One valuable thing I’ve learned as a freelancer is the importance of matching your strengths with your work. When you can do this, it’s much easier to be really good at what you do, even if you’ve only been doing it for a short period of time. You can make success seem easy.
7 Tips to Set You Apart as a Freelancer
I’m not sure why I continue to be shocked every time I hear from clients about their horrific experiences with other freelancers. For some reason, I want to believe that the horror stories are the exception to the majority of quality, hard-working freelancers, but almost every client I have has shared at least one and usually several tales of terrible situations they have endured.
Over time I have come to learn that many of the qualities I used to think were standard elements of a successful freelance business are often overlooked or ignored by many, so in this post I will share what has helped me to stand out amongst others in the same field. I am not a massive success by any stretch of the imagination, but I have a steady stream of satisfied clients who continue to recommend me to others, so hopefully by sharing what I have learned you too can strengthen your offerings and set yourself apart from your peers.
Be Personal and Friendly
I am not an overly outgoing person–in fact, I have been called an introvert more than once–but when it comes to my clients, I do my best to show a personal interest in their projects from start to finish. Communicating and interacting with them on a personal level (without spending too much time digging deep into their lives) usually puts clients at ease and helps them feel confident in their decision to retain your services. By letting clients know I actually care about them beyond what they are going to pay me has proven to be refreshing for most.
Put Yourself in Your Client’s Shoes
They may not wear the same size as you, but every client will appreciate your attempts to squeeze your foot into their shoes and look at their project through their own eyes. Try getting to know everything involved in the project–its goals, where the idea started, what the short and long-term vision is–and you will better be able to relate to the project on the same level as they do. Helping the client feel like you are just as invested in the project’s outcome as they are will always gain you extra points with them.
Save Your Clients Money
I do everything I can to help my clients save money, both in the initial project price as well as long-term, without lowering my rates. This is part of putting myself in their shoes. Who doesn’t love to save money? So rather than push for an upsell or encourage your clients to go with the more expensive choice, find ways to save them some cash and they will never forget it. Too many agencies, salespeople, and other freelancers are looking at your clients with dollar signs flashing in their eyes. They will be relieved and refreshed to find someone who actually cares about their bottom line as much as they do.
Charge Fair and Competitive Rates (Don’t Be Greedy)
I don’t know any freelancers who really believe they are going to get filthy rich freelancing, so why charge like it? Yes, you need to charge what you’re worth, and this should be determined based on the going rates and the quality of work that you provide. Still, I have found that most clients can spot it when they’re getting overcharged, just as much as they can tell when someone is being reasonable and fair with them. If you have to explain why you’re charging what you charge, then you’re probably charging too much, and your proposal will get lost somewhere in the pile marked “Overpriced”.
Be Professional in All Things
I’m not necessarily saying you need to wear a suit and tie to your home office, but you definitely should run your freelance business like, well…a business! Return phone calls and emails promptly and courteously. Keep a clean work environment. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s. Steer away from the fatal social network drunk status posts or embarrassing photos. Maintain a professional approach to your visible life and you will separate yourself from the pack. What you do during your personal time and behind closed doors is your own business, so keep it that way.
Do Good Work
This may seem obvious, but I spend way too much time cleaning up other people’s messes to not mention it. Do your best work for your clients–the same quality as if you were doing it for yourself. Don’t take shortcuts. Don’t leave out things because most people won’t notice. Maintain the highest standards and your reputation will precede you in ever-broadening circles.
Engage With and Impact Your Community
Whatever community you are involved in, become fully engaged. Whether it’s your colleagues and peers in the same field, your online connections, your local chamber of commerce–it doesn’t matter. Determine what communities you are currently a part of or become a part of new ones and fully engage. Get involved to the point that you can influence growth and change for the good, and others will look to you as a leader. Providing value to your community will always set you apart in a sea of possibly less-involved people.
These are just some of the things I have learned over the years that, although they may seem obvious, have become a foundation for the growth and stability of my freelance business. It is my hope that they will assist you as you establish, develop or strengthen your own.
Perhaps you have some tips of your own that you have learned and could share? Please leave them in the comments below.
Image credit: CRASHcandy
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September 30th, 2010 at 9:45 am
September 30th, 2010 at 10:03 am
I am also seeing this trend (you speak of). As current clients express their reluctance to offer big projects and instead choose to farm it out bit by bit as in the words of a current client “I’ve been burned by writers over the years.”
“You will always be remembered for how you interact and carry yourself in dealings.” SMP
September 30th, 2010 at 11:15 am
I’m relatively new to freelancing and was quite surprised to learn that I got a project because I followed through on the things I said in the initial “talking” stages. Apparently the client worked with other freelancers who didn’t return emails or calls or followed through with anything.
