Freelancing has its advantages - don't get me wrong; however, many people want to be reassured that they are dealing with a big company. Since I can't possibly provide this, how can I mitigate these problems?

  • I know my finances are sound, but how can I reassure the client that I am not going to disappear tomorrow?
  • How can I word contracts so they don't appear to come from single person, yet aren't deceptive?
  • Is it ok for me to "hide" that I am, ultimately, small time, even though I pour my heart and soul into this?

I know my finances are sound, but how can I reassure the client that I am not going to disappear tomorrow

You can't, because there is no guarantee. You could get hit by a bus tomorrow and you and the client need to be prepared for the possibility.

How can I word contracts so it doesn't look like a single person but isn't being deceptive

You shouldn't. The client should know that it's a one-man show and if they know they shouldn't care if that is shown on the contract—on the contrary, the contract should reflect your situation, otherwise you might get yourself into real trouble.

As an example: big companies are usually not dependent on one employee and they can carry out the contract even if one of the key employees can't continue with the project, but you should negotiate a force majeure clause that lets you void the contract with no or minimal penalties if you get hit by a bus and break both your arms.

Is it ok for me to "hide" that I am, ultimately small time even though I pour my heart and soul into this?

Personally I think that trying to give the impression that you are more than one person is not ok, especially if you are selling your personal skills and commitment. Companies are accustomed to hiring individual talent. It's better not to give false impression if you can't live up to it if need be ("You broke both your arms? Can you just pass the project to your coworkers? No? But you said you were 100% sure your company could meet the deadline!")

It's somewhat different if you sell something like an online service through a web site where you might not want to emphasize the size of the content provider.

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  • Ambiguous or untrue language can only hurt you, the contract is there to protect. You wouldn't want a car who's airbags have weak spots in them. Don't create weak spots by being dishonest or misleading. – Brian Mar 5 '14 at 15:21

Directly acknowledge that you are a single individual, and provide a continuity plan for your client in case you become unavailable. This means asking the right questions:

  • How can I reassure the client that I am not going to disappear tomorrow? You can't. You can't even reassure yourself, if you're honest. But you can provide your client a continuity plan to reassure them that someone else can pick up where you left off if necessary. Document your work as you go (not just at the project's end). Use source control and ensure your client has full, up-to-date access to all your work for them.

  • How do I not look like a single person? Don't try. Acknowledge who you are. Remind your client that even for a full-time employee, they need a contingency for if he gets "hit by a bus". Then circle back to that continuity plan.

  • How do I make them trust that I'll be there for them? You can't. However, you can earn that trust over time. When practical, start small. A customer will be less hesitant to try a lone wolf on a limited-scope project. Use the project to be awesome and show your reliability. This will make you appealing for larger projects, even without a big team behind you.

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The way I do things is to make sure that although I am one individual, I am working in a community of consultants doing related work. This means a number of things:

  1. If the job gets bigger I can recommend other consultants to bring on board in addition
  2. If I go out of business, my clients have a ready pool for other consultants

I have had cases where clients did lose key individuals (even employees) due to unexpected deaths, etc. In general, the key is how quickly they can bring someone else on and bring them up to speed. This means making sure that the client knows that they can pay for you to spend extra time on documentation to help with this contingency planning, and the like.

In the end though, most of the time it isn't really too bad. If you have a commodity skill set, you are replaceable. If you have a specialized skill set, there is usually somewhere folks can find replacements (like, where they found you!), and so this isn't the end of the world.

The few exceptions are where there are long-term implications regarding support for business-critical infrastructure. Early in my business I bid on a few PBX (Phone system) implementation contracts which I didn't get for that reason. The customers wanted someone more local than my replacements could be, with a larger guarantee, and so they went with larger companies. It's a totally legit call in that case.

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In short you can't and you shouldn't try. This it how it looks, that big companies are working with big companies, and small companies are working with small companies.

It's of course depending on what you do, if the big company needs translator for some market marginal for them, they will probably consider hiring freelancer than calling big translation company. But if they need to translate thousands of invoices daily, they will either cooperate with big company or start their own translation department.

Of course big companies and big contracts means big money. But it's not only big earnings, but also enormous penalties for exceeding deadlines, SLAs etc. Many big companies have gone insolvent because of such penalties! I know of many middle-size companies claiming they would never sign a contract with big companies because the risk is too big!

Please note that every company can check her partner before signing contract, and the big companies will certainly do that. So they will know the type of company you are, the staring capital, the number of people employed etc. Even if your finances are very sound, you'll still qualify as less-than-1-million-$-company.

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How can I word contracts so it doesn't look like a single person but isn't being deceptive

Is it ok for me to "hide" that I am, ultimately small time even though I pour my heart and soul into this?

I would certainly add to and answer the comments that have been added by people where you don't want to look like a single person business. The idea is that you ARE a single person business, and should be proud of this fact

You will want to display/promote your competency with project management, and demonstrate this to potential clients, maybe even providing references to previous projects.

A freelance programmer designer is neither 'big-time' or 'small-time', they are just 'freelance'.

Sometimes a client maybe happier with the fact that you are a one-person business, it can make things a bit more personal for them. Ultimately any business will know that you will want to do a good job on the project as, at the end of the day, it is only your neck/reputation on the line.

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