One thing that puts many people off freelancing before they even begin is the apparently perilous nature of the job. Too many factors seem uncontrollable. Even those who have been freelancing for a while can find themselves in trouble if they’re not diligent and disciplined in their approach — if their freelancing isn’t bulletproof.
What’s bulletproof freelancing? Bulletproof means no misunderstandings. It means everything’s clear, all of the time, and if it’s not, you register that fact and clarify it immediately.
Bulletproof freelancers know where they stand with clients, know what their financial position is, and are always able to address client concerns or work-related issues as — if not before — they arise.
Bulletproof freelancing entails five basic principles.
1. Treat every client and contact professionally and with respect
If we feel wronged by someone, many of us believe it’s okay to retaliate, or to treat them in a similarly disrespectful way.
Not the bulletproof freelancer. You have to keep your cool and your self-respect at all times, which means you must constantly treat your client with dignity, whatever they may do.
I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t stop working with a client who doesn’t meet your reasonable requests, or treats you in a way you dislike. On the contrary: if you’re always respectful, and you always act professionally, you’ll know when it’s time to end the relationship, and you’ll be in a good position to do so with a minimum of stress or fuss.
2. Be honest about your concerns as soon as you register them
The bulletproof freelancer is consciously self-aware. They’re always listening to the little voice inside that starts grumbling when things seem iffy. And they attend to it immediately, registering those concerns, looking at them closely, and working out what to do to rectify them.
To be truly bulletproof, you need to be honest with yourself about your worries, and with your clients. If you can raise any issues as soon as you become aware of them, you’ll gain a reputation for honest dealing and fairness, which your clients will love.
3. Make clients aware of consequences of their actions in person
If a client makes a call that you believe will negatively impact the project, you have a professional obligation to tell them so (see point 2 above). Make a point of doing that in person — in a meeting, or at least over the phone. Don’t leave it to email or IM.
In-person discussions will allow you to flesh out issues, explain your concerns in full, and communicate via gestures, expressions, and tone of voice exactly how important the implications of the decision will be. If your concerned about those implications, treat them with due gravity, and arrange a meeting to discuss them.
Of course, giving good feedback on client decisions is also a great way to strengthen relationships and boost communication. Making clients aware of the positive impacts of their choices can help to make you bulletproof from a competitive perspective.
4. Confirm every agreement you make in writing
The bulletproof freelancer confirms everything in writing. Not just the project specification, contract terms, budget and timeframes, but also any directives from the client, change requests, and additional information that will affect either the relationship of the project outcome.
For example, once you’ve had your meeting to discuss the potentially negative implications of a client’s decision on a project, send them an email just to itemise what was discussed (the client’s request and your advice to them), and the decision that was reached. Also detail the time or cost implications of that decision, and ask them to confirm that what you’ve detailed is correct.
This way, your client knows where they stand, you know where you stand, and your position and work product remain bulletproof, no matter what the outcome. Freelancers can’t always convince clients to make the best decisions, but as professionals, it’s our job to ensure that they’re aware of what that means for the future of the job.
5. Always overdeliver
The bulletproof freelancer overdelivers on every job, and with every client. You can exceed client expectations in many ways — think of it as going the extra mile, rather than spending extra, unpaid hours on the job out of sheer goodwill.
Maybe you’ll give your client weekly emailed status updates or let them know when you hit project mini-milestones. Maybe you’ll take them out for a coffee for your next work-in-progress meeting. Maybe you’ll acknowledge every contact they make with you, whether it’s a missed call or a single-line email. Maybe you’ll make a time to meet in person with others in the client organization that your contact puts you in touch with.
Make overdelivery your policy, and it’ll become second nature. It’ll also help to make you bulletproof: your clients will know you care for them and their projects, and they’ll be more inclined to flexibility and relationship building, than a mere a client-supplier scenario.
Bulletproof freelancing is ultimately about strength: the strength of your character, your professionalism, and the client relationships you develop. Are you a bulletproof freelancer?
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