While freelancing for a living is empowering and gives you control over your work-life balance, the work you do, the clients you work with and the level of work you take on, it’s important to maintain professional standards. When you do, clients will want to work with you and will keep coming back for more.
Existing Clients First
No matter how much work I have and no matter how busy, I will always prioritise the work of existing clients over searching for new clients. It escapes me to understand why freelancers would think in any other terms, treating clients as just another job to rush through the system in search of the next. To do otherwise demonstrates fickleness that clients will certainly not appreciate. Long-term clients are prize assets to the survival of any small business be they LLC with a generous handful of shareholders or a one-person freelance band.
Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep
Even when pushed, you shouldn’t promise the world if you can’t deliver it. Being upfront and honest is not just a matter of personal integrity, it’s a matter of professional integrity too. If I tell you I will deliver on Monday then, barring illness of problems with other work, it will be delivered on Monday. If I can’t make a deadline (and I’ll pull out all the stops to make a promised deadline) then I will tell you beforehand.
It doesn’t take much to write “Hello, just a brief email to update you on progress…” Few people are too busy to spend a minute or two engaging in a matter of personal or professional courtesy. Clients appreciate updates, especially when it comes to big projects or a deadline is nearing. Communication makes you seem professional and conscientious about the client spending their money with you.
This means different things to different people but in its simplest form it means putting the customer first – tailoring a service to their needs and delivering. It need not be more complicated than that. Of course, the customer is not 100% of your consideration because sometimes you have the ability to reject “customers” who are trying to rip you off, get out of paying, and those who expect something for nothing. But treat a good customer well and they will continue to be a good customer.
Put It Right
Mistakes happen. I make mistakes even now some five years into my freelancing career. The majority of my clients don’t ask for (and don’t need) a second draft on my content. Some require a small amount of changes but for a tiny number, it’s never going to be quite right. When this happens, you simply have to keep going until you get it right or the client decides you are not the right freelancer for them and cancel the work. Some are deliberately difficult and picky, but these are a minority. Most simply want you to get it right so they can do with it whatever they need and then pay you.
You’ll occasionally get clients who aren’t sure of what they need. Some know precisely what they want and are not afraid to ask for it. Patience is the key to dealing with those just beginning to negotiate the minefield of hiring a freelancer. Some clients will take a lot of negotiation, back and forth, thrashing out minor details. Sometimes they will contact you months in advance and work will depend heavily on investors and cash flow, especially for start ups. Don’t nag or pester for work although a reminder won’t hurt. Patience is your greatest asset.
It’s a sad fact that people just don’t listen to each other any more, or that they listen to respond rather than listen to understand. Look at any Facebook page covering contentious issues, even minor issues, to see how easily such things descend into flame war over minor points or things people did not say but others assume they meant. Listening to a client indicates attention to detail, that you care about their work and that you care about your reputation.