I moved into a freelance role after a decade spent in sales. For me it was an opportunity to do my own thing, and have some freedom in choosing who I worked with and to what extent. What I didn’t realize, and what many of the so-called “experts” failed to mention is that being a freelancer is an all-encompassing career, and everything revolves around the customer.
While I will be the first to tell you that I am not an expert in the field, I can confidently say that I have great relationships with every one of my clients. Part of that is because I pick clients that I know I will gel with, the other part is because I make a concerted effort to take my relationships with my clients beyond a freelancer role.
Whether you are just getting started as a freelancer, or you are a veteran, it is never too late to sharpen your sword and pick up a few new tricks of the trade. Here are ten tips that have helped me throughout my career.
1. You can’t make it about yourself
Yes, we have bills to pay and responsibilities, but at the end of the day, we work for the client. There will be creative differences, especially early in the relationship. For me, that was one of the hardest things to get through when I first started.
Balance is required. Take the time to understand their feedback and objections, and back up any decisions you make or suggest with hard evidence. Change isn’t easy, and for many clients working with a freelancer is a new concept.
2. You don’t have to be an expert in everything
It is human nature to want to be right about something. In freelancing, that can be incredibly detrimental to a relationship with your client. One of the things that I champion, and am very blunt about with every client is that if I don’t know something, or if something is out of my wheelhouse, I will be the first to tell them.
Having a foundational knowledge of something is critical, but you don’t have to have all the answers. Admitting that you don’t know something isn’t a sign of weakness.
3. Set realistic goals and deadlines
The client chose to work with a freelancer because they believe that they can help address a specific problem. As you get started, setting very clear goals and milestones will help you keep stay organized, but I have found that it also builds trust right out of the gate.
Shooting from the hip might work for you, but you can’t assume that it will work for your clients. I am an incredibly unorganized person, yet my clients never see that. I use technology to help me stay on task and keep them in the loop.
4. Be willing to pivot
No two days in the life of a freelancer are the same. Clients come and go, projects begin and end, and decisions are made. In many ways, it is one of the greatest aspects of this type of career, but for those that aren’t ready for constant change, it can be a major pitfall.
Open lines of communication will help you move more fluidly when the client makes a decision to about-face. Without great communication, tension will build and you can damage your relationship, or potentially lose the client.
5. Be yourself
The client chose to work with you for a reason. If they wanted a robot they could have gone in that direction – thanks ChatGPT. The truth is that you bring something unique to the table, so don’t be afraid to be yourself, and make your voice heard. This creates value and value is the foundation of every great client relationship.
6. Stop overthinking it
Perfection is unattainable. Accept it and move on. Do clients expect results? YES. Do they expect perfection? NO. This can be difficult as you are getting started and growing your book of business.
The truth is, admitting when you are wrong or that something isn’t working the way you expected is a sign of strength. When this happens with a client, be proactive and come to the table with a solution rather than an excuse.
7. Bring value to every conversation
Every interaction with a client is an opportunity to build trust and grow the relationship. Sometimes that means taking a backseat and offering suggestions that have no impact on your success. One of the greatest things about the freelance community is that over time you will come to know others that are experts in other areas of business.
Don’t be afraid to offer suggestions and help your clients connect the dots. A simple introduction email takes less than a minute to put together but it builds a bridge in your relationship.
8. Be part of their team
Freelancing is all about freedom, but it also means that you are a part of several different companies or organizations. While you may not be a full-time employee, make an effort to be a part of their team. Join them on their Zoom calls, even if it takes up to 30 minutes of your morning. Get to know the people on the team that you work with. They will see the effort and the relationship will grow organically.
9. Offer fresh ideas
Not every idea will be a home run, but it doesn’t have to be. In an hour-long call with a client, we talk about pressing issues for 15 minutes and then brainstorm for the next 45. One of the greatest benefits of working with a freelancer is that they are exposed to a wide variety of industries and strategies. Use that to your advantage and don’t be afraid to think outside the box when talking to a client.
10. Think beyond work
We are people doing business with people. Those people have lives, families, issues, etc. that exist outside of the business relationship. Get to know the client. Ask questions about what they did this past weekend, or how their family trip turned out.
Small talk is a great way to create deeper connections and it doesn’t take much effort, you just have to choose to take interest in the lives of others.
As a freelancer, building relationships is part of the equation. The better you become at making connections and cultivating relationships, the more successful you will be in business. We can all do a better job of caring about the people that we work with and their businesses. It is a choice, but one that will have a ripple effect and help you throughout your career.