10 Habits of Highly Successful Freelancers

The most successful freelancers are excellent communicators.

Is it enough to have great communication skills to succeed as a freelancer?


However, it’s nearly impossible to succeed as a freelancer without effective communication skills. We’ve seen many talented designers on crowdSPRING and elsewhere fail to grow successful freelance businesses because they were poor communicators.

We’ve worked with tens of thousands of freelancers over the past four years and have observed many different communication styles. Here are ten tips from the most successful freelancers on communicating with clients:

1. Have a system or process. Checklists can help. Most successful freelancers follow certain practices when communicating with clients. For example, many organize their communications so that they have detailed records of their communications with each client. There are plenty of good CRM products for this purpose, including Highrise from our friends at 37signals. You also can keep folders in email, separated by client, so that you can easily keep track of your communications.

Develop a process where you communicate with clients periodically to inform them about your progress. Your clients should never be worried about the work you’re doing for them.

Develop a process or system for presenting proofs. For example, in design projects on crowdSPRING, many successful designers use the logo design and stationery design proof templates we’ve made available free to our global community.

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2. Listen. The most successful freelancers – and people generally – listen more than they talk.

3. Ask questions. Ambiguity and misunderstanding will result in wasted time and frustration. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to clarify important points. Freelancers are not mind readers – be sure you fully understand what the client needs/wants. Keep in mind that your clients and potential clients are busy and may often be in a hurry. Make sure your clients and potential clients know that you respect their time.

4. Be patient. Many clients don’t understand design or copywriting. There’s a reason they’re looking for help. The most successful freelancers invest the time to educate clients and potential clients, and by taking the time, build credibility with those clients and potential clients. Do this even where the education might be contrary to your personal interests in the project. For example, some successful freelancers find long term clients by pointing out that the work of another freelancer is more suitable for that client, for that project – and the reasons why. By helping your client solve a problem,  you might miss out on one design project, but find a client for life.

5. Avoid jargon. Keep in mind that your clients and potential clients don’t understand design or writing as well as you do. There may be many industry terms that will easily confuse them – be sensitive to this and communicate in a simple style and take opportunities to define terms you think might be confusing. For example, if you submit an EPS file in a design project, you should explain what an EPS file is, how they will be able to view it, and why you’ve included it.

6. Set appropriate expectations. Clients often expect you to respond within a few hours when they send you a message. In a global marketplace, this could be difficult. Your client could be in China while you’re in the United States. Make sure your client understands your time zone and times that you’re generally working so that their expectations are set accordingly. Make sure too that your clients know when you’ll be unavailable for a day or more (such as when you’re taking a personal or business trip). Clients quickly become frustrated when they can’t reach their freelancers – you can easily eliminate their frustration by making sure they know when you will and will not be available.

7. Be honest at all times. Impress your clients with your work, not your words. When you’re discussing deadlines, consider potential problems and promise reasonable deadlines. Always under-promise and over-deliver. By doing the opposite, you risk alienating the client and undermining your credibility with that client.

8. Don’t be afraid of the phone or Skype. Many freelancers prefer to communicate by email or private message. But clients often appreciate the ability to have a conversation by telephone or via Skype. It’s easier to resolve misunderstandings by telephone and also sometimes more effective at moving projects forward without delays. There’s also the added benefit that voice conversations develop more personal relationships and build more credibility with your clients. Be ready to pick up the phone or have a quick Skype call with your clients.

9. Be consistent and responsive. When you respond to clients, be certain you’ve responded to the questions they asked. It’s frustrating for clients – just like it is for you – when your responses to them fail to answer their questions. Additionally, make sure that your communications are consistent, including the voice you use in those communications. The most successful freelancers quickly answer questions from clients and do so throughout their engagement on a particular project. It’s easy to fall into the trap of delaying an answer but once you start doing that, your responsiveness breaks down and you’ll lose credibility with your client.

10. Be professional at all times. Whether you’re communicating in person, by telephone, Skype, email, private message, or any other way – stay professional at all times. Instead of telling clients why their ideas are stupid, explain what you can do to help them. You can quickly lose your credibility with clients and potential clients if you behave in an unprofessional manner. This is important even if the client doesn’t stay professional. Unless you maintain your professionalism, you’ll end up bickering like little kids. You will not only lose your credibility with that client – but this will affect your communications with and work for other clients. If your client becomes belligerent and doesn’t maintain professional communications with you – fire them. Seriously.

Do you have other suggestions, a comment or a question? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

image credit: joshfassbind.com

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