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Becoming a reliable freelancer: 12 tips for success

How to ensure clients view you as a prized supplier

It's a dog-eat-dog world for freelancers. There is growing competition for work and you're only as good as your last job.

You'll hear those clichés a lot as a freelancer, because they are largely true. Reliability is the asset most prized by clients among their freelancers, and it's the key to a successful freelance career. Sporadic brilliance gets trumped by nose-to-the-grindstone dependability every time. You are called on as an intermittent resource, so you have to be on the money every time. So what makes you Mr or Ms Reliable?

1. Deliver good work

It almost goes without saying that the standard of your work should be universally high. However, it's easy to let it dip at times. The reasons this might happen could include taking on too much work, failure to understand or abide by your brief, or a lack of experience in a particular area. Protect your personal brand by ensuring that you don't fall down in these areas. There can be a temptation to BANJO some jobs. This means ‘bang a nasty job out' where you rush something you're not enjoying to get it off your plate. Try to resist this, as it could simply lead to you being taken off a company's freelance roster. Plus, you will probably still have to put right the substandard work that you were commissioned for.

2. Always deliver to the brief you are given

If the brief is unclear, question it and clarify any areas that you don't understand. Make sure that you send your questions by email and get a reply in writing. This will ensure that everybody is aware of what has been commissioned and that there are no misunderstandings at a later date. You will do everyone a favour in the long run. This doesn't mean that you can't question a brief as you go along. As you do a job, it may become clear that a brief needs to be amended. Be proactive in contacting the client if you think this needs to happen.

3. Stay in contact and keep the client abreast of developments

It can be easy to go into head-down mode and crack on with a project without letting the client know what is going on. With longer projects especially, it pays to have some sort of regular reporting built in to your relationship. This can be as simple as a weekly phone call or email to update them. Even if there is nothing to tell, by keeping your client informed you give them confidence that they can go on with their job, safe in the knowledge that you are on top of yours. The project you have may be just one part of a bigger project that the client is orchestrating, so if there are problems at your end, they may have to make adjustments elsewhere along the chain. Don't leave them in the dark and don't leave it to the last minute to break bad news.

4. When things do go awry, don't bring problems without solutions

Things do go wrong sometimes and clients should accept that, but as the person closest to a particular part of the project you may be in the best position to suggest what to do next. Even if your suggestion isn't taken up, you have demonstrated that you are not the sort of person who sits idly by and waits for somebody else to sort things out.

5. Be a self-starter who doesn't need too much hand-holding

The nature of freelancing is that you are entrusted with a task because a client doesn't have the manpower or resources in-house to do it themselves. As such, they expect you to get on with the job without needing to ask them questions every five minutes. Remember, they have jobs of their own to do. The briefing stage is the time at which you should iron out any queries you have. This doesn't mean you can never ask any questions, but try to avoid the obvious ones.

6. Somebody who can turn work round quickly is prized by clients

There are times when clients need something done speedily, and they will tend to go to people who have been able to this in the past. Working to a tight deadline will enable you to get into the client's good books, and you should be able to charge a premium into the bargain. Just don't sacrifice speed for quality.

7. Be flexible and fit in

Freelancers are usually solitary workers, but an ability to slot seamlessly into a team is a definite asset, particularly for those freelancers who work shifts. Moving from workplace to workplace is difficult as they all have slightly different quirks and working practices. If you can hit the ground running and not rub up the permanent staff the wrong way in the process, then you'll be called back in future. Don't shrink into the background and let things happen around you. Ask what you can do to help, make suggestions about what you can do next if you come to the end of one task, and let people know that you are available. You don't have to make everybody tea to fit in. Doing your job effectively and efficiently is enough.

8. Provide value for money

Note that this isn't always about being the cheapest freelancer in town. Value is about providing a good service for a fair level of remuneration, so if you can make the case that your skills, experience and talent are worth a higher rate than other freelancers, then you still provide value for money.

9. Try to continually add value to what you offer

You can do this by moving out of your comfort zone and adding to your set of skills. No business stands still, so it makes sense to stay abreast of developments in your industry and ‘skill up' accordingly. It takes time to add skills, so try and set aside a little time each week or every month for career development. Adding new skills will also open up a wider choice of jobs, which could pay better and potentially lead you into new and interesting areas. Speak to clients and other freelancers about the kind of skills they think are important for the future of work in your sector. There is no point learning something that is rapidly becoming redundant.

10.Monitor client satisfaction levels and act on feedback

You can do this by having a quick chat with somebody at the end of a project, or you may wish to take a more formal poll of client feeling. You could include a link to an online survey, such as Survey Monkey ( with your invoice. By ensuring that a job has been completed to the satisfaction of a client, you are also putting yourself in a good position to pick up your next job from the company.

11. Continue the after-sales service

Use effective administration processes, such as providing an ongoing paper trail for the client. Invoices and reports should be produced professionally and promptly.

12. Keep a dialogue going with clients to keep them informed about what you are doing

An email with recent project announcements, for example, will ensure that your clients know about any developments in your business and will also keep you on their radar at times when they are not working with you.

Going Freelance, published by Crimson publishing, is available on Amazon now.


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