Okay, you’ve seen the headline so maybe my question is a bit pointless, but what would you guess is the #1 objection clients have with freelancers?
Is “lack of reliability” high on the list? It should be, because that’s exactly what your prospective clients think.
If you need proof, here are a couple of quotes from business owners about their dealings with freelancers (and this is only the beginning… plenty more quotes later in this post):
“Firms have relatively more to lose (reputation, lawsuit), so while freelancers are cheaper, quality and reliability are also lower with freelancers.”
-Vlad Solodovnyk, business owner in web and mobile development
“Firms are more process oriented which means that there are checks and balances in place and the delivery is not dependent on skill or mood of individual.”
-Sameer Jain, business owner in software development
Maybe I’ve been living under a rock or something, but for me, seeing these opinions was somewhat a surprise. I didn’t think we had such a shady reputation. And the rep itself isn’t even the worst thing here. The worst thing is that it almost certainly has an impact on the success of our businesses.
Some business owners simply don’t believe that the average freelancer can be trusted with a project.
This opinion hasn’t been dreamt out of thin air. The people who think this way have been burnt by freelancers in the past — or heard horror stories from someone whose freelancer let them down — and now they’re afraid all freelancers are the same.
I’m sure you want to be the best freelance blogger you possibly can, and the last thing you’d call yourself is unreliable. That said, the fact that YOU know what you’re made of doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things.
No matter how good or how professional you are, you will always have to overcome this “unreliable” label that other, less trustworthy, freelancers force on the industry as a whole.
I’ve been thinking about this problem a lot lately, going through a whole list of business owners’ concerns about freelancers and trying to find some simple solutions. After a bit of probing, I came up with 8 practices that all freelancers (myself included) can start today to prove to our prospective clients that we’re not in the “unreliable” camp.
1. Offer dedicated work time
“Freelancers usually take up a lot of different odd jobs […] they do this because they don’t have a stable project or else they wouldn’t be called a “freelancer.” Since the freelancer takes up a lot of odd jobs, they may or may not be available when you need them next time.”
-Carlo Silva, business owner in e-commerce outsourcing
As you can see, one of the things clients are worried about is freelancers’ tendency to take on too many projects at the same time, which makes them unable to provide a high-quality service.
Now, the solution. Although I don’t advise working with one client exclusively (as it would defeat the purpose of freelancing), consider specifying the number of hours you’ll spend on the client’s project.
In some cases, especially if you’re billing on a per-hour basis, this is a must in itself. But even if you’ve agreed on a different billing model, I still encourage you to openly state the number of work hours that will be devoted to the project.
Provide a schedule of work and an estimate that shows the number of hours you’ve picked will be enough to handle the project from start to finish.
(Whether you do it in the contract, or in your client proposal is up to you.)
2. Present yourself as a business
“One of the risks in working with individual freelancers is that there is only one of them. If they have another job at that moment, or a job that is more profitable, your work could more often take a back seat.”
-Emmy B. Gengler, business owner in software development outsourcing
When thinking about hiring a freelancer, clients fear that dealing with a lone freelancer will have a negative impact on the project. The word freelancer doesn’t convey career stability. Clients think that while businesses have a reputation to worry about, freelancers don’t.
The easiest way of getting over this is to simply present yourself as a legitimate business. In order to execute this, you need an actual business structure behind you.
I know this might sound obvious to some of you, but there are many countries that allow their citizens to offer various freelance services without having a business structure. So if that’s your scenario, I encourage you to set a business structure anyway, provided your profits are high enough to cover the costs and make it work. This will improve your credibility.
Check with your local regulations and guidelines to find the best business entity for you personally. [If you want extra help setting up your business, check out the Get Started for Freelance Blogging Success training program.]
Next, once you have the business set, always introduce your freelancing service using your business name. This is especially important at the stage of preparing a proposal. In short, a proposal looks better when sent from “Smith Writing LLC” as opposed to just “John Smith.”
3. Offer ongoing support
“There are many advantages when hiring a firm, when you hire a freelancer they do the job but you don’t get a continued support, you have to provide him or her all resources to do the job. Whereas firms have all the resource to support now and later.”
-Shiva Kumar, business owner in web design outsourcing
The concept of ongoing support works well for tech-related freelancing, like software design, for example.
It isn’t as common in the freelance writing or blogging space as our work doesn’t tend to develop faults or break down over time.
However, some of your clients may like to have older blog posts fact-checked and updated, or you could offer ongoing promotional support such as sharing your client’s blog posts on social networks.
Offering some level of support as part of your services can go a long way:
- If for some reason a client doesn’t like the work you’ve delivered, you should be prepared to fix the situation; that’s just good service.
- When you explicitly include support in your offer (this works best if there’s no extra charge for it), you send a clear message that you care about your clients and any needs they might have after the initial project is completed.
Let’s not forget that one of the most understandable and natural worries clients have is that they’ll be left on their own the minute they send you the final payment. This is especially true when it’s the first time they’ve worked with a freelancer. Offering support is a great opportunity for you to address this concern.
Mention your support service on your website and in proposals. A simple sentence like “Client support for 6 months after project completion for no extra charge” is enough. Then add a couple of lines to your contract to specify exactly what support you provide.
