For a long time, I believed the only skills you needed for work were the ones stated in the job description. Technical abilities, industry knowledge, software experience… I thought that all you needed to do was know your stuff and the promotions would follow.
As you can imagine, I was soon proved wrong. In an office environment, I learnt to utilise and expand on so many of my personal skills, putting them to good use to help my colleagues, my teams and my projects succeed. Then when I became a freelancer, it was easy to simply transfer those soft or personal skills over to my clients and their projects instead.
But often freelancing requires a slightly different set of personal skills to full-time employment. Without the support of a management team or co-workers, you need to become more independent and organised. You need to manage clients, multi-task and pay attention to detail. You have to look after yourself as well as every client, business and brand on your books. It can be a big change to get used to.
So in this week’s blog post, I wanted to share my top five personal skills that have truly helped me to become a better freelancer and a better worker.
We all know that patience is a virtue. But when it comes to self-employed work, patience is a necessity. There will be periods of time where work is slow or quiet, and you need to learn how to weather those spells. You have to find ways of keeping yourself busy whilst you wait for new projects, to stay active and motivated without falling into a slump. Being patient and waiting for the right client to come your way can be frustrating at times, but it will pay off in the long run.
But patience is also a great skill to have when it comes to dealing with clients too. Late email responses, confused clients, difficult conversations and technical problems all require you, as the contractor, to be calm and patient to get the job done. Snappy, impatient judgements and actions won’t impress a client, so remember to take your time and keep your focus.
For so many businesses, their brand and their company is their baby. They’ve grown it from the ground up, poured every penny of their savings into it and it’s their entire adult livelihood. So when they approach a freelancer to help them improve or establish it, they need to rely on them to do a great job.
Speedy replies to emails, consistently met deadlines, regular updates and consistently good work is a must for a good client/contractor relationship. Being able to demonstrate your reliability is crucial to impressing a client, and they need to know that you’ll be there right when they need you.
Particularly when working with a new client, or onboarding a new project, professionalism is an important skill to demonstrate from the off. From delivering neat and organised documents to maintaining a professional communication style, your client needs to be impressed by your experience and confidence here.
Professionalism also means your attitude to the work – checking for any mistakes or errors, producing high-quality content, having a good base of knowledge to refer back to. Your general appearance, too, factors into your overall professionalism. Clients will always be impressed by a smart dresser in meetings, but they will also need to know that your social media is clean, that your website is good, that your reputation is solid – even before they start working with you.
Communication is one of the biggest assets in a great client relationship. But this doesn’t just mean replying to emails and messages on time. Communication covers the way you speak to your clients, the way you deliver requests, the tone you use to convey an idea. I’ve known some good freelancers to lose clients over poor communication styles, and it’s an important factor to get right.
Developing a strong communication style with your clients, before you even begin working with them, can help to highlight your professionalism and experience in a new project. Try creating draft emails or templates of conversations you need to have, or learning how to clarify complicated technical problems to a layman in a way that is polite and helpful.
You can also learn a lot about how a client prefers to communicate by how they speak to you. Do they prefer short, snappy updates or long, detailed emails? Is their language informal and friendly or professional and impersonal? Which platform do they tend to respond on – social media, planning boards, notes on Google Docs, emails? Pay attention to how they work, and do your best to mimic it. This can you to reach your client overall, but also help you to find the best possible way to communicate with them successfully.
Consistency, for me, covers a lot of ground. On one hand, when it comes to delivering work for a client, yes consistency is vital. Maintaining high levels of quality work, checking in at the same time, responding effectively to each new request, keeping up a good, coherent working style… These are all attributes that will impress a client.
However, there is also another way to look at consistency when it comes to self-employment. As a freelancer, your work hours are not determined by any higher management or professional authority, which can, unfortunately, leave you open to requests and communications at all hours of the day and night. Your rates are often seen a flexible, despite you never having declared it, and your job role can often change at a moments notice.
Utilise consistency to help protect your own working hours, environments and routines by firmly establishing when you will work, how much it will cost and which services you are offering. Then stick to those rules. Don’t reply to messages after a certain time or on a particular day, don’t bend your own fees and don’t let yourself be stretched further than your own capabilities. Be firm and consistent, and it will help your working relationships to stay solid throughout.
Personal skills and soft skills are often seen as an added benefit to a freelancer’s resume and having worked with many different and varied clients over the years, I’m happy to confirm that just isn’t true. How you communicate with a client, deliver your work and hold yourself in your professional capacity can speak volumes about the quality of your abilities, and can often be the difference between a new contract and a poor testimonial.
Thank you for reading this week’s blog post, I hope it might come in useful! If you have any more suggestions of top tips for freelancers, please let me know as I’m always happy to receive your messages.
Have a great week.