This is an excerpt from the brand-new ebook from Bonsai, The Guide to Freelancing. Get it free here.
For some, the allure of being a freelancer is that you get to be your own boss. You can set hours, decide what projects you’ll take, and determine how and when you speak with other people. If you have a somewhat independent spirit and like to handle things on your own, it’s a lifestyle that can suit your personality well.
Where freelancers get into trouble is when they think they can continue to be a solo artist throughout their career. In truth, the best freelancers have determined early on that the more of a team player they become, the more money they can make. Perhaps the best way to show that you are on the same side as your client—and willing to work together—is through your communication skills. Whether you design or develop, you’ll also need to learn how to write and speak relatively well to make it as a small business owner. Saying what you mean in the best way possible will have amazing results.
“Improve your communication skills, and you’ll be better able to demonstrate value to your clients.”
Here are the most important reasons you should prioritize learning how to communicate well with your freelance clients:
You’ll waste less time and make fewer mistakes
While it can take time and patience to properly onboard a new client, much of the unnecessary back-and-forth (and numerous rounds of edits) can be minimized with better communication methods. Asking the right questions and relaying back what you understand the process to be can give the client a chance to confirm or adjust expectations so that you both land on the same target. A simple email chain can often do this, but phone calls or video chats are even better.
Consider how much your hour is worth. If you invest that hour on the front end of your project and do the work to the client’s understanding from the very first billable hour, you can save yourself a whole lot of time. If you’re billing by the project, this easily translates into more time for you to take on work or invest in your business another way. Simply put, you’re making money.
Related: Money talks. Charge what you’re worth.
You’ll demonstrate value
Unless you’re working with a “micromanager” who loves following up about every last detail (and we hope you’re not in that situation), you likely won’t hear from a client unless something changes, a deadline is missed, or they have a question. That puts the responsibility to update them on your progress squarely on you. If you can add check-in calls or emails into your process, you can impress your client easily.
Take the time to learn how to draft emails, take a phone call, and confirm the details of communications with your clients. By doing these simple tasks, your work will be suddenly worth so much more because you’re displaying a level of professionalism and proactiveness that they may not have come to expect. You can brand yourself as a team player and show that you know your stuff. You have created value that wasn’t there before.
You’ll build your unique selling proposition (USP)
In the crowded field of freelance design, it may feel like it’s impossible to stand out. Here’s the thing: There aren’t that many freelancers out there who communicate early, often, and well. If you can step up your communication game, you’re already that much better than someone creating similar work. Even if you don’t have a lot of experience, you can beat out the competition by creating a reputation for working well with clients. That’s something that will benefit you the entire course of your career.
“Here’s the thing: There aren’t that many freelancers out there who communicate early, often, and well.”
Communicating well is cheap and easy to do
While many professionals are out there earning advanced degrees, investing in state-of-the-art tech, and spending thousands on conferences and industry events, refining your communication skills may provide the biggest bang for your buck. It’s relatively cheap (and sometimes free) to learn the best ways to speak with clients, and yet it can help you grow your client list, and average sale, incredibly.
So what can you do if communication isn’t your strong point?
- Read books and articles about how to communicate. Since communication is closely tied to emotional IQ (or emotional intelligence), looking into this specific aspect may be helpful.
- Use templates. If you’ve had an especially successful email back-and-forth with a client, save it! Re-use portions of your messages again with future conversations. If you find that you get a good response from a particular phrase or inquiry, make it a standard part of your process that you can personalize for new situations. Use your successes as building blocks for your business.
- Seek to understand what your client is saying. Don’t ever assume. If you think you might know what they’re trying to communicate but there’s doubt, don’t be afraid to ask new questions differently to make things concrete.
- Be respectful of their time. Try to group your clarification questions in one email, bulleted out, so that you aren’t bombarding your client. You can gain ground and be streamlined in the same communication.
- Ask for their preferences. If your client hates email, don’t send them email. If you find that they get annoyed with too many messages in a week, space them out. Seek clues to their quirks and honor them. If you don’t know how they like to be communicated with, it’s okay to ask. Something like “How long should I wait before following up?” can be gold.
“Ask your client about their communication preferences. If they hate email, don’t send them email.”
Like every other part of your business, it’s wise to learn from mistakes. You won’t always get communication perfect. After all, you’re human. Make sure you take each failure and be honest about why it happened. Asking yourself “How could I have said this better?” is the most valuable way to examine what might have gone wrong. If you have a good relationship with your client, you may even get their feedback on how it might have been handled better.
Read the rest of this ebook
The experts at Bonsai have put together a free ebook to help you succeed, whether you’re a designer, developer, photographer, marketer, professional dog-petter—you name it. The Guide to Freelancing is packed full of tips on establishing your business, finding clients, creating contracts, getting paid on time, and much more. Get it now.
A designer, marketer, innovator, and writer. Preethi is the happiest when she helps bring impactful ideas to life.
by Matt Brown
Matt is the founder of Bonsai, an automated contracts and invoices product used by 40,000+ freelancers and agencies globally. He lives in San Francisco, where he enjoys surfing, science fiction, and leafy green vegetables.