Offering support is not the same thing as giving clients a guarantee. Only include a guarantee if it makes sense for the type of project you’re doing.
4. Don’t ask for additional resources
“Outsourcing firms have dedicated resources. Freelancers work on many jobs at a time and lack commitments.”
-Remya, business owner in website design
It’s common for freelancers to ask for additional resources when working for a client. For example, freelance bloggers sometimes ask the client to provide access to a professional stock image library, or cover the cost of buying individual images. As we know, images play a big part in the process of crafting a good looking post.
This does make some sense from the freelancer’s point of view. Why would you pay from your own money for additional tools needed for the project, right? But it doesn’t make sense from a client’s perspective.
Content outsourcing firms don’t ask for additional funds once the contract has been signed. That’s because they either have all the tools they need to handle the project, or the price of those tools has already been included in the project proposal. From the client’s point of view, this is much better: they know what the project will cost them, and they won’t face any surprise expenses.
5. Send a proper proposal
“Freelancers usually offer much lower prices but there is no assurance of quality & professionalism. Experienced firms follow a scientific work approach and are more accountable.”
-Rajiv Sharma, business owner in website design
I’ve mentioned client proposals a couple of times on this list already, so it’s probably about time to discuss the proposals themselves.
Your proposal is the first and the most crucial document in your client / freelancer communication.
The proposal is where the client makes sure that they’re dealing with a business, and not just some guy. The proposal is where the client sees that you offer ongoing support as part of the deal. It’s also where the project is broken down by the hour. And so on and so forth.
A high-quality proposal sets you apart and positions you as a serious business.
Now, about building proposals. You can do it yourself in MS Word, convert to PDF and send via email. This works fine if you have enough time (it’s how I’ve been doing things for years).
Another solution is to use a tool like Bidsketch. It’s a dedicated client proposal software that assists you through the process of creating a proposal. Then, Bidsketch also takes care of sending the proposal out and monitoring how the client interacts with it. (I know this because I’m part of the Bidsketch team.)
Your choice. I’m not saying that manual proposal creation doesn’t work. It does, but creating a professionally presented proposal from scratch takes a lot more time and effort than using a tool built for the purpose!
6. Set clear deadlines and milestones
“Freelancers are often not responsible or reliable enough to take a project to its completion. A company or firm needs to think about its long term reputations.”
-Nawshad Jamil, business owner in web design
The above is one of the most surprising client worries I’ve stumbled upon. At first, I didn’t quite understand it because it’s hard to imagine a freelancer who doesn’t want a project to reach its completion. But then I realized that the problem probably lies in perfectionism.
Perfectionism is too often portrayed as an advantage rather than a flaw. But in practice, it can lead to delaying the final delivery date because you want to make it “perfect.”
The business world, however, works a bit differently. In almost every case, it’s more important to deliver a project on time than to make it perfect. That’s why clients complain about freelancers not being able to deliver by the deadline when the project is time-sensitive.
So how to fix this? Two things:
- Set a deadline and some milestone dates that mark important points along the way to the deadline. Then state them clearly in your proposal and in your contract; that way your client knows what to expect. The more milestones there are (within reason), the more confident the client feels that you’ve thought the project through.
- Devote yourself to meeting this deadline, even if what you deliver isn’t perfect. I mean it; the ability to deliver is more important than the ability to produce “perfect” results.
7. Offer progress reports and ongoing communication
“Individual freelancers can be slightly cheaper compared to firms but are prone to longer delays, uncertain deadlines, subjective quality standards, and need multiple follow ups.”
-Jacob William, business owner in offshore outsourcing
Depending on the size of the project, it’s often a good idea to include some form of progress reporting in your offer. Granted, compiling a report is a mundane task, but it achieves one very important thing: it builds trust between you and your client.
There’s no rocket science to it. As long as the client can see that the project is moving forward and you’re meeting the milestones you’ve set, they don’t have to worry about it flopping all of a sudden on the delivery date. This confidence in your professionalism will also make them more likely to come back.
One more benefit is that if you initiate the communication with regular reports, you’ll free yourself from all those “hey, how’s the project going?” e-mails. 😉
8. Showcase testimonials and case studies on your site
Basically, this is a marketing method, but it still does a great job at presenting your expertise and trustworthiness.
Every prospective client will have at least some worries about your ability to deliver, and the best way to address that is to use the voices of other people in testimonials and case studies.
Getting testimonials is sometimes as easy as just asking a former client to give you a two-sentence opinion about your services. Case studies are something you’ll have to write yourself. Inside the case study, you have the opportunity to share the details of the project and its success.
(Note: Case studies can also become a great way of building traffic to your site on their own and help you bring in clients you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.)
Are you reliable?
Whoa. There was a lot of negative stuff in all those quotes, wasn’t there? Stuff that we have to deal with and try to overcome on a daily basis. And okay, I admit, I left out some comments that were in favor of freelancers. But even so, the problem still stands.
I believe the 8 practices I’ve explained here will help you prove your reliability to your potential clients. Of course, there’s also “item zero,” and that’s delivering what you’ve promised!
What do you think about the list of client concerns I’ve brought up here? And what would you say to a potential client who’s been let down by other freelancer bloggers?