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Freelancers can be a paradoxical sort.
From a client’s perspective, we can be highly regarded specialists brought in to solve issues that no staff member can fathom, or we can be sandal-wearing layabouts who flit from place to place, only working when we choose to. Freelancers know that neither stereotype is correct – unfortunately the client’s perspective is often the only one that matters.
Speaking as employers of freelancers, we choose the person who goes for the “highly regarded specialist” image every single time. So how do you make sure you look like a James Bond and not a James Blunt?
Your client brought you in to do a job. The manner in which you get that job done is everything. If you sit quietly and get it done in a day you may not make any friends, but you’ll be remembered as the efficient, reliable freelancer. If you spend 45 minutes flirting with the person sitting opposite you’ll be remembered as “Geoff the pervert”.
Everybody has the client they’ve known for years. You do jobs for them here and there, and sometimes have a drink with their staff. Social relationships are great – but never forget how the relationship originated. Think carefully before adding them as a Facebook friend, for example.
Everybody has terrible mornings now and then – the train was late, somebody hit your car, you dropped your phone in the toilet etc. If you’re late, a swift apology will suffice – don’t fret and whine continuously. You don’t want to be remembered as the basket case.
Whoever the client, there will be things you’ll need from them and their staff. Be it log-in details, internal documents, equipment or just general information. If you want to look like a freelancing superstar, work out what you need and send it in a single email to the relevant person. Not only is this easier, but it will prevent a constant drip-drip of requests that only serve to confuse and annoy.
If you’re brought in as a specialist, you’re expected to know a thing or two about your field. As well as your original project, your client is bound to ask general questions of you. We’ve all been there – “Hey Jon, what do you think is the best software for X?”
Try to have a few obscure but cool applications stored in your noggin for those occasions. My favourite client-impressing party piece is doing live editing on Google Docs. Knock up a draft, send them the URL, and make edits as they suggest them during a Skype call. Seeing the document change before their very eyes never fails to illicit a few impressed superlatives.
This is bread-and-butter freelancing stuff, but make sure all the basics are in place (contracts, invoices etc.). This way you can worry less about the paperwork and more about the actual job. Remember to invoice promptly – nobody wants to get a bill they’ve forgotten about a month down the line.
Nothing adds a bit of a gravitas to a pitch like some letters after your name. Designers can check out the Chartered Society of Designers, Developers or IT Consultants can look at the BCS, and typography people can join the unfortunately-named iSTD.
Once you’ve worked your magic and moved on, follow up with the client a few weeks later. This not only reinforces that you care about your work, but also puts you at the front of the client’s mind should more work crop up.
Google your own name. If the first thing that pops up are pictures of your stag party, it might be time to get those taken down. A good way to create a disconnect between your personal and business personas is a trading name or Limited Company. But make no mistake, clients are checking you out before hiring you – and if they find that “hilarious” picture of you dressed as Hitler they may look elsewhere.
If a client is pleased with your work, make sure you ask them for a testimonial. You can even sweeten the deal by offering to link to their website from your own. Put these testimonials front-and-centre on your own website to hammer home the fact that you work well and your previous clients love you.
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