In my coaching practice, I work with a lot of people who are exploring their lives–they get laid off, they look for jobs, and inevitably, they begin to think about being a freelancer. Opening your own business is very freeing, and equally frightening. Who structures your time? How do you get clients? (Hint: it’s NOT “word of mouth” until you have enough client mouths to pass the good word around). In your own business you get all the money, true, but you also have all the problems. It’s an adjustment.
For my clients who have been freelancers for a year or so, I am seeing new problems, ones focused around Who Has The Power? When the few do the work of many (as is happening more and more in businesses as layoffs keep happening) your client often mistakes you for an employee. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But overly-controlling behavior calls for client education. Most clients don’t have the time to think of your work from your point of view. You will have to do that in a tactful way. Even if you have to do it again and again. If you lose your patience, you can lose a client. Some tips:
Client says: If you are away from your computer for more than an hour, you have to tell me.
You say: I check my emails and voicemail frequently (yeah, you have to), and always get back promptly. But if I’m driving, or in a meeting with a client, the phone stays out of sight. I do that so I can pay full attention to the client, just as I pay full attention to you when I am on the phone or in a meeting with you.
* * *
Client says: You didn’t return my call.
You say: Did you leave a message?
Client says: I don’t have to, you can see I called on your Missed Calls.
You say: I answer messages and texts first. It’s great if I know what the call is about. It saves us both time if I can prepare information for the call. Avoid telling the client that you never look at Missed Calls. That’s useless, the immediate answer will be–you should start doing that.
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You say: I’m checking in on the invoice I sent about 30 days ago.
Client says: Oh, yeah, I put it in for payment last week, the accounts payable department takes 30 days to send the check. You’ll get it in about a month or so.
You say: Before you say anything, take a deep breath. Your client gets a regular paycheck no matter how much work she accomplishes in a week. She does not understand that her putting off submitting your invoice makes it impossible for you to go grocery shopping. If you tell her, you will look needy instead of competent. Needy makes people uncomfortable.
–Ask her if you can speak directly to accounts payable to save her time. Accounts payable people often understand how money works better than your client, and your invoice date carries some weight with them.
–When you submit the invoice, ask if there is anything else you need to do to shepherd to prompt payment. You can also give a two percent discount if paid in 10 days. Smart companies often take those offers, and when the client doesn’t submit the bill, it becomes self-correcting internally.
–Ask at 15 days, instead of 30. You’ll still get paid late, but the process will get rolling.
–Awful as it is, the squeaky wheel gets the payment. Ask often about the progress of bill submitting.
–Never let invoices pile up. Submit them regularly. In small companies, small invoices often get paid faster than big ones.
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Client says: Give me 3 or 4 dates you can present to the client. Client then doesn’t get back to you, and you have uncommitted dates building up in your calendar.
You say: Another deep breath. Client does not understand that this behavior, spread over 2 or 3 clients, is 12 days you are holding open that may never get filled. That can sink your business in about 3 months. When you give the client the days (the timing is important) add, “These are the days that are free now. I don’t hold days open until I have a confirmation that I’ve got the job.” I used to offer to notify the first client if I got an offer for the conflicting days, but that made a lot of extra work for me when the first client wouldn’t return my call, or, worse, tell me they hadn’t heard from their client yet. It’s easy to drop down the food chain. Your alternative is to call or email the client twice a week and ask if the client has chosen the days yet. Then you become just another question to answer instead of a whiner.
Things to remember as a freelancer:
–Your client is most interested in her client, least interested in the freelancer. Regular good work and good communication helps even out the balance, but her client gets the first bite every time.
–Just because a client says something is “industry standard” doesn’t make it industry standard. It’s often an excuse phrase like “company policy.”
–You will have conflict that you have to resolve, no matter how careful you are. If you truly can’t stand even the slightest of confrontation, don’t become a freelancer.
–There are many freelancers out there today. Even if you have been in business for years, you have to be aware of the competition. Underpricing is a mistake most freelancers make and most clients are tempted by. Do good work, hand it in on time, and build relationships with your clients. Some clients love lunch, some want an occasional email. Do what your client feels comfortable with.
–Quinn McDonald is a life coach who teaches employees how to speak, write and deal with problems at work.