Freelance Heroes

Aug 02, 2012

Hi, and welcome to the "Freelance Heroes" thread, a place where Articulate Freelancers help each other. Got a question about freelancing? Or perhaps you have an e-learning asset that may be valuable to those "doin' their own thing"? This is the place to share--to give.

To start things off, I'd like to share a short list of questions that help me figure out what kind of training a potential client wants. (So often they have no idea what they want.) The list is far from exhaustive, but may be of some help. Looking forward to meeting you. --Daniel  

1293 Replies
Bruce Graham


I'm in the UK, and Hiscox quote was twice the others per year for the same cover!

I have only ever been asked to have it once, so now do.

It's for situations as above, and (for example):

"I build a course on (for example) - "Working Safety at Height"...someone falls out of a crane and kills themselves....the course is reviewed...the company lawyers decide one word was missing....despite the course being agreed and signed off (because the correct people always do this....right...?)....they decide it's all my fault".

That's the sort of thing it covers.


Andrew Sellon

Interesting, Bruce!  Hiscox was the lowest of the three quotes I obtained here in NY; I don't know if it's a question of country, or timing, or both, but that's further evidence that people should stick to the classic rule when choosing a contractor: always get at least three quotes from reputable providers to see what the range could be for the same coverage.

Jeanne Bernui

Hi All,

I came across this link in another forum and thought I would post it here in case you haven't seen it.  I'm a big fan of Cathy Moore, but somehow missed this:

It sums up a conversation I have with clients all the time about the use of audio in elearning, and I'm sure the rest of you have similar conversations...


Daniel Brigham

Thanks, Jeanne:

That brief presentation is a good reminder that audio can slow the learner down and make it harder to skip information that they already know. Judicious use of audio is best, and as designers (and voiceover artists) we should understand why we employ audio.

To overgeneralize, I'd say that audio is very good at emotion, conversation, and creating a sense of place. I also liked Moore's point about how audio can help explain a complex graphic. Thanks again for the post. --Daniel

shahid saif

E Wickwire said:

Thanks, Bruce.

Regarding software, "I don't know." I'm here because my sense is this community is replete with skilled developers, which is my need.

My project is a small elearning project related to patient education, with up to 8 2-4 minute interactive videos/animations. Eventually, these will be sandwiched by me on camera, 15-second intro and outro for each clip.

I am the subject matter expert, and I have all the content outlined, including a number of slides. My need is for a skilled developer to confirm or improve my strategy, help me refine tactics (ie, interactivity, animations, etc), and then deliver, ie execute the graphics and interactive technology.

I am ready to begin the consultative phase now and the delivery phase as soon as we've confirmed the vision. For a pro, this project will be a snap. Depending on the success of the initial project, there could be additional follow-on work as well.

Again, I'm in Baltimore.

Any suggestions?

hello E Wickwire many thanks for the latest info. All information very nice and very help ful . once again many thanks.

Belen Casado

@Jeanne, thanks for sharing that link, I think that it's key what it's said in it... 

Some companies I know follow this rule: if the course is for low-level staff or people not used to study alone, it has more audio. If the course is for high-level staff with degrees, then it has less audio and they let the learner go at their own pace...

Well, food for thought anyway!

Bruce Graham

I think this question has several points.

I agree that sometimes "text is fine". I also remember that "text is fine" is what was said to my sister by a publisher when, many years ago, she wrote a book. In the 3 years that it took her, colour images began to appear in the book genre of her choice, so that by the time she was ready to publish, none of her potential audience wanted the book any more.

I think, so some extent, the same may be true of "The Web". I appreciate completely that tons of people learn from "silent" sites etc. however, more and more of the audience come to expect audio/speech.

Whilst Cathy and the other theoreticians postulate about learning theory, I see very few arguments that even talk about the expectations of web/online users in this regard.

To me, well-spoken, articulate (excuse the pun), and learning-enhancing v/o is a must-have, but then - as that is what I do for a living I would - wouldn't I?!

Personally, I find most silent online learning dull and tedious. That's not to say that I do not look at the (silent) BBC site for my news, or read (silent) articles on instructional design, however, there is an invisible threshold that my brain crosses into "learning", where I need to have a voice as accompaniment.

If our increasingly web/content-savvy audience do not relate to what we produce, we will lose them, so we may have to produce with audio just to keep up with expectations, whether the well-read and theoretically correct experts agree or not.

