If you’re a freelancer with excellent communication skills, then you’re ahead of the pack. You’re more likely to have an easier time marketing your services. You’ll have smoother client relations. And you can charge more than competitors who jeopardize their credibility and professionalism with poor communication.
How can you be a better communicator?
Below are some of the most common communication mistakes I’ve seen freelancers making. Read through the list, identify which errors you make, and make an effort to avoid making them again.
Top Common Communication Errors of Freelancers
Here are some communication errors to avoid:
- Typographical and grammatical errors. Misspellings, run-on sentences, wrong use of punctuation marks are just some of the errors that make freelancers look less professional and less credible. Everything nowadays has a spell checker, even your phone, so there’s little excuse to misspell words. Spell checker notwithstanding, it’s still easy to use the wrong words and make other mistakes, so don’t rely on your computer to catch errors. The best way to find them is to proofread every piece of communication before sending it off. It’s even better if you can ask someone else to read through it, because your familiarity with something you wrote can make you blind to your mistakes.
- Focusing on yourself rather than the client. Remember, it’s all about them, not you. Every piece of communication you write should be written from the point of view of the client. Anticipate their needs, questions and concerns. Respect their time by being as brief as possible and getting straight to the point. And always clearly state what’s in it for them, and what they need to do next.
- Being too polite. I’m all for good manners, but sometimes we can go too far. The problem with being too polite is you can start sounding like you’re begging for something. For example, saying “I would appreciate it if you could sign this Terms of Agreement and send it back to me by Friday,” is polite but sounds too subservient. Simply say “Please sign this Terms of Agreement and send it back by Friday.” Remember you’re on an equal footing with your clients. You’re not their slave, employee or gofer.
- Not asking for the sale. This is a common mistake freelancers make on promotional materials and project proposals. It can stem from being too timid to sell one’s services, fear of rejection, or disdain for selling. The thing is, whether you like it or not, as a freelancer you’re also now a salesperson–for your services. Nobody else is going to do it for (unless you hire sales reps for your freelancing biz). So get used to asking for a sale. Tell your prospect to sign the proposal or contract and make the deposit on your services. It’s not about being pushy, but it is about being confident of your ability to help your prospects and clients.
- Using the wrong tone. Freelancers can go to the extreme of either being too formal or too colloquial. If you’re targeting corporate clients, the temptation is to use a stiff tone and corporate-speak. On the other end of the spectrum are freelancers who’ve heard the advice to use a conversational tone and write, literally, the way they speak. “Conversational” means an easy-to-understand style, but it doesn’t mean colloquial. In other words, we’re not aiming to write the way we would talk to a friend. Rather, we’re aiming for the way we would talk to colleagues in a business meeting or a presentation. You’d use complete, grammatically correct sentences and avoid both slang and highfaluting language.
- Not listening to the prospect or client. We all enter a conversation with preconceived notions about what a prospect/client needs and wants. Sometimes this gets in the way of truly hearing what they’re saying, leading to miscommunication, miscues, bad vibes and loss of income for you. It pays to always confirm that we’ve understood what our client is saying. You can do this by saying things like: “Do you mean….” “What I hear you saying is….” or “In other words, what you’re really looking for is….”
- Lack of details. Whether in a project proposal, contract or ordinary email, the lack of details can put a freelancer in a tight spot. Imagine, for example, signing a contract that doesn’t say how many revisions you’ll make. You’ll soon find yourself having to make countless revisions without recourse, because the contract didn’t put a cap on them. Double-check proposals (use this guide) and contracts before sending them off. Try to anticipate questions and concerns your client may have, as well as unexpected events that may come up.
- Avoiding bad news. Nobody likes to hear bad news, and nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news. If you’re running late on a project, or if something came up that would mean more costs or other problems for the client, it’s natural to want to avoid mentioning it. However, sweeping problems under the rug can make things worse. Your client deserves to be kept informed of all progress on a project–good or bad. The key thing, to avoid having your client blowing his or her top on you, is to offer a solution along with the bad news. For example, you could say, “I just found out one of the plugins in your site is incompatible with the upgraded theme. However, I’ve found another plugin that does the same thing and is compatible. That plugin is $27.”
- No follow up. Here’s another common freelancing communication mistake, and one I’ve made myself: not following up. As we’ve discussed in Freelance Folder before, the follow up can make all the difference between a proposal that goes unnoticed and one that leads to a paid project. Sure, you don’t want to be a pushy pest. But realize that most prospects are extremely busy and need a little reminder now and then. If you’re feeling intimidated about following up, using these steps, or adapting them to your situation, will make it easier.
- Responding too late or not at all. Freelancers have told me they’ve gotten gigs, not because they’re necessarily the best freelancer out there, but simply because they responded to a prospect first. Now I’m not saying you should check your email inbox every ten minutes. However, do aim to reply to prospects and clients within 24 hours at the most. Remember what Woody Allen says: “80 percent of success is showing up.” Your communication is your way of showing up. If you’re late or absent, then you’ll lose out.
What can you improve?
Good communication is one of those skills that pay off, not just in freelancing, but for the rest of your life. By consistently improving your communication skills, you’re also improving the quality of your life.
Having read the ten most common communication mistakes freelancers make, what can you do to improve the way you communicate with prospects and clients?
And are there other communication errors I missed in this post?
I’d love to read about it in the comments below.
Image by jma.work