Over my years of freelancing, I’ve learnt it’s just as important to be clear about what you want out of the working style, than what you can offer clients.
Here are some of the lessons I’d pass onto freelancers looking to improve the quality of their work, deepen relationships with current clients and ensure they have a business model which is sustainable for the long term.
1. Consider personality style vs working style
As a freelancer, you have the luxury of creating a working life that works for you. To succeed at this, you need to understand how you work best and what makes you happiest.
People are generally more alert when they’re operating in their modus operandi state and more creative when slightly sluggish. Schedule your work around this.
Firstly, identify whether you’re a morning person or a night owl. Ask yourself when you are at your most efficient, motivated and focused. For example, if you’re a morning person, schedule all meetings and ‘people time’ before noon. Get the energetic stuff out of the way, first. You’ll be bright, alert and most engaged first thing and ready to take on new information.
If you’re a night owl, schedule meetings for later in the afternoon and consider your creative brainstorming for your first coffee at 10am as you’re waking up.
Secondly, identify what working style you work best in. Do you work best in a quiet, private studio with headphones? Do you prefer the hustle and bustle of a shared working space? There are endless options for working spaces and finding the right one will ensure you stay on track and continue to love what you’re doing.
2. Be there to make people’s lives easier
You’re potentially one of 100 employees, freelancers, colleagues, clients, stakeholders your client will meet with every week.
Regardless of whether you’re bought in as an expert to deliver a service, a consultant to provide fresh perspective or simply an extra pair of hands, you’re given a task because the clients either can’t or doesn’t want to do it themselves.
As a freelancer, you role is to make people’s lives easier. Make sure you provide that for your clients. Your clients are often busy, time poor, under-resourced and under pressure to deliver. It is your role to provide a high quality service, be a nice person to deal with and effectively make their lives easier by being around.
3. Create structure when there is none
It’s not all sleeping in and working in pyjamas.
If you want to pay your bills off the brilliance of your own initiative, you have to consider how you create your most cost effective work and schedule around that.
Are you at your most focused working from home or do you prefer a co-working space? Are you able to make private phone calls without disturbing others? Are you working in a shared living space?
Consider what elements create your best work. What time do you need to be awake, dressed and ready to produce your best work? Your clients, more often than not, will work 9-5pm and will need access to you during these hours. Taking the mornings off to have a late breakfast sounds swell, but consider whether these are precious hours you could be receiving a new brief.
4. Remember you’re a brand
As a freelancer, your ability to get hired depends on how much people like you.
If you continually impress, have a great reputation, deliver above and beyond client expectations and make life easier for people, you will have long-term clients who reward you with engaging work.
However, if you flippantly share confidential information, moan about a client loudly in a café or on social media, complain about how stressed you are, chances are your friends and wider network won’t be asking you to help them their next project.
Absolutely anyone can end up being your client. Your local café might need a new website. Your friend’s parents might launch a new business that marketing assistance. The person you just met at a party might work for a firm that is looking for talented freelancers.
When people outside of your immediate network ask how freelancing is going, resist the temptation to tell them the ins and outs. Keep it professional; let them know what you’re working on and save the internal dialogue for only your closest of friends.
5. Dig deeper than the immediate brief
If you don’t understand what factors go into making a decision, it makes it challenging to create work that benefits your client long term. Dig a little deeper than the immediate brief to understand how your piece of works fits into the bigger picture.
Asking a few quick questions will give you a deeper understanding of exactly what your client requires, meaning you can alert them to opportunities year around, providing value both during and outside your engagement.
6. Understand people digest information differently
If you understand how your client digests information, it makes your life easier.
Are they detailed people who like to know every minute detail? In that case, keep a running list of all items actioned to date and where they are at so you can share all elements with them.
Are they big picture people? Create a visual, which illustrates how your work contributes to the bigger goal, and refer to this when you give them updates.
7. Report, even when you don’t need to
A summary presentation is a reminder why you’re a great return on investment. Showcase your successes to get the best opportunity to work for your favourite clients again.
Regardless of the size and scope of your project, at completion be sure to illustrate the value you delivered. Outline the challenges, your response, any feedback received from clients or customers and most importantly – the opportunities from here. What further pieces of work might your client benefit from to grow / expand / improve their business?
Ideas are what your client pays you for. Illustrate your potential by outlining the possibilities for your client and how you might bring that to life.
8. Keep your happy clients happier
A small section of your customers are more often than not, your biggest advocates. Keep your happy customers the happiest and they’ll more likely recommend you to their friends, colleagues and networks.
Say thank you at the end of a project. Keep them informed of latest updates in their industry. Check in with them during busy times. Add value above and beyond your particular area of expertise to show them you appreciate them and they’ll do the same long term.
9. If you can’t help, suggest someone who can
Clients are time poor and very seldom have time to shop around. Make their life easier by following up any and every potential lead, even if it is not immediately clear on the scope or job may be.
You may find you can assist the client with what they need which is a win. Alternatively, you mightn’t be the best fit but you could refer them to someone who could help them.
Establishing trust is the best way to start any new relationship, and demonstrate by example, by assisting in the first instance.
After every meeting, regardless of whether there’s an immediate requirement for work or not, follow up, send through those links you promised you would or an introduction to someone you think they’d benefit from meeting. You never know what may happen in the future.