Just my 2p worth.

As Paul Weller said - "The Public wants what the public gets..." (Going Underground - The Jam)

I know he also said that "...the public gets what the public wants...", but I could not find a good way to fit that into my argument


Belen Casado

Reading @Bruce I've thought about another thing that is key: when there's a lot of voice over, I expect animation too. It's like watching TV. This made me think about this example:

You can see here how important is the voice over but also you can see that, without the images, the final product could also be boring.

What do you think about the balance between audio and animation?

Daniel Brigham


As an ID who does a lot of voiceover, I hope the courses continue to use more VO. At the same time, I also think that good doses of relative silence throughout the course enhance the impact of a skilled voiceover artist.

Clients like sound, probably because they relate it to activity. Here's what a recent client pretty much shouted at me during a course review: "Daniel, I don't want ANY silence ANYWHERE!" So I added a background track even to the quiz questions.

Sometimes I feel I'm getting paid to shut up and listen. Which sort of makes sense.

Bruce Graham

Daniel - I broadly agree.

I think that silence can be used VERY powerfully in conjunction with a well-written, clear and very searching question.

Silence can almost leave someone "hanging", waiting for an answer that actually happens in their heads, and leaves some unresolved tension.


PS - always voice quiz questions - I do not "get" having a v/o all the way through and then having a silent quiz. It all seems very non-congruent from a design perspective to me.

Karyn Lemberg

I think the main point is that everything in a course should be relevant. and work together. I know that both Bruce and Daniel do provide relevant and concise V/O - but I've had to put together waaaayyy too many so-called e-learnings that were basically no more than an online textbook which was read to you - often by an annoying voice-- (yes my employee was just tossing it to people who had nothing to do at the time regardless of how horrible they were). and having to review these multiple times for edits etc was excruciating to me-- but I was working for an employer that wanted it that way.... It kind of turned me off "having" to always have audio.

At least now, with freelance, I have more say in the matter... now its just the clients that say they want it all read word for word...grr . and yes - just did a sub-contract for someone that was 180 narrated slides put together in a Camtasia (so you cant even skip)...Hope they give out a lot of coffee with that one!!

Whether a person likes audio or not, also relates to individual learning styles -- the best courses will be inclusive of at least the minimum of Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic. (if you like online tests -try this: )

I know I'm mostly a Visual learner and when given a choice will quite often turn the audio off to be able to concentrate more on the visuals - and my strength is also in the graphic design side of things...and I also have an animation background, which makes interactivity important as well.

I sometimes wonder - is the increase in needing audio to do with the generation that wants it all NOW, quick and fast, (to lazy to read?)... and perhaps related to declining literacy skills overall (in some places)?

Bruce Graham

Karyn Lemberg said:

I sometimes wonder - is the increase in needing audio to do with the generation that wants it all NOW, quick and fast, (to lazy to read?)... and perhaps related to declining literacy skills overall (in some places)?

Maybe reading is being replaced, (from an evolutionary perspective...), by quick and fast auditory/visual?

Humans ARE still evolving, and I feel that perhaps the "need to read" is the equivalent of people who said that (paper) newspapers would always be around.

Just sayin'


Jeanne Bernui

I agree that personal preference is always an issue, but there's research out there about split attention and audio's role in that.  I think we always need to look at what's best practice and what's the most effective way to help the learner process, and ideally transfer, the learning.  Sometimes that is better served with audio.  Sometimes not.  Every situation is different.  Mayer and Moreno have done research on multimedia and learning, and Ruth Clark summarizes many of these studies in her books.  There are too many references to list, but a simple Google search of their names will bring up their work if anyone is not familiar and interested.  

Here's an interesting "lessons learned" article from Learning Solutions on narration:

As a consultant, I feel that it's my responsibility to educate my clients on elearning best practices (which, as well all know, are evolving as the field matures and evolves).  Whether or not they choose to follow those practices all the time, or to compromise on some, is their decision.  I just want to make sure they know what the current research evidence is, and how that impacts their learners.  My belief is that just because they want audio, I shouldn't just automatically use it without considering the content, learning outcomes, learners and, if I think audio is not appropriate for some or all of the content, I explain to my client why I think that and what evidence backs that up.  Again, the decision is ultimately theirs.  They're the customer.  

