by Lynn Hendriks

The ins and outs of being a freelance researcher

Universities, government entities, NGO’s, schools, practitioners, small businesses and individual clients regularly seek out the assistance of those who are able to make sense of the large quantities of data that may be existing or to gather new information, for review, analysis and dissemination. The ability to move from one subject matter to the next or to run concurrent projects for many clients is a skill mastered by the freelance researcher.

Targeting a specific industry to conduct research in creates the expectation that one is trained in the field of expertise and has the relevant experience. The corporate industry is mandated to follow supply chain management systems which evaluates respective researchers, whereas NGO’s and individuals usually hire consultants based on recommendations and referral.

Prerequisites of a freelance researcher

Regardless of areas of expertise it is important to consider the following basic skills needed:

  • Some background in research is needed.
  • Internet accessibility and open lines of communication is critical to keep clients up to date with their projects.
  • Social media engagement is necessary for staying up to date in the field as for the branding of your work as a consultant.
  • Strong language skills are necessary to understand information and then summarise it in a way that can be easily disseminated.
  • An eye for detail and the ability to extract information and perform in depth analysis.
  • Knowledge of computer software and programmes.
  • Networking is the key to securing more clients as well as ensuring that good recommendations are passed forward to potential clients.

Contracts and Billing

Most freelance researchers will work with larger organisations who have dedicated departments that are responsible for contracting and billing of the freelancer. These relationships are easy to maintain if the projects are concluded, by the deadline, in a thorough and useful way, and if open lines of communication are upheld throughout the project. Freelance researchers may also find themselves working with individuals, who do not have the luxury of human resources departments, and thus the responsibility of billing and contracting falls onto the shoulders of the researcher.

Important tips for negotiating the relationship with an individual client are:

  • Send the client a formal quotation via email. Usually it is good practice to request a 50% deposit before work commences.
  • Ensure that a contract outlines the project specifications, tasks, deadlines and remuneration is signed by the client before the work commences.
  • Have a plan for individual clients who default on payment and explain this to the client.
  • Keep the client updated on a regular basis as most clients have tight deadlines and need some assurance along the way.
  • Use on online document management system such as Dropbox or Google Drive so that the client can see any updates that is made on their projects. This may only be done with permission from the client.
  • Be available to meet with the client in order to explain findings of the report further.
  • Remember that all information produced for the client is subject to the ethical guidelines of research and remains the intellectual property of the client unless otherwise stated.

The rewards of seeing clients satisfied with a report that makes sense of the mountains of data they may have had for years or the report that provides answers to questions they have spent money and time on exploring is a fulfilling and exciting feeling. As with any other business, the freelancer needs to keep up with the administration of projects, being efficient both with their professional tasks on the project as well as client management, and their own time management,  all which are the keys to mastering the freelancing research world.


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