Professionalism is key. I want to work with professional clients and I’m sure my clients want to work with a professional designer. This doesn’t mean stiff or drab, just professional. You can have fun, be kind, even laugh with clients and still be professional.
You’ve listed some very good tips. Something we all need to be reminded of from time to time. Thanks for sharing!
September 30th, 2010 at 11:16 am
So true. There seems to be a lack of character and integrity among some freelancers.
Truthfully, I think a large number of those who choose to be freelancers do so because they don’t like “working for other people.” They want to be out on their own and answer to nobody but themselves.
Unfortunately, that’s not how freelancing works. All we do is trade one boss for multiple bosses who we call “clients.” As a result, many grow to resent their clients and their requests and see them as demanding or needy.
New freelancers often have a fantasy of unlimited freedom and flexibility. When clients have tight deadlines and seemingly endless requests, it begins to feel like their clients are robbing them of the fantasy of what self-employment was supposed to be about.
Once you resent someone for shattering a fantasy, it becomes difficult to treat them with character and integrity.
Great reminder for everyone.
September 30th, 2010 at 11:27 am
They’re not bad tips for life in general!
September 30th, 2010 at 11:42 am
Another really great article! I love this site! I’ve been in business about 10 years now and I’ve run across many good, and bad, freelancers. It’s just amazing how some people stay in business with some of the horror stories that I hear all of the time. I think people are just afraid to leave the person/company that has developed their site. They don’t know that it can work on other servers, and for the most part it can be updated by another person/company. Of course there are always the horribly programmed projects that just need to be scrapped.
When I talk to one of my clients or a potential new one I always keep everything in the above article in mind. I always talk to someone with a smile, even over the phone. You can definitely tell the difference. Also, a little small talk goes a long way. I know a lot of my clients now on a semi-personal basis and able to connect with them on a different level besides just business. Asking about family, work, how business is going. I try not to get into anything too personal unless they bring it up first.
Another good point is never say “no” to a client, unless it’s not in their best interest. Even if you aren’t comfortable with doing the work/task that they want, there are tons of other people out there that can help you out. If something comes up that I’m not 100% sure about, I always say that I will research that out and get back to them in a day or two. No one knows everything, so more often than not they will understand and respect that response.
I think another big point that is very important is educating your clients. Even though the internet is full of information for really any topic you can imagine. Your average client is not going to know what you are talking about and what you want to do. If I suggest doing some SEO work on someone’s site, I explain as quick and as simple as I can about meta data, how searches work, importance of content and text based elements on the site. The more they know, the better they are going to handle a suggestion about their site (especially when it’s going to cost them money).
September 30th, 2010 at 11:44 am
Here are my pointers on how to set yourself apart as a freelancer and keep your clients coming back for more.
1. Make sure you make yourself indispensable
2. Always do a brilliant job
3. Become part of the team
4. Never miss deadlines
5. Come up with good ideas
6. Show you’re prepared to be flexible – ongoing repeat work is worth the occasional weekend working
7. Make yourself available at short notice
8. Remember the client is always right.
September 30th, 2010 at 11:49 am
Professionalism is very much important in freelancing work, as people would’nt want to work with you just for the sake that you are offering services for less price then a company does, if you are not professional in what you do it will create bad impression & client would not be wanting to work with you anymore & if you them well they will definitely recommend your services to others.
September 30th, 2010 at 11:57 am
Unfortunately, most of the start-up freelancers or students who freelance in spare time (like myself) deal with small clients; and, for most of the small clients, everyone goes in the “overpriced” pile except those who work on a volunteer basis or will accept $50 for work that’s worth far more. I suppose that taking tiny jobs like that can build a portfolio, but it’s a bit discouraging!
September 30th, 2010 at 12:10 pm
Excellent list. I’m just starting as a freelancer and I’m really happy to see this.
September 30th, 2010 at 12:11 pm
Im always amazed when I work with other freelancers and they take 4 or 5 days to reply to an email or to call back a client. I have am 8 hour rule (usually more like 8 minutes) to reply, and my clients love that! It lets them know they haven’t been abandoned. Communication is so important, and so easy to do.
September 30th, 2010 at 12:50 pm
Most things are common sense, but you still get people who don’t do the simple things to make a lasting impression (that’s good!) nice post, thanks
nigelSeptember 30th, 2010 at 1:00 pm
I know this article focuses on how to set yourself apart as a freelancer, but I really was caught up on one of your first comments, “For some reason, I want to believe that the horror stories are the exception to the majority of quality, hard-working freelancers, but almost every client I have has shared at least one and usually several tales of terrible situations they have endured.”
