20 Quick Tips for Freelance Survival

By: Karen Pinkston

In our smart-phone, text-message culture, it’s sometimes easy to forget that business is about people. If you want to thrive as a freelancer, you must get to know the people behind the organizations you serve. Having proper etiquette will help you foster client relationships and grow your business. Here are some tips to help guide your freelance journey.

1. First impressions matter.
When you first meet clients, introduce yourself with your first and last name. This shows confidence and makes you more memorable.

2. Find common ground.
Break the ice. Ask your clients about where they’re from or what they’re really passionate about. Do they have kids? Pets? When you get to know people first, you’re creating a comfortable environment from the start. You see them as people and not just as a paycheck.

3. Don’t schmooze too much.
Relationships take time. Find the right balance of getting to know your clients yet focusing on the work as well. Even though you can use a more relaxed tone, you should maintain a certain level of professionalism.

4. Be true to yourself.
It is not always in your best interest to accept every offer. Make sure the clients you choose to work with are a fit for your team’s culture. If communication is tough in the beginning, it might be a warning of problems to come.

5. Be upfront.
Don’t be tempted to take on too many clients or make promises you can’t fulfill. Be honest about the time, cost, and resources it takes to complete a project.

6. Ask how people want to communicate.
Do they prefer text messaging or emails? Or maybe weekly conference calls or in-person meetings? Know what works best for your clients.

7. Respond promptly.
When a client emails you, respond right away, even if you don’t have the answer yet. This shows you’re on top of things. Send a quick reply that you’ll look into it and answer as soon as possible.

8. Get to know your clients’ industries and brands.
Do the research to find the latest trends in your clients’ industries. This will help you find ways to differentiate them. Take time to learn all about your clients’ companies. Understand their culture, challenges, and goals.

9. Set deadlines.
Set up the project schedule and stay on target. You can even put milestones in a calendar and send calendar invites to your clients.

10. Keep your commitments.
The best way to build trust is to follow through—again and again. Consistently performing builds your reputation and your relationships.

11. Exceed expectations.
Go the extra mile. Under promise and over deliver. This will set you apart and make you invaluable. And be generous; offer your help and expertise when appropriate.

12. Set an agenda.
When you have meetings, organize main points to discuss. Give your clients the agenda in advance so they know what to expect and can contribute additional topics if necessary.

13. Always summarize next steps.
After any meeting or phone call, be sure to recap the conversation with action items. This makes clients feel like progress is being made and the time talking was worth it.

14. Keep cell phones out of sight.
During meetings with clients, keep your cell phone stowed away. Having it out on the table is a sign to those you’re with that they don’t have your full attention.

15. Don’t interrupt.
Even if you’re feeling passionate about something, try to let others speak without breaking in. Interruptions tell people you think your opinion is better than theirs.

16. Schedule routine in-person meetings.
Don’t be too reliant on emails and phone calls to maintain client relationships. The most valuable time is in-person meetings where you can connect more genuinely. Nothing replaces face-to-face interaction.

17. Be a leader.
What separates great freelancers from average ones is the ability to understand where clients are coming from and propose a different plan if you think theirs is not the best route.

18. Keep the small talk going.
Successful client relationships are built around genuine connections. At the start of each meeting, take a few minutes to talk about things outside of the business relationship. When clients feel like they can talk to you, they are more likely to be open and honest about business matters as well.

19. Get to know your clients like friends.
Can’t stress it enough: When you treat your clients like people, or like friends, the relationship develops a deeper bond and becomes more natural.

20. Say thanks.
Don’t wait for a special occasion or holiday to remind your clients how much their business means to you. Send an “off-season” thank-you card, preferably a handwritten note.