I was thinking of how to best summarize the experience and came to this; as a freelancer, it's easy to forget how much responsibility we have to ourselves. This is especially true if we're transitioning from a full-time job where the bureaucracy was someone else's problem. After you finish setting up your rate charts, don't forget the most important aspect, but this truly makes or breaks you; Choose Your Clients Carefully.
You don't have to take every single job that comes along. In fact, I advise against it, as you risk spreading yourself too thin. As your potential client vets you, you should be doing the same. This will ensure that neither of you get screwed, both of you end up happy and hopefully, your client ends becomes a steady customer.
I recommend the following steps in selecting and working with a client.
1). CLEARLY OUTLINE THE PROJECT BEFORE AGREEING TO THE WORK.
Your potential client may come to you with very little idea of the writing process, or even the story they want to tell. This is okay, because helping them navigate their idea is your job. However, if it is, make sure this is outlined before you begin working.
I like to get as clear an idea of my client's goal (this is usually in the proposal) and then request/propose a better overview in my bid. Often what happens is I'll end up getting a clearer idea as to their goal, and then in my final pitch, I'll offer to provide specifics on the client's world and character. Because it's all outlined before I get to work, my client knows exactly what they're getting and I understand my workload. Good work environment: secured.
Without this, you risk taking on a lot more work than you bargained for and worse, you and your client end up with completely different versions of what was originally envisioned and you may part on a sour note. You don't want this.
2). SECURE YOUR PAYDAY.
You don't work for free, and your client wants to make sure they don't pay you for a subpar product. How do you solve this problem?
Guru.com is excellent at this. They offer an escrow service where your client uploads the agreed-upon amount to their server, but it's not released to you until the client approves your work. This provides peace of mind for you, the freelancer, as you can actually see the money waiting for you, and it does the same for your client, who can pull the funds if you can't deliver. For the record, Guru also offers an arbitration service if client and freelancer can't work it out (blessedly, I haven't had to use this yet).
If you don't use guru or any other freelancing site, I recommend getting a percentage of your money up front and the entire amount agreed to in a legally binding document signed by both parties. Warning: a client who balks at the talk of money is probably looking for something for free. I have been burned this way.
3). KEEP IT PROFESSIONAL, AT LEAST AT FIRST.
I learned this lesson the hard way, to the tune of a fifty thousand word project that turned into a zero payday for me. I was riding high on a couple of successful projects and figured I could do no wrong. A new client comes up, sounds great, agrees to everything (except escrowing funds) and even offers me her phone number as a way to stay in touch. The first project goes off fairly well. The second results in the destruction of our relationship.
In the beginning, there's nothing wrong with professional courtesy, but it's a business relationship. Keep it that way. Keep the lines drawn until you have worked together successfully. But in the beginning, never forget, it's a busienss relationship and should be treated as such.
One other little tidbit I'd like to offer is to beware of the client who longs to get rich quick writing. Unless you can set them straight tactfully, this relationship is almost certain to end in ruin.
As I prepare to return to full-time employment, I'll be freelancing a lot less in 2013, but as I still pick up the odd contract I wanted to pass along what I learned thus far.
Thanks for reading, and good luck to you.