So you're an independent worker now. Congrats and welcome to the world of freedom and working for yourself!
One of the most important things about being an effective and productive independent worker is ensuring good communication between you and your clients. A common mistake most people can make is not communicating properly, frequently, or effectively enough. I’ve put together an easy-to-follow communications guide to help you keep in touch with clients during - and even after! - they hire you so that they’ll always think of you as their go-to freelancer.
Why Communication with Clients is Important💡
Communication is an extremely important part of your freelance journey. Keeping in touch with clients before and during the working process is paramount to both your work and your relationship with your clients. And don’t forget: clients can talk to other (potential) clients; word-of-mouth can serve to help you land more clients, and any positive impressions you can give to them can only help you land more opportunities!
Great client communication can be boiled down into a simple process: a “communication lifecycle” of sorts. Communication setup, expectations (and, yes, boundaries!), delivery, and follow-up. I’ll walk you over each part of that lifecycle below.
Step 1 - Setting Expectations✅
Get yourself a rock-solid foundation for working with your client by setting expectations right off the bat; this will only help make your work better! Make sure you’ve outlined your responsibilities and how they relate to your client’s goals. The clearer these are, the better your working relationship will be with your client.
- Setting a communications schedule: regular check-ins and updates for the client to know what you’re working on and how it’s going, lines of communication for if (or, let’s face it, when) things may go wrong, and a follow-up meeting for after the work has been finished.
- Establishing what modes of communication work best for both you and your client. Want to check in with the client through text? How about a Zoom meeting? Maybe a series of follow-up emails? Deciding with the client on how you both want to communicate from the beginning will ensure that both you and your client will remain responsive and accountable throughout the project.
You may find that, during this process, you and the client may have differences about the desired communications schedule. When this happens:
- Try and work with them as best as you can to find a schedule that works. Negotiating with the client will work to present both their needs as well as yours, and should help to create a solution that will work.
- If on the off-chance they don’t budge, take a look both at the schedule and at the project and ask yourself if you can meet the client where they are. Sometimes the client’s needs may seem a bit over- or under-bearing, but if that’s what it takes to keep the client informed (and happy!), then it may be worth the effort.
Setting Boundaries ✋
Being the freelancing superstar that you are, it’s also very important that you set some boundaries between your work and your life. According to a 2016 study done by Perdue University, establishing work-life boundaries not only helps workers alleviate burnout and work-related stress, but also helps to improve your overall physical and mental health!
Start with something simple: set “office hours”. While you may be in an office, co-working space, or on your living room couch, create a set schedule of hours that you can share with your client as your “office hours”: during this time, you’ll be active and available for contact if need be. Outside of those hours, however, you should be considered to be “offline” and unavailable. Now, think about your “offline” time. Self-care is incredibly important, and now that you’ve embarked on this amazing new journey of being an independent worker, taking care of yourself outside of your work is more consequential than ever! Make sure to take some time to decompress and disconnect from your work. Reading a good novel, cooking a new dish, or (my favorite) a nice walk or hike helps to recharge your batteries and energize you for the work ahead.
Next, let’s talk about the boundaries you can set in your communication with your client. Try to prevent over-communication; minuscule updates outside of your communication schedule, off-topic conversations that don’t focus on your project, and questions that already have answers (either from the initial brief or from previous communications with the client). That’s not to say that you need to be “all business, all the time” with your client; you can still be engaging, friendly, and understanding when talking with them! Just keep an eye out for when those communications may start to go off in any of the aforementioned directions, and work to right yourself and keep moving forward :)
Set office hours, keep your conversations productive, and these boundaries will help guide your way to a happier (and healthier!) freelancing life.
Step 2 - Communicating While Working📣
Alright, you’re knee-deep into an awesome creative project for a client and throwing your best inspiration and elbow grease into this work. This is really the best part of the freelancing journey: actually doing the work you’re excited about 😄 While you’re in your work, make sure you are keeping up with your communication schedule and providing updates to your client (especially if you’re working on a long or complex project). Regular communication helps to keep the client in the loop about your process, and will ensure you’re both on the same page. And here’s a pro tip: if you’re a lot like me and find that time just speeds by when you’re working, set a notification reminder for when it’s time to check in!
If something happens to go wrong along the way, or you have a question or insight that may help to make the project better, don’t hesitate! Reach out right away to the client and show that you’re on the ball and eager to make things right (or better!).
So many times (especially for newer freelancers), we’ve got a desire to get the work done and put on a brave face for the client, no matter what. But sometimes life can throw a wrench into things and prevent us from getting that work done. When that happens, it’s important for you to be honest with the client as soon as possible: reach out to them right away, explain the situation, and work with them to find alternatives whenever possible. Clients will appreciate your honesty, and most will be willing to help find a solution that will help both their project and your needs.
Step 3 - Communication at the End of the Job🎉
Alright, so now you’re done with your work. Booyah! Take a moment, give yourself a high-five… do a little dance if you want to! You’ve certainly earned it :) Now that you’ve finished your work and delivered it to your client, what then? Believe it or not, the process of communicating with the client doesn’t end there.
End on a High Note! 🤝
When you have finished your work with a client, always end on a high note. Tell them how happy you are to work together and that you can’t wait to see what they think of your work. If the relationship was a good one, maybe consider a nice “thank you” email (or, if you’re both comfortable with it, a “thank you” card 😊). This will show them that you care about their needs, and also shows that you think of them as a person, and not simply as an invoice.
Of course, if the work (or the client) wasn’t a great experience, you may wanna nix the card… but still find a way to amicably close out the relationship and move on with your working life. No matter how you ended the project, a quick note of appreciation goes a long way.
Get Feedback 📝
Also, reach out to your client for feedback. It’s a great way to get testimonials from previous clients as proof of your work; you can then use that feedback to potentially land more clients! In addition to this, getting feedback from your clients at the end of a job helps you become a better independent worker: think of it as the “performance review” people have in their 9-5. Learning more about you and your work from “the outside” (in this case, your clients) helps you to know what you’re doing right, and how you can improve. It also shows the client you’re willing to learn from your experience with them, which shows you appreciate and value their opinions.
Finally, feel free to drop a line to your client a few months down the road when you’re ready for work again; maybe even offer a deal on some of your services! Even if they don’t need someone at the moment, they may know someone who does. It’s always good to stay in touch 👍
Communication with clients during your independent working journey doesn’t need to be a pain in the neck; just remember to create a schedule, set boundaries, communicate regularly, and follow-up when you’re done. You’ll work better, live better, and make a better impression on the people who make all the difference in your work: your clients.
About the author
Jake Woehlke is an experienced and versatile content creator, freelance writer, and support consultant. He also travels as a "digital nomad", writing and photographing the experience. Find more information on Jake and what he can do for you by visiting his Contra profile!
Jake Woehlke | Creating, Exploring, and Help