The relationship between a client and a freelancer is sometimes difficult, sometimes effortless, but usually somewhere in-between. Those who hire freelancers need something done that they can’t, or don’t, want to do themselves. Freelancers, on the other hand, have to provide those services or they are out of work. Both have needs, both have expectations, and both play a role in creating a successful client-freelancer relationship.
Every freelance project begins with both sides getting to know one another. Sometimes that courtship is brief, while other relationships require and more elaborate interactions.
Regardless of the type of freelancer you’re hiring, the type of work involved, or the length and breadth of the project, all relationships start with expectations.
The expectations the client has are those he or she expects the freelancer to meet. The freelancer has similar expectations, but in reverse. When a client asks a writer to write a blog, both of them instantaneously have an idea of what the project is as soon as the client says “write my blog.” Of course, those expectations are personal and not always shared. The mental image the client has might be totally different than the image the writer has.
Managing expectations is all about communication. It’s about explaining the project in detail, asking questions, and refining the unprocessed ore until you’re dealing with refined metal.
Defining terminology helps. Examples are great. Explaining yourself like you’re talking to a group of ninth graders is excellent.
Communicate. Talk. Clarify.
Once the working relationship begins, the freelancer has to deliver. Working from his or her understanding of the project, the freelancer has to create the product. This process can involve several tries to get right.
For example, clients who hire me to write a blog will often have an idea of what they want. They want their blog posts to sound a certain way, to convey information in a manner or with a style that, even though they know it when they read it, they are not always able to convey in words. They do, however, want me, the ghostwriter, to deliver that style.
That’s easier said than done. I don’t have a tunnel into Malkovich’s brain, and I don’t know what the client knows, much less what the client is assuming.
That’s where drafts come in. I write the draft, send it to the client, and we discuss. Is this what you want? What do you like? What do you hate? Did you have a different style or voice in your head when you thought about the blog? Did the voice you actually heard when you read what I wrote match that of your expectations? What was different?
It’s all about finding that voice, that style that resides in the reader’s head. When a client has that voice in mind, the writer has to be able to hear it. You do that by writing, revising, and talking about it.
If a client hates the first draft, the second should be closer to the voice they want. If not, try again. Finding that voice, matching those styles, is how a freelance writer proves his worth. Reproducing that voice on a regular basis, and doing so on time, is how you become invaluable.
When it comes to clients proving themselves to freelancer writers, or programmers, or anyone else they hire, the method is usually simple; Pay on time. If you pay as agreed, pay on time, and don’t forget to pay, your freelancer will keep your bust in the hall of blessed clients. Perhaps festooned with oak leaves, or a golden diadem on your brow.
Of course, keeping to the original agreement is great too. You hired someone to do a job. If you want another job done, fine. But that’s a different job. Your freelancer is a specialist. If you want that freelancer to do a lot, you need to say that. If you want the project to change, that costs money.
Any relationship, whether personal, familial, or professional, can degrade. There are always ups and downs whenever people interact with one another for an extended period of time. But with the freelancer-client relationship, that interaction is tenuous.
The rough beast in any relationship is incivility. The freelancer-client relationship is an arms-length interaction. You’re dancing with a balloon separating you. Incivility, malice, short-temperedness, or (get thesaurus and insert synonym) ruins it. It pops the balloon.
Both sides have lives. Both sides want jobs they love, want to work with people they like, and want to spend as little time as possible worrying about problems.
Don’t be that problem. Be the steady, confident voice that your client, or your freelancer, can rely upon. Your civility, your willingness to give in to the better angels of your nature even when presented with the worst of others will make you the object of desire. If you’re hiring people, you’ll be able to hire, and keep, the best. If you’re looking for work, you’ll be the go-to problem solver for your clients.
Keep it civil. Positive. Make working with you something people enjoy doing.