there an opportunity for ongoing work in the future?
Providing you do a good job, of course. It’s always nice to see if there’s opportunity for something sweet on the side of a major project. Find out if your client commissions these kinds of projects frequently, and you may just be auditioning for a future anchor client. If you know this is a one-off project, then ask for a testimonial, instead.