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How one world-class criminal changed the way I freelance
21 May, 2022

How one world-class criminal changed the way I freelance

The moment I walked into my freelance life; I knew a dark path awaits me. I also knew I could turn the other way and work with amazing clients to their satisfaction. One of the dramatic questions ringing in my head from the beginning was how criminals with "clients" tag control naive freelancers. I wanted to spot them and avoid them as much I could. I was naive, I had no freelance experience. 
It was in 2008, summer precisely.  I planned to quit my full-time job and start working from home. Just like many would do before they decide to change their career path, I looked into the pros and cons of freelancing and got to discover “clients from hell”. It was the usual stories about clients refusing to pay freelancers. I was like, “I can deal with that!” but can I? Well, Welcome! I said to myself, "The flexibility you so much wanted has just begun. Now start freelancing!"

Freelance lesson 101
“Shhh, listen. hear that? that's the sound of your checks bouncing.” — Reddington from the Blacklist. The most dramatic of them all, one wouldn’t expect Reddington to just come in and say "I have your money." One-liners like the above are of the tricks he uses to catch the attention of his enemy and get them to know how severe the situation he put them in is. “Shhh, listen. hear that? that's the sound of your pending invoice bouncing” — Clients from hell. When a client starts manipulating a freelancer to get more done for less, especially after an agreement has been reached and payment deposited into escrow, the job can quickly become mentally, physically, financially, and emotionally draining. Should I raise a dispute? Continue working to let peace reign or just ignore everything without jeopardizing my future work? These are a few questions many naive freelancers often ask once they get stuck in such a circle.
Learning fictional characters and how they manipulate people can help one understand ways some of their tactics align with how criminally-minded clients function in reality. They have one thing in common — The signs. Mostly there all along. Do not mistake warning signs with project challenges. Every project has its challenges. One of the challenges may be working with a client that lives in a different time zone. 
When a freelancer is being insulted or emotionally berated, asked to make unlimited revisions without a clear explanation of why the first was not accepted, and no additional pay, that is a sign right there. Often, these signs are right at the beginning — on their job posts; often generic, with low budget, and requiring too many skills set in one freelancer. In cases like this, I do ignore the would-be manipulator by not submitting a proposal.

Learned Freelance lesson 101 at the masters' feet
I once worked for a very unpredictable client and ended up learning at the masters' feet. While working on his project, he disappeared. The hunt for "John Doe" was a difficult one. I gave up. It does change my work dynamic but never influences how much I care about my work, the startups, and the people who hire me to get their jobs done. Fourteen months passed, he showed up. 
Unfortunately, putting everything back together may not be possible after "John Doe" appeared. "Where are my deliverables?" He asked. If our chat had no timestamp, one may believe the last time we had a discussion was yesterday. It would be difficult to put the genie back into the bottle.
Nonetheless, “John Doe” made me understand my limitations. I was not the skilled full-stack developer I am now. I had two years of experience in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, and Python then. Despite not having the experience needed to get the job done, I submitted my proposal, and he hired me. So often, freelancers still make these mistakes. They overestimate their skills and misapply their talent. As a freelancer, understanding my limitations consistently is wisdom.

After lessons, comes the aftermath
I wished I could have asked, “what happened?” Why show up after fourteen months?”. He could have been sick, in jail, or something and could not reach out to me even if he wanted to. The work I did for "John Doe" was far from perfect, but I could have saved it on Dropbox or Google Drive but I didn't. I allowed anger to take a better part of me, I deleted it.
So why is "John Doe" a criminal? He made several “pivots” of which he blamed me for it. How he manipulated me to accept each new project scope is extraordinary. He is that good, had me right under his palms. Gradually, I started to hate my freelance career and nearly picked up a full-time job, and boom! “John Doe” disappeared. I heaved a sigh of relief.

How I broaden my new horizon
I had to accept the reality of my situation. The whole scenario made me aware that my freelance life is constantly at risk, I have made peace with it. Instead of dwelling on fear, I choose to enjoy my freelance life to the fullest as Raymond Redington does but on a super tight budget lol. Raymond travels the whole world on his private jet, booked five-star hotels, etc. While I cannot afford what it means to enjoy like Red’s does, having a work-life balance is a blessing. 
Criminals know they will eventually get caught. Therefore, they hardly care about their life. Raymond Reddington is quite different; he values his life and is grateful for each day he is alive. He often reminds people around him to feel that way. For a freelancer like me, valuing my life helps me work better each day by adding more value to life. One area I do focus on is my time.
Like John C. Maxwell's quote “time is more valuable than money because it’s irreplaceable”, It is one the most important things to make the best of because once it’s gone, it’s gone. Therefore, I work on ways to be proactive in making sure I am spending my time, skills, and energy on the right freelance jobs and relationships. 
Whenever I’m hired for a project, I focus on what’s important and what’s meaningful to the person that hired me for it. One needs good communication skills to pull that off. I tend to use scenarios and even stories to gain some insights.  I picked that from Red.
Raymond Reddington deserves some accolades when it comes to storytelling. He flows like a wizard and can easily resonate with anyone with his terrific stories.
I may not be a superb storyteller like Red but I understand how important it is to show clear details of my work progress to my client. For future sake, I document codes to make them easy to understand so the next developer my clients may probably work with in the future will not find them difficult to understand. 
The success of startups, small and medium-sized businesses is a process that lies in the future. However, it is what they do now that shapes the future. This is why startup founders and business owners prefer hiring highly skilled freelance developers that can build a scalable and stable product. They do not end there; they look out for loyalty too.
One of the main qualities freelancers need to work with startup founders, small and medium-sized businesses is loyalty. "Value loyalty above all else." That’s Red’s motto. Yes, he is a criminal but owns businesses. Red is careful about the people he does business with just like several business owners, startup founders, etc. Freelancers spend so much energy on building their portfolios and reviews. Good-paying potential clients and employers look beyond that. If I could put my clients before myself and stick with them in good and bad times, that’s loyalty. I’ve done that severally and have reaped the reward tenfold even with my “not so nice” clients. The relationship between a freelancer and an employer or client is changing. Your freelance skills, portfolio, and experience can help you get a freelance job but your loyalty stands a better chance of making that contact a reoccurring one.
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