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Client Communication: The Most Important Part of Freelancing
By Samuel Ryan     Freelance Lessons     Comments

As a solo freelancer, the easiest and most consistent way to find work is to connect with design or marketing firms who are looking for reliable contractors. Many of my own clients are firms who use me as a website contractor. So over the years, I've had a good share of conversations with clients concerning their frustrations with other freelancers (usually resulting in more work for me). Interestingly enough, the most common problem these clients have with freelancers is not related to talent or skill, but rather communication. Clients have told me that they'd happily take an average freelancer who communicated well over a more talented freelancer who did not. So here are a few points to consider for any freelancer:


Answer emails quickly, even when an answer seems unnecessary. Never forget that the whole reason a client has hired you is because they don't have the time or skillset to do something themselves. In other words, they need you and if they can't get in touch with you, they feel more helpless. Even if you don't have an answer to their email or you can't complete their task for a week, at least email to let them know you got their email. This may seem unnecessary at times, but you'll be amazed at how often clients interpret the lack of email acknowledgement as freelancer laziness or apathy. Let them feel that they're being taken care of.

Stay proactive in your communication. Again, be willing to email clients even when it seems a bit redundant or unnecessary. If you've told a client that you'll start their project next week on the 11th, then when the 11th rolls around, email them again and assure them that you are now beginning the project. Often, freelancers only email when they have questions and when the project launches. Some clients are fine with this methodology, but many clients don't like the idea of placing all their faith in a freelancer's deadline promise. Don't take this as an affront to your trustworthiness -- they just want to see progress along the way. So keep the initiative on your side during a project and your clients will trust you more down the road.

Be honest and straightforward. An easy trap to fall into is trying to impress clients with your promises instead of your work. Don't give your client the absolute best-case scenario when you're discussing a project. I've seen many freelancers kill their client relationship by promising a super-fast turnaround and failing to deliver (promising a week turnaround and taking a month or more). Honestly, the client would have been fine if they were just told that it would take a month. But by promising the project in a week and failing to deliver, the freelancer has lost future trust with the client. 

Spend time on being excruciatingly clear. Assumptions can cause major problems, especially in a world where so many decisions are made by email. Make liberal use of lists, inline email responses, and reiterations of instructions. Don't be ashamed to use simple language and basic lists. It's no fun to have tasks completely undone because everyone assumed someone else was doing it. 

Use the phone. Not all business can be conducted by email. Some clients (especially older ones) simply prefer phone calls. Secondly, misunderstandings are always easier and faster to resolve via phone. Thirdly, voice communication creates a much more "human relationship" than email does -- and relationships are still the cornerstone of any service-based business. So always be ready to pick up the phone when necessary.

All in all, keep in mind that communication is your client's lifeline. I guarantee that if you consistently and honestly communicate with your client, you will be better than 90% of other freelancers and create a clientele that is very happy and extremely loyal.

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"Assumptions can cause major problems, especially in a world where so many decisions are made by email. "

That line rings very clear with one of my recent clients.

I find the hardest task concerning communication to be both clarity and more importantly word usage. Being often hired by people who do not know much about the how-tos of the deisgn process can be very difficult when it comes to emailing a curious client. Breaking down the technical jargon into language the client can understand can be extremely frustrating.

There's definitely two huge points to remember when communicating to anyone - Never assume they know what you know and Always be patient!

-Great article yet again mate!

Jeremy Davis
To often in the tech industry I see brilliant people being stuck doing menial tasks because they lack the ability to effectively relay their value to their superiors.

You might be the most gifted person in the world, but it's a waste if you can't communicate your worth to other people.

You point the truth. Thanks.

Quiet Rebel Writer
Very good points, all. I definitely try to be over-explanatory and clear in emails, because I know clients like it. One thing I have to work is the whole phone bit. I think my fear of the phone is feeling off my game. I'm a writer - I write. I get paid for it. It's cool. So I feel most comfortable with email. Unfortunately many clients don't, so it's something I work on.

I enjoyed this post, thank you.

Good communication is the best way to keep your job from being outsourceable.

This was a great post and it's really true.

It just made me cringe to realize that I've been a bad freelancer as of late with my current clients. It's hard to put a good amount of time into freelancing when you're a full time student and working a regular job, and not getting paid for your work.

But that is no excuse still.

This was a little motivation so thanks Sam!

Rodrigo Mejia Armijo
I completely agree in all the points: respond emails fast, make lists so your client can fallow easier your email questions, make email confirmations so your client can know you are putting attention to him, never think your client "should" understand you only because your messages seems very clear to you, be aware that sometimes just one short phone call can do a lot more than a dozen of mails...
I'll just add: be aware that sometimes a presencial meeting can do a lot more than dozen of phone calls. Don't discard that resource, when factible.

Great advice.. A freelancer should always be on top of each project and give the client the impression that their project is number one.

I find myself buried at times, but when a client calls or emails me with an issue I give them my complete attention and help resolve the issue in a timely fashion. If you let them know a rough time line of when things might get done, they'll appreciate that.

As long as you are honest and up front with your clients, they will be more than satisfied.

Great article! I wanted to make sure that our providers algo get to read it, so I posted a link to it at http://www.odesk.com/community/node/3694.

Thank you for putting this together!

A Scott
I've noted all the points down that you made and will pin them up next to my work area.

Because I'm bad at every one - I get paranoid and always am expecting bad news or a problem. The stupid thing is - it never is. I'm good at what I do.

Freelance work can sometimes be lonely and because of that confidence boosts are hard to come bye to keep the spirits up. So my advice is work at making your own. Do the American thing and tell yourself in the mirror how great you are.

I wonder if that's why there are so many blogs? Because they often gets people stopping by and saying "Awesome thanks!" to the freelance soul.

Well - Awesome articles - thanks and cheers.

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What is all this?
My name is Samuel Ryan and I make websites. Sometimes, I write about it. I disappeared from this blog for a couple years, but I'm jumping back in now -- even began using my twitter account. If you care to know more, go here.