Do You Really Want the Gig?

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This week, a contact called me about a new project. She’s an ex-colleague of mine, and she invited me to work on a job with her. I didn’t have much time to think about the offer, but as I started weighing up the pros and cons, I realized that the decision to take on, or pass up, a project can be really complex.

What criteria do you use to assess potential new jobs? These are mine.

How much fun is the client?

My first consideration is how fun the client is — specifically, how fun my contact person at the client organization is. In the job I was considering, I would have minimal client contact, so the client fun factor wasn’t a big issue.

But I know that my contact in a client organization can make or break a project. I also know that clients that aren’t any fun in person, aren’t much fun to work with. And if I don’t respect what the client organization does, I generally don’t enjoy the work, either. In this case, though, I had a lot of respect for the actual client organization.

As a freelancer, my client contacts make up a huge portion of my human contact, so this is a really big factor for me. The more I like a client, the more I want to do a great job for them.

How unusual is the project?

I like to do things I’ve never done before. And the job my colleague was pitching for was something that I don’t usually do. In the process of having to complete this job, I would work very closely with two people who have far more experienced at this work than I am — so it seemed like it’d be a great way to learn, and to learn from people I admired and enjoyed being around.

The job was different from my normal work in that the client was a heavily regulated organization — there would be a lot of requirements I’d have to meet, which would be a great challenge, and as I was working with others, I’d have to make sure my work output sat well with theirs. Again, this is different from my normal modus operandi, which is to fly solo. These possibilities made the job seem really appealing.

What will I need to juggle to fit it in?

Competing priorities are the next consideration on my list. I don’t like working to crazy deadlines, and we all know that when you’re a freelancer, even reasonable deadlines can become crazy when we’re faced with competing projects that all need to be completed yesterday.

On the other hand, if the client’s fun, and the project’s interesting, I’m always willing to stretch myself in order to take on the work. In the case of this project, I really wanted to work with the team, and gain the experience of doing the work, so I was happy to schedule in the time — potentially including some weekend work — to accommodate this opportunity.

Fortunately, I heard about the project well in advance, so I was able to juggle things and block time out for this job. But if a project is spring on me, I’m usually less likely to take it on — unless I can guarantee the time to the client concerned.

Is it worth the risk?

For many, this question starts out with a focus on dollars — how much will the project pay? — but for me, it very quickly morphs into something else.

To determine a project’s “worth,” I weigh up the considerations of fun, learning, experimental scope, how good the project will look on my resume, and how much I’ll earn from it.

Over time, I’ve found that these factors all combine to give me a sort of happiness rating for a project. At one end of the spectrum, there’s happiness — where I do good work, for good people, and gain experience from it while ensuring I can pay my rent.

At the other end of the spectrum, I’m angry: because the client isn’t fun, the project is boring, or it doesn’t deliver the opportunities for skills advancement that I thought it would. If I’m at this end of the spectrum, I really start to think seriously about how much I’m getting paid, and whether it’s worth it (and usually that makes me even crankier).

These jobs are rarely write-offs — after all, any project that’s unsatisfying is an opportunity to learn how to better assess projects in future. But they’re rarely enjoyable, so I try to avoid them.

These are my basic criteria for assessing new projects, and the bases on which I decide to pitch for projects or not. What criteria can you add from your own project selection process?

Image by stock.xchng user hisks.

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  • Textfriend

    Thanks, good advice. Probably applies to both freelance as well as employment equally?

    If you’re in a position to choose, then you can apply criteria just as much as those seeking ‘candidates’ do.

  • Brannon

    It’s funny to me that you mention things like fun and experience as being so important to you; I’m the same way about my projects. I find that there are many things in a project which enrich my life more than good pay, and many of them need to be met if I’m to care about the project at all in the long run.

    One of my top considerations in a project is good design. This consideration might even trump client personality. I honestly just can’t get excited about building a project where the designer can’t design well and I can tell. I often feel like I’m wasting my time putting good code behind a bad design, and it will take me very little time to get bored and irritated at working on the project. If I’m working on a good design, I feel fulfilled and am less likely to care about how much I’m getting paid. In fact, no amount of pay is worth long term work on a poorly designed site for me and seeing a bad design right away is an instant turn off.

    My second consideration is frequently client personality. I don’t like working for clients who can’t be bothered to be polite to me when we work together. I know that sometimes my work might need to go over a deadline or that something’s not perfect, but I just can’t stand to work for a client who can’t be a little patient or considerate when things don’t work out. I’m sensitive to impatience and aggression, and I’ll put in a lot more effort for a client who’s understanding when things don’t work out the first try.

    My third consideration is probably time. If I feel like my work is occupying a lot of my time right at the moment, then I’ll turn away work just to keep my life from getting hectic even if I like the project and the client. In this case, I’ll often offer my services to screen other developers and designers for them to help them find someone talented.

    My fourth consideration is about whether the other developers I may be working with (or working on code created by in some cases) are very qualified. Just as I don’t enjoy building a bad design, I don’t enjoy working on bad code or working with people who might argue with me about my code despite having done a poor job themselves. I don’t expect perfection, but I do want to work with people who understand code well enough to appreciate when it’s good and to leave me with something good to work on.

    Another consideration (as you mentioned) is whether there’s a possibility for me to learn something on a project (and potentially have it look good on my resume). I’ve been known to cut my price in half on something I’ve never tried before just to get the chance to try something new on a good project. I’ve been offered a lot of money before to work on a project that involves very outdated or very basic things, and I usually turn those down. I like to work on things that excite and challenge me.

    I also prefer to work on websites for clients who will give me enough time to do reasonably good work. I’d rather get paid less to work on something I have time to make a lasting and good product than get paid a lot for a stressful rush job that’s going to turn out badly.

    One final consideration I sometimes use is whether the project appeals to me ethically. I’m sometimes very fueled by meaningful work. If a project offends me ethically (like creating a misleading website that hurts users or a website for a product that hurts people) then I’m very unlikely to take it even if it pays well and has good design. I get very discouraged by working on projects which feel like a violation of someone’s trust or safety to me. Even if I took on a project like that, odds are that I would have a hard time motivating myself to work on it. Sometimes projects for something which does good things for the world energize me so much that I’ll do them at a discounted cost.

    Basically, about four or five things come before money on my scale of motivation. Even a lot of money will only motivate me in the short term while a project which is either ethically sound or which has great potential will keep me energized for a long time. I want to get up in the morning for a great project, but money barely motivates me on it’s own for long.

  • Georgina Laidlaw

    Hey guys,
    Thanks so much for these insightful comments. Brannon, I completely agree with your point on respecting the work of the other team members (“I honestly just can’t get excited about building a project where the designer can’t design well and I can tell.”). I feel the same way: if you’re not working with good people, there’s no point doing the work.

    Textfriend, definitely. I put any kind of work through this filter now—freelance, permanent, or contract.
    g

  • Daquan Wright

    I’d take on anything, when I was starting out (like when I was 15/16).

    Now I only take projects in my domain and am searching for a “niche” or two. My primary concerns are how much of a pain will the client be, because really, all the money in the world will not save you from misery if your client is sucking the life out of you. I also look for projects with energy and which will challenge my creative and technical expertise, because I always want to push myself.

    So for me, it’s: type of client, type of project, and of course how much am I making. I’ll take a moderate amount of money with good people and enriching projects, than tons of money with projects that make me not want to work at all.