Freelancer Etiquette 101: A Guide to Connecting with Clients

Freelancing is becoming increasingly commonplace in today's web-based environment. More and more people are utilizing the advantages of the Internet to work from home, have flexible schedules, and carry out the work they most desire. However, many freelancers have difficulty establishing or branding themselves in the independent workforce.

This can be due to many reasons, not east of which is the inability to practice proper social etiquette. Indeed, many freelancers, particularly those who are just starting in the industry, are unaware of the unique social skills required for working in this way. Learning how to communicate with potential and existing clients is one of the most important aspects of having a lucrative freelance career.

Freelancer Etiquette 101: A Guide to Connecting with Clients
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Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot. - Clarence Thomas

Freelancer Etiquette 101

The Importance of Social Etiquette

Working on a freelance basis presents its own unique set of challenges. Freelancers who are just starting out in the business have no reputation to rely upon and have to market themselves. They are also often competing with larger, better established companies. It can be very difficult for a freelancer to get their foot in the door of the business that they choose. However, freelancing also offers extreme advantages. As an individual, a freelancer can provide personalized services to their clients.

They can build relationships with their clients in a way larger companies cannot. Social etiquette plays a key role in forging these relationships and in keeping them strong.

Social Etiquette
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Real World Etiquette

The tried and true method of meeting prospective clients in person can be tough for freelancers. Many wish to focus on the work at hand but forget the vital nature etiquette has to play in order to gain and maintain freelance assignments. Freelancers must be reliable, dependable, and accessible regardless of the type of work being performed. When meeting with a client, they should pay attention to their dress and hygiene.

While it may be true that a freelancer who works from home performs the majority of their duties in jeans and a t-shirt, meeting with business clients may require a more professional form of dress. Freelancers should always carry several well-designed resumes, hard copy samples, and should give out at least three business cards to each contact so your contact details will spread.

Politeness and consideration for others is like investing pennies and getting dollars back. - Thomas Sowell

They should view meetings with potential clients similarly to job interviews. On those occasions that I have face-to-face meetings with clients I compile a packet of information with each of these items. I carry one for each person with whom I will be meeting, and always have an extra for the office manager/administrative assistant. 

Real World Etiquette
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Follow-up with these prospective clients is vital, but can also be confusing. Freelancers want to give their potential clients space while seizing on the opportunity that may await. In general, following up a meeting with an email is appropriate. The email should be simple and to the point, thanking the client for the meeting.

It can also contain a few brief details that may have been left out of the initial meeting. Further, an email is preferred over an immediate phone call in that it can contain links to an online resume or website. Do not include attachments unless they were specifically requested in the meeting. A phone call or letter can follow in a day or two, again keeping simplicity in mind.

Managing a Personal Website

Directing a potential client to your great portfolio is arguably the best way to share samples of work, resumes, contact information, and details about rates. Some freelancers do worry that putting this information in the public's eye can be a security risk. Generally, it is better to have the exposure.

Most people's contact information is easily found through multiple sources on the web. Unless the freelancer is on the run from the law or an angry ex-girlfriend, placing contact information online is fine.

Portfolio of Steven Bonner
Portfolio of Steven Bonner

Social Etiquette Online

Just because online etiquette can be carried out while wearing pajamas does not make it any less important. If anything, social etiquette is far more important online. Prospective clients want to work with freelancers who are talented and dependable. While talent is displayed in the work performed, dependability is often based upon the communication between the freelancer and the client.

Freelancers must send out samples and resumes online just as they would in person. However, there is an added online bonus of being contacted by prospective clients through web pages and large freelance databases. It is imperative that a freelancer decides upfront how he or she will handle communication with clients that are met in this way.

Many choose to set up an email auto responder so that the client gets some communication back immediately. Others reserve this type of service only for those occasions that they are out of town. Some choose to respond to a prospective client immediately, sometimes within minutes, while others do not want to set a precedent for a quick turnaround. In any case, it is important to respond to all emails within 24 hours.

Social Etiquette Online
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Online freelancers must also choose a schedule for themselves prior to taking on any client. When freelancers tell clients they are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, they must be able to adhere to this schedule.

To keep personal and professional life separated, it is a good idea to have a separate phone number that is only for clients. This small expense gives freelancers more credibility.

Don't reserve your best behavior for special occasions. You can't have two sets of manners, two social codes - one for those you admire and want to impress, another for those whom you consider unimportant. You must be the same to all people. - Lillian Eichler Watson

Personal vs. Professional Relationships

The online world is awash with social networking. Maintaining an active social life in the 21st century often means keeping up with others on Facebook or Twitter. This raises the jarring question about whether or not to communicate with clients in these formats.

For the most part, it is a bad idea to socialize with individuals with whom there is a professional relationship. Separating the two allows the freelancer to have their own, private space. It also keeps any worry of insulting or otherwise upsetting the client at bay. Of course, this can be impossible in some instances.

If a client begins following the freelancer's personal blog or Twitter account, there is precious little that the freelancer can do. A friend request sent via Facebook is likewise difficult to turn down when faced with a person that is paying for services on a regular basis. When I found this happening to me, I cut back on my online socializing.

I gather that if my clients see me spending a great deal of time on Facebook they also realize that I am not spending that time working on their projects. In the end, it has actually made me a better freelancer and has forced me to more closely assess those things that I share online.

LinkedIn is a social networking site that focuses on working relationships. As an alternative to Facebook, LinkedIn is a good place to communicate with current and prospective clients in a professional capacity. LinkedIn also gives the freelancer access to a number of groups and forums. These can help connect freelancers with more clients.

Furthermore, the more active the freelancer is in these types of groups, the more likely he or she will be to learn and grow from others. Prospective clients can take notice of this. The freelancer that is searching for current trends gains a reputation of being on the cutting edge.

Building Trust

Etiquette does not end once a potential client has signed on for freelance services. The difficult part of securing the client is over, but the sometimes more difficult part of excellent customer service and maintaining the account has just begun. I like to communicate with clients throughout a job.

I will send them pieces of the work I am crafting to make sure that it is in line with what they are expecting. I also send regular emails, giving them progress reports about the assignment. This can be a difficult task with some clients. There are those who are thrilled with the notion of being kept in the loop of an important project. Others are annoyed by the interruption.

They wish to be left alone until the work is completed. I have found it is best to give too much than not enough, but as a freelancer it is important to pay attention to the clients needs. If he or she says they don't need daily progress reports, I send them on a weekly basis.

Building Trust
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Trust is built with work that is completed accurately and in the allotted time. A client has no interest in extending deadlines. If an assignment seems too burdensome to complete in the time given, it is best to communicate that with the client before the assignment has been accepted. Sometimes clients will choose to go with a different freelancer.

At other times they will extend the deadline. Either way, it is always in a freelancer's best interest to only take on jobs that are reasonable for them. Otherwise, they run the risk of building a reputation that is based on poor work and delays.

Conclusion

Social etiquette can make or break a freelance career. Make the right choices and a client can be yours for a lifetime. Make the wrong choices, and you may be looking for work in a different sector very soon. By communicating your successes and failures, you may find a new way of turning your challenges into triumphs.

What are some of the challenges you have faced when communicating with clients? Can you name some mistakes that you have made? How have you learned from those mistakes?