Reduce the number of revisions you are asked for, and improve your overall experience, by communicating effectively with your freelance clients.
As a freelance writer, I work in the communications industry. I know first-hand the importance of communication when I work with freelance clients. True — communication is important no matter who you work with. As a freelancer, though, good communication is key to making editors happy and keeping clients.
The better you communicate with your client upfront, the fewer revisions they are likely to ask for. I rarely need to make revisions. Some of this is because I have awesome clients. I’m lucky to choose the clients I want and have the flexibility to fire the clients that are a pain in my ass. Another reason that I rarely need to make revisions is due to the fact that I try to turn in clean copy. But one of the biggest reasons I don’t have to make revisions, especially for non-blog clients, is because there’s clear communication at the beginning.
Clear communication with freelance clients saves you time and helps you work more efficiently, allowing you to make more money in the long. And you end up with happier freelance clients. Which means the potential for long-term work, and good word-of-mouth references.
How to Communicate with Freelance Clients
I struggle with communication a lot of the time. It’s weird, I know. My undergraduate degree is, in fact, in Communications. I’ve got a journalism degree, so it’s assumed I should interact well with others. That whole interviewing thing. Alas, I am not always the best communicator. As an introvert with ADD, many social interactions are difficult. It’s why I’m a writer.
Even writers need to communicate. Unfortunately, I’m not a writer who sits in my attic, tortured as I write the Great American Novel. Nope. I’m a jobbing writer. So, even though my interactions with people are limited, they still exist. And sometimes I’m pretty bad at it. But I try.
Because I have a bit of social awkwardness, I prefer to connect via email. I’m still terse and business-like over email in a lot of cases, but at least I don’t sound like I’m dying to get off the phone (because I am, in fact, dying to get off the phone).
As you connect with freelance clients, consider these 5 tips for more effective communication:
Connect how you’re most comfortable
Did I mention that I prefer to connect over email? Yup, if I can do it in writing, that’s how I’m going to do it. Some clients just want to talk to me on the phone. So I oblige. But whenever I can, I like to connect via email. I’m more comfortable that way, and it’s easier for me to understand what the client wants when I read it rather than hear it.
Figure out how you work best, and then connect that way. If you prefer to have a conversation before getting started, by all means, talk on the phone. You can even consider a video chat. However, you want to make sure the most essential points are covered in that phone call. No matter how much you like talking on the phone or connecting via Zoom, your client probably doesn’t want to engage in weekly phone calls. Get the information you need and then touch base only as needed.
Some projects require more frequent communication, while others simply require you to get the overall shape and then just move forward. Get a feel for how the client is likely to work with you and use that as the basis for connecting in a comfortable way.
Get it in writing
Even if you prefer to conduct business over the phone (or via video chat), make sure you get it the final terms in writing. You should also have the outline of the project in writing. All expectations, timelines and other pertinent information should be in writing and agreed upon in that way. You both need something that can be referred to if necessary.
If you have a phone or video conversation, take good notes — or record the call (with permission). After the call is over, send a summary email to confirm what you talked about, and what the client wants. Make sure the client replies in the affirmative (or with changes) before you start.
Don’t assume you’re both on the same page until after you’ve both reviewed the project in writing.
Keep it professional
When you start with a freelance client, you need to keep the communication professional. I do have some clients that I know well on a personal basis, and things are a little less formal with them. However, in many cases, when we’re discussing new projects or negotiating pay, or dealing with business-related issues, the communication becomes more professional — even if we’ve been out clubbing together.
Maintaining a professional tone can go a long way toward establishing that you’re, well, a professional. Now, there are times I get a little diva in my interactions with editors. And I’ve been known to occasionally come off with a little less than the tact I should have. Even then, though, I do try to keep things on a reasonably professional level with my freelance clients.
I’ve even been in situations where an editor wasn’t professional with me. I maintained my cool, however. Interestingly, one that editor’s bosses saw the interaction and was appalled. I received an apology from the boss and the client. They also let me know they valued me and my professional contributions and hoped that my unsavory interaction wouldn’t drive me away.
The better you are at remaining professional, the more likely you are to impress new freelance clients and keep your current clients.
If there’s something you’re not clear on, don’t be afraid to ask questions. You want to make sure that you know what the freelance client wants. That’s really important if you want to avoid endless revisions —or an outright rejection of the work you just put in.
Clarify when the situation calls for clarification, and do it before you get to work or move on to the next phase. When I’m ghostwriting a book, I send the first chapter when I finish it, so the client has a chance to review and give further instruction. Usually, after that first chapter, I send the next two or three chapters at once. This allows the client to continue to make sure that things are proceeding as they wish. It also keeps me from getting too far in and then finding out major revisions are needed.
This approach also works with smaller projects. For example, when start writing for someone’s website, I usually turn in the first assignment a little early. That way, the new client can look it over and provide additional direction that can help me later on.
Finally, I make it a point to ask about sourcing requirements and other details before getting started. If I have personal experience with something I’m writing, I might ask the client if it’s ok if I make it a first-person piece rather than interviewing experts. The idea is to know beforehand what’s expected before diving in and wasting your time.
Provide your freelance clients with advice when needed
When I’m hiring someone to do something for me (like designing my book cover), I ask for advice. Sometimes, the freelancer just gives it to me, unasked.
You can do the same. If you see something that could be done differently or better, offer advice. Be tactful about it, and be honest — especially if the client asks for your feedback. Your helpful feedback and advice can enhance the project, and make the client happier.
However, don’t assume that your client wants your advice on everything, or at all. Before offering advice, feel out how likely the client is to be open to your feedback. One of my clients has me working on a podcast with them. They’ve asked for my advice on more than one occasion, thanks to my experience as a podcaster. I’ve been polite and professional when offering my insights.
There are some clients that I wouldn’t dream of providing advice to, though. These are clients that have very clear systems and approaches. They know exactly what they want and I know better than to mess with it. So, while I might push back occasionally when something seems unreasonable, I don’t get too caught up in offering my two cents.
Sometimes, you just remind yourself that you’re getting paid to do it a certain way, suck it up, get it done, and collect your money.
Bottom Line — Manage Communication with Freelance Clients
Once you have a comfortable working relationship, there’s a good chance that you won’t need much ongoing communication. I have freelance clients that I literally haven’t had extensive communication with in ages. They set the parameters or send briefs. I do the work. They make a couple of comments. I send an invoice and they pay it.
Most clients want you to be competent. After the initial communication and onboarding, they don’t need you to pester them about every little thing. This is why good communication with freelance clients upfront is so important. You can establish what needs doing, get into a groove, and create a smooth working relationship that encourages them to stick with you.
Without good communication, on the other hand, there is a chance that you will both be unsatisfied with the relationship.