Freelancing Lessons from Tech Support

freelancing lessons from tech supportWhen I left my full-time job to strike out alone, I wondered whether the past couple of years had been a waste of time. Two years working in technical support didn’t seem like good preparation for a freelancing career involving writing and website creation.

But then I realized that a number of the “lessons learnt” during my time in tech support could help me in my freelance career as well. Dealing with clients is a priority in any business, and a lot of the tricks I learned from tech support apply to freelancing as well.

Here are a few client relationship lessons I learned from working in tech support:

Have stock email responses ready in a file

In my support team, we were used to some simple questions or problems coming up frequently (such as “Help, I’ve lost my password” and “I need to deactivate an account”.) There was no point typing out new replies to these each time. Instead, we created a file of stock responses to use.

As a freelancer, you’ll probably find yourself sending a lot of emails. Some will be very similar: applications for gigs, information about your prices, a quick run-down of the services you offer. If you find yourself typing out the same paragraphs repeatedly, create a “stock response file”. Good things to include are:

  • A few sentences of biographical information
  • Your history in your industry (with links to sites you’ve designed, articles you’ve written, past clients, etc)
  • The summary version of your contract, or terms of service
  • Any common explanations that clients need

Send more information than the client asks for

When you’re racing through a full inbox, it’s tempting to dash off emails as quickly as possible. But it’s worth taking an extra couple of minutes to include some extra information – it reduces the chance that you’ll get into a game of email ping-pong as your client asks, “OK, but now what?”

So, attach your terms of service “just for your reference”, even if you’ve not yet closed the deal. Send a link to your portfolio with every application, even if samples weren’t specifically requested. If a client needs a brand new site designed and you also write (like the Men with Pens), then mention that you can offer this too.

Don’t make assumptions about how much your client knows

When you’re an expert in your field, it’s easy to forget how confusing things can be to people outside it. In tech support, I knew not everyone would understand terms like “radio button”: if your client is struggling with filling out your contact form, you might need to tell them to “click in one of the little circles” instead. Screenshots can be a big help.

This applies to writers and designers too, not just techies. Don’t assume that terms like “copywriter” and “sans serif” will be understood: give clear, concise, non-patronizing explanations when you use any words that might be considered jargon. Nobody wants to be made to feel stupid by having to email back for a definition of all the acronyms in your message.

Respond promptly to emails – but take your time to look into problems

Stay on top of emails: you don’t need to respond to everything the same day, but don’t leave messages sitting in your inbox for weeks. Even if your reply can only be “I need some time to look into that, I’ll get back to you next week”, it reassures the client that you’ve received their email and that they’ll be receiving a considered response.

On the flip side, take your time to look into any issues that the client has raised. Perhaps they’ve asked about a particular sentence in a piece of copy you’ve written: double-check that the grammar really is correct before firing off a snappy email telling them that you’re the writer and you know best. If they insist that the website you’ve designed for them is “looking all funny” on their computer, check it out in as many browsers as possible on several different sized monitors to see if they might be right.

If you currently have, or have ever had, a “real” job – what did you learn that’s helped you as a freelancer?