Why being ultra-professional instantly makes you a top-tier freelancer
More than mastery of your craft or years of experience, being a trustworthy pro gets you a big step ahead of your competition.
This is a theme I keep harping on about, but it cannot be said enough.
Traditionally, there’s a stigma around freelancers: a stereotype that we’re all flaky, unreliable, poor communicators who can’t be depended on.
If you’re a designer like me — or other “creative” type — it get’s even worse. Creatives have their own stereotype of being difficult to work with, the “mad genius” who likes to work alone, through mysterious processes, and often fails to meet serious business deadlines in pursuit of their craft.
Combine the assumed failings of a freelancer and a designer, and you’re looking like a pretty miserable specimen.
How did we get here?
The barrier of entry for most digital skills is almost nill, so naturally the market is flooded with inexperienced, unreliable, “cowboy” types who think this work is a ticket to easy success. Businesses all over the world have had dealings with unprofessional freelancers and designers, and those repeated sub-standard experiences have left a sour taste in the collective mouths of our potential clients.
Yet the appeal of working with freelancers remains: often lower cost than their agency counterparts, and a more direct and transparent relationship with no management, middle-men, or markups.
So they keep seeking us out, each time hoping the next one will be a bit more reliable. This is where you and I come in.
When they do find someone professional, it’s like a breath of fresh air. They feel like they’ve hit the jackpot: the benefits of working with an independent consultant combined with the reliable business relationship they’d expect from a big reputable agency.
You may be less talented than others they’ve worked with in the past, or have fewer years of education or experience under your belt — but none of that compares to the delight they feel from an easy relationship with a contractor they can trust and rely on.
That’s literally all it takes. Your skills and experience get you to the table, but being professional wins the deals and makes long-lasting partnerships.
Smoothing out the freelance rollercoaster
How to schedule projects, manage an even workload, and make consistent income from freelancing.
Is it really that easy?
The market is still crowded with cowboys, and getting more crowded every day. The bottom feeders keep multiplying and eating each other, but all you have to do is elevate your head above them to make them irrelevent.
Hone your skills. Master your craft. Do all of that too. But if you can only do one thing, practice being ultra-professional. That, more than anything else, will make you memorable.
What is ultra-professional?
It doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit and tie to very client meeting. It’s not about looking the part (although that helps too!) it’s about being it.
- Be reliable. Promise your best, and overdeliver. Show up on time, every day (just because you are your own boss, doesn’t mean you should slack off. That lets down both yourself and your client). Don’t let anything fall through the cracks. Become someone your client will want to depend on to look after their business interests for the long-haul.
- Communicate. Over communicate! Set expectations early and often. Describe your process. Involve your client. Incite good feedback. Be responsive. Send daily updates, and know how to write good concise emails. Be honest and transparent about everything. Most importantly, know how to talk in a language your clients will understand — free from tech/design jargon.
- Be kind and respectful. Avoid being a dick. Demonstrate the type of professional relationship you want and you’ll get more of the same in return.
- Get organised. Know and trust your processes, and improve them when you learn better methods. Do your homework and come prepared. Stay on top of the process and guide your client through it. Manage your projects and schedule with precision. Respect your client’s time as well as your own.
- Provide exceptional value. Think beyond the pixels and look for unexpected ways you can offer business strategy that connects back to your creative work. The more passionate you can be about your client’s business, the more you’ll pour your heart and soul into making them a success. Your client will notice those extra efforts.
- Do great work, for every client and every project. Hold yourself to a high standard and never let is slip. You’ll build up a strong reputation that’s worth its weight in gold.
The best designers are business strategists
The old days of “visual design” are long gone. We need to think much broader & deeper to solve today’s design challenges.
Rise above the bottom-feeders
The cream rises to the top, or so they say. Be that cream.
Maintaining a reputation as being ultra-professional will get you there faster than anything else. While there is no life-hack for freelance success, this is as close to a shortcut as you’ll find.
If you’re tired of competing with people who’ll work for pennies, or struggling with clients who don’t value or respect your expertise — transcend that level competitive bottom-feeding by beating them at being the most professional. You’ll be winning the game of freelancing before you know it.
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Hi, I'm Benek Lisefski. Since 2001 I've run my own independent design business. Join me as I unfold 17 years of freelance business knowledge: honest advice and practical tips to help you take your indie career from good to great.
MediumTop writer in Design, Business, and Entrepreneurship.