Freelancers would not exist without their clients. While, as a beginning freelancer, you may struggle to get your name circulating through your chosen industry, it’s the work that occurs after your initial marketing that has the power to influence the kind of clients you appeal to. In order to be a freelancer, and regardless of your field, you have to maintain certain expectations in order to ensure that you can build your clients’ trust and continue to receive their business. Consider the following as you move forward and establish yourself within the freelancing field, and remember: it’s your reputation that you’re cultivating here as well as your future business.
Professional Appearance and First Impressions
Creating a positive first impression requires you to put an exceptional amount of work into looking effortlessly at ease and confident while performing not only work you’re comfortable with but any work that a client would have you engaging in over the course of your partnership. This appearance of professionalism can be amplified, of course. A well-designed landing page, eloquent emailing tone, and friendly personal appearance all contribute to your potential client’s first impression of you. The core of a professional appearance, though, is genuine confidence. Be proud of the work that you do, and share your positive stories with your potential clients. Express to them the ways you’re excited to take on their work and how a particular project will benefit the both of you. Regardless of what has been said about not judging a book by its cover, your client will judge you first by the appearance of your work and yourself. Ensure, before reaching out to anyone you wish to work with, that the advertising tools you have at your disposal are as presentable as you can make them and that you treat your client with the utmost respect. Your client will come away from this initial meeting feeling confident in your ability to complete the task they’ve assigned to you.
In the vein of respectability comes a well-tailored portfolio of work. Sharing previous clients’ reviews and projects — with permission — on an easily accessible forum allows your future clients to do the necessary research to determine whether or not you’re the right freelancing partner for them to reach out to. Portfolios can take on a variety of forms, but they should all display ways in which you went above and beyond the call of duty with your previous clients. Emphasize creativity, timeliness, dedication, and flexibility. Feel free to include a few samples of partnerships that didn’t work out, as well, so long as the partnerships ended amicably; humbleness in the face of a challenge is not frowned upon, and the maturity to allow a client to seek other avenues will let your future clients be assured of your responsibility as a partner.
Understand the Client’s Needs
Determining what a client needs and how you, as a freelancer, can meet those needs, should be part of your initial conversations with said client, but maintaining that clarity over the course of a partnership is also essential to securing a client’s trust. To begin, outline what, precisely, you as a freelancer are capable of. Your client may ask you to perform a task that is outside of your standard skill set but that you can still accomplish — if so, work with them to ensure that exactly what they want from you is clear and that, if necessary, the two of you can collaborate to guarantee that the work you deliver is the work that they want. Frequently check in with your client, as well, offering to share drafts of your work, if appropriate. Consider using project management software that you can share with your client, that way you’ll both be able to maintain transparency by watching your work progress. By keeping lines of communication open, your client will not only be able to have a better grasp of the pace you’re working at but of the work you’re doing and how it can be modified before the end of a project or contract.
Not every project can be completed in the same amount of time, no matter how skilled the freelancer. That doesn’t mean, though, that you can flake on your clients and still expect them to trust you with their time-sensitive work. As will be discussed shortly, communication is key to a successful client-freelancer partnership — communication about due dates, timetables, and potential extensions even more so. When first working with a client, make sure that he or she understands the amount of time it will take you, personally, to complete the assignment they’ve tasked you with, and negotiate an acceptable time table that suits both of your needs, accordingly. As your relationship progresses, you’ll be able to negotiate extensions, should issues arise in other areas of your life. Maintaining your deadlines and keeping lines of communication open will keep timeliness from becoming a sticking point in your relationship with your clients.
Communication is the backbone of a freelancer’s relationship with their clients, regardless of the communication medium. Developing a rapport with your clients will make your relationship with them more cordial. They’ll come to know you better as a freelancer through your emails and meetings. You can use these mediums to establish a friendly, respectable, and professional tone. Creating an identity for yourself is only one benefit of frequent communication, though. As previously mentioned, you’ll be able to gauge your client’s needs more easily if you use Slack or similar messaging services to provide them with updates on your progress. Further, communication will allow both you and your client to ask any necessary questions about the project at hand, enabling mid-project, methodical changes that will prevent you from having to restart your work, should your client be dissatisfied with your final product. If possible, in-person meetings do well to both ensure that your client has a grasp on your personality and that the two of you can communicate as effectively as possible. Because most freelancers work remotely, however, Skype, Hangouts, or other services can be used to have face-to-face meetings with your potential clientele.
Communication is, in a number of ways, an extension of the transparency you should cultivate as a freelancer. While it’s true that your client may not be as versed in your area of expertise as you are — naturally, as they’re the ones hiring you — certain tools, such as GitHub, enable your client to follow along with your work over the course of a project. In observing the changes you make over your designated timeline, they can better understand where you are with your work and the methods you’re using to advance their project.
Transparency also requires honesty on your part. Be upfront with your client about your abilities and your expectations for their project, even if — or especially — if those expectations change. Developing a reputation as an honest and trustworthy freelancer puts you ahead of the game on a number of levels, allowing you to conquer the stereotype of the flaky or inconsistent freelancer. Further, it ensures that your brand stays marketable and that a partnership that doesn’t pan out can still conclude amiably.
Seek Out Feedback
The importance of a marketing portfolio has already been discussed, but prior to adding a completed assignment to your online portfolio, you should seek out client feedback for personal development. Getting a client’s opinion not only on the status of the final product you deliver to them but on your work ethic, process, and ability to communicate means that you have the opportunity to improve your business methods, thereby making you a better freelancing partner to clients who may work with you in the future. Feedback, delivered either through a partnership-concluding survey or through a few casual emails, can be stored and referenced as you go about establishing projects to come or assessing the status of your work ethic, ability, and projects.