It’s time for another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast. And thanks for finding me here. Whether you’re in my facebook group, Mastering Your Freelance Life with Laura, discovered my freelance services on LinkedIn, or found me through my website betterbizacademy.com, I’m thrilled that you’re here. It’s my mission to make freelancing something that you enjoy doing,  Something that fits into the rest of your life so that you can optimize your business and your goals as much as possible and feel really confident about how you approach your business and how you choose to scale it.

Today, I want to talk about why test projects are so important.

Yes, even for those advanced freelancers. I’d argue that test projects are more important for advanced freelancers than even beginners because we have to be choosy about who we work with. And test projects are an excellent opportunity to see if the client likes you. And if you like the client.

One common mistake that a lot of freelancers make is to think about this as only a “one way” transaction of trying to prove yourself to the client and show just how great you are so that they’re thrilled to potentially work with you on a bigger project or on retainer. But do not neglect to think about how freelance test projects actually help you decide whether or not to work with this person.

In fact, there are a big reason why I use test projects as a freelance writer all the time now as a freelancer.

This is especially true if I’ve done a phone call with somebody and I’m not entirely sure that they’re going to be the right fit for me or the way that I do business. Now, they might be thinking of it as, “Oh, this is great. Like we get to work together. And that way, I’m not committed long term if I don’t like this particular freelancer.”  But I’m thinking about it from another perspective.  I want to see their style of communication. And I want to see if the project is even worth my time. That way I have an easy out if this is not the right fit for me.

In fact, I’ve done several test projects.  Most recently over this past summer that just did not work out.  They didn’t work out not because the client was unhappy, but because I didn’t want to continue working with them. And that saved me a lot of headaches or that feeling of guilt that I had to continue working with someone.

Now it might seem crazy to you.  And you might be thinking, “If somebody offers me a three month contract and I don’t know if I like working for them or not, I should just take it because that’s three months of income that’s very predictable.” I can understand feeling that way. But it can be much more beneficial to know that you’re working with a nightmare client on a short term limited basis before agreeing to work with them for a longer period of time.

And it has the added bonus of being a great sales technique of showing how wonderful you are to work with. So a client that’s on the fence or maybe thinks that your rates are a little too high, could be persuaded into working with you just based on the experience that you provide in test projects.

So let’s dive into why test projects are so valuable. First of all, test projects, keep things

First they are small and manageable. When you define a test project, it’s usually either something that the client has specified very clearly in writing or it’s something that you propose. So a virtual assistant, for example, might take on a one-time project to create a social media calendar for the month.  Or perhaps provide five hours of their services to see whether or not it’s a fit.

As a writer, I often take on test projects that involve me working on one small blog or piece of content.  I am writing for them with very clear expectations about how long that project is going to be, how much it’s going to cost them, etc. It keeps things small and manageable and really does guard against problems like “scope creep”, because I’m specifically saying, “Let’s work together on a trial basis or for a test project. Here’s what that test project looks like.”

Now your rates might be higher or different for the test project.  Because you’re not working on retainer, that’s yet another reason for the client to consider deciding to work with you over the long run. They might realize that they will get some sort of a discount for purchasing ongoing services, but that your one time trial rate, because you have to do extra things like getting to know the client, reviewing their guidelines and expectations, and only to deliver a one time project might be different.

With that in mind, though, keep the test project small and manageable. Don’t take on something that’s going to require 20 hours worth of your work.  Try to make it meaningful for what you’re hoping to accomplish.

The second reason that I love test projects is that they are a trial on both sides.

Sure, this is your chance to step up to the plate and show the client everything that you have to offer. And of course, you want to do a good job. You want to show them why it’s so wonderful working with you. So aspects beyond the quality of your work are really important when delivering test project.

The work should be delivered on time.  You should make it easy for the client to work with you. And you should ask all questions at the outset of the project. But it’s a trial on your side as well. It gives you a chance to learn things like:

  • How do they communicate with you?

  • Does their team seem very disorganized?

  • Are their expectations for the rate involved way out of line with what you expected?

I’ll give you a great example here. I recently worked with a client that had a decent rate per piece. But the amount of work required, they wanted me to listen to phone calls with the client. They wanted me to review long brand expectations. They had big content guidelines to look at. And they also wanted three rounds of revisions. So that ended up not making sense.

And I’m definitely glad that I knew that information working on a test project rather than committing to working with them on an ongoing basis. So that’s what you’re looking for. as a freelancer. You’re trying to provide them with a lot of great evidence of why they should continue to work with you beyond the trial project should you want to do so. But you’re also looking to see is this someone I can see myself working with long term.

The third reason I love test projects, they allow you to set boundaries very early on.

The client learns what it’s like to work with you. And when something is outside the scope of reason. So if you’re working on a test project, and you turn in a piece, and they wait two weeks to review it, and then demand that you incorporate changes within 12 hours. That’s a good thing for you to see in the test project. It also gives you a chance to say, “Okay, this isn’t really what I was expecting and working together. Normally, I need a couple of days to be able to implement revisions. And I haven’t been able to block this into my schedule, because I haven’t heard from you for two weeks.” So you might still be able to salvage that relationship by telling them why it’s a problem. And if they’re totally unreasonable, you can wrap up the project and not ever work with them again.

Now finally, test projects allow you to review aspects of the client that might not be a fit.

Now, they might not understand the reasons why you’re declining to work with them if you decide that’s what’s best for you. I like to keep it simple and generic sharing at the end of a test projects that I don’t intend to continue working with them.  I explain that it’s simply not the right fit for me or my business.  You want to allow them to find someone who might be a better fit for them.

Your client might think that just the very fact that they’re offering you money in and of itself should encourage you to take the project on an ongoing basis or to take more work from them. But that’s not always the case. As freelancers we get to decide what we will and won’t do and who we will and won’t work with.

So one of the important aspects of this could be that you have a project minimum.  Maybe you did great on the test project and the client is thrilled with the work you did, but their project on an ongoing basis is only $200 a month.  That might be far too small for you to stick with and to continue making an effort to communicate with them and keep things organized.  The client might not understand it because they’re thinking, “Hey, it’s an extra $200 a month. And I paid you on time.  I showed I was easy to work with.”  But if that project is too small for you to fit into your schedule and requires too much work for that $200, you might choose to pass after the test project. So just be prepared to rely on that line of saying this isn’t a good fit for your business model at this point in time. That’s a really good one to come back to in these situations.

So let’s talk about how to suggest a test project.

First of all, narrow it down to one small piece of what they want done or a one week trial. I recently took on a client where it didn’t make sense to do a per piece rate.  It really needed to be hourly because of the kind of work he was requesting. So I said, “What if we work together for one weeka and I think that a reasonable outcome from that would be a document that looks like this. And then from there, we’ll decide whether or not to continue working together.”

That helps scale it down. So my client felt more confident about partnering with me and knew that his losses would be limited if the project were a disaster. So even if I turned out not to be the right fit for him, I still gave him a heads up on the type of output he could expect to receive during that one week. And he could cut his losses at that point and run and still not have anything.  He’d still have something substantial that he could use, but he wouldn’t be locked into working with me on an ongoing basis before knowing it was a fit. So try to narrow it down to one small piece of what the person wants done or a one week trial.

The second thing to do when suggesting a test project is to clarify the cap of what this will cost or the number of hours it is limited to.

To circle back to my example of the client that I started with. I said, “I’m not going to work any more than eight hours on your project that will give you a chance to review what I’ve completed to give me a better idea of the scope of this project overall. And what allows you to decide whether or not to continue.” So he felt confident in knowing kind of what that budget was going to be at the beginning.  And I felt comfortable that I wasn’t agreeing to something that would be far more substantial and too involved for me to really know what was going on.

So when you’re working on a project that could become very complicated or involve a lot of hours, the test project is a really good chance to get grounded in it. And to understand, “Okay, here’s what I think will be necessary to get this done.” Imagine someone asks you to edit their book, taking on a small piece of that, such as a number of pages, or one chapter will also tell you how much time is likely to be involved in editing the rest of the book because you’re looking at one small piece of the bigger puzzle. So try to clarify what that cap will be and what it will cause.

Clients love knowing upfront that they’re not going to have to pay more than a certain amount for a piece or for a set number of hours of work. Because part of their hesitation and working with you might be that they don’t know what it’s going to cost them. So it’s much easier to come back and say, “Hey, I’ve edited five pages of this book.  It took me this many hours. Based on what you’ve told me about the final word count, I’d  estimate that for me to edit the whole thing it would be this amount and it would take me this long.” So it helps the client to decide if you’re the right fit or not, while also showcasing the value in what you provided in that smaller piece.

Finally, explain to the client that this is a limited engagement and that you’ll circle back after the fact. I like to use terms like “I’m happy to help you out with this short term project to see if we’re a fit.” It says that I’m not committing to working with you long term. I don’t know if I have enough information yet to decide whether we should continue working together. So this is a test project that goes both ways, because I’m trying to decide if I want to continue working with you as well. Using those terms and referencing them to the client while also positioning that this is a value add for them because they get to test you out and see the quality of your work often puts people at ease. And usually if you can step up to the plate and deliver a really amazing test project, and the client is happy and you’re happy, it is easier to convert them into working on retainer.

Test projects can be an extremely valuable way to grow your business. And to avoid working with clients on a long term basis who just aren’t the right fit for you. I love using test projects for advanced freelancers because 9 times out of 10 you already have the skills and ability to make the client thrilled. But it’s about you deciding if this a partnership you want to take on while also showing that amazing value and talent that you have.

So I’d love for you to take from this episode how to use test projects and to think about how you can use them with clients who are kind of on the fence.  Maybe aren’t ready to sign a retainer yet!  You can really increase your conversions by using test projects as this tool.

Thanks for listening to another episode of the Advanced Freelancing podcast. If this episode was helpful for you, I’d love to help other freelancers find my podcast and listen to it as well. Please consider signing into Apple podcast and leaving me a review in there on iTunes. It really helps the iTunes algorithm show this podcast and its episodes to other people. Thanks again.

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