I’ve been a freelance photographer for a for a few years now. I sort of just fell into it, not really thinking about where it was going to lead me. After a while, I began to get more and more random phone calls from people interested in my services. Suddenly, I found myself shooting at all sorts events for all sorts of clients and organizations.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons over the years and while I can’t say I enjoyed every moment of it, I can say that my experiences have been very enlightening. The following are just some tips I’ve learned while working with clients.
1) Be a Friend.
While it’s tempting to just think of your freelance work as “just work,” finding and keeping clients relies on you being more than just a freelancer who’s passing through.
Freelancing is just as much about cultivating relationships as it is about getting a paycheck for a job well-done. I’m not saying you and your clients need to braid each other’s hair or have sleepovers or go out drinking every night. In this case, being a friend to your client means that you look out for your client’s best interests. When a client knows you care about the project as much as they do, they tend to reciprocate that sentiment towards you and your own work.
Having clients on your side means they’ll be more likely to look out for new jobs for you. They’ll sing your praises, and have an overall positive outlook on working with you.
2) Figure Out What Makes You Valuable in the Eyes of Your Clients.
You may think you’re doing a great job. Actually, you may even be really good. However, unless your clients perceive you that way, all you really are is just another creative for hire.
You have to keep in mind that there are probably thousands of freelancers just like you. Think about what makes you unique and valuable to a project and make sure that is demonstrated clearly in the work you deliver to your clients.
Maybe they know you’re dependable and you produce amazing results for them. Maybe your unique style is what they’re after. Maybe your clients like you because you just “get it.” Whatever your strengths are, make sure your clients know that’s what they’re paying you for. That’s what makes you valuable as a freelancer.
When you have demonstrated and solidified your value in the eyes of your clients, not only will they be more willing to spread the word about you, you’ll also learn how to leverage that value into more rewarding jobs and experiences.
3) Word-of-Mouth is a Double-Edged Sword.
Most of the clients you land will have heard about you from someone else. Therefore, your reputation is very important. However, as a freelance creative; as a person who is hired to do a job, your personal and professional reputation is effectively one, and the same, thing.
The contextual cues (i.e. office hours, an office building, letterheads, office functions, etc.) that make it easier to distinguish between your professional and personal lives are more subtle when you’re a freelancer. Thus, it is easier to overstep your own professional boundaries. Everything — and I mean everything — you say or do is part of who you are in the eyes of clients and prospective clients. Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes that’s a bad thing.
What this means is that you have to always be conscious of what you’re putting out into the world about yourself. If you complain too much, you’ll get a reputation of a complainer. If you fail to deliver on time, you’ll be known as someone who can’t meet deadlines. If you angrily voice your dissatisfaction about your paycheck, you’ll be seen as ungrateful.
Instead of taking it personally, always make sure you communicate with clients in a professional manner until the boundaries you have with clients become more clearly defined. Until then, always assume a professional demeanor.
4) Stand by Your Work.
Freelancing requires a fair amount of selling yourself. It’s not enough to just “let the work speak for itself.” There’s plenty of competition out there from immensely more talented people than yourself, no matter how good you think you are.
Personally, I hate having to talk about myself or telling people about the work I do. It feels too much like explaining or justifying my choices in life; as though being a creative is some sort of sin.
To get over that feeling of insecurity (and really, that’s all it is), you have to stand by your work. This means owning your passions and letting your enthusiasm determine how people — especially clients and prospective clients — perceive you. When you demonstrate your knowledge and your confidence about the work you do in unique and memorable ways, it becomes infectious; it inspires others to have confidence in you and thus, are more likely to hire you.
I’m not saying that you should boast about your accomplishments or brag about this job or that job at dinner parties and sunday brunches. But rather, always communicate how seriously and sincerely you take your profession and leave all your pretension at the door. People love to work with others who they perceive are good at their job, no matter what that job may be.
5) Put on a Display.
You don’t need to shout from the rooftops or have a Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man to draw attention to your work.
Instead, just make sure that the work you do can always be seen and — more to the point — is always seen to make an impact in some way. Create an online portfolio so that people can easily see your past projects. Ask your clients for testimonials. Try to win some awards in your field. Always pursue new opportunities to apply your knowledge and expertise.
In other words, always find and display tangible proof of the impact of your work as a freelancer. Your supporters will appreciate it because they’ll see the successes you’re having. Your clients will appreciate it because they get to see how much of an impact you make as a creative professional.
It’s easy to think that the creative work we do for clients is what holds everything together, but in reality, it’s our relationships with the people we work with that will ultimately determine our success or failure.
There will always be someone younger, smarter, cooler, better educated, and more skilled than you are. However, what others won’t have is the unique relationships, interactions, experiences you have with your clients and the people who support your work.
Tell us some of your own freelancing tips in the comments section below.