I’m a freelance writer by day and mystery writer by night. Thus far my day job has put food on the table and paid the bills. Good, yes? It’s not easy being a freelancer and sometimes you may feel that sticking your head in the oven is more productive than trying to be your own employer – but there are good days too.
And though there is a lot of advice out there about how to succeed, get ahead and make gobs of money as a freelancer, there are some basics that rarely get mentioned. I’ve tried to put into a lot of sage advice from the so called experts with mixed results. However, I can give you a simple list of what has always worked in my freelance business.
Be Nice. Now, I know you’re probably saying, “Duh, of course.” However, you’d be amazed by how many freelancers aren’t nice. They don’t answer your inquiries; they are impatient, sometimes even rude. Or have a take it or leave it attitude. I get all kinds of inquiries, often ones that have nothing to do with freelance writing services but I try never to treat anyone disrespectfully or make them feel stupid. If someone contacts you and you can’t help them, tell them so nicely. If possible refer them to a person or a website or other source that may help them. You never know when you might encounter that person again – and if so, it may be you needing the help or a favor.
Be Responsive. Again, you’d be surprised by how many freelancers (and businesses in general) simply don’t respond to your inquiry. It’s as though they expect you to chase after them to prove you’re really serious about wanting their service or product. I know there are some marketers out there who advise you to do this, to make yourself or your business appear exclusive, etc. To that I say, hogwash. People who voice an interest in your service or product deserve a response. If you don’t respond promptly and politely to inquiries, soon you may find that no one voices an interest at all in anything you have to offer.
Be Generous. I constantly get emails from clients or past clients asking me about things that strictly speaking have no specific connection to the service I provide. For example, I have clients ask me all the time what I think of product images or names, or slogans or logos. My services don’t cover any of those things – but it doesn’t hurt me at all to take the two minutes to respond to them. And it makes the client happy and feel that you care. So how can a happy client be a bad thing? Clients remember providers who are generous with their time and attention and are more likely to come back to them when they need the services they provide.
Be Honest. Sometimes clients are going to ask you questions or for an opinion you don’t want to go near. It’s uncomfortable when a client sends you a link to their new website, which is a disaster and asks you what you think. Or a logo, or a product, or whatever. However, they are asking you because they respect your opinion. So be honest, (not blunt, or mean) tactful, but honest. They will appreciate it and you won’t have to feel guilty over blowing smoke up their skirt.
Ask Questions. Too many freelancers just say yes, yes, yes in order to get the gig. In fact, I’ve seen experts tell you to do so – explaining that once you get the job, you can figure out how to do whatever you’ve been hired to do. This is just playing with fire. Sure there is a certain amount of winging it that occurs in freelancing but you’re better off asking questions, questions and more questions to determine if you can truly help this person than to just say yes and hope for the best. If you don’t or can’t deliver in the end, not only will it cost you money but your reputation as well.
Listen. We have so many gadgets talking to us at all times – TV, radio, smart phones, texts, social media, blogs, advertisements – talk, talk, talk, talk. And all of us just talk louder so we can be heard above the talkers. Yet listening has become somewhat of a lost art. It can be hard to take a breath, close your mouth and just listen to what is being said but it can also save you an enormous amount of time and work. Listen to what your client is saying, repeat it back to them, so they know they’ve been heard, write it down so you remember what was said. So much easier than sending ten emails asking the same question over and over again. And less irritating to clients too.
Give More Than Expected. In other words, exchange in abundance, go the extra mile, show that you care. For example, a client emailed me saying his product was flying off the shelves and he couldn’t quite figure out why. Clearly, he wanted to know but didn’t know how to get the information. I suggested he send out a survey to customers who recently purchased the product and suggested 3-5 questions he could ask. He didn’t pay me for that, nor did I expect him to pay me. I simply wanted to help him. It was just an idea and I have 100 of them every ten minutes, so no big deal to me. To him, it might have been though. It’s perfectly fine to make a contract with someone and fulfill that contract to the letter without giving less or more but it won’t necessarily win you any fans. You’ll gain a reputation of being fair. That’s fine. But if your client later finds another provider who offers as good a service as you but is just a little more generous with their time or attention, who do you think she will hire for the next project?
Be Sincere. And by that, I mean be yourself. As freelancers, especially if we handle our businesses largely online, we may develop what we think is a professional demeanor. But in fact, makes us seem cold or distant. While you certainly want to be taken seriously, it’s really okay to make a joke or even swap recipes (yes, I’ve actually done that) as long as your work and work ethic is professional and you deliver what you promise – being yourself should really be okay.
Never Accept a Project Just for the Money. Look, freelancing is hard. And usually it’s feast or famine. Either you have no work or more work than you can handle. So during the lean times when a prospect comes to you, of course you want to land the job – baby needs new shoes, right? However, if you look at the project and don’t honestly see how you can help the person, say no. For example, I’ve had prospects come to me and ask me to rewrite content or a product listing. In most cases, I definitely see how I can help improve what they have – but sometimes there’s nothing wrong with what the prospect wants improved. Instead of accepting the project I tell the client that I honestly don’t feel I could improve what they have and that perhaps it is some other element in their business model they need to consider. My goal is to help my clients improve their situation so they can succeed – if I don’t feel that my service will do that, I say so. Believe me; it makes life so much easier.
I know these are very basic and maybe not news to many of you, but like that little black dress you keep in your closet that can be dressed up and dressed down, depending on the occasion – basics are the new black.
What about you? Do you have hacks that help you in your freelance business? Feel free to mention them in the comments below.
8 thoughts on “Nine Work Hacks for Freelancers”
VERY very nice read!!!! Freelancing is something I would love to pursue in the future! I have loved writing and expressing whats in my brain for a long time… and I’m now 28, and ready to attempt to put my ideas out there.
Thanks. Freelancing can be fun and also challenging – but it’s worth it if writing is what makes your soul sing.
What kind of writing do you do?
Whatever is on the brain… Fictional stories, and… sometimes Lucid dreams.
Great. Keep going.
Hi Annie: What you’re saying is that it’s all about building and maintaining relationships. One benefit of being a freelancer is you don’t have any rules to follow except the ones you create for yourself.
Yes, exactly. But I think that because many of us have online businesses that we forget about the nuances of interacting with clients. Especially since so much of our business activities are automated (or outsourced) these days, auto responders, ecommerce carts, websites, etc. It’s easy for customers to feel that there is no human behind the product, you know?
And absolutely there are benefits to being a freelancer – one of them being that you make your own rules (in a sense) – but anyone who wants to succeed in their business should follow normal business ‘rules’ and best practices.
These are all good points, but I do think you have to be very careful about going above what’s required from a client. Offering to help that client figure out his product’s appeal for free is all well and good…until he comes back to you (for free) every time he has a question about his business model. You can’t turn into the free idea vending machine either.
I agree and I’m not suggesting you give your work away for free. However, there is a some give and take. If you want to develop long term relationships with clients then I think that tossing them some help every now and then isn’t a big deal. It’s true that there will always be clients who will try to take advantage and that can be a little problematic – but in my experience most people don’t try to get something for nothing. In fact, a recent client I was working with was a little difficult. Not because she was intending to be but because of language issues, mostly (she was from an Asian country) and so things took longer because we had several emails on the same thing. But when she made the final payment so added an extra $100 and thanked me for my patience. I didn’t ask for that or expect it. Anyway, much as we’d like things to be perfectly balanced it rarely comes out that way.
Thanks for your thoughts.