If you’re a freelancer, the world thinks you don’t have a “real” job. I was once at a church function and heard one of our close friends tell my wife, “well, at least you work” while glancing at me sideways. I wanted to respond with snark, but I let the opportunity pass.
Freelancers and remote workers aren’t good at banishing this perception. We don’t set boundaries. We make room in our schedules for random last-minute coffee dates. We say “yes” when we should say “no.”
But setting boundaries isn’t going to be enough. You might be able to convince your friends you have a real job, but how do you convince your clients? Their perception of your work directly affects how much they’re willing to pay you.
Today we’re going to talk about that. How can you be professional while freelancing or working online? Here’s how we re-engineer that perception.
1. Act Competent
This is something I struggle with as a freelancer. I’ve never felt worthy of my accomplishments. And when you add on top the weight of imposter syndrome, it becomes difficult to self-promote.
But if you’ve already pleased clients in some way shape or form, you’re good at what you do. Your work is worth what you charge.
Are you taking pride in your work? This is where you sew the seed of competence in yourself. Instead of looking at your work and saying, “I’m no good at this,” say, “I can improve, but this is pretty good stuff.”
As you work, keep a log of results. Not only will this boost your confidence, it will give you fodder when your clients ask about previous results.
Think of yourself as strong. You forged your own path. You eschewed traditional (and more stable!) employment. You are stronger than you think.
2. Be Reliable
“I get it that life happens, but there’s a certain point where that excuse doesn’t hold water anymore.” A local entrepreneur and travel expert told me this with a note of frustration in her voice. Someone had deferred their work a little too long.
Are you a person of your word? As a freelancer, you have to be. If you set a deadline, stick to it. If you say you’re going to complete a project, complete it.
You need to remember that you are your brand. If you aren’t reliable in one instance, clients will believe you’re always unreliable.
If you have too much work to handle, it’s time to outsource. This is a good thing. It means your business is growing.
3. Be Honest
You know your limits. While you should show yourself to be competent, don’t overdo it.
You are human. This means you are not perfect. You can’t do two things at once. You can’t be writing an article for one client while researching something for another.
If you are dishonest with your clients about your capabilities or the amount you can produce for them, then you’ll fail. If you fail, they’ll label you unreliable. Word will spread, and your career as a freelancer will be over.
Just be honest. Then your clients will know what to expect from you and you’ll lower your stress.
4. Be a Networker
Freelancing/remote work can be isolating. The work-from-home stereotype is often true. You get up, eat breakfast, and stumble into your home office without changing into “real” clothes.
But staying home and working day-in and day-out won’t increase your network. Only going out and meeting other humans will do this.
One great way to accomplish this is working in a coworking space. Yes, they can be noisy places full of businesspeople talking to customers and clients, but those are the people who will widen your net. And apart from wearing name badges when you go out to do your errands, there is no better way to meet people in your community.
5. Be Empathetic
Your client’s problems are your problems. Even if those problems aren’t directly related to the work you do.
You will need to learn how to empathize with your client. Maybe you don’t fully understand their business practices, but it’s possible to lend an ear to their frustrations.
If your clients perceive you care about their other affairs, they’ll more readily believe you are the one to solve the problems you know how to solve.
6. Be Communicative
In any relationship, communication is important. I just finished watching “A Marriage Story” with Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. And the main characters’ biggest problem was communication.
Are you communicating with your clients from the moment you begin? How often do you update your client on a project? Daily? Weekly?
Sure, your client wouldn’t appreciate an hourly update, but a daily update on a short-term project might be well received. If it’s a long-term project, say several months, you could reduce your communication schedule to once a week.
If you don’t communicate at this level, your client will wonder if they are a top priority. Or are you spending time on “more valuable” clients?
This may not seem like a fair perception, but it’s how people think when their partners don’t communicate with them. Be communicative or your client might just divorce you.
7. Be Disciplined
At a “real” job, there is always someone looking over your shoulder. Are you doing your work? Are you getting to work on time? Are you staying late enough?
While this can be stressful, it keeps you disciplined. As a freelancer, you don’t have a boss. You are your own boss.
This is great until you realize you can pardon yourself. You can pardon yourself for waking up late. You can pardon yourself for quitting early. You can pardon yourself for taking too long of a lunch break.
Soon, you’ll have reduced your hours to a minimum. Your client won’t be able to get ahold of you because you’re busy somewhere else.
The best way to beat this gradual decline is keep a schedule. You might have thought to escape the 9-5. And you may still yet. But setting aside 6-8 hours a day for work and keeping those hours is crucial to staying on task.
Regular hours also look professional. Not only will they keep you productive, they will keep your boundaries.
Keep your boundaries or your clients will bug you at all hours. It’s time to be professional as a freelancer. You’ll find it frees your time and increases your income.