I'm coming up to ONE year of freelancing full time, my mind is blown that I have managed to thrive in my first year of going at it alone. I won't lie, it's fucking challenging at times, some days I wake up and stair into the mirror and think "what am I meant to do, today"? If your new to the game welcome, you now have to unlearn the structure of your education and know that you can comfortably make your own choices about your work, without having a boss hold your hand.
But once you understand you are in control you are empowered to make better choices and work through the challenging times. To get to this stage, you have to understand ONE fundamental idea 'YOU ARE GOING TO FAIL', and I mean multiple times, and where failure truly has an impact on your bottom line (the dollars) and your self-esteem is with client relationships.
It is very easy to justify failure when it is contained in your own work but when it affects others, the people who have given you their trust, it's a hard pill to swallow. You don't have the backing a corporation or team to soften the blow either.
Although it will happen, trust me it will, you can take steps in client relations to ensure you manage expectations and create winning partnerships. I have made many mistakes you can learn from, so let's dive in and tell you 5 ways to handle client relationships when you're new to the freelance game.
1. Know your worth and ignore clients who don't appreciate your value.
Knowing your value is hard to back when you first start out. To land those first few contracts, you have to 100% believe in the value you can provide. Knowing your value is what will distinguish you from the cheap $5 an hour, Upwork cohort that undercuts freelancers worldwide. Know you can say NO to contracts when your value is not appreciated.
Be cautious of a client asking for you to do it cheaper or questioning your pricing. If you come across a client that has unrealistic expecations about workloads and timeframes, say no and move on. Trust me that contract is not worth the time, pain and frustration you will have to endure. Know that another opportunity is just around the corner.
On the flip side, if you take on that client that undermines your expertise and talent, you will be fighting an uphill battle and they will always expect more for less money. Trust me it's not worth it. You need to know your value, how much you are worth and believe in what you can deliver. If you can accomplish this mindset you will find it so much easier avoiding the clients that waste your time and money.
2. Set clear expectations with timelines and pricing.
I can not stress this enough, if you take anything away from this article its this rule. If you always set clear expectations on cost and delivery time, you will rarely have challenges with client relations. PERIOD.
Don't tighten that timeline because you feel you need to meet a tight turnaround and never undercut your costs to present a quote that is more appealing at the start, then add fees later down the line. It's not worth the pain and disloyalty to will insight into your client's minds. Be honest, upfront and clear about your value and your delivery. If expectations are clearly set, no client can question your honesty and value.
3. Always communicate clearly
Lost in translation is very real when you're freelancing, and any miscommunication can quickly turn into a 'she said, he said' equation that helps no one. If you constantly find your self drowning in work and feeling like a slave to your clients, you definitely have communication issues.
You need to communicate everything, and I mean everything. This ensures everyone is on the same page and understands where attention is needed and the expectations from client to freelancer.
I still struggle with communicating effectively, sometimes I feel like a babysitter, wasting so much time in email and on calls that I never get the job done, while other times I really struggle to reach out, at the right time and ensure the client when it's needed.
It will take time to develop these skills and knowing when to take action at the appropriate time, but as a rule of thumb, if you feel like a conversation needs to be had, there is a high chance the client feels the same. Also, always tell the client what you have completed and what you are moving to next. This simple action ensures they are gaining value for their spend and progression can be seen. Involve them in the process as much as the relationship allows.
Finally, never forget the golden rule, get everything in writing and get it signed. Even if you have started a project and outcomes have changed, put those changes in writing and sign a new contract. You need to able to protect your self when you freelance.
4. Don't be afraid to pull rank and call out bullshit
I have worked in many customer-facing jobs, from bartending, retail and services sales, so the old saying 'the customer is always right' has been drilled into me for many years. However, I have seriously questioned this old adage as I have stepped into the realm of freelancing.
When you freelance or set up an agency you are staking a claim that you're offering services and skills that other companies lack, hence why they are hiring you. Therefore you are hired as the expert to provide sound advice to a corporation. You know better than your clients and if they think they do.... why have they hired you in the first place?
Seriously, why are you signed to a project if the client thinks they know how to solve the problem they hired you to fix?
Keeping that in mind, don't be afraid to call out bullshit from clients, you have been hired for a reason and own that fact. If you believe the client is going down a path that is not the right move for the business or if a client is not respecting your talent, don't be afraid to call it out and put the focus back on their decision to hire you in the first place. After all, they contracted you for your expertise and they need to respect your talent and advice. If they choose to ignore sound advice, that is on them, but handle these conflicts with integrity and pride in your ability.
Tell the client if they are creating unrealistic expectations, if they are stretching their resources too far or if their decision has affected your ability to do your job. Do it, call it out, tell them and be very upfront. You are your own boss, you're not hired full time by the business and they need you for your talent and expertise. The customer is not always right when it comes to freelancing and often they don't even know what they need or want. It's your job to navigate these discussions and advise appropriately.
5. Never take anything personally
Never take it personally, is a lesson I struggled to learn. I always try to put 110% into any work I execute on, and often when working on client projects they start to feel like my own. The hard part of this mindset is in distancing your self from the work and the opinions of clients. Girl you gotta let that connection go, overwise your will start to take on criticism of the work as criticism of you as a person.
At the end of the day, it's your job to create products, service or assets for your client. It's not your own project and you need a buffer between you and the work. Clients will have opinions on all the output you deliver and trust me they can be brutally honest at times. You need to understand the person on the receiving end is looking for the best delivery possible, they want the same outcome as you. Even if their idea of a perfect solution is completely different from yours. Learn how to navigate these discussions and solve the problem the client is experiencing. Advise with a firm hand and demand respect, but also let go of your connection to the work and worry about your bank account and your future goals.