Roughly one out of three people took some form of freelance work in the last year, according to a 2017 survey — 36% of the US workforce, to be more exact.
If you were one of them, you may have brushed elbows with other freelancers offering the same services you offer. Maybe it was exciting and collaborative (“There’s enough pie to go around, folks!”), or maybe it was more than a little awkward (“Oh look, you’re doing the exact same work for 50% less. Or 50% more. Either way, I hate you.”)
I’m here today to tell you that for all the talk about niche’ing, differentiators, expertise, and training… for freelancers, there are two things that will help you stand above the crowd. And these things are your secret to building up a strong referral network in record time.
Communicate often and keep your promises.
That’s pretty much it.
“But I just invested in this training course!” “But what about craftsmanship!” Yes, I hear you, and those are important for delivering a better product and therefore justifying increased prices over time.
However, that’s step 2. We’re talking about step 1. Because waaaay too many freelancers are still lagging in the communication/promises department.
Let’s dive a bit deeper.
Your client just gave you money. No matter how small the amount may seem, you can bet they’re anxious about what kind of return they’re going to get.
How do you calm their fears? Simply communicate. Share status updates. Ask for input when it’s warranted.
And remember, communication is a two-way street. Make sure you’re doing a whole lot of listening at the beginning of the project to make sure you get the details right. All of my problems in freelancing have come when I didn’t take the extra time to learn about the client deeply enough and build rapport with them. So schedule the extra video call. Do the extra discovery. It can be a pain, but it’s far easier than 10 rounds of revisions because your expectations weren’t aligned.
…and keep your promises
A lot of new freelancers get antsy about their first projects. Maybe you haven’t done much of this, and you aren’t sure they’re qualified to be freelancing.
And you know, maybe you’re not. But your level of qualification doesn’t matter right now.
It’s not about you. It’s about what you can deliver.
Don’t fret — just make sure you only make promises you can keep. If all you can do is write a really simple social media calendar, that’s great. Not all businesses can afford a big, high-powered strategy anyway, and right now you can deliver more than they can do on their own. Be honest about what you can do, and let the customer decide if it’s worth it to them.
Then, of course, deliver on the promise. Stick to the due date — and whenever possible, deliver it early. This builds serious goodwill, which can lead to positive testimonials and even better, referrals.
“But this stuff is basic!”
If you’re thinking this, good on you! You’re already better than 90% of freelancers.
Does that sound crazy to you? I’m not making this up. I’m reporting to you what my clients have told me. Freelancers are a dime a dozen. But a freelancer who’s on top of things and consistently delivers as promised? They tell me that’s a unicorn.
There are tons (TONS) of people offering the same service as you. And with the internet allowing us access to all the same clients, a lot of us are in the same boat together. Delivering like a professional goes a long way.
How to be better than ninety-FIVE percent of freelancers
Okay, so you know how to communicate and you always deliver what you say you will, on time. How can you be even better?
There are lots of directions that will take you toward better clients, better work, and better income, but they all involve one thing: a crystal-clear process.
When a potential client reaches out to you for the first time, what kind of experience do they get? A few back and forth emails before you email a quote? Or do you send them a link to your Calendly to schedule an intro call? Does it vary?
Mapping out the sales journey allows you to optimize it as you go. Put a stake in the sand and decide at what point you schedule a call, when you send a proposal, and how you deliver it (psst — delivering a proposal live is usually better than just emailing it!)
If this is sounding overwhelming, I wrote this other article for you:
Beyond the sales process, you’ll want a clear process for delivering the work. This means that you have to stop taking whatever jobs people bring to you and instead focus on a few specialties. Ideally, map it out from beginning to end. The timeline might vary depending on the size of the project, but you should know what kind of discovery you need to do before the project begins, how you’ll communicate throughout the project, and how you’ll deliver the final result.
Freelancing is much more than doing the work
Many of us began freelancing because we love the work we do and wanted to do more of it. Escape the office! Stick it to the man!
However, freelancing is running a business, and it requires you to be all parts of a business at once.
Luckily, the more streamlined you become, the more time you get to spend doing what you came here for. You’ll learn to outsource, to use automation tools, to focus in on what’s most important in your business. You’ll become a highly trained specialist you can deliver great results again and again.
And then you’ll look around and realize that the only competition that ever mattered is yourself.