Trust – it’s what makes freelancing so beautiful and yet so frightening. I’ll go out on a limb here and say it’s even more important than your brilliance.
Very often, freelancers are parachuted in when there’s no time for contracts or interviews. You rely on mutual goodwill and an unspoken agreement that good work will be completed on time, that a bill will be issued, and that it will be paid within 60 days.
Without legal obligations, it’s a relationship stripped bare of protections. On one hand, which I’ll explore in part 2, you must be known as trustworthy. On the other, your client must inspire trust in you. Because if you’re worried you might get stiffed, your brilliance won’t shine through.
The first rule of trust is, trust yourself. If your Spidey senses tingle, pay attention. They are trying to protect you. Walk away when it doesn’t feel right and save yourself the grief.
And when you’re looking for work, don’t just look for work. Look for people you can trust.
So how do you find trustworthy clients?
Grow your network
The next best thing to getting work from friends and associates is getting referrals. Ask your contacts to pass your name along. When a third party is willing to vouch for both of you, trust is implicit.
While I don’t mean to suggest that you should say no to clients who come to you cold, it certainly feels safer through a referral. If a client is unknown to you, suggest a meeting and get a feel for the person. Keep in mind that the larger the company, the more systems there are in place to protect you.
Join organizations. Go to as many professional meet-and-greets as possible. Shake some hands and get to know people. If you feel a connection, call the next day and ask for a meeting.
That’s what I did a million years ago. I only made one connection. But that connection parlayed itself into a profitable business relationship that grew my network and made me some friends.
Get a (gulp!) job
Like many freelancers, I began with a job. Over time, my boss and I developed a rapport. When I made the leap to independence he became a primary client who then referred me to others. Today about 90% of my business can be linked back to him.
How do you build trust?
Tell them exactly what to expect
On small jobs and projects without contracts, you will manage expectations, avoid conflict and build trust by sending your client a thorough estimate. Only when you receive approval should you begin work. Your estimate should include:
- Cost of finished job
- Delivery date
- Number of revisions
- Breakdown of hours
Providing your client has seen samples of your work and knows your level of expertise, there will be no surprises. Because when a client has an unpleasant surprise there can be no trust, you’ll be off their list without even knowing it.
Besides, an estimate and an approval constitute a viable paper trail. Just in case.
Suggest a contract for long-term work
When a client approaches you for a long-term commitment that means you will have to sacrifice other freelance work, a contract is perfectly appropriate. Clients who hire long term usually have contracts on hand but you can create one yourself using this very helpful site for building freelance contracts.
Although, what makes freelancers so appealing to some clients is a lack of commitment. Your clients may want to test you out a few times before agreeing to use you on a regular basis. Settle for a well written estimate.
If a new client tells you he/she will give you lots of work in the future but only if you reduce your rate substantially, you should get that Spidey tingle. If you’re tempted to say yes, demand a contract. A reputable client will say yes, so you can be sure you won’t work your glutes off at bargain-basement rates then be dropped without explanation.
I know what you’re thinking: “Verbal contracts are binding. The law is on my side.” Unsavoury clients know the detrimental costs of legal action – to your bank account, to your schedule, to your mental health. They’re willing to take the risk.
The business of trust is tricky, but much of it is a “start as you mean to go” proposition. Lay a solid foundation when a client is new and then it’s possible to move on to bigger and better projects and referrals.