5 Tips For Surviving Client Work

Posted by Mike // Jan 16, 2016

Once you have set down the path of doing side work, on your own time, there are some things to keep in mind. Getting the first gig is a huge accomplishment. Making sure you can stay in it for the second and third takes some rules.


This is the second part of a two part series about how to start and maintain side work. That is, how you keep a full time job and work for others on your own time. Part one is here.


Let’s get started.

1. Keep your day job

Sounds obvious, right? But I’m not talking about willfully quitting. I really mean: don’t give your employer a reason to fire you.

That means not working on side projects at work or on company equipment. Don’t show up late to the office because you were up late with your side job.

Above all, don’t compete with your employer. If you are a web developer that works for an agency that sells web development services, you are in area where you better get permission from your employer. You are, in a sense, competing with them for web development work. However, if you are a web developer working for hospital, there is no competition and you shouldn’t need to worry.

2. Set aside time for yourself

Side work may sound easy at first. But it’s more like running a marathon then a sprint. You need to pace yourself to prevent burn out. As much as you may work a normal job from 9 - 5, keep your side work to set hours, as well. Make sure you set aside time away from your work for your family and friends. It might make sense to only do side work for 10 hours a week for the whole year. Or maybe it makes sense to work 20 hours extra for 6 weeks stints with a break in between.

3. Reputation is everything

People that work for themselves trade on their name. Every bit of client work I ever got was from word of mouth. Doing great work leads to more great work. If you leave your side project in a troubled spot because you burned yourself out, if you respond in untimely or unprofessional ways, or if you don’t come through on your promises, these are all things that will catch up with you and word will spread. It may not cause you to loose future work. But it certainly won’t help you find new work.

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4. Communicate often

A key ingredient in every failed project and relationship is poor communication. The best advice I can offer is to over communicate. Brilliant Chemistry makes this easy with time logs that require a summary of work that drives weekly gut checks for both parties. Regardless of the tool you use, make sure you are communicating on, at the very least, multiple times a week. To go beyond a blanket tip, you should also:

  • Let your client know that you will typically work on specific days and times. This keep their expectations in check of when you are available for a response.
  • If you are too busy to answer the phone or email, just send a quick acknowledgement of receipt via text or a short reply. A quick: “Sorry, Fred, away from my desk, but I will take a look at this later today.” will do wonders.
  • If your client likes the phone, keep a log of the topics discussed and any tasks that came up as a result. As soon as you hang up the phone, write this down. When you have time, summarize the call from your in an email to your client. This keeps you on point with what’s needed and it keeps them honest.

5. Fire bad clients

As difficult as it can be to find a client willing to pay you money for your work, sometimes, it just isn’t worth it.

It can be tough to detect a bad client. There are all sorts of reasons why a client can be more trouble then they are worth. The #1 problem used to be late payments but, luckily, with Brilliant Chemistry, we’ve been able to eliminate that. The remaining issues at play come down to two clear factors:

  • Poorly defined requirements
  • Over the top expectations

You can work with a client who doesn’t have a scope. Being an expert, your first task is to guide them towards a game plan and boundaries of a project.

But if that same client, also expects the world, you may be in trouble. It’s difficult to both reign in scope and create realistic expectations. It’s not impossible to correct, but it might just not be worth it.

Remember, this is your time, you should enjoy it. If you love what you do, the client will see it in your work.


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