As freelancers, we spend a lot of time thinking about ourselves. We think about our immediate and lifelong goals, how we’d like to earn our money, how we’d like to get paid for said money, and what type of clients we’d prefer. It’s all about us.
We especially put a lot of thought into that last one. We sometimes spend hours writing up client profiles – and attempting to target our perfect “ideal” customer. We want someone who treats us with respect, values our skills, and pays accordingly (not to mention on time!). Because we deserve it. Right?
Most of the time, absolutely. We freelancers “deserve” respect and fair pay – provided we earn it. And usually we do.
Freelancers need to have a symbiotic relationship with their clients – not a parasitic one – in order to truly be successful. In other words, freelancers should be able to reap the benefits of great clients, but clients should have their wants fulfilled as well.
But what do clients want most from the freelancers they hire? We can’t take a peek at their “deal freelancer” checklist, but, after having spoken with a multitude of clients over the years, I think I can safely sum up the five biggies.
As freelancers, we often have to present an easy-going personality to our potential clients. Being overly formal, especially online, can come across as pretentious or unflexible. But let’s not confuse being “open” and friendly with being unprofessional.
Potential clients don’t want to see pictures of you drunk at your brother’s last BBQ. And they don’t want (or need) to know the color and consistency of your baby’s last bowel movement. Keep your personal life personal.
You’re a business now. A professional service or product provider. You wouldn’t see “Wassup, my sick homies!” on a hospital’s homepage, so it shouldn’t be on yours.
However, first impressions can still be tough, even when you say everything right. This is why “social proof” – testimonials – are so important. You can say you’re a professional, and you can act like a professional, but there’s nothing quite like having someone else say you act like a professional to really drive it home.
Before you get up and arms and tell me that your work “has value” and that you “deserve to be paid accordingly”…I know. I’m on your side. I would never suggest you take on projects for cheap rates just to satisfy a client’s stingy budget.
That’s because “affordable” to good clients isn’t necessarily synonymous with “cheap.” According to DWUser’s Dana Winslow:
Not one single client that you ever meet will want to save money. What they want is more bang for their buck. Clients want to know that if they pay you $3,000 to design their new website, that this new web site is the best possible website they could have received for $3,000. They want to know that the quality of their new website, the service that they received from you during and after this website was designed, and everything in between, was absolutely worth the cost.
In other words, by actually providing the value to match your price, you become “affordable” to those willing to pay your rates.
That said, you never want to rip off your clients, intentionally or unintentionally. Part of being professional is having integrity, and your clients are trusting you to calculate your rates honestly.
When you purchase a dishwasher, it’s to make your tedious after-dinner chore faster, simpler, and more efficient. When a client purchases your services as a freelancer, they’re looking for similar results: they want their lives made easier. They want you to do the task they hired you to do – to take it out of their hands and off of their minds.
Ask just enough questions to do the job right, but don’t be needy. Self-sufficient freelancers are in high-demand. Offer suggestions and take the lead whenever possible. Provide the best customer service you possibly can and make your client wonder what they ever did without you – how did they ever survive all those years of backbreaking labor when you make their lives so easy?
Work quickly, learn even more quickly, and never make the same mistake twice.
There are two types of freelancers: those who are reliable and those who aren’t. The latter don’t get as much work.
Many clients are looking for long-term relationships with their freelancers. Related to trait #3, it’s much easier to hire one good, reliable, freelancer and stick with them than it is to take time out to go through the hiring process every few months. If you can show a client that you’re going to make their lives easier by being not only capable, but dependable, you’ll be in need of a thicker wallet to store your earnings.
But how does one show their reliability? Among other things, try to:
- Meet all of your agreed-upon deadlines.
- Respond to e-mails promptly.
- Accept criticism with grace.
- Be honest and upfront – never make up false excuses.
- Think consciously about the way in which you conduct yourself and how it will effect your client.
- Inform your client immediately if something comes up rendering you unable to perform a certain task.
- Own up to your mistakes and never avoid confrontation.
- Follow the client’s guidelines.
- Communicate clearly, and often – don’t disappear for days at a time.
Once you take on a project and agree to “be there” for your client, actually be there for them. Never, ever make your client chase you down after you’ve already been hired.
In the end it’s the only thing that really matters.
Without the other four components, you won’t get as much work; however, if you can consistently deliver killer results on every project you do take on, you’ll still be ahead of the game. Clients are far more forgiving of overly-friendly freelancers who ask “a few too many” questions when said freelancer has just helped to net them $100,000.
Put simply: be good at what you do. Or, better still, be the best at what you do. And prove it every time you get to work.
This is another area where client testimonials and referrals will help you immensely. If one of your past clients stands up and testifies in front of your potential clients that you made them 200% back on their initial investment, you can bet that you’ll have a queue of interested parties lined up to give your services a try.
Just make sure the clients you choose to regale your services upon fulfill your needs as well. After all: it’s all about us.