The ethics of ‘faking it until you make it’

Many sources encourage us to ‘fake it until we make it’ in a new career path. If they’re selling coaching/ebooks or ‘growth hacking’ their social media this kind of advice is especially common. There are some ethical issues around this attitude though – both for the freelancer and their clients.

For the freelancer…

Committing to a task or project we don’t know whether we can pull off can be stressful. We’ve all got different levels of stress tolerance. What rolls off one person can cause another sleepless nights or even a breakdown. Especially with creative work, being stressed out gets in my way and reduces the quality of my work. Why add more stress to your life when it can be avoided?

For their clients…

Clients are hiring us to get a job done for them, because they don’t have the skills, time or inclination to do it themselves. They may be looking to us for our expertise and skills. If we ‘talk a good fight’ but don’t actually have the expertise or skills to carry out that task, then in my opinion that’s unethical.

Clients may see or find out that you don’t actually know what you’re doing. This can also lead to a late task or project, or in some cases outright failure. Clients are unlikely to be happy with any of those outcomes, which can result in damage to the relationship or even the reputation of your business.

You can still learn on the job

An easy way around this situation is to be honest with potential clients and tell them we’re not very experienced at this task and seek their consent to give it a go on their project. They may well say go ahead anyway and you can learn together, but some will decline. Either way, the client is aware of what’s going on and you’ll be less stressed about things.

Another solution is to do a test piece of work before committing to the client project if you have time. This shows you the effort required (which will make your quote more accurate), and the piece can possibly go on your portfolio too.

Summary

As we’ve seen, there are some issues around ‘faking it until we make it’ for both the freelancer and their clients. I’d strongly recommend you’re honest with your clients if you’re new to the game or trying out a new skill/tool for the first time so you’ve got their full consent, don’t get stressed and don’t let people down.

This week in freelancing: Saying no, isolation and support

I had a tough week in August as a freelancer for various reasons. A local remote worker who works from home all the time called me and put me back on my feet however! Thanks, S.

Saying No

Especially when taking referrals, saying ‘no’ can be extremely difficult. It’s hard to turn paying work away at the best of times, even if we get the feeling it might be an uninspiring or challenging project. When a trusted contact refers you a lot of work, it can be even harder to say no to projects. A potentially complex three-way relationship can form, with roles and boundaries becoming unclear. It’s easy to end up feeling like everyone’s skivvy and end up doing small value, low quality pieces of work. Doing ‘favours’ for the referrer can often backfire too, when time isn’t logged and the value to each party is not apparent.

There’s definitely value in doing strategic jobs, but it’s also common for things to continue in the way they start. That means clients expecting low rate, high faff, menial tasks often stay that way.

Assorted Issues

As I’ve developed my freelance web design and development skills and my rates have risen accordingly, it’s meant letting go of clients with low budgets or who don’t appreciate what I can do for them. Whether it’s micromanaging, haggling or being a support burden, it’s been better for us to go our separate ways.

I do some work for agencies too, and had to stand firm on payment timelines for a recent project after being asked to offer way more credit than I’m comfortable with.

Internal politics on the client side can rear its head in large businesses, which is why I choose to work for small companies where this is less of an issue. Getting involved in a bun-fight between internal factions can lead to cancelled or delayed projects and endless reworking.

As much as small companies try, the kids being off over summer and their day jobs taking all their time and energy can mean projects sliding. This causes problems with calendaring and cashflow on our side.

Isolation and support

I recently broke up with someone, and one of the hardest things to deal with has been the lack of contact during the day. Working from home definitely has its benefits (no commute, no office politics) but it’s easy to spend all week alone. Co-working or even working from cafes can help this, but I often need my big screen and various computers while testing web designs out.

Isolation has hit me this week, with feelings of sadness and pointlessness to go with it. This has impacted my mental state and output. I messaged a remote worker who has been home-working for several years now saying that I wasn’t feeling too good. He called me and the quick chat with him put me back on my feet when I realised that feeling like this is natural and that others often feel the same way. We organised something for the coming weekend too, so I’ve got a social thing to look forward to. I also got out to a local accessibility meetup last night and saw a couple of folks I know which helped.

Summary

So in summary – remember you can always say ‘no’ to projects and be firm about your terms. It’s OK to ask for support from other freelancers and remote workers if you’re working on your own and not feeling so good.