I learned really quickly that pretty much every client I have has had a “not so pleasant” experience with another freelancer. I used to think there were a large number of lazy, poor quality freelancers out there, but I soon realized it was the client that caused the “not so pleasant” experience in the first place. Don’t be so quick to judge; Take a close look at the client first.
September 30th, 2010 at 7:55 pm
There are a lot of useful tips. Thank you!
September 30th, 2010 at 7:57 pm
I agree with all of these, except for the part about keeping your rates low. Most freelancers I know undercharge and end up working way too many hours to compensate. Just because a client questions your rate doesn’t mean you’re charging too much, because many clients don’t realize why freelancers need to charge more than employees to cover overhead like self-employment taxes, health insurance, computers and software, etc. In fact, I’d argue that if no one’s questioning your rates, it might be time to raise them.
In my opinion, the goal is not to be affordable to everyone. It’s to find that sweet spot where the clients you want to work with can afford you and you can still earn a comfortable living without working a million hours a day.
September 30th, 2010 at 11:18 pm
Great article Brian! I value most of the points you’ve mentioned, such as being friendly, be professional online and offline, and doing exceptional work for the client. I’d also like to add that being honest in all things related to the project, being on time, and being communicative with everything from issues to progress updates also sets you apart from other freelancers.
October 1st, 2010 at 7:15 am
nice tips but its been repeated here many a times….i guess there is no parallel to sincerity and hard work
MadyOctober 1st, 2010 at 12:31 pm
Totally agree with Susan’s comments above, in particular “Never miss a deadline”. I’m actually surprised at how many clients have told me about freelancers who blithely promise to deliver and then come up with dozens of creative excuses why they could not.
Hitting deadlines, every time, is one of the marks of a true professional, in my opinion. It’s often useful to say to a client “let me look at the project, and I’ll let you know when, in my experience, I can deliver it”. I always build in a little extra time for unexpected issues, and find clients are grateful for the additional value provided by an accurate assessment of the volume, quantity and attention their project will entail.
MadyOctober 1st, 2010 at 12:37 pm
Apologies – That should read “agree with Freelance FactFile’s comment” about never missing a deadline.
More coffee required today, I guess… :)
October 2nd, 2010 at 10:07 pm
Absolutely agree with this. “Be Personal and Friendly”. I kept in touch with my previous clients via Blackberry Messenger just say hello, or what’s up. Then they keep call me, offer new project although I am no longer accept freelance projects. But the point is, it’s work for me.
October 4th, 2010 at 5:39 pm
* Visibility – set up a website, e.g. mavenlink.com, that allows you to make your process and your progress transparent.
* Responsive communication – The eight-hour rule is a good one, but make sure the client knows your schedule, and when you plan to be working on their project, so they don’t expect a response while you are at your sister’s wedding. (I don’t text, and I don’t plan to start. My favorite cellular carrier is NoPhone — lowest rates in the industry;-)
October 4th, 2010 at 7:54 pm
Seem like things you should be doing in everyday life as well as your career. I would say communication should also be on the list. Letting clients know you are there and can be reach, even at odd hours if there is a problem, should really help build a strong relationship.
October 5th, 2010 at 9:48 am
It’s tough to stay friendly and professional at the same time when it comes to freelancing. I do love however the tip on going the extra mile to save your clients money. Like, instead of them hiring a new person, you may offer your skills instead. That will save your client all the hassles of hiring and putting their trust on someone new. I think what worked for me is giving some sort of reward for my loyal customers, like a discount for bulk work or freebie ( and I even send out a Christmas greeting card via snail mail ).
October 5th, 2010 at 4:21 pm
Travis, your comment is very interesting. Not having a boss is part of my fantasy because of the freedom to work from anywhere and pick your work. Freelancing still appeals to me. Ditching the daily commute is just one of many reasons why freelancing sounds great.
November 8th, 2010 at 12:33 pm
ummmm….. this post seems to be about being a good freelancer and not about setting yourself apart.
If you want to set yourself apart, you will need to figure out an angle and do something no one else is doing. You’ll need to set trends instead of follow them.
August 1st, 2012 at 2:48 pm
Great article Brian! I value most of the points you’ve mentioned, such as being friendly, be professional online and offline, and doing exceptional work for the client. I’d also like to add that being honest in all things related to the project, being on time, and being communicative with everything from issues to progress updates also sets you apart from other freelancers. free finance news this site. googlefreeforexsignal -
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