I think we all agree that there is never a cookie-cutter solution, and it's good to be aware of options, research, current best practices, and theory... and keep all of those things in our toolboxes, just like we do with software tools.

Daniel Brigham

Hi, Heroes:

I'd like to share a nugget that newly minted freelancers may find helpful. I found it in Dana and James Robinson's book, Performance Consulting, which I recommend.

Nugget: You have the most influence on a client as you are formulating your contract (determining their needs and wants, figuring out the scope of work, creating a statement of work, etc.). This the time to bring forth your needs and how you like to work. Your much more likely to get the things you want, if you skillfully bring them up while the contract is being formulated.

Seems to me sort of like dating, but I'll stop there. If you have any other contracting/consulting nuggets or recs for consulting books, I'm all ears. Hope things are well. --Daniel

Bruce Graham

GREAT post/observation.

The timing of this is essential - because you need to do it after you know enough about their business and needs, yet before you get to agreement/contract/production schedule etc.

One of the most important things I would recommend is the process for how you will handle project foul-ups. I know no-one likes to talk about it, however, my personal imperative is that there are "no surprises..." from either side.

If you can get this level of agreement, you will often find it increases the level of trust you have in each other. Once that is established, EVERYTHING becomes easier.

Excellent post Daniel - very useful.


Bruce Graham

Well - here's the thing.......

I have never worked within a legal contract in my entire freelance career.

Over here, people do not request/require them so much. I have never been asked to work within one, it is based much more around relationship management, discussions, emails with plans etc., Minutes of planning calls etc.

Maybe I have just been lucky?

That makes it much easier, or at least a normal extension of the discussions to talk about the "pear-shapers", in fact, to talk about anything.

So "yes", I will talk about the "causes of cock-up...", and where the risks lie.


Daniel Brigham

You are fortunate, and I'll certainly keep that mind next time I'm ringed up by a Brit client. Much time over here is spent on ironing out contracts.

I think I might work more of my assumptions in my contracts. Something like "this statement of work is based on the following assumptions" and then state them. That'll make it easier to renegotiate if (for no fault of my own) those assumptions turn out to be faulty.

Sarah Noll Wilson

Great nugget to share!  I always appreciate hearing others "aha" moments and even better when there is a resource shared so I can explore on my own. 

While I am still relatively new to both the world of external and internal consulting, one resource which has been incredible valuable is "Flawless Consulting - A guide to getting your expertise used" by Peter Block.  There are many great tips and tools in this book.  For me one of the most impactful nuggets was defining your role as the consultant early on.  He defines three role types: Expert Role (client is looking to you for guidence, direction etc), Pair of Hands (client knows what they want and need you to execute task), or Collaborative (true partnership between consultant and client).  We each have a preference in the type of role we want to play and there are advantages and disadvantages for each role.  That being said it is critical to define up front so it diminishes potential for conflict. I have found this benefical both in my work with external clients as well as internal.  If I prefer the expert role, but the client really wants me to be a pair of hands, this could lead to some challenging situations. 

What do others think?

John Cooper

Having lived in the US many years ago I do kind of miss that flexible, open relationship with clients.   Unfortunately here in the UK we have to take great care over the contract - not because of the client particularly.  As has been pointed out, the needs analysis phase is the best time to get the business relationship planned out.... 

...But we have somewhat restrictive government intervention here.  In particular, there is some legislation that UK freelancers live in fear of - referred to as IR35.  The history is somewhat shameful.

Some high profile organisations and their senior managers devised a legal way of avoiding paying national insurance (healthcare) taxes.  By forming a limited company and contracting their services back to their employer,  very well-paid executives were able to pay themselves a low salary (and hence incur low national insurance tax) and take their earnings as company dividends which attract only Corporation taxes. (This much is not a problem exclusive to the UK! - you have this in the US as well).

The UK government response was to introduce a legislative 'test' that ALL freelancers - whether acting as sole traders or limited companies have to abide by.  The test is based, not simply on the terms of the written contract, but how the contract operates.  If the government deems the terms to be that of 'employment' as opposed to a 'service contract' then the freelancer AND the client can be fined and have to pay retrospective taxes over the entire life of the contract....  So we pay very close attention to how we work with our clients!!

If any UK freelancers would like a paper explaining IR35 and the legal;position - please feel free to contact me...


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