As a freelancer, your reputation is not built solely on your ability to produce good (or great) documentation, but also on your professional demeanor. Does this mean wearing suits or heels? Not necessarily, although for meetings in person with high-end clients the costume may help, or even be required.
What is Freelance Professionalism?
Being seen as professional as a freelancer requires organization. You need to maintain a calendar so that when you promise a deliverable or schedule a meeting, you ship or arrive on time. If you are working in person or by video conference, take the time to dress the part. You may prefer to work in your pajamas (my father did this), but your clients deserve real clothing! In addition, I find that dressing the part as if I were going into an office job (even a casual office) raises my productivity. Putting on the uniform or costume of “professional writer” helps me prepare to act like one.
Don’t Be Afraid to Apologize
When something falls through the cracks, don’t let it sit, hoping no one will notice. Step up and take responsibility for not only your mistake, but also coming up with ideas to fix it. This is, of course, good practice even in a “captive” position. By having one or two options to fix the problem, you rise above those who either just admit they screwed up or ignore their errors altogether.
Little Things Matter
A hand written thank you note may seem like a quaint idea from the last century, but you will be remembered. Small talk is a way to gain insights into your clients. Make mental notes, and write down pertinent info for later use. For example, do you know your client’s birthday? A quick card sent to arrive on or slightly before that date shows you pay attention to the relationship. You might also make notes about the date of your first meeting or the date you accepted him as a client. Send an anniversary card to celebrate working together!
These little touches may seem above and beyond, but as a freelancer, this kind of client connection is your best marketing tool, and is what helps drive repeat business.
Beyond these little extras, it can’t be stressed enough: if you say you will do something on or by a certain date or time, make sure it is not only done, but you have communicated that fact to your client.
Professionalism is more than what you wear. It is a way of interacting with clients and your coworkers that creates mutual respect and communication. Just as effective in a casual business setting as a formal boardroom, how you show or don’t show professionalism to those around you can bring great rewards or keep you from getting repeat business.