4 Tips for Freelancers to Avoid Taking on That Nightmare Project

A freelance artist makes sound decisions

It's a common horror story among freelancers: the disastrous project that ended up being a horrible fit with their job skills. Perhaps you've had this experience, as well. You took a poor-paying job that was far too basic for your skill level. Or, even worse, you said yes to a high-paying gig that was way over your head.

For freelancers, the consequences of taking the wrong project can hit hard, financially speaking. Take a job that doesn't maximize your capabilities, and you'll be underpaid for your expertise. Take a project you're unprepared for, and you'll spend hours getting up-to-speed or learning a new skill or technique – hours that you probably didn't estimate and therefore can't bill the client for.

Here are four tips to help you avoid those nightmare projects:

1. Make sure your resume and website reflect your current skills
Minimize the chances of being asked to do work that's beneath you by making sure clients have the full picture of the scope of your skills. Clients who don't know of your expertise are more likely to task you with those low-paying nightmare jobs. Update your online portfolio with your most recent projects, and be sure your website and LinkedIn profile are current. Prospects won't know what you're capable of unless you tell them.

2. Understand what skills are in demand in your field
For interactive designers this is particularly challenging, as there's always a new tool, process or technology they need to master. If you work in a specialized field, look to staffing agencies for job and salary reports that reveal the most in-demand positions and best-paying jobs. Information about hot jobs can lead freelancers to projects that match their capabilities and pay well.

3. Upgrade your design skills
When freelancers find themselves spending too much – likely unbillable – time on a nightmare project, it's often because they get in over their heads. Perhaps they have to figure out a new way of preparing files for printing, or they have to learn how to adapt a website design for mobile. Freelancers are largely responsible for their own professional development, but there are plenty of free or inexpensive online resources – webinars, tutorials, blogs – that can teach you the skills you need. Whether you're a graphic designer who wants to expand into user experience design or a web designer who wants to learn coding, a quick web search will reveal countless learning opportunities.

4. Identify the projects you're best suited to
Desperation sometimes prompts freelancers to take on projects that are a poor fit. Sure, everybody has to eat, but identifying quality prospects and building a solid pipeline of upcoming work will lead you to projects where your talents can really shine.

Ultimately, the key for freelancers seeking work that best meets their talents is this: Stay current. By developing new design skills and technologies – and by telling clients about your latest capabilities through ongoing marketing – you'll be well-positioned to land the projects that prompt pleasant dreams, not